The Man in the Silver Frame

Jen was preparing dinner when her daughter, Ellie, looked up from her coloring book and said, “Mama, when is my little brother getting here?
That caught Jen off guard. “Sweetie, you don’t have a little brother.” Maybe she was playing. Ellie loved to pretend and had numerous imaginary friends.
“But I will, Mama. You have another baby growing in your tummy,” Ellie said. “And, this one’s a boy. Like those other times.”
If Ellie’s question had caught her off guard, this statement nearly floored her. How could Ellie know about her previous pregnancies? She and Rick been scrupulous in not talking about them. But what freaked her out more than Ellie’s knowledge of those earlier pregnancies was the fact that she knew both were boys. That was something they hadn’t shared with anyone, especially not their daughter. As she stood there, dumbfounded, trying to process this information, Jen realized Ellie was watching her, waiting for an answer.
“No, shug,” she replied, shaking her head. “I’m not pregnant.”
“Yes, you are. I can tell.”
“What? How can you tell?”
“I don’t know,” Ellie said. “I just can.”
“Well,” Jen said, “I’m not having another baby. I don’t think I can.”
“Why not?”
Damn. How do I explain this? “It’s complicated, but my body has trouble with that sort of thing.”
“Did you have trouble with me?
Jen smiled. “No, sweetie. You were no trouble at all.”
“But you had trouble with the other ones?”
“Yes,” she said. “Yes, I did.”
“Well, maybe you won’t have trouble with my brother, either.” Ellie went back to her coloring.

Two days later, Jen was waiting in a conference room at Ellie’s school because she’d gotten a call from the administrative assistant asking if she could come down, that there’d been an incident involving her daughter. She’d blown out of the office so fast she’d barely stopped to tell her supervisor where she was going. Fortunately, Karen was a mom herself and let her go without any fuss. She’d been sitting there for what felt like an hour when she saw Ellie and her teacher, Chloe Hamm, come in. The woman settled Ellie in a chair, spoke to the secretary and then stepped into the office.
“Hi Jen. Thanks for getting here so quickly,” Chloe said, sitting down across the table.
Jen raised an eyebrow at that and said, “Well, when the school tells you there was an “incident” involving your kid, you don’t mess around.”
Chloe smiled. “Yes, I guess that’s so.”
“So, is Ellie okay?”
Chloe nodded. “She’s fine.”
“Okay,” Jen said. “So, what happened?”
The other woman took a breath and said, “Bear with me, because this is kind of a long story.” Jen nodded. “When the kids were outside this morning, Ellie and Josie were doing chalk drawings on the sidewalk and Dylan Masters and a couple of other boys walked up. The girls have had a few run ins with Dylan before, but so far it’s just been words.” Jen knew that. More than once, she’d listened to Ellie complain about the boy. Chloe continued, “Josie told me Dylan made a smart remark and drug his foot across their drawing, smudging it. She got angry and stood up to confront him and he pushed her down. Then, he looked at Ellie and said, ‘Got anything to add, runt.’ She said Ellie didn’t say anything, just went back to drawing. After a couple of seconds, he said, “Well, do you?” Josie said Ellie didn’t look up, but she stopped drawing for a second. Then, she told him, ‘No, you’ll be going home in a few minutes and we won’t have to look at your stupid face anymore.’ Dylan looked at her and asked, ‘Why am I going home?’ Josie said she put the chalk down and said, ‘You’re going to fall off the jungle gym and break your arm.’ According to Josie, Dylan called her crazy and he and his friends wandered off. A little later, they were playing on the jungle gym, and Dylan fell off and broke his arm.”
Jen remembered the conversation earlier that week. No. My daughter cannot predict the future. She took a breath to gather herself as Chloe continued.
“Then, things turned a little ugly. Dylan’s friends started calling her a witch. And, several other kids joined in. By the time I got things under control, Ellie was hiding in the bushes, crying.”
Jen’s anger flashed and she almost lost control. But she realized yelling at Chloe wouldn’t fix anything. After steadied herself, she said, “So, what happens now?”
“We called the school counselor and she believes it would be best if Ellie stayed home the rest of the week. You know, let the dust settle.”
“You think that will help?”
“I don’t know,” Chloe said. “But I can’t think of anything else.”

