Flow Like a River by I.P. Frealey (A classic, indeed.) + Three years with Chris.

There are things that you do in your life that make you wonder about yourself as you reflect on them. Sometimes they’re shocking in the moment, but often it takes the patina of time to put the right finish on them. As I’ve stated ad nauseam in these posts, I’ve met and known a lot of weird people, seen a lot of odd things, and been directly involved in a few of them myself. I’ve been told that I attract them. But, since I’ve started writing some of them down, I think my mind has started subconsciously organizing them for me and I’ve made some connections that hadn’t occurred to me before. One of them is that I have a bunch of stories that revolve around peeing and also about a guy named Chris. Most are separate. One is together.

My high school friend Chris was from Rush City. It seems that every rural town has other towns within driving distance around it that are kind of like the neighborhood of towns. And, one of those towns is usually nearly completely filled with insane, scary, and just plain weird people. Rush City was ours when I was growing up and Chris was right in the middle of that vibe. Details were disclosed, stories were told, decisions were made, or things were observed in Chris and his family’s life that made us stop and say “What?!” or “Wait…” or “You’re serious?!” He was serious.

For example, Chris and his brother along with their Dad went deer hunting together and they set their deer stands up in trees fairly close to each other. At some point, an extremely unfortunate deer decided to sprint past their positions. Being “gun enthusiasts” let’s say, each man was armed with a semi-automatic rifle with a high capacity magazine and as the doomed creature was seen by each man in turn, they opened up on it as though they were in combat. Not surprisingly, the animal shortly thereafter perished. Upon inspection, the carcass was found to have 18, count them, 18 bullet holes in it. Six bullets from each man. Let’s hope, if the Russians ever invade America as they did in the movie Red Dawn, they choose Rush City for their target. Problem solved. The rest of us can watch it on the news.

I also remember meeting Chris’ parents for the first time. They were super nice and friendly people who treated me like family from day one. I’m not sure if that family part was a good thing, however. As we sat at their table eating supper that night, the conversation drifted to some wild things that Chris had gotten in trouble for and his parents told a few stories to embarrass him as any good parent should on occasion. Then, Chris’ Dad said “Have you told Dave about your one day “relationship” with the neighbor?” Chris looked a little nervous and he suggested to his Dad that I didn’t need to know about that particular story. But, his Dad was fired up and went on to tell us about how Chris had been flirting with the neighbor lady one day and she had invited him into her trailer. Well, their “relationship” progressed quickly from that point on and they were getting to know each other very well in the deep recesses of the trailer when the third actor in this drama entered the scene. The woman’s husband. Chris’ parents heard shouting and screaming through the open windows of their trailer and they looked out to see the back door of the neighbor’s trailer fly open and their mostly naked son leap out of it with one hand holding his pants around his waist and the other holding the rest of his clothes. In the future, Chris would get a football scholarship to the University of Minnesota, but at that point he was using his natural athletic ability to avoid being murdered in a mobile home park. Chris’ Dad laughed until he was almost in tears as he described the scene and how quickly Chris made it from the neighbor’s home to his own. The friendly neighbor lady’s husband soon followed and was not laughing or friendly. Chris’ Dad met him outside and somehow managed to save everyone from being killed and the irate husband skulked back to his trailer and adulterous wife. Chris just shook his head as his Mom and Dad talked and laughed and reminisced about this cherished family story. I said things like “What?!” and “Wait…” and “You’re serious?!” a bunch of times. They were serious. It was Rush City.

Chris was arrested at a young age for being involved in something like a small riot at a club called The Gay 90’s in Minneapolis. He was on probation when I met him for the first time at the grocery store in our town where we both worked. Apparently, he had been drunk in a van with a bunch of guys who thought it would be fun to drive the 60 miles to Minneapolis to harass some gay guys. So, they did it and when the ensuing fight spilled into the street, Chris saw one of his friends get hit with a beer bottle and he decided it was time to get off the bench. He punched the guy with the broken bottle and grabbed his buddy to help him to the van. The other Rush City boys had gotten to the van already and started to leave, but when they saw Chris and the beer bottle battered boy (nice!) running after them they swung the back doors of the van open and the driver slammed on the brakes just as Chris and the BBBB were getting there. Consequently, they both ran into the end of the van doors and got knocked out cold. And, like the morons they were, the guys in the van decided that the best course of action was to drive away and head back to Rush City. So, Chris and his two time battered friend were out cold on Hennepin Avenue in Minneapolis, 60 miles from home, drunk, probably 14 or 15 years old, and being chased by a hostile homosexual horde. (Nice!) Imagine getting that phone call as a parent. Again, “What?!” and “Wait…” and “You’re serious?!”

Chris’ violent streak was impressive to me at the time and I still admire his passion and willingness to fight for things. I think that has been mostly lost these days in most people. I don’t condone beating up people for stupid reasons, of course, but there is a time for war as Solomon said in Ecclesiastes. I admire people who defend themselves and others who need it and I admire good police officers and soldiers who fight for each of us every day. Chris fought now and then. He was a peaceful guy, generally, but if he was pushed he would give a few warnings and if they weren’t heeded he would fight instead of running. I admired that. Also, there was more fighting in those days and less shooting. I think people were allowed to vent a little and get it out of their systems before the rage turned into homicide. But, that’s just a rough hypothesis. Obviously, there are a lot of variables in that equation.

Chris and I were roommates our freshman year of college too. That year, we worked at Kohl’s in Northtown Mall and Chris dated a girl named Natalie who also worked there. Like the deer who ran past the family deer stands, there was a guy who worked with all of us who decided to put the moves on Natalie. I don’t remember his name, but he wore tie dyed shirts and sandals and was tall and awkward and had poofy and curly brown hair. He was also a pretty bad worker, from what I remember of picking up his slack. Anyway, after repeated warnings to leave Natalie alone, Chris took action. I drove us to work that night and as we were leaving Chris saw the guy and he asked me to stop the car for a second. I didn’t realize what was going on, I just stopped the car because he asked me to stop. Chris jumped out and put up his hand in a friendly gesture and called the guy’s name. “Hey, Mike!” Something like that. The guy was talking with a few others and he peeled off to walk toward Chris. Chris started jogging over to meet him and as he got close he punched “Mike” really hard in the face and Mike went down. Chris stood there for a moment and said “Stay away from my girlfriend!” and then walked back to the car and climbed in. He was as calm as could be. He turned to me and smiled and said “Let’s go.” Mike was getting up off the ground and as we drove by Chris waved to Mike, his girlfriend Natalie, and the rest of our coworkers.

Well, despite his time on the Kohl’s parking lot pavement, Mike persisted in his efforts to woo Natalie a few weeks later and Chris found out. I was studying at our apartment and Chris came in looking crazy and sweaty like he might be having a heart attack. He said “Where are the golf clubs?” I said “Whoa, buddy. What’s up?” He explained Mike’s efforts and his plan to head to Mike’s house with a golf club and “take care of it”. I suggested that might not be the best plan considering his probationary status and for a number of other reasons, but over my reasoning and the protests of our other roommate who owned the golf clubs Chris left with the promise “I’ll replace it” as he held the club out to the guy.

He came back without the club a while later and he had that same calmness as when he’d gotten back into the car after Chris -vs- Mike 1. I asked a few questions and didn’t get a lot of answers other than “Don’t worry about it.” Eventually, Chris said “The police might be showing up at some point, so just tell them I’m not here.” Me: “What?!” and “Wait…” and “You’re serious?!” Chris: “Don’t worry about it. I didn’t kill him or anything. The pussy wouldn’t even come out of his house.” I explained that I thought that was a pretty good plan if an enraged athlete showed up at my house with a golf club and demanded that I come outside. Chris explained that he had basically done that earlier and that Mike hadn’t made an appearance other than to yell at him through the screen door along with his parents and to threaten to call the police. So, as anyone would do in his position, Chris walked to the end of their driveway and beat their mailbox off the post with the club and then threw it at their house as hard as he could. “So, you just left the golf club there with your fingerprints on it?” I asked. I watched too many crime shows. “I had no choice,” he said. “Why?” “It went through their picture window.” Me, as usual, “What?!” and “Wait…” and “You’re serious?!”

Not shockingly, the police showed up about twenty minutes later and knocked on the door. Chris calmly walked into the living room, grabbed a book, sat on the couch, and started to read. “Tell them I’m not here,” he said. I experienced a great deal of stress during the next few moments. The knocking continued along with “Police. Open the door.” I opened the door wide and just stood there looking like I had wielded the golf club. “Does Chris (lastname) live here?” Yes. “Is he here now?” Yes. “Can we speak with him, please?” Yes, just a moment. I walked around the corner and Chris gave me a disgusted look like I was such an amateur. He wasn’t angry and he didn’t feel betrayed or anything like that. He was disappointed. That’s what the look said. I said “The police are here and they’d like to talk to you?” He said “Why?” I said nothing and he gave me the look again. Amateur. As he came around the corner, he turned to look at the officers and a handsome smile lit up his face. But, there was a hint of confusion there too. “Hi, I’m Chris. What’s going on?” He was concerned. Calm, handsome, happy, concerned Chris. The police asked him if he knew Mike and Chris said that he did and that they worked together at Kohl’s. Had he been at Mike’s house about an hour ago? “No…” Confused. “We’re not friends, we just work together.” “So, where were you an hour ago?” “I was here, studying.” Here it comes, I thought. “Right, Dave?” Then, there was a different look. I said “He has been here studying.” Chris’ eyes looked at me and said “Good! You’re learning!” with a little smirk. I felt like I was about to go to prison for life without the possibility of parole for misleading the police. And, being a natural criminal, I also thought that I might puke or pass out or both at any moment. While I technically hadn’t lied, I didn’t tell the clear truth either. Innocent, calm, concerned Chris turned back to the officers and explained how he and Mike had a disagreement about Chris’ girlfriend Natalie recently and that Mike had argued with him in the parking lot the other night. “Mike said you hit him,” one of the officers said. “What?! That’s crazy. I didn’t hit him!” misunderstood and persecuted Chris said. “I don’t know what his problem is, but I wish that he would just stay away from me and Natalie. He’s harassing both of us!” The officers exchanged a look and asked a few more simple questions before leaving with the warning “You should stay away from Mike and his family. We’ll get this sorted out and we may be back to ask you more questions.” Chris said “Okay, believe me, I don’t want anything to do with that guy.” The officers gave us one more long look and left. Chris closed the door and turned to me with his finger over his lips. He knew me and the flood of words that was coming.

In the end, we had a falling out with our other roommate and we moved home near the end of the school year. Chris had come home early from school and found our roommate having sex with another guy right there in front of him when he opened the apartment door. He had promptly shut the door and come to find me and tell me about it. We decided to talk to the guy about it and figure out how to handle it afterwards. When we got back to the apartment late that evening, the locks had been changed. We knocked, but the door never opened. We stayed with my parents that night. The next day while the guy was at work, I gave Chris a boost to the second floor apartment’s deck and he climbed up to the third floor deck to our apartment and went in through the patio door. He let me in the hallway door and we moved most of our stuff out and left. The roommate had stolen a lot of our things and it was really annoying, but we decided just to cut our losses and be done with it. I was really upset that he stole my Led Zeppelin “Houses of the Holy” CD. Jerk!

Chris never replaced the golf club and the police never came looking for him. I will never understand how he got away with that rampage. There were no repercussions from the punch or the clubbing except for the fact that Natalie broke up with Chris for being so violent and started dating Mike. I did not see that one coming. Karma?

(How long is this going to go on? He hasn’t even gotten to the peeing parts yet! Who cares about your stupid Zeppelin CD!!)

