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.

Todd Stevens

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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?”

“Sure!”

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?

Guest Blogger, Matt Miller: Sharing Blessings! Why Do I Volunteer?

 

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I received an email from my cousin Matt this morning.  He had written a thoughtful piece about volunteering and asked if I might like to share it here.  I told him I would be more than happy to post it.  While we should always be cognizant of what we do in our daily lives to help others, sometimes we need reminders.  Thanks Matt for sharing your story of what volunteering means to you.

 

Sharing Blessings!  Why Do I Volunteer?

I have been blessed to be in a position to be able to volunteer in most of my son’s activities. Additionally my wife has also to volunteer as well. I say blessed because I know in today’s world that not everyone’s situation allows for the level of volunteering that we are able to. Both my wife and I have a calling to work with youth, having earned music education degrees but both being in vocations where we do not have direct youth interaction we have chosen to focus our “free” time in our son’s activities. This is not to say that we are perfect parents, I assure you that we will always have room for improvement. Nor are we alone in this endeavor, we have made friends with other outstanding volunteers in the organizations. We have discussed why we do this many times and the main theme that we bring up is to make a difference in a child’s life, our child and others.

With this goal in mind we have tackled Boy Scouts and competitive marching band parent organizations. We have looked at what skills and experiences that we have to offer and have been able to plug into positions for each group. I could not be more satisfied and proud of the impact that we have been able to make. I say this not to boast, but to share the gem situations that I have experienced.

In Scouts I have served as a committee member, but my focus has been on sitting and preparing the boys for Boards of Review that they have at the completion of each rank including Eagle rank, Scouting’s highest youth achievement. I have been able to sit on countless Tenderfoot, 1st Class, 2nd Class, and Life rank boards with our Troop of 60 or so boys. It is a privilege to see each boy develop though each rank in maturity and experience. As well I have sat as a troop representative on over 15 Eagle Board of Reviews, many of which I was able to provide some coaching and sample questions for each boy to prepare. The boys have done outstanding and have represented our Troop well. The Council representatives recognize that we run a well rounded program for our youth. The involvement has also allowed the boys to participate in many adventure actives such are canoeing, hiking, repelling, practicing firearms and archery, as well as skills through merit badges. A wonderful program!

Concurrently my son’s competitive marching band, the Renegade Regiment of the Union High School marching band program, is our other main activity. While Angela and I’s musical gifts were not in concert or marching band, we are both very familiar with the music aspect. There are as many as 30 main volunteers in leadership roles as well as countless other parents, grand parents or guardians that help the logistics, fundraising, dressing and feeding of the band students allowing the schools music directors and staff the ability to focus almost solely on the teaching of music and marching of the students. We have been chaperones on multiple trips as well as serving on the Union Band Parents Club board of directors, Angela as a Uniform Director (or Uniform Queen as we call her) and myself as Concessions Director and Treasurer. Angela and another Scout mom are co Uniform Directors for the last two marching seasons. Both myself and other director’s husband (the Scout Master from our Troop) make up the main uniform crew with our wives. We fit the over 300 band students in marching bibs, jackets and hats called shakos for marching and then Tuxes and dress blouses / pants for concerts. We travel with the students for each competition: fixing damaged items, replacing what can not be fixed, and having borrow items for lost of missing pieces. As part of the Concessions team, I serve as one of the running directors of our football stadium concessions stands and as the bookkeeper for our team. We staff our stands with parents and students as a fundraising element to pay for and directly apply to the individual student’s marching fees. The overall stand net profits go toward the general fund to help reduce the costs for all the band students.

Through our interactions we have met other like minded parents who have been able to prioritize volunteering as an important aspect of giving as a part of the Union Band Parents Club. This has not been lost on the students. They are very grateful, polite and for the most part well behaved. As the band competes at an elite level of competition, we have recently returned from the National competition in Indianapolis, IN (placed 16th in the nation!!!). We stayed at a boutique hotel in downtown Indianapolis, the Alexander. Our band students carried themselves with class. We received a complementary email from the marketing director of the hotel after our visit, advising that they have rarely had adult visiting groups be as polite and courteous as out students and that they would be happy to host our group in the future.

