Stand By Me…

I was fifteen years old when I saw my first dead human being… outside of the sterile environment of a funeral home casket, that is. Just like the slightly younger main character of the movie Stand By Me, which was based on a story by Stephen King.

Due to my profession, I have not only seen but handled hundreds of dead bodies. Young and old. Male and female. Rich and dirt poor. Clean, warm deaths in beds at home with family close and medicated comfort. Cold, nasty deaths with no warning on dirty pavement and fluttering yellow police tape.

In short, I’ve seen a lot.

But you never forget the first. I remember the sights, the smells, the temperature. Everything.

A bit of backstory: As a teen, I was a cadet in the Civil Air Patrol, which is the civilian branch of the Air Force. One of CAP’s main missions is search and rescue. In fact, they run about 90% of domestic aircraft search and rescue operations in the country.

Several times during my time in, I was called away from home in the middle of the night to go find an aircraft that went missing, or chase the ghost of a distress signal from an aircraft’s ELT (emergency locator transmitter).

On my first time out, we found a plane. And a body.

I got the call around 8pm. Our team picked me up and off we went into the hills of Southern Missouri.

We drove up and down backcountry washboard roads chasing the ELT signal with our equipment.

But the damn signals bounce off the hills, diverting us off on several wild ghost hunts.

We drove and searched for about 10 hours, listening carefully for the signal to get stronger or weaker. I had the harsh smell of our search vehicle’s burning clutch stuck in my nose all night.

Just as we thought we might have triangulated the location, the signal would get weak or disappear completely.

You always have the hope that the planes occupants might just be sitting on the ground waiting for you to show up, maybe a little beat up or hurt. I could almost see the relieved look on their faces when they see us walking up.

As we bounced through the dark backroads and one hour vanished into the next, my hope faded.

Just after sunrise, the State Highway Patrol sent up a helicopter to the area that our signals were the strongest. Within an hour, they had located possible debris on a hillside a short distance from where we were searching. The chopper pilot had radioed in the location of a dirt road that would get us to within 100 yards of the site.

We flew down the highway until we found the road. A battered metal trash can lay discarded along the highway. We stopped so we could mark the road for the other teams and rescue personnel. I righted the can and tied my orange safety vest to it. I wasn’t moving as fast as I should have, dreading what was waiting for us down the road. A fellow team member hollered from the vehicle for me to hurry up, that people could be dying.

But I knew, somehow, that there was no grateful pilot waiting for us. I just knew it, but I can’t explain how.

We pulled down as far as we could. We humped our packs down to a clearing and started seeing pieces of metal. Not big pieces, but suitcase-sized.

And then I saw the fuselage with the full accordion treatment. I glanced up at the trees. There was no swath of broken branches or decapitated trees in any direction. So the plane didn’t glide into the trees, it nosedived right into the hillside.

My eyes scoured the terrain, looking for a victim. But I noticed that no one else was looking.

“Does anyone have eyes on the pilot?” I asked.

He’s about three feet to your left, under the fuselage, came the reply.

I had almost kicked him while I was walking past the wreckage. I knelt down in the dirt to look closer.

The impact had folded him up and driven him into the dirt. Only the back of his light blue nylon warmup jacket was visible. And the back of his head and neck. A single dried rivulet of blood had made its way from his hairline down to the jacket.

An instant death for a young pilot, 18 years old, with a freshly-minted pilot’s license that was doubtless somewhere in the mangled mess.

No matter how quickly we would have found him, the end result would have been the same.

And just like that, a life snuffed out like a candle. No more Christmas. No more birthdays. No more dreaming of the love of his life. No more hope for the future.

I was thankful that I didn’t have to see his face.

The next day, I was sitting at the dinner table with my parents, eating and watching the local evening news.

The pilot’s parents were being interviewed. They expressed their disgust at the length of time that it took to find their son’s body. Why wasn’t he found sooner, the mother asked.

I felt both of my parents looking at me, wide-eyed and silent.

I snapped the television knob to off and growled something about them not knowing what the hell they were talking about and how it wouldn’t have made a goddam bit of difference when he was found.

Strong language that I rarely if ever would have used in the presence of my folks.

They said nothing.

I stewed on it for a couple of days and then thankfully, my mind let the anger go.

But the memory remains.

And I am still thankful that I didn’t have to see his face.

A heartfelt apology to you…

When I started this blog last year, I had visions of regaling you with endless tales of whimsy and fascination. I’ve spent the last months trying to wring some worthy fiction from this brain o’ mine. I’ve tried to to force this square peg of a blog into the round hole of my dreams and expectations to no avail.

