Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Sweet Sixtee--, I mean, Four

I got what I wanted. After having a son, I wanted to see what it would be like to have a daughter. And that’s just what I got, four Leap Years ago today. A special girl on a special day.

She was smaller than her brother when she arrived, 5 pounds 9 ounces. But, unlike her brother, she got to go home with us immediately, rather than hang around the NICU for a while. Which may have been a sign of things to come.

From early on, she was stubborn. While I was never a big fan of waking up in the middle of the night to feed either of the kids, once I was awake I did see it as an opportunity to “steal” some one-on-one time with them. Her brother was easy to cuddle and rock back to sleep. Samantha, on the other hand, had other ideas. I would tuck her securely in my arms while giving her a bottle. But, after a few moments, she would wriggle and squirm, seemingly quite uncomfortable in her circumstances. So I would wrap her up in her blanket and lay her in my lap, hoping to give her some sense of snugness and security. But, after a few moments, she would resume her wriggly routine until she had escaped her blanket and I set her on the couch cushion next to me. From then on, she would be still. And free.

In some ways, her stubbornness made me smarter. When David would do something wrong, I could generally just tell him what to do to correct or atone for his behavior and he would. When trying that tactic with Samantha, she would just flat refuse. Eventually, after many instances of figurative head-butting, we figured out that she needed to feel like she was in control of her situation. Which meant that we had to give her a choice: choose to do the right thing or choose to accept the consequences. It was certainly more difficult having to frame every instance with choices (especially making sure the right choice always seemed the best option), but it certainly kept my brain on its toes. And, thankfully, she would select the right choice the vast majority of the time.

And her choices have made me immensely proud. She is a good friend and a good sister and a good babysitter, sometimes all three at once. She can get Linus and Arlo to bed in record time. And though she’s threatened it many times, she’s never actually killed any of her younger siblings. She is compassionate and loving and sensitive. Sometimes, when she can tell things are not quite right with me, she will clean my kitchen without being asked. It always makes me feel better. She asked for a purity ring for Christmas, which couldn’t relieve more anxiety for me as the father of a beautiful daughter.

She has also emulated some of the things I’ve done. She participated in the grade school spelling bee and did very well. She’s an excellent writer who never fails to impress me with her skills at such a young age. She has a goofy sense of humor and can make me laugh at the drop of the hat just by making a slack-jawed idiot face. And while she still has a ways to go, her dancing is getting closer to my skill level. But mostly, and most importantly, she is fiercely and decidedly her own person. I know it’s been tough being constantly linked to her brother all her life but she has always been distinct in her own identity.

I remember being a little sad right before she was born because it meant that our one-on-one time with David would effectively be eliminated. But Samantha got the last laugh. Because now that David is off doing his own thing much of the time, it means I get a lot more one-on-one time with Sam at an age where we can both appreciate it more. Although, she’s still a little squirmy.

Sixteen years ago I was hoping for a girl. I didn’t realize how lucky I would be to get her.

Wednesday, August 04, 2010

Connections, Part One

Today is my dad’s birthday. Since he passed away a few years ago, I can’t really call him. Instead, I’ll just pound out a few words that he would have liked.

~ ~ ~

Some of my earliest memories revolve around baseball. As far as I can tell, I can remember as far back as 1980, when I was six years old. 1980 was memorable because George Brett was making a run at .400 and the Royals made it to the World Series for the first time. My grandma had a “George Brett for President” bumper sticker. And she took me and my brother out to get George Brett t-shirts but we had to settle for Hal McRae because all the Brett shirts were sold out. Of course, the Royals lost that first World Series to the Phillies. The next summer, we visited my great-grandma in Pennsylvania. My brother and I spent some time with the little girls who lived across the street and who were proud of their World Champion Phillies. Which prompted me to come up with derogatory slogans about their best players like, “There’s Pete Rose. Punch him in the nose!” and “There’s Tug McGraw. Punch him in the jaw!” I don’t think I was brave enough yet to rhyme “Mike Schmidt” with “piece of shit”. But I guess I was pretty competitive, even at that early age.

As a young kid, I would spend time at my grandparents’ house. They would sit on the front porch, listening to the Royals on the radio. Within earshot of the radio, I would throw Whiffle balls up to myself and pretend to be each batter, seeing if I could eclipse their exploits by hitting the ball across the street.

I remember receiving my first baseball cards. Some friend of my parents that I don’t remember was over at our house and needed to make a run to QuikTrip or the like. For some reason, I went along with him and he offered to by me a jumbo pack of ’82 Fleer cards. I remember getting back to my room and studying each of the cards, completely mesmerized. There was a card called “Black and Blue” with Bud Black and Vida Blue. There was another gimmicky card called “Carlton and Fisk” which featured Steve Carlton and Carlton Fisk. There was a card with Ed Farmer wearing a blue windbreaker which I found really confusing.

All of this is to say that baseball was my first love.

~ ~ ~

My dad grew up in the 50’s. He played baseball when he was a kid and I imagined his childhood was something similar to Leave It To Beaver or Charlie Brown and the Peanuts. His favorite player was Mickey Mantle and he told stories about meeting Hank Bauer and some of the Yankees at his barber shop.

But as much as he seemed to enjoy baseball, in adulthood something new had seized his attention.

It wasn’t basketball where height was a distinct advantage, if not necessarily a necessity. It wasn’t football where strength and machismo reigned and injury lurked around every corner. It wasn’t hockey, even though the Miracle On Ice was still fresh in the minds of many Americans.

No, what piqued my dad’s interest was incredibly popular but still something of a novelty in the United States. And you could compete even if you were short and couldn’t bench press a VW Beetle. And it tapped into the boundless energy that most kids have.

Of course, it was soccer. He found it fascinating and entertaining and he encouraged/compelled me and my brother to play. We didn’t know any better so we played and had fun, which I’m sure just augmented Dad’s enjoyment of the sport. And it helped that we were both pretty good. In fact, I was scoring so many goals that I made an agreement with my fellow middle forward that we would trade off opportunities to score. Which worked well until I passed up an easy opportunity to score because it wasn’t my turn. I botched a pass to my teammate and our coach sniffed out and snuffed out our charitable-yet-ill-advised plan.

Unfortunately, my coach was an alcoholic and a world-class jerk. This led my parents to search for another team for me to play on. And, fortunately, that eventually led to my dad coaching my team.

At first, I was a little embarrassed. My dad didn’t know as much as my previous coaches. But I liked being the “Coach’s Son”, even though he treated me just as he would any of my teammates. And he worked really hard to learn more about drills and tactics. As an adult, I realize just what a huge commitment he made, not only learning the game but having to organize practices and corral a bunch of smart-ass kids. He put in a lot of work but I think he really enjoyed it.

He enjoyed the indoor game, too, and ended up buying season tickets for the Kansas City Comets. It was a blast going to the games. And after they were over, we would go down to some secret, season ticket holder bar where players would pass through and sign autographs after they showered and dressed.

Watching Comets goalies Enzo DiPede and Alan Mayer (complete with helmet!) stirred something different in me and I decided that I didn’t want to score goals anymore. Instead, I wanted to stop them. I was excited to try something new, but my mom was leery, worried that I might get hurt (never mind that I’d received and played with a broken hand while playing forward). And on my first day of practice at my new position, I split my lip after running face-first into the goalpost. But I loved the challenge and I loved the physicality of the position. And I loved that I could use my hands and didn’t have to run incessantly.

~ ~ ~

None of this affected my love for baseball much. Since the soccer seasons ran during the Spring and Fall, I still dedicated my summers to listening to the Royals, watching The Baseball Bunch (starring Johnny Bench and the San Diego Chicken) and This Week In Baseball (which still makes my heart flutter when I hear the best TV show theme music in history) and playing our version of stickball (Whiffle bats and tennis balls) with the neighborhood kids. And in 1985, when the Royals won the World Series, I went to bed that night thinking my own life would never be the same.

To Be Continued...