The students are very thankful for all that our parent group is able to provide for them. The reward is to hear the stories from the students. A parent of one student with a knee injury that happened during the season complimented on of the student leaders for his willingness to go out of his way to carry the injured students bags and some times the student herself to get from place to place. Another of our students was able to speak at a local Rotary Club in a Four Way Speech contest speaking to the power of words. These are the high points. We have the opportunity of seeing our students with adversity make the best of their situation. One student works and pays her own marching fee which is usually well over $2000 yearly. That student maturely describes the hardships she faces at home with a single parent who is disabled, an elderly grandparent and a younger sibling that she cares for all while going to school and participating in school activities. The does not complain about her circumstances, but is thankful for the opportunity to work her own way to pay for her involvement in the program. Another student had a out of state grand parent come to the nationals competition, the grand parent also brought the student’s birth parent who had not seen the student in over 10 years. The student was at odds on how to process seeing the absent parent, but communicated the blessing of being a part a group that had caring and willing volunteers to be role models. These are the moments that glisten the eyes and melt the heart.

Upon our return home from the nationals competition we learned as a band family that a member of another competing band lost a band member, parent and grand parent in a traffic accident while in route home after the finals of the competition. As parents and spectators we had shared the stands with the parents and volunteers of the other band though out the competition’s extended weekend. Our band students had been social and had interacted with many bands including this band. The Castle Marching band had made it to finals competition for the first time and one of the soloists was the young lady who’s life was tragically cut short on the ride home from a mountain top experience. Our band family’s hearts were broken with the news: directors, students and parents alike; our Band Family was feeling the loss of another Band Family. Many of our students were touched and responded by posting pictures of themselves wearing the colors of the mourning band to show support. Posting these pictures and support to #WeAreCastle and #SingForSophie in social media. They seemed to understand the idea of community that exists outside of his or her direct family and school. These are the moments that make my heart and soul sing. The title of the marching show this year was Shadow Land, in reference to our show I commented on how you have to be the light in order to create the shadows. This inspired one of band parent leaders to create the hastag #BeTheLightThatCastsABeatifulShadow.

This is the reason that I volunteer, not for personal gain or recognition. The empowerment of our future leaders, the young people of today through example and opportunity to use the skills and talents they have. Instilling compassion and a dedication to the support they received and the recognition of other’s hard work that comprised that support. Lastly for them to show the same levels of compassion and support to others.

As we face times of change and uncertainty in the future, I know that by volunteering I am positively contributing to today’s youth with results in better prepared future leaders with hearts for compassion and dedication to work for self and others. Again I say that I am blessed for my situation and recognize how grateful I am to be able to spend my time as I am able. The benefits and rewards while intangible are the greatest that one can receive. While you spend time being thankful during this season, be thankful for those who volunteered for you. Be the Light that casts a beautiful shadow.

Thanks and Blessings!

Matt Miller

For You Are With Me

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According to family legend, in the weeks before my father’s mother died, she had a conversation with my mother that changed the course of our lives.  At that time, my parents did not attend church.  I was still a baby so you know how long ago this was.  “Find a church,” my Grandma said, “Any church, I don’t care what denomination, but find a church and become a part of it.”

And in the months after her passing, my parents did just that.  They found a church.  As long as I can remember, church was always a central part of our spiritual and social lives.

When I was in my twenties, I left the church and in my forties, I returned.  A very long in the tooth prodigal son.

Last night I wrote about the events of the last week.  As I published the post and ran out the door to my friend’s party, I felt a lightness.  Eloquent or fumbling, I put into words what I had been feeling.  I tried to approach it with kindness, not always the easiest task when talking about polarizing subjects.