Apparently my writing roots run deeper in the Charles Bukowski soil than I thought. Somewhere in that ethereal subsurface, the taproot has found tasty vintage in a deep, sometimes melancholic aquifer. Fortunately, the other roots keep feeding me the occasional tale or memory that provides diversion.

It isn’t what I had in mind. I wanted this to be a fun escape, not a baring of souls…

So that seems to be the highway we are hurtling down with occasional trips down the washboard backroads. And now, as Hunter said many years ago, I’ve bought the ticket. I might as well take the ride.

And you’re all coming with me. For that, I apologize. The advantage you have over me is this: you can jump off the train at anytime. I, however, am buckled in tightly with no knowledge of when or where the ride goes but with the belief that I will be gratefully exhilarated when it ends.

A little background to (hopefully) clarify today’s musing:

My own spirituality is a unique hybrid. If your gaze fell upon the shelf that I keep the books that I find the deepest solace and guidance in, you’d see a mix of Buddhist, Christian, Pagan and Native American spirituality.
The man-made elements of religion have done more to drive me away than to draw me closer to God. As a result, I’ve pushed myself further into seeking wisdom down different paths. In my spiritual travels, I’ve learned to note things such as today: the Vernal Equinox, combined with a New Moon and an eclipse.
My Druidic forebears would have seen great significance in this, and would have altered their usual rituals accordingly.

My own ritual? I will light a candle to mark the equinox and put my intention out there to keep writing and belief for it to grow, just as the farmer pushes the pumpkin seed into the cold spring soil in the belief that a strong healthy, fruitful vine will come forth even though he has no idea which direction the plant will go.

So today I will do a little equinox dance for you. I intend that the magnified power of today’s welcoming of the growing season will feed and sustain this virtual, verbal garden that I tend here. I will shed the doldrums and sluggishness of my Winter’s hibernation and keep priming the pump with these posts until it fills up and allows words to start flowing into a longer stream.

And I encourage you to the same in your life. Whatever it is that has been your passion and desire to do, and you have been sitting there waiting for the light to change from red to green, I encourage you to put more pressure on the gas pedal. As I have said before, my line of work reminds me daily of the short and unpredictable nature of this life. The power of today’s equinox also signals a change for your own growth. It is a sign for you to make the first move.

Take action. Till the soil. Turn last year’s regrets and hesitation under the earth to compost and fertilize this year’s adventures. The sun will warm the ground for you and the rains will fall to nourish whatever it is you should choose to plant.

Plant something and take care of it. An untended dream is like an unkept garden. If you just stick something and leave it to its own, it will most likely fall victim to pests and decay. The fruit will be bitter or rotten before you have a chance to enjoy it.

And that, dear reader, is a plain waste of your life and dreams. I will close this with some great motivation from “The War of Art” by Steven Pressfield.

“Are you a born writer? Were you put on earth to be a painter, a scientist, an apostle of peace? In the end the question can only be answered by action.

Do it or don’t do it.

It may help to think of it this way. If you were meant to cure cancer or write a symphony or crack cold fusion and you don’t do it, you not only hurt yourself, even destroy yourself,. You hurt your children. You hurt me. You hurt the planet.

You shame the angels who watch over you and you spite the Almighty, who created you and only you with your unique gifts, for the sole purpose of nudging the human race one millimeter farther along its path back to God.

Creative work is not a selfish act or a bid for attention on the part of the actor. It’s a gift to the world and every being in it. Don’t cheat us of your contribution. Give us what you’ve got.”

See you down the trail.

The Demon Why

Yesterday, I read an amazing blog post by my friend, Don. You can find his blog at donofalltrades.com. Don is a good cop, maybe the best of them. He understands how compassion, kindness and humor can defuse and remedy a lot of the awful situations he faces every day. I admire him and his writing is superb, but I especially admire his ability to do a job that I once thought I wanted but realize that I don’t have what it takes.
His latest post is called “A senseless death” and by reading it, an all-too-familiar demon was summoned.
The demon “Why?”
Through my years as a funeral director, I have had many encounters with clergy of all faiths who have been unable to dispel this particular demon satisfactorily.
He’s a demon that I just can’t seem to shake.
I have one of those jobs that brings things into my life that makes me wrestle with “why” on a regular basis.

