August 12, 2014

The Accident Manual

They say that there is time for your whole life to flash before your eyes, that the unfathomable depths of your inner self will arrange the Polaroid highlight reel while the life you know dissolves in slow motion. They say you can kick up your heels for the movie and only when the credits roll will everything be turned on its head.

But when the woman turns left across your lane without looking at you, there isn’t even time for ESPN’s Top Ten, although your next half-second could be on the Not Top Ten.

You can slam on the brakes and you can lay on the horn and you can even swerve, but on that one day out of every ninety when you take one seven minute trip without immediately buckling your seatbelt, it will not be enough. The absolute value of her poor driving is greater than your rating as an awesome driver.

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You might process the numbers and find some advanced stats to determine driving skill based on the road conditions and the defensive driving metrics, but it won’t prevent this.

Instead of plowing into her driver side door at full speed, cracking her spine, and catapulting yourself through your windshield, over her car, and onto the salt-stained asphalt, your braking, honking, and swerving will get the nose of your burgundy Corolla, your Mujer de Libertad, around the front of her car and she’ll accelerate through your engine compartment, knocking your whole vehicle into the emptying lanes of oncoming traffic. Relative to the street, you’ll continue forward, but relative to the car, you travel at a forty-five degree angle. Your forehead will knock aside the rearview mirror, and it’s compatriots of fuzzy dice, air freshener, and crucifix, en route to kissing the windshield.

You’ll fall back into your seat and realize that your car is pointed at an empty parking lot, so you’ll accept the open invitation. Your transmission will not shift into park, so you pull the handbrake and switch off the car. You’ll open the door and step out, intending to check on the woman, the back of whose head you could see as you swerved, when you realize there is warm, viscous fluid trickling down your cheek, clotting in and stiffening your beard. Your gloved hand will dip into the stream and return red. It’s probably best to sit back down. There is a widening pool of blood between your feet and with each consecutive drip there is a consequential splash that speckles your white DCs.

You’ll run by the spot a dozen times over next three months. The first time there is a surprising amount of sand piled about. The wind and rain will eventually clear away the sand to reveal the dark oil and blood stains.

The Good Samaritans will show up. One will be a nurse, one will be a big dude with a truck and a first aid kit, the one who calls 911 will be wearing a Sierra Nevada sweatshirt, which you’ll be sure to compliment. The other driver will stand by your shoulder, a wisp of twitchy nerves mumbling I’m sorry over and over. You’ve whacked your head enough in your life that, besides the blood, you feel fine. When she steps away for a moment, the big dude will confide don’t worry, bro, I saw the whole thing, it was all her fault. He’ll be kind enough to tell that to the cops when they show.

The EMTs will keep repeating the word mechanism. It will annoy and confuse, but that might be the loss of blood. You can’t see your own head, so you can’t see the chunks of glass embedded there. The EMTs will see the blood in your beard and ask do you have pain around your mouth? You will answer no, the little pain I have is all in my forehead. They will yell HE’S GOT NUMBNESS IN HIS FACE! You will protest Woah, I did not say that! Still, because of your mechanism, they are going to strap you to a board, complete with a neck brace, and cart you to the hospital.

There is nothing you want more than to be a good, easy, cooperative patient. You will crack jokes and ask about their days. You’ll ask if there’s been a more entertaining case that day. But really, really all you will want to do is move. Your claustrophobia is threatening. But before they will let you move they want a CT scan of your head and neck. They’ll take out your small gold hoop earrings and even though they put them in a bag so you won’t lose them, they will still get mixed up in your bedding and be forever lost.

The nurses will move you to another room to wait for the negative results, passing under the ceiling bubble mirrors in which you’ll notice your distorted reflection. Like a magnifying glass passing over you, first your feet will be enlarged, followed by your legs, and torso. Finally, your already imposing head will balloon by. It could be the cephalopodan cranium, or the rose hue smeared across the brow, cheeks, and beard, but the face that flashes on the bubble mirror is unfamiliar.

The nurses will manage to remove your oxford and jeans with minimal blood stains and no cutting, but the undershirt will get sliced, putting your tattoos on full display. Their religious nature will release one nurse to talk about her faith and you’ll reciprocate when you’re not clenching your teeth. The needle they use to numb your skull will feel like a 12 inch chef’s knife. You can’t imagine that the stitches could hurt worse unnumbed, but you’ll find out later they were scraping shards of glass out of the bloody abrasion.