This morning,  I looked forward to church.  I got there early and sat in my pew.  There is a thirty minute organ concert that precedes every Sunday’s worship service.  You can judge me, you probably should judge me, but I tend to spend that time on my phone, checking Instagram, texting and emailing.  As the prelude began it’s final chords and the organ began to swell, I put my phone away.  In the time that I had been looking down on my phone, the sanctuary filled up.  This morning, it wasn’t average Sunday in November full, it was practically Easter full.

We stood to sing the opening hymn, A Mighty Fortress is Our God.  The oft-mentioned beauty of my church comforted me and yes, even surprised me a little.  Every Sunday, I can’t believe how at home I feel on my little pew in this grand, old sanctuary.  I was grateful to have a place where I could bring the sadnesses of the last week.

I touched on it in my last blog, this complicated navigation many of us are attempting with family members who did not vote the same way we did.  Like I said, my parents voted for Trump.  I voted for Hillary.  And for the last week, I’ve tried to figure out what these opposing positions mean about our relationship.  How can we see life so differently?

Big surprise, I cried in church.  Believe it or not, it was my first cry this week that was about the election.  Yes, I am disappointed that Hillary lost, but my tears were not really sad ones.  Well, maybe melancholy.

See, I cried this morning when I realized here I was in church again, after a twenty year break, because my parents showed me the value of it.  That church is a place to bring your heartache.  That church is a place to look at your heart and see what you need to change.  That church is where you have a moment to acknowledge what you are grateful for.

I thought about my ailing Grandma Avis who asked my Mom to find a church, any church, 46 years ago.   And maybe the ANY part is what I was thinking about in February, when I attended a worship service solely on the basis that I thought the church looked pretty when I drove by.  And when I walked into the church courtyard, I saw a poster that read, “Inclusive.”

The Scripture reading today was David’s Psalm 23.  When the man read, “I will fear no evil for you are with me,” I thought about how, like God, my parents are always with me, even when I feel there is a distance.

On Friday, when I spoke to my parents, my Dad stated that if someone ever asked him to deny Jesus, he would let them kill him.  He would die defending Christ. I assured him that that would never happen.  “You never know,” he insisted.  “If I die tonight, I have no regrets.”

Today was the first day that I prayed for Donald Trump and his impending presidency.  I prayed that God would give him wisdom and compassion and guidance.  With my head bowed and my eyes closed, it struck me that I have more in common with Trump than I’d like to admit.  I sometimes say cruel things. I sometimes make bad decisions. I can be self-serving. I grow my hair longer than what is ideal for my age/weight.

I loved that my church was packed today.  I looked around and saw faces I’d never seen before.  I imagined that maybe, like me, they had grown up in conservative churches in the Midwest or the South.  Maybe they had left the church in a huff or snuck out a side door.  But maybe, this week, this crazy week, affected them in a way that they said to themselves, I’d like to go somewhere to find comfort, healing.  Maybe they thought the church looked pretty.  Maybe they had a Grandma who begged, “Find a church, any church.”

That parable of the prodigal son, maybe it resonates because some of us feel like we’ve squandered riches and long to return home to a father that welcomes us with open arms.  Today, I thought about the time when my own Dad was a prodigal and the events that drove him back to church. Surely there are differences, big differences, but for now, maybe it’s best to hold to what we have in common, to cherish what we share.

Four in the Morning

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At 4:00 a.m., I wake to two big brown eyes staring at me in the dark.  “Are you okay?” I ask, then I rub my dog Millie’s ears.  She doesn’t say anything, just continues to stare.  I’ve written about her seizures before and while (knock wood) she has responded remarkably well to the medicine we have been giving her for the last several months, I’m always a little fearful when she wakes me up in the middle of the night.

She doesn’t seem particularly agitated, she just stares at me.  She really does have the prettiest eyes, even in the dark, even at 4:00 a.m.  I ask her if a treat might help her sleep.  No response, but when I get out of bed and walk into the kitchen, she and her brother Rick clamor into the living room, assuming their treat stances on the couch.

“Thank God you have the stamina to eat, Millie.” I’m kidding, but it’s a prayer too.

The three of us return to the bed, Eric trying to sleep through the commotion.  We are, none of us, quiet souls. Ricky circles twice and settles into his spot between Eric and me.  Millie sits regally, still staring at me from the foot of the bed.  I lie in bed, unsettled, alert.

I hope that Millie will settle like Ricky, but she doesn’t.  I get up, walk into the living room, turn on a lamp, grab the book I am reading.  Almost immediately, I hear someone charging into the room, onto the couch.  Millie plops herself into my lap.  Seconds later, Ricky joins us, gluing himself to my right side.

For several chapters, I read my book, a memoir, another person telling me their story.  Trying to illuminate their journey in a way that will illuminate mine.

I’m not complaining, but it’s not the easiest task, reading a book while petting two dogs at the same time.  Turning pages is a trick and sometimes, one of the dogs actually rests their head on the book. Any port in a storm.  If I pet Millie but not Rick, he glares sadly.  If Ricky moves closer, Millie tends to snarl or even snap at him.  Poor Rick.  So the best thing is just to pet them both at the same time.  Stop petting both when I have to turn the page, resume petting.

No one said life is easy.

I didn’t have to work today.  As I read my memoir, in the middle of the night, hoping to get sleepy enough to return to my slumber, it strikes me that all in all, it isn’t the worst of situations.  These (mostly) sweet puppies keeping me company, this book, my couch, my apartment, the saint in the other room, my life.

I nod off mid page, then jump.  After that happens twice, I get off the couch and return to bed.  Millie and Ricky bounce onto the bed.  Ricky circles twice then settles down.  Millie roots between the blanket and bedspread then burrows herself not far from my feet.

Relieved that Millie is now sleeping, I lie in bed, pondering my life.  I hate my job. Not every aspect of it, but enough.  I do like the people I work with and I’ve been in the work force long enough to know that counts for something.

I guess a few jobs are like this, but I sometimes marvel that my co-workers and me, we often see people at their very worst, their most unkind.  Some days it’s staggering.  I do not see people as intrinsically good anymore and there was a time that I did.  And I wonder if I will ever turn a corner and see the good in people before I see the bad.

Anyway, after some tossing and turning, I get up again and I return to my couch, return to my lamp, return to my book.  This time, only Ricky joins me.  I hope everyone reading this has at least one soul, human or otherwise, who loves them as much as Ricky loves me.

The sun has started to rise by the time I return to bed.  I sleep for a few hours, get up to give Millie her pill then sleep for an hour more.  I get up and drink my coffee, already made.  Besides making the coffee, Eric has also walked and fed the dogs.  Then I go to church.

If I were to ever write a memoir, I don’t think those hours on the couch with a book and two dogs would ever make it past the first edit.  It’s not really a story.  But maybe it is.  Maybe its the story of my life and I don’t even realize it.

 

Are Our Best Days Behind Us?

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I’m reading the short stories of John Cheever right now. Something about his characters and themes taps into traits and inclinations that are at the core of who I am. Cheever had/has a fixation on loss, lost youth, lost money, lost hope.  Yesterday, as I was reading one of his short stories, about a character described, at 40, as a middle aged man, I remembered something I had forgotten.  I am middle aged.  And unless I live to be 95, I am on the downward slope of middle age.  But whenever I get worried about my age, I always think of Sarah Jessica Parker who is three years older than me.  At every age, she is beautiful and fashionable and smart and relevant and the thought of her comforts me.

This morning, I read Cheever’s O Youth and Beauty, about a former star athlete who in middle age has money problems and drinks too much. Again, as I drank my morning coffee and sat on the couch reading, I wondered, are my best days behind me?

I remember that hope we had, I had, in our youth that our adult lives would be filled with an abundance of riches. Not just monetary riches, but certainly including those. We would have many friends, many children, many vacations, many pets, many accolades, many successes.