*Why does a 6 year old have to take a bullet from some sub-human and die?
*Why did two sons from the same family die a couple of years apart? Both of them under 40. In unrelated circumstances. Why did I have to try and bring comfort to their wonderful, loving parents who hugged me and handled the loss seemingly more at peace than I did?”
*Why did the mother of an 8 year old boy (whose death from cancer stirred emotion from even us weather-beaten old salts) get murdered only a year or so after his death?
*Why did the friends of my parents have to suffer the loss of 2 children? One from suicide and one from a car wreck?
*Why did all the prayers of so many people that were being said from my father’s dying wife have no apparent effect?

For all my conversations with clergy, the common theme seems to be faith.

And forgive the brevity of this post, but I am having a hell of a hard time keeping faith alive when confronted with the demon “why” every day. I don’t know how my friend Don holds it together when he sees even more than I do.

A senseless death…

To any of my followers who have not read this man’s blog, you should. You’ll mostly laugh, but sometimes, like with this post, you’ll want to cry. He’s awesome, our daughters went to school together, and I am proud to call him a friend.

don of all trades

We arrived at the Children’s Hospital Emergency Room at the same time.

He and his partner parked and I pulled up to their left and did the same.

I got out of my car and watched as the officer hurried from his seat and opened the back, driver’s side door.

When the officer grabbed the boy from the back seat of his police Tahoe, I knew almost instantly.

There was a split second though, before instantly I guess, where I didn’t know. For that split second, the officer looked like any dad grabbing his sleeping boy from the car and putting the boy’s head on his shoulder to carry him inside to sleep comfortably in his own bed.

For that split second, it was a sweet moment.

The officer, an around fifty year old white guy, clutched the little boy over his left shoulder gently, but with a clear purpose. The boy was small, a…

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This one’s for the girls…

This will tie in nicely with my previous post, affirming without a doubt my weirdness.

There is a lot of hullaballo about this latest Sports Illustrated Swimsuit issue and the advertisement for “Swimsuits For All.”

Let me go on record as saying that I am an ardent admirer of women. All shapes, all sizes, skin colors, hair colors, etc.

I have preached (to anyone who will listen) that a woman’s beauty, value and sexiness has NOTHING to do with a number on a scale.

Not a damned thing.

Let me tell you a quick story from my teen years: Being a dork, I spent a few weeks one summer at a Journalism Camp. Shocking, I know.
It was co-ed, and my first real unsupervised experience with the opposite sex. Me being me, no supervision was needed. As with the most of my years, the fairer sex pretty well ignored me at this camp. That’s beside the point. I have a memory of an incident at the pool that was my first vivid impression of the unhealthy view that a lot of women have towards themselves. A view that the media and certain male types have conjured up and inflicted upon them.

There were a number of girls at the pool, and one girl (who had a beautiful face and a willowy, model-type figure) came to sit on the edge of the pool. She was wearing a relatively modest one-piece suit, but you could almost physically feel her shame and discomfort. She sat for about ten minutes, and then fled back into the locker room in tears.

Because she had convinced herself in her mind that she was fat/looked fat.

There was another girl who went in to check on her reported that information to us. She was a redhead, lots of freckles and a thicker (but certainly not fat) build then the other girl. And while her face was pleasant enough, she wasn’t in the same class as the girl now weeping in the locker room.

But hot damn, she was so much sexier than the model-type.

I have never been able to put a tangible criteria on sexiness or whatever qualifies someone as sexy in my mind. But I have been fortunate enough to know a good number of sexy women who don’t fall into the archetype from magazines/movies, etc.

I think that it’s mostly due to confidence and attitude. The second girl was very comfortable in her own skin and with her own appearance. The first girl had everything a girl is/was supposed to have (in all the appropriate places, best as I could tell) but lacked that major piece of a belief in her own beauty or sense of self.

I still feel bad for her, and I hope that these many years later that she has come to peace with herself. As I feel bad for any woman who doesn’t believe that she is beautiful. I am amazed at the callousness that exists among other women with remarks like “She doesn’t belong in a bikini” or “Why is she wearing THAT?”

Such drivel. Who gave them the right to decide who is fit to be in a bikini and who is not? I’d like to know, because they deserve a kick in the ass…

That’s why I am SO pleased to see the #Swimsuitsforall campaign in that bastion of potential body-shaming, the Swimsuit Issue.

Ladies, you don’t need my permission to wear what you want during swimsuit season. Or anyone else’s for that matter. Wear whatever makes you feel the way you want to feel.