Jen knew she needed to talk to Ellie about what had happened. But the whole thing was so weird, she didn’t know where to start. They’d been home about 30 minutes, when she decided the direct approach was best. She walked into the den where her daughter was watching Paw Patrol. “Ellie, honey?” Ellie looked up. “Are you okay, sweetie?
“Uh huh,” the girl said, never taking her eyes off the television.
“Are you sure? That was a pretty scary thing today.”
“What thing, Mama?” Ellie said, looking up at her.
Jen had thought she was feeling traumatized by what had happened, and her silence was a coping mechanism. But complete denial? That hadn’t occurred to her. “Dylan falling off the jungle gym. Don’t you remember?”
“Oh, that. Yes, I remember.” Then she said, “I’m glad Dylan got hurt. He was mean to Josie.”
Jen was shocked.  Ellie was the most gentle, loving child she’d ever seen. “Ellie! We don’t say things like that.”
“But it’s true, Mama. Dylan is mean to everyone. The man said it was time he got his comeuppsance.” Ellie paused, then said, “What’s that mean, comeuppsance?”
“It’s ‘comeuppance’ and it means a punishment that someone deserves.” Then, she realized what her daughter had just said. “Wait, what man?”
“The man that talked to me after Dylan got hurt,” Ellie said. “I think he’s how I know things are going to happen before they happen.”
“Have you seen him before?”
“I don’t think so,” Ellie said. “But he said he was my friend and he liked helping me.”
“What does he look like?” Maybe it’s a school employee.
Ellie thought for a minute. “He’s tall, with white hair, and dark eyes. And, he wears an old-fashioned suit.”
“An old-fashioned suit?” Jen asked.
“Uh huh.”
“What do you mean?”
“I drew a picture while you were talking to Ms. Hamm.” Ellie dug into her backpack. “Here.”
The man her daughter had drawn bore eerie resemblance to a photo that she had found a week earlier in an antique store that the owner said dated to 1889. She loved antiques and she just couldn’t pass up the photo with its ornate silver frame. But there was no way Ellie could have seen the portrait because she had hidden it after Rick had complained about her spending. She looked the drawing, stunned. No school employee dresses like this. Hell, no one’s dressed like that in a hundred years. Should I call Chloe? And, ask what? If anyone had seen a creepy looking guy from the 1800’s hanging around the playground? She’ll would think I’ve lost it. No, I’ll wait and talk to Rick this evening.

After putting Ellie to bed, she walked into the den where Rick was watching SportsCenter. She sat down beside him, saying, “Honey, something weird happened today.”
“What was that?” he said, muting the TV. She told him about what had happened. When she was done, he said, “Yeah, that is weird.” He shrugged. “It’s probably just a coincidence.”
“Rick, she told him exactly what was going happen. How could that be a coincidence?”
He shrugged. “Power of suggestion?”
“What do you mean, ‘power of suggestion’?”
“You know that imagination of hers. She’s always coming up with weirdly specific stuff. Maybe this time, it predisposed this Dylan kid to fall and break his arm.”
“Seriously, Rick?” she said. “Don’t you think that’s a bit of stretch?”
“More of a stretch than our 6-year-old daughter predicting the future?”
She sighed. “I know it sounds odd.”
“Odd is an understatement,” he said. “Didn’t you say she drew a picture of this guy that spoke to her?”
“Yeah,” she said, handing him the drawing of a tall man with a shock of white hair and piercing black eyes that were very unnerving.
“Jesus, this guy is creepy as hell!” Then, “How could a six year old kid come up with something like this?”
Jen nodded. “It’s worse than you think.” She got up and went to the bedroom, returning with the antique photo. “I bought this last week,” she said, placing it on the coffee table beside Ellie’s drawing.
Rick looked at the two pictures and swallowed hard. “What the fuck?” Jen just looked at him. “Is this the first time she’s done this sort of thing?” he said. “I mean, I haven’t seen anything like this, but you’re with her more than I am.”
“The picture? No. But the other day, she told me that I was going to have another baby. I thought she was pretending. But now? I’m not so sure.”
He shook his head. “Okay, let’s not get carried away. People don’t just start predicting the future. Especially not 6-year-old girls.” He paused. “Not even ones who draw creepy-ass shit like this,” he said, waving the picture.
“Rick, she knew about the miscarriages.”
Rick stared at her. “What? Did she call them ‘miscarriages’?”
Jen shook her head. “No, nothing like that. First, she asked when her baby brother would be here. When I asked what she was talking about, she said I would have another baby and it would be a boy. ‘Like the ones you lost those other times’, she said.”
“Okay, I will grant you that that’s a little freaky. But I still think there’s a logical explanation.”
“Like what, Rick? What ‘logical explanation,’” she said, her hands making air quotes, “could possibly cover this?”
“I don’t know,” he said. “But supernatural bullshit can’t be our go to answer.”
Jen just looked at him for a moment, then headed for the kitchen. “I need a drink.”

The next morning, not long after she woke up, Jen realized she felt…different. She couldn’t put her finger on why, though and she headed downstairs. When she walked into the kitchen, she could smell the coffee Rick had brewed. Normally, she loved that aroma. Not this morning, however. At the first whiff, her stomach did a little flip. She poured herself a cup, took a sip, and threw up in the sink.
“Oh my god,” she said. “I’m pregnant.”
Rick, who had walked in while she retched into the sink, said “What!?”
“I’m pregnant. This is exactly how it was all the other times.”
They both decided to stay home from work that day. In part, because they were freaked out by all that was happening. But also, because they agreed that they needed to find out just what the hell was going on. Rick got dressed and went to Walgreen’s to pick up a pregnancy test while Jen nursed some ginger ale and waited for Ellie to get up. In the interim, she took the test. Positive. Great, Jen thought. My daughter’s a psychic.

