On The Answer

A while back, Frank offered up a dance step writing challenge to me. (Here’s his post) Which I’m dishing up now, in a somewhat different look. 

Hannah sat on the glossy wooden bench on the auditorium stage and waited for her name to be called. She prayed for a cataclysm to save her- a grease fire in the cafeteria or maybe a meteor landing right on the football field. Either would suffice.

“Hannah Verlander!”

Miss Favisham peered over her canasta readers as a faux ruby chain swung lazily across her graying temples. Her beady eyes followed Hannah to the center of the stage before she barked out another name, “Zachary Davis!”

Hannah’s silver low heels clicked across the stage as Zachary’s caramel Oxfords clacked. She wore a jade flare dress in honor of Ginger Rogers, letting her blonde hair roam across its silky pasture. Zachary looked like a mannequin in his starched white dress shirt and gray slacks, no doubt the ensemble chosen by his Barbie doll girlfriend, Jenna Sinclair.

They took their places as a smattering of students and teachers looked on. Chuck Berry’s Gibson punctured the silence and when his pipes started advancing their soulful method, Hannah’s leg kicked high into a stomp. She took Berry’s twelve bars worth of sound and raised it as Zachary followed along with the slightest hint of a crush creasing his face.

Two steps to Venus and four steps to his Mars and six steps to the Milky Way and then eight steps towards the Sun, and then . . .

Hannah didn’t even feel herself losing gravity until she was spilled across the stage. She quickly rose up, rejecting her dance partner’s assistance as she looked out into the audience to find Jenna weeping with delight along with her eleventh grade coven. She raced off the stage and ran as if the world would never catch her.

“Hannah!” Aunt Lily yelled up the stairs before climbing them and banging on her door.

“What?!” Hannah shouted.

“Open this door if you value your social life!”

Hannah flung the door open before jumping back into bed.

“I’m confused, are you sixteen . . . or six? Because that was the lamest act I’ve seen since my first husband,”

“You made me try out! And now you’re making fun of me?!”

“I’m talking about how you ran away, Hannah!”

“What was I supposed to do? Stand there and listen to them laugh at me?”

“Stand up, Hannah. You stand up and you take it from the top. You don’t quit when things go wrong, you fight. Your mother was a fighter, and so are you,”

“Yeah, well mom’s dead. And I got you as a replacement . . . lucky me,”

“Here, you left these on the bench when you played chicken shit,” Aunt Lily said as she placed Hannah’s glasses on her dresser. “You’re welcome,” 

“I hate you!” Hannah shouted.

“Good to know. It’ll make things less awkward when I sue your ass for back payments when you’re rich and famous,” Aunt Lily said as she slammed the door behind her.

Hannah rose from the bed, plugged in her playlist and danced madly . Step . . and reach for Orion’s favorite swing. Step . . and kick Poseidon out of bed. Step . . and open the windows of Curacao. Step . .  and jump into the universe. 

She stuck every landing.

It had been six months since Hannah’s epic fail, and she was trying out for the spring musical. Zachary had talked her into this one. They began dating shortly after he told Jenna he wasn’t interested in her modern day Athena act.

Outside of her bedroom, the only dancing Hannah had done since that forgettable November afternoon had been with Zachary: In her backyard after date nights, in the gym after one of his basketball games and in the middle of a snow covered street on Valentine’s Day.

Miss Favisham called her to the stage, alone this time. Hannah looked over the small assemblage to find Aunt Lily and Zachary throwing silly faces in her direction. And then the music started and then Hannah forgot all about November.

One step to my favorite song . . two will make him mine . . three steps ventured, four steps gained and five will be divine. Steps five to four will be the chance, steps four to three my bad romance, steps three to two will make them weep, steps two to one are mine to keep. 

When her feet finally touched down again, the audience collected itself in a momentary gasp before rising to their feet in raucous applause. Aunt Lily wooted as Zachary hollered while Miss Favisham whistled with delight. And several rows back, there was Jenna Sinclair, clapping wildly.

