348s“I was here last week. I had the peanut butter chocolate pie.” He put down his menu and searched the tabletop for a spoon to stir his coffee. “This is the second restaurant I’ve been to in 2 days that didn’t give us spoons. What’s with that?” He vertically flipped his fork and stirred the sugar.

He perused the menu and spoke from behind it. “Why are you so upset today?”

He leaned into his elbow that rested on the table. He held his hand like a vice and pinched his temples with his fingers. He wiped his face from forehead to chin and settled his head on his palm. “Uh, I’m just fed up.”

“I think I’ll have the Elena Ruz.” He elongated the Z.

“I don’t even know what that is.”

“It’s under sandwiches.” He closed the menu and placed it on the edge of the table. “So. What’s going on?”

“I’m just having a bad day.”

The waitress approached; both men ordered a meal.

“So you’re having a difficult day.”

“Yeah Padre I am. Okay so. You know Frattallone’s on Grand?”

“Sure. It’s where I go.”

“It’s like the perfect hardware store. Anyway. So I’m in there looking for caulk rope and I see a neighbor of mine.”


“Now this is a guy I used to hang with all the time. And I wasn’t in the mood to deal with him so I nodded and started walking to the weather stripping aisle.”


“So he comes up to me and says,” he adopts a different voice, “Hey! Long time no see! How’ve you been? And I told him I’m okay. And he says, yeah I’ve heard about you being sick. Is everything okay now? And I said, yeah I’m fine. And I told him I was in a hurry. And he says, so the heart thing’s okay? And now I get mad and I said, I’m fine. It’s all good. And I just wanted to get away from him and he says, well, what was it? And now I’m livid. I haven’t heard from this fuckwit in a year. So I said, it’s a private thing. I don’t want to talk about it. And he acts all mad.”

“Maybe he was concerned.”

“I don’t care what he is.” He sat back in the booth and crossed his arms over his chest. “I don’t owe him the details of my life.”

“Did it occur to you that maybe he just cares about you?”

He sat straight. “You know what? I hung with him a couple of times a month. We texted at least a couple of times a week. I’ve had three procedures on my heart. Unsuccessful by the way. My Father’s been in the hospital three times this year. My Mother’s been hospitalized three times this year. Shit I’ve been hospitalized four times this year alone!” He punched the air with his index finger, “He knew it. All my neighbors knew it. It was in the Highland Villager. I haven’t heard from a single one of them! I had to hire someone to shovel my sidewalks, mow my lawn, and deliver my groceries. And they all know I’m sick. So you know what? I’m not providing the goddamned details of my life so that they can have something to gossip about. I don’t owe it.”

“I can see why you’d feel hurt but I think you need to realize that sometimes people can’t be what we need them to be.”

“You know what? I don’t need them to help me. But I don’t need to be their entertainment either.”

The waitress approached and refilled their coffees.

Her interruption made him regain the rhythm of his breath. “Look I had a redefining moment last month.”

The priest set his cup down. “Tell me.”

“So my play is over one night and I walk out into the lobby and I see my friend. He’s standing there waiting for me. He’s worked all day. Married with kids. Doctor. And I see him standing there. He took tickets for me that night. And I could see how tired he was. And I know he has to work in the morning and I thought, that’s a friend. Look what he gave me.” The waitress set their plates on the table, asked if they wanted anything else, and left. “So I thought about it. If he’s my friend, and by Christ he is, then that guy today isn’t. And I’m not treating them the same anymore.”

“Okay but does that entitle you to treat someone else rudely?”

“Okay Father, I don’t think it’s rude not to cast myself as the zoo exhibit. Show me in the Bible where it says I’m required to be the entertainment.”

“Let me ask you something. Which is more important to you, kindness or pride?”

“My heart’s too broken to offer every fuckwit a piece of it. I’m not doing it right now. I’m not.”

“As your spiritual advisor I feel compelled to show you your error.”

“I know you’re right Father. I do. But I’m not good enough to be that selfless. I’m not. I’m going with the Old Testament thing right now. The whole eye for an eye thing. Right now I can live with them being blind.”

“It’s not your place to distribute justice.”

He took his elbows and made a pyramid over his plate and  rested his eyes in his palms. “I know. I know. I know.” He began to cry. “I know,” he whispered.

“Listen Mark, I’ve known you for 35 years. Don’t become this.”

He looked up. “I’m trying man. I’m trying. I really am.”

“Try harder.”



(Photo courtesy of Yelp)

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November 16, 2017



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Too Much Too

11“We weren’t at the wrong time,” she shook her head and lifted the wineglass to her lips. “There was just too much of an age difference.” She took a sip and set down the glass.

“My God that was ten years ago. I was a kid!” He laughed. “I’m still too old for you.”

“So, tell me about your heart.”

It was his turn to shake his head. “No. I don’t want to turn this into that. Let’s do the catching up thing and the reminiscing thing.”

He looked at pictures of her daughter; she heard about his play.

She interrupted him, “Was I in it?”

“One scene. I’ll send you a copy. I gave the only copy I brought with me to a friend of mine tonight. Did you want to order an appetizer of something?” He sat down his emptied highball. “They have great food here. I ate dinner here tonight.”

“No. I’m fine.”

“It’s so late. I’m really glad you came to meet me.”

She smiled and sat straight on the stool. “So why are you here? Explain it to me.”

“Well, I’m hoping to ghostwrite another autobiography. I don’t know if I’ll get it or not. And then I met with some investors. We’re talking about investing in a play and premiering it here.”

“That sounds exciting! Would you move to Chicago?”

“I don’t know. It’s all at the preliminary stages. The wallet guy likes how I write but he didn’t like the play. He thought it was too narrow to be a commercial success. But,” he stopped when the waitress approached and ordered another Manhattan. “So the idea is that I write another play. Something more traditional. And if he likes it, they’ll finance it. I told him I’d email him an outline when I get home. Which will be a feat because I haven’t one Goddamned clue what the play will be about!” He laughed.

“You’ve never had trouble with that.”

“Would you like another one?” He pointed to her emptied glass.

“Sure.” She reached across the table and patted the top of his hand. “So tell me. Who are you seeing? What’s new on the dating front?”

He saw the ring on her finger as it caught the light. “No one.” He sat back into his stool and crossed his arms over his chest. “I hate how I look with this weight. So I haven’t any confidence at all. And with the heart shit, I just can’t see getting a woman interested enough to want to join in on this death march.”

“Do you have anyone with you during all of this?”

“Well, my family. Of course. But no. Seriously I’m not seeing anyone. I was interested in someone but she made it quite clear she wasn’t interested in me. And that’s okay. And what the hell. It’s okay. I didn’t take it personally. I’m not me anymore. Not right now.” The waitress brought his drink and he ordered another glass of wine for her.

“How many have you had tonight?”

“I’m okay.” He took a sip. “I’m staying here. I just need to get to the fourth floor.”

“I’m concerned about your heart.”

“Yeah, you’re right. I’m drinking too much. I’m just so Goddamned depressed. And I can’t pull out of it.”

“Have you thought about getting a little professional help?”

“I am. I am seeing someone.”


“I’m so glad you met me tonight. I’ve missed you.”

“Have you?”

“Sure. You’re a big part of my life. I couldn’t come to Chicago and not see you. I don’t know if I’ll see you again.” His sadness caught his sentence in the middle of his throat. “Do you ever miss me?”

“No.” She rubbed his forearm. “I’m too busy to miss you. I work all the time and I have a husband who doesn’t like that I work all the time and I have a daughter I see 10 minutes a day.”

“Are you sorry you did the doctor thing?”

“No. I love it. I’m just busy. Nothing more than that.”

“I was a fool to let you go.”

“Truth be told Mark,” she looked into his eyes, “you never really had me.”

“I know. I was too old for you.”

“No. You were too much for me.”

“Let’s talk about something else.” He took a gulp of his drink. “What’s the rents like downtown?”

“Depends on where you want to live.”

“What’s wrong with Michigan Avenue?”

She laughed, “Well, you’d have to write one helluva play!”

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Civil Discord

tzoo.hd.10166.1253.245270.InterContinentalChicagoI stood beside the entrance table. A floral arrangement centered the lobby. Tall and perfect. Synthetic or authentic? I didn’t care enough to discern. I watched a young father pay for a pizza and pass it to his kindergartened sized daughter. I watched with wonder as they waited for the elevator. A big pie to balance with tiny palms.

A couple stepped off the elevator. A Sherman McCoy. Not the ridiculous Tom Hanks incarnation. William Hurt. Tall. Blonde. WASPily adorned in a blue long town coat that covered a matched navy blue Brooks Brother’s suit. Vent of no vent? I couldn’t see the cut. His scarf dangled and framed his tie. Not fashioned into a Parisian knot. Just draped. Like his father’s. His grandfathers’. His past. His spine straightened by etiquette. Deportment.  Discipline.

At his side: a Samantha Jones. After the cancer. Skeletal and elongated. He held the door and ruddered the small of her back. He steered her cashmere mere inches above her belt. She stepped outside.

He widened the door and stepped aside for a woman who walked several steps behind. She raised her hands above her head as if threatened for her cash. Her face twisted into hate. She backed away from him. Steps. Yards. Ten feet. Perhaps further. No words were exchanged. No offense was committed. Disobediently uncivilized.

He shrugged his shoulders and walked outside. The door shut behind him.


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Crossed My Mind

So many vivid memories.

Leaving Junction City Kansas after Dad’s work week and heading toward Saint Paul. Climbing into the backseat of a two-toned salmon and white Chevy and watching my Father’s jacket collar as we motored along US Route 77.

Pecan-Roll_2ozSmall tots taking turns riding in the rear window. Fitting inside the space between the trunk and the roof. Jiggling in reply to the textures of the pavement. Looking for the Big Dipper. Watching the lights of each town grow with each approach. Singing the same circus song and counting the same colored cars and remaining silent in the midst of pinches and tickles. Scrunching against the accusations of being on someone else’s seat.

The sides of the highway littered with small white crosses. Crosses to mark places. Accidents. Fatalities. The crosses were punctuated by signs: “narrow bridge” or “narrow roads.” Feeling fear as my Father drove that winding strip of highway. Closing my eyes and praying for protection as my Father passed a car driving the opposite direction. Speeds limited to 75 mph.

Stuckey’s Pecan Rolls.

PJ’s with socks at the end of the legs. Tiny union suits. Wrapped in blankets and tugging for a share of the warmth.

Bologna sandwiches on Wonder Bread passed overhead from front seat to back.

A motherly mantra: “I’d just like to make it through one trip without milk spilled down my back!”

Yesterday I drove the highway between Chicago and Saint Paul. I wanted the silence of solitude. No radio. No chatter. I wanted the rote of the road. The shoulders of the highway were littered with debris: 27 carcasses of deer. Skins sprayed with orange painted Xs. I remembered the crosses. I chewed a stick of jerky and remembered my memories.

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She Was Too Much

She fleshed gluttony: too talkative, too loud, too desperate. Although she feigned conversation with her companion, she delivered her monologue to her captive audience. We weren’t captivated with interest; it was need. We needed procedures. We waited in the waiting room; we were bound to listen. I looked over my iPad to see the source of her disturbance. She sprawled across her seat and rested from shin to shoe on the tiny table provided for toddlers. The table toddlers touch. Her shoes soiled their play surface. I was too sick to take a stand.

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