At 10 o’clock, when she still hadn’t come down, they went to her room and found her huddled in the corner. Jen knelt beside her. “Honey, what are you doing?”
The fear etched on her daughter’s face when she looked up startled Jen so much, she almost fell over. “Hiding,” Ellie whispered.
“Hiding. From what?” Ellie shook her head. Jen stroked her arm and said “Sweetie, if you don’t tell me, I can’t help you. Now, what are you hiding from?”
“I don’t wanna tell,” Ellie said. “If I do, he’ll hurt me. And, he’ll hurt you, too.”
“Who will?”
“The man,” Ellie said in a voice so low it was barely audible.
Rick sighed and Jen could almost feel his annoyance. “Is he here right now?”
“No,” the girl said. “He left when you came in.” A pause. “He doesn’t like you and Daddy. He says you might make him go away and he likes it here with me.”
Jen looked over her shoulder at Rick with an expression that asked what she should do next. He shrugged and then indicated they should go back downstairs. Jen scooped up her daughter and said, “Nobody’s going to hurt anyone around here, sweetie. Now, let’s get you some breakfast.”

  Later, while Ellie was distracted by a bowl of Froot Loops and Peppa Pig, Jen and Rick discussed what had happened.
“What are we going to do, Rick?” Jen said. “I think we’re way beyond coincidences and imagination.”
Rick shook his head. “No… well, maybe. Shit, I don’t know,” he said.
So, what are we going to do, Rick?”
“Why do we need to do anything?” he said. “You know how she is. Give her a couple of days and it’ll be some other weird thing.”
Jen stared at him. “What the hell is wrong is wrong with you? This is serious. If there’s something wrong with her, I want to know. And, I want to fix it.”
“What, like take her to the doctor or something?”
Jen sighed. “Maybe. Or a therapist.” She paused. “Or, maybe even something supernatural.”
He stood there a minute. “Okay. Whatever you decide, I’ll support.”

            After that, Jen decided she had to get out of the house for little while. She took Ellie and went to Drusilla’s. Dru was a friend from her college days and was what Jen like to call “alternative”. Rick referred to her as “that crazy hippie”. But, a visit with Dru always brightened her day and she needed that right now. Dru also had a goofy black lab that Ellie absolutely adored, and she thought a little animal therapy might be good for the girl. She and Dru sat on the patio, drinking tea and watching Ellie and Max play. “The last few days have been a little crazy,” she said.
“Oh?” said Dru. “What do you mean?”
Jen filled her in all that happened. “And, to top it all off, Rick is being so damn passive about it all. It’s fucking insane, you know?”
Dru frowned. “I do. Especially about Rick. I’m still not sure what you see in him.”
Jen sighed. “Dru, please. I don’t need this.
“Sorry.” Dru sipped her tea. “Do you know what this man looks like?”
“That’s another crazy thing. Ellie drew a picture of him, and he looks just like a man in an antique photo I bought last week,” Jen said. “But there’s no way she could have seen it because I stashed it away after Rick had a shit fit about me spending money.”
“He has a problem with how you spend the money that you earn?” Dru said.
“He kind of had a point. You know how I am with money.” Then, she said, “And, the picture cost $250.”
“So? It’s your money. You should do what you want with it.
Jen glared at her. “Dru.”
“Fine.” Dru thought for a moment. “Did any of this stuff with Ellie happen before you bought the picture?”
Jen considered the question. “No, it didn’t. Why?”
“I’m not sure. But–” Max began barking and snarling, the hackles on his back rising up.
“What the hell?” said Jen. She watched the dog, noticing that he was facing away from Ellie, moving back and forth as if to keep himself between the girl and some threat. “What is he doing?” she said, looking at Dru.
Her friend was very still, and all the color seemed to have drained out of her. It was like she was in a trance. Her lips moved slightly and then the spell was broken. She turned to Jen. “You need to get that picture out of your house. Immediately.”       
“What?” Jen asked. “What’s the photo got to do with anything?”
“I think there’s an entity attached to it. And, it’s evil,” Dru said.
Jen’s mouth hung open for a moment. “That’s crazy, Dru. There’s no such thing.” Jen was used to her friend’s peculiarities, but this was bit much. “And, how can you know it has anything to do with the picture? You haven’t even seen it.”
“Jen, you know how this works. I just know, okay?” She looked at her. “Get. Rid. Of. That. Picture.”
Just then, Ellie came running over to her, jumping in her lap and burying her face in her mother’s shoulder. Max patrolled the perimeter of the yard looking for whatever it was he had sensed just a few minutes ago.
“It was the man, Mama. He was trying get me, but Max wouldn’t let him.”         
Jen stroked her daughter’s hair and looked over at her friend. “Okay, Dru. What do I do?”

“What do you mean, ‘No’!?” Jen said. “This is my child. Your godchild.” They had moved inside to the kitchen, Jen and Ellie seated at the table while Dru brewed them some tea.
Dru held up her hands. “Exorcism isn’t my thing, Jen. I had a bad experience once and I don’t get near that kind of thing anymore.”
“A bad experience? What does that mean?”
Dru started to speak, then closed her mouth before saying, “I won’t get into specifics. Just know that people almost died. Okay?” She looked out the window for a minute. “I can give you a few things that will help, though.” She walked over to her pantry and pulled out a bundle of some herbs and a large bag of salt. “Here,” she said, setting them on the table in front of Jen. “Take this.”
“What is it?”
“Sage and salt,” Dru said. “Spirits don’t like either one. They can’t cross a line of salt and burning sage will purify the house when you’re done.”
Jen looked up at her friend. “Can you at least tell me how do this?” Dru shook her head. “Well, where the hell am I supposed to find out what to do?” she said.
Dru shrugged. “They say you can find anything on the internet.”