Hannah and Aunt Lily sat on the porch and waited for Zachary to pick her up for Senior Prom. They talked about the future: Zachary was going to Iowa State on a basketball scholarship while Hannah would be attending Iowa where she would major in English and Creative Writing.

“Aunt Lily . . I’m scared. Of what comes next,”

“Good. That’s a good thing. It means that whatever comes next is worth it,” She smiled.

“But what if I’m not good enough when I get out there?”

“Oh, you’ll probably get knocked down a time or two. Just remember to stand up, and take it from the top,”

“Yeah but this is different,” Hannah said.

“Kiddo, the challenges we face in life don’t really change as we get older. The rooms just get bigger is all,”

*****

That evening at the dance, Hannah and Zach took to the dance floor to say goodbye to yesterday, one last time before tomorrow called. She trembled with a thrill only he could provoke in her.

He led, holding to her with a strength that settled her. Each step they took was wisdom, each sway a branch of memories they’d prospered, each turn a photograph whose manifest was written in the cursive of stardust. He supplied the path and she supplied the bloom. 

It was Oakdale High School’s 25th High School Reunion. Hannah and Zach had flown in from Chicago for the week to spend time with his family in the lead up. They were local celebrities: She was a renowned author and he coached the men’s basketball team at Northwestern.

Hannah sat at the end of that same glossy wooden bench and looked out over the darkened auditorium. No longer the clumsy, bespectacled little girl with knobby knees, she wondered where the time had gotten to. She smiled at the thought of finding the right dance partner on an otherwise forgettable November afternoon.

“Hey funny face,” Zach said as he walked to his spot on the stage.

Hannah took his cue, moving into position ten feet to his left, preparing herself for the point of contact that would move two worlds into one. They came together in a slow dance with Zach leading her from one step into the next. She no longer needed to recite the steps in her head. She knew them by heart.

“How did you know I was the one?” She whispered in his ear.

“Because you were quick on the draw, and you had a great ass,” Zach laughed.

They came together in a kiss that was interrupted by Hannah’s one time nemesis, Jenna Sinclair. Now a reporter for The Des Moines Register, she was hoping to get a few minutes with the best selling author from their hometown. Zach gave Hannah a kiss before heading back down the hall to the gymnasium as the girls had their sit down.

“I would ask how you guys met but I already know that part,” Jenna began. They both cracked up with this, a million miles removed from high school intrigues.

And when the interview got serious, Hannah shared her story of being on the spectrum and of taking speech therapy and how writing had set her free. She talked about losing her mother while still in elementary school and how her Aunt Lily raised her; turning a lost child into a free spirit of a young woman. She talked of how Aunt Lily had lost her battle with cancer five years ago, but how her lessons prevailed.

“She’s how I met Zach. She’s how you and me made our peace. She’s what made me come back in this auditorium and try again. She’s what made me keep sending out my work, in spite of all the rejection letters. And whenever I feel as if I hit a wall, I just think back on her words . . and they guide me,”

“Just remember to stand up. And take it from the top,”

 

Matters Of Little Consequence

There’s a reason antidepressants were invented, and it’s called winter in Chicago.

Me and Dame made the winter of 2008 bearable seeing as how it was the honeymoon we never got to have. New Years Eve had been a John Hughes script in real time. Written by of all people, the Dame’s hellion of a daughter. The two of them had gone out with friends and when her mom began waxing on about our November breakup, her daughter snatched the phone and put in a call to yours truly. The conversation was brief and decidedly one sided.

“Happy New Years . . . Fuck You!”

It had confused me, since I recognized the number but not the voice. The less than ceremonious salutation and the quick hang up? Yeah . . that was her MO alright. The phone chimed back to life as I was sifting through possibilities and when I picked it up this time, there she was. The Dame.

