The Forty-Niner

On Sunday, Eric and I took a day trip to Santa Barbara. We visited the Santa Barbara Museum of Art and, while it is partially closed, we thoroughly enjoyed the pieces that are currently being exhibited. 

My favorite was a painting of a gold rush miner sitting in a small cabin, his dog nuzzling him. The young man reads a letter, and the dog stares lovingly at him. No surprise that it was my favorite. I read the placard on the wall. The artist Ernest Narjot, until yesterday unknown to me, had been a young man who was part of the California gold rush. In fact, apparently, the gold rush is what inspired him to leave his native France and go west. 

When I got home, I googled this painting in hopes of finding a crisper image. I couldn’t find one. What’s up, internet? What I did find were a few more biographical details about Ernest Narjot. How he wasn’t exactly the most successful gold rusher. And how now, many decades later, he is most known for his gold rush paintings. AND, most of his gold rush paintings were done in his later years, with a nostalgic element prominent in those works. It’s certainly here in this lovely portrait. He painted The Forty-Niner in 1881, when he was 55, a middle aged man looking back on another time. 

Time flies, I know. Seems just yesterday, I was a young man leaving my own home and traveling far away in my own hopes of striking another kind of gold. Because today is September 11, I searched my old photos to find an old picture of me with the World Trade Center in it. I found a picture from 1991, from my first visit to New York, on a trip where I fell in love with the city the second I crossed the Holland Tunnel. 

I was on a mission trip with my Bible college. I wanted more than anything to live in New York but I didn’t know if I would ever be brave enough to make such a big move. Clearly, it was a grim day, all clouds and some rain, but still to me, paradise. Less than a year after this trip, I was living in New York. There is a part of me that will always feel that the day I moved to New York is the day my life started. 

So, today, on September 11, I reflect on the great tragedy of that day, the lives lost,  the people affected in New York and Washington and Boston and everywhere else.  We say we will never forget and I hope we never will. 

But also, on a lighter note, I reflect on young Ernest Narjot who in 1849, left his own version of Kansas and moved to his own version of New York and then, eventually, created beautiful paintings that touched the hearts of wayfarers (and dog lovers) for years to come. 



IMG_1011I am back in Los Angeles, have been home for several weeks now. The latest on my Dad is that, after a wait that was longer than we anticipated, he is three weeks into his seven weeks of radiation and  chemotherapy. I talk to my parents everyday and so far, he’s doing pretty well.

One of the highlights of my visit home was the day we went to a Kansas City Royals game.

I’ll confess I had an idealized picture of what our Royals experience was going to be: father and son, reliving some kind of glory days. When I was little, we went to a Royals game at least once a season. While it’s been documented that I was never a great athlete myself, I did love the spectacle of a major league game. Who doesn’t?

My idealized picture did not anticipate a temperature of 105 degrees. My idealized picture did not remember that prime seats behind first base lose some of their appeal when it’s hotter than blazes.

We both wanted to get to the stadium early. My Dad wanted to see the Royals warm up, I wanted to give us plenty of time to get situated. While my Dad is pretty stealthy for 79 year old battling cancer for the 4th time, he is still a 79 year old battling cancer for the 4th time. Also, it was Eric Hosner bobble head day.

After waiting in the heat outside for nearly an hour, we got into the stadium and ambled to our seats. Seeing the green field and the sparkling fountains, it was as beautiful as I remembered it. We took a selfie. I posted it to Instagram and Facebook. We watched the activity around us. I went to buy a 9.00 glass of iced water.

About 45 minutes before the game was to began, my Dad got up to go to the bathroom. He did not come back right away.  About 15 minutes later, an attendant asked me if I was with an elderly gentleman. I told him I was.

“He went down.”

“What? He passed out?”

“He went down. I’m going to take you to someone and she will take you to him. He’s in first aid.”

The gentleman passed me off to a young grandmother type who briskly walked me toward the first aid center.

“I’m glad they found you because you can help answer questions.”

“Is he not conscious?”

“No, he’s conscious, they just need help answering questions. Don’t get upset, he’s okay.”