But it never hurts to hear from another source that you can be sexy. You can wear the swimsuit you desire. You are beautiful. And none of those depend on what your scale said this morning.

That being said, allow me to also say “I get it.” I’m sure that I am not the only guy to feel that way, but men get “fat-shamed” as well.

My own weight has fluctuated hither and yon. I have never felt really good about what my body looks like. Even when I weighed whatever I was supposed to weigh.

I have recently embarked on a exercise plan. Been at it about three weeks. I am cutting back on soda and other unhealthy foods.

All with one goal: this summer I will be frolicking on the beach in Jamaica. And I want to feel okay with being on the beach with my shirt off. I know that I won’t look like Jax Teller or Matt McConaughey, but I want to feel okay.

Just okay. Maybe sexy if I am REALLY lucky. (Or really drunk!)

Out of respect for your breakfast, I have decided not to post any “Before” selfie. But if I feel okay, I might post an “After.” I make no promises.

But I do promise this: I am determined to feel better about myself. I am determined to walk on the beach shirtless (it helps that I will be in another country where people who know me won’t be able to see).

And I promise to be an unwavering supporter of women who wear what they want and women who choose to be sexy.

Be who you are. Wear what you want. Be happy. Be confident. Be brave. The sexy will follow.

#nofatshamingofyourselvesallowed

Let your Freak Flag fly!

“When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro.” – Hunter S. Thompson

I am weird.

You all know that. If you’ve read any number of the posts here, you’ve already formed that conclusion.

And you would be correct.

My entire life has felt like being the one small piece of a very large puzzle that doesn’t fit in anywhere. No matter how hard or how many times I try.

My personal brand of weirdness reminds me of its existence regularly. For example, while going through an unmarked manila file folder in my desk, I found several examples which make me wonder about myself sometimes.

A copy of Wyatt Earp’s death certificate. Sam Kinison’s autopsy report and funeral bill. A handbill detailing Doc Holliday’s funeral service (most likely fake, but bitchin’ nonetheless).

As if my dream car (mentioned in the post titled “The Secret”) wasn’t proof enough. Nor my unconventional occupations that I’ve enjoyed.

And now, I have a weird kid.

I love him more that I ever thought I would love a child. He is a wonderful, loving, tender-hearted little guy. He’s a Mini-Me (I raise my pinky to my lip in my best Dr. Evil imitation).

And he’s weird. Exasperatingly so.

As a dad who was a weird kid and who knows the pain that can be inflicted on weird kids from so-called “normal” kids, I want to spare him from that if at all possible.

I’m not sure that I can. And after a little chat that he and I had a short time ago, I’m not sure that I want to.

In my quest to father this lad, I spend a few minutes of almost every evening lying next to him before he goes to bed and we talk about whatever is on his little mind.

This particular evening, I was questioning him on the necessity of his stuffed animals in his room. I swept my arm across the room in a grand gesture.

“Aren’t you getting a little old for these?”

“No Dad. I like them.”

I protested. And he floored me with a simple sentence.

“Dad,” he said softly. “I’m just different. I’m not like other kids.”

And my heart broke just a little. Because I knew exactly what he was speaking of.

He and I had a very serious conversation back in the fall, during a Dad/son day trip to some nerdy destination that we were both excited about.

He was very quiet during the ride. He usually never shuts up.

He confided in me that kids at school were mean to him. Just for being himself.

And then he stuck a verbal dagger in me by saying:

“Sometimes, I think that God made me a mistake.” And he wept.

I parked the car and held him while he cried. Fresh in my mind was the family of a young man who must have had similar feelings about himself, just before he stepped in front of an 18-wheeler on the highway.

His words hit home. Hard.

I never, ever want my son to feel this way. I have spent way too much time feeling the same way myself. As a weird adult, I’ve made peace with the fact that I will never have a lot of people who get me or want to hang out with me. (It took me a long time to do so.) As a single guy, women never wanted anything to do with me (or so it seemed. Lucky for me I found an attractive wife who has weird taste in men.) And my god, did it ever suck being an un-athletic kid at a sports-crazed high school. Seeing my son already start to experience this kind of rejection makes me worry about what difficult days may come in his future.

When he finished crying and gathered himself, I tried to make a very clear point to him. I needed to let him know that it was okay to be different. That he was still a human being worthy of love and life.

So I told that I loved him. That I would always love him, no matter if he was weird or not. As long as he was a good person, I would love him as long as there was breath in my body and blood in my veins. And that his mom felt the same. And as long as you have people who love you, no matter if it is one or one hundred, then you have a reason to keep living and enjoying your life.