Friday, October 02, 2009

My Little Buddy Isn't So Little Any More

He started off at five pounds twelve ounces, with an extended stay in the KU Med Neonatal Intensive Care Unit to give his lungs a chance to succeed on their own. It didn’t take him long to catch up and now he’s six feet tall and 150 pounds. My first child, my son, was born sixteen years ago today. My friend, Kelly, asked me today how it feels to have a sixteen year old. I told her that it’s a mixed bag. Here’s why…

I’ve been a parent nearly half of my life. It’s strange to say that because I didn’t envision that happening at all. When I was a kid, my grandma made a comment to me about how life would be when I got married and had kids. I scoffed at her suggestion and told her that I would never get married. I was also self-aware enough to tell her that I wouldn’t have any kids because I didn’t want to have to deal with anyone that would act like me. She just gave me a knowing grin and asked if I’d be willing to sign a piece of paper to commemorate my naive wisdom. She said she’d keep it on hand and give it to me on my wedding day. I laughed and signed my declaration, which she tucked away for safekeeping. Years later, during my wedding reception, my grandma pulled me aside and told me she needed to give me something. She just held out her hand. I had no idea what it was, so I held out my hand and she dropped a slip of paper into it. I unfolded it and read my youthful declaration and she just grinned. I laughed and gave her a hug. And while the marriage didn’t work out, I did get a couple of kids out of the deal. She got a kick out of that, too.

x x x

David Julius. I came up with that when I was about 12 or 13 years old. I didn’t plan on having any kids, but thought that if I ever had the chance to name one, that’s what it would be. “David” came from the fact that I absolutely loved watching David Letterman. Another inspiration was my deceased uncle, who I never met but sounded like a cool guy, Dave Hopper. Also, I really liked the fact that David in the Bible was described as a man after God’s own heart. And as a fellow whose name is “Nicky Jay”, I couldn’t let him get away with a boring middle name. So, I went with “Julius” as inspired mostly by Dr. J, Julius Erving. He seemed like a stand-up guy and he was absolutely beautiful on the basketball court. Plus, “David Julius” just sounded like it fit together.

“David” is a solid name and one that lends itself easily to nicknames. Dave, Davey, David, Davo, Davis. Of course, that wasn’t enough for me. I had to slip one more in there: Little Buddy. I just couldn’t help it. He was just so little and chubby and happy that I couldn’t help but pick him up and squeeze him and hug him and press my cheek against his rotund little cheek and call him my Little Buddy. Some dads go for “Sport” or “Tiger” or “Champ” but I’ve always been a “Buddy” guy. And he’s the all-time best.

x x x

When Dave was about seven or eight, I would tickle him and his sister during commercials of whatever show we were watching. He would laugh and try to get away, but one time, I had him good. He was squirming and wiggling and laughing but he couldn’t escape. In a desperate attempt to get me to stop, he cried out between giggles, “Dad, look! A fat guy in a wetsuit!” Now, I was the one who couldn’t stop laughing.

I asked him, “Where did you come up with that? Did you see something on TV?”

“No,” he replied. “I just thought you would think it was funny.”

Smart kid.

x x x

I was dead serious when I said I didn’t want kids who behaved like me. Not that I was a rotten kid or anything, but my M.O. was always about me. One of my greatest joys in life is the fact that despite my genes and influence, David is one of the most caring and considerate people I have ever met. He is fiercely loyal to his family and friends. When his sister was born, we charged him with looking out for her, even though he was still just a little squirt. He hasn’t let me down. When Samantha was just figuring out how to crawl, David would follow her around and make sure she didn’t get into trouble. He would often plant himself in front of any potential dangers (like stairs) and pick her up and move her out of the way if things got too dicey.

He’s always been willing to help when someone needs a hand. When my friends Jeremy and Amanda moved into their new house, David and Samantha were charged with putting felt on the bottom of pieces of furniture so as to not scratch up the hardwood floors. It was a hectic and busy day and when lunchtime came around, all of those helping decided to break and eat some pizza. About halfway through lunch someone asked where Dave was. I said that the last time I checked, he was upstairs putting felt on furniture. I went up and he and Samantha were still dutifully felting everything that had made its way up there. We had forgotten to tell them to come down and they hadn’t seen anyone in a while but they were determined to make sure that they got their job done.

And he’s an extreme lover of animals. I don’t think there’s an animal he’s met that he hasn’t adored. He definitely gets that from his Papa Barry and Great Aunt Vicki. I have a stack of pictures from throughout his life of Dave snuggling with all sorts of dogs. One of the first things he wants to do when he gets his own place is to get a dog. And even the most petulant cats seem to like him. As he gets older, the tenderness he showed towards others as a little tyke is occasionally overshadowed by his quest for independence. But it oozes out uncontrollably when he’s in the presence of someone’s pet.

x x x

It’s a little overwhelming realizing that he now has just about every basic skill that one would need to survive in the world. He still has to rack up some hours behind the wheel before he gets his real driver’s license, but he’s getting closer and closer. He’s an excellent driver for someone his age and he picked up on it very quickly; he managed to become proficient at driving a stick-shift in less than 15 minutes. He has his own phone and, today, his mom took him to open his own checking account. He’s very smart (sometimes too smart for his own good) and has an excellent work ethic. (That is, when it’s something he’s really interested in and motivated to do. Kind of like his dad.) Though it would be tough, you could plop him into the real world and he would make his way. I can hardly believe we’ve arrived at this point already.

I’ve realized that my time with him is short, at least how it used to be. He spends a lot of time with his friends and family, away from my place. I understand how it is but I still miss having him around all the time. I’ve come across a bunch of pictures of him when he was little and I miss him like that. Not that I don’t enjoy him now; I wouldn’t trade the potty-trained version for the little version, but I miss how innocent and cuddly he used to be.

x x x

He’s no longer little and he probably wouldn’t admit it to anyone, but I still consider him my buddy. I’m looking forward to watching him grow and mature and learn, first-hand, some of the things he still doesn’t believe me about. He’s a great kid who is less and less a kid every day and year that passes. I am immensely proud to be his dad. And while this milestone birthday is gratifying and overwhelming and even a little sad, I still love my Little Buddy Dave.

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Life Goes On

I open my eyes and there isn’t much difference. It’s dark and grey and soupy outside. Not my favorite way to start the day. I roll off the couch, wake the kids and start my morning routine. Once dressed, I tell the kids to head on down to the car when they’re ready and I make my way out of the apartment.

The damp sidewalks show spots of drying, which is a good sign. My main vehicle, a silver ’99 Chevy Metro, likes to sleep in when it rains, so any sign of moisture taking a hike pleases me. I’m getting a head start on the kids this morning because the car has added a number to its repertoire: If it hasn’t been started in a while, say overnight, it likes to choke and sputter and run unevenly for a few minutes before everything evens out. Not a big deal, but I figure I should get it started before the kids come down to keep things efficient.

I plop down into the driver’s seat, set my book on the passenger’s seat, put my wallet and notebook on the dash and key the ignition. In a tiny surprise, the car starts right up. Alright, I think to myself as the car gurgles and pops; this is excellent! No sooner than this thought completes itself in my head, the car dies. No biggie, I think; it started once, it will start again.

Or not.

Okay, it’ll start in a couple tries. Like I said, it started once, it’ll start again. By now, David has come down and slithered into the seat next to me. He puts his backpack at his feet and flips his iPod on. As I give the car a moment to regroup, I notice that I can faintly hear the Beatles' “Ob-la-di, Ob-la-da” escaping from Dave’s ears. I give the ignition another turn…to no avail. I guess someone’s trying to tell me something. Clever.

Samantha has now appeared and is coming around to David’s side of the car. As he opens the door, I tell her to hold on just a second. I crank the ignition one more time and get bubkes. Okay, this is getting annoying but I still have options.

“It’s not working,” I tell the kids and they peel away from the Metro. Fortunately, I have another car, a bright orange ’74 Chevy Chevette. Unfortunately, it overheats when you run it for more than about fifteen minutes. But that’s okay in this instance because all I need it for is to take Dave to school (a five minute round-trip) and then I can come back and get the Metro, which, historically, has started up after a brief respite.

So, we pile in the Skittle (as it looks just like the orange version of that candy) and take Dave to school. I’m cursing every stop light because I need to maximize the efficiency of this trip to ensure I make it back home without the car overheating. I cut the engine every time we have to stop, hoping it keeps the temperature down. We make it to school and as Dave hops out, I tell him to have a good day.