She opened the door and the first thing I see is my Dad, weary but very conscious with a wry smile on his face.

“Are you okay?”

“Yes, don’t tell your Mom about this until we get home.”

I half laughed, “I won’t.”

He then explained to me that he became lightheaded when he got to the top of a long flight of steps and his knees started to buckle. Before he knew it, several workers had caught and carried him to this office.

A nurse was taking his blood pressure and pulse. She asked me what year he was born.


“And he’s being treated for cancer?”

“Well, he will be, we are waiting to begin his treatment.”

They made him an ice filled  bandana to wrap around his neck and we sat there for a few minutes. I asked the woman in charge of the facility what was next. She told us we could go back to our seats or leave. If we wanted to leave they could golf cart us back to our car.

“Can you help us find shadier seats? Maybe higher up?”


“Would we get a refund on our tickets?”


My Dad asked the woman in charge if he could use the restroom.


“So, what are you going to do? You can’t stay here,” she told me once he was inside the bathroom.

“I don’t know.” And I didn’t know. I didn’t know if we should leave and go home or rush to a hospital or what. I did not know if his collapse, while easily attributable to the heat, was going to be an isolated incident or happen again.

Why did I let us come here on the hottest day of the summer? What was wrong with me?

When he came out of the bathroom, I told him, only slightly louder than necessity warranted, “They’re kicking us out.”

He sat down again and I asked him, “What do you want to do? What do you think we should do?”

“I’d like to stay.”

And so we did. We made our way back to our seats and my Dad sat with his icy bandana around his neck and the game began.  In time, the sun dipped behind the stadium and the shade was upon us all. It felt like a sign. After the liveliest 6th inning I’ve seen in decades, the Royals pulled ahead to an unstoppable lead.

I’ll be honest, as exciting as the game was, the entire time I sat in my seat, asking him if he was okay, wondering if we had made the right decision.

During the 7th inning, a storm that had been predicted, gave the first thunderous indications of what was to come.  At the top of the 8th inning, the score 7-2, I said to my Dad, I think we should leave to beat the rain.  He agreed.  It was fortuitous that we left when we did because the minute we got on the freeway, it started to rain.  And then it started to pour.  And then it started to pound.  My Dad and I, we laughed.  A nervous, dark laughter, on my part anyway, but it just seemed so unbelievable after the events of the day.  This wasn’t rain, this was a midwestern monsoon.  And I, not the best driver on even a good day, was at the wheel.

Long story short, we kept driving through the storm. We survived.  And for most of the three hour drive home, the rain was our mirthful companion, sprinkling then stopping then pouring then misting then pounding then stopping then raining again.

About an hour outside of Independence, my Dad, his socked feet on the dashboard, wriggling his toes, said to me, “I don’t know about you, but I’m glad we went. I had a good time.”

I laughed. Afraid another flash flood might still await us, I cautiously said, “I’ll wait until we pull up in our driveway before I decide if I am glad we went.” He laughed.

My Dad’s oncologist, when we visited him while I was in Kansas, warned my Dad of how challenging his treatment was going to be, the enduring effects this round of radiation will have on him, the quality of life that might be lost.  “I know it’s a hard road,” my Father told him, “but I want to go for it.”

Maybe it’s kind of crazy, but my favorite part of our Royals adventure was the next day. How both of us were a little giddy from our experience. Every time I walked through the living room, my Dad was on his phone, recounting the events to friends or family. My Dad, he likes to tell a story too.

“I think I scared Ray Jr….”

“…I thought that nurse was going to make us leave…”

“…every time we thought the rain had stopped, it started again…”

“…I’m glad we went.”

Me too, Dad. But then, you already knew that.

Notes from Kansas

I am in Kansas, visiting my parents. My Dad’s radiation and chemotherapy were both supposed to start this week, but the doctors  are still trying to figure out the radiation part of his treatment. I’ve been here since Tuesday and since my Dad hasn’t started his regimen yet, it’s been kind of a lazy few days. 