I wished I would have heard those words when I was growing up. Even though I am sure the sentiment and feelings were there, it sure would have helped to here the words on those darker days.

Back to the night of the Great Stuffed Animal Debate, I decided that I need to let him be him. That he needs to be himself. I will counsel and advise him if asked to, but I will not force him to be something that he is not. And if my memory serves me, being like the “normal” kids isn’t an improvement.

I consider it a courtesy to him, from one weird kid to another. A courtesy that I extend to any of you out there who might fall into the same abyss with he and I. I’m always glad to hear from my fellow Weird. It’s okay to be different. As long as one person loves you for who you are, keep living and keep loving.

We’re here. We’re weird. Let your freak flag fly. Let it fly!

Taxicab Confidential Part Deux: An indecent proposal…oh, and cocaine

When one grows up in the ‘burbs, you tend to be sheltered from the seedy, murkier parts of life. As I’ve grown older, not only have I seen firsthand those parts of life but I’ve been a part of them a time or two.

We’re all big people here, right? Can you handle a little rawness? I certainly hope so. If not, feel free to click out of this and go find some cute kitten videos on YouTube. Please. No hard feelings if you do.

The sex industry in St. Louis is alive and well, I am happy to report.

I had the pleasure of safely and professionally chauffeuring some lovely women to work at the Gentlemen’s establishments on the East Side.

On more than one occasion, I transported working girls to and from their “date’s” hotel.

They were mostly friendly and polite. And great tippers.

Ya hear that men? Don’t be stingy with the tips for the ladies, because they treat other tipped employees right.

I remember quite vividly one working girl. Fresh-faced. Girl-next-door. Right down to the freckles on her nose. I was picking her up at a hotel and she sort of dropped herself onto the backseat.

Bad night? I asked.

“Stupid Craigslist johns.” Was all she said.

We drove in silence for a while. She asked if she could smoke in the car. Technically we weren’t supposed to let them, but I told her to go ahead and make sure the window was cracked a bit for some fresh air.

Hopefully your next gig will be better. I purposely left the comment open and non-judgmental.

She proceeded to tell me that she had a kid at home with her parents. She had a couple of dates lined up for the next day. She only worked Friday, Saturday and Sunday. She made enough cash (usually) that made a straight job’s paycheck pale. The rest of her week was devoted to her kid.

I admired her for that. Keeping her toddler in diapers and food and a roof over their head. That’s real life, folks. You do what you have to in this world to make it work.

I kidded with her, telling her that her job sounded a lot better than mine, and more fun. But nobody would pay a middle-aged fat guy for that kind of service.

You’re not THAT fat, she chided me. And believe me, I know several women who would pay for a No-Strings night with a funny, clean, non-psycho guy without worrying about her hair, makeup etc.

I laughed and told her I would call her when I decided to switch careers.

But dammit, I never got her number.

A week or so later, I picked up one of my regulars from a dive bar in SoCo. She was a good customer. She was a decent-looking, chubby redhead. Recently broken up. She was whining about the lack of decent men there that night (personally, I wouldn’t look for decent ANYTHING at this bar, but I digress) and how she really needed to get laid.

Then inspiration apparently struck her. She was toasted, but managed to get herself into a forward sitting position (the better to display her cleavage with) and asked:

So how’s your night going? Busy?

I allowed that it was pretty slow.

How much would you charge?

For??? (I’m good at playing dumb)

A drunken grin. “A little fun.”

Have you ever had that hot drop of fear in your stomach? When a little flirt just turned on you and now you had your hands full? Yeah. That was this.

I played it off.

Sweetie, if you are gonna pay for it, you should at least get a young, good-looking guy with six pack abs who can go all night.

Yeah, she said. And he’ll knock me in the head and steal my shit. C’mon. I’ll give you 50.

50. I wasn’t sure if I should be grateful or insulted. But on nights when taxi calls are sparse and you are staring down the end of 12 hours behind the wheel with no money in your pocket, 50 means the difference between making money or being in the red.

I thought about it. Briefly. But my wife might frown on my being a paid sex toy for drunken females. Call it a hunch.

As I walked her to her door (she couldn’t have walked there on her own) I told her no, and that she would thank me for it the next time.

But there were plenty of no/slow business nights that might make a man re-consider.