You will like your doctors. They’ll talk beer. They’ll talk sports. They’ll talk trash. They’ll reprimand you and then empathize with you. They’ll warn you of the most intense, debilitative soreness you’ve ever experienced which is certain to come in the next couple days. It never does arrive.

Three days after the woman decided to not look where she was driving, you’ll go to the impound lot to clean out your car. Your first thought will be one of pride when you see the damage your head did to the windshield. That’s right; I did that. And I didn’t black out and I didn’t get a concussion. And you’ll never admit aloud that you have no right to be walking. You’ll find the scarf you were wearing, the one the EMTs unwrapped before fitting the neck brace, and it will be stiff with blood, having saved your oxford from the mess. You’ll find the review mirror casing, bereft of its glass, with the dice, air freshener, and crucifix a tangled mess.

The next month will pass in a wracking of nerves as you navigate the irregular alleys of adulthood. You’ll be receiving new medical bills every week for three hours’ worth of services. You’ll spend hours calling your car insurance, and your health insurance, and her car insurance, and the police, and the impound lot, and car dealership after car dealership, and the courthouse. You will shop for a new car. Your burgundy Mujer de Libertad was going to last forever. Now she’s dead. You’ll meet a silver Civic coupe named Mercy. She’ll be nice and technically an upgrade; you’ll take her home, but really all you want is your Mujer. All you really want is for everything to be over, for everything to be normal. And then, between applications of scar cream to the upper right corner of your forehead, it more or less will be.

Mujer de Libertad

Mujer de Libertad

August 2, 2014

Open Thine Ears and Slake Thy Thirst

This is a quote from Will Ferrell as he portrayed a tone-deaf Satan on SNL. Satan apparently can’t write good music and neither can I, but that doesn’t stop either of us from trying. I downloaded the demo version of FL Studio 11. Unless you upgrade, it won’t let you reopen projects to continue working with them, so you get one shot at your fun before you export the file and close the program. Here’s the fruit of tonight’s labor.

If the player doesn’t work, click here.

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July 14, 2014


Jonathan’s fingers slipped inside his khaki pocket and extracted the key ring. It didn’t hold much – the car, the door, his parent’s door, the gym membership. The guitar case key was still on the ring; there was nowhere else to keep it. One day he’d remember to but a bottle opener on there. Until then, he’d keep an old Bic in the glove compartment.

He grasped the door handle and leaned back, pulling the door tight against the jam, before inserting the key into the deadbolt and turning. Jonathan released his grip and the door swung open, the emanated squeaks reminding him that needed to purchase WD-40. He wiped his hard soled shoes on the mat, stepped inside, and swung the door shut.

He stood in the dark entrance. It was only his second week in the apartment and it was not natural yet. The light switch was behind him to his right. Following that wall would lead him to the living room and, beyond that and two left turns, the kitchen. If he were to step forward and not to the right, he’d find the bathroom and bedroom. Either path was mined with unopened boxes, cockeyed furniture, or dirty laundry.

So he stood in the darkness, disturbing nothing but the air he breathed; in the distant living room he could hear the ticking clock. In the dark stillness of the foyer there was no mess to clean up, no couches to be rearranged. In the darkness he didn’t have to think about the progression of steps past unfinished projects, he could just be. He leaned back against the door and slid downwards until he could place his palms flat against the hardwood floor.

Jonathan. What are you doing? Why are you on the floor? You are hungry. Eat. You have things to do. Get up.

He exhaled, driving his feet into the ground, propelling his hips up and out, and arcing his back. With his right hand he mechanically brushed the mezuzah before flicking on the light. He circumvented the boxes of shoes and coats and stepped into the bedroom. There was a pile of business clothes between a laundry basket full of linens and a half empty wardrobe box. He unbuttoned the blue oxford as he kicked off the brown loafers. Throwing the shirt into the pile on the floor he grasped for the belt buckle to lower the pants from his hips. Standing in the white undershirt, boxers, and tan socks, he scanned the room, his eyes finally alighting on the black basketball shorts draped over the desk chair. One leg after the other and then each foot into the greyed Adidas Campuses.