I did a lot of sleep walking and talking until my early twenties. My family and roommates, including Chris, gave me reports of my nocturnal activities. Sometimes I would wake up in a different room from where I went to sleep. This was disorienting. Usually, when I was little, I would just walk into my parents’ room and ask them for orange juice or stuff by pillows and blankets behind their door and start crushing them over and over again until they put me back to bed. One night, while crushing my bedclothes, my Mom asked me what I was doing. She said that I turned to her and said “I’m putting my blankets behind the door.” in a voice and with a look that suggested she was a complete moron for asking because it was so obvious. She thought that was pretty funny when she told me about it years later. In one incident, while my parents were having a party with some of their friends, 2nd or 3rd grade David walked out into the middle of the kitchen and peed in the trash can in front of all of them. My parents did not find this to be nearly as amusing. Another time, while my Dad was watching the Twins game, ten or twelve year old David walked out of his room and down the hallway toward the living room. As my Dad looked up, he said that I opened the door to the basement, undid my pants, and peed down the basement steps. After finishing, I put everything back in its place, closed the door, and went back to bed. Of course, my Dad did nothing to stop me and eventually went and got my Mom to clean it up. She was not pleased with me or him. After they told me about it the next morning, my Mom was still disgusted and asked my Dad “Why didn’t you stop him?!” “I was watching the game,” he said. I always found out about these incidents the next morning or even years later. It was like there was another me that was operating behind my back and using my body without asking permission. It was disconcerting.

Around that same time, my best friend Nick dared me to pee on the neighbor’s electric fence. I think he offered me five bucks, even, so I pretty much had to do it. I started peeing and nothing happened. Nick was laughing and he decided to join me and we were both peeing on the fence for a moment until the charge came around. Maybe the farmer saw us and quickly ran and turned up the power. Mr. Melvin Hanson would have done that for sure and gotten a good laugh out of it. This is the same man that shot my “killer dog” that was “trying to kill his goats”. It was a wiener dog. He had used a shotgun. The dog had survived despite the vet saying there was nothing he could do for him and sending us home with a “Good luck.” My Dad was angry about that for years and made a comment to Mr. Hanson about it whenever he had the opportunity. Anyway, when the electrical charge came around, both Nick and I were knocked to the ground and I think that I lost consciousness for a moment. I remember our shoulders bumping as we were peeing and laughing and then I was on the ground and wondering what had happened. What I’m saying is that I’m pretty sure I got knocked out with an electric charge that came through my penis. That sounds even worse now that I’m typing it out here. Regardless, no harm, no foul, Mr. Hanson. Let’s move on.

My Dad and I picked up my Uncle John one time and we were bringing him over for supper. He needed to pee and he asked my Dad to stop, so he swung into a filling station and parked by the door. Looking back, I think it was just a repair shop because they were closed when they should have been open and my Uncle was disgusted because you needed a key for the bathroom door and we couldn’t get it. He looked down at me and said “Come on…” as he gestured toward the back of the station with his thumb. When I got around the corner, he was already pulling his equipment out and starting his business while he grumbled about the place being closed. He told me to do the same, so I did. Then he turned and started peeing on a car that was parked there and he told me to do the same, so I did. He said “We need to teach them a lesson.” I don’t think they learned anything from this urine assault, but it sure made John feel better. Again, I felt like a criminal and that the police would be coming at any moment to put us in jail for our wild urination. They didn’t, but as we walked back to the car my uncle tapped me on the shoulder and he gave me a wink and a smile as he looked down at me. I smiled back and I felt like we had a funny secret after that.

After sleeping in the NBC building in Manhattan one night because we couldn’t afford a room, I really had to pee. One of my companions who was from another borough of the city, said “Just pee.” I was confused, so he explained “Just find a place and pee. People do it all the time. There’s nowhere to pee in this fucking place.” So, taking his advice, I sneaked behind a large planter at 2020 Rockefeller Plaza right by the golden statue of Prometheus and started peeing a long, strong, and satisfying morning pee. As soon as the first drop hit the ground, the guy started pointing at me and yelling “Hey! What are you doing?!! HEY! There’s a guy pissing over here!! He’s just pissing everywhere!! HEY!!!!” His shouting went on as long as the peeing did. I started laughing out of embarrassment because dozens of people were now looking at me and also just because it was really funny which made it harder to finish. I felt like I peed for about five minutes rather than the 30 seconds it probably lasted. Again, I was not arrested and the only thing my buddy got was the satisfaction of pulling a really good prank and a hard punch in the arm.

Most are separate. One is together.

One night in High School, Chris and I were driving around in his yellow Mustang and bored. This was often the case and we would just drive around and look at stuff while listening to music on cassette tapes and talking. Suddenly, Chris had an idea and he headed north out of town toward Rush City. He eventually made a series of turns and we ended up at the end of a bridge that crossed over Highway 35. We’re talking about US Interstate 35 that runs from Duluth, MN to Texas. This bridge was out in the country and had no on or off ramps attached to it. It had a dirt road on either side of the freeway and the bridge deck was also covered in gravel. It was probably only used by farmers whose land had been divided by the freeway construction. Chris jumped out and started walking up the bridge. “Where are you going?” “Come on!” he said. As we got to the other side of the bridge, I realized where we were and then I saw Chris unbuttoning his pants. “What are you doing?” “I’m going to pee on some cars,” he said. So, we did. We undid our pants, climbed up onto the wall of the bridge, and peed down onto the southbound lanes of I-35 as cars streamed past. We were both laughing really hard and it’s surprising that we didn’t fall onto the freeway and get run over with our pants around our ankles. The honking horns and perturbed stares of the people looking up at us with their necks cranked to peer out of their windshields made us laugh even harder. It was amazing to watch our 20 foot long urine streams arcing to the pavement as the cars and trucks and boats plowed through them. It was 1988 and there were no digital cameras or mobile phones to capture our shameless urine attack. I pity the boy that tries this today. His parents and the police along with Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, and probably his disappointed Grandmother would know before he got home. But, Chris and I got away with this dastardly deed.

After our freshman years, Chris and I went to different schools and we drifted apart. I think I only saw him once or twice after that and it was a little awkward because we didn’t really know each other anymore. And, even in the social media age, we have somehow managed to not find each other again. I hope he is still fighting, but I also hope he’s fighting for better things and using his tremendous strength for the good. I’m also pleased to report that Nick and I have both fathered children which is reassuring in light of our shocking past. But, Uncle John, my Dad, my wiener dog, Mr. Hanson, and his goats have all passed on. It has been a really long time since I’ve walked in my sleep, but I continue to talk and I’m happy to report that I’ve passed sleep walking and talking on to the next generation. I still haven’t replaced that dang Zeppelin CD. But, I’m sure that Grandpa David will be watching the Twins some fine Minnesota summer evening in the future while one of his grandsons is peeing God knows where and with whom. “A man reaps what he sows.” as the Apostle Paul wrote.

The Satanic Organic Gardener – More Evidence for the Freak Magnet Hypothesis

I want to start this writing by saying that there will be some swearing along with some crude language and possibly disturbing details included. I’m not sure if this will attract or repel you, but I thought you should know. Also, I wish I could share this man’s name with you, but I shouldn’t. I haven’t talked to him in many years and I have no idea where he is and what he’s doing with his life or if he’s even still alive, but I know that he probably wouldn’t like me writing about him or at least he wouldn’t like some of the personal items and observations/opinions that I intend to share about him. That said, I also want to be clear that I like him. We probably couldn’t be more different in most ways, but there is a connection that we developed over the time we knew each other and a mutual respect that developed between us that I’m proud of cultivating. His name is part of what makes him an interesting character, but you’ll have to ask me privately if you really want to know it. I’ll call him Victor.

I started working at a printing company in one of the southern suburbs of the Twin Cities toward the end of the last century. That’s where I met Victor. I was a Pressroom Helper and he was hired for the same position a short time later. At the time, I was dabbling in starting my own construction company and I was flipping houses poorly and learning hard and expensive lessons in Scott County. I took a job at a small printing company for the health insurance for my wife and I and our toddling daughter and I was working three 12 hour shifts/week and doing carpentry work on the other days. Victor started shortly after I did and we worked together for almost eight years. We learned a lot about each other and a lot about ourselves during that time. It was a good place for us to be even though neither one of us realized it. I learned how to work harder and be more responsible as I worked alongside people with great integrity and drive like Paul, Eric, Robert, and Rob. Victor softened and healed a lot too both from his upbringing and from his failed marriage. I would never have thought that possible when I first met him, but it gives me hope for all of the damaged people that I’ve come across and for myself.

I was walking across the print shop floor on an errand and Victor was sweeping. I made eye contact with him and he almost instantly said “You got some kind of problem, man?” I smiled and said no as I kept walking. “What’s so funny?” I stopped and looked at him and said “I just smiled and I don’t have a problem.” He seemed a little uncertain for a moment and then went back into the standard tough guy routine that most of us have encountered many times by saying “I didn’t think so” with a sideways glance. Most of these types of encounters happened in Middle School and some continued on into High School, but we were beyond those ages in this case. Just like a physical injury or trauma, sometimes a person has some major trauma or series of traumas in their life and their emotional development stops right there or it gets stunted. That’s what psychologists tell us, anyway. And, I think Victor had more traumas than most people and he was still carrying a lot of them on his back when I met him. They were heavy ones. Consequently, he had built a wall, a considerable fortress actually, to keep people from getting close. He had let someone get close and he was hurt badly and now he was protecting himself from getting hurt again.

Victor scared people. He was big, angry, and severe looking and he projected a threat of violence with the way he looked at you and the way he moved. His eyes and hair were dark and sharp and wild and made him look dangerous and unpredictable. When he looked at people, they looked away. When he walked toward people, they altered their course. Victor was originally from at tough area of Detroit and after his marriage failed he moved to Minnesota. His ex-wife and her family were Christians and now all Christians and Christianity in general had become his enemy/scapegoat. His brother, interestingly, had become a minister. This all makes his choice of employment curious to me since the printing company where we both worked presented itself as a Christian company complete with the fish symbol on its ads and business cards.

Victor’s tattoos also scared people. He said that he was a Satanist and he had a 666 on one bicep and a swastika on the other. He had barbed wire inked like bracelets around both wrists. One of his forearms held the words “Cop Killer” on the bottom. When he shaved his head one time, another tattoo of a zipper was revealed. I asked him about that and he told me that his original intention was to have the zipper partially unzipped with some brains popping out but that “…it just hurt too God damned bad, so I told the guy to just finish the zipper.” The four digits of his fingers closest to both palms each held a letter to spell out the word HATE. The battlements around his fortress were strong and worked well.

Over the years, Victor and I had many strange encounters and we got to know each other in the way that only longtime coworkers can. And, as he started to relax a little, his interactions with all of us became less hostile and more bizarre or entertaining depending on how you took them. For example, one day, out of nowhere, he started calling me Big Bird like the Sesame Street character. I didn’t acknowledge the change, but he mostly stopped calling me Thomas and switched exclusively to Big Bird for the rest of the time we worked together. I don’t ever remember him calling me David or Dave although he may have. After many months of this, I asked him why he called me Big Bird and he said “Because you fucking look like Big Bird, why do you think?”

A few years into this nickname, I came across a Big Bird Christmas ornament and I wrapped it up in a nice decorative box and gave it to Victor for a joke around Christmas time. Satanists obviously do not get many Christmas gifts and he was surprised when I set the box down in front of him. Victor said “What the fuck is this?” when I gave him the box. “Open it.” I said. He looked disgusted and ripped the paper off the box and pulled the top off. When he pulled the ornament out of the tissue paper, he laughed hard and long at his new Big Bird. I had written “Big Bird says REPENT!” on his little yellow chest in bold black letters. He thanked me for it and told me it was awesome. The ornament hung by his desk for a few years until he came back to work after one weekend to find it missing. The scary Victor came back for a while that day and he marched around the shop asking people where his Big Bird was and letting everyone clearly know what would happen if he found out who took it. Sadly, little Big Bird was never seen again.

We had another coworker who was fairly overweight at the time. (He’s another success story from that crew who has gotten an education and built a successful family, career, and life along with losing the weight.) Victor’s nickname for him was a sarcastic “Slim Shady” after Eminem’s nickname. So much creativity coming out of Detroit.

I loaned Victor $20 once and he said he’d repay me after we got paid the following week. That Friday, he told me to follow him to the liquor store after work and he’d get my money out of the ATM there. I did so, and a few minutes later he came out with a $20 bill in one hand a bottle of blackberry schnapps in the other. He unscrewed the top, pitched it into the bushes next to the store, and took a big swig of the liquor. Victor walked up to my car and handed me the $20 through the window as he was taking another swig. He thanked me for the loan and said “Have a good weekend, Big Bird.” as he walked away, took another swig, and got into his car. I watched him lifting the bottle again as he drove away.