The next time I drove her, I detected just a little bit of embarrassment. I joked with her just like nothing had happened. Because really nothing did. She seemed relieved. She didn’t thank me verbally, but I’m sure she did in her mind.

One of the last days that I drove, I picked up a stunning dark-skinned young woman in a barely there painted-on mini-dress.

Did I saw stunning? I mean red. frickin’. hot. Hot enough to make even the most die-hard Klansman want to jump ship and hang up the mask.

Sunday afternoon. 2pm. She is still baked from partying all night. I don’t mind. The scenery was nice.

She purred. Baby, how much this ride gonna cost me?

I promised not to charge her a cent more than the meter said.

She hiked up her skirt. “Do you think we can work something out now?”

I told her that she was looking at a 35 or 40 dollar ride. I’d max it at forty, so she didn’t have to worry about it.

She pulled the skirt back down to a more modest range. But modesty in a mini-dress is relative. She was still showing more than most women would be comfortable with.

Thanks baby, she said. Let me give your tip now.

Up from between the seats comes her elegantly curved pinky nail. With an amazingly large pile of cocaine on it.

A fatty bump, just for you baby. And a little extra. Eyes and smile big. A generous dusting of white powder on her exposed chest (probably not accidental).

Now, there’s no bigger fan of hot women than I, but I was fairly sure that taking cocaine from this gorgeous creature was covered in some sub-paragraph of the famous mother admonition of not taking candy from strangers.

I decline politely. Naw, baby. I’m cool. You go ahead and enjoy.

She was shocked. “I only buy the best shit, baby. This is good shit.”

I’m sure it is, baby. You got a good thing going. Enjoy.

So she did. And then her nose started pouring snot. And the emotional trainwreck of her life screeched into the station.

A hell-broth of tears, mucus and makeup quickly converted her face from stone fox to hot mess in a matter of minutes.

I dropped her off at the motel by the airport. You see this motel on the news from time to time.

A beautiful disaster. Staggering on stilettos into a weekly-rate motel. Looking like a bad mugshot come to life.

A fine way to wrap up my cabdriving career.

Taxicab Confidential aka The Devil in the Backseat

Babes, barf, bullets…

3 words that summarize the gig of taxi driving.

Some of you know that a few years ago (during a mini-retirement) I was in need of income, and the best laid plans that I had amounted to diddly. Jobs were damn hard to come by, so I sucked it up and got behind the wheel of Taxi #638 for 9 months or so…

And my oh my, it was a crazy, dirty, dangerous job (that I also had more fun doing then by rights I should have).

A few of those days stand out more than others. The New Year’s Eve that I spent driving #638 was the night I made the most money ever.

It was also the night I almost died.

But I jump ahead: here are a few of the highs and lows of hurtling towards mayhem behind the wheel on St. Louis’ streets.

1- The Devil in the Backseat

“I’m not the Devil, dude.”

Aw fuck, no good conversation EVER starts with that sentence. I picked him up at the South County Mall. His destination was unclear. Bad sign #1.

He talked to himself. A lot. And screamed. And cursed.

When I asked him where he was headed, he hemmed and hawed and had trouble forming a coherent sentence.

Drugs, I thought. Or just mentally ill.

Call me a bad person, but I really didn’t give a shit. After 2 minutes, I was ready to throw the crazy sonuvabitch out on Lemay Ferry and take the hit from the dispatchers.

I finally understood that he wanted food first. He directed me to the QuikTrip and got out to get a couple of hot dogs. Or so he said.

He actually just stood inside the door at QuikTrip and stared at me.

There are moments in life when one wishes that they had ready access to a gun. Or mace. Or Chinese throwing stars. This would have been one of those times.

He came out empty-handed and just sat in the back seat. Silent. Brooding.

Where to next?

He tried to tell me that he wanted to go to a hotel in an area where I knew there were no hotels.

It was at that point I knew that he was up to something. Fortunately, I was the one driving. I cranked up that old bad-ass Police Interceptor and screeched out onto Lindbergh. I pulled in to the lot of that crappy Motel 6 that used be there (Now thankfully demolished) and said,

“Ride’s over. Get out.”

He argued. I told him to get the fuck out on his own or I would come get his ass out myself. And he’d be staying overnight in the hospital instead of a cut-rate dive motel.

He looked at me and I stared right back into his eyes with the scariest look I could muster, even though my innards felt like jelly.

He got out and then tried to get back in so I laid some rubber down on that parking lot. Time to call it a night.

2 – Talisha

The area public schools have to provide transportation to certain types of students. There aren’t enough buses to do this so taxis do a lot of school runs. Some are fairly lucrative tickets and some aren’t. Talisha was a $8 fare that I grabbed every chance I could, even if it meant missing a higher paying trip.

She was a sweet, beautiful 7 year old with brown skin and dark eyes. I had to go into the school to pick her up and sign her out, and I always walked her to her grandma’s apartment door. She would hold my hand and skip down the school hall. I would tie her shoes for her and carry her books. She would make things for me at school: paper snowflakes, crayon drawings. We’d talk about her day on the short ride home. She’d tell about the things that her mom and grandma were up to. (I had given multiple rides to both over the months and we knew each other by name).

One day she was sad. It was “Wear your pajamas to school day” but she told me that she didn’t have any “bajammies” so she didn’t get to participate. That broke my heart. I wish I would have known about it the day before, because I would have bought some for her.

Of all the people I met driving, I miss her the most, and hope that she is doing well. I hope that she finally had some bajammies to wear to school on Pajama Day. Love you, T!

3 – For Auld Lang… holy shit, what was that?”

New Year’s Eve was drunk with the promise of lots of cash and lots of drunks. I had a core group of regulars who called upon me to guarantee them a safe ride that night. I started about 4pm and I knew that I’d be lucky to be home by 4am. I was all over town. Brentwood to Downtown. Webster to the West End. Affton to the Ritz-Carlton. Lots of sharp-dressed folks ready to get their party on.

The a slow spell. I started picking up fares from dispatch and I drew a short run in South St. Louis. State street to state street. As you STL folks know, the state streets can be kinda sketchy. I picked up a nice young woman and she told me her destination. I believe it was on Oregon Street at a dead end. It was about 9:30pm.

I pulled up in front of her building and as she was paying me

WHUMP!

It sounded like somebody threw a chunk of asphalt at the car.

Her eyes were big. “Where they shootin’ from?” she asked.

I told that I thought it was just a kid throwing rocks. “Naw, they shootin'” she said again.

Foolish or not, I decided to get out and make sure that the young lady got in her door safely. I opened the door and glanced across the roof of the car. A fresh, shiny divot in the steel showed me exactly where the bullet hit. 2 inches to the left and an inch or two down and that sucker would have been in the back of my head.

I got her to the door and ran back to the car.

All right, assholes, if you want a second shot, it is going to be at a fast-moving target. I cranked 638 around back in the direction that the bullet came from (dead end street, remember) and romped on it. The beautiful thing about police model Crown Vics is that even with a 120,000 miles on them, they can still flat out burn up the street.

I roared through the streets and didn’t stop until I was a few miles away. I pulled into a mini-mart and calmed my nerves by watching drunks stagger in and out, with one occasionally displaying what they had most recently enjoyed eating by spray-puking in front of my car. I came within a hair of calling the cab company, telling them where the bastard would be parked and that they could come and get it, that I was done. Instead I drove home, took an hour break and dropped off a lot of cash. And I hit the streets back around 11. I wisely decided not to tell my wife about the bullet until the next day.

Friends I have more of these to tell, so look for part two. It will involve sexual propositions and cocaine. Those two elements always lead to good experiences.

Happy New Year! Be safe out there.

Corn, water and wood Christmas

Folks, I gotta be honest with you. This whole Christmas thing is not working for me this year. 2014 has not been much of a year of celebration. Our family has lost a lot and most of all my dad lost his wife. He has been like a ship without an anchor ever since.

Every year, it seems to get harder and harder to find the elusive “Christmas Spirit.” I got a temporary reprieve while my kids were little, and seeing their eyes sparkle with the magic that they were starting to wrap their little minds around helped me re-kindle some of those elusive, dormant feelings.

But they are older now, and Santa’s spell was broken last year by a careless comment by a teacher at their school. That did ease a lot of pressure of me, but by the same token it allowed me to embrace my inner Grinch and hate the holiday.

There were times that the majesty of the spiritual element also helped me. The birth of Jesus and the ensuing narrative bolstered my outlook. Now, with the wisdom and cynicism that comes from age and experience, that candle has flickered out.

What’s left? Holiday store displays that show up before Halloween and Christmas music by Thanksgiving gives me plenty of surly ammunition.

I try to douse the fires with the old Christmas movie standbys, but I find myself ready to shiv Ralphie and the rest of his family with a whittled-down fragment of the Leg lamp.

Again I ask, what’s left?