As he exited the bedroom he killed the light. Darkness again, only momentarily, but long enough to stumble over the box of shoes. Damn. Jonathan didn’t kiss the floor, but the interruption was frustration enough. He reached the foyer again and turned left toward the living room. The darkness hid the cacophony quite neatly; there wasn’t a speck of it to be seen. He was standing on the edge of the precipice with his eyes shut, not admitting the existence of what he knew lay before him.

He swiped at the light, catching it with his fingertip and showering the room in light. All he wanted was to reach the kitchen and get some food. Nothing special, chicken, veggies, and pasta. But before him was a wasteland of the incomplete. Boxes still packed. Books haphazardly stacked on the shelves. The television was still in its box, leaning against the couch. The dining room table leaned against a wall with the legs next to it. The chairs were lined up against the perpendicular wall.

He’d spent last week eating take out or eating beer for dinner. But no longer. Take out was for the weak-willed. Take out meant others doing his work. Beer for dinner meant later penance and there was already enough of that do be performed. Both meant spending unnecessary money.

Stepping over and about half empty boxes, he waded through the mess in the living room, took that narrowest angle through the corner of the untabled dining room and found the sanctuary of the kitchen. No, he hadn’t used it yet, other than for the obligatory bowl of sugary cereal every morning, but it was the only room that was complete. This was the room of his design, and it was solely his domain. It was small, but for one person, it was all that was needed. The back wall was a solid counter with a dual basin stainless steel sink with an unnecessary InSinkerator; he would rarely use it. The best part of the sink was the pullout spray faucet, enabling a manageable cleanup of oversized bowls, pans, and the crockpot.

Oh to bust out the crockpot! The chilis, the jambalayas, the nameless delicious creations only intoned by their primary ingredients! To quickly prep and toss the ingredients into the pot before work and then return home to the mystical aromas filling the room like incense wafting from a thurible.

But tonight it’s quick and easy. Well, not fast food or beer quick and easy, but certainly not crockpot long or baking arduous.

Opening the fridge, Jonathan pulled out the chicken breast and the button mushrooms, and from the basket above he grabbed a yellow onion. From below the sink he drew a single plastic cutting board. The three ingredients sat on the counter, disparate, yet destined for communion. He drew the chef’s knife from the block along with the sharpener. He’d spent six month working in a kitchen, absorbing everything he could. If only he had the budget for all the ingredients they used, and the mental catalog of their use. Knowing the rudimentary knife skills is not knowing the exotic pairing that perfectly complement each other. The general bartending was a lot easier on that front.

The mushrooms sliced quickly, and after being peeled into the trash, so was the onion; his contacts spared him tears. He threw the vegetation into a bowl and delivered the first slice to the chicken breast.

Shoot. I forgot to start the rice. I always do that.

He quickly reached into the lower cabinet and scooped a cup from the oversized bag of jasmine and poured it into the rice cooker. After giving the rice couple rinses, he pulled two cans of chicken stock from another cabinet, emptied them into the rice cooker, and clicked it on before returning to chunk the chicken breast down into the bite size pieces.

He washed his hands before opening yet another cabinet where he had stashed the pots and pans – two stacks, assembled like Russian nesting dolls, each smaller than the one in which it sat. Lids, sometimes necessary but always obtrusive, were stored elsewhere. Selecting a midsized frying pan, he set it on the stove’s the electric coil and turned on the low heat. Gas would have been perfect, but that would have meant a higher rent or an inconvenient location.

He tossed in a glob of butter before grabbing the dry vermouth from the home bar. As the butter melted he stirred in a few splashes of the spirit; the aroma of fat and oblations cooking would have pleased any pagan deity. He dropped in the chicken chunks and as they paled over the heat, he emptied the bowl of veggies into the pan. Jonathan bent over the frying pan, filling his chest with the mystic aromas.

The rice cooker clicked off. Jonathan cut open the largest of the chicken chunks, verifying it was nothing but lifeless protein strands. No blood, no pink hues reminiscent of nonfoodism. Plating would be a superfluous activity today; everything would end mixed anyways. Rice below chicken, onions, and mushrooms. The only remaining question: sriracha or soy sauce?

The former won out. Jonathan sat on the linoleum floor, cupping the plastic bowl that held his meager chef efforts, staring at the dissembled dining hall illuminated by the kitchen light. This was his domain to rule, none to whom he must cater or defer. No irrationality to pervade the order of his cabinets. No wastefulness to be subsidized by his labor. His reign would be total, once it was established. But chaos ruled in the darkness outside the kitchen, chaos that was his to subdue. With Saturday’s morning light, the labor would begin.


