The other day, we took the L train downtown to go museum-hopping. Rory was on winter break and a lot of the museums were free to Chicago locals, so we took advantage.
At the Merchandise Mart stop, this young lady got on. She was tall with dark skin and broad shoulders. Her hair was plastered back and styled as if to be intentionally dynamic. She was wearing a red jacket and was having a ‘power conversation’ on her phone posturing about how she was getting things done and making heads roll and all that dynamic, powerful kinda stuff.
She was a force of nature, that one. On a mission.
We got off the L a few stops past that point and went about our evening. We went to Potbelly subs and had dinner (yes, classy) and then headed across the street to the Art Institute (for real, classy). After doing our thing there for about an hour and a half, we decided to jump back on that beautiful L train and head back north towards home.
As we approached the platform, I glanced up at the sign to see when the next train was due. The next natural place for my eyes to transition to was the platform straight across from us. And what did my eyes behold?
Red jacket-donning, tall, broad-shouldered power-woman. Still on her phone. Being powerful.
I couldn’t believe it. She could have gone anywhere and done anything. She could have hopped a helicopter to Washington DC or taken a different Metra train to Indiana. The possibilities were endless. But there we were. Walking up to the same platform at the same time.
It’s not the first time something like this has happened here in Chicago. Stuff like this blows me away. And it makes this big city really, really small.
I played Ninja’s at the park with my friends today, Daddy.
Oh, really? That’s great. Did you know that Daddy used to be a Ninja?
(Trying to strike up a conversation about my martial arts background so as to impress my 4-year-old daughter as I braid her hair before bed.)
A real ninja?
Yyyyyeah, a real ninja.
(Some hesitancy in my voice knowing that I trained in Aikido, which is about the least bad-ass martial art out there. We didn’t wear ninja uniforms. We wore baggy black pants that resembled skirts. Although, on second thought, that’s kinda bad-ass in and of itself, it’s too complex of an angle to take with a preschooler…)
What kind of ninja, Daddy?
Well, I was more of a samurai than a ninja.
(Trying to back-pedal and justify the skirts — the hakama — because they’re part of Samurai culture, but it’s not really working.)
Oh, well, I’m a ninja. And I hit real.
Weeelll, Rory, we don’t hiiiit. *Dad voice*
(I wanted to say how, instead, we blend and redirect, but — never mind. I’m so not-cool right now. I start to realize the stark reality that my dadness has killed every last shred of whatever coolness I had before.)
We hit, kick, and run away. Like, yyyyah!
Wow, Rory, that’s pretty powerful. A lot of fury there. That’s good. You’re just playing, though, right? You don’t actually hurt people?
(My coolness is done. Gone. Ugh…)
Yeah, it’s a game. But it’s a game that I win.
I’m a hard ninja.
A hard ninja?
Yeah, like a rock. Hiiiiiyyyah!
(Wow. A hard ninja. So boss. I’ve never been this cool.)
Right on. Which color pony tail do you want? Pink or blue?
You got it.
Jonas Ellison is a writer who blogs through his life over at Higher Thoughts, one of the most popular single-author publications on Medium. Subscribe to his daily-ish missives and musings at JonasEllison.com
First thing I should say is that, before I moved to Chicago, I lived 25 minutes from one of the most incredible natural wonders in the world. That place is Lake Tahoe, the pristine alpine lake that straddles California and Nevada.
As Mark Twain so aptly described it, “Surely the fairest picture the whole world affords.” Every summer, I’d swim in its waters and gape at the sunsets above it. Every winter, I’d trek through the snow that blanketed it. It’s an incredible place, indeed.
Having moved back to Chicago this summer, people sometimes ask where we’re from. “Lake Tahoe area,” we say, which consistently leads to a look of astonishment on their faces…
“You’re from Lake Tahoe? Why would you move here?”
Of course, it’s mostly said in jest, but there is an underlying level of seriousness in those words. My wife and I laugh and give them an elevator pitch of how we’ve lived here before and we love it and then we change the subject as quickly as possible. Because those who react this way are from Chicago, they naturally take for granted the things that we see such beauty in.
But here’s what I see when I take the train from my neighborhood up north down into the city…
I see the miracle of millions of people making their way on trains, buses, cars, bikes, skateboards, and foot to where they’re going. I see a train system that’s a product of thousands of brilliant designers, adamant planners, and hardened workers.
I see beautifully crafted buildings that reach the sky and I wonder — how many hands have touched just one of those buildings as it was erected? How many sleepless nights, spilled coffees, liquid lunches, lost lives, bloody knuckles, and acquired fortunes have those buildings brought to pass?
I see water running to millions and sewage flowing from the same — an incredible feat in and of itself.
