I went to a funeral today. One of my closest friend’s father died. A very nice man.

The Mass was held in the church of my childhood. The building’s changed. Now it looks like a concert hall but the communal feeling hasn’t changed. At the most sacred moments of The Mass, adherents kneel. I looked around and no one had. I began to kneel. I’m Roman Catholic. I keep and cherish and embrace the rituals. And then in the words of my Grandmother Mary Maxine Fitzpatrick, the woman beside me “hit her knees” at the same time I did. We were strangers. But she reached out her hand and patted my forearm and I knew we were true brother and sister honoring our same Father. At that moment I felt a true Holy Communion.

I love being a Roman Catholic. I’m so ashamed I’ve spent so many months in lamentation of my heart and wasted so many months ignoring my immortal soul. Now my friend’s father has passed. But in the midst of his moment, I’ve experienced a reawakening. Thank you Mr. Heiser. I’ll always remember this moment and I’ll always cherish your memory.


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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Baby eating solid foods 1540She scooped the squash and swiftly spooned it into the toddler’s mouth.

He laughed. “Look at her hair!”

She took her palm and swirled the strays into a curl. She resumed spooning the food.

He stood up from the table and walked to the sink. “Do they still have those little toddler dinners? Oh my God, what were they called? Baby’s little bites?” He turned the tap and filled a glass.

She smiled at him while he sat back down. “Yeah, they do.”

“I just remember my boys picking up those little handfuls and trying to find their mouths! It was the best!”

“You have more energy today.”

“Nap. I can’t do the day without a nap.”

“I thought you watched the Vikings’ game.” She set the bowl on the table and grabbed another one.

“I watched one quarter and then went home. I was too sick. I can’t do social activities anymore. Well, not for a while.”

“Your body will adjust. Give it time.”

“I don’t know. We’ll see.”

“So, bring me up to date. What’s going on?” She took a soft cloth and wiped the spills off her granddaughter’s mouth.

He leaned into his elbows and created a pyramid for his chin. “Oh hell, I don’t know. You know the heart shit. Oh. Baby. I’ve got to clean up my mouth. I don’t think anything else really.” He sat straight. “Oh. I started spiritual direction again.”

“How’s that going?” She became insistent with the spoon. “Emma. Grandma wants you to open your mouth.”

“Oh we’re at an impasse. My spiritual director says I’m too black and white.”

She interrupted, “You are.”

“Could I finish?”

“Okay.” She smiled.

“Well let me tell you the story. I told him I’m not going to date anymore.”

“Why won’t you?”

“Okay,” he exhaled a sigh, “I think it’s incredibly self-absorbed to expect another human being to sign on to this death train.”

“Stop it.” She put down the spoon and rested it along the rim of the bowl.

“Okay fine. Sick train.” He stood up and leaned against the center island. “It’s too much to ask someone to participate in. It’s too much to even explain to someone who’s not emotionally in.” He stood straight and feigned a conversation. “Hi! Nice to meet you! You want to schedule a life around my doctor appointments and watch me walk from chair to chair? Oh we just met? I just assumed you’d think I was worth it.” He resumed his lean. “See?”

“I see.” She spooned a bite and offered it to her granddaughter.

“I’m not doing it. And don’t think I’m all altruistic. I’m not. I don’t think I could take that kind of rejection right now.” He stood straight and walked to the window. “Not right now I can’t.”

“I think you’re giving fear too much power. People are better than that.”

He turned to face her. “It’s not about being better. I wouldn’t sign up for it and I think I’m a pretty decent guy. But right now if I was offered a part in this whole shitshow? I’d pass. At our age, we’re dealing with parents who are ill or freedom for the first time since college. No way in hell I’d do this if a woman I was just dating asked me. And it’s not wrong. It’s not. It’s too much to give to someone I’m not invested in. For better or worse is one thing. For worse or this is as good as it gets is another.”

“What was your spiritual director’s response?”

“Well my version of his words? What’s wrong with companionship? Why not take each day as it comes?”

“I agree with him.”

“Let me tell you about the world. The real world. Last year when I got sick? The first time? People visited me in the hospital. The next 4 times I was hospitalized? The only visitors I had were friends on staff at the hospital. Not one other person. And those are the people who I thought were emotionally invested in my life. You know what it’s like to stand with an IV pole and watch the door? I’m not doing it anymore. I can do alone. I’ve done alone. I’m doing alone.”

“I don’t know what to say.”

He walked back to the table and sat down. “I don’t need you to say anything. There are no good words here. It’s okay. Jesus look at you!  She’s darling! You’ve got it all. This is the house you built. I’m just too late. That’s all. Want to know something funny?”


“My spiritual director asked me why I chose to be a writer.  I thought about it.  Why do I write?  Want to know the truth?  The goddamned real fuc ..,” he stopped the word in deference to the child, “truth? I look like such a loser on paper. You know? I quit the seminary to help raise someone else’s kids. And my career never became what it should have. And I let two great women get away from me. And now I’m too sick to run to home plate.” He streamed his speech to control it. “I write because I wanted something to counteract that big empty page.  That’s all. See? Completely self-absorbed. ”

She stood up and took the emptied bowls to the sick. “None of that is true and even if it was that’s not self-absorbed.”

“The whole conversation is.” He stood up and looked out the kitchen window above the sink. “Is that a heated birdbath? I need to get one of those. I can’t believe how many birds my feeder attracts.”

“I bought it at the Highland Nursery. Wait until spring. They’ll be cheaper then.” She took a damp cloth and wiped the dinner from the child’s hands and face.


(Photo courtesy of


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.

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.

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!”