Thursday, January 29, 2015

Wet Nurse

As a child I liked to hammer my pelvis against the stairs. It was a family activity; my siblings and I would sprint to the top of the staircase, lie on our bellies beside each other, and count down together before pushing off to slide and bump our way feet-first to the bottom. Mom and Dad would watch and laugh. Pajamas were the best clothing to wear, the lack of buttons and belts providing a smooth and slippery surface for sliding. The jovial practice of stair surfing became a nightly ritual, perhaps because Mom and Dad saw it as a way for us to burn the unspent energy of the day before going to bed. The combination of breathless giggling and happy exhaustion that overtook us remains a highlight of my childhood. Buried somewhere deep in the family archives there is an 8mm silent film of us running up and sliding down the stairs over and over again, our smiling faces conveying our absolute joy more than words ever could.

Some joys come at a price, however, and the price I paid was high for a four year old. Pajamas don’t provide a whole lot of support or protection for the more tender parts of a boy’s body; I suffered a hernia and spent several days in the hospital for surgery to repair the damage. I can still recall my time in the hospital with a great degree of clarity, minus the actual surgery of course. The playroom in the children’s ward, for example, is still very real to me. I remember sitting in a small chair at a low- level table playing with a Fisher Price playset by myself, while other sick kids made friends and played together. Another distinct memory is that of my hospital crib, a shiny metal cage with bars that towered above me as I lay there wondering what my siblings were doing at home, and if they missed me.

The sight of my mother from between the silver bars of my hospital crib is the most vivid and powerful memory I have of that hospital stay. I don’t remember her leaving my side for a moment, and I am not sure when or where she slept, or if she even did sleep while we were there. I recall waking up during the night in that sterile, metal, frightening place, and the wave of fear, confusion, and loneliness that threatened to wash over me. That same dark wave would retreat at the bright sight of my mother sitting watch beside my crib in the dark. I would feel the loving touch of her hand on my back, and in an instant I knew it was safe to fall back to sleep under her protective gaze.

I still compare the memory of my mother’s protection to that of a nurse assigned to my care that week. The various nurses I have encountered throughout my life have been for the most part beautiful, compassionate, and capable women. Their crisp uniforms, cool hands, and clean smells have always had a calming effect on my panicked and creative mind in moments of pain. There have been many moments in which I have imagined agony and death in my immediate future, only to be snatched from the jaws of certain doom by the soothing touch of a nurse.
Except for this particular nurse, that is.

I have no memory of tenderness in this woman. Unlike the other nurses, she never once offered a reassuring smile as she took my blood pressure, never bothered to warm the end of her stethoscope before slapping it to my chest, and not once did she run her fingers through my hair and tell me things were going to be alright. All business and no heart, she remains, in my mind and memory, a spinster in every sense of the word, complete with dark purple veins running down the length of hercold and bony hands, greying hair pulled tightly into a bun on the back of her head, and a wart on the end of her crooked nose. This may not have been the case, and she may have in fact been a physically beautiful woman, but her negative attitude, impatient manner, and bossy way of being are made manifest in the ugly rendering of her physical appearance in my mind. She was in no way kind and endearing, and in her presence I was that much more grateful for my mother’s love and protection.

Once the surgery was completed and my recovery had begun, the doctor made it clear that I could not be released from the hospital until I had successfully relieved my bladder of my own accord, into the toilet, witnessed and signed off by a nurse.

It would not be the last time I spent a few compromising minutes in the presence of a medical professional, but it was perhaps the most rewarding, especially in many retellings over the years by my mother.

Groggy from pain medication and weak from the entire ordeal, I stood in front of the toilet on rubbery legs. My mother stood to my right, her hands at the ready to catch me should I fall, to comfort me should I fail. The spinster stepped between the toilet and the wall, directly to my left.

“You should move, he pees to the left,” my mother warned.

“I don’t need your advice on how to do my job,” the nurse huffed.

I wobbled between good and evil, my eyes heavy, my little mind lost in the ether.

“I’ve been watching kids pee for years; I know what I’m doing,” the ugly woman declared.

“Not this kid; I’ve been watching him pee for four years, and I can tell you that your shoes are about to get wet,” my mother countered.

“I’ve never been peed on once in all my time as a nurse,” the spinster boasted.

A moment later, I ended her dry spell as my bladder let go to the left, all over her shoes.

I’d like to say that I peed on that nurse’s shoes out of love for my mother, to thank her for all those comforting hours spent at my side. The more probable truth, however, is that as a heavily drugged four year old that had always peed to the left, I just didn’t have the control necessary to avoid peeing on her.