Rick wasn’t thrilled that she’d brought Max home, but he softened when he saw much good the animal did for Ellie.
“I’m not really a fan of Dru, but I have to admit, this dog is a pretty good idea. Ellie feels better just having him around and that’s worth the hassle.”
As they were talking, the dog came into the kitchen where they were and let them know he had to go out. “Shit,” Rick said, reaching for the leash. “Now, I have to walk the damn th–” He was cut off by Ellie screaming.

They met her on the stairs, the little girl in tears. As Jen knelt and embraced her daughter, Max tore past her to Ellie’s room, stationing himself in the doorway and barking ferociously. As Jen sat back to examine Ellie, she noticed a dark stain on the girl’s pajama top. She lifted it up and revealed three shallow, evenly spaced slashes across the child’s midriff. Rick had arrived just in time to see the injuries. Jen looked up at him. “Okay, I’m doing this. With or without you.”                 

Rick walked into the den where Jen sat with Ellie asleep in her lap. “So, what do we do?”
“We get this thing out of our house and out of our lives. Right now.”
“I get that,” Rick said. “But how do we make it happen? Is there someone we can call?”
“No,” she said. “We have to do it ourselves.”
“You heard me,” she said. “Dru couldn’t, or wouldn’t, help. But she did say there might be something on the internet. I’ll do some research and see what I can find out.”
“Are you fucking serious? The internet? I can only imagine the crazy ass shit you’ll find on there. You’ll have chanting and burning incense.” He shook his head. “No. Just… no”
Jen couldn’t believe how stubborn he was being. “Jesus, Rick!” she said. “We’re talking about our daughter. I’d think you’d want to do whatever you had to, to keep her safe.” She looked at him. “You said you’d support whatever I decided. Remember?”
“I do,” he said. “And, I will. Within reason. This? This is not reasonable. Jen, we have got to approach this rationally and with a clear head.”
“Well, Mr. Rational, you saw what happened to your daughter. What clear-headed course of action do you recommend?”
Several times, he started to say something, but nothing came out. Finally, he said, “Fuck, I don’t know.”
“That’s what I thought.” She nodded at the sleeping girl in her lap. “Take care of Ellie. I’m going to do some research.” As he headed to their bedroom, she opened her computer and got to work.

They were sitting in the living room as the sun came up, the picture on the table in front of them. Dru had taken Ellie to her house, so they were alone.
Rick looked up from the picture “So, what did you come up with?”
Jen stretched and rubbed her eyes. She had been up all night, poring over the web, looking for anything that might help. “It looks like there are two ways we can go. One, we take to an antique shop and sell it. That gets it out of our house, and we can recoup at least some of the money. Two, we destroy it.” She yawned. “But we run the risk of pissing it off and making things worse.”
Rick cut in, “Sounds like a no-brainer to me. Option One it is.”
“Hang on a minute,” she said, holding up her hand. “Do we really want to take a chance of passing this thing on to someone else?”
“Honestly? I don’t fucking care. I just want this over in the quickest, easiest way possible.”
She sighed. “Rick, I do not want to put this kind of shit on someone else. And, I don’t think you do either.”
“I’m not sure that’s even a possibility, Jen. So, why would I care?”
“After all we’ve seen,” she said, “do you really want to take that chance?”
“Shit,” he said. “I guess not. So, how do we go aout destroying this thing?”
“We’ll burn the picture and submerge the frame in holy water for a while. Then, we’ll take it to a jeweler, and have it melted down. Hopefully, that’ll take care of things.”
“One question: Where are we going to get holy water this early?”
She grinned. “I made some. Like Dru said, you can find anything on the internet.”
“Okay, I guess we’re doing this.” Jen started to get up. “Wait a second,” he said. “Didn’t you say something about maybe pissing it off?”
“Well, yeah. It is a risk,” she said. “But a calculated one.”
“What’s that mean, ‘a calculated one’?”
“It means I got the information about destroying it from a Catholic website and the stuff about it getting pissed off a ghost hunter site.” She stood up. “The Catholics have been doing this stuff for a couple of thousand years. I think I trust them over”
“Okay,” he said. He picked up the picture and tried to slide the back out of the frame, but it wouldn’t move. “What the hell?”
“Hang on a minute,” Jen into the kitchen and came back with a spray bottle. “Holy water,” she said and began to mist the frame. It popped out of Rick’s hand and fell to the coffee table, shaking violently. They watched for a moment before it stopped. “Maybe we should do this outside,” Rick said.
“Good idea.” Jen picked up the picture and headed toward the back door. As she did, books on the shelf to her left began vibrating as did the curios alongside them. As she took another step, they all flew off the shelf in her direction. She dodged them, but a snow globe hit Rick in the leg an almost took him down. They made it to the kitchen where the drawers and cabinets flung open and emptied their contents. The cutlery they kept in a block on the counter came flying at them. Jen dodged most of them, but a paring knife buried itself in her forearm. She pulled it out, the adrenaline in her system keeping her moving. Rick tried to open the door, but it was stuck fast. Jen took hold of the knob and together, they were able to pull it open. Out in the back yard, she ran to the picnic table where she’d arranged a metal pan and lighter to burn the picture and a bucket of holy water for the frame. The holy water she’d sprayed on the picture earlier must have worked because, when she tried to pull the back off, it slid out. She thrust the photo at Rick, yelling, “Burn it!” as she immersed the frame in the bucket. When Rick set the flame of the lighter to the photograph, a horrific scream assaulted their ears, dying away as the portrait was consumed. As an unearthly calm settled over them, they looked at each other for a moment and then embraced.