I see people dressed to the nines walking down the sidewalk beside beggars who hustle for their next dime.
I see the endless shores of Lake Michigan stretching out to the horizon as it hugs the city in its greenish blue luster. I see a bike path that runs the entirety of the city — the result of a political bout won by Daniel Burnham, the famed architect and urban designer who made Chicago his masterpiece.
I see the millions of people who’ve come before us to make this city what it is. A hard working city with corruption and crime — no doubt — but also with a charm and character I’ve seen unmatched by any other.
They say that when you’re here for long enough, you only see the dregs of it. Well, I’m happy to say, I’m not there yet. So right now, I’m enjoying my bewilderment.
When I stand from a good vantage point and look at this skyline, I see the divine intelligence that works through us humans and all of life to create an array so beautiful, complex, functional, and perfectly flawed all at the same time.
When I contemplate this, I know that the same creative force that stretches through a pine tree high above snowy Lake Tahoe is alive and well in the big city just the same.
My neighborhood is composed of a grid of tree-lined streets, so autumn does a number on us. People don’t even bother to dispose of the leaves until the trees have rendered themselves completely bare.
That time is now. The soundtrack of the neighborhood consists of leaf blowers, rakes and shovels scraping against sidewalks, and the wrestling of plastic and paper lawn bags.
As I was walking the dog with my daughter (I often wonder if the dog is actually walking us, but that’s for another post), I saw a lawn crew out in front of a house the next block over with a truck bed full of leaves. I mean, this truck had makeshift particle board walls on each side of the bed about seven feet high and it was filled to the brim, bursting with leaves.
“Look, Rory,” I said. “See all those leaves in that truck? Crazy, right?”
Suddenly, I noticed a look of deep concern on her face. Which was odd. (Because I was expecting something like, Wow, Dad… But, no.)
“Why are they doing that?” she asked.
“They’re picking up all of those people’s leaves.”
“But why? That’s not very nice.”
Ok, now I started to see what was going on. She continued…
“It’s not nice of those people to take that person’s leaves. Those leaves don’t belong to them.”
See, Rory is a collector. When she sees a stick that catches her eye, it’s harder to pull her away from that than it is the Elsa doll at Target. And her leaf collection is impressive. We have dry leaf particles in every crease and seam of every chair and sofa in this house.
So in Rory’s eyes, these people weren’t providing a service, they were burglarizing that person in broad daylight.
All of a sudden, I felt horrible. I mean, really… Why get rid of the leaves? Why isn’t that family in that house out in the yard laughing and playing and rolling around in them? Why aren’t they collecting them as they should — as Rory does?
Why dispose so hastily of something so special?
The value of a thing really does lie in the eye of the beholder. And when you’re four, the simpler and closer to the earth it is, sometimes, the better.
One of the many things I pray doesn’t change much as she grows older.
You might have read the story, but we’re moving to Chicago in a month (read it here if you haven’t read it yet and are curious why). Which means my wife and I had to go out there a few weeks ago to find a place to live. Which also means, we had to leave Rory at home with her grandma (because house hunting with a 3 year old in tow sounds harmful to anyone’s health, including her’s).
If you read my story, you know that Chicago is a big deal to us. It’s where we fell in love. Every year we talk about moving back there. You may hate Chicago, but to us, Chicago is — to quote the late, great Frank Sinatra — our kind of town.
I hadn’t been back there for an extended stay (we drove through a few years ago on the way to somewhere else, but that doesn’t count) since we moved away 7 years ago. Not only that, I haven’t been on an extended trip anywhere with my wife alone since Rory was born, almost 4 years ago.
Needless to say, I was extremely excited to go on this trip. To fly out with my lovely wife to the greatest city in the world (yes, I’m sticking to that) to hang out with old friends, new friends, and find our new home. I was kid-in-candy-store ecstatic to go on that trip. Counting the days. Building it up to myself. Gushing to friends about it. Alex and I both were.
And then came the day before…
Holy. Shit. I was depressed.
Like, SUPER low.
I couldn’t help but prematurely start to miss Rory. Like, reallyreally miss her.
Alex and I were packing our clothes the day before our flight. We were both moving around slow. Shoulders slumped. Not saying anything. We both had that far-away look in our eyes.
I looked at her, paused, and then said shit, are you feeling this too?
Yeah! It’s horrible!
Ugh… The entire trip, we were having a good time and loving it, but we both carried a bit of heaviness and anxiety from missing our little drunken sorority girl (it’s how I’ve scientifically labelled this stage of her life at age three and it totally fits — she regularly slurs her speech, falls down a lot, has been known to wet the bed and vomit unexpectedly, strips naked at random moments, throws violent temper tantrums, and smothers us with kisses, all of which can and has happened in the same night).