“I will. Good luck with the car.”

“Thanks, Dave.”

Samantha and I hustle through the parking lot, cutting corners to avoid sitting for too long. We only get caught by one light on Johnson Drive and drift, powerless, most of the final quarter mile to my apartment.

We shuffle our things and ourselves back into the Metro and I give the ignition a twirl. Nothing. I let out a choice expletive and bang the steering wheel with my fist a couple of times. Samantha, who has seen this routine before, remains unfazed. I unbuckle my seatbelt and Samantha follows suit. We each get out of the Metro and stand still. I try to decide if I can risk a run to Samantha’s school in the Skittle without it blowing up. I finally decide that it will make it and climb inside. Samantha completes the game of musical chairs and pops in.

I figure that if I can make it up the two hills between us and the school, I can coast down them with the engine off and buy enough time to make it back to the apartment for a final shot at the Metro. Upon beginning the ascent of the first hill, some numbskull decides he can’t wait two seconds for me to pass and pulls out of his driveway right into my path. More choice expletives are directed his way as we coast down the first hill. Looking across Shawnee Mission Parkway, I see a trash truck in the left turn lane to 63rd St., which is where I want to go. Another slew of expletives. Miraculously, the garbage truck doesn’t make any stops as we climb the hill. Not-so-miraculously, a school bus coming the other direction has made a personal stop at some stupid (as I called him) kid’s house, in turn making us stop until he safely boards. Thankfully, the stupid kid is smart enough to find his seat quickly and we’re off again.

The rest of the way is mostly downhill, so I manage to cut the engine again for a good portion. I dump Samantha at school and decide to give the engine a six minute rest. Arbitrary, but necessary. The return trip home goes, Praise God, without incident.

I hop back into the Metro for the third time this morning expecting victory. I should know by now that the determination of success rests heavily upon the preceding expectations. As it happens, victory is not to be mine this day. But, former Boy Scout that I am, I still have one option: the bus.

The Johnson County Transit System or “The Jo”, for short, just happens to have a base three blocks from my apartment and the route I take runs right past my office building. So I head out for the bus, book, wallet and notebook in hand.

As I come upon my bus, I see that the driver is heading inside briefly before making way. I’m a tad early, so the driver will probably be back in five minutes or so. I feel awkward and uncomfortable not paying the instant I board, driver or not, so I take out my wallet and notice that I only have a five- and ten-dollar bill. The fare is two dollars each way. No big deal. The machine that accepts my money doesn’t give out change, but it does spit out a card with credit on it that I can use for the ride home. So I slide my five-spot in the slot and wait for the card to pop out. Waiting...waiting… Seeing that nothing is happening, I press each of the two buttons in my view to expedite matters. Nothing. Okay, well, I’ll just wait for the driver and he can rectify things.

After a few minutes, the driver returns and I instantly stand to greet him:



“I put a five dollar bill in there," I said, pointing at the fare collector. "Just a couple of minutes ago.”

“Well, it’s gone now,” he abruptly replied.

I am momentarily stunned but before I can react he says,

“I need to push the button for you to get your card.”

No shit, I think to myself. “Well, would you mind, then?”

“Oh, after a minute or so, it just sucks the money in and keeps it.”

He starts shuffling around with a folder while I try to figure out why I ever woke up this morning. He starts to pull something out of his folder that I assume will be a pass.

As he hands me a business card for the Jo's offices, he says, “Here, you can call this number and they’ll get you straightened out.”

That’s what I get for assuming. And, fat lot of good that does me to get back home. Ugh.

“Okay,” I say. “Thanks.”

I sit down and try to read a little bit before giving up. I can’t concentrate because I’m reliving all the events of the morning and trying to figure out why I’ve become such an idiot. While no adequate answer is coming to me, I decide to stare out the window.

Twenty minutes late to work (and forty minutes after I prefer to get there), the bus approaches my building. I pull the cord to signal the driver my desire to exit the bus. There is a driveway just ahead that I would prefer to be let off at since the overnight rains have made the grass and ground quite soggy. But the bus driver pulls up short of the pavement, leaving me with the choice between dodging traffic on dry ground or slogging through the grass.

I thank the driver and depart. I sigh and remember the song I heard earlier this fine, fine morning:

Ob-la-di, ob-la-da…

Friday, September 04, 2009

I Lost Myself

The following is an amalgam of an image I saw in a dream last night and my attempt to fill in some of the missing pieces. I don’t know what it’s supposed to mean, if anything. All of this is happening while the haunting refrains of Radiohead’s “Karma Police” and Ian Brown’s “Set My Baby Free”, respectively, float repeatedly through my head. I realize the contexts of the songs probably have absolutely nothing to do with the setting I’m describing, but delicately extracted and isolated from the main body of the song , they feel like they have meaning here. I post it because I don’t want to forget it:

A young woman stands in a backyard, a Polaroid picture held at her side in a trembling hand. The look on her face straddles the line between confusion and despair, an overcast expression on a sparkling, crystal afternoon. The grass under her feet hums a radiant green. Slightly behind her and to her right sits a classic metal swing set. The slide and swing furthest from her sit unoccupied. The swing closest to her is also empty but hangs suspended in mid-flight about three feet above the ground.

Slightly behind her and to her left stands a man, maybe a few years older than the woman. He is inanimate, not appearing to move in any way, not even the gentle rise and fall of breathing shoulders. His face looks like it just rolled off a mannequin production line, completely neutral. He stares ahead into a distance only he can see.

A few feet in front of her, a trio of children stand motionless, side-by-side, facing away from her. From left to right, they stand in order of increasing height and age. The youngest, a boy of about three, stands at the right hand of his sister, a girl of about five. She holds the same position next to a boy of seven, her older brother. The two on the left have mousy brown hair, the boy’s curly and unkempt, the girl’s long, wavy and wispy. The thick, sandy-blonde hair of the eldest rests like a snug helmet just an inch or so from his eyes.

The woman brings her quavering hand up to study the Polaroid. Her eyes move from the photo to the children and she steps around to face them. Recognition passes over her face and she moves her empty hand to her lips. After a slight pause, determination replaces recognition. She takes another look at the picture and carefully slides it into the breast-pocket of her blouse.

The woman steps toward the youngest and picks him up underneath his armpits. His position and expression do not change. She carries the rigid boy to the enchanted swing and lifts him up. She must reach high to clear the swing with the boy’s stiff legs. Once clear, she lowers the boy to the swing, angling him slightly toward her. The backs of his legs rest on the front of the swing and she bends the boy forward at the waist into a sitting position. She then bends one arm into position to hold the chain, molding his fingers around it. After repeating this with the other hand, the woman cautiously removes her hands from the boy and moves in front of him. She pulls the Polaroid halfway out of her pocket and quickly slides it back in. She bends the boys knees just so and moves close to his face. With her index finger and thumb spread apart to measure about an inch, she moves her hand to his eyelids and expands each of them. She uses both her hands to shape his mouth into a long “O”. The woman then takes a step back and observes what she’s done. Her hands immediately cover her face and she bends slightly forward.

I want you to set my baby free…

Recovering quickly, the woman moves her hands to her sides and shakes her head twice, as if to fend off a curious bee. She picks her head back up and quickly removes the Polaroid from her pocket. After studying the photo, she places it carefully between her lips and moves toward the other boy. In the same manner as his brother, the woman molds the oldest into the corresponding image held firmly in her mouth. The boy is pushing hard off his left foot, his right pulled nearly to his chest. He balances impossibly. She twists his torso to the right and gently moves his head to look over the right shoulder. With care, she creates a look of anticipation and joy on his face.

The woman again consults the photo, slips it back into her pocket and then carries the girl into position just behind her brother, hand reaching but not quite catching the object of her pursuit. The bottom of the girl’s dress hovers behind her on an imaginary wind. Her eyes are closed, yet somehow twinkling, a timeless giggle formed on her cheeks.

The woman wipes an eye and nimbly steps around the pair of frozen runners. The man stands in front of her, as lifeless as a telephone pole. She stops and gazes at him for a long moment. While still looking at the man, the woman slowly pulls the Polaroid from her pocket. She puts the picture in front of her eyes and studies. Her hand moves gradually to her side and she lets the Polaroid drop to the ground.

She moves to him and presses close. She takes his left arm and wraps it around her waist. Her hands tilt his head back almost imperceptibly and begin to sculpt his face. His eyes are squeezed into a flickering squint, his mouth wide open to allow hearty laughter to pour silently out.

But for all the manipulation of his face, she cannot manage to equal his jubilant expression. Hers verges on crumbling down her blouse. Finally, she buckles into a heap on her knees, elbows bent, palms flat on the ground, chin buried in her chest, straw-blonde hair enclosing her face.

I lost myself, I lost myself…

Friday, August 21, 2009


"Bowl, please. For here."
"What kind of beans?"
"Black, please."
"Mild, please."
"Sour cream and cheese?"
"Yes, please. Could I get a little more sour cream please? That’s great! Thank you."
"Anything to drink today?"
"Just water, please."

I pay the smiley Hispanic lady behind the register (who can’t be taller than 4’10") for my Chipotle burrito bol, fill my cup with ice and water, grab a fork and some napkins, sprinkle some green Tabasco sauce on my meal and head up the ramp toward the upper seating area. I like to sit in the upper area because it gives me a clear view of the entrance, the ordering counter and the cashier. I like to have a clear sight line of these areas because it gives me a chance to scope out any hungry, attractive girls. What can I say? I like to take time out to appreciate beauty in the world. And the Chipotle in my office park has more than it’s fair share of beauty.

But the pickings are slim today. Whenever I glance up from taking a bite or take stock of things after finishing a chapter of my book, the newest patrons all seem to be men. This is slightly disappointing. Not that I look forward to a lunch hour full of ogling opportunities. I’ve got my food, I’ve got my book; I can keep myself entertained quite well, thank you. But there’s something pleasant about looking up and seeing a pretty face. And, unfortunately, dudes just don’t evoke the same reaction.

Today’s dudes are different, though. They seem lost, without purpose. They’re going through the motions, ordering their burritos, collecting their change, dispensing their ice. But they often seem to be looking in a different direction while they’re doing it. Not looks of anticipation, scouting out a place to sit or looking for a co-worker; just random staring at no one and nothing in particular. Their eyes are glazed. No, not glazed; empty. Like failed clones.

And none of them are leaving.

They’re filling up all the available seating and it seems as if no one is taking anything to go. The line to order is now wrapped around the lower seating area, past the door and starting to creep up the ramp to the upper seating area. And there’s not a girl to be found in the entire line.

As I look around, I realize that all the seats in the restaurant are filled up. All except for the three available seats in my booth. When I turn my head back to the left, I’m somewhat startled to see two dudes have approached my booth and are now sliding themselves into the empty bench in front of me without saying a word.

In fact, no one is saying a word. The place is full of people and yet the only audible voice is the quirky, French-techno interpretation of "It’s Raining Men" playing over the speakers. I’m still in shock to the degree that I can’t muster any words after two strangers have interjected themselves into my booth.

I try to reassess the situation and notice that guys are now entering through the patio door in a steady stream. And they’re still coming in through the front doors, although there are so many guys coming in that both of the double-doors are open to accommodate them. The line has become indecipherable from the rest of the crowd, so the new arrivals are now just finding any open space that they can occupy. Dudes are standing everywhere; in the aisles, crowded around occupied tables, in the gaps between barstools.

I’m starting to wonder if this is some sort of prank or publicity stunt or something when I get bumped. I look to my left to see a guy has found a few inches of my bench to sit on and is now nudging me further into the booth toward the half-wall that overlooks the kitchen and lower seating area. At this point, I’m too stunned to voice my displeasure and when I look in the direction of the kitchen, I notice that it is now full of men, too. I can’t even see any Chipotle employees anymore.

There is now an unbroken but roiling sea of shiftless men covering every square inch of floor space. But somehow, the dudes just keep rolling in the doors. I begin to figure out how this is possible when I notice that guys are starting to climb up on tables and counters and half-walls. Some of them have resorted to jumping from these elevated surfaces to reach for the rafters in the trendy unfinished ceiling. So now there are men climbing into and hanging from the rafters while other men take their places on the tables and counters. The restaurant is now crawling with men that seem more like rodents than human beings. There is hardly room for one more breath, much less one more dude.

I manage to break out of my stupor and start thinking of ways to get out. I push the stranger sitting next to me but he’s pinned in by the wall of guys to his left. The surface of my table is now the home of five dudes standing and staring which leaves me no apparent option. There are guys lined up and standing along the half-wall to my right at eye-level and I decide that this will be my path.

I grab my book and knock the legs out from under one guy and send him sprawling onto the heads of those in the lower seating area. I get to my feet on the bench of my booth and pull two more guys from the half-wall into booths that are now behind me. I step up onto the half-wall myself and survey my surroundings. The volume of men is so dense that I decide to try to go over the tops of them. Going against my inner decency, I step out onto the bald pate of the guy standing just below me. From there, I step quickly, but unsteadily, onto the next guy’s shoulder. He crumples a bit under my weight and sends me stumbling. My knee catches the dreadlocked head of another dude and I start to fall, dropping my book. I flip myself over to my back, expecting to slide through the mass and hit the floor but, instead, I am buoyed like a rock star in a mosh pit.

I roll over onto my hands and knees and try to crawl to the front door. Suddenly, the entire crowd shudders simultaneously and I slide to the floor. Somehow, I manage to gain my feet but the crowd is now moving. I feel like I’m back on Bourbon Street in New Orleans during Mardi Gras; I’m no longer controlling where I move, I am completely at the mercy of the masses. I am shuffled toward a chair that I can’t avoid and fall over. I’m now on the ground and in very real danger of being trampled to death. I try to use the chair as a shield and manage to hold off the surge enough to weasel my way under a table. The otherwise silent mob drains out the doors with an ominous rumble reminiscent of an avalanche. Guys jump from the rafters and land on the floor with sickening thuds but pick themselves up without a peep or grimace and make their way out.

I wait for the lower seating area to clear before I poke my head out. I notice my book lying on the floor a few steps in front of me. I crawl out from underneath the table and dust myself off. The last strains of the French-techno cover of "It’s Raining Men" fades out over the speakers as I bend over to pick up my book and head for the exit. When I look up, the diminutive Hispanic lady that usually mans the cash register is stationed at the bottom of the ramp, sweeping the floor. When she sees me, her eyes light up and, through her perma-smile, she says, "Thank you, sir! Please come and see us again!" I give her a confused smile and head back to work.

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

A Typical Morning At The Office

After driving through a torrential downpour, I got into the office today around 7:15am. I’m not required to be in the office before 8:00, but I’ve found that it is generally quieter before the rest of the office moseys in. I say “generally” because there are usually between three and five other people that follow a similar schedule. Most of them respect the fact that I’m not particularly chipper in the morning. I prefer not to talk to anyone and that no one talks to me until 7:45 or 8:00. After I’m fully awake I’m happy to socialize, but I’m pretty gruff and curt until then. So, I wasn’t terribly pleased when Janey volleyed this at me before I could even sit down at my desk:

“Boy, it really is a monsoon out there, huh, Nick?”

“Mmmmmmhmmmmm…” I submitted, gutturally, without turning around.

She turned back toward her desk and I sat down at mine, hoping I could get some work done without any more interaction. Within about 30 seconds, Janey started up a conversation about healthy eating with Pearl, the lady that sits next to her. Pearl nodded politely while Janey rambled on in her outside voice despite the fact that there is absolutely no other noise that would cause her to speak so loudly.

“Well…you know…so, I tried the, um…lighter salad dressing…and…you know…well, I’ve been taking the, um…salmon oil..which is supposed to be really good for you…but, well, I tried eating more…um…garlic…but, um…it kind of made me vomit………”

At this point, Reid had come around the corner from his cubicle to pick something up from the printer. Just as he was looking up in my direction, I pointed my index finger at my temple and pulled the trigger. He smiled, grabbed his papers and started walking over toward my desk. I picked up the bottle of Tabasco sauce I keep on my desk and pretended I was pouring it in my eye. He laughed, picked up my scissors and acted like he was ramming them into his chest. After he put the scissors down, I picked them up and mimicked slicing open my wrists. There’s no better way to start the day than listening to inane chit-chat that inspires you to shuffle off your mortal coil.