9 months later, they arrived home from the hospital. Jen had carried the pregnancy to term and though it hadn’t been as smooth as the one she’d had with Ellie, she’d made it. And, they had a beautiful baby boy as a result. Rick helped her up the steps while Dru and Ellie followed with the baby. It was a moment of pure domestic bliss.

So It Goes

My brother in his element: teaching horticultural practices.

As some of you may know, my brother, Jeff Rieves, was diagnosed with advanced metastatic melanoma a couple of months ago. Earlier this year, we began realizing something was up due to some uncharacteristic behavior and when he finally got checked out, doctors found multiple tumors throughout his brain and body. There was treatment indicated and he started it, but the cancer had too much of a head start and he passed away Monday, May 6th. Though I haven’t said much, I’ve struggled with it ever since.

Writing is one of the main ways I process things. For me, it’s like Flannery O’Connor said, “I write because I don’t know what I think until I read what I say.” That said, it feels strange to be sitting down to write about my brother’s passing two weeks after the fact. Honestly, I feel a bit callous having waited so long. I mean, sure, the last few weeks have been pretty hectic for me. I closed out the last semester of my junior year of college, my mom sold her house and we had to get her moved by the end of last week, and I had surgery this past Monday. But this is my older brother we’re talking about, someone who had a huge influence on my life, and I can’t help but think I should have taken some time work all this out before now.
It’s only in the enforced downtime that comes with recovering from surgery that I’ve slowed down and thought about it much at all.

Most of the tributes to Jeff that I’ve seen in the wake of his passing have left me feeling much like the ones I heard about my father: “Who the hell are you talking about? That is not the guy I grew up with.” But that’s normal, brothers have a kind of relationship that’s unlike any other. That’s especially true when they’re separated by more than a year or so (we were four and half years apart). It’s just one of the things that has made processing his death so difficult.

So many things written after someone dies tend to paint them as a saint. And, Jeff had many good qualities. The one that springs to my mind quickest is that he was always there any time I needed him. And, I mean any time. But my brother wasn’t a saint and he’d be the first person to tell you that. He was stubborn, a bit of a know-it-all, and had a latent mean streak – he found great fun in doing things that he knew pissed me off. But, for all of his faults, he was my brother and I loved him. It’s hard to think about a world that doesn’t include him anymore.

That’s been made a little easier due to something I read recently in Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five. In case you’re unfamiliar, it’s the story of Billy Pilgrim and how he became unstuck in time and met a race of aliens known as Tralfamadorians. A few days ago, I was sitting on the porch reading and came across the following passage:

“The most important thing I learned on Tralfamadore was that when a person dies he only appears to die. He is still very much alive in the past, so it is very silly for people to cry at his funeral. All moments, past, present and future, always have existed, always will exist… When a Tralfamadorian sees a corpse, all he thinks is that the dead person is in bad condition in the particular moment, but that the same person is just fine in plenty of other moments. Now, when I myself hear that somebody is dead, I simply shrug and say what the Tralfamadorians say about dead people, which is ‘So it goes.‘”

As I read that, I realized that this was not a world that didn’t include Jeff: He exists in all those moments before this present one, where he is in bad condition. But those other ones? He is still there, teaching, laughing, and being as irritating as ever. So it goes.

I Am Not a Sports Fan

Any sport, really. But, football is the egregious offender.

It’s the Monday after the Superbowl and I’m dreading it. Why? Because I know that I’ll be peppered with questions like, “Did you see that play last night?” or “Man, ________ is GOAT, isn’t he?” And, I’m going to have dip into my bag of ambiguous responses and say “Oh, man. That was something!”, “You know it, brother,” or a few other non-answer answers because I did not, nor will I ever, watch another pro football game. You may wondering why I would say something like this, as being a sports fan is so ubiquitous in this country. It’s simple, I am not a sports fan. I hate sports and think they’re a cancer on the soul of America.

Why am I so bitter? In a nutshell, good ol’ toxic masculinity. Toxic masculinity tells men and boys that “winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing.” According to the twisted logic of toxic masculinity, the greatest sin that an American could ever commit is losing, even though you learn so much more from losing than you ever do winning. Really, the worst sin is not being a sports fan, especially a football fan, because then you’re a pussy and even losers rank above pussies.