She apologized, sweetly. Her voice dripping with grace, it was velvet to my senses. And when she directed any little reasonable facsimile of a bouquet in my direction, my knees wobbled. I told her she had no apologies to make, and that her daughter had helped open the lines of communication. And before too long, I realized I was already back in it with her. I was curious, but even more than that I wanted to be close to her again. To hold her in that certain way that Marvin Gaye once wrote into solid gold. To bury my face in her perfumed hair the way Old Blue Eyes taught me how. To speak to her in words that described the constellation we had painted over precious little time, as if standing at the corner of Shakespeare and Jane Austen.

The winter was magical, in spite of the Arctic relocating to the windy city in its annual eight month tour. In spite of her ex husband who wouldn’t quit and my blog which was about to. Because blogs are like houses. If you tend to them regularly, they will provide you with equity. If you lapse or become something less than diligent, your neighbor stops bringing you her prized casserole.

Something had changed with Dan. He was writing infrequently, which in and of itself wasn’t a shocker. But whereas he used to provide me with an excuse, now he would just disappear for days at a time. And when he did write something, it was usually vague nonsense, or just a music video with a cryptic title. I didn’t care by this point, because while the podcast was fun as hell, the blog itself was degenerating into the Bataan Death March. Never mind the fact that we flew past half a million hits and then kept right on going. It was no longer mattering.

When retired New York Giants great George Martin blew us off on a podcast interview, I sensed the end was coming. And when I blew off a well known gossip blogger, I might as well have gotten to writing our obituary. Not that I had a choice, seeing as how her communications with me had gotten a little too cozy for my comfort. After the breakup, I’d grown leery of the Dame’s cross-hairs. So I passed it off to Dan, who passed it off to Chris who passed it off to Richie- who oh by the way, didn’t contribute a fucking thing to the blog. And when the interview didn’t happen, we got shit on.

Dan’s reason for not doing the interview had to do with his new pal- the hippie chick poet I’d turned him onto the year before. The girl had a falling out with gossip chick and Dan didn’t want to appear as if he was taking sides. Dan insisted it was nothing more than friendship and that she had a boyfriend. I figured nothing into the equation, since I no longer read hippie chick poet after the Dame accused me of a cross country affair with her. Something felt off, but by this point Dan spent most of his time hanging with Chris and posting whenever the hell he felt like it so I didn’t really care.

I was more interested in writing to and with and about my girl to give a fuck about a blog partnership that was on its way out. Me and Dame dined in the best steakhouses, grabbed coffee on the regular from Intelligentsia, stuffed our faces with Frangos, sipped on gin martinis in the Water Tower, debated the best deep dish joints, riffed on pop culture and books and movies and cicada sex, chased snowflakes the size of saucers and started writing with each other. We were sick little puppies whose dull moments were thrilling. Everything was possible inside the crazy chances we signed off with on our second lease.

Like the way we’d drift away from each other in a bookstore and when we came upon each other again, we would play out a skit as long lost friends bumping into each other. It would start with Oh my God! How have you been? and within moments lead to us making out furiously and talking about grabbing a hotel room. The looks we fetched were priceless, and we loved it.

That kind of thing makes you believe in forever.

Heroes Of The Week!

Black Widow

Last week’s episode proved that mashups ain’t no joke. I was able to fit in more stories than in any previous Heroes post. This isn’t to say there weren’t glitches, because any good thing comes with glitches. Just ask the peeps at Apple. Using the Speaking Of format caused ‘rollover’, in which one positive or negative story bled into the next with precious little room for a segue salve. But don’t fret, my maintenance crew is looking into the problem and you can look forward to a new and improved version sometime soon.

And now, the news.

Fidel would’ve loved this chick- If lies really do set your pants on fire, they’re gonna need dental records to identify Kayleigh McEnany. In an interview with Chris Cuomo, the press secretary for Trump’s 2020 re-election campaign insisted Trump has never lied, after which she went back to the tired old well of blaming the media for every single thing. Kudos to CC for cutting it short with K Mac before she could blame the media for her cluelessness.

What impossible dreams may come- Imagine losing your right leg as a newborn in a chemical fire, after which you spend the next eight years in a state run orphanage in Nanjing, China. That was Scout Bassett’s reality until her entire world changed when she was adopted by a Michigan family in 1995. Some people rest on their good fortune, while others use it as fuel. And that’s what Scout did, winning three medals in the Para-triathlon and two more in the Para World Championships. She recently made ESPN’s “Body Issue”, where she proves that you shouldn’t be afraid of your scars. You should own them.

Luck ’em all!- Andrew Luck’s retirement took most football fans by surprise. But that didn’t make it alright for Colts fans to boo him as he left the field after last week’s game. And it doesn’t mean that Adam Schefter, who broke the story for ESPN, should have waited for Luck to announce it in a presser. And it sure as hell doesn’t mean Dan Dakich gets to rip Luck’s commitment, and people with mental health issues on his sparrow shit of a radio show. Maybe a little high road would’ve done everyone involved some good.

Ain’t no mountain high enough for these two- In 2010, Marine Staff Sgt. Jonathon Blank was serving in Afghanistan when he lost both his legs to an IED (Improvised Explosive Device). His friend John Nelson was nearby when it happened, and while that memory will never leave them, they’ve made sure to make plenty of much better ones in the time between. Nelson recently climbed Mt. Timpanogos in Utah, with his pal Jonathon on his back. 14 miles and 4,500 feet in an epic tag team hike. And they’re not done yet. Next up, they’re going to hike up the tallest mountain in California, Mount Whitney. And they’re gonna do it on Veteran’s Day. Because they can.

The tykes keep teaching us how- Eight year old Christian Moore didn’t think twice when he saw his classmate Connor Crites struggling on his first day of school. He didn’t laugh, shake his head or judge Connor for having a meltdown right in front of their whole class.

Hero Kid

Moore didn’t know Crites has autism or that he finds it extremely difficult to fit in with other kids. All Christian saw was a friend in need. So he did what any good friend would do. He sat with Connor as he cried, and then he held his hand and walked with him into school. No shaming, no blaming. Just love, in a not so random act of kindness that made all the difference in the world to one little boy.

That’s the problem with us adults. We tend to forget the power of compassion, and that it is every bit as much of a currency as all that dope we peddle to make us smarter and richer and stronger and younger. The difference with compassion is that the stuff has no expiration date. It will never leave us broke. Or empty. Or alone. And it is full of the kinds of nutrients that do a body and soul the most good. Lessons.

That picture is worth a thousand of ’em.

 

First Draft Horoscopes- Virgo!

 

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Your adventurous side might decide it wants to come out and play. So don’t make any appointments tomorrow, because your idea of adventure starts with gin and ends with bail. In fact, you should play it safe: Call in sick, order delivery for dinner and don’t answer your phone. Limit all human contact.

The stars insist you have a hidden talent for an activity other than sleeping with your secretary. Maybe you could try your hand at something extreme: White water rafting, mountain climbing, skydiving, bullfighting, alligator wrestling, rooting for the Orioles, trying convenience store sushi, or shoplifting at Cabela’s. Just be mindful that if you decide to skip with those waterproof thermals, you best have a getaway driver because Cabela’s team members shoot to kill. Those fuckers don’t play.

It’s also a good time to tackle new projects. Like maybe paying off one of your twenty eight credit cards. Maybe it’s time to return your next door neighbor’s prosthetic leg that you’ve been using as a doorstop. Learn how to open the hood of your car. Replace the artificial plants you placed around your house. Prune those middle fingers off the shrubs outside your front door. The sky’s the limit, homie.

Matters Of Little Consequence

You don’t tug on Superman’s cape, you don’t spit in the wind, and you don’t rekindle a spark that led to a five alarm fire that burned down your whole fucking house. But hey, morbid curiosity happens to be my weakness, and I have a closet full of chips to prove it. It’s not like I can help it. Besides, I had to experience what a second act was going to feel like. I imagined Beethoven coming back to finish his unfinished business. With lots of acrimony, ill gotten meds, screaming passion and obscenely constructed adult beverages tossed into the mix. 

I missed her over those forty six days, yes. But I missed the craziness of it all just as much. When you suffer from depression and you ride up on something that makes you feel differently, you crave more of that drug, because you need to keep that high going.

It wasn’t about being happy inside our time together, because for me it never is. But with her, I was bending the edges of the milky way and cunning the logic out of madness in a plush Al Green spill of narratives and events and twists and turns that perplexed and sometimes even confounded me. When you ain’t gonna find happiness, you become expert at finding an even more potent secondary market fix. And she was it.

I had lied to her in the early going of our first go round. Silly little fabrications that were polymer laden cliches from dollar bin romance novels that would’ve made Hemingway shoot himself in the head all over again. And yet, it felt appropriate to do so for the purpose of our inevitable expedition.

I’d say stuff like how I wanted to sleep in the same bed with someone for more than a night or two. And how I liked Dave Matthews, and movies with sub titles. And gin. These were not awful lies. Let’s just say they were renderings of negligible parody; symmetrical flourishes that helped fortify our connection, and whose obsequious nature would make me seem less contented with bachelorhood than I really was.

Truth is, I loved sleeping alone and I hated Dave Matthews and movies with sub titles. And I wasn’t all that crazy about gin either. But if love teaches you anything, it is to lie with prudence. Never, ever lie about fidelity. But stupid shit? Have at it.

See, searching for the truth and telling the truth are mutually exclusive concepts. We tend to the former as if a prized topiary; we devour self help books and then crash diet on the tenets of stoicism whilst strengthening our unsteady legs with Zen exercises compiled by people with thousand dollar tan lines. It numbs us to any kind of honest perspective to such an extent that telling the truth is forced to take the bus.

I never lied to the Dame about another woman, because fidelity has always been my genuine kitsch. I have done some extraordinarily fucked up shit in my life, but I’ve also never cheated inside of a committed relationship. Even made up committed relationships with married women. Even those. I blame the fact that I was raised on sitcoms with thirty second lead in tunes. And Barbara Streisand.

Our breakup in November was opera, but it was her opera. She was stranded on an island of infidelities forged by her caveman of an ex husband. And so when I came along, of course she filled in those gaps as if she were the post mistress of Tombstone. After which came the accusations she threw at my head like an Aroldis Chapman fastball that was double dating with the grim reaper. She accused me of messing around and she had a laundry list of license plates. And I didn’t take too kindly to being accused of something I wasn’t enjoying, so we had our what’s what moment. And it ended rather abruptly.

So this second time around thing was, to put it mildly, dubious. But so everlastingly worth figuring out just the same. Just because it was so much more worth it than pulling some cheery high note from a website clearinghouse of feel good quotes in order to make Mondays go down a little smoother.

Never mind there was a good chance she was gonna kill me for real the second time around.

I wasn’t holding it against her.

 

 

 

 

 

Heroes Of The Week! (Speaking Of Edition)

Spider Man

It was only a matter of time before one of my shticks ran into another one of my shticks, after which they grabbed a drink and then decided to get a room and make snarky. So this week, Speaking Of meets Heroes.

We’ll start with Presidente Trump, who’s back again. This time for reneging on his ‘promise’ to push all his chips for tighter background checks on gun purchases. For all his bluster, he’s looking mighty weak.

Speaking of . . . weak. Baker Mayfield threw shade at New York Giants rookie Daniel Jones in a GQ article. And then social media sushi rolled his critique into spicy bites, and then he walked it back and blamed the media for taking him out of context. That’s a punk move.

Speaking of . . . punk move. Ezekiel Elliot is holding out for a big payday two years short of free agency . . by vacationing in Mexico. Never mind he’s been a knucklehead off the field since getting to Dallas. Now little Zeke is upset because Jerry Jones made light of his holdout. Oh little Zeke, grow up.