If you’ve ever seen the sort-of-funny-but-forgettable “Scrooged” with Bill Murray, you might not have made it to the end. But the end is the best part, with a Murray soliloquy that redeems the whole flick for me. It goes something like this:

It’s Christmas Eve! It’s… it’s the one night of the year when we all act a little nicer, we… we… we smile a little easier, we… w-w-we… we… we cheer a little more. For a couple of hours out of the whole year, we are the people that we always hoped we would be!

And that’s something I can actually buy into.

For a couple of hours, we are the people we always hoped we would be

And I think about what has really brought me the most true joy in recent years. And that is the idea that in some way I was able to make a positive difference in someone else’s lot in life.

Here’s how:

Back in 2002, I heard of a (now defunct) group called Friends of the Lakota People. It basically connected donors with struggling senior citizens in America’s own Third World, the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. Through that group, I met the man that my family now calls Grandpa Joe. Joe is a Sioux gentleman with whom I have been associated with for 12 years. My wife and I Christmas shopped for him one year, buying blue jeans and work boots (and me tucking a $50 bill in his card to make sure he had some dinner for Christmas). I loved taking that package to the post office and prayed that it would help brighten his holiday in that hopeless, impoverished place. Through the years, my gifts to him have been simpler, usually just having a couple hundred bucks worth of propane delivered to his house to keep his water hot and heaters going a little while longer.

The basics. Which mean so much if you don’t have them.

One of the few Christmas songs that I still actually enjoy listening to is “Corn, Water and Wood” by Michael Martin Murphey. For those of you going “Whut? Who?” MMM is a western music performer noted for his cowboy music compilations and that song is on “Cowboy Christmas – Cowboy Songs 2”. A very sweet and nostalgic album.

Anyway, the song talks of a lonely cowboy working the holiday out on the desert with nothing but aggravation. Then he dreams of 3 dark-skinned men telling him to “give thanks for the corn, water and wood.” Food and water and warmth. The basics.

I take that to heart. While my personal situation may suck, at least I have corn, water and wood. So does my family.

And going back to Mr. Murray, he also mentions that even if you make a homeless person a sandwich and give them an old blanket from your closet, it might be enough for them to consider it a miracle.

I may not have enough money to help Grandpa Joe, but I am still going to call him today and see how he is. He NEVER asks me for anything. I have to extract it from him like teeth. But I will try to scratch together something to help his basics.

If you are reading this, you most likely have your own corn, water and wood. If you find yourself in a similar mindset to myself, instead of wallowing you could make a little miracle happen for someone else. For just a couple of hours, be the person that you always hoped you would be. Give thanks for your corn, water and wood. You might just feel a little Christmas magic of your own.

And my friend, that sho’ does feel fine.

Merry Christmas to all of you. Thank you for reading my words. I appreciate those who take the time to comment. I wish you all the best, and promise to try and keep delivering something worth reading.

Dan

A trip to the Confessional

I have an awesome idea for a post today… a baring of the soul. A laying out of one of the deepest, darkest secrets that I carry.

A trip to the Confessional, if you will.

But I’ve decided that a post of such a nature violates that unwritten society/friendship/spousal rules of the things you can post, and the things you don’t. Because you don’t want to upset/disturb those around you with the stench of your dirty laundry.

What I have decided upon is to ask a favor of you, dear reader.

Believe it or not, YOU play a big part in what it is that I do.

I thrive on the comments that I receive about this blog. It matters not whether they are left here, or posted on Facebook or sent to me privately.

I love them all.

It’s not the ego stroke that I’m after. Don’t get me wrong. I never tire of hearing that I’m a great writer. But those of you who spell out exactly what you love about the posts or those of you that share them with your friends really take me to the next level and make me think more seriously about full-time writing.

I check the stats on this blog every day. It tells me how many visitors and where they came from. (For some mysterious reason, I get a lot of views from South America. Talk about WTF. How do they even know about this?)
Views and visitors make me happy. Comments and messages take me a little closer to Heaven.

So as I climb up on your Santa’s lap, and you ask me what I want for Christmas, I will ask this of you:

Tell me what your favorite post is and why.

Is it the fiction? The Autobiography? The “Faction?”

What is that you love most about the blog? Tell me, and I promise you more of what you love.

And I, in return, promise not to be a selfish lover. I will return the favor by providing you more of what you want. I may even create a special post, just for the best comments to be shared with the commenter. At that point, we together can decide if it should make its way to this electronic page.

Or should we, as they say, leave it in the confessional…