Toxic masculinity led other boys to look down on me because I’d rather read a book than play football/baseball/basketball during recess. So, I played. I didn’t want to, but we all know what happens to kids who are different. As I got older, I went out for a couple of teams in junior high. But my heart wasn’t in it and I never made it past the first cut. Honestly, it was a relief. But there was still P.E. to deal with and guess who teaches P.E. classes? That’s right, coaches. And, coaches can be preeminent purveyors of toxic masculinity. Not all, to be sure. But, with the way toxic masculinity is built into American sports culture, even those who didn’t buy in were complicit to one degree or another.

Later on, after I became a firefighter, I still had to deal with the fucked up ideas about masculinity and sports, because sports figure prominently in hyper-masculine spaces. Only this time, it was mostly watching. Strangely, watching sports in America is second only to playing sports in importance. Somehow, men get ready to watch a game like a teenage girl prepares for her prom (the right dress/favorite team’s jersey, the proper accessories/a football, a foam finger, etc, makeup done correctly/face painted in team colors, and hair/favorite players name shaven in somewhere). And, these guys thought I was effeminate for getting lost in “For Whom the Bell Tolls” or “Dune”? I have never understood that. But then, no one ever said toxic masculinity made sense.

There is nothing I’d love to see more than an end to American worship at the altar of sports. But sports are so inextricably woven into the American psyche, I don’t see that happening anytime soon. Until it does, I guess I’ll keep dipping into that bag of responses I mentioned earlier so I can answer all those inane sports questions and not have to deal with people wondering why I’m such a pussy. That’s why I dread the Monday after the Superbowl.

Shutdown Rant

For 35 days you held us hostage and jacked my check twice,
you motherfucker.
And, for what? You caved and didn’t even get a
single strand of fence to keep out those
imaginary Mongolians that came to you in a
fever dream.

Meanwhile, my Shylocks want their
pound of flesh
and my cupboard looks like Mother Hubbard’s because
the Shitty Kitty won’t let me buy groceries with my good looks.
Meanwhile, your pet turtle is working overtime to line his pockets
with yet another tax break instead of making sure guy’s
like me get even a little backpay. How the hell am I
going to get out of this hole you threw me in?

You claimed you were the supreme negotiator.
That no one made deals like you do.
But, you got owned by a septuagenarian
grandmother from Pacific Heights.
Some fucking deal maker you are, you

50 Rules for Being a Good Man

My father, who taught me much of what I know about being a good man.

The internet is filled with rules that men should follow. Unfortunately, many of them are loaded with frivolous and/or misogynistic bullshit. And, generally, these lists seem to focus on being a “real” man, rather than a good one. So, I decided to make up my own. Will following this list will make a good man? Probably not, but it might allow you to fake it until you make it. And, that’s not a bad place to start.

  1. Treat everyone with respect. Everyone.
  2. Remember that there are times to work hard and times to work smart. Know which is which.
  3. Do the right thing. Not for a reward, but because it’s the right thing to do.
  4. Be yourself and never let anyone shame you for it.
  5. As Mick and Keith said, “You can’t always get what you want. But, if you try sometimes, you get what you need.”
  6. Never let becoming rich and famous be your end goal. 
  7. Follow your bliss. But, understand that your bliss doesn’t have to be what you do for a living. So find value in your work, whatever it is.
  8. Never be afraid to cry. Feeling your feelings isn’t weak, it’s healthy. 
  9. No man is an island. You need a community to get through this life.
  10. Don’t talk about things of which you’re ignorant.
  11. Don’t live in the past. Embrace it, honor it, learn from it. But, don’t live in it.
  12. Read. A lot. Good stuff, not trash. More than half should be fiction.
  13. Never be afraid to make a mistake.
  14. Never be afraid to apologize for a mistake.
  15. Learn the art of forgiveness. Holding a grudge is a waste of energy.
  16. Don’t avoid conflict. But, don’t seek it out, either. When it happens, stand up and deal with it.
  17. A gift for a significant other doesn’t have to be expensive. There is truth in the saying, “It’s the thought that counts.”
  18. If a gift for a significant other does have to be expensive, find a different significant other.
  19. Learn from your reverses.
  20. Always be honest. But, understand that some truths are best kept to yourself.
  21. Stand up for the vulnerable.
  22. Never, ever punch down
  23. Look for the beauty in the world.
  24. Be a man of your word. If you say you’ll do something, do it. Even when you don’t want to. Especially when you don’t want to.
  25. Always break up with a significant other in person. Anything else is cowardly.
  26. A real man lets a woman walk wherever she damn well pleases. If it happens to be on the side nearest the street, he’s okay with that.
  27. Be prepared for a bluff to be called.
  28. The Golden Rule is a pretty good one to live by.
  29. If you’re not sure your shirt is clean, it’s dirty. Change it.
  30. Remember that appearance is not an alternative for substance.
  31. When making a decision, choose a course of action and commit to it. No one likes a ditherer.
  32. Most people won’t find your hobbies anywhere near as interesting as you do, so don’t bore them. Instead, find that person who loves 19th century romantic poetry as much as you do and geek out to your heart’s content.
  33. Take care of yourself. And, by “take care of yourself”, I mean, learn to cook, clean, and do your own laundry.
  34. Be kind for no reason.
  35. Live the life you want to live, not the one your parents/grandparents/friends want for you.
  36. Never tip less than 20%, no matter how bad the service may be.
  37. Having one very close friend is infinitely better than having a hundred acquaintances.
  38. Whenever possible, opt for quality over price.
  39. Always be faithful to a significant other. Even if you think they’re not being faithful to you.
  40. Know how to change a tire. AAA isn’t always available.
  41. There are plenty of stupid questions. But, the most stupid is the one you don’t ask.
  42. You get a limited amount of time on this earth. Use it to your best advantage.
  43. When possible, do the unpleasant things when you think of them. If you put them off, they won’t get done.
  44. Be grateful.
  45. If you didn’t do the work, don’t take the credit.
  46. Do the work.
  47. Spend time with old people and kids. You can learn a lot from both.
  48. It’s never too late to change.
  49. A good plan executed now is always better than a perfect plan executed later. (paraphrased of George S. Patton)
  50. Know the person you want to be remembered as and work to be that person every day.