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June 25, 2014

Momma’s Email

Momma’s email stung. I miss Jake and Ike. I wish they’d never gone to college. It’s not the same without them. I’m sitting here in winterland Chiberia, worrying about the projected sales of stickers too old to be retro, while my nine year old sister – my only sister among four younger siblings, my baby sister who still sucks her thumb in her sleep, my sister who climbs all over me like I’m a tree, who finds something to perform or exhibit at every family gathering – lies on the couch with the aches and shivers and occasional vomiting and more occasional groaning of influenza. Now I feel sick. Ready to book the next one way flight to Albany or load up my car and wish the roommates the best of lives before driving seventeen hours. To abandon a recent promotion for the baby girl without whom I can’t imagine life, but live it every day.

But instead I read a few lines preceding.  Abe and Joe have been keeping her entertained. The fifteen and eleven year old, come into their own. They’re the older brothers now. They’re the big boys; the head honchos. They are the ones who know best, who know her best. The two most affected by the move. The two extroverts struggling as nomads, as aliens, as their biblical namesakes. One who was vocal and nothing less than hesitant about the northeast, who does not hide his anger, but is slowly, painfully, ever so fucking painfully – like slivers under your fingernails – growing, forging his resolve and identity. And one, who vocalized nothing but withdrew into the core of himself, steeling himself in the absence of peers into a self-reliance unmatched among his siblings; one – pantomiming before he could talk – who prefers physical contact to written correspondence, and written correspondence to faceless phone chatter.

But in spite of their solitude, their independence, their anger, their despondence, their frustration, their ongoing depression, they have such grace and mercy to spend time with their weepy sister. Their weepy little sister who cries for the absent older two living hours away, who she won’t see, who worry about sales numbers and final grades, who can’t spend their hours entertaining her other than by phone. Whose absence enables the others to become men, unnoticed, unappreciated, but necessary.

June 14, 2014

In Atrophy

The end isn’t near, it’s here. It gave its warning shots across the bow. Scotty’s pictures, black and white photography with black frames, mounted over the half-bookshelf in the hall, were gone, holes emptied of nails in their place. I had never paused to inspect them closely, just acknowledged their presence as one of Sarah’s touches giving our walls an artful caress. Now the emptiness of the wall with bore holes screamed like a loon with camel hair cassock and sandwich board soliciting next life preparation.

The next week the lamp from my favorite reading nook was removed from its locale. The last publicly displayed item Scotty planned to take into his new life with Sarah. Another piece I had accepted, with much pleasure, into my life and become accustomed to it. Unsought, but appreciated, and now gone. The spring sun through the windows keeps the space usable, but it’s a conclave no more.

The house is in atrophy. It’s not just Scotty’s absence, but that is the harbinger.

I’ve lived with Scotty longer than anyone who doesn’t share my last name. We had never met before he walked in the apartment that September. Four consecutive years of disparate lives; we would occasionally both be home during waking hours, but usually we had to schedule any extended sightings.  The insomniac night owl and the regimented nine to fiver. An apartment, two houses, and six other roommates circulating. During the Snopacolypse he was an EMT in The City and he slept at the station for days. The overgrown house with the plumbing disaster. The day we walked in to find a roommate unconscious in a pool of Cheerio-vomit. The house with attached garage and leaky basement where Scotty earned his Master’s degree.

He and Sarah signed the lease on the apartment they’ll live in after their wedding early, and he’s been moving in there, not too slowly. I don’t know the last time he was actually in our house. Some of his stuff is still here, shelves, old bed, mini fridge, freezer, homebrew kit; basically I live in his storage unit.

This is the last month, not only with Scotty, but David, too. It has been four years with David also, but not consecutive. As his wedding has approached his presence has gradually diminished, though his possessions have all remained. His absence is not as jarring as Scotty’s, although that could be just because it hasn’t really started yet. He moves to his new place in the couple weeks as I move to mine.

He’s been the stoic observer to my volatile relationships, sipping whiskey sympathetically as I nervously pace my way through anxieties and neuroticisms, silent witness to my aimless rage. He’s watched me plunge to the abyss of Assassin’s Creed and Community in attempts to alleviate heartbreak. When the plumbing disaster rendered the kitchen unusable, we subsisted on Chinese takeout and hydrated on beer. Between the two of us, we’ve imbibed a lot of whiskey and vodka over the past three years.