I saw some friends from high school last night. We caught up at a restaurant and someone suggested we go to the park to look at the newly restored fountain. It was my third trip to the fountain in three days. We laughed and took pictures and, I’ll be honest, it didn’t feel like a bunch of middle aged friends, on escape from our adult lives, it felt more like being back home for the summer, in between semesters of college.

It’s so easy to fall into a familiar rhythm. Here I am typing this in my childhood room. My pennant collection still lines my walls. My U.S. map bulletin board still hangs above my desk. One can see the spots on the map where I wrote “Independence” in Kansas and “Sand Springs” in Oklahoma (because my church camp crush lived there) and “Guiding Light” in Springfield, Illinois. With few exceptions, the room is the same as the day I graduated high school. 

More than once this week, I’ve thought, hey, I could get used to this. I’ve even cut my antidepressant in half. There are moments when I forget why I am here, on loan from my regular life. It’s been really nice.

Before I came, my parents and I talked about getting rid of unwanted stuff while I’m home. I’ve been throwing out folders and class notebooks from my bedroom and we hope to have a garage sale next weekend. (And we hope for cooler temperatures to make that garage sale more bearable.) Tonight, my Dad and I went through three of the 4 freezers they have, tossing out anything with a date older than 2012. (Anyone want a refrigerator? We have 3.) It wasn’t too contentious though a couple things my Dad vetoed because he didn’t want to lose the Gladware the frozen items were housed in. A few years back, my parents bought themselves a food sealer. I don’t know how much they paid, but they surely got their money’s worth for the joy it brings them. 4 oz of leftover ham? Perfect, we’ll seal it! A half eaten baked potato? We can pull it out of the freezer in December and reheat it! That December comes and goes and that the 1/2 potato lives three winters in the freezer, in a way, is irrelevant. I think they just like knowing they have lots of food. If someone comes over, they can pull out homemade salsa or apple butter.

One of the things my Dad handed me to throw away was a sealed styrofoam container. I didn’t ask. A couple minutes later, he handed me another identical sealed styrofoam container. 

“Dad, this isn’t even labeled.”

“I know what it is, it’s a cinnamon roll.”

And then I remembered, yes, the cinnamon rolls. 

I always think everyone knows this, but since a complicated cancer-removing jaw surgery in 2012, food has not been his primary source of nutrition. He feeds himself through a tube in his stomach. Several times a day, he pours water and cans of an Ensure-like product into that tube. He does drink a little coffee and eats some cookies, but his relationship to food, to say the least, is not what it used to be. And I know what you are thinking, it’s what I am always wondering, would I be able to have a rich life without enjoying one of the things in this world that I love most? I’d like to think I would, but I don’t know.

The first Neewollah after his surgery, he bought a cinnamon roll downtown, at the same stand he’d bought one for the last 40 years. He couldn’t eat yet, so he sealed it and put it in the freezer. The next Neewollah, still not eating regularly but with the same hope that he would eat again, he bought another. They were the goal he gave himself of what he would eat when he could eat. And, now here we are, five years later.

Anyway, tonight, after the cinnamon rolls, my Dad handed me a few other items and I started bagging it all up to cart outside for the morning trash. He said he was going to go inside to collect more trash. And I stood there alone in our garage, this hot, sticky, familiar garage. All I could think about were those darn cinnamon rolls. I told myself that if he COULD eat a cinnamon roll, he should surely eat a fresh one instead of these old, crystallized objects.  But also, I wondered what might it mean, to him, to my Mom, to me, for those rolls not to be there. When is a baked good more than a baked good? Well, I think, maybe, it’s more than a baked good when there is some kind of hope attached to it. 

So, when my Dad came back to the garage, I told him I had put the cinnamon rolls back into the freezer. He didn’t sound surprised. 

“You didn’t have to do that,” he said.

“No, I wanted to.” I did not know how to say to him that I feared that throwing away those rolls might be like giving up hope. That I wasn’t ready for the garbage collector to pick up those rolls in the morning and fling them into their truck and cart my hope, our hope off to the county landfill. So, looking down, because I was afraid to look at him, I simply said, “It just makes me feel better knowing they are there.”