Victor regularly made his hatred for what he viewed as Christianity apparent by randomly shouting out offensive statements over the din of the shop floor. “God, I wish the Pope was here so I could RAPE HIM!!” is one of the most memorable. He said this as he walked past a group of us washing the ink off our hands one afternoon. One of the other guys said “What is wrong with that guy?” Another time, we were getting ready to head out for a long holiday weekend and as Victor walked up to wash his hands at the big sink with us, one of the guys asked him what he was going to do to celebrate President’s Day. Without missing a beat he said “I’ll probably just stay home and jack off on a picture of George Bush.” When I got to be a supervisor, I called him at home one time to ask him to come in, but I only got his answering service. There was a lengthy social and political commentary on his greeting which included the fact that “You Americans think you’re free? You only have one more choice for President than Iraq.” It was an election year.

I was heavily into natural health and cleansing during those years and I had recently told some of my coworkers about colon cleansing and how well it had worked for me. Victor heard about it through the grapevine and he asked me, loudly, as he came into the break room with his headphones on and abrasive heavy metal blaring out of them “Thomas, how do I get some of those butt pills?” Ten or fifteen people looked at him and then at me. Nice. He ended up buying a colon cleanse kit from me and about a week later he said that it didn’t work and that he wanted his money back. It was a 14 day cleanse, so I told him to finish it and bring me the empty box and bottles and that I’d refund him. A few weeks later, he came back from vacation and, again in the break room and quite loudly and in front of way too many people, he told me that the cleanse had worked and he didn’t need his money back anymore. “I normally drive straight through Wisconsin when I go back to my Dad’s place”, he said “…but I HAD to stop this time. I HAD TO.” “I was trying to hold it, but I needed to shit like RIGHT NOW, so I pulled into a McDonald’s somewhere in the middle of Wisconsin. I feel sorry for the poor bastard that had to clean that fuckin’ toilet because I filled that thing. I mean it was plum full with all different colors and textures and shit. It looked like three or four fuckin’ people shit in that thing.” He went on to clarify “I just left it. I had to. The poor bastard that cleans that thing, he ain’t never seen anything like that before, so I left it for him.” I was crying and the rest of the folks on break were staring at him wide eyed. And, as Victor grabbed his food from the refrigerator and went back to his press, he turned and smiled at me. As the years went by, I think he enjoyed making me laugh as much as he liked shocking or scaring other people.

I went from Pressroom Assistant to Press Operator to Shift Supervisor to Production Supervisor at that company and despite the fact that Victor had started about the same time as me and worked as hard as me, he was still working as a Press Operator. He was a great employee regardless of how scary people found him. He was always on time and did more than his share of the work. He didn’t complain about the work much regardless of his other complaints and he was smart. So, when a new and expensive piece of equipment came in, I made sure that Victor got promoted to work on it. The new job came with a significant pay increase also and I got to tell him about both. He was shocked. He never thought that “those Christian assholes” would allow him to be promoted. He was also thankful. From then on, if anyone had anything bad to say about me and Victor was around, he would set them straight and often threaten them and tell them what a good guy I was and what I had done for him. I became “the only Christian I know that isn’t a complete fucking asshole.” If that isn’t a compliment, I don’t know what is.

It was a while after the promotion that I learned something shocking about Victor. He loved gardening. He walked into the break room as I was eating lunch and we were alone. He looked around and said “Hey, Big Bird. You have a garden?” I said that I did and he asked me if I had tomatoes and how they were doing this year. I told him that they were pretty bad because I really didn’t know what I was doing. He went on to tell me what I needed to do to get better results and that his “fucking tomatoes are the best mother fucking tomatoes you’ll ever eat.” Later, I learned about his “God damned cucumbers”, “fucking lettuce” and a wide variety of other veggies that he grew and that he was pretty proud of. “And, they’re all organic” he said. “I don’t need any mother fucking chemicals to grow my shit.”

Like the quote at the beginning of this post says, that’s intimacy. We were/are both weird and we were both okay with each other anyway regardless of our vastly different beliefs. I’m happy to have known Victor and to see him change and, most of all, to have connected with him. He let Big Bird into the garden behind the wall of the fortress and it was nice there.

A few years after I left that place to start my restaurant, he called me and invited me to breakfast in a neighboring town to where I had moved. He had purchased some land with cash from all of his hard work and had put a small house on it and he wanted to talk about business and how to start one and organize one. He was thinking of starting a nursery, but he didn’t have a name yet. I suggested “Satanic Organics” or “The Satanic/Organic Gardner”. He got a good laugh out of that. Victor bought me breakfast and after a good discussion and a hearty handshake we parted and I haven’t seen him since. I should check my phone for his number and see if he’d like to have breakfast again sometime. I’d love to hear how his “fucking tomatoes” are doing this year. Maybe he just grows normal tomatoes now. Regardless, I still probably look like Big Bird.

The Danise Setup: Betrayal and Near-Fatal Embarrassment in Mankato. (Including an accidental elevated mooning.)

Why do people get embarrassed? I don’t get embarrassed much if at all anymore. I think that’s probably not normal. Is it something that fades with age or does it demonstrate some hole in my character? Is it an achievement? I’m not sure.

On a fishing trip to northern Saskatchewan years ago, a friend from Nebraska half-jokingly told me that my utter lack of reverence for anyone was my only redeeming quality. It’s not that I hold most people in contempt. On the contrary, I respect most people and even if their lives or beliefs or choices upset me, I can talk with them or spend time with them and I would honestly like to see everyone happy, healthy, strong, and safe. I usually wonder how people got to where they are and what has brought them to this point. In other words, I have a hard time hating anyone or holding a grudge.

I had one of the most embarrassing moments of my life on that trip also. Our cabin was full of mice and I think that I would rather spoon with Hitler than be surrounded by mice skittering around me all night in the darkness as I’m trying to sleep, so I got up REALLY early the second morning of our trip and drove about 40 miles to the nearest town, Creighton, to buy a bunch of mouse traps. (I caught tons of mice every day and we ended up putting them on a boulder next to the cabin and watching the bald eagles swoop down and grab them.) On the drive, I hit seek on the radio in my Suburban and there were zero, count them, ZERO FM stations within range. You could say this was a sparsely populated area. I flipped to AM and hit seek and landed on a local news station that was talking about corn and wheat prices, so I hit seek again. The radio swept all the way around the dial and came back to the hog report on that same station. One AM station. So, I listened. Part of the news in that area is a charming segment called “The Bear Report”. This isn’t a person’s name like Sheila Bere or Herbert Bare. We’re talking about the large mammals here. There are so many bears in this area, that they have a regular segment on the news about sightings, attacks, and general bear mischief. As I was listening, the reporter almost casually reported that four people had been killed by bears recently and he described how a mother with two children had been attacked at a park while having a picnic and that they and a runner who had seen the attack and attempted to help them had all been killed by a grizzly. This nightmarish bit of news radically changed my pooping plans for the duration of the trip.

I am very regular and we were in an extremely remote part of the world and the previous day I had asked to be dropped off at the shore of the lake where we were fishing so that I could eliminate some waste. To get some privacy, I walked WAY out into the woods and did my duty. I even covered it up in case there were bears in the area because the smell is said to attract them. News flash: THERE ARE BEARS THAT KILL PEOPLE ON A REGULAR BASIS IN THE AREA. Consequently, I decided that I would not be venturing deep into the woods anymore, so the next day when I asked to be dropped off my plan was to stay somewhat close to the shore and find a secluded nook.

My obviously constipated boat mates were disgusted with my regularity and had made a stink (he he he) when I asked to stop for a toilet break, so they pulled up to the side of an island that was nearly a sheer rock face and told me to climb up there if I needed to go so badly. Well, I enjoy rock climbing anyway and I really did have to make a deposit, so I climbed. The other side of the rock face was a little steep too and I ended up sliding down part of it and getting a little disoriented, but I eventually found a little ravine to fertilize and I grabbed a small tree to steady myself and leaned over it and did my business. Done, I found my way back to the rocky part of the island and stood on top of it looking down at the boat and my friends. They were not fishing. Or eating. Or relaxing. They were all just silently staring up at me. I said “What?” with my palms facing upward. They just stared. “What’s going on?”, I said. “Just get in the boat”, one of them said. I thought they were still upset about the interruption to their fishing and that I had taken too long. When I got in the boat I asked again “What’s going on?” and my minister friend said “You know what!” and added “You’re really something else.” as he shook his head. I was confused and continued to question them and get no answers, so I just went back to fishing and forgot about it.

That night at supper with about 15 guys sitting around a large banquet table, we had finished eating and were enjoying a drink when my friend sat back in his chair and said to the whole table “Well, I saw something pretty disturbing out there on the lake today. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to wipe the memory of it out of my brain.” What was he talking about? I was confused. I had been with them all day and hadn’t seen anything disturbing. He went on to tell the group about how I had asked them to drop me off to poop and that they were annoyed with me because I pooped so often and wasted their fishing time. Where was this going? My friend went on to describe how I had climbed the rocks and gone off into the woods. A few minutes later, while they were fishing and minding their own business, one of the guys had spotted something white through a small clearing in the woods and called their attention to it. “We didn’t know what it was at first and then we realized that this weirdo was mooning us. And then it got worse. Much worse!” This is the point at which the embarrassment hit me like a large safe dropped from a plane. I protested earnestly that I hadn’t meant to do it, that I had just gotten disoriented in the woods, that I was afraid of bears, that I wouldn’t dream of mooning them OR pooping at them, that I never even saw them, but it was a lost cause. I had mooned them AND pooped while doing it and it had been intentional. That was the narrative in their minds and I’m pretty sure that they all believe that to be the truth to this very moment. In this case, let me assure you, I was embarrassed.

With his “utter lack of reverence” comment, my friend was referring to the fact that I don’t hold anyone up above anyone else. Maybe this is why I don’t get embarrassed much. I don’t worship celebrities. I see people as people regardless of their occupation or income. My Dad sometimes talked about his cousin’s husband who was fabulously wealthy, but he treated “a bum on the street the same as the President” he would say. I always remembered and admired that. We don’t choose our birth circumstances or genetics or a lot of our inputs, right? Of course, I like certain people more than others and I admire some of them and dislike a few, but you get the point. My friend is a very successful minister and has written many books and spoken to countless people all over the world for decades. His knowledge is vast. He is a dedicated, kind, generous, interesting, and funny guy and I respect him a lot. He’s one of the better people I’ve ever known.

However, on the day before he commented on my one redeeming quality, he was acting like a jerkface. I’ll spare you the details, but the bottom line is that he was being inconsiderate, a little arrogant, and pretty annoying. And, it ticked me off. As we were eating at a KFC in Flin Flon, Manitoba, I reached my boiling point and I partially released the Kraken.

Okay, Chuck Norris is not the official Kraken, but you have to admit that he would do well in the role.

Let me just say here that I don’t get mad very often or quickly, but when I do get angry it’s generally pretty bad. Long fuse, big bomb. There was no atomic blast at the KFC, but I did raise my voice and loudly mock my friend as I imitated and pointed out his behavior in front of everyone. Not my finest hour, but I did make my point. He asked me if he could speak with me privately outside and I raised my mock-shaking hands and said “Oh, no. Are we going fight?” in a quavering/mocking voice. He said, “Please stop. Can I just talk to you outside?” So, we went outside and he said that he didn’t appreciate my behavior and I mentioned that I didn’t think his was so great either. We chatted about it for a few minutes and he ended up apologizing and saying that I was right, but that he didn’t like the way I had pointed it out. I also apologized for losing my temper and we metaphorically kissed and made up. On the way back into the restaurant, he said “You’re something else, you know that?” This is the guy that was a professional bull rider, carries a bottle of Tabasco sauce in his coat’s breast pocket, and has a glass eye. Anyway, he explained our discussion to the others, apologized to the larger group, and changed his behavior. It ended well and he thanked me for having the guts to confront him because apparently a lot of people don’t do that due to his perceived status or celebrity in certain circles. This was the setting in which he told me that my utter lack of reverence for anyone was my only redeeming quality. I sincerely hope that I’ve developed some others since then. And, maybe this lack of embarrassment trait is one of them.