But I haven’t peed on anyone’s shoes since...

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Sex Sellout

A billionaire dinosaur forced a strapping young man with oiled pectorals to become gay, and as a side effect I have decided to become a best-selling author of adverb-laden erotica.

 I love it when the page beckons, but it doesn’t happen often enough to make me a millionaire. My hope is that this has more to do with commitment than talent, and that the more I sit myself down in front of the writing machine, the more material (and therefore money) I will produce. The trouble is, however, that I write about things that strike me, topics that mean something, and moments that should matter as much to the world as they do to me, but don’t.

I must be as out of touch as my children sometimes think I am. Not only do I like corduroys and listen to singer songwriters that can write and sing and play music without auto-tuning, I can't tell you whether a yellow circle emoticon with closed eyes and tears denotes laughing or crying. But worse than all of that, I am also clueless about what matters to the world, and what people living in it want to read. The human condition has in fact, nothing to do with family struggles, personal insecurities, falling in love, winning or losing at life, and toilet paper. No, it’s all about shallow, musky, animalistic rutting...and that’s what sells books.

Hunter Fox learned this while still at UCLA, and has self-published more than fifty novels based on the concept of dinosaurs, unicorns, and just about every character you might find in Tolkien, turning men gay. His titles read like something out of Mad Magazine in the eighties, if Mad Magazine in the eighties had been as dirty as every boy that read it had wanted it to be, and if every boy that read it had wanted to be turned gay by mythical creatures. There’s even a saber-toothed tiger (not mythical) thrown onto the title pile for good measure, while my favorite title includes an alien hound, whatever that might be.

I checked the Amazon rankings for Mr. Fox’s books, and while the Amazon ranking system is not a clear indicator of sales and income, there is no doubt that this guy is making money at this. Sure, the titles are funny and bizarre, and if you belonged to a fraternity (shudder) or were homophobic (shudder) you might give one to a buddy as a “joke” gift, but does anyone read these books all the way through, and without laughing?

No, I can’t go out tonight, guys, I just downloaded “Dark Pegasus Made Me Gay” to my Kindle, and I can’t wait to snuggle up in front of the fire with a cup of cocoa and get started on it!

And lest anyone that is straight think that their attraction to the opposite sex affords them a lofty look down their nose at the smut preferred by some LGBT readers, I’ll mention Fifty Shades of Grey, Twilight, anything written by Danielle Steel, and the complete Harlequin Romance collection. All of them relative smut when it comes down to it, all of them laden with adverbs and descriptors that can’t be read without imagining heavy breathing and the popping of bodice buttons, all of them selling millions of copies. And those are just a few of the mainstream mentionables; many authors have made small fortunes by churning out series of formulaic filth that no one has heard of, or at least will admit to hearing of.

A bad day of writing at home beats a good day inside the corporate grist mill, and while I would be happy just making a comfortable, anonymous living by writing, I can admit that a part of me would not reject a sellout opportunity to become an international sensation, churning entire forests into pulp and putting endangered owls into owl retirement homes. I sometimes wonder, however, can that happen writing short stories about moments that matter? Should I sex up the telling of my best friend and me boiling our own urine on his mother’s kitchen stove to make gunpowder, just to land on the bestseller list and extricate myself from corporate America for good? Maybe some sexually frustrated neighbor girls stopped by to borrow the very pot we pissed into, and maybe the oven glove that I used to pull the pot of the stove caught fire, and the girls ripped off their shirts in order to smother the flames and save my life, and in doing so they ignited the lusty pressure keg of passion trembling within a sinewy, pale-skinned, virginal teenage boy.

It could have happened that way. No wait, it did happen that way, I swear...

Elizabeth and I joke about me becoming an erotica writer all the time. We imagine book titles, all of them weighted with innuendo and vice, taboo titles that suggest sensual struggles between wealth and poverty, daring and innocence, pleasure and pain. These titles lead to a discussion of racy cover photos, glossy images of men with naked, oiled, capable chests taking tragic women with bulging breasts and desperate eyes into their arms for lessons in lust while holding uncomfortable, even physically impossible poses sure to bring about deep vein thrombosis.

And I know what I'm talking about; I used to spend hours hiding in my aunt's basement thumbing through her romance novel collection, drinking in lusty covers, wondering at racy titles, and reading about heated embraces and throbbing passions. All of it made me feel funny inside, but I didn't completely understand why.

Well I understand now, and I think it's time to cash in on that realization.