After fifteen minutes of trying to block out the rest of the chatter, Lee arrived.

“Good morning.”

“Hullo,” I responded.

“Well, the eldest daughter is a champion! Her team won the Chicago Roller Derby title!”

“Wow, that’s great,” I replied, mustering very little enthusiasm.

“Yep, now I’ve got a new bumper sticker for my car: ‘Proud Father of a Roller Derby Girl’.”

“Well done,” I said and chuckled.

As this highly-enlightening discussion took place, Josh walked in, dragging his briefcase-on-wheels behind him. About the time the Roller Derby conversation ended, Josh was walking back across the office bellowing about hail to what seemed like no one in particular.

“Yeah, so Eddie calls me and says that the hail they’re getting is just nuts. He says that he went out in his yard and picked up this one piece that was totally spherical…Yeah, so he cracks it in half and sees that it has rings like a tree…Yeah, so he says that the hail jumps up and down in the atmosphere and picks up more moisture and that’s what creates the rings…”

Josh adjusted the Bluetooth earpiece that was stuffed in his ear and moved on to the kitchen where his severed conversation continued in a pleasantly muffled state.

I sat back and wondered why I continue to entertain the notion that an office with only a handful of people present should be a peaceful, productive work environment.

Monday, August 03, 2009

Illusion Dissolution

Red stars in a tiny black universe. Feet tingling. Adrenaline flowing beneath the surface of my chest like an underground river. Excited. Nervous. Immunity dissolves.

Why is fire so captivating? Why is music so powerful? Why is The Pick of Destiny so hilarious? Why is Miller the “Champagne of Beers”?

Boston’s “Foreplay” wails on the iPod. Alternating waves of curiosity and disappointment and coherence and bliss. Moronically obvious observations. Theoretical one-block journeys ending abruptly. Intermittent confusion.

Sweaty friends. Relaxed friends. Alert friends. Content friends. Asleep friends.

Saturday, August 01, 2009

Whirlwind, Part Ten

(Continued from Whirlwind, Part Nine)

I probably went too far. But I meant it. Maybe I shouldn't have told her that I love her. Maybe I shouldn't have said that I would marry her. Maybe I shouldn't have said what a wonderful team I thought we would be, accomplishing great things together. Maybe I should have explained that by valuing her above my kids, it didn't mean that I valued the kids less, it just emphasized my choice to love her; I don't have a choice in loving my kids, I couldn't NOT love them.

It was probably all said too quickly. What if I hadn't said those things? Would we still be spending all our free time together? Would she still feel the same? Would I?

I know I would. There hasn't been a day that's gone by since I met her that I haven't thought about her.

I've sought out advice from every direction. "Play it cool." "Don't be too intense." "Check in with her occasionally, but not too often." "Move on." "Be patient."

"Cut it off completely. Stop all contact. She knows where to find you. If she values you, she'll figure it out and come back."

This is the best advice I've received yet. Also, it's the worst.

It absolutely frightens me to refrain from texting her. Maybe she'll forget about me. Maybe she'll be relieved that I finally quit bugging her. Of course, if she really feels that way, it's probably for the best. That doesn't make it hurt any less, though. But what if she forgets about what great times we had together? What if she forgets about what a great guy I am?

Still, I trusted God up to this point and everything went well. I told her how much I cared about her numerous times and she didn't run. I gave all the credit to God. But just as I trusted God's plan in what I viewed as success, I realize I need to trust God's plan in what I view as failure or disappointment. It kind of annoys me when athletes make a great play and then point their hands to God, giving Him the credit. Actually, that doesn't really annoy me so much as the fact that nobody reaches their hands to the sky when they make a bad play. There may be a greater purpose in that bad play or that bad game or in that bad season. Just as I'm sure there is a greater purpose in how things have worked out with us so far. There is obviously a reason that things have transpired in this way. I just don't understand why.

x x x

Remember, all of this happened within the span of about six weeks. It seems like at least a season’s worth of activity, probably more. Certainly much more than what would typically transpire in a conventional dating situation. Which is why I still hold out hope. There was definitely a connection there. Not just a couple of people awkwardly feeling each other out, but people who definitely clicked on multiple levels. Maybe things moved too fast. Maybe the timing was all wrong. Either way, the speed and timing happened for a reason. I just hope it’s not one more lesson in the never-ending curriculum of life, that my experiences with Stacie are supposed to teach me something for the next person I get involved with. Because I don’t really have a desire to be involved with anyone else. And I don’t want the lessons to go to waste.

x x x

When I first started this series, I made a flip remark in the comments section about how I didn't really care how things worked out because, at the very least, I had some amazing writing material.

I couldn't have been more wrong about anything.

I would trade in every single word, every bit of inspiration just for the chance to be with her again.

It has been such a strange experience of contradictions. She inspires me more than anything or anyone, yet when we were together, I didn't write a word. I wanted to soak in every minute of our time together. I didn't want to waste precious minutes banging away on a keyboard. I wanted to spend those minutes with her or daydreaming of her or thinking about the next time we would be together. And now that I'm not with her, the only thing I can do is write. And it doesn't seem to help. It just churns up anxiety within my chest. Though, sometimes, it's worth having that, if nothing else.

x x x

For the longest time, I didn't really know what I was looking for in a girl. It was easy to see what I didn't want. As time went by, I would discover an attribute or two that I preferred. And after meeting Stacie, I now know everything that I want in a girl and I won't settle for less.

x x x

I thought going in that I wasn't really risking much. I acted confidently because I didn't really expect much. She told me she didn't want to break my heart.

'Tis better to have loved and lost...Bullshit.

The best laid plans...blah, blah, blah...

x x x

I guess my biggest mistake was telling her that I love her.

(To Be Continued...???)

Friday, July 31, 2009

Whirlwind, Part Nine

(Continued from Whirlwind, Part Eight)

I went in to Adrian's. I went in early enough to make sure Stacie was there. I had been in a couple of times recently, but she had either already left or wasn't in on that particular day. It was busy and there was a line, but I saw that she was the first person making sandwiches.

At least until she saw me.

She turned and said something to her friend/co-worker, Jenny, and then went and hid in the office before my turn in line came up. Jenny, who has always been friendly with me, asked if I would be eating there today. I've never gotten an order to go and she's never asked me that before, so I suspected she was fishing for information for Stacie. As I was moving past the office, Stacie turned and caught my eye and turned back away.

I paid for my sandwich and sat down at my customary table. I made a conscious effort not to look over to see if she was looking my direction and instead focused on eating my sandwich and reading my book. I decided that I didn't want to push the issue any further than what I already had. She knew I was there and if she wanted to talk to me, she knew where I was. I could hear her voice most of the time I was there, so I eventually looked over to see if she had left once I didn't hear her voice. She was still there, talking with Jenny and made eye contact with me. I went back to reading my book and she went back to talking; there was no one in line so she wasn't busy.

I finished my lunch and my chapter and she still hadn't left. She was talking to someone in the office, so I went up to the counter to say hello. She turned and saw me standing there and immediately looked away. I could tell that if she could have avoided talking to me, she would have. But she turned around and came over and said hello. She smiled and was pleasant and asked what I was reading, just like she used to do when all this craziness first started. I told her and we made some small talk and cracks about the size of the book I was carrying. Occasionally, she would quickly look over at Jenny and grin and immediately look back. I asked her how she's been and she said she's been fine. She just finished Finals and was on break from school. And this afternoon, she and her mom were going up to Lawrence to bring her brother back from KU. She asked me how I was and I said that I was fine but that I wasn't unpacking anyone's dorm. There was a pause and she said,

"Well, I guess until we meet again."

And I said,

"Ok, whenever that may be."

She turned back to the office and I turned and walked out.

(To Be Continued...)