My path in life has been a fairly bizarre one. My intention as a youth was to be an English teacher. I love words, creativity, books, poems, passion, theater, art, music, and reflection. (Today, I am a supply chain analyst. Words, books, poems, passion, and reflection don’t visit me on a daily basis at my job other than through my VanGogh desktop backgrounds, although there is some creativity involved. I am also a former owner of a few restaurants, production supervisor, printing press operator, carpenter and home renovator, husband, steel tubing bundler, chiropractic assistant, cult member, conspiracy theorist, and overly dogmatic Bible thumper. Former is the key word here.) When I was in High School, my future English teacher self was asked to join Academic Decathlon which is like Speech on steroids and meth at the same time. We competed with other schools by giving speeches, taking timed tests in various subjects, extemporaneous speaking, interviews, etc. There were ten separate events, hence decathlon. We met after school and trained for these events and we practiced both in and out of school. It was challenging, but we did really well one year and qualified for the State Academic Decathlon competition in Mankato which was quite an accomplishment to us at the time being from a town of 1,200 souls. I think we finished third or fourth.

On the trip, we stayed at a Hilton or Marriott in Mankato and shenanigans were planned by my friends and teammates after the lone chaperone retired for the evening. Uncharacteristically, I declined and argued that we should all go to bed early and get a good night of sleep for the competition the next day. The concensus was that we were going to get crushed by the larger schools anyway, so why bother? We argued and I was denounced as being lame, but I ended up going to bed. There were three other guys staying in my room ‘s two queen beds and I staked out my spot, stripped down to my white Fruit of the Loom briefs, and crawled into bed. To this day, I usually fall asleep in about five minutes and this particular night was no exception. It did take slightly longer, as I recall, because of the strange pillow/bed, my nervousness about the next day’s competition, and my guilt for not running around and terrorizing Mankato with my friends. Regardless, I was asleep shortly after going to bed.

Some time later I was partially awakened by the door opening and whispering voices. I vaguely heard footsteps and some muffled laughter and I tried to ignore it. Moments later someone climbed into bed with me and I kept trying to relax and fade back into darkness. Then a slow hand and arm moved over my side and stomach. What the heck?! Suddenly, the top sheet and comforter were violently ripped off the bed and the lights came on along with a barrage of flashes. I looked around in dazed horror as my eyes adjusted and I realized that I was in bed with a beautiful young girl wearing something like lingerie. Her name was Danise and she was another member of our team and a friend. I further realized that the bed was surrounded by my friends and, worst of all, the girl who I was infatuated with and awkwardly trying to date at the time. And, several of them had cameras. The flashes were from camera flashes that were flashing regularly. I think I was 16.

I have a pretty good memory, although memory can play tricks on you and events can be slowly twisted or distorted or embellished over time, but I honestly have no memory of exactly what happened next. I remember Danise becoming very embarrassed too which the pictures that circulated around our group and around the school would also testify to. I don’t think she had thought the whole thing through completely. I didn’t see all of the pictures because I think the takers were afraid that I would attack them, take the pictures, and destroy them. I also vaguely remember lunging for the covers and having a tug of war with someone over them and then wrapping myself in them very tightly. Regardless, for a young boy with self-esteem issues to start with, this event produced nearly fatal embarrassment. Most of my close friends and most of the girls that I had crushes on had just seen too-tall, super skinny me with bed head and in my underwear. Since then, I’ve had years at a time where I’ve not recalled this event and then I’ll see a picture from that era or a reference will be made to Mankato and the memory will pop up in its tighty-whiteys like a thin white apparition with a mullet. Memory is a labyrinth.

Back to the initial question: Why do we get embarrassed? I believe it’s at least partially because we’ve done something or had something done to us that we feel will result in a loss. Loss of status, hope, control, something desired, respect, something we cherish, etc. In Canada, I felt that I had lost respect and that people thought I was someone other than who I am. In Mankato, I probably felt that I had been betrayed by my best friends while being humiliated and possibly losing the chance to marry and enjoy a lifetime of romance and bliss with Stephanie or Danise or Melanie or anyone else within a 50 mile radius of North Branch. Mankato upset me much more than Canada because I could handle the slight loss of respect of some guys that I cherished as friends much more than I could handle the loss of hope for an idealized life filled with love and joy. Of course, my teenage self had massively overblown the situation, but the point still stands.

I dated Stephanie off and on for three or four years in High School and my first two years of college. She was a great and highly intelligent person and I hope she’s happy now. Even in this age of social media, I have no idea where she is living and what her life has become. I have to laugh when I think of how awkward I was and how frustrated she must have been with me. Sitting in my car in her parent’s driveway, Stephanie asked me while we were having one of our many deep conversations on a date the year following Mankato “What are you the most scared of?” I thought about it and eventually said “Being alone.” I still don’t know where that came from, but she put her hand on the back of my neck and pulled me in for a tight hug and said “You’ll never be alone, David.”

In some ways she was right because I have a Super Mom, four wonderful children who I am very close with, and some great friends too. But, she was wrong when it comes to romantic love and that closeness that comes from completely giving yourself over to another person. I tried it twice after Stephanie and I quit seeing each other and both cases ended in damaged hearts all around. It remains to be seen whether Stephanie’s prophecy is ultimately true in that regard.

I believe that we all have the same needs whether we know it or acknowledge them or not. Just like our bodies need their vitamins, minerals, fiber, hydration, exercise, mental stimulation, etc. to thrive, I think there is a primal need for reciprocated love, touch, and acceptance in our lives. Sometimes people try to fill those needs with harmful things that are temporary, like eating spiritual junk food, but it never works or fills them up. I hope that you have your needs met and that you can help others too. This is the definition of being rich and living a good life in my eyes.

My unsolicited advice, for whatever it’s worth:

1, Wear some pajamas if you sleep in a communal hotel room.

2. Survey your bathroom sites carefully and stay out of the deep woods before proceeding with elimination.

3. Seek real love in all of its forms and, if you’re blessed enough to find it, hold onto it with everything you’ve got.

Andrew Wyeth: Christina’s World

I’ve always loved this painting, but she seems so fragile and alone.

Big Nasty Swedish Fellow

I believe it’s in my genes to mess with people. My Dad did it. My Uncle Ray did it. I do it. I don’t normally do it in a mean way, but I’ve always felt like it’s necessary to pretend that I don’t understand young children when they’re trying to tell me something while twisting their words into something ridiculous, or I’ll tell the barista or pizza order taker that my name is Godzilla, or engage in philosophical conversations with drunk people, or wear a George Bush button into the Democratic booth at the State Fair, or tell people to watch their mouth in front of my kids, etc.

My Uncle extended his leave from the Korean War a few months by messing with the Army. He decided that he didn’t want to go back when his leave was over, so he just stayed home. When the military contacted him to see why he hadn’t returned, he said that he hadn’t gotten his orders. They sent him his orders again. He stayed home and continued to claim that he hadn’t received them. After that ploy had run its course, he told them that his train tickets hadn’t arrived when the truth was that he had thrown them away. He did this several times as well. In the end, a car with some serious looking and well armed military police officers showed up and made sure that he found his way back. But, even after all of that envelope pushing, he didn’t receive any disciplinary actions. After hearing from my Dad about the horrific things my Uncle had seen as an ambulance driver on the front lines, I would have wanted to stay home too. Nobody should have to see those things and nobody is undamaged from seeing them.

One day, I was sitting at the railroad crossing in our town and my daughter Abby, who was four and learning to read, was sounding out the BNSF on the side of the train engines that were slowly moving past. She was a little confused by this word and she asked me what it was and how you pronounced it. I explained to her what an acronym was and how each letter stood for a word. I gave her examples like USA, NASA, and a few others. When she asked what BNSF stood for, without hesitation I told her it stood for “Big Nasty Swedish Fellow.” I don’t know where this came from or why I needed to deceive her at this moment, but it happened. I went on to explain that a big and nasty Swedish man owned all of the orange train engines and that he wanted to warn everyone that they were his and that you shouldn’t mess with them or bad things would happen to you. So, he painted BNSF on them. For some reason, this deception didn’t bother me at all, but at this same time in our family’s history I vehemently resisted pretending that there was a Santa Claus with any of my children and explained to them from a very young age that Santa Claus was just a game that some families played with their children that we didn’t like. I once heard a guy say that his son asked him if Jesus was a lie too after he found out that Santa wasn’t real and I decided that day to never play the Santa game. The big nasty Swedish fellow, however, somehow didn’t register with me as being like Santa Claus. We are all inconsistent at times, aren’t we?

Flash forward about a year and Abby was reading much better and sounding out much bigger words. (If we flashed forward 18 years, she is currently reading and working her way to a doctorate and I couldn’t be more proud of her.) As we sat at the same railroad crossing, she was sitting next to her brother in the back seat and sounding out the words on the seemingly endless line of identical green boxcars. “Bur-ling-ton” “Nor-thern” “San-ta-fee” I corrected her “fee” to “fay” and explained that proper names don’t always follow the rules. She said “Oh” and sat there processing that for a moment. A few more moments passed and then she said “Hey!” I said “What?” She said “Hey! You lied to me!” “What do you mean?”, I said. “BNSF doesn’t mean ‘Big Nasty Swedish Fellow’! It means Burlington Northern Santa Fe!!” I started smiling and I was about to laugh and explain my joke when young Austin piped up from the back seat “Abby, Dad doesn’t lie!” in my defense. His completely unwavering belief in my character only made my situation worse as Abby got more upset. I started laughing at my predicament which didn’t help either.

In the end, I was able to explain myself to both of them and we had a good conversation about lying and joking. I think they understood that, like most situations in this world, the difference between lying and joking like the difference between teasing and making fun of someone comes down to both the person’s intentions and the target’s perception of it. Is the guy romantic or is he a stalker? Is it flirting or harassment? Is reporting crime statistics racist or simply factual? Are you rich or poor? Succeeding or failing? Hate crime? Intolerance? Justice or travesty? It depends on intentions and perceptions on some level, doesn’t it?

This is one reason that I’m big on communication and discussion. That’s how you learn about intentions and explain perceptions. In short, if someone asks you a question, especially a child, answer it. The other part of the equation is trust because a lot of your perception relies on it. Trust, respect, communication, and acceptance. I believe that these are the four ingredients to a healthy relationship. If you remove any of them, you have nothing.

Now, the BNSF episode has become yet another weapon in my daughter’s sizable arsenal that she uses against me when telling her friends, my friends, or pretty much anyone else that I did “terrible” things to her when she was little. The toy school bus teasing, the Barney situation, the countless times I jumped out from behind things to scare her, the times I threw her more than a little too high into the air, the wrestling accidents, the time I accidentally snapped her in the eye with a towel, and many other moments are forever stored in the magnificent database that is her amazing brain and, in the end, I’m sure she’ll use them to full advantage.

When they’re grown, I hope that she and the others also remember the books we read, the baseball games we played in the back yard, the forts we built in the living room, the trips we took, the talks we had, the help I’ve offered, and the lessons I’ve tried to teach them throughout all of it. I hope we always have that essential trust, respect, communication, and acceptance. I hope they have it with their spouses and children too. And, I hope that all of it adds up to an irrefutable body of evidence that testifies to the fact that I love them and I love being their Dad.

Existential Funkphoria

I get in these moods occasionally that remind me a little of Solomon’s ‘life is meaningless’ passages from Ecclesiastes crossed with a good story from NPR’s This American Life crossed with a Hallmark movie. I called it an existential funkphoria today which is stupid, but I’m going with it. The existential funk/sentimentality hangs out with love and some other good feelings and the ‘what might have beens’ tag along like a third wheel.

It makes me happy to be sad sometimes. I’m happy that I can still feel things and that my heart isn’t hard. That’s why you cry when some people die. You loved them, so the sadness at losing them balances the love. I remember thanking God that I was sad when my Grandma Myrtle died. I was pretty messed up in my head at that time and questioning myself quite a bit and I was happy to realize that I could still feel something real. That’s why I was happy about being a little upset today too, I think. There is always light with darkness.

I took my Super Mom on a road trip from somewhere near the Wisconsin border to St. Cloud for breakfast. Why is it exciting to drive 75 miles for breakfast? Several reasons. I got to spend hours in conversation with my Mom while driving through some sentimental and beautiful countryside and there was a pretty great breakfast at The Place waiting at the other end. (If you haven’t been to The Place in St. Cloud for breakfast, I recommend it. The outside is kind of creepy, the inside is refurbished with a side dish of gritty, and the food is great. If you like potato pancakes, bring several friends who also enjoy them because you won’t even come close to finishing one by yourself.)