What Price Joy?

Today is my birthday. As we do, I attempted to start celebrating my birthday weekend on Friday night, when Eric and I went to Marie Callender’s for a fancy dinner of buffalo chicken sliders and Happy Hour pepperoni pizza. A good time was had by all. 

We got home and took the dogs out for their evening walk and, long story short, Millie got stung by a bee. Actually, I’m pretty sure she got stung by a bee and then she ate it. All of this is information we have pieced together in retrospect. 

Before I go further, let me say, Millie is fine. As I type this, she is underneath the bed, chewing on her toenails. 

Anyway, it took us a few minutes to figure out what had happened. One minute on her walk she was fine, then she was chewing on something, then she seemed disoriented and couldn’t walk well. When we got inside the apartment, she threw up and then I was pretty sure she’d been stung by a bee. We called our vet, they were closing and they directed us to a 24 hour clinic. 

200 dollars and two hours later, we were at CVS, trolling the aisles, Millie happily wagging her tail as her fathers searched for Benadryl tablets.  

I guess it’s a little indelicate to talk about money, but I wasn’t super excited about spending that much money on my dog. Probably, we could have gone to CVS when it first happened and bought the Benadryl and probably she would have been fine.

As we were hurriedly leaving the apartment, a shaken Millie in my arms, unsure of what lay ahead, with as much victimized passive aggression as you can imagine, I muttered, “Happy Birthday.” And then Eric said, “What?” And I tersely said, “Nothing!”

I fretted all the way down Beverly as Eric drove and Millie burrowed her snout into a blanket and my hands trying to alleviate an itch that had developed from the bee sting. 

But like I said, she’s okay. They gave her a couple of shots, we had a fun little visit to CVS, and then we took her home. 

Update, Millie is no longer under the bed. She is now on top of the bed, inches from me, licking the sheets. 

Anyway, when we got home, Brokeback Mountain was on tv. That’s a fun movie. I felt like maybe I’d had enough sadness for one day, so I went in the other room and read a book. Ricky snuggled next to me. After a time, Millie and Eric came to bed too. 

And then this morning came, and I woke up next to Eric, Ricky between us, Millie sprawled at my feet, all of us in our assigned positions. I checked to make sure Millie was okay. She was. And, I don’t know, either you get it or you don’t, but I was so happy this morning. My little family, we had weathered another challenge, and we lived to tell, or bark, the tale (or tail). 

Update: Millie is now rooting around underneath the duvet cover, trying to settle in for the night. Actually, she just came out and rested her head on Eric’s legs. I took a picture that I’m going to use for this blog post. And now she’s licking sheets again. 

It’s crazy when you think about it, how something as mundane as a licky dog, or a morning cuddle, can bring you so much joy. I am 49 now, today, and I have gained some sense of what moments in life hold the most value.

Now she’s giving me a kiss. 

Good night, happy birthday.

Lucky Son

Father’s Day is tomorrow. I have a love/hate relationship with these holidays, partly because, well, I know it’s not the easiest day for everyone. Many people have lost a parent, others have complicated relationships with a parent, and still others approach these days with a sadness that comes from wanting children and not having them.

Holidays: they bring stuff up.

My Dad is living. I’ve certainly written about him enough that you know I think the world of him. If you’d asked me about him on Tuesday, I would have told you he’s the strongest man I know. On Wednesday, we received news that only supported that firm belief.

We found out on Wednesday that my Dad has cancer again. He had a biopsy three weeks ago and when the results came back, they scheduled a quick series of tests and meetings on Tuesday of this week. On Wednesday morning, they confirmed what we had suspected. The cancer was back. In the back of his throat. Isolated, which is good news. If you have dealt with cancer, or let’s face it, just dealt with life, one of the biggest lessons there is, is grab onto the good news. Clench it tight.