When I was in high school, I was in forensics, and I was sometimes asked to do monologues or scenes at various womens’ clubs in Independence. A small group of us would assemble in a church fellowship hall and entertain the ladies. My piece was always from God’s Favorite by Neil Simon, always a crowd favorite. Even at 16, I could tap into the Charles Nelson Reilly that was gesticulating within me. We’d put on our little show, they’d feed us cookies and tea and sometimes give us a small honorarium, and then we’d be on our way. I’d drive off in my ratty ’65 Mustang and think this was just the beginning of a rich life. Unlimited promise.

Are all of my best days behind me?

As I walked the dogs a few minutes ago, I asked myself that question. How far back in my memory reserve would I have to go to access a really great day, not just a good day, but a special, think of it for years to come day. Maybe even a remember it on your deathbead, a la Claire Fisher from series finale of Six Feet Under, kind of day.

You can imagine my relief when a fairly recent memory popped into my head, from a mere two months ago. Not surprisingly, I was on vacation. Also, not surprisingly, I was in New York.

Eric and I were in New York but during the day he attended a trade show at the Javits Center. I decided that was the day I would go to Governors Island. I’d never been to Governors Island, when I lived in New York, I do not think it was open to the public.

I took the train to the tip of Manhattan and walked to the Ferry terminal, then took the Ferry to Governors Island. I walked around the island, took pictures, posted pictures to Instagram. I boarded the ferry to return to Manhattan. Took more pictures of both islands. Docked in Manhattan and went to Starbucks and bought a water with a gift card my Mom sent me. I visited a gift store I like where I bought vintage looking dog stickers.

I pondered the possibility of taking the subway back to midtown where we were staying, especially since it was 90 degrees, and also, I developed a stomachache from drinking that water so fast. But I decided I would walk until I got tired and then take the subway the rest of the way. I walked from South Street Seaport through Tribeca and Soho into Greenwich Village then by my old apartment on 15th street. I walked up 8th until about 30th and then I jogged over to 9th Avenue. Somewhere around 23rd, the thought of a flower topped chocolate cupcake from Cupcake Cafe popped into my head. How long it had been since I’d had one of those cupcakes? Ten years? Fifteen? When I got to 9th Avenue, the bakery was not where I remembered it but across the street. Had they moved or had I remembered it incorrectly? I bought my cupcake. I considered eating it at one of the handful of dusty tables, but decided I would take it back to the hotel and eat it there in the blasting air conditioning. I walked up 9th Avenue with the intent to also buy a sandwich at Amy’s Breads but at Amy’s Breads, at 2:30 p.m., the sandwich pickings were slim. So I ambled up and got a turkey sandwich at the French bistro near our hotel. I ate my feast in our room, half interested in an episode of Catfish playing on MTV. I took a shower and Eric texted me to say we would meet for drinks at Soho Grand before our dinner at Balthazar. I had a few hours to kill so I decided to visit a museum on the Upper West Side where an Al Hirschfeld exhibit was ongoing. I walked from our hotel, around Columbus Circle then up Central Park West. I took pictures of some of the more stately apartment building along the avenue. I’d walked by them a hundred times before but I hoped that because I was taking pictures of them now, I would remember the names and the details. Was the Dakota above or below the San Remo?

When I got to the museum, I found that they were closing in less than an hour and admission was almost $20, so I decided not to go in. I’ll never know how many Ninas I might have discovered inside the New York Historical Society. On 81st, I turned to walk west, inspired by the thought that it had been many years since my last visit to Riverside Park. On 81st and West End, I happened upon The Calhoun School, famous because the building itself looks like a giant television. I took a picture and sent it to friends via Facebook. On Sundays, when I lived in New York, I attended a church that had services there. I tagged Yvonne and Tania and Sarah in the picture I posted, I would have tagged Dana but she isn’t on Facebook.