Advent is Upon Us

Lifted from Homebrewed Christianity

Oh, dear god,
the season I  dread most
has arrived in full force and
I’m not sure I’ll
make it till the Eve,
or even the eve of the Eve, 
without punching someone
in the throat.

Why? Because it’s Advent,
that time of already and not yet,
and the theology nerds
won’t shut up,
prattling on like
nattering nabobs of
sublimely unaware that
people don’t like it when you
shit on their fun.

What, pray tell, is the draw
of this liturgical season? 
I’m told it’s a time of
expectant waiting. 
Waiting for what?
Short days and
shitty weather? 
I think I’ll pass. 
Even Lent, the
bummer before summer,
holds the promise of
a bit of warmth 
after it passes.

Also, I keep hearing that
Advent is a time of
deep reflection.
Seriously? If I reflect deeply
(or even shallowly)
I might have to look
a feeling
in the face.
Who the hell wants to do that?

You people don’t seem
to understand that 
I don’t want to
or think,
or do
anything with
a lick of 

What I want is to
eat and drink too much,
sing dreadful ditties like
“Baby, It’s Cold Outside” or
“Santa Buddy”,
and spend money
I don’t have
to distract myself
from the massive hole
in my soul. 

Stop trying to
make me think or
have encounters that hold
any depth whatsoever.
I’m begging you, please,
allow me to sail thru life and
dig deeper than the 
thin crust of abject materialism
and selfishness that is
the American Way.

An American Sonnet of My Own

I haven’t watched a single basketball
game since you left me on that Tuesday too many
years ago because that was where we would
connect when the chasm between us yawned wider than
the Grand Canyon and neither of us was
willing to reach out to the other one and one
bad call would bridge the gap and the bad blood
would wash away like pollen in a thunderstorm
and everything would be good between us again
and I wouldn’t feel like I’d let you down
again like I had all those other times before
when you looked at me like you were ashamed
for anyone to know we were from same blood
that I sprang from your loins just to irk you.

F*ck That Noise


 Well, beloved, conservatives showed us just what they think of women this past Saturday. Despite what should have a damning list of accusations of sexual misconduct, up to and including sexual assault, the Senate voted to confirm Brett Kavanaugh’s appointment to the Supreme Court anyway. I don’t know about you, but right now, I can’t get Padme Amidala’s comment from “The Phantom Menace” out my head. You know, when Palpatine declares himself emperor and she says, “So this is how liberty dies . . . with thunderous applause.” It fits, doesn’t it? Well, except for the thunderous applause bit because the Senate’s action was met with howls of outrage from decent human beings that rivaled the applause from Lord Dampnut’s vile supporters.

   To say this is a disheartening time is an understatement akin to calling World War I “a slight  kerfuffle”. Isn’t enough that our president is a semi-sentient sweet potato with a hair piece who regularly embarrasses us on the national stage? I guess not, since this repulsive asswipe, along with his reptilian henchmen Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan, are doing their level best to destroy our republic. God damn it.

     By now, you’ve probably seen some memes and posts telling you not to get mad, not to yell at the people responsible for Saturday’s debacle, but to get out and vote. Fuck that noise. I mean, yes, get out and vote. But, don’t stop there. Get mad. Get loud. Get crude. Let those despicable motherfuckers know exactly what you think of them. And, not just the ones in the Senate who voted to put that loathsome frat-boy son-of-a-bitch on the Supreme Court, but every hateful twat who backed them and are now crowing with delight at his appointment.

Or, to quote the ever-eloquent Henry Rollins:

“This is not a time to be dismayed, this is punk rock time. This is what Joe Strummer trained you for.”

So, marinate in your fury. Let it soak into your bones and become a part of your very being. Because we’re in a fight for the soul of our nation and it’s not going to be easy or short. It will be a long, hard slog and we’ll need to pull energy and inspiration from places that might make us uncomfortable. But, the alternative is to let that tangerine nutsack and his pals eviscerate democracy and inflict damage that will decades to repair. And, that’s if it can be fixed at all.