Why is my Mom super? Many reasons. My favorite reason is that she was given a year and a half to live about thirty years ago. That didn’t work out for the doctor who is probably dead now himself, but it worked out great for the rest of us. There is also the fact that my Mom is probably the nicest person I’ve ever known. And, she’s funny and has good stories. But, I’ve told you about her before and this post is about funkphoria, dangit!

It’s always sentimental for me to drive through North Branch and think of all the people and memories from that town. I still see the town of 1,200 people from the late 1970’s that I moved to in second grade underneath the one that’s slowly digesting any remnant of it. On the way home, we drove past both of the houses that our family lived in while we resided in North Branch. Cornfields and pastures now grow houses. Those crappy little seedlings that the neighbor planted and my parents laughed at are now towering evergreens that block the view of the farm behind our old house as much as the housing development built in their field does. The Nelson’s round barn is gone, so that view would be diminished anyway. My Mom pointed to a tree in our old yard and said “Mr. Blakeslee planted that tree himself.” I think I was supposed to be impressed, but I have no memory of the man even though the development is named after him. I drove past houses where people named Andy, Rich, Brian, Danise, Steve, Butch, Kurt, Mike, Dell, Dale, and many others grew up. I know “You can never go home”, right? Right.

I was a little shocked and confused by how much the sight of one particular dead tree upset me. I attached a picture of it to this post and you can see the reflection of my Mom in the glass. That was my favorite climbing tree when people had things like that. I climbed so many that I had a favorite is another thought I had. I drove by that today too. It’s dead now and slowly crumbling like that past. Like all of our pasts. It’s now about 1/3 of its grandest size. That tree had a split trunk with a big hole in the middle of it facing straight upward where dumb squirrels sometimes hung out until they realize they were getting wet or that there was a dumb kid climbing the tree. I almost fell out of that tree a few times because I would spook a squirrel out of that hole and it would scare the poop out of me too. The hole was a perfect hand hold for climbing higher, but I never dared to reach blindly for it for fear of getting rabies or at least a nasty bite or scratch.

I hid up there one time when a bunch of young boys, including me, were having a fireworks war. When my brother walked by stealthily hunting me, I lit a pack of fire crackers and tossed them down at him. (This was quite a feat of dexterity because the older boys took the lighters and us younger boys had only matchbooks. Also, I was about fifteen feet up a large tree.) As they sailed perfectly down the back of his shirt, I realized two things: One, this was probably my last day above ground. And, two, I had a very short window of time during the ensuing chaos to get down out of this tree and run. I got down quickly, I ran very quickly, and I somehow managed to avoid being murdered. It was a day of miracles, apparently.

There was another tree in our yard that had a bird’s nest in it every year in the same place. I would climb it and check the nest for eggs. Later, I would climb it and look at the mother bird as she sat completely still on the eggs in the hope that I wouldn’t see her. In my childish way, I thought she was my friend and I talked to her for extended periods and told her about things that bothered me or that I was upset about. I guess this was the therapy tree. I also talked to the neighbor’s cow, so there’s that. Multiple therapists. The bird monologues all ended one summer when the male bird, who I must have mistimed for many years, expressed his dislike of my discussions with his lady. He chased me out of the tree and continued to chase me and my friend Nick across the yard and into the little shed that would eventually become our pig barn. It was really hot in there, but he swooped at us whenever we tried to come out, so we stayed in there sweating for a long time. Eventually, we made a run for the house and I remember yelling for my Mom to open the door. Bird therapy over. At least I still had the cow. (Side note: The cow was eventually slaughtered and the fence became a great lesson on the raw power of electricity when my friend dared me to pee on it. If you ever have the opportunity to discourage a child from doing this, please do so.)

I fell out of the big tree one summer evening around dusk while I was climbing by myself. I landed on an exposed root flat on my back and the wind was crushed out of me. There was a blinding pain that almost made me pass out and I thought that I had broken my back. I started crying out of pain and fear and I was afraid to move. If I tried to move and I couldn’t, it would be true, I guess. I laid there for a long time until it was getting dark and cold. My Mom called for me like Moms used to do. I tried to call back, but my voice was weak and full of tears and fear and she couldn’t hear me. She was too far away. So, I moved and I found that my legs worked. Maybe I had only been badly injured and not paralyzed, I thought. I slowly walked up to the house and I told her about the fall and my back and she rubbed it a few circles and said that she was sure I’d be fine. I’m still not sure about that.

The tree was a pretty good defensive position and I hid up there now and then to avoid a beating. My main tormentor didn’t like to climb trees, thankfully. He would stand under me and threaten to climb up there and get me. Then he would tell me all of the terrible things he was going to do to me when I came down. My patience generally won out and I usually made it to the house.

I also hid in the tree from the bad things that were going on in my house. I cried up there. I tried not to hear the things that were going on in the house when I was up there. I tried to hide up there while my name was being yelled and threats were being offered warning me to get back in the house. In the end, I always had to go back inside.

So, why did seeing the dead tree bother me so much? I’ve driven by that house a handful of times in the decades since graduation and noticed the tree. I remembered it and some of the stories surrounding it, but it never upset me. Was it the fact that it was dead now and decaying? It honestly confuses me.

Solomon said that everything aside from serving God is meaningless, vanity, and grasping for the wind. I guess he was in a bit of a funk at that point too. I don’t claim to completely understand the meaning of Solomon’s words, but as we get older I know we think about the meaning of our lives and in our lives, if any. I didn’t have a lot of meaning in my life in those days, but I had that tree, a bird, the neighbor’s cow, and a friend that knew what was going on. It’s weird, I know, but I have to think that’s why seeing that dead tree shook me a bit. I think I’d feel the same way if I heard that long-ago friend had died even though I haven’t really talked to him since middle school. They were all something good in the world at that time. There is always light with darkness.

Conform or be cast out.

My oldest daughter sent me this meme a few years ago with the comment “This is how you’re going to die.” I laughed out loud. She often gives me a hard time about not being a strict rule follower and making fun of rules that seem silly to me. She’ll point it out when I’ve run a stop sign in a mall parking lot or done an illegal U-turn by saying something like “So, that sign applies to everyone else but not you?” or she’ll see some heinous maneuver coming because she knows me well and she’ll simply say “Dad. Don’t.” I sometimes think she can read my thoughts. My son and younger daughters do it too. The point is that I often think rules are stupid. Why should I stop for a stop sign in an absolutely deserted mall parking lot? Why should I put my seat belt on when I’m moving my car from the street to the garage? Why do I have to attend this meeting when the topic doesn’t apply to me? Why would I need a license for a house cat? Why am I supposed to be scared in certain neighborhoods? Why do I have to wear a certain brand or style of clothes or adopt the latest technology as soon as it’s released? The truth is that I don’t. Nobody is making me. But, society and even my own children often pressure me to do so either overtly or passively by making fun of me when I don’t conform. This annoys me. There is a non-conformist thread that runs through me. I don’t always want to follow the herd. These thoughts extend into most parts of life because sometimes rules or laws or trends or paradigms are illogical or just plain stupid. This is why I sometimes give my name as Godzilla when someone in public asks for my name. (One time at Davanni’s Pizza in St. Paul, I gave my name as Godzilla. When my pizza was ready, an Asian guy with a Japanese bandanna tied around his forehead walked to the microphone and said, in the stereotypical Japanese monster movie voice “HO NO! A PIZZA FOR GODZIRRA!!” It was hilarious and wonderful and I high-fived him for his effort when I grabbed the pizza.) I sometimes sign Godzilla on my credit card receipts. Nobody really cares. It’s hocus pocus. It’s meaningless. It’s creating an illusion of control. This is why many people were concerned the first time they didn’t have to sign for a credit card purchase at some retailers. They felt like they weren’t conforming if they didn’t sign. It feels wrong to them. I like to see the big and little pictures and realize the principles behind these types of practices. Often times, they’re meaningless.

I got pulled over by an obviously irate officer in New Brighton for going 34 MPH in a 30 MPH zone. I had just crossed the line from Fridley into New Brighton on Mississippi Street and in Fridley the speed limit was 40 MPH. I took my foot off the gas and was coasting down to 30 when he flew up behind me and pulled me over. He burst out of his car, slammed the door, and marched up to my car as though I had just decapitated his puppy with a spork. “What do you think you’re doing?!”, he said. I said nothing. He went on. “Do you have any idea how fast you were going?!” “Yes, I was going about 42 back there and coasting down to about 32 here because the speed limit changes when you cross over into New Brighton.” “You were going 34 miles per hour!” He said this with the imaginary decapitated puppy in his trembling and outraged hands. I said “Okay.” He went on with his sermon. “There are kids that live and play on this street.” I’m thinking that the parents of New Brighton should not be allowing their children to play in the street. “What were you thinking?!” There were more outraged comments and attempts to induce guilt and justify the impending ticket which I won’t bore you with, but at some point I had enough of the preaching and I simply put up my hand in the universal symbol for STOP. He was not pleased with my gesture and he said “What is that supposed to mean?” Apparently the symbol is not actually universal. I said “You and I both know that I didn’t do anything wrong and I didn’t endanger anyone. About a hundred feet back there I was a law abiding citizen and now that I’ve crossed over an imaginary line into your jurisdiction I’m a maniac? This whole thing is ridiculous and a waste of your time and mine. If you’re going to give me a ticket, just do it. Otherwise, just stop preaching at me and leave me alone.” Prematurely cutting off his lecture did not please him and, of course, I got the ticket. But, it was worth it just to get him to shut up. I had to use considerable mental control to stop myself from saying “Thank you” after receiving the ticket. I don’t understand why I feel compelled to thank people and apologize all the time, but whether it’s a Minnesota thing or a Norwegian thing it’s definitely an annoying thing. But, this officer’s illogical behavior and personal rules are a good example of the type of laws/rules that I find to be annoying because, number one, I appreciate liberty and, number two, I think we should be focused on the spirit of the law more than the letter of the law.

The spirit of the speed laws is that you shouldn’t endanger people by driving too fast for the surrounding conditions. The letter of the law is that if you’re going faster than 30 MPH on that section of Mississippi Street, you’re a lawbreaker. In my little town, the former police chief gave a lot of people tickets for going over the speed limit at all. There were many tickets for 31 MPH and 32 MPH. This was all exposed in the local paper when an outraged senior citizen wrote a letter to the editor about how she had received a ticket for going 31 MPH on Highway 12 in Dassel. The police chief was later found to be guilty off many terrible acts and the department itself was eventually disbanded and replaced by Meeker County deputies. Good riddance.

Today’s political climate has many “letter of the law” people on both sides screaming at the other side for the slightest infraction. We’ve forgotten the point and all of this stupidity is not helping anyone. Laws and rules are supposed to help us and make our lives better, but they are often misused as clubs to beat opponents with.

My sarcasm and rule breaking, which will possibly lead to my death if my daughter is correct, sometimes stems from my disgust for these types of situations. I just don’t understand why we, as a society, can’t see the bigger picture. What is really important? What do the vast majority want and need? Why are we wasting our time arguing about what color to paint the kitchen when the house is on fire? Whatever your golden calf is, have you ever stopped to ask yourself if you’re missing the larger point and if it really matters outside of your little fish tank? It would be great to start thinking about the ocean rather than one or two fish. Outliers are outliers, but some agendas will use those outliers to further their cause and it’s a disservice to the rest of the ocean. Forest, trees, etc.