From there I kept walking and as I crossed Riverside Drive, I remembered an episode of Naked City that was filmed there. How could the street look almost the same 50 years later? Has there ever been a city as unmoved yet everchanging as New York? I walked into the park. It’s no Central Park, I thought to myself. But I walked south until I discovered the Seventyninth Street Boat Basin. I considered stopping for a glass of wine. I remembered that I’d actually woke up a little hungover that morning. Too much bourbon at Bemelman’s and Robert and the Ritz-Carlton the night before. So I kept walking. I walked down the parkway along the Hudson River, marvelling at the stunning views of the water and the George Washington Bridge and New Jersey. I thought about how growing up (in Kansas) I always pictured New Jersey as an ugly, undesirable state and obviously, now I knew how wrong I was. I grew to love New Jersey decades ago.

I walked south to a new park with a fancy, sophisticated walkway and then I headed back to Columbus Circle. It was 5:30 and after my industrious walk, I was sweaty again. I decided to go back to the hotel to take another shower.

I was a little late to the Soho Grand, but Eric and our friend were enjoying cocktails and Sriracha-coated peas when I joined them. Believe it or not, I did not order a cocktail.

From there we had dinner at Balthazar, which was good. And then I can’t remember what else we did. Did we walk around Rockefeller Center and then up 5th Avenue? Did we go for drinks at the Ritz-Carlton again, then along Central Park South back to our hotel? I don’t know. It doesn’t matter. Years from now, I might remember it incorrectly, that we hopped into a cab and sang songs around the piano at Marie’s Crisis or that we walked across the Brooklyn Bridge at midnight. And if that’s the way I remember it, that’s okay. No reason to getted bogged down by the facts.

Besided the hangover, the stomach ache, the pervasive heat, the not getting to see the Hirschfeld exhibit, I also had to contend with moments of melancholy and anxiety throughout this special day. Like a Cheever protagonist, melancholy and anxiety, and self-absorption for that matter, are part of who I am in my core. And yet, I will always remember this day fondly, importantly.

I walked 23.58 miles that day. I know that because I tweeted it that night when I got back to the hotel. I was proud of what I accomplished. I take my visits to New York very seriously, but you already know that.

Already, Eric and I are planning our next visit. I have to wrap this post up in a speedy manner or else I will be late to work. Forgive any mispelled words or dangling modifiers, maybe I’ll go back to fix my errors when I have time.

So off to work, I’ll go. Sometime during my day, I’ll check Kayak for flight and hotel deals. I’ll remember a museum that I wanted to make it to in August and I’ll go to their website and see what exhibits they’ll be showing at the end of January, beginning of February. Maybe I’ll finally make a reservation for us to eat lunch at The Four Seasons or Afternoon Tea in the Palm Court. Still planning a bright future.

We must do what we can to prove that our best days are before us.

The Darkness of Our Souls

Michael-J-Pollard-The-Stripper-1963

One of the mostly darkly comic moments of my high school career was the day of officer elections for Fellowship of Christian Athletes. It was my junior year and I had been very involved in Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA) since my freshman year. I went to every meeting, every weekend retreat, every Tuesday night bible study. I wasn’t really an athlete, but I sure was a Christian and I had every Amy Grant cassette tape to prove it.

If you are a person that remembers high school, you might remember how some clubs were a little nerdier than others. FCA was not a nerd club. I’ll never forget my freshman year, going to meetings, spellbound by the devotions given by junior and senior club leaders, popular boys and girls, who talked about how their relationship with Jesus really helped them get through the day. And also, to win games.

By my junior year, FCA was the one club I was most involved in. Many of the people I considered my best friends were also in that club.

When officer elections came up that year, I knew that I really wanted to hold some kind of office during my senior year. I aspired to be that upperclassman giving devotions, inspiring freshman about how Jesus really makes your day better. So I signed up to run for every office: president, vice president, secretary, treasurer. I think there was even something called stu-co rep that I threw my name into the hat for. I was sure that with all that putting myself out there, something would pay off. Clear eyes, full hearts, can’t lose.