I’m not here to make a case for cancer, at all. Cancer is terrible. This news is all that I’ve thought about for the last several days. It’s all I have thought about since the doctor took the biopsy three weeks ago.  I’m not here to tell you that I don’t have dark thoughts swimming around my head. I do. I’m not going to tell you what those thoughts/worries are, they are the natural ones.

What I am going to tell you are the things I am grateful for.

First of all, I’m grateful that my Dad has my Mom to help him in this battle. She’s been a warrior every other time he faced cancer in the past, and she will be a warrior again. This is a woman who slept in an uncomfortable cot next to my Dad’s bed every one of the 16 nights that he was in the hospital in Kansas City.

I am grateful my parents have a strong support system, from family, friends and church.

I am grateful that I will be able to see them in a few weeks. To get to spend some time together. Drive my Dad to chemo. Maybe get to take my Dad to a Royals game.

I am grateful my Dad’s treatment does not include another 12 hour surgery.

I am grateful that on Wednesday, when they got home from the doctor, my Dad was able to pick up their dog Ruby and she was happy to see him. In the days and weeks ahead, it will be Ruby’s job to keep some joy and levity in my parents’ house, and she is more than up to the task.

I am grateful that my parents’ best friends came over on Wednesday night and sat with them for awhile. Also, grateful that these friends only live 2 blocks away.

I am grateful my Dad played golf twice this week. Wait, I think maybe he played golf three times.

I am grateful I know how much my Dad loves me and I’m grateful he knows how much I love him.

He is going to start chemotherapy soon. Probably radiation later. We don’t know his treatment schedule yet, so for now, we wait, with hope.

On Wednesday, when my Dad told me the news, that I already suspected, he admitted, “I have had a good life.” Another thing about my Dad I am grateful for, and I suspect it has something to do with his faith and also, something to do with fighting cancer on and off for the last 19 years, he is not afraid of introspection. He is not afraid to look at his life and say, these are my joys, even, these are my sorrows. I think about a prayer my Dad made at a family reunion last summer, “Dear God, you’ve blessed us, some more than others, some more than we deserve.” If you asked my Dad today if he still felt blessed by God, I have not doubt what his answer would be.

Like, I said, tomorrow is Father’s Day. And every Father’s Day that I spend on this earthly plane, my thoughts will be on my Dad, Ray Louis Barnhart, Sr. Yes, I am named after my father.  I will always be grateful that God blessed me with him, with both my parents.

I always try to think of ways that I am like my Dad.  I think we are pretty different people.  And yet, when I look in a mirror, I can’t help but see a bit of him in me.  I know that he does not want me to worry about the battle ahead.  I know that he does not want me to mourn this diagnosis, but rather to acknowledge all that we should, we MUST, be grateful for.  If you know me, you know that I can worry, you know that I can weep, but tomorrow, I have decided must be a day of joy.  It is not irony that every little squirt of optimism I have in me, I got from one man. My Father. I am a lucky son.

Tom, Get Your Plane Right On Time


A couple of weeks ago, like two seconds after I emailed my federal tax return, a thought occurred to me that I should make a quick trip to New York,  I popped an Ambien and I stayed up a little late researching flights and hotels.  Many, many times during my year, when I’m feeling blue, I tell myself, if I could just spend two days in NY, it would make everything better. And planning trips to NY are approximately 36% as exciting as being there in person.

I found a flight that sounded reasonable enough. It had my signature redeye departure and ideal midday return flight.  I juggled some things around at work and got a few days. I looked on TripAdvisor for recent reviews of the kitschy, fun and slightly scary Jane Hotel where I have stayed twice before. I fretted over money and what friends I would be able to connect with.  Would it be sad traveling to NY without Eric?  It was my city before it was his, but now, it feels like it’s our city.

I was reading a chick-lit novel at the time about a lost woman in her thirties who inherited a fancy, but broken down Central Park West luxury apartment.  And somehow, this protagonist’s lack of anchor called to my adriftness.  Maybe I could find some truth on this trip, maybe something can lead me in the direction my life is supposed to take. Whatever that is.