And when my rage has given pause, he’s had the well-placed, unexpected word of encouragement. Even in the morning when my rage is most piqued and the last thing I want is to speak.

The shelves are empty and corrugated is everywhere. In less than a week, there’ll be no furniture in these rooms and only kitchen wares to be divided. There is a torn window screen and two bathroom towel hooks to be repaired. The Goodwill donations have already begun, clothing, speakers, lamps, tube televisions; I wonder how much they’ll keep and find useful and how much they’ll just discard.

The end is here. In the next two weeks this house will be polished, emptied and scrubbed of the inhabitants. We will be scattered like grass seed to grow thin, but sufficient, roots in new dirt.

April 19, 2014

The Blood of Christ

It’s exhausting. It lasts no more than fifteen minutes, but afterwards I sit down exhausted.

They come forward to the First with begging hands, extended for the meal, crossed for the touch. Those who ask, receive; food or touch, none are denied. From there, they proceed to the Second.

At the First, there just the one exchange, no confusion – The body of Christ, the bread of Heaven. I am Second. I stand pensively, careful not to spill. I pass to them and they pass back; I wipe and twist. I try took look each in the eye, speaking to them personally, unlike the response tree at your local customer service center.

The blood of Christ, the cup of salvation.

I’ve heard some people say, The blood of Christ, shed for you, but it doesn’t have the right meter. It fits better when the first says, The body of Christ, broken for you, but since this is rarely said, it’s a moot point.

The Blood of Christ, the tears of Heaven.

That sounds

So poetic

So romantic

So religious

But I’m still not convinced of Heaven, not in the colloquial sense. When your boy returns from his coma Heaven, I’m more than skeptical. Not because I have abandoned the hope of Christ or because I doubt the earnestness of your conviction, but because I am fairly certain that this Heaven is not Christ’s. It is because I have a greater hope than ethereal, gaseous soul-consciousness peacefully resigned and dissolved into frozen water droplets and lethargically strummed harp tones. I’d prefer my current purgatory, with its vibrancy, vitality, and promise of bodily resurrection to the passive, minimalist, eternal Nirvana so often advocated.

But let’s reign in my tangent, during which I turned into UPS’s 1-800-response tree.

She walks slowly, perpendicular to my orientation, swallowing the Body and thinking upon



Upon what, I don’t know. I don’t know how the mysteries of Mass enact themselves upon me, much less her.

But she stops, turns ninety degrees, and executes two sharp steps, almost a single lunge toward the chalice in my hand. I’ve barely raised the earthenware chalice and I’ve barely recited the liturgy before she’s clutching at the stem, whispering her Amen, lifting the chalice, with my hand, to her lips. She has no time for ceremony, she is thirsty for the Living Water, the water turned to wine, the simple feast shared among unnumbered multitudes in history, the sands on the shore and the stars in the sky, promised to Abraham. She doesn’t shroud her thirst in dignity; she holds no illusions of having earned the drink she receives. But what she has within her grasp she will not rescind, she cannot.

She imbibes so quickly I haven’t had time to remove my hands from the chalice before she returns control to me. She quickly turns to her right and walks back to her pew, head hung humbly, not shamefully. I twist the chalice counterclockwise as I wipe the rim. I look up and there is the next sinner, earnest for his turn at the well, with others lined up behind him. In my hands is a grace not my own, but one I get to share, one that we return to as often as we can. When the last has had their fill, we linger for a moment, the bread-bearer and I, waiting for the last sheep, or maybe Elijah, before putting away the leftovers, the twelve bushels we have left.

I return to my pew with the same posture as she did, though mine might be more rooted in exhaustion. Some might argue it’s just the residual effect of a quiet introvert having talked with fifty some people in a matter of minutes. Some may argue it’s the weight of the Holy Spirit, while others argue that the Spirit is not present in liturgy. But maybe it’s the weariness of a derelict painting doorposts in lamb’s blood for reasons he doesn’t fully understand, but knows are necessary.


February 1, 2014

On Langston Hughes

It is fitting that February is African American History month as February 1st is the birthday of the esteemed poet, Langston Hughes. Students across the country in various grade levels will be reading such works as Harlem, The Weary Blues, and The Negro Speaks of Rivers as the obligatory nod towards the progress of civil rights, as though now that literary pedagogy recognizes black authors for a month, deceased for half a century and nearly a century past the height of their writing, we’ve reached the pinnacle of racial equality. News flash: we haven’t yet.