When I was working construction in my youth, I was shaking a bottle of muriatic acid which I was about to use to etch some ceramic shower tiles that I was planning to paint. The cap of the bottle popped open in mid shake and the acid shot out and a line of the liquid made a stripe up my face and through my right eye. This hurt. A lot. The acid raised a welt on my skin as it burned me and it did a lot more interesting things to my eyeball. I ran to the sink to rinse it out, but the water had been turned off for the house. I ran next door and knocked on the door. A lady opened the door and then took in a sharp breath when she saw my face. I politely asked if I could use the sink and she agreed and also brought me a towel. The burning continued and I started to get scared that I might lose my eye, so I ran to my van and drove to a local hospital’s ER. I jogged up to the desk and said “I have acid in my eye” to the receptionist. Without looking up, she slid a clipboard with attached pen across the counter to me and said “If you could just fill this out, someone will be with you in a few minutes.” I shoved the clipboard back at her hard enough to hit her and make it fall to the floor and then I yelled “I HAVE ACID IN MY EYE!!” This, finally, got her attention as well as the attention of several nurses and a doctor who came out of the back immediately and took me back to a room to be treated. They stuck a ph strip in my eye and eventually, with the help of three others, a nurse stuck a suction cup-like, eyeball-shaped torture device onto my eyeball and started spraying a cold saline solution onto my eye. This also hurt. A lot. I’m pretty sure the people in the waiting room heard my primal noises and hyperventilation and thought that some part of my body was being sawed off as I bit down on a leather belt like an unfortunate Civil War soldier. While this horror was unfolding, the receptionist came back into the room several times to try to get me to fill out the form. “We can’t treat you until you fill out the admission form.” “I’m not filling out the form right now.” “But…” This went on until a doctor told her to leave me alone. This is another example of a ridiculous rule. Did the receptionist slide the clipboard over the counter to folks with bullet wounds or machetes sticking out of them or virtual zombies with their eyeballs hanging out and dangling by the optic nerve? The answer is yes. She did. And, it’s stupid.

I went into Wal-Mart one night at about 11pm in the early 2000’s to purchase shotgun shells. My friend had invited me over for skeet shooting the following day and I didn’t have any shells because I don’t shoot very often. As I walked into the sporting goods section, an employee asked if he could help me find something. I said “Where are your shotgun shells? Target loads.” He pointed to his left and said “They’re over there on the end cap, but you can’t buy any.” I thought that was a strange thing to say, so I ignored it and kept walking. I picked up a box and turned around to find him blocking me. He said “You can’t buy those.” I said “Why?” He said “Because it’s after 10 o’clock.” “What does that have to do with anything?” He condescendingly said “Have you ever heard of terrorism?” as though this explained why I couldn’t buy the shotgun shells. I burst out laughing and I said “Of course, but what does terrorism have to do with me buying shotgun shells?” Still superior, he said “Maybe you’ve heard of a little thing called 9/11?” This irked me. I said “What’s your point?” He said, after exhaling in frustration at my ignorance, “Since 9/11, you can’t buy ammunition after 10pm. It’s a federal law.” I said “No, it’s not.” He said “If you’re a responsible gun owner, you should at least know the laws.” This irked me further. I said “I am a responsible gun owner, I’m an NRA member, I’ve owned and used guns since I was old enough to hold one, and I do know the laws. There is no such law.” With this, I turned and started walking toward the front of the store to checkout. He followed and as we walked he peppered me with a series of statements like “You can’t buy those.”, “This is illegal.”, “You’ll need to put those back.”, etc. At one point, I turned around to face him and he jumped backwards like he was being attacked. I said “Just go away and leave me alone.” He didn’t and as we got up to the registers people in lines were staring at us having heard our back and forth as we approached. The man yelled from a distance to the cashier whose line I had chosen “He can’t buy those!”, “This is illegal!”, and a few other similar statements. I put the shells on the belt and pulled out my wallet. Literally everyone in the checkout area was staring at us. As the shells inched their way toward the cashier, the man continued his rant and I turned and told him again to be quiet and leave me alone. After I said this, the embarrassed cashier calmly explained to me that it was Wal-Mart’s policy to not sell firearm ammunition after 10pm and that she wasn’t allowed to sell the shells to me. I thanked her for explaining this to me in a sane manner and the male associate yelled “See, I told you!” I turned and took a few steps toward him as he backed up and I said “It’s not a federal law, it’s a Wal-Mart policy, but regardless, it’s stupid. How are you preventing terrorism or another 9/11 style attack by forbidding law abiding citizens from purchasing target shooting shells after 10pm?! Do terrorists shop at Wal-Mart?! Is this their source for shotgun shells?! Do you have a similar ban on selling box cutters? Is a member of the Taliban or Al Qaeda or Hezbollah going to be foiled because they couldn’t buy their shotgun shells at Wal-Mart after 10pm?! Do they only shop late at night?! ‘Oh, dang! We could have carried out our Jihad if we’d only checked out before 9:59pm.’ It’s completely stupid and you’re too dumb to see it!” This was not my finest hour of self-control. Then, just as my rant was winding down and I was preparing to leave, a woman in another checkout line yelled at me “What about the children?!” Thank you for throwing a drum of gasoline on the waning fire, Mrs. Kneejerk. I turned to her and yelled “What ABOUT the children?! Please explain to me how your children or my children are safer because I can’t buy shotgun shells after 10pm. It’s a stupid, feel-good rule that makes people like you think that Wal-Mart cares about your safety and is really stepping up to do something about terrorism. It does nothing except force me to shop at a different time or a different store.” I turned again and started walking out when another thought bubbled up to the top of my anger and I turned again to the Mom and said “As a matter of fact, your children and my children are safer because people like me have guns at home and use them responsibly.” Then, turning to the male associate, I asked what time they opened tomorrow and what time he would allow me to purchase shotgun shells. He said “8am.” I finished my tirade by saying “Good. I’ll be here at 8:01 tomorrow morning to purchase all of your shotgun shells so that I can set them on fire in the parking lot.” This, of course, made little or no sense, but I had completely crossed over into madness by this time. I walked out with my wife who was wisely keeping a respectable distance from me to allow the sanity to seep back in. Note: I did not return in the morning and I never intended to set fire to anything in the parking lot. But, again, as my rant stated, this rule makes zero sense and I would love for people to see that this type of gesture is optics only and does no real good. I drove to another store and bought shotgun shells.

I was waiting for my wife to finish shopping at a Twin Cities grocery store in the late 1990’s. My daughter was about one year old and she and I were talking about the things that Dads and daughters talk about when they’re one. I had driven to the outskirts of the lot and had my daughter out of her car seat. She liked to stand between my legs and turn the steering wheel, so I asked her if she wanted to drive. She said yes, so I put the car in drive and let her steer us around a little. We were honestly at least 50 – 75 yards from the nearest parked car and moving at creeping speed with my foot on the brake. I helped her stay in the hinterland of the parking lot when she started leading us astray and she was giggling and having a blast. Suddenly, out of the corner of my eye, another car came speeding toward us. I immediately stopped the car and put it in park and the car kept heading directly toward us to the point where I thought we were about to be rammed. It screeched to a halt at the last moment and an incensed woman jumped out and started yelling at me. “What the hell is wrong with you?!”, she said. I was confused. I still don’t know how she even saw us way out there. She started to shout a stream of profane insults at me and was threatening me and such. In between curses, she said that I was endangering the life of my child, my own life, and the lives of everyone in the parking lot. I told her that I didn’t see anything wrong with what I was doing and the only one endangering anyone was her as she raced toward us and nearly hit us. She said that she was going to call the police. I told her to do so. She said that she was going to call Child Protective Services. I told her to do so. She said that she wasn’t joking. I told her that I would much rather talk with them than her and that I didn’t appreciate her language and anger which was offensive and was also scaring my daughter. I also told her that we could talk with the police about her conduct and actions as well. She kept going, so I put my daughter back into her seat and drove away with the lady following me. Nothing more happened, thankfully, as I picked up my wife and went home. This illustrates the overall point as well. Was I breaking the law? Yes. Was I harming anyone? No. Were the odds great that I could have harmed anyone? No. The lady caused a dangerous situation and broke a number of laws in her attempt to enforce the letter of the law that she was upset about. My philosophy, in general, is no harm/no foul. Leave people alone and let them live as they want as long as they’re not hurting others. My daughter miraculously survived this episode and many others like it and is a much better driver than this parking lot monitor, in my opinion.

All of this said and confessed, I do follow most rules and laws and I believe that society is better in general if we all do the same. However, please take the time to think about more than the surface level. We need more people engaged in making positive changes in our society and raising families that can think and act like intelligent, responsible, and free people. Take a deep breath before robot-puking out that phrase that the public opinion molders have conditioned you to say. Think. I’m not trying to win you over to a certain agenda and I don’t really care what you stand for on most issues as long as you’ve honestly thought them through in light of society rather than just your own interests. I believe that we can all agree on the majority of issues and I’d love to see the basics taken care of before moving on to the details. Let’s not polish the brass on the Titanic as the saying goes. We have larger problems to solve.

Did you know that 3M’s Post It notes were invented by some engineers that were disobeying their boss? They were told not to waste their time because nothing would ever replace the paper clip. Billions of dollars later, he’s still wrong. 3M encourages their employees to “fix what bothers you” or take on projects that they feel have value. Follow your passion. It’s a good idea and it has yielded some great innovations. “Disruptive technology” is a buzzword in business today too and it’s simply non-conformity of thought to spur innovation. If you always want the same results, keep doing the same things, right? Change means disruption and some companies have realized that they have to give their people the freedom to pursue their ideas. I believe our societal problems can be fixed the same way, so please stop propping up failed paradigms. It’s not a partisan issue. It applies to all of us and most situations.

And, in conclusion, please learn and practice the art of disagreement without anger or condescension. We all have different perspectives and life experiences and we are all worthy of basic respect. Give me a warning for going 34 MPH in the 30 zone. Explain the Wal-Mart policy to me and get your facts right. Park near me and walk over for a conversation about why you don’t think I should be letting my daughter steer. Let’s talk about it. I’m pretty sure that we can work something out.

I think Rush gets it and Geddy Lee eloquently sings about it in this song. Enjoy.

Action, Reaction, and Bagels.

We all learned Newton’s Laws of Motion in school at least three times, right?. If you remember them, you are a nerd. It makes me like you more, actually, but you’re still a nerd. Anyway, to recap, here they are:

Newton’s Three Laws of Motion

Newton’s Three laws of motion may be stated as follows:

  1. Every object in a state of uniform motion will remain in that state of motion unless an external force acts on it.
  2. Force equals mass times acceleration.
  3. For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.

In the summer of 1987, there was a large box of bagels at rest in the back of an Einstein Bagels restaurant in the Uptown neighborhood of Minneapolis. To be clear, this was a rather large box. If you were going to move across the country and you needed a box to put all of your dishes and cups into, this box probably wouldn’t get the job done but it would be dang close. And, it was completely full of bagels. In order for this box to be put into motion, according to Sir Isaac, force would have to be applied to it. This particular day, that force was named Rich and I had the pleasure of spending the day with him and two lovely ladies in and around Uptown as we enjoyed the Uptown Art Fair. The one lady was Rich’s girlfriend Tammy and the other was Tammy’s cousin whose name escapes me. She was a student at the U and I’m not sure if Tammy thought we were a good match or not when she invited both of us, but the cousin was too old and sophisticated for an insecure high school sophomore like me and the chemistry was a lot more more like canned fart spray than perfume, let’s say.

Regardless, we were having fun and eating ice cream cones while taking a break from the art when Tammy flirtatiously asked Rich to take a lick of her cone and then proceeded to jam it hard into his face. Laughter ensued and then Rich’s temper ensued and he stormed off. Rich had a temper that was impressive and occasionally terrifying. He would turn beet red and all hell would break loose now and again. Short fuse, big bomb. Anyway, this day, the day of the bagel incident, he wisely removed himself from the area to avoid murdering all of us which I greatly appreciate. Being his closest friend, I decided to go after him and we walked and ranted and talked until we eventually ended up in front of Einstein Bagels and Rich decided that he wanted one. We went inside and were greeted by two more lovely ladies who were selling bagels and we began to flirt with them a bit. Rich explained to them that he wanted a bagel but that he didn’t want to pay for it. “So, you want us to just give you a bagel?” the girl said. “Yeah.” “We don’t GIVE bagels. We SELL bagels”, she said. The conversation went on and we apparently charmed them with our routine because the one girl whispered something to the other one and then they told us to meet them in the alley behind the store in a minute. This was an interesting development, indeed, and our hormone-addled minds entertained any number of possibilities that may have been about to occur between us and these beautiful girls as we rushed out the door and around the corner and into the alley. After a few minutes, the back door of the bagel shop opened up and the two girls came out. One of them was awkwardly carrying a large box. She said “Here you go.” and handed the box to Rich who opened it up to discover about 8,000,000 bagels inside. Honestly, it was probably around 100, but people aren’t generally gifted with a mass quantity of bagels and we were in a state of shock. These were the day old bagels and the ones that had been dropped and such, they told us, and they were destined for the dumpster, so the lovely ladies figured, correctly, that we would love to have them. This wasn’t the most exciting thing that we had been imagining, but it was pretty cool and we thanked them several times as they went back to work and we headed back to find the nefarious ice cream assailant and her cultivated college cousin.