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Whirwind, Part Eight

(Continued from Whirlwind, Part Seven)

I got an email from her one day asking what I thought. I thought to myself, "I'm head-over-heels for this girl!" I thought, "Every other time I've thought it would be stupid to tell her how I felt, I went ahead and did it anyway. Why not do it now? We've connected so much, get along so well; I really love this girl."

So I told her.

She wasn't on the same page. She said that freaked her out. I got a huge knot in my stomach.

x x x

I managed to get her alone one day outside of Adrian’s. I apologized for my over-eagerness and explained that it was probably too quick for me to lay everything on the line. She was very uncomfortable and just seemed to want the conversation to end as quickly as possible. We discussed easing back a little bit and she seemed to be okay with that, but the cat was already out of the bag and I told her I wouldn’t feel any differently about her. When I left, we seemed to be on decent, if awkward, terms.

But from that point on, our communication became more and more spotty. Texts that were usually answered within seconds were now answered within hours. Phone calls went unanswered, voicemails ignored. Then texts that would receive a delayed answer remained completely unanswered. Finally, the following text exchange transpired:

Text message from Nick: “Am I missing something? Did I do something wrong? I feel like you are avoiding me…”

Text message from Stacie: “Sorry. I just need some space. I don’t know what else to say.”

Text message from Nick: “What did I do?”

Text message from Stacie: “Nothing. The more you try and talk the more it pushes me away.”

Text message from Nick: “I am confused. But I will let you be. I am sorry. I will clear out until you contact me. Be safe.”

I went home that night and cried. I tried to watch a movie, but I would think about her and start sobbing uncontrollably. Once the movie was over, I cried some more. I cried until I tried to go to sleep, but I couldn’t go to sleep. I just kept going over everything in my head, over and over and over, trying to find the missing piece that ruined my nearly-completed attempt at a 10,000-piece relationship puzzle. I cried until I fell asleep. I woke up the next morning, though I did so reluctantly. I was in a funk for a days. I was in a haze for weeks. And while the immediate pain has become manageable, I still get daily pinpricks that won’t go away.

(To Be Continued...)

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Whirlwind, Part Seven

(Continued from Whirlwind, Part Six)

I love the fact that she loves the Royals and went to more games last season than I did. I love that she digs the Kansas Jayhawks. She is wonderfully creative and expresses herself through dance and writing. Her relationship with God is important to her. Her friends benefit greatly from her kindness, compassion and loyalty. She has great taste in books and music. She has been through a lot in her life and is not afraid to deal with the world. Her work ethic is unmatched, yet she prioritizes work appropriately. She loves her family and her sweet dog, Buddy. She likes my bright orange '76 Chevette. She is one of the few people in the world who can be beautiful, hot and cute, all at once.

x x x

She is the only person who has ever made my heart pause and my breath stop just by thinking about her. Every time I see her model of car pass by, my hopes spike...and then crash when it's not her. Whenever I hear footsteps on the stairs outside my apartment, I wait and hope that they stop at my door and that they belong to her. Every text message and phone call is a disappointment once I see that it isn't from her. Whenever I see an attractive girl around town, I immediately think, "She doesn't measure up to Stacie."

x x x

We spent a late night just sitting in her car near a park near her house, talking. We spent an afternoon at her friend's house with her buddies flipping between the Chiefs game and two baseball games with playoff implications. We spent the rest of that afternoon playing a competitive game of Ultimate Frisbee in which she played very well, including scoring a point on one of my throws. We walked up to Hy-Vee late one night and got a frozen pizza and cooked it up and ate it. We went to Lamar's one morning and got donuts and walked down to the coffee shop and ate our breakfast on a park bench on Johnson Drive. We spent time at Loose Park laying on a blanket, reading and enjoying the perfect weather. We spent several days a week eating lunch and talking at Adrian's. We spent an hour before one of her classes with one of her buddies just throwing a Frisbee around. We watched "Garden State" together one night. We spent an afternoon or two lazing around while she did some homework. We spent an evening listening to music and coming up with new names for Snow White’s dwarfs. Lumpy, Pasty, Droopy, Drippy, Biff, Stumpy and Steve (with Olaf in reserve).

(To Be Continued...)

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Whirlwind, Part Six

(Continued from Whirlwind, Part Five)

“There’s something oozing from his…wiener.”

We were supposed to go to Loose Park and throw a Frisbee around and lay on blankets and read and pretty much just enjoy a beautiful day. But when I arrived at her house to pick her up, she was concerned about her dog, Buddy.

“He’s been licking himself…down there…a lot the last couple of days and now there’s something oozing from it. Should I take him to the vet? I don’t know if I should leave him here the rest of the day…”

“Maybe you should call the vet and explain what’s going on and see what she says. If she thinks you should bring him in, then you probably should.”

“I feel bad about ruining our day but I don’t want him to get worse. What should I call it when I talk to the vet? ‘Uh, yes Doctor, there’s a milky discharge coming out of my dog’s wiener…’”

“Well, you could just call it a penis,” I said, as we both giggled immaturely.

“Ohhh…I don’t know…”

“Just give her a call and we’ll get it figured out.”

“Oh, okay.”

She called the vet, settling on “wiener” as her chosen descriptor, while she tried not to giggle. She explained the situation and the vet told her that she could fit Buddy in within a couple of hours. She thanked the vet and hung up.

Stacie apologized again for the our plans blowing up. I told her I understood and offered to tag along with her to the vet, in case she needed any support or assistance. She gratefully accepted and we hung out until it was time to go.

We arrived at the vet’s office and, with some effort, managed to keep Buddy from discovering the office cat until it was time to go to the examination room. Once there, Stacie tried to comfort and reassure Buddy that everything would be fine while I tried to comfort and reassure Stacie that everything would be fine. She forewarned me about the feathered, she-mullet that the vet would be wearing and we both managed to suppress our giggles when she entered the room. Barely.

The vet looked Buddy over and gave us a couple of possible diagnoses. But she said she would need a urine sample to run tests on to know for sure. She said we could take him home and get a sample there or we could take him outside and try to get one while we were still at the office. We decided that we wanted to get things under way as quickly as possible and opted for the more immediate option. The vet handed us a Petri dish and we went outside.

“Do you want the leash or the Petri dish?”

“He’s your dog. I’ll let you deal with the urine collection. I’ll take the easy job.”

“Easy” is a relative term, especially in this case. Buddy isn’t Marmaduke, but he isn’t Toto, either. I’d guess he weighs around 75 pounds. Combine that with the fact that he is young and strong and that there are about 25 trees outside the vet’s office to sniff and investigate and I had my hands full keeping him under some semblance of control.

But at least I wasn’t Stacie. While Buddy drug me from tree to tree, sniffing and pausing and lifting his leg every chance he got, Stacie was following along, Petri dish in hand, squatting down to collect what she could from Buddy. But, just as she would get into position, Buddy would look up, find a new tree to explore and take off, leaving her with little but sprinkles in the dish and on her arm. I couldn’t stop laughing and neither could she.

After investigating about 10 trees, we had what we hoped was an adequate amount for a sample. She turned in the sample and washed her hands while I realized that this wasn’t such a bad alternative to missing out on our plans after all.

(To Be Continued...)

Monday, July 27, 2009


This has nothing to do with the current series, just a scene from my day today:

It’s lunchtime, so I head out the office door to my car. It’s warm out but not unpleasant, though I can tell it’s a prelude to steamy afternoon.

I wheel my car out of my parking lot and toward the divided, four-lane parkway that runs through my office park. I generally look upon the stop signs within the office park as optional, so it lightly irritates me when I look left and see two vehicles coming my direction. As I wait for them to pass, I notice that the first vehicle is a white motor scooter piloted by a college-age girl. She’s wearing a helmet (also white), which I note is unusual to see on Vespa-riders. I also comment to myself that she’s really making time, zipping past me in the right lane at, I estimate, 35mph. The speed limit on this road is 30 mph, but it isn’t unusual to see cars flying by at 40mph or more. It does feel strange to see someone on such a tiny vehicle move this fast.

The second vehicle, a Mustang convertible, is not far behind in the left lane. As I pull in behind them, I notice that ScooterGirl has signaled and moved into the left lane. The Mustang, presumably deciding it needs more room, moves over to the right lane. I assemble the limited number of facts in my head and come to the conclusion that ScooterGirl will regret her decision. I figure that she’s headed toward the junior college a couple of miles off and the right lane is more conducive to her journey than the left.