IMG_9876I never feel more alive than when I am walking through Central Park and along the West Side Highway and through Bergdorf and sitting at Bemelmans or Barney Greengrass or crossing Manhattan to Staten Island on that aptly named ferry. It’s bliss to me.  And then I come home and pore through my pictures, pore through the memories. I compare the lists, the places I made it to and the places I ran out of time for.  And then I compile a new list, for the next trip. Do you have any idea how many times the Cloisters has been on my LIST?  (And it doesn’t look good for it this time either.) My friends give me suggestions: Thank you Ivy for giving me THE FRICK. Thank you Joel for giving me THE TENEMENT MUSEUM. Thank you Traci for giving us the Museum of Arts and Design and by proxy, one of our favorite watering hole’s Robert on the 9th floor. Thank You Eboni for Levain.

I told my therapist that I decided to go because I’ve been depressed and the thought of planning a trip and looking forward to a trip brought me joy.  I was afraid to tell my parents, would they think I should be visiting them?  And I understand, that’s a risk we take, especially when our parents get older.  But I think about if any two people taught me to love travel, the value of travel,  it was my parents.  Even today, I see an Amtrak or a Union Station and suddenly I am 8 and my Mom and I are traveling in the middle of the night to visit my Grandma and cousins in La Junta.  I taste a pineapple, and I am 12 again, on my first visit to Hawaii, of course, with my parents.  Perhaps a part of them hesitated booking such a grand trip, the costs involved, but ultimately the yes must have been accompanied by the realization that trips mean memories. My Father’s Father joined us on that trip and my parents and I still reminisce about this one week in 1981 that packed so much life into it.  I think I remember every moment, from the confused feelings I felt for some handsome teenage backpackers in the SFO airport, to eating caviar for the first time, to nearly being taken under by the undertow in Maui, the two luaus, feeling like Bobby Brady at Pearl Harbor.  And then the 24 pineapples and many boxes of chocolate covered macadamia nuts we gave away and dined on ourselves in the weeks after our return to Kansas.



I am a little Ambien-y tonight too. So if my words are slightly muddled, please forgive me.  Or maybe pop an Ambien yourself and my prose might become as magical as Pink Floyd’s The Wall.  But life is hard, I know I’m that guy that is always crying about how hard his life is.  A complainer, a victim, easily crestfallen.  But on vacation, I really do find joy.  I laugh, i have more energy.  I’m even nicer. I feel like a vibrant part of the texture of the world we live in. With the earnestness of a young bride whose colors are blush and bashful, I  go around saying things like, “I’d rather have 30 minutes of wonderful than a lifetime of nothing special.” New York is my 30 minutes of wonderful. IMG_9818

So, yes, I am going to New York in a few days.  It feels like a risk and also, like something I positively must do. These trips. we always bring something back.  Something useful, be it a mug or pastries or an understanding about the world or about ourselves.  And the older I get, travel, leaving home, seeing another part of the world, meeting old friends, remembering what made us safe when we were 8 or giddy when we were 12 or handsome when we were 26, it feels to me no longer a luxury, but rather a necessity.

Todd Stevens


This weekend, I went to visit my parents in Kansas. I had not been to my childhood home since 2014. I spent some time poring over old cards and letters, old pictures too. I was awash, still am, really, in memories of different chapters of my life, junior high, church camp, high school, college.

The summer before my senior year in college, I interned at a church in upstate New York. I uncovered many letters from the kids and adults in the congregation, pictures too, of the friends I made there. Fond memories.

And then, somehow, nestled in the warm, I remembered someone I had not about thought about for a while: Todd Stevens.

Todd Stevens was a guy that had lived in Syracuse. (Don’t get too excited, this isn’t going to go where you think it’s going to go.) He was tall, athletic, handsome. (Seriously, not what you think.) He’d been a baseball player for the Syracuse minor league baseball team. He’d been married, but his wife left him and while I was interning, Todd Stevens came back to town, to go through the things in his storage unit and purge part of it and ship the rest back to his life in Kansas.