The girls were amazed when we showed up with a large case of bagels and I don’t think we ever fully explained where and how we had acquired them. That would have led to dangerous questions, I suppose. Anyway, we headed back to the car as we munched bagels and we decided to drive around and look for something else to do since we had lost interest in the art fair. At some point, after we had each eaten a few bagels, Tammy asked what the hell we were going to do with all of these bagels. I remember her saying “There are so many left!” It was a fair question and we shortly found a number of answers to the question which also involved Newton’s Laws. Force = us. Mass = bagels. The acceleration took care of itself.

Yes, we could have simply thrown them away. We could have donated them to the Salvation Army or a food shelf. We could have just abandoned them somewhere and hoped for the best. We could have split them equally and taken them home to our families. We could have setup a bagel stand on the side of the road and sold them. But, that’s not what happened.

As we were driving downhill toward a stop light and easing to a stop, Tammy rolled a bagel down the hill and it sped through the intersection and nearly caused a car accident. Several vehicles swerved and there was a tire screeching sound and we were all initially horrified until the overwhelming ridiculousness of the situation hit us. Who swerves to avoid a runaway bagel?! That’s not normal behavior, is it? So we tested the hypothesis a few more times, as any good scientist would and purely for the sake of research, discovery, and knowledge, of course. Nobody else swerved or applied their brakes, so the first case was obviously an outlier. After this experiment, we still had probably 80 bagels left. Think about that. 80. You might not eat 80 bagels in your entire life. It’s a very large quantity and just like people who win the lottery or suddenly find themselves to be wealthy, we made some bad decisions as a result of this instant abundance. We weren’t equipped to handle it. Mistakes were made.

At another stoplight, there was a guy walking down the sidewalk and I yelled to him and asked him if he wanted a bagel. He said “Sure!”, so I chucked one at him and he missed it. He caught the second one, but I hurled a third one at him anyway because it’s surprisingly fun to throw bagels at people. If you ever get the chance to do so, I highly recommend it. There was a shocking percentage of people that wanted free bagels thrown to them by strangers in a car as we continued to offer/toss them while driving around the city. In particular, I remember a skinhead punk-type dude that was wearing a leather jacket and combat boots. He was pretty excited to get one and a few of us threw multiple bagels at him in rapid succession until there were something like ten of them either in his hand, on the ground, or in transit to him. We continued to pelt him with bagels as he knelt down to retrieve one from under a parked car. We were basically attacking the poor guy with bread and he was way more excited than confused about it as he started to resemble a goalie in hockey on his knees and trying to catch a barrage of pucks. I wonder if there was debris on the bagels that went under the car and on the street and onto the grass behind him. I imagine that he ate them anyway. I also wonder if he’s still alive and if he remembers that day.

We offered bagels to some people who were dining in a fancy open-air cafe’ also, but they declined and the waiter did something that we interpreted as rudeness so we pelted him. As we drove away, the decision was made that the waiter was really a jerk and deserved a second pass which we promptly awarded him. A third and fourth pass were also decided upon and the entire cafe’ took on the feeling of a war zone as people started seeking cover and plates, cups, and flatware started flying around as it was struck by bagels or the people fleeing them. There was shouting. It was wonderful. I would bet that the waiter and the diners remember that day.

Shortly thereafter, we started being chased by a rather aggressive blue pickup truck with two highly agitated men in it. I believe we can understand this to be the “equal and opposite reaction” that Newton was going on about. We’ll never know if they had been collateral damage at the war-torn cafe’, on the bagel covered streets of Uptown, in an intersection where a bagel flagrantly ran a red light, or if they were just citizen activists who had witnessed a bagel atrocity of one sort or another and decided to do something about it vigilante style. However they arrived at this moment, their introduction to the bagel festivities gave it a decidedly action movie-like feeling as Rich gunned the engine and drove insanely to escape them. At one point, they boxed us into a parking lot and jumped out of the truck with tire wrenches and started running at us. Rich was not about to let us be beaten to death by these bagel-enraged hooligans, so he put the car into reverse and jumped the curb, drove in reverse across a stretch of lawn then sidewalk then another curb before hitting the street. He pushed his mighty Ford Fairmont to its meager limits as he drove the wrong way through a bank drive-through lane, ran a few stop signs, sped down some alleys, and eventually made it back to the cousin’s campus apartment for a quick drop off once we were sure we had lost the pickup.

Shortly, we were back on I-35 and heading north toward North Branch and safety. Any sight of a blue pickup made us nervous until we made sure it wasn’t operated by wrench wielding thugs. I didn’t have a second date with the cousin. Rich and Tammy broke up and got back together and broke up again about nine times. I miss them both in many ways. Many fun times and good stories were enjoyed with them at Wild Mountain and other venues. I ran into Tammy at a movie theater in Forest Lake many years later. It was nice to see her and she seemed happy. Rich came to a gathering of North Branch folks a few winters ago and I got to talk with him a little. I made a few stupid jokes that I probably shouldn’t have made because I don’t know him well anymore. He may have taken them the wrong way, but I hope not. Either way, it was nice to see him and he seemed happy too.

Newton ended up being right and I’d be willing to bet that he was actually hit on the head with a bagel rather than an apple. Some kids on a horse probably rode by as he was wasting his time under an apple tree and chucked a nice pumpernickel bagel at him even after he had said he didn’t want it. Perhaps he gave chase. Maybe he was grateful like the skinhead. Again, we’ll probably never know. But, the one thing that we do know is that Newton’s Laws of Motion can be thoroughly investigated and demonstrated by a few bored kids from North Branch in a Ford Fairmont.

The Neighbor Dog, A Mower Blade, and the Barney Lesson.

Sometimes, when you experience a moment of stress or you’re suddenly in a situation that you’re not prepared for, you react in a way that you wouldn’t have imagined. Your character or something about your nature can be revealed by these moments. This revelation can take the form of heroism like the stories you’ve heard about ordinary people, charged with adrenaline, tearing the door off a burning car to save someone inside. It can also take the form of cowardice like the other stories you’ve heard about people walking past a crime in progress and not wanting to get involved. I hope that we all want to be the one with the car door in our hand.

I was home on a hot summer day years ago. My daughter and son were playing in the back yard and as I walked past the picture window I saw a large black dog running toward them with its hackles raised. It was barking and I could see the instant reaction of fear on my children’s faces. I started running and I was through the house door and into the garage in an instant. The next moment, I was grabbing the blade I’d taken off my mower and sprinting through the back garage door and into the yard. The dog was still facing them, but it suddenly sensed that something was wrong and turned to look at me. I’m a pretty slow runner and I’ve been told that I look like a giant and slightly crippled chicken when doing so (this is a heinous insult to all chickens), but whatever I looked like at this particular moment the sight of me made my intentions clear and the dog instantly decided to run away at top speed. It didn’t hesitate for even a second. It ran and I chased it. I chased the intruder all the way to the end of our property, which was probably about 100 yards from the house, running as fast as I could. At that point, I realized that my feet really hurt because I was barefoot and running through an alfalfa field with a lawnmower blade and the full intention of hacking my neighbor’s dog to death with it. This behavior is probably not normal and possibly illegal if I had been successful, but fortunately the dog was much faster than a giant crippled chicken and endowed with enough situational awareness to realize that it was about to be maimed or killed outright.

As I walked back to the house, the realization that I’d have to face my wife and children dawned on me. They had just watched me run past them like some messed up, gene-spliced combination of Hannibal Lecter, Karl from Slingblade, and Forrest Gump with a rock in his shoe. As I approached the kiddos to make sure they were okay, they looked back and forth between me and the mower blade and, in retrospect, I’m not sure if they were more scared of me or the dog. Regardless, they were okay and that was the goal of my rampage. I replaced the blade in its spot in the garage and went back in the house. My wife said “So, what was the plan?” I said “What do you mean?” She said “What were you planning to do?” I paused for a moment and then I answered, honestly, “I was going to hit the dog with the mower blade.” This honesty was not met with acceptance or even concern. It merited a “Hmm” and a head shake as if another piece of evidence had just been added to the growing pile that was well on the way to confirming an often-tested hypothesis.

I took my daughter to the library when she was a toddler and we would borrow VHS tapes to watch at home. Our family didn’t have a TV antenna or cable at that time, so we watched the occasional video that was rented or borrowed. My daughter liked the National Geographic videos a lot and we watched videos like Polar Bear Alert! and others over and over again. There was also a video about firefighters that she and my son watched about 14,000 times. On one trip to the library, she came back to where I was sitting with her handful of videos and she had a Barney video in the pile. I despise Barney. I would rather put duct tape on my stomach and rip it off, put kale on my ice cream, or juggle scorpions than watch a Barney video. I loathe the casual way Barney talks about love in his stupid songs. I hate his color. I dislike his friends and their mindless banter. You get the point. So, I took that video out of her stack when she handed them to me and I said “I’m going to put this one back. I don’t think you should watch this one.” Of course, being a normal toddler and being the daughter of a natural skeptic like me, she said “Why?” “I don’t think it’s good for you?” “Why?” “Barney isn’t a good show.” “Why?” “Barney isn’t good for children.” “Why?” This went on for the whole walk out of the library and into the car. I strongly believe that children should be treated like people. This might sound like an obvious statement, but I don’t think it is. I try to give people respect and be honest with them and clear in my communications. I don’t always succeed, of course, but that’s my intention. I never tell people to just be quiet or that they don’t need to know or that “that’s the way it is” or any other phrase that belittles them. In this same way, I always try to answer my kids’ questions as honestly and age-appropriately as possible. I’m probably too honest with them sometimes and I probably give them too much to think about and too many options, but I’d rather err on the side of honesty and respect. This day, however, the “Why?” questions didn’t stop, so I decided to use a tactic that I had used on this daughter before. I said a ridiculous thing that was way over her head as a two year old to confuse her. When she was little and to this day, she wants to know everything and know it perfectly. She is currently working on her doctorate and she is very bright. If she doesn’t understand something that interests her, she thinks about it, studies it, and works on it in various ways until she does understand it. Two year old her said “Why?” “Dad doesn’t like Barney.” “Why?” And, here is where I made a terrible error many new Dads make. I said, “Because Barney is a homosexual.” I said this for a few reasons. One, it was a big word that she didn’t understand and had never heard and it would confuse her. Two, another level of my contempt for Barney is his effeminacy. I’m not a hater of people for whatever they were born as or most things that they choose to be, but there are choices that I believe are wrong and gender bending is one of them. I realize that we’re not all John Wayne as men or Sally Ride as women and that’s okay, but I also believe that men and women are different in many ways and that instead of trying to pretend those differences don’t exist, we should embrace the differences and appreciate them in the other gender. I also believe that there are two genders, so add that to the list of my opinions in this post and please be mature enough to allow me to have my opinion without crucifying me. Thank you. ( : Anyway, if you boil it all down, it was a flippant answer that sprang from my fatigue and my desire to end this endless loop of “Why?” and to express my frustration with Barney the frigging dinosaur. My daughter said “Oh…” as though she understood and then she was silent. The end, right? No. This stupidity on my part had launched a karmic cruise missile that was locked on me and I would eventually reap the fruit of what I had sown.