Though Langston Hughes may be the easily packaged totem, the go-to African American History literary lesson, it is not a denigration of his literary talent or his racial importance. And, despite the “antiquity” of his writing in a culture that uses Snapchat, he should be taught as the seminal figure he is. It is merely disappointing that the bulk of this month’s curriculum will only focus on a movement last less than two decades and ended eighty years ago, rather than the whole of African American literature.

But today is Langston Hughes’ birthday; were he still alive he’d be 112. He was a prominent figure in the Harlem Renaissance, the literary time period associated with the rise of jazz, black literature, and a black middle class. I mentioned his three most popular poems, at least among Caucasian middle class educators, but he was also a literary critic, essayist, and playwright. While others can provide better historical and literary analysis, his writing has impacted my life.

Reading Langston Hughes in high school was the first time I remember realizing that good writing is integrally tied to life. Though I did not live in the 1930s, either in Harlem tenements or the Georgian sharecropper’s shack, their days were shared with me, not just as action, but concerns and joys, sorrows and loves. Paying rent by day and feverishly dancing by night. He laid bare before me the hypocritical and gnostic tendencies of American Christianity. In anger, in joy, in tears, and in laughter, Hughes’ poetry gave flesh to the intellectual struggles of inequality, racial and economic. It was art, generally perceived as emotive and evocative, but it was physical and grounded.

Langston Hughes served as a chronological bridge between me and the next writer I would become infatuated with, Fyodor Dostoyevsky. Hughes’ writing, placing equal balance between technical skill and intellectual message, was in line with Dostoyevsky’s. Through their writing, both exemplified the same central tenant: that what you think about the world directs your interactions with the world, so you need to be precise in your thinking. Your thoughts do not stay in your head; they enact themselves in your life. While they thought very different things about the world, that they held to this tenant gives their writing greater significance and longevity.

The importance of precise thought, particularly in regards to one’s own racial identity, is seen most acutely in the essay, The Negro Artist and the Racial Mountain. In it, he confronts the black artist who seeks to write, not as a black poet, just as a poet. Hughes recognizes that there is nothing wrong in writing something that anyone can enjoy, but danger lies in sterilizing one’s own voice and identity. If writing is an expression of thought, and your thought is disembodied from your existence, then your writing will not be tied to your existence. If your thought denigrates your own physical existence, how can your writing be a positive force in a physical world? To Hughes, it cannot.

Langston Hughes is my life’s literary linchpin. His was the major literary voice inspiring me to write poetry in high school, which caused me, before I had declared a major, to take more English classes at community college. Those classes were what caused me to declare myself an English Major; without Hughes I don’t know Dostoyevsky or Dante, Hemingway or Herbert. It was his voice that drew me to Dr. Christina Bieber’s African American Literature class and exposed me to Jean Toomer, Toni Morrison, Robert Hayden, James Baldwin, Gwendolyn Brooks, Elizabeth Alexander, and others. Without that African American literature class, I would have kept the pseudo-Christian, gnostic thought to which I held. Without my English degree, I wouldn’t have sought a career in publishing. Without my job, I wouldn’t know many who have challenged and encouraged my writing.

Though I rarely write poetry anymore, though I work at publisher that does nothing with poetry, I would not be who and where I am without Langston Hughes’ writing. I needed to pay homage to this man who has inspired and influenced my life. I’m not going to end with a poem which neatly ties together what I’ve written, but just one that I hold dear: I, Too.

January 13, 2014

New Shoes

This is for the new shoes, the fresh kicks. The shoes that high-schoolers unlace to relace, to rebrand the brand, using textile blends in long bands, signifying the signing of their own brand. The sun reflects off our feet to pierce your eye and cause retinal blindness; crystal bright and minty breath fresh. Fresh from the box; wash your hands before you even look. I am no heretic, vandal, or villain, but these shoes are not for your children. I am steeped in a hundred percent flavor and two hundred percent proof from the crest of my head to the heel of my hoof. The cap flipped back is white on black mirrored below by the white trimmed with black. These aren’t Jordans, this is not about flight. The DC on the side is like the city where my allegiances lie, though the politicians can suckle on pesticide. These are high stepping shoes; the victory’s in sight. These are not shoes for your closet; they’re shoes for your feet, worn by the every man, for every man on the street with his mind on his stomach and pocketing money for something to eat. These shoes will hopefully age with grace to a greyed out end with holey soles that can’t be replaced.

2013-11-03 13.41.52

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December 25, 2013

First Snow

I was crouched down to talk to four year old Ellie as her dad talked to Nick. She commented on how crowded it was and I agreed. I glanced out the plate glass wall to my right and barely saw the white dust swirling as though caught in sunbeam.

“Look Ellie! It’s snowing”

“Yes,” she replied, as though it were perpetually snowing in the world she inhabited. “I like to make snow angels.”

A boy ran past us. “That’s one of my friends. I’m going to go play.” With that, she followed him out of the adult forest and I stood to rejoin the grown up conversation about work and books and entrepreneurism. Eventually, the second service began and I wandered to my usual section.

I sit in the back left side of the sanctuary; I’ve always been a back row student and a back row congregant.  The upper half of the wall to my left is windows. Looking out through the bare tree tops, I’m often distracted by the freight trains lumbering past the church property, their groans and bellows surprisingly mellowed by the refurbished factory walls.

This building is a miracle. The story is older than me; I barely know the details of the five years I was present for. But a migrant church body, like Israel fording the Jordan from the wilderness, crossed the city of Wheaton to their promised land. And today, I stare out the window as snowdust turns to flurries to snowflakes, accumulating on window ledges and tree branches, car roofs and train tops.

The white quiet world beyond the glass is contrasted against the deep purples of the Advent service and the hymnody selected. The most liturgical congregants conscript their clothing to match the altar dressings. The least liturgical wear Christmas reds. I, like others who forget to dress accordingly, am a smattering of greens, browns, blues, and greys. But purple, ranging from pale lavenders to weighty violets, owns the sanctuary, dressing it as a throne room.

Our voices rise in the E minor verses of O Come, O Come Emmanuel; lacking an organ, the music team has taken an ascetic approach to the song, stripping the instrumentation to a minimum. The minor key is beautiful, but mournful, at odds with its imperative to rejoice in the promise of redemption, of resurrection, of a messiah. Some have abandoned that hope, finding it propaganda, a cruel joke, or the mass’ opiate. Others are ignorant of the mourning, idealizing humanity’s progress and potential, finding the hope unnecessary. But some are starting to recognize their own brokenness in a dying world; a brokenness that might be made right. They sing a mournful song to the only one who can save anyone or anything, gasping out words in desperation, unable to abide outside of the song’s hope. This is what I ponder as the homily explores the lectionary, what I pray as the parishioners kneel, and what I ingest at the Eucharist.

As I pull into my neighborhood, there is just enough snow for me to start fishtailing. When you’re good enough at driving in the snow, this is fun. If you’re not good, I’m sure this is terrifying.

I pull into the garage, disappointed my tires have crushed unshovelable stripes into the snow. I quickly peel of my oxford and jean for fleece pants and a thick, lined hoodie. The DCs are replaced by boots. I am a hodgepodge of warm, ill-fitting clothing. I return to the garage, grab the shovel, and begin.

There is enough snow in the driveway for me to shovel, but the snowfall is deceptive. It’s light enough to not be noticed, but heavy enough to completely dust everything I’ve shoveled within fifteen minutes. But a little bit of work now will make any work later just a bit easier. Plus, it’s been weeks since I’ve worked out, every little bit helps right now.

If today was truly idyllic, it would be Saturday and I would have nothing planned, no looming responsibly, no desire for growth. I would rise from a restful sleep, sit on a couch looking out over my yard, and a mug of rich hot chocolate with mini marshmallows would make its way into my hands. The ascending sun would cause the fallen snow to glow in rich colors as though it were the sun’s mirror.

But today is not a vacuum sealed Saturday. It is Sunday afternoon, a Sunday afternoon with much to do. As I drive through the snow filled streets, I am reminded of how difficult it can be to drive in snow and how frustrating it is to drive behind people who are terrified to accelerate. And then I pass an accident and remember I’d rather be stuck behind Granny Georgia Tuscaloosa than be stuck in the traffic jam caused by an accident. I’d also rather be stuck in traffic than caught in an accident.  The snow continues to fall as I meander from task to task and town to town where the plows are infrequent; the drivers have a long night of snowy streets ahead of them. When I return home, there will be significantly more snow in the driveway. I’ll probably just park on the street so the snow remains undisturbed until I attack it with a shovel.

Winter has arrived in Chicagoland. There will be snow drifts at the ends of the driveway for the next three months. Our gas bill will rise to heat our house; the electric bill will rise as we light the early darkness. I will occasionally drink hot chocolate when I force the idyllic moment for which I yearn. If it snows during the day I will skip the gym to shovel. I’ll have to remember to lift my windshield wipers every morning at work. Ellie probably struggle to lift the toe of her boots above the top of the snow, but she will make snow angels.

October 6, 2013

Writing in the Plains

It has been a long time since I have written. Summer is not a writing season, at least not for me. The summer time is spent searching for pitchers and fielders and batters. Or quarterbacks and receivers. Or ballers. Or tennisers. Or frolfers. Or I accept that no one will play, and so I play alone; I grab my blades, stick, and ball, and I find an empty parking lot. Or barren warehouse. The point, I believe, is that summer weather welcomes all sports and so summer weather envelops me.

But that is too simple, as if my summer life boiled down to sleeping, working, eating, and sports. The fact is that life is busy. People meander in and out of the coffee shop of my life, some lounging, some making a pitstop, some commanding the space, some working, some cowed by the environs. New responsibilities, new challenges. Life changes and priorities change. I wanted a retreat, a time to withdraw and to pray and to write and to write and to write. But responsibilities do not stop; the world does not press pause and let you regroup. You must prepare for the continuation before you withdraw or else everything will erupt. And for me, even when I withdraw, I’m not withdrawn. So why waste time in retreat.

I’m about eight hours from home at the moment. With some friends, I’ve driven to Nebraska for a wedding. We reserved a motel room claiming three adults and then snuck in an extra three. We made whiskey milkshakes and played board games and card games and listened to Lorde; we crammed into the bed and wriggled into sleeping bags and giggled and chortled until we collectively stopped talking. I “forgot” to turn off my alarm, the alarm that plays the most abrasive metal song I know, The Dillinger Escape Plan’s 43% Burnt. I slipped out of the darkness into the continental breakfast in yesterday’s clothes, Junot Diaz’s This is How You Lose Her in my hand.

Breakfast is like every other motel breakfast; the TV hoisted to the ceiling displays everywhere-but-local weather coverage, the clear dispensers hold nondescript cereal, OJ and AJ, cigarette flavored coffee, bleach white bread, waffle mix, yogurt, cold biscuits and crock pot gravy. Diaz attempts to describe Dominican American life above the caterwauling television and the gossiping diners, whom I don’t know, but we all know from every motel continental breakfast. Geriatric couples mingle among the tables, making themselves waffles. They speak to each other as old friends, as though this is the local diner where they typically meet each other on Sunday mornings. Maybe it is. The couple to my left are wearing matching red polos tucked into pleated khakis.

Well, are you ready to hit the road? one asks another behind me; I suddenly envision every one of these couples creaking out into the parking lot, only to gingerly position themselves onto the most badass Harleys I’ve ever seen, red polos and all. They do not suddenly transform into badasses themselves; they remain, fragile old men and women. This posse rides their hogs like they drive their Lincolns and Buicks, ten under the speed limit in the fast lane with their blinker on for miles.

I finish my liquid cigarette, pour myself another, and slip back into the dark room where no one has stirred. I set down Diaz and leave the room again with my laptop, this time for the lobby. This is the outskirts of the great Nebraska City, where the lobby computer still runs Windows 98 and sounds like it requires its own generator. Cloaked in white noise, I settle in to write; it has been a long time and I’m not sure how to start. I open Word. I sip on coffee. I open Chrome. I am eight hours from work and I can still connect, logging into my email to check for emergencies so they don’t become someone else’s emergencies.

But really it’s distraction. I’m not ready to write. I don’t have anything to say. Not that I often have anything to say. But after an absence I feel I need to explain myself. Why haven’t you been writing? Why do you bother writing now? Why should anyone bother reading this? I don’t have any answers for any of those questions except that they don’t matter. This was fun, sitting on a surprisingly comfortable couch as my fellow vagabonds slept; the random conversations of the continental breakfast and the occasional lobby attendant functioning as my morning background.

The view from a cramped Nebraska City motel room.

The view from a cramped Nebraska City motel room.

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