Speaking of . . . little boys. I have no interest in watching the Little League World Series. Because I’m a grown man, and as such, I ain’t down with watching little boys play baseball. But ESPN never met an endeavor they couldn’t exploit.

Speaking of . . . exploitation. Union workers for Shell received overtime pay for attending a Trump rally at a Monaca, Pennsylvania plant recently. Those who didn’t attend received nada. Officials for Shell said it was a ‘bonus’ that didn’t affect the workers not in attendance. But when pay for yay! gets political, we’re going the way of Norman Jewison’s Rollerball.

Speaking of . . . derbies. The peeps in Chitown have this really cool tradition where they flood the Chicago River with rubber ducks. The event helps to raise money for the Illinois Special Olympics. Last year’s races raised $425,000 dollars for the cause.

Speaking of . . . raising money for a good cause. Diesel Pippert is a seventh grader from Ohio who has this philanthropy thing down cold. After earning $15,000 in livestock premiums at the county fair’s animal auction, he donated all of it to St. Jude Children’s Resarch Hospital. The kid is a businessman with a soulful bottom line.

Speaking of . . . bottom line businesses. The NFL actually put its money where its mouth was with next gen helmets that will keep players safe. The new helmets were good enough for every player but Antonio Brown, who makes our Heroes post for the third week in a row. First AB threatened to retire and then he threatened to sue the league, before finally giving in and showing up to camp. For now.

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Speaking of . . . happy campers. Ali and Linds B adopted a pit-bull this week. He’s a year and a half old and his name is Fig. He has an amazing smile, gives great kisses and he happens to be one hell of a sous chef. He hung out with me in the kitchen as I constructed my loaded nachos for their get together. What a mighty good boy.

Speaking of . . . good boys. Darby White is a 100 lb pit-bull pup who was chilling in the family Jeep when he saw his owner James being attacked by a shark he had caught while fishing in Sonoma County, California. Darby worked the car handle open and then loosed the shark from James’s leg. From now on, James should take up chess.

Speaking of . . . sharks. Jeffrey Epstein signed a will just two days before . . . umm . . killing himself. His estate was valued at more than half a billion dollars, but his playlist of scumbag friends won’t be nearly as available now that he’s gone.

Speaking of . . . spineless snots. Recently, a neighbor of Randa Ragland sent the struggling mom an anonymous note bitching about the condition of her property and how it was affecting the resale value of other homes in the neighborhood. Never mind that Ragland’s husband had lost his job, she was dealing with health issues and her three year old son was just diagnosed with stage 4 neuroblastoma. After Ragland posted the note on Facebook, her Pinson, Alabama neighbors sent her a different kind of message: A lawn service took care of her yard, while others tidied the house and bought the family some groceries. That’s how you dollar bill a nickel and dime fool.

Speaking of . . . bills. Wesley Ryan of San Antonio had plenty of them back in 2001 when his wife Laura was battling an aggressive form of ovarian cancer. So he made the decision to sell his beloved ’93 Mustang GT in order to cover the medical bills. Last September, his kids tracked down the car on Craigslist and bought it back for him. And that right there is a good story, but it gets better. Executive Chairman Bill Ford of Ford Motor Co. saw video of that reunion, after which he enlisted Hennessey Performance to give it a complete makeover and bring back its old school purr. Wesley took it for a spin earlier this month after a surprise unveiling at Ford World Headquarters, wife Laura at his side.

Speaking of . . . better days. Eleven year old Ruben Martinez of El Paso, Texas is challenging everyone in his hometown to do twenty two good deeds- one for each victim of the Walmart shooting earlier this month. The #ElPasoChallenge asks peeps in the 915 to do some good, any kind of good. It could be in the form of mowing a neighbor’s lawn, buying someone a cup of Joe, or checking in on an elderly neighbor. Basically, anything that’ll brighten up a person’s day. 

It wouldn’t be the worst idea if the folks in Washington played along. They could even take credit for it. As long as it got us somewhere better, I’m sure the kid wouldn’t mind one bit.