About a month after the Barney evasion, our family of four was having a dental appointment and my wife was in the back with the dentist and my son. I was playing with my daughter in the lobby and waiting for our turn. The kindly older woman at the desk said to my daughter and me “Hey, would you guys like to read some books? We’ve got some Clifford books, the Berenstain Bears, Barney…” This was the point at which my personal universe slowed down to a Matrix-like crawl. Like a car accident in progress, the world downshifted as my two year old daughter turned to the lady and said “Oh, my Dad doesn’t like Barney.” My head was pivoting toward the aforementioned cruise missile as it honed in on the target. The receptionist said “Why doesn’t your Dad like Barney?” My darling daughter said “My Dad doesn’t like Barney because he’s a hom…..” She never finished the word because I had leaped to my feet and bounded across the lobby to finish her sentence for her as I said “…crazy guy. Barney is just a crazy guy, isn’t he?” The receptionist looked up at me like I was insane which was most likely very close to the truth. I grabbed the offered books from her, minus Barney of course, and picked up my daughter while hastily retreating to our chairs to start reading and avoiding eye contact as soon as possible. It could have been worse, of course. Instead of thinking I was a weirdo, which again is true by most accounts, the lady could have thought I was a homophobic zealot that was twisted enough to have indoctrinated his toddler. Again, while I don’t agree with this “lifestyle” for a variety of reasons that I’d be glad to discuss with you, I don’t hate homosexuals as people. Regardless, I learned a valuable lesson that day and gained a lot of respect for the powerful, sponge-like mind of a two year old who can remember a strange word heard one time and bring it up a month later to cause enormous stress to her father. They’re incredible.

What have we learned from the metaphorical mower blades and flippantly uttered words of a tired young Dad? I think that life is always throwing new situations our way and that we’re all doing our best to handle them with grace and intelligence. Also, we often don’t. Another thing that we don’t often do is realize that other people are trying to hit the curve balls being thrown at them in their lives too. Give people a break. Life is complicated and weird and most people are doing what they can to handle it. A pastor that I listened to years ago, and probably the most charismatic public speaker I’ve ever heard, said (I paraphrase here) that when YOU do something wrong it’s a weakness, but when SOMEONE ELSE does something wrong it’s a sin. Think about that the next time someone cuts you off in traffic or says something stupid or is late. You’ve done it too and you’ll do it again. I hope to not attempt to murder a dog or say terrible things to toddlers in the future, but please be kind to me if I do. I’m working on it.

Evidence of the Freak Magnet Hypothesis – Part One

As I stated in a previous post, “I am a magnet for strange people and odd events.  I always have been.  If you’re reading this, you could very well be one of those people, be a participant in one of the events, or most likely both.”

A random vagrant-type man in Grand Marais turns around on the sidewalk, crouches down like a werewolf from a B movie with his claws out, and growls at my children.  Our family stops and stares at him.  He straightens up, turns around, and goes on his way.

A traveler, allegedly from Australia, accosts my Dad for no apparent reason at a Greyhound bus station as he’s dropping me off.  My favorite part of the exchange was when the Aussie said “God, you look stupid.  Look at that, you’ve got two holes in your pants!”  My Dad, wearing a pair of holey work jeans, calmly responds back “You’re right, I put my feet through them every morning when I get up.”  Then, suddenly, the tension drains away like someone pulled the plug on it and the traveler decides he likes us and he starts giving us gifts from his suitcase along with some smiles and pats on the back.  I got a grey woolen scarf that I wore every winter for many years.  My Dad said “No, thank you.” to all of the offerings.  He was apparently satisfied to not have to beat the guy up.  My friend got a paperback novel.

A twenty-something in an alley in Manhattan walks up to me in a tie-dyed shirt with a mouse on his shoulder and asks me for $5 saying “…my mouse hasn’t eaten for a week.  I haven’t either.”  I said “You should eat the mouse and solve both of your problems.”  He just stared into space for a few long moments and then turned to look at me as I walked away.  I’m not sure if he was considering eating his friend or if the drugs in his system slowed down his processor that much.

A beautiful hooker split off from a group of working girls and walked up to me, obviously drunk, in a short tie-dyed dress.  This was within a day of encountering the mouse eater and also in Manhattan.  She put her hand on my shoulder and said “Hey, baby, do you want to rent a hippie?”  In a very Minnesota-nice voice, I said “No, thank you, I’ve already got one.” as I kept walking.  She paused a beat or two and then turned to ask me “You do?  Really?”  I think she may have been concerned that her unique marketing position was in danger or else she was just confused.  Maybe she tried a different look the next day.

While visiting Los Angeles, a group of us decided to check out Laguna Beach and it was one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen.  I don’t swim and it’s pretty likely that I can’t swim.  I hope I never fall off a cruise ship and learn the answer to that question.  Regardless, my friend Doug told us that he was going to take a quick swim and he retreated to a cloth sided changing booth on the edge of the beach.  A few minutes later, I heard the door creak and I turned to see Doug emerge from the booth in a full sprint.  He took large majestic strides across the beach with his arms pumping up and down like you would imagine Batman doing if he were in hot pursuit of Catwoman in a comic book.  Also, my socially conservative friend was unexpectedly wearing a very small Speedo as his swimwear.  This combination of interesting developments caused me to burst out laughing.  When Doug reached the surf, his running slowed slightly and he dove powerfully forward with his hands clasped together like an Olympic diver.  I laughed harder.  And, as he fought the incoming waves with great muscular strokes to swim out from the shore, I could not stop laughing.  Ten or fifteen minutes later, he returned to us walking out of the surf like a Greek god.  He walked up to the group and grabbed a towel from his bag.  We were all barefoot but otherwise fully clothed and it was really funny to watch everyone staring Doug directly in the eyes, myself included, as we talked to him.  In this story, we are the insecure freaks.  Doug was perfectly normal albeit pretty much naked.

I met a guy in Montana who wouldn’t let me take his picture because he believed the government had devices that they could load your picture into that allowed them to transmit diseases into your body and kill you.  “Radionics” he called it.  I just Googled radionics and Wikipedia describes it as a pseudo-scientific healing modality that is as effective as a placebo.

At that same campground, I met an old German man who claimed to have been in the Hitler Youth as a child.  Interestingly, he wore a Hitler Youth belt buckle despite the fact that he was quite old.  Apparently he hadn’t graduated to full blown national socialism yet.  Maybe he was taking night classes with the hopes of becoming a full Nazi someday.  As we were visiting, he told me that a person has to be willing to do whatever God tells them to do.  “For example, if God told me to pick up a little Jew boy and smash his head against a rock, I would do it”, he said.  Interesting example.  I asked him why God would ever ask him to do that, specifically, and he said “You never know.”  I don’t think he was on the welcoming committee at his church.  At least I hope he wasn’t.

A guy I know in the Twin Cities cleans out his chimney by creating a large chimney fire.  He gets the stove really hot, opens up the windows in his house, and opens up all of the intakes on his stove.  The super-heated stove along with the buildup inside the chimney eventually shoots flames up the chimney and out the top.  He says that the flame is something like eight or ten feet above the chimney.  Most people clean out their chimneys with brushes or by other methods to avoid having a chimney fire.  He precipitates a chimney fire to clean the chimney.  This practice alarmed the customers at the Domino’s Pizza across the street enough that they called the fire department one time.  As they rolled up to my friend’s house, he walked out and asked them what was going on.  They told him he had a chimney fire.  He told them that it was fine and that he was just cleaning his chimney.  He told me that after things cooled down, he could just go up on the roof with a chain and lower it into the chimney while spinning it around and hitting the sides of the chimney and all of the buildup would just fall off.  He’s been doing it for years.  I’m sure the fire fighters were confused.  Their training didn’t cover this.

I helped this same man clean out his brother’s house after his brother had passed away.  His brother was bit of hoarder and I was tasked with cleaning out one of the garage stalls that was packed tightly with a variety of things including four of the identical tools sets in four identical tool boxes packed in at regular intervals and forgotten.  My friend’s son, also a friend and closer to my age, called me over to where he was cleaning out a shed in the yard.  He showed me a shoe box that he was holding.  It had a strip of masking tape across the top as a label and in black marker the words “Grandma’s toenails” were written.  I looked at my friend and simply said “No.”  He shook his head yes as he also gently shook the box back and forth which caused it to make a noise similar to a partially filled box of cereal being shaken in the same manner.  I was speechless as he opened the lid to reveal about an inch of toenail clippings filling the bottom of the box.  We will never know whether Grandma herself had both saved the toenails and written the label in third person or, more strangely, the deceased uncle had done so.  Either way, my stomach turns even as I type this.  The decision was quickly made to consign this saved treasure to the burn pile.

I was studying at Mankato State University when my friend came in and excitedly asked me to come outside with him and build a snowman.  The conditions were ideal, I was told, but I had too much studying to do so I declined.  I was in a study lounge on the second floor of McElroy dormitory.  I-2.  The I-2 Zoo.  After fending off his many attempts to recruit me, I went back to studying and lost track of time.  Some time later a snowball hit the window in front of me.  Then another.  And another.  And another.  I got up to see if someone had terrible aim or if someone was trying to get my attention.  My friend was there waving his arms to get my attention and when I made eye contact he gestured to his right.  I gazed to my left and saw the largest penis that anyone has probably ever seen.  At least I hope I’m right about that.  I’m not sure how the snowman building turned into snowpenis construction (dare I say erection), but it had.  The penis was around eight feet tall and amazingly detailed.  My friend was an artist.  Who knew?  As I stared and laughed, two girls who were assisting him were rolling two large snow “balls” (for lack of a better term) up to the base of the penis for the artist to shape into testicles.  When finished, this phallic sculpture was impressive in many ways.  First of all, the audacity alone was noteworthy.  Secondly, it was really big and visible from hundreds of windows in the dorm, library, and several academic buildings.  Third, it was honestly very artistically rendered.  It was so nice that none of the other students knocked it down like they did the rest of the snowmen and women that were built that day.  In the end, a school employee demolished my friend’s penis.  (Yes, I wrote that intentionally.)  An announcement was circulated from the University that this sculpture had not been appropriate and that this type behavior should not be repeated.  Nobody admitted to knowing who had done it.  I’m hoping that I’ll be going through a box someday and find a picture of it.  It still makes me laugh with or without the picture.

I have another friend who always makes me laugh.  One time, he called me over to the railing on the second level of a mall.  There were hundreds of people down below as he turned to me and loudly sang “You give me love, lo o o o o o ove!” from the song You Spin me Round (Like a Record) by the one hit wonder 80’s band Dead or Alive.  (CLICK THE LINK TO HEAR IT.)  Most of the people turned a looked up at us.  Many of them clapped.  I walked quickly into Abercrombie and Fitch but not to shop.  On our way to a concert, he was talking about a dog that he had as a boy and he said “I hated that dog.  I would gladly have catapulted that dog into a lake of acid that was on fire.”  He also gave me a tittie twister once that dropped me to my knees.  We were in our thirties.  He had another dog years later that was pretty fat and I called it Sausage Dog.  He invited me over one day and then he wasn’t there when I arrived.  Bad idea.  As I waited, I found some sidewalk chalk on the ground that his kids had abandoned.  I used it to write “Sausage Dog” on the concrete block wall of his garage in large letters.  By the time he noticed and tried to clean it off, the chalk had bonded with the concrete and much time passed before the words faded.  To be clear, this was not even close to payback for the nipple damage he inflicted on me regardless of what he may tell you.

I was in a thrift store with another friend who is a minister.  I decided to buy a heating pad I found to use at the pizza restaurant I owned during the winter to warm up the delivery bags when they came back from deliveries.  As I waited in line to pay, my friend was browsing nearby.  An elderly woman in line ahead of me turned around and looked at the heat pad and then she said to me very loudly in the quiet store “Is that one of those vibrators?  I have a vibrator at home and I love it.  My husband bought it for me years ago and he likes it as much as I do.  I have to hide it behind the piano so he doesn’t take it for himself.”  She went on extolling the virtues of her vibrator even after I explained that this was a simple heating pad without the vibration option of fancier models.  Now, I try to think pure thoughts as much as possible, but sadly I and pretty much everyone else in the world except this woman thinks of an altogether different apparatus when they hear the word ‘vibrator’ these days.  And, as I conversed with this sweet, old lady I exerted a Herculean amount of respectful self control in not bursting out laughing.  The rest of the customers and employees were either laughing, smiling, or staring at me to see if I was going to laugh.  My friend turned away and covered his face when the woman said “Is that one of those vibrators?”  As she continued on with her seemingly endless positive points about her personal equipment, my friend was forced to take a knee at one point and then flee to the parking lot where I found him leaning against my car a few minutes later.  I love that lady for her naivety and I love it that my friend was there to witness it.  God bless her.  When I related the story to another friend some time later, he said that Thrift Store Vibrator would be a good band name and that he should get full credit if I ever used it.  James, this is all the credit you’re likely to ever get.