As the road curves and bends, I catch up a little and see that she has, indeed, moved back over to the right lane with the Mustang still trailing. As I cross the bridge, I look up to see her brake lights glowing as she approaches what can be a sharp left curve if you’re moving too quickly. Now she’s in the left lane again while the Mustang is in the right.

Suddenly, the scooter moves toward the left curb, hits it and sends the girl rolling into the grassy island. I let out an audible gasp and continue towards the accident. She pops up and dusts herself off as the Mustang stops next to her in the right lane. The balding, white-haired man in the sports car appears to be asking her if she is alright while she gathers her wits and her scooter. After receiving sufficient answers to his questions about her state of being he pulls off and heads on his way. I pull up just as he leaves and stop my car.

“You okay?” I say, a look of genuine concern on my face.

“Yeah,” she replies, an embarrassed grin on her face. She rights the scooter and keys the ignition.


I smile and decide that if she didn’t warrant enough concern for the other guy to offer further assistance then she’s probably fine. Plus, I don’t want to multiply her embarrassment by running her through another gauntlet of questioning. I’ve wiped out like that as a kid riding my bike and I always wished the folks that were (rightfully) concerned for my well-being would just move along and let me be. Of course, I wasn’t moving that fast. Or wearing a helmet, for that matter. If she was anything like me, I’m sure she had a shaky ride to her final destination.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Whirlwind, Part Five

(Continued from Whirlwind, Part Four)

One night, Stacie came over after serving drinks at a local mixed martial arts event. She had on an little black dress and a pair of disconcerting fake eyelashes. She was tired and hungry and came equipped with the remnants of some sort of chicken dish. She picked at her food and told me tales of working at such an unusual venue.

She told me about the guy who tried to woo her with his money. Or half of it, anyway. She had served him a drink and he pulled out a hundred dollar bill to tip her. But instead of just giving her the money, he tore it in half and told her she could have the other half if she went out with him. Classy. She kept the half-Benjamin as a souvenir and a great story-starter. She never did call the guy.

She told some more stories and then we started looking at a few pictures on my computer's slideshow screen saver. A picture of my dad popped up so I told her about how my dad had just passed away the year before and the crazy/awful/wonderful circumstances that surrounded his death. She told me about how she had never really lost anyone who was close to her in her life. I told her about being with my grandma in her dying days and when she breathed her last. We stayed up late, talking about how death has and has not affected us.

x x x

The next day, Saturday, I was over at Chad and Kelly's. I don't remember what I was doing; I might have been helping Chad with a home improvement project or just hanging out and shooting the breeze. In either case, I was talking with them when I received a call from Stacie. Since our normal mode of communication was texting, this seemed odd. And since I generally don't answer phone calls while I'm talking with someone face-to-face, I let the call go to voicemail.

When the conversation reached a stopping point, I checked the voicemail. She asked me to call her if I had a chance. She was brief and not brimming with her normal mischievousness. So I went out on the front porch and gave her a call.

When she answered, I asked if everything was alright. She informed me that one of her close friends was murdered while trying to leave Westport the night before. In fact, it happened at almost the exact same time that we were having the conversation about how Stacie had never lost anyone close to her.

I was stunned. I stupidly but instinctively asked her if she was okay. She told me she was hanging in there, but that she was shocked and upset. I asked her if there was anything I could do for her or if she just wanted to get together and hang out and talk about what happened. She said that she was going to visit Devin’s parents but that she wanted to get together later.

She was still in a daze when we got together later that night. She couldn’t believe that Devin was really gone. Stacie had seen her just a few days before and they were supposed to get together very soon. And that was one of the things that was really weighing heavily on Stacie’s mind.

We had talked before about the lifestyle Stacie used to lead. She and her friends partied a lot and lived care-free and decadent lives. For a while, she really dug that kind of stuff. But, eventually, she realized it wasn’t doing her any good and she started to make an effort to strengthen her relationship with God. Apparently seeing the change in Stacie’s life, Devin started asking Stacie questions about God. She asked if they could get together sometime soon and discuss things more thoroughly and Stacie readily agreed. The date arrived for their get-together, but Stacie had to cancel. Devin was killed only days after, before they could reschedule.

Obviously, Stacie was devastated. She felt guilty and responsible for whatever eternal fate awaited Devin. She couldn’t shake the feeling that she had let her friend down on the most important level imaginable. It was an awful lot to deal with for someone who had yet to lose anyone close to them.

I told her that it wasn’t her fault, that things happen for a reason. I told her that she needed to trust that God knew what he was doing and that Devin would be ok. The fact that she was even seeking answers was a very good thing and that while Stacie may have missed one appointment, she had been there for Devin and Devin knew that.

Stacie understood what I was saying but was still understandably distraught. She spent a lot of time with her friends and Devin’s parents, mourning and reminiscing and supporting each other.

x x x

One night, she asked me if I would like to go to dinner with her and a group of her friends. It was both a nerve-wracking and exciting proposition. I always get nervous meeting new people. Additionally, she was giving me a test drive in front of her friends. But that aspect was also exciting because it meant that I rated high enough to even meet her friends at all.

Her friend Ray met us at my place and we all went to Pot Pie in Westport to join her three other friends. They were an interesting and eclectic group of folks. All good people and a good mix of personalities. The dinner was excellent and I managed not to make an ass of myself in front of her friends.

Afterwards, Stacie and Ray and I picked up some wine and went back to my apartment. Ray was friends with Devin, too, and so the conversation naturally shifted to her and spiritual topics. Ray was really struggling with Devin’s death and how to deal with it. He was questioning his off-and-on relationship with God. Stacie and I spent most of the night trying to help him gain perspective on all that had happened. Ray can be a bit loquacious, so he ended up doing most of the talking. I just tried to be patient and listen and interject where I could with whatever wisdom and knowledge I had available.

Once the wine was gone and Ray had talked himself out, he thanked us for listening and took off. Stacie hung around for a little while longer and apologized for Ray’s long-windedness. I told her I was happy to be able to lend an ear to her or any of her friends. She thanked me for listening, I thanked her for allowing me to hang out with her friends and she headed home.

(To Be Continued...)

Whirlwind, Part Four

(Continued from Whirlwind, Part Three)

Within three days of hanging out with Stacie, we were having a text conversation. I felt an overwhelming urge to tell her how much I cared about her and I asked God to tell me what I should do. I had an overwhelming shout in my brain that said "TELL HER!" So, I told her that I liked her so much that I would marry her. And instead of saying, "Okay, creep; please remove yourself from my life," she said, "You are bold like liger." And our conversation continued.

From that point on, she would occasionally ask me what I thought.

"So, what do you think?"

It was her cue for figuring out what our relationship was and what it would be. And I always told her that I really liked her and would date her if she was up to it. She would say that she didn't want to break my heart and I told her that I still felt the same way and couldn't help it. Then we would continue to joke and laugh and talk.

One time, I pointed out the fact that she was equidistant in age between me and my son. She replied that she'd just have to hang out with both of us and decide which one she wanted to date.

One night, while sitting in her car in the parking lot of Baskin Robbins, the subject of whether we should date or not came up again. She said she wasn't sure and picked up a coin. She said she'd flip a coin to decide. I told her that I didn't think it was cool to make a decision like that with the flip of a coin. After bantering back and forth, I conceded to flipping two coins. I said that if they both turned up heads, we'd date; tails, we wouldn't; split decision meant we would just keep hanging out and see what developed. One head, one tail. And we laughed and talked for another hour.

(To Be Continued...)

Whirlwind, Part Three

(Continued from Whirlwind, Part Two)

We met at the old Adrian's location. She pulled up in her brother's well-worn Lexus, windows down. It was a warm, late Fall day, nearly perfect. She wanted to grab a bite before we headed out to the game, so we wheeled around and went through the Burger King drive-thru. She ordered a chicken sandwich, some fries and about a gallon-and-a-half of ketchup. She had no insecurities about eating in front of me, which was refreshing.

When we reached the parking lot of Kauffman Stadium, the "Burger King" factor of "Burger King chicken sandwich" sunk in and she stopped eating her sandwich. She handed me a wad of cash, her keys and her phone and asked me to hold them for her, so I stored them in the many pockets of my cargo shorts. She locked up the car and we walked toward the stadium.

We went inside and found our seats in the shade. She was wearing a brown skirt, a baby blue tank top and somewhat oversized sunglasses that reminded me a little of Audrey Hepburn's in "Breakfast at Tiffany's". But the sunglasses were more of an auburn shade, playing off her long brownish-red hair and sweet freckles. She was at once cute, sultry and relaxed.

And while I was captivated by her looks, I was even more taken in by our conversation. We talked about baseball, which was essential and great, but she was also very comfortable talking about less obvious and more personal topics. I learned about her stint hosting a cooking show on TV. I learned about some very real and difficult struggles in her life.

I learned that she was willing to trust me with her eating habits, her valuables and her personal details. And I learned that I was falling for her like an anvil dropped from a cartoon building.

(To be continued...)

Whirlwind, Part Two

(Continued from Whirlwind)

Foolishly, I invited Stacie to come play Ultimate Frisbee. I hadn't seen Girl #2 there in a while, but it was still a questionable decision on my part. Apparently, after having no action in my life for some time, I suddenly craved as much as I could get.

Luckily, when we met at Franklin Park to play, no one else was there. I had forgotten that there was something else going on that day and that Ultimate was canceled. But this worked to my benefit because she agreed to toss the Frisbee back and forth with just me.

I tossed her the disc and she threw it back with considerable confidence and skill. She mentioned that she and her dad used to throw it around a lot. I was impressed and told her so. We spent the next hour or so talking and getting to know each other, observing the pee-wee football practice adjacent to our field and throwing the disc.

At one point, one of the pee-wee football coaches sent a kid to run a lap. But instead of sending the kid by himself, the coach accompanied him. The route they took just happened to pass near us. When they circled back toward practice, I told Stacie that the guy was ogling her. She dismissed it with a laugh. Five minutes later, Coach was escorting another troublemaker for a lap right past us.

"That dude is totally leering at you."

"Whatever," she smiled.

After the third trip, she decided I was probably right and figured she'd play it up. She volunteered to try to catch the Frisbee while doing a no-hands cartwheel. Though my poor accuracy didn't allow for an upside-down completed pass, her athleticism caught my attention in a very positive way. The football coach slipped on his own drool as he ran back to practice.

When we were done throwing the disc, I didn't want our time together to end. I asked if she was hungry and if she would be up for getting something to eat with me. She agreed easily and we headed to Mi Ranchito for dinner.

We talked and joked and laughed. In the midst of our pleasant and humorous conversation, I told her there was a mid-week afternoon Royals game coming up and asked if she would like to go with me. Again, she agreed quite easily. By this time, my head was spinning with how wonderfully and easily this relationship was progressing. Shortly thereafter, I believe, was the first time she told me that she wasn't really looking for a relationship. That stunted my enthusiasm, but I figured I would just play the cards I was dealt and go from there.

(To be continued...)


It was, without question, the best month of my life. Pound for pound, day for day, no other month in my life can measure up. And it started with a walk for charity that was canceled due to tornadoes.

x x x

I was sitting in Adrian's Cafe, eating lunch and talking to Stacie, a.k.a. Adrian's Girl. The weather was pretty ominous: dark clouds, high winds and rain. I was telling her that I was heading up our office's participation in that evening's Light the Night Walk, a benefit for leukemia and lymphoma research. And I wasn't particularly thrilled with the drippy forecast for the proceedings. She seemed marginally interested in what I was talking about, so I invited her to come join in on the fun.

"Hmm...maybe I will," she said. "But wouldn't it be weird if I showed up since no one knows who I am?"

"Yeah, it would be weird," I said, "But you can hold my umbrella so that I can properly attend to my clipboard. You can be my assistant," I said with a smirk. "Really, though, there will be other folks there that nobody knows. Of course, with the weather shaping up the way it is, this might not be an ideal night to be walking around outside."

She contemplated the idea for a while. Finally, she said, "Okay, I'll go. Give me your number and I'll text you if I decide not to."

I complied and asked for her number in return, so that I would know who was texting me. She gave me her number and I secretly celebrated the first telephone number I had ever successfully acquired from a girl. I then left and returned to work, thrilled that I had gotten her number and a shaky commitment to do something with me outside of Adrian's Cafe.

Once I got back to the office, the weather declined in a hurry. Before long, a Tornado Watch had been issued. About this time, I received a text from Stacie saying that she would probably not be up for those kinds of conditions. I agreed and after a Tornado Warning was issued, I told her that she should absolutely not risk her life to come walk around a business park. We continued to text each other the rest of the evening and from that point on, there was rarely a day that went by when we didn't text, call or see each other for the next month.

(To Be Continued...)

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

A Touch of the Hair, A Drop of the Pen

Pamela’s eyes glazed over as she looked at the piles of crop insurance information in her cubicle. She daydreamed about things far more interesting while she half-listened to the conference call droning at her ear. Maybe I’ll find a guy who’s willing to sweep a 42-year old divorcee with two teenage kids off her feet to live happily ever after, she thought. Some big, strong guy with a solid streak of responsibility, a quick grin and a soft touch. She leaned back in her chair and looked to her right just in time to see that guy walk in the office door.

John strode in, putting one worn cowboy boot in front of the other, barrel chest puffed large with confidence and cheer. His notebook looked a little out of place in hands that were generally more accustomed to working in a grain elevator. The first person he saw upon entering the office was Pamela. Being that she was a recognizable and friendly face in an office full of strangers, he gladly walked towards her.

Pamela’s eyes lit up, a grin emerged and she lightly hung up on the conference call. She had met John several times while making visits to grain elevators around the area informing those of the benefits of crop insurance.

“Hey, Pam! How’s life treatin’ ya?”

“Hello, John! Not too bad, I suppose. What brings you into the big city?” she said as she flashed her bright white teeth. She had swiveled her chair to face him and was leaning back slightly, inviting conversation.

“Oh, just meeting with some folks in your office today. Nothing special,” he said as he jammed his non-notebook holding hand in his pocket like a shy little boy talking to the pretty older girl next door.

They continued to shoot the breeze in an easy, rural way. Pamela touched and flipped her hair. John picked up a putter shaped like a corn cob from the next cubicle and started practicing his swing, glancing up occasionally to catch Pamela’s eye.

Those he came to meet appeared and the encounter came to an end.

“Good to see you, Pam.”

“Likewise, John. We’ll see you later.”

John joined the meeting participants in the conference room and Pamela got back to her conference call. At least she did physically; mentally, she was back to dreaming about a suddenly more tangible Prince Charming.

After her conference call had ended, she hung up the phone and looked up to see John standing there.

“Hey, Pamela; do you think I could borrow a pen?”

Slightly surprised and flustered, Pamela fumbled around her desk for a pen.

“Oh, of course, John! Let me find one for you…”

She corralled a pen and handed it to him. As he walked back toward the conference room, he held up the pen and said over his shoulder,

“’Preciate it, Pam!”

Glowing from the second unexpected meeting that morning, Pamela picked up her ringing cell phone. On the other end of the line was her oldest son’s math teacher. Her son had been underperforming expectations and the teacher wanted to discuss possible strategies to get him back in line. Having forgotten that this call was imminent, the mini fairy tale she was living that morning started to fade away as reality grumpily pushed its way back to the forefront.

Nearly forty-five minutes had passed and John’s presence in the meeting had concluded. He started to walk out the door but stopped, remembering that he still had Pamela’s pen. As he moved towards Pamela’s cubicle, he saw the phone at her ear and her head in both hands. Not wanting to disturb her, he deftly dropped the pen on her desk and slid back toward the exit.

Seeing the pen on her desk, Pamela looked up and saw John’s broad back moving away from her. Her heart raced a little and she tried to bring her phone conversation to an end. With each step he took, her face transitioned from happiness to desperation.

“Okay, okay, thankyousomuch,” she spit out as she halted the call. But just as she hung up the phone, the office door came to a close with a click.