We’d Facetime with her at night. After a day or so, she started openly missing us. She’d say are you guys going to pick me up right now?
No, honey… 4 more sleeps…
Her blue eyes would fill with tears and she’d start sobbing.
At least she missed us. I guess that’s a good thing.
Kids… Do they ruin us? Yes. They sure do.
But missing her that deeply showed me a love that was so intense it physically hurt.
It didn’t stop me from having a Chicago hot dog, though. Because for these last 7 years, I’ve longed for one of those too.
Hey there, my name is Jonas (yes, like the Weezer song). I’m a spiritual counselor who writes shortish preachments in Higher Thoughts on the daily.
There’s nothing really enjoyable about leg days at the gym. Not that upper body workouts are much more enjoyable, but at least they’re rewarding. You get that nice pump afterwards that give you visual confirmation that you put your work in.
Well, the other day — leg day — I was sitting in the medieval contraption that is the leg press machine, grunting out my reps, sweating profusely, and listening to Justin Bieb… I mean… Something really hardcore… When I looked over to see something quite charming.
Yes, charming. Now, charming isn’t probably the word you associate with the gym, but my particular gym is also a senior center. It provides an interesting mix of characters, for sure. In the same morning, you’ll have the high school football team working out alongside a couple old ranchers wearing worn Wrangler jeans who’ve been buddies for almost a century.
Anyhow, I’m doing my leg presses and I look over and there’s a seasoned (I prefer this word to ‘old’) couple holding hands, smiling, walking around the indoor track. So there’s Jimmy from the track team (I made this name up for him because I have no idea what his name is) sprinting circles around this beautiful seasoned couple who are strolling merrily, lost in their own world.
It just hit me how life can become so much deeper and more meaningful as we grow into ourselves.
Alex and I would never do that in the gym. She does her Zoomba thing, I do my weights, and we meet afterwards and head home. No public displays of affection in the gym. That’s just bizarre…
Or is it? Why is it?
I could die after I write this word.
Knowing that each breath is a borrowed one can put things in just the right perspective and allow us to love like we’ve never loved before.
I’m still terrified to do this with Alex. I have too much need for approval. I’m too embarrassed. But a deeper part of me sees absolutely zero shame in it.
Why is that voice always on the back burner?
Why can’t we ‘younger’ people celebrate love as unabashedly as that seasoned couple who illumined the gym with their affection for each other?
This makes me wonder… Who truly is blessed with youth in this picture? Them? Or me?
I’d say the former.
Jonas writes shortish preachments and meditations here in Higher Thoughts. Get one to enjoy with your coffee every morning by subscribing below.
I guess, when my relatives died, they thought it was a great idea to bequeath (I’ve always wanted to use this word, btw) their photos to me. In my garage, I have about 10 huge plastic bins chock full of family photos.
The bins have been around for decades. They’ve moved with me everywhere and have been stacked in many different garages and basements throughout the years. They’ve accumulated layers of dust and are cracking and caving in from the extreme high desert weather we have out here.
We’re moving across the country soon. I want to get as much of the packing done as I can before the sweltering heat of the summer rolls in. So the other day, I went and bought new plastic bins to transfer these photos into.
It’s been tedious. But I’ve stumbled on some incredible mementos.
In particular, I found a stack of photos of my late mom when she was in her early 20’s. See, my mom passed when I was 16. We were very close. Shortly before she died, she revealed to me that she was previously married. For my entire life up to that point, I had no idea. For whatever reason, my parents decided to keep this a secret.
I wasn’t hurt or offended when I found out. I was just kinda thrown off balance, if you will. It was like, whuh? But she just casually mentioned it, let me process it for a minute, and then dropped the subject.
I didn’t pry further, but something inside wanted to know more about that time of my mom’s life. It was like the first 30 years of Jesus. Who was this guy when he was younger?
Anyhow, here I am 20 years later, and I stumble on this stack of photos with my mom and her ex-husband. It was like opening and reading a chapter of my life that I’d skipped over before. Something in my psyche felt relieved by getting this kind of closure. What’s really interesting is, I discovered something that was undoubtedly clear…
My mom was cool AF.
Seriously. My wife and I looked at these photos and were like, WOW. She was super stylish. It blew me away because, in all honesty, my mom was sick for much of the part of my life that I remember with her. She had a long, brutal bout with cancer.
But in these photos, she was carefree. Youthful. In one photo, she’s hanging out at a campground with a sidearm. But it wasn’t like a rugged Janis Joplin kind of vibe. It was like seeing Audrey Hepburn in casual clothes with a gun on her hip. So cool.
There was another one where she’s leaning on the hood of a VW bug with a huge smile on her face.