The minister I was working and staying with had told me all about Todd Stevens before he came to visit. “Todd Stevens is a great guy, terrific ball player, the whole church went crazy for him. He’s from Kansas too, you’re going to love him.”

We picked Todd Stevens up at the airport. Looking like a young Kevin Costner, he was as charismatic of a presence as the minister had promised. For a handful of days, the three of us, the minister, Todd Stevens and I tooled around Syracuse, golfing, going to baseball games, cooking steaks on the grill. The minister’s wife was out of town, so it was just our unlikely trio.

I did not feel I measured up to Todd Stevens. Short with glasses, paunchy stomach even though I was finally skinny after years of being the fat kid. Trying to act as masculine as possible while still bringing whatever it was that was unique and sensitive about me to my first ministry.  When Todd Stevens came to church on the Sunday during his visit, the old ladies and the young kids and the moms and the dads all reacted to him the way I wished they would have reacted to me, he was their golden boy.

“What have you been up to, Todd Stevens? We’ve missed you.” It couldn’t have been easy for him. The minister and I had been there at the storage unit, as Todd Stevens pored over his own memories, memories of a life with another person that was cut short not long after it began. Separating toasters from photo albums, baseball gear from blenders, Todd Stevens started to cry. I was a kid, 20 years old, Todd, just a few years older than me. At 25 or 26, his life was going in a completely different direction than what he had anticipated. A few years before he’d been a professional baseball player married to his college sweetheart. Now he was a divorced assistant manager at a sporting goods store in rural Kansas.

Somehow, Todd Stevens and I did form a bond in our few days together. So, I wasn’t surprised when on the night before his flight back to Kansas he came into my bedroom to ask for a favor. (Again, I’m not kidding, it’s not that kind of story.)

“You know Loyal and Bev have been so good to me, I don’t want to ask for anymore favors. I have three boxes that still need to be shipped back home but I’m out of money. Can you take the boxes to UPS this week after I leave? I’ll send you the money when I get home.”

“I can do that.” Like everyone else, I too had fallen for Todd Stevens.

“Oh man, that’s awesome. And just to say thanks, I’m going to send you some K-State hats and t-shirts! Cool. Also, do you want this blender?”


The day after Todd Stevens left Syracuse I went to UPS to ship his three boxes. It cost me 30 dollars, which was kind of a lot of money for me then.

Days passed, then weeks with no check and package full of K-State memorabilia. I had Todd Stevens’ address and I sent him a letter, asking as delicately as possible, when he was planning on sending me my $30.

The summer ended and I sent him another letter, this time giving him my college address. “Don’t worry about the cap and shirt, just send the $30.”

I never got my $30 and I never heard from Todd Stevens again. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not the worst thing that ever happened me, not by a long shot, but for years, I did wonder what happened. Did he intend to pay me back and then lose track? Was he purposely deceitful? Was he a pathological liar, not completely in control of his grand promises? Did he suffer a fatal heart attack on the sidewalk outside the post office, clutching my check and Wildcat T-shirt in his hands as he fell to the asphalt?  (Active imagination.)

I do think about Todd Stevens from time to time. I’m not wounded, and I do think it’s funny. I know I sound like the paper boy in Better Off Dead, I want my 2 dollars, a never ending refrain. Also, I know now that the memory stuck with me, in part, because I did go crazy for Todd Stevens. I felt things about him I couldn’t articulate at the time, a crush calling itself admiration.

Wherever you are, Todd Stevens, I hope you are well. I hope your journey has offered you joy and love and peace. I hope you created a family, work a job you like, found purpose. I know what it feels like to think your life is set in one direction and have it veer in another.  I know what it feels like to break a promise.  This weekend, as I sifted through the memories of old friends and old crushes and even old conflicts, I was reminded of what a gift all of it is.  That decades later, I can close my eyes and see the three of us, you, Loyal and me, playing golf on a cool, green June New York evening, me vexed that I couldn’t drive or pitch or putt as well as not only you, but also a 60 year old man, all of it, it makes me smile. And then it almost makes me cry.  Life, it speeds by. How could there ever be a debt when you gave me something worth so much?