Of course, in order to write erotica, I will need to choose an appropriate pseudonym, something like Dick Foxhunter or Richard Stonewood. Being a righteous family man that has never once let a lustful thought linger, and has worked for years to earn an untarnished reputation for knightly valor and virtuous gallantry, I would not want to risk the public knowing that I earn my stacks writing such filthy books.

Especially those members of the public that are my friends and family, more specifically the ones who would secretly not only read my dirty books, but also dog-ear their favorite pages.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

White Lemonade

It’s been a wild month. When I posted Paradise Found and Lost, I had no idea that it would spark a winter wildfire of love, support, and giving. The piece was originally intended as a “for your eyes only” essay to be shared with the writers group to which I belong, and nothing more. After some contemplation, hesitation, and even trepidation, I decided to post it online, much to the dismay of Elizabeth, my wife. She is not a fan of the spotlight.


Soon after the essay went live, offers to stand vigil in our yard popped up in the form of messages, comments, and emails. Cookies, cupcakes, and neighbors began appearing on our front porch, and text messages from numbers I didn’t recognize vowing support and love began to drain my phone’s battery. My father-in-law took me to lunch (just the two of us, for the first time ever) and shared with me his own experience with harassment, and offered his absolute support for my family. It felt good to be cared for by so many, and I was confident that my essay would have a lasting impact on the state of our trees, yard, windows, and heart.

We were papered a week later, and it was maddening. I felt like a fool for having believed that our paradise could be so easily restored. The following day passed in anger, and I struggled to believe that everything we had moved to Oakley for hadn’t slipped through our fingers forever. The bitterness began to consume me, and I welcomed it, in spite of knowing from past experience what it would do to me.

And then remembered the example of a man named Joe, whose son Jadin killed himself after being bullied. Joe had every understandable right to lash out, seek revenge, and allow bitterness to corrode his soul. Instead, Joe decided to take the high road (literally), and he began walking across the country to raise awareness of bullying and its effects on others. Along the way he told Jadin’s story to anyone who would listen. Many people did, and Joe changed, even saved lives.

Joe died while walking his way onto my short list of heroes; he was struck and killed on the side of the road in Colorado.

The example of Joe turning something far more bitter than lemons into sweet and inspiring lemonade smacked me in the chest in a way that very few things do, and I felt compelled to decide how I would react to what we had been going through. An idea evolved, and I invited the people of the Kamas Valley to bring toilet paper into our home and get to know us.

1,135 rolls (and counting) later, I’m still working to become more like Joe.

The rolls (and puns) began piling up beneath our Christmas tree, and before long we had enough for Solomon (12) to stack up in doorways, block hallways, and build little forts in the living room. It was fun, it was encouraging, and it was progress. My heart started to soften again, and I found myself looking out our back windows and loving the view again. Every time the doorbell rang, my wife and kids would look at me and say, “that’s for you,” as if they thought it foolhardy of me to invite strangers bearing toilet paper into our home. Before long, however, they too began to anticipate the ringing of the doorbell, the additions to the growing pile, and the strangers that would become friends.

Paper began arriving from around the country. Old friends from past lives and neighborhoods could not help themselves, and they sent their love and support along with rolls and rolls of the white stuff. Much to my surprise, people we didn’t even know drove through stormy weather (some more than once and from far away) to add to our pile of white lemonade.

That sweet, soft, massive pile of white will soon be gone, delivered to the Kamas Food Bank and distributed to those in need, but the sweet, soft, massive pile of support, service, and love will never leave, it will stay with my family forever. To thank those who gave is not enough; I will try to live my thanks in who I am and how I serve others following their example.

In addition to the paper contributions, we were blessed over the course of the 12 days leading up to Christmas with 24 days of gifts from two anonymous Santas. Each day we would wake to find some something special on our front step, and a separate daily scavenger hunt kept us wandering about town in search of the next gift and clue. Both Santas (and their helpers) made sure to include reminders that we were not only loved by, but also needed in the valley. Santas, you know who you are, and we are forever grateful for your kindness and love.

Elizabeth and I decided that we would not exchange gifts for Christmas this year. (She broke the rules and bought me some skis, and so I actually used them, which was for her a delightful gift in return.) At first I thought our decision to forgo giving each other gifts was a sign of us getting older and less interested in the magic of Christmas, but I now believe that it was more a sign that we are starting to figure out how this whole Christmas thing works, and what it is all about.

You have all had a hand in that.

And so I extend again my thanks to the good people of not only the Kamas Valley but the world who gave, supported, reached out, cared, and shared.

Because of you it truly has been a Merry, white, (and punny) Christmas.

For more information about Joe and Jadin, see