Saturday, December 29, 2012
color to the world A walk to work. Ten degree weather. Cold to the bone. Dark houses. Too many of them—and more than last year—without Christmas lights. I pass them. Think of what goes on inside. Politics. Religion. Television. Likely nothing beyond the every day black-and-white at all. And I wonder…what’s so hard about stringing some lights? Slap a wreath on the door. Tie a bow to the mailbox. Help put some color into this world. I pass the doctor’s house. Wreath. Bow. Tree in the window. A few strands of lights. And it makes me happy. I pause. Turn and look down Hitchcock Street—like I do every morning—the straight-shot view to the big lake. And I take a slow, deep breath to recharge. Rethink. Regain that perspective that the water, the trees, this town can give a man when he is able to peel away the layers of apathy and ignorance. Tune into the subtle mystique and let himself be drawn in. A bug to the light. Metal to a magnet. Husband to his wife. And just as I’m starting to feel it—that welcoming, electric-like buzz of hope that this place has always held beneath its surface—a red van growls by. And instantly, I think of the two women at my door. A few days ago. Meek as hell. Pleasant and kind. Getting out of their red van and walking to my door. I heard them before I saw them—the van exhaust a dead giveaway—so I was at the door and ready before they knocked or rang the bell. ** “Hi!” I said, as I opened the door and the wind nearly took it off its hinges. “Hi,” the tall twiggy one asked. “What’s your name?” “K.J.,” I said, as I held the door open against swirling gusts that sent snow up all around us like we were figurines in a snow globe. “K.J., it’s nice to meet you. I’m Sara and this is Mary.” Sara. Late 30s. Tall. Plain. Straight sandy-blonde hair. Gold, wire-rimmed round glasses. And when she turned sideways to introduce her cohort, I could see Sara was paper thin. So much so, that with the way the gusts were coming, I was worried she might be swept away. She held the porch railing with one hand. Bible with the other. But the wind. The cold. The fact that I was standing there with a martini in my hand at two o’clock in the afternoon, didn’t seem to phase her. “Hi, Sara. Hi, Mary.” I sipped my drink. Mary was short. Stout. Late 50s. She had a sweet face. Pretty eyes. And immediately, she made me miss my Grandma. Had I been into my third martini instead of my second, I would have invited her in. Given her the reigns to the fridge, the cupboards, the pots and pans, and let her dazzle me with old-school, culinary genius. Bet you make some mean meatballs! That’s what I wanted to say. But my wife. Marriage. Kids. All of these things have tempered me. And so, I said nothing. When two women come to your door on a blustery Saturday afternoon holding bibles and looking sweetly serious it’s clear they have something to say. “Do you ever wonder how the world will end?” Sara asked. “Holy moly,” I said. “That’s getting right to the point.” Sara smiled. Mary looked over her shoulder at the neighbor’s trash can that was rolling away. Sara tried it again. “K.J., don’t you ever wonder what it will be like at the end?” I sipped my martini. Watched that trash can roll and roll until it came to rest on the other side of the street against the curb. Mary was back with us now. She had opened her bible and was watching me. “Of course I wonder about the end,” I said. “Nearly every day. In fact, I have this story rolling around in my head right now that I’ve been trying to get down on paper for weeks.” “You’re a writer?” Mary asked. By her tone, her interest, I could tell that Mary was a writer too. Or at the very least, she read enough and thought enough about what she was reading to know that writing—stringing words together to make light—is a hard thing to do. “Yep,” I said, and raised my martini to the wind as if itself was proof enough that indeed I was a man of words. Sara looked at Mary with sweet disgust. We were getting off track. They’d come here with a job to do. They were cold. Getting blown around. Covered with snow. They needed to get in. Lay the foundation. Then get out. “What’s the story?” Mary asked. Sara looked at me. Forced a smile. “Yes, what is the story?” Sara asked. I drained my glass. Kept hold of that door so it wouldn’t whack them off the porch. “My wife. My kids. We’re all together. On the beach. My wife and I—we can tell something’s coming—but we don’t know what. We are drinking wine. The kids are playing in the sand. The sky is going crazy. Changing colors. Going bright. Going dark. There are birds in swarