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.

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…

The Secret

A secret arrived at my door a couple of days ago…wrapped in plain brown paper.

I shouldn’t say “a secret.” I should say “The Secret.”

I don’t remember how I discovered The Secret. It was several years ago, in the midst of one of those deep valleys in life that one must traverse from time to time.

It matters not, for The Secret is one of the truest laws that I have ever experienced.

Boiling it down to its essence, The Secret delivers the deepest desires of your soul to you. The things/people/experiences that you hunger for – if you put enough intention and energy behind your desire, you will receive it.

The longer I live, the truer The Secret proves itself to be.

Allow me to give you a few examples of my own:

As any of you that know/read me, I am a unique breed of cat. Most guys have dream cars, and I was no exception. My divergence from the normal guy “dream car” was pretty extreme. And exceptionally rare.

And not to mention, I was broke. So any rational, intelligent human being would look at the pieces of that particular puzzle and say “Not a chance in Hell…”

It’s a good thing that I am not rational nor intelligent.

And what was my dream car at that time? A hearse. A ’70s Lincoln hearse.

Yeah I know. Freudian analytics could go crazy here.

I was working at a funeral home at the time. One of my co-workers told me about a friend of his that collected professional cars (which are hearses, ambulances and limousines in case you wanted to know) and he had his cars on this new-fangled thingy called a website.

I scrolled through the pictures on painfully slow dial-up internet (you remember that, don’t you?) The third or fourth car on the list jumped of the screen and slapped me like a pimp.

1979 AHA Lincoln Hearse. Ahhh…masturbatory material for the demented.

There he was. Midnight Blue. Damn near 30 feet long. Glorious louvered headlight covers that were the trademark of that era Lincoln.

And close. Oh so close that I could touch it.

Later, in the afterglow, I spoke with my co-worker and thanked him for telling me about the website. I confessed my forbidden love of the Lincoln. He laughed.

And unbeknownst to me, he called the owner of that car. He inquired about his interest in parting with same. And then he came over to my desk with a folded piece of paper.

“He’ll sell it to you if you are interested. The price is on the paper.”

Thanks, but this broke-ass boy can’t afford the thought, much less the car. He shrugged and said, well if you change you mind, the price and his cell number is on the paper.

Curiosity got the better of me. How many ducats would this majestic chariot require? I looked at the paper.

I was shocked. I put it back down on my desk.

I picked it up and looked at it again. My mind tried to wrap around the amount and how he could justify it.

Written on the paper: 0

and a phone number.

For 2 and a half years I owned my dream car. I sold it to get a down payment together for my house.

But it was okay with me. I had it. Drove it. Showed it off. The mission was accomplished.

Another example: my previous job. The years 2010 and 2011 pretty well sucked for employment. I left a job that was going to cause me to stroke out. I was pretty sure that I was on the fast track to being shit-canned so I made the decision to leave on my own and not have to do the “all the crap from my office hastily thrown in a bankers box” walk of shame.

Job hunting was dismal. I drove a taxi (ohh so many stories during that brief stint). And then, for safety and sanity’s sake, I got a job working from home for a rental car company doing reservations.

Oy vey. I have never hated a job more in my life. The profound stupidity and rudeness that I encountered on a daily basis almost drove me to drink and/or lose whatever little religion I have left in me.

I dreamt of getting a phone call. With a fabulous job offer. That would take me to new and exciting places. Oh yeah, and make a lot of money.

I posted a bitchy remark on Facebook about a job that didn’t pan out. Just venting. A Facebook message from a friend arrived soon after. And then an email.

And then, the phone call.

It was a Friday. The good man on the other end of the line said “I need a date that you fly down here to meet me.” I picked the following Thursday. With a bounce in my step, I strolled through the airport, got my shoes shined and tipped well. Drank a beer or two. Flew to Phoenix. Interviewed. Had to call off from my reservations job with the wonderful excuse “sorry, I am in Phoenix and won’t be back until tonight.”

The phone chat I had with my reservations manager (an extremely good guy) the next day was also wonderfully awkward.

“So you were in “Phoenix” yesterday, ehh?” I could tell he wasn’t sure of it’s truthfulness.

“Yep, I was.” For what, he asked.

“A job interview.” A pregnant pause on his end. And then a long conversation about life goals and dreams.

I got the job. Flew to Phoenix to train. Nothing has ever felt so good as my flight there and back. On the way back, I bumped myself up to First Class (best $50 I ever spent) to celebrate.

I had that job for about a year.

A final example of The Secret in action. I was really needing money. The holidays were coming up and so were the bills.

If only I had about 10 grand. That would take care of a lot and maybe give myself some breathing room to write.

I fixated on that amount. I had no thoughts of where the money would come from, or why or how. I just had that figure in my head. For a couple of months. I said nothing to anyone.

Just before Thanksgiving, I received a most unexpected gift. A check.

The amount? 10,000.

It led to one of the best holiday seasons that I had ever had.

I have other examples of The Secret manifesting itself in my life, but I won’t bore you with them here.

My gift to you this holiday season is this: You can fail or lose what you don’t want, so you might as well dwell on and ask for what you do want. And allow the Universe time to deliver your request. (A paraphrase from Jim Carrey’s Commencement Speech at Maharishi University. Youtube it.)

My current employer was the vehicle with which the Universe decided to remind me of The Secret. I had forgotten it here of late, wallowing instead in self-pity and self-loathing.

I am living proof that you don’t need to do or be anything special for your dreams to come true.

You just need to be you. Focus on what you want. Be purposeful, intentional and most importantly be grateful.

That is The Secret. My payment to the Universe was to share it with you.

To end this, here is quote from The Secret:

“Creation is always happening. Every time an individual has a thought, or a prolonged chronic way of thinking, they’re in the creation process. Something is going to manifest out of those thoughts. What you are thinking now is creating your future life. You create your life with your thoughts. Because you are always thinking, you are always creating. What you think about the most or focus on the most, is what will appear as your life. Like all the laws of nature, there is utter perfection in this law. You create your life. Whatever you sow, you reap! Your thoughts are seeds, and the harvest you reap will depend on the seeds you plant. If you are complaining, the law of attraction will powerfully bring into your life more situations for you to complain about. If you are listening to someone else complain and focusing on that, sympathizing with them, agreeing with them, in that moment, you are attracting more situations to yourself to complain about. The law is simply reflecting and giving back to you exactly what you are focusing on with your thoughts. With this powerful knowledge, you can completely change every circumstance and event in your entire life, by changing the way you think.”

Spend the waning days of this year thinking about what you want to be different in your life. If you need help, grab a copy of The Secret in either book or movie form. With the right kind of eyes and mind, your life will change.

It’s the dreams that count.

Black Friday

This is a little late, seeing as Black Friday was yesterday.  But the day after Thanksgiving means very little to me in the way of shopping.

But it is forever one of the days in my life that I will never forget.

The funeral home that I worked at didn’t allow us to take the day after Thanksgiving off.  Typically, is was just a very busy day.

But Black Friday 2004 bypassed busy and went right off into the surreal.

It started quiet.  Eerily so.  The morning passed without so much as a phone call.  We all had that sick, uneasy feeling in our guts, knowing that some psychic groin kick was in the works.

I ate my lunch.  We spoke of the quietude, and took bets on what was coming next.

And I never would have guessed it.  Not in a million years.

I went back to the main desk after lunch, the phone rang as I approached.  My colleague grabbed a first call sheet and started scribbling down information.

And so it begins.

He finished with the first sheet and grabbed a second one and started filling it out.  He motioned to me to look at the finished one.  I vaguely recognized the name, but couldn’t place it.  I looked over his shoulder to see him writing the second individual’s name.  The same last name.  A husband and wife.

And then the words “Murder-suicide.”

I racked my brains trying to figure out the name and how I knew them.

I was still pondering that bit when the phone rang again.  The funeral home’s owner answered it.  He came out of his office with an awful look on his face.

“There’s a Chesterfield detective on the phone, and he wants to talk to YOU.”  He gave me a look like “what did you do?”

Hopefully the look I gave him in reply said “I haven’t a fucking clue” because I didn’t.

“This is Lt. So and so from Chesterfield Police.  I am investigating a murder-suicide in our jurisdiction and I have some questions for you.”

He then prattled off questions about how did I know these people; was I aware of what was planned, when did I last speak to them, et cetera.

I answered honestly.  I knew the names but couldn’t place them, and no and I don’t know.

Finally, when he was done questioning me, I asked him why I was being contacted.

His answer:

“Because your name was mentioned in the suicide note.”

Bam.  I couldn’t speak.  I could barely think.  A pure WTF moment if there ever was one.

And apparently, they left several of my business cards laying about.  My cards and the suicide note were the only pieces of paper in the house that hadn’t been shredded or destroyed.

He asked me to let him know if I thought of anything else.  I don’t remember what my response was but I numbly hung up the phone.  My employer looked at me kindly, and asked what was going on, so i told him what I knew.

“Well, that’s a first,” was all he could say.

The rest of the day, I kept trying to remember this couple.  I even went through the stack of thank you cards that I had received from clients to cheer me up when I got low.  I was about three cards into the stack when I saw their names and all came back to me.

They had come in that past summer to buy a wooden display case for the woman’s son from her first marriage who had committed suicide himself earlier.  He was a military veteran, and they wanted to keep as many positive things about him as they could.  I helped them select a flag case and gently placed his flag into it when it arrived.  They thanked me and we all went about our lives.

Until that Black Friday.

The details started to filter through to me during the arrangements with both families.  They had mailed out letters (postmarked Tuesday) to various relatives telling them what they were going to do.  The letters were timed to be delivered after the holiday when it would be too late to stop them.

Concerned relatives called the police after the letters were received, and their decomposing bodies were discovered.

Each family was a challenge.  The husband’s family seemed to believe that I had some prior knowledge and/or was profiting from this situation somehow.  Like I would get a commission based on people mentioning my name to the funeral home or something asinine like that.

The wife’s remaining son and her ex made the arrangements for her.  My main memory of that was my having to run to the bathroom literally every five minutes because I was doing the wonderful pre-colonoscopy “cleanse” and it hit me smack in the middle of the arrangement.

The husband’s brother was insistent on seeing them.  He wouldn’t believe that it was them until he saw them first-hand.  I tried delicately to explain how he really did NOT want to see them in their bloody, decomposed state.  He insisted.  Finally I agreed, but with the warning that he was going to sign a disclaimer and that the viewing was going to take place in our lower garage away from the main building.

“Why?” he asked.

Because of the smell, sir.

That was apparently enough to change his mind.

He insisted on going to the crematory and watching the cremation take place.

I took them together in a companion urn to the cemetery for burial with both families present.  As I left, I felt a tremendous relief.  I was done with that mess.

Or so I thought.

About a year later, I was manning the main desk and took a call from a woman, asking me if her brother’s car was in our parking lot.

I checked the lot and saw none, so I called her back and she informed me that her brother was down the street from us and had called her to tell her that he was coming to our parking lot.

To kill himself.

I quickly advised her to call the police and give them that information and that I would keep my eyes out for his car.

She called back about a half-hour later to see if he had shown up.  He hadn’t (thank you Jesus) and she then informed me that she was the sister of the woman who died with her husband the previous year.  This was their brother she was looking for.

Oh.  My.

I asked her how her nephew (the wife’s remaining son) was coping.  I wasn’t prepared for what she said next.

“Oh, didn’t you hear…”

No I hadn’t.  Apparently he got into an argument with his wife, and in a rage went upstairs, grabbed his shotgun, came back downstairs, stuck the barrel in his mouth and pulled the trigger.  In front of his wife and her teenage daughter.

An entire family.  Wiped out by separate murders/suicides.

I don’t know how to end this, except to say that I think about them every Black Friday.

And for those of you wondering whether this is fact or fiction, there is a reason I didn’t put names in this.  Out of respect to the remaining relatives.

All Hallows

I’m waiting for the sun to rise.  A candle flickering on the table before me, a cigarette burning in my fingers.  The air is crisp and bracing and words are being elusive, so I will unbuckle the ol’ subconscious and allow it free range.  Wind is bothering the leaves, and they hiss in protest.  Scuddy gray clouds promise to steal the October sunshine, keeping that particular autumn gold all to themselves.

I find myself without the usual energy that I have at this time of year, and for today in particular.  I have no theory as to why, no culprit at which to point.  All that I do know is that I am letting my babies sleep, the innocent slumber of childhood that escaped me long ago.  The ghosts and pumpkins will be out in full force later, perhaps their youthful spirits will be contagious…

My usual array of my past funeral-related Halloween experiences ring hollow.  Disembodied voices calling my name late at night when I was “alone” and closing up the funeral home, the floorboard creaks of footsteps upstairs while I, the sole occupant, was downstairs, mysterious “employees” ignoring the doorknocks of the public at the empty funeral home entrance;  none of these stir the usual delicious magic that they ordinarily summon.

I am the Jack-O-Lantern this year, empty and cold, awaiting a candle stub and flame to bring me to life.

Who can help me find the matches?