And one where she’s hanging out in her apartment with a football jersey on.
It’s interesting to think about your parents before you came around.
These are just people who had their own lives. They had aspirations. Big dreams. Maybe you were included in those dreams, but maybe not. Who knows.
But soon, you came into the picture. And they changed. Maybe not so much on the surface, but inside, something eternally shifted. They became parents. A mom took the place of a young woman. The VW bug got replaced by a car to fit your diapered ass into more easily. And everything else that comes when a human baby shows up in the world.
My mom was cool. And healthy. And vibrant. And free. Her name was Kathleen. Rory has adopted it as her middle name.
I miss her every day. And now I feel closer to her than ever.
Happy mother’s day.
Jonas writes shortish preachments and meditations on the daily here in Higher Thoughts. Get one to enjoy with your coffee every morning by subscribing below.
Tonight, I want to share with you a piece that I’m particularly proud of.
Yes, as you may know, I’m a huge fan of Christmas. As you also know, a big part of this holiday in America is Macy’s. From The Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade to Miracle on 34th Street and more, I, personally, have so many fond memories around Macy’s that are tied to this magical time of year. Yes, they’re commercial giants, but they’re undeniably a brand that’s woven deep into the fabric of this culture — and for that, I tip my hat to them.
So you can imagine how thrilled I was to be approached to be a part of their Santa Project.
Here’s the problem they’re trying to solve: The internet has placed so much information at our fingertips. This is a great thing. However, when you Google ‘Is Santa Claus real?’ you get back a huge negative from most every search result. This has prematurely killed the epic story of Santa Claus for a lot of tech-savvy kids.
Macy’s is trying to infuse the magic of Santa back into the internet .They’re trying to bring Santa back from the dead, if you will.
I thought this was a fantastic idea.
I have a very personal story about Santa. It involves me as a doubting kid and a poignant conversation I had with my late mother, who passed on when I was a teenager.
Anyhow, I’ll let you read the whole piece. I hope you find it sparks a bit of the magic around Santa for you and your family this Christmas. Enjoy…
As a writer, coffee is a large part of my daily life. I drink a bottomless mug of coffee on any given day. By all statistics, I should probably have had several coronaries by now, but coffee and me have always gotten along just fine.
As I sit here with my current mug, I take this time to reflect on what coffee means to me…
Coffee marks my coming of age.
BC (before coffee), I was a boy. After coffee, I was a man.
My parents weren’t really coffee drinkers. I remember taking a sip or two from my grandfather’s cup at random Denny’s restaurants alongside the highway during our long car rides to my grandparent’s house when I’d visit over the summer. He drank it black and when he wasn’t drinking that mud at Denny’s, he was slamming it back out of his thermos, which he always had in-tow. I didn’t much like it then. My grandpa didn’t do a very good job of ‘selling’ it to me. He made it seem cheap and industrial.
As I grew into the ‘young impressionable teenager’ stage of my life — somewhere around 12 or 13 — I had neighbors who lived across the street that caught my attention. They were cowboys. Like, real ones who owned land with real horses out past the county line. They’d cuss, spit, fart, chew tobacco, smoke things, and wear interesting things like dusters, brush-popper shirts, roping boots, and Stetson hats.
In our suburban neighborhood, they stood out like irreverently sore thumbs. They were a family of four. Both parents were truckers. The two boys, Jason and Scott, were a few years older than me, so they were cool on multiple levels.
They intrigued me. My family and I were everyday suburbanites. My dad was a computer programmer and my mom was a… Mom. The cowboys represented a sense of adventure. An air of reckless abandon that I never knew before. They were uncensored, interesting, and rebellious.
Every day, after school, I’d hang out with them. I was the kid. They did their best to teach me how to rope fenceposts, fistfight, and communicate to truckers on a CB radio in the back of their 1973 Dodge Dart.
The cowboy life struck a chord in me, but I could never go all-in. One time, Scott offered me some of his dip. It was Copenhagen. He had me reach in the can and grab a hunk of that moist, grainey tobacco, “C’mon, kid, get three-fingers full,” he said, noticing my hesitancy. I crammed it between my lower lip and teeth, immediately feeling its effects before promptly covering the sidewalk at my feet with puke minutes later.
That was it for me trying to be a badass cowboy. I could never grow the confidence to wear cowboy gear to school. I could never do most of the cool, unruly stuff they were doing for very long — just wasn’t in me. Soon, the cowboys and I realized we were oil and water and we parted ways. Looking back, this turned out to be fine. Both boys ended up doing time for dealing drugs and the parents got divorced.
But something about the cowboy life was rich in my DNA. I still roped the fence occasionally and listened to country music non-stop. So there I was one afternoon after school watching the weekly country music video countdown on CMT when a Folgers commercial came on. In it, cowboys rode the snowy range in thick leather dusters herding cattle. Afterwards, they huddled around the campfire drinking — you guessed it — Folgers coffee.
Folgers coffee. Hmmm. I realized my mom had some in the cabinet tucked away for ages. I shuffled through to the very back of the shelf where I saw it. It was the instant crystals. Perfect, I thought, easy to make and no expiration date. I warmed up a mug of water in the microwave and scooped in that virgin heaping teaspoon. The dark brew smelled amazing.
I took a sip. It was a little bitter, so I poured in a healthy dose of whole milk and a heaping teaspoon of sugar. Stirred it up. Took a sip.
Bam. That was it.
Although I never learned how to ride a horse or developed a number of the habits cowboys do, I was a man. I was more of a cowboy than ever — just like the guys on TV riding the range and bullshitting ‘round the fire.
I never became a real cowboy, but to this day, whenever I pour a cup of coffee (yes, I take it blonde and sweet, as always — and I’m still totally down to drinking a shameless cup of Folgers instant when the mood strikes), I’m taken to a certain place inside. A place that warms one’s soul and adds a sense of complexity and adventure to life — a perfect accompaniment to any creative endeavor.
Since that day, I’ve been an ardent coffee-drinker. And if that’s as close to becoming a cowboy than I’ll ever get, well, that’s good enough for me.
Bills Beans is a NSW-based purveyor of fine coffee and other soul-arousing elixirs. We love shooting the sh*t, telling stories, and sharing knowledge. If you enjoyed this story, please recommend to share with your people (and jump on our email list here).
Every weekday morning for the last few weeks, we’ve loaded Rory into the car and taken her to her new preschool an hour away. We’re moving. During the day, while Rory is at school, Alex and I work a little and then prep the new house for the big official move-in day.
It’s been… Exhausting. That hour car ride is pretty, but it wears on ones soul... And rear-end... And lower-back...
To help Rory pass the time, I load up her iPad with TV shows and movies (yes, it’s the iPad 1, because the only person who really uses it is her).
What’s funny is, there’s really only two programs that she likes to watch. Over and over. For the last couple years…
(1) Frozen (2) Maurice Sendak’s Little Bear
She can watch these on repeat. All day. Intently.
I’m thankful for this because they’re really mellow, kid-friendly shows. I’m glad she’s not into the crazy seizure-inducing stuff yet — hopefully, ever. (Plus, I have to admit, I like them as much as she does.)
What I realized is that, the more she watches them, the better they get. Her vocabulary is expanding soooo much right now. Every time, it’s like watching a new movie/show.
I equate this to life (you knew where this was going, didn’t you?). The more our understanding deepens about our human experience and how the mind works, the more we expand. The more we can be ‘reborn’, in a sense, and experience this crazy thing anew.
The more we understand (by experience, not just through reading/pondering) that this whole thing is being created from the inside-out (yes, EVERYTHING), the more clear, interesting, expansive and moldable it gets.
Deepen and expand. Deepen and expand.
Now if she’d just stop asking me to go to the part where Elsa sings Let it Go, we’d have a pretty smooth ride.
“This country’s going to hell in a hand basket,” I heard him say.
His voice was only slightly muffled by my headphones, which I wear — often without even turning the music on — when I’m writing at coffee shops so people don’t try to talk to me (yes, I’m that guy).
He was in his mid-sixties. Had a blue Nevada sweater on. His chrome gray hair was slicked back as if to resemble a hawk or some other type of warring bird.
He was on the phone with an old buddy. On his laptop, the Yahoo home page was up, revealing the leading stock clickbait headline of the moment — something that had to do with immigration and how we’re being infiltrated, etc.
I listened in (yes, I’m that guy too). What I found peculiar was that, although he opened the conversation with a tone of outrage, his anger morphed into exhilaration.
He had his buddy going. There they were, a couple warriors from the old guard, standing in solidarity over a common enemy, as foggy and ephemeral as it may be.
“I think it’s just a matter of time before it all goes down. Ha! Goddamn it, yes! Get ’em all outta here, I say. Ha! Yep. Okay, buddy. Talk soon. Yep…”
I turned on Spotify and went about my work. Occasionally, I’d glance over and see him stew over some new headline or YouTube video that was designed to do exactly what it was doing with his cooperation — generate ad dollars from each clickety-click of his finger.
As I wrapped up my work and packed up my belongings, I made eye contact with him. I nodded. He nodded.
Right there, he knew he had me. So did I.
I could tell right away what he was thinking — all of it flashing through his mind a split-second before he spoke:
Hmmm, he’s kinda young. But maybe not too young. He could be a Hilary/Bernie guy. But he’s clean-cut and respectful enough, so maybe he’s a conservative like me. F*ck it, I’ll give it a shot.
He went into it…
“Say, you know what I just read on the internet? 900 illegals. They let 900 illegal immigrants into the US who are from countries that are against us. Terrorists.”
He paused to gauge my reaction. I nodded as dispassionately as I could. It was a delicate dance — show him the respect of listening to him without engaging an argument (or rolling over and agreeing with him).
I pulled it off. He continued…
“I swear, these people are against us. They’re trying to bring this country down. It’s like a plane that the wings have fallen off of. I’ve never seen it so bad. And I’ve been around for a long time.”
I listened. Then, respectively bid him farewell after saying something generic like, “Whelp, keep on keepin’ on…”
Coffee shops tell us so much about human nature.
Now I know why some of the best writers of all time frequent them.
It’s funny… Old guys around the world (young guys too, but I think this is mainly an older guy thing, stereotypically speaking) have been gathering in coffeeshops, barber shops, and watering holes complaining about the news for centuries.
I remember my dad and my grandpa doing just this, throughout my entire life.
Economic booms and busts came and went. Presidents got elected, re-elected, and impeached. Things got bad and good again, in a general sense.
But it was always on the verge of collapse, as far as the news — and their conversations — were concerned. They lived with this undertone of being on the defense against the attackers of the moment their entire lives.
Meanwhile, life went on. As it always has.
Sure, I know people who’ve claimed to have been negatively affected by these monumental twists and turns in world affairs.
But the ones I like to keep my eye on are those who’ve managed to largely ignore the news, live healthy lives, and thrive. Year in and year out.
They’ve called the news’ bluff and have figured out that every day, that sun will come up no matter what the headlines say. Things will always happen. Someone will get sick or go broke or say/do something hurtful. When this happens, they handle it with grace and poise. But during the moments in-between, they go on living with a positive affect, giving and providing what they can to build a life that works for them and everyone in them.
Because no matter what the news says, they know this is something that they have full control over.
To me, it sure beats buying into the misery and finding enjoyment in the company it brings.
This came from my dad. When I was a kid, it was a known fact that he HATED mice. He’d tell me the story, with grimaced face, how when he was 16, hauling hay for the family farm (my dad had ginormous forearms and I never once saw him lift a weight — all from hauling so much hay when he was a wee lad), a field mouse scurried up his pant leg and bit him on the inner thigh (I always thought to myself as he told me this story time and again — good thing it was his inner-thigh 😜). It made him really sick and ever since then, he’s had a personal vendetta against mice.
If he saw a mouse in the house, he’d go in an all-out blitzkrieg. Nothing was too extreme to kill the little furry terrorists. Let’s just say he didn’t use animal-friendly non-lethal devices. Shotguns, blowtorches, napalm, hand grenades, Pop Rocks, Mountain Dew... All of it was fair game.
I remember when he started working at the mine in Nevada. I was finishing up high school in California, living with my aunt. He’d come home and visit every couple weeks. In the summer, I’d go visit him. His living situation was such that he and his co-workers each had their own trailer on-site in the middle of the northern Nevada desert. This particular summer, they had a mouse problem. A big one.
My dad’s trailer was secure. He had every single hole plugged with that industrial-strength spray foam. Towels were tucked under each door jamb. His trailer was like the pentagon. No mouse was getting within 100 yards of the front door without getting picked off by a sharp-shooter.
During my visit, I stayed in a separate trailer that belonged to his boss who was out of the country for a month. Apparently, his boss gave zero shits about mice because his trailer had none of the security measures my dad’s had. I remember waking up in the morning on a couple of occasions only to be welcomed by nasty little furry-bodied, flesh-eared mice in the hallway, bathroom, kitchen, and living room, respectively.
I’d freak out. To me, mice=attacking and biting followed by a horrid illness. I’d jump back in my bed and pull the sheets up (because the mice could easily advance up a bed sheet).
We took care of the problem that summer. Well, my dad did. I won’t go into details. Let’s just say the mice lost.
Thereafter, he always advised me to plug every single hole with industrial foam when I moved into a new place. And for awhile I did. Until I got comfortable. This house we live in now, I failed to do this. We’ve lived here for almost two years with zero intrusions. Until a couple weeks ago. When I woke up and saw a little guy scurry across my floor.
Damn, I thought. My father is probably rolling over in his grave right now. He taught me better. I’ve obviously failed him.
But I noticed something… The mouse hit me differently this time. I wasn’t nearly as distraught. Since that summer when I was 16, I’ve done a lot of, shall we say, inner-work. I’ve come to understand the nature of thought as being particularly fleeting and that things we deem to be scary are usually ghost stories penned by none other than ourselves.