     Now, some people will say this is bad advice, that it’s divisive or harmful to your soul/mental health. Bullshit. What we’re feeling is righteous anger and using it to bring desperately needed change is no different than Jesus kicking over tables and using a whip on the money changers in the Temple. Understand that the people who tell you this shit are the ideological descendants of the white moderates who vexed Martin Luther King so much in his fight for civil rights and they are more harmful than the avowed racists and misogynists cheering so loudly right now. So, like I said earlier, Fuck. That. Noise.

Time to Man Up, Fellows

It’s not a fun time to be a man right now, what with all the terrible behavior being revealed by #MeToo. It’s even worse if you understand that we deserve all those bad feelings and more. So. Much. More. We deserve it because we’ve behaved horribly, whether we’ve perpetrated the awfulness ourselves or told victims we don’t care about what’s happened to them.
Last week, Dr. Christine Blasey Ford went before the Senate Judicial committee to testify about her allegation that Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh attempted to rape her when she was 15 and he was 17. The whole thing was an avalanche of awfulness that included from a fairly detailed recounting of a sexual assault, a bunch of old men cowardly hiding behind the skirts of a woman brought in to do their dirty work and, finally, the realization that the Republican members of the Judicial committee and a not-insignificant portion of Americans don’t really care that a man who may well have committed a sexual assault could be elevated to the highest court in the land.
Right about now, you may be thinking, “What does this have to do with me? I don’t know anyone who’s been sexually assaulted/harassed.” I hate to break it to you, but you’re wrong. You do, they’re just not willing to tell you about it. And, I’m not talking about acquaintances, either. I mean, spouses, children, other family members, close friends, etc.  Think about that for a minute. People who are as close to you as it is possible to be are dealing with awful, demeaning, traumatic experiences and they’ve never mentioned it to you. Why do you think that might be?
Maybe, just maybe, it’s because you’ve given them a good reason not to. Now, you’re probably thinking, “What!? How did I do that?” You did it when asked what a rape victim was wearing/how much she had to drink beforehand/what she was doing in that part of town in the first place. You did it when you said someone who reported that they’d been assaulted was a liar because they waited (sometimes months, sometimes years) before coming forward. You did it when you said that someone telling the story of how they’d been assaulted had an agenda, that they were out to smear a good man’s name. You did it when you asked tried to dismiss victims by intimating that false accusations of sexual assault were a bigger problem than assault itself. Basically, you did by being a douche bag. Instead of wondering why they don’t trust you, you should be wondering why they continue to allow you into their life at all.
Like I said in the opening sentence, it’s not a fun time to be a man right now. But, know this: the way you’re feeling right now is nothing compared to the way people who have been victimized sexually feel.  It is, at most, a tiny clouded window into what those folks live with every day. And, as a man, you should be looking for ways to lessen that awfulness for them, not doubling down on it so your side “wins”. To put it bluntly, man up and stop being a douche bag.

Any Port in a Storm

You may or may not know that, after an extensive break (about 35 years), I have returned to school for an English degree. This semester, I’m taking a class in writing poetry. The following prose poem is one of my efforts for that class.

Barney Stinson, the living embodiment of Bro Culture.

I could see her lips move, but the words were buried under the avalanche of sound that poured from the speakers like snow down a mountainside. Normally, “Nasty” set my teeth on edge, but in this moment, I loved Ms Jackson because she was drowning out the insipid, inane babblings of the blitzed bottle-blond I was presently trying to talk out of her panties. A stiff dick may not have a conscience, but it can have taste and if I had to listen to this chick for more than a minute, I’d go limp as a dishrag. But, it had been almost a week since I’d had some action, so any port in a storm as the Navy boys over Gulfport like to say.

Off the dance floor and over at the bar, I lost Janet’s assistance and I had to hear her. So, I focused on her impressive rack and kept my eyes on the prize. “What’s your name?” she asked. “Where are you from?” I was ready for this, my lies laid out ahead of time. I told her my name was Charles Chandler, but everyone calls me Chad. That wasn’t a full-dress falsehood; I’d been Chad for as long as I could remember, but I’m an actual Chad, not Charles, and Chandler isn’t even close to my factual last name. I told her I was a lieutenant in the Air Force, stationed at Barksdale/Bossier City but stuck in New Orleans because of maintenance issues. “You’re a pilot?” she asked as her face lit up like Bourbon Street on Fat Tuesday night. I just smiled and ordered us a couple of cocktails. That’s the trick to an effective lie, you know: Never say it yourself, just drop a few hints and let the dunts connect the dots themselves. I’m telling you, it never, ever fails.

5 hours later, I was crawling out of cab in front of the Motel 6 in Metarie where me and 3 buds from my admin clerk class at the base back in Biloxi had rented a room for the holiday weekend. The sun was coming up and I was going down after a long, hard night. And, not long and hard in the good way, either. The bitch kept wanting to talk, acted like this was something besides a somewhat sleazy one-night stand. Yeah, I said sleazy. It’s not lost on me that I’m a degenerate, depraved douche bag. And, if I’m being honest, most morning afters I feel like I need a shower, even though there’s not enough water in the world to ever really feel clean again. But, the only other option is to get real, connect, feel something. And, I’m way too broken on the inside for anything other than slumming. Any port in a storm as the Navy boys over in Gulfport like to say.