The day of elections, my first clue of the tragicomedy to come was that every FCA member in the school showed up to vote. While FCA boasted a large membership, meeting attendance was never mandatory and often not heavily attended. That day was the exception, every lumbering football player, towering basketball player and Aqua-Netted varsity cheerleader showed up to vote for officers that day.

The first office that we voted for was president. I don’t remember how many candidates there were, I don’t remember who won. I just remember it wasn’t me.

I won’t drag this out for you the way that afternoon dragged on for me, but each election bore the same result. Each time my fellow FCA members had an opportunity to vote, they voted for the other candidate. By the time we got down to stu-co rep, there were snickers that travelled through the auditorium when my name was announced as one of the candidates. Like Carrie at the prom, in the moments after that pigs’ blood fell on her head, I realized that whatever it was that I wanted from these people, boys and girls I considered my peers, I was not going to get it. By a show of hands, the vote took place. Someone other than me won.

That afternoon, after the calamitous election, I went home and took to my waterbed. I don’t remember crying specifically, but I probably did. What I most remember is laying there, heartbroken and embarrassed. In all my years of living in Independence, I don’t think I ever felt so alone.

My only consolation was that someday I would leave Independence and leave Kansas and show them all. I would have a wildly successful adult life and when I came back to Independence to visit, everyone would clamor around me, wanting to get close enough that my stardust might rub off on them.

And while I have left Independence and left Kansas, my life is just kind of a life. Not too glamorous, barely any stardust at all.

Did I have any idea, on that lonely spring afternoon, as I pouted in my bedroom, how many times I would think of that day in the 30 years to come? I don’t think I did.

On that afternoon, I decided I was not going to be a member of FCA my senior year. I would not be sharing my athleticism or my Christianity with people who did not appreciate it. And I held to that resolution. Instead, my senior year was filled with rehearsals and performances for four different plays.

It’s no wonder I loved being on stage, acting in these plays. The thought of becoming someone else is what I’d spent 17 years dreaming about.

One of the plays I did in that busy senior year was written by William Inge.  The play, A Loss of Roses, was Inge’s first big Broadway failure, the first of more than a few.

Inge wrote quite a bit about his hometown, my hometown. In his adulthood, he did not spend a lot of time in Independence. From what I’ve read, I don’t think he liked visiting. An overly sensitive man, a success who never stopped feeling like a failure, I think his visits home dredged up too much pain.

It’s always a little embarrassing to write about one’s pains, one’s sensitivities. Inge did it beautifully, but now, now that we know how much sadness he bore his entire life, it’s heartbreaking. Lola, always ready to play the victim, but stronger than she realizes. Rosemary, on her knees begging a man she may not even love to marry her because the loneliness is killing her. Millie, overshadowed by her beautiful sister, defiant that one day she would leave Independence and live a successful, decorated life.

Sometimes I worry that I am in a downward spiral, that the trip to the Menninger Clinic that William Inge and Deanie Loomis took might be in my future too. There are days that I am overwhelmed by my sensitivities. There are moments when I wonder, am I the only person bothered that no one stops at stop signs in Los Angeles?

I woke up at 5:00 a.m. this morning with the fear that everyone in my entire home town hates me now. Over something I wrote about in a blog yesterday. And then I fretted over that fear because who really thinks that way except for the delirious and the paranoid?  And then to try to make sense of it, I sat on my couch and typed all this out into my little phone. And then, later, I’ll go back to reread what I’ve written and judge it and decide whether I’m willing to share it, the ramblings of my overtired, oversensitive, quite possibly delusional brain.

Of course, you know I published it. You know I took that risk. It’s what we writers do, we risk revealing the darkness of our souls. Even us failures, especially us failures.  And vultures that we are, we all take solace in being reminded of others’ failures, because they are not our own.