This time, when I saw the mouse, although I wasn’t exactly totally comfortable with it (because it’s weird and odd and disgusting having a disease-carrying rodent inhabiting your home), I was far less charged.
Yesterday, I saw another mouse in the house we’re moving into. It scurried away and ran down into a hole in the hole where the wall heater is going. Years ago, I wouldn’t have been able to go back in the house unless I was armed to the teeth. And when I did, the first thing I’d do is, like the old man said, plug every hole.
As I write this, nothing has been plugged. After seeing the mouse, I went about my day, painting and prepping the house for our move-in date. Letting the mouse be until I get around to plugging the holes (don’t think I won’t eventually plug the holes).
What I realized is — nothing about the nature of mice have changed. They’ve not become any more or less threatening or nasty or germ-carrying. But something has definitely changed.
Oh, right... I have.
Now… Where’s the closest place to buy peanut butter and a 12-gauge?
I live in Reno. This place has a certain beauty and vibrancy to it. It has so much potential, but… Yeah… We’re moving to a smaller town closer to the mountains and away from so many people.
As I write this, fireworks are going off... Again.
Three days a week, fireworks are going off downtown. For whatever reason. Sometimes it’s because of a baseball game. Or a car/motorcycle festival. Or a Beer Crawl, Santa Crawl, Zombie Crawl, Pokemon Crawl, Steampunk Crawl, Mardi Crawl, Sci-Fi Crawl, Pirate Crawl, Pajama Crawl, or any of the dozens of other crawls this town has to generate a few bucks for the bars, casinos, and liquor stores downtown.
I know what you’re thinking…
Why are you complaining about fireworks? Fireworks are awesome!
Not these. These fireworks, you have to be right underneath to see. They typically shoot them off from the baseball stadium instead of from the top of the larger buildings in town, so in reality, most of us who end up experiencing the fireworks (involuntarily) can only hear them. From our homes. As our kids try to sleep.
I don’t know about you, but hearing a 15 minute series of faux gunshots and bomb-blasts at 10pm that only a few people too inebriated to notice can really enjoy seems like a horrible idea as far as a city-planning perspective is concerned. I don’t know if they’re trying to impress us or drive us out of town.
I mean, maybe the organizations who produce the fireworks should pool their money to put towards a new homeless shelter or the dismal school system in the area. That might be a better way to make the community better rather than embarking in mass acts of noise pollution.
But no… The Reno community sets off fireworks three times a week. Which are cool. On the fourth of July. When you’re 10 years old.
I can’t wait to move to the sleepy town we’re in the process of moving to. No fireworks. Just music in the park in the summer. Farmers markets. Christmas markets. That’s about it.
Am I getting old or what? Damn, I’m a curmudgeon. Have a great weekend everyone. No existential point to this one. Just a little grumble grumble as I sit perched on my sofa.
Maybe you can relate to it. Perhaps we can find solidarity in our snootiness. I think I’m gonna go fire off those old M-80’s I have in my junk drawer now.
It’s what Rory says on a near daily basis when she comes home from preschool before showing me all of her battle wounds from a hard day’s play.
The first time I heard it, I went into full-on protective father mode. Yes, I even emailed the lady who runs the preschool (I did it in good taste, c’mon now…). A certain part of me wanted to meet Max after school in the alley and whoop his little ass. But then I realized... Shit... He’s 3.
When it happened the second time, I noticed something. Rory wasn’t distraught when she told me. And thinking back, she wasn’t the first time either. She was kinda smiley about it. She had a little gleam in her eye. But then she added to the story by telling me how she fell off her bike.
The third day, it was the same story — starting by pointing out her scrapes and bruises followed by tattling on Max and then the whole falling-off-my-bike bit — but she added another element... The cat bit her. Yes, a scary cat (she even acted it out with her hands like claws and her teeth like fangs).
The story about Max grew in subsequent evenings to epic stories of how, afterwards, she pointed her finger at him and said, “Max — don’t PUSH me! That’s NOT nice!” (Yes, I taught her this.)
It’s then that I realized... She’s already a drama queen. Hell, why am I isolating this to her? We’re all hard-wired drama queens.
When I hear two people talking and their tone reverts from peaceful chit-chat to talking about a conflict of some sort — FOMO immediately kicks in. I want to find out what the drama is. And when it happens to me, I can’t WAIT to tell someone about it (or write about it here).
Is it ego? Is it bad? Is it good? I don’t know. I just wish you’d stop pushing me.
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On our backs in your full-size bed, staring at the ceiling, talking over the soft, nasally sound of James Taylor coming through the iPod stereo with the bad connection. We were always just a few steps away from everything else inside that studio. The kitchen. The bathroom. The living room. The front door.
It was a cocoon of solitude on the northern edge of a big, beautiful, bustling city. Me, a small town boy. And you, the uptown girl.
We were the whole of each other’s world. Just you and I. One as one-hundred percent of the other.
The hardwood floors. The cracked walls. The black and white checkered tiles. The old TV.
The annoying cigarette smoke that crept through your window from your downstairs neighbor’s window, offset by the morning light filtering through the brick-lined alley and pouring into your kitchen.
We’d make slow meals, watch full movies, have big conversations, and go explore the city together for hours with nothing else to worry about besides the challenge of making this thing work. To be closer. And to keep this feeling forever.
What really got my attention was the phlegm pelting my forehead…
She was sick. Again. I’d crawled in with her a few hours prior because, when she wakes up in the middle of the night — which she almost always does — she wants mommy or daddy to come keep the ghosts away.
Any parent knows that the life of a two-year-old is a perpetual state of cold and flu briefly interrupted by a good, healthy day here and there… As I wiped my brow, I took notice of my health. Part of me thought I might skate by. That I might get away with it. But the better part of me knew I was lying to myself. There was no way the health of my respiratory system would escape the onslaught of the germs flying from my daughter’s gullet.
The next morning, I woke up. I was fine. Fine! Rejoice! But she was not. Her fever stayed peaked at 103. And if you’ve ever seen a sick toddler, you know how miserable it can be to witness. They’re just so… Sad.
The doctor gave her some antibiotics, steroids, and sent for a nebulizer to be delivered to our home that evening at 5pm so she could inhale the magic steam to make her better.
All that day, she hacked, and well into the evening.
6pm came. Still no respirator. The hacking continued.
After a call to the doctor, delivery had been postponed until 9pm.
At 9, the medical device delivery guy showed up with the nebulizer. But he politely informed us that they no longer took credit/debit cards that time of night. Only cash or check.
We had no cash or check on hand. The only option he gave us was to have them come back in the morning to deliver it. Defeated and tired, we frustratedly submitted. Fine.
At 9:30 her hacking was worsening. She couldn’t even lay down. My wife hit a mother-bear-level of rage and got the medical device people on the phone, demanding they be there pronto to deliver the goods. We would go to an ATM and get cash. This was going to happen. Or we were going to the ER.
At 10:30pm, they showed up again. We paid them. Put the mask on my daughter as she inhaled her way to peace, and then, soon afterwards, to sleep.
But I still hadn’t written my daily post…
I was exhausted. I’d been caring for a toddler for two days. I wanted nothing more than to get in that warm bed with my wife and crash.
But I knew that this was the shit sandwich I’d have to eat after signing up on that cosmic line as a writer. I could have turned in. So easily. And you wouldn’t have cared. You would have understood. Hell, if you were a fly on the wall, you’d probably cringe to see me sitting there, laptop steadied, staring at the wall while urging those words forward onto the page.
The next day, I started coughing. The tiny cough increased through the day until I finally lost my voice around 8pm. I hadn’t skated. That little shit. She got me again. (Yes, she’ll pay when she’s 16.)
But the same thing happened that night. I had to write. All day, I was caring for myself and my kiddo. By the time she went to sleep, it was close to 9pm. And I wanted to sink into that California King again. So badly. But to the laptop, I grumbled.
I’ll stop driving this thing home here… The point (as you probably see by now) is, when we pick what we want to do, and we have the opportunity to do it, we also must take the pain that goes along with it.
This is an incredible time for writers like me. This internet thingy combined with these relatively cheap computers and these free blogging platforms mean I can write something that you can read from the other side of the world. Immediately after I hit ‘publish’.
That totally gets us off, does it not?
No agent required. No mass market book deal. No fancy schmancy column in the New Yorker (although, if you know anyone, ahem…).
Right there. In the middle of the night. In my sweats. Connecting with myself and, by chance, you. Staring at our reflections in the pool of human experience through the written word (and wishing I wouldn’t have procrastinated — damn it, one day I’ll learn).
This is my daily practice. And I hate it. But I love it. After I do it, and even sometimes while I’m doing it, I know I’m being fulfilled. I know I’ve won another day.
Everything comes with a shit sandwich. The best we can do is put ourselves in the position to choose which flavor of shit sandwich we eat.
For young geniuses, athletes, and musicians, it’s the non-existent social life — their childhood flying by while they’re at the keys or shooting free throws. For celebrities it’s the inability to run into Denny’s for a short stack without getting into a scuffle with the paparazzi.
This is the flavor of shit sandwich I’ve chosen. And I’ll take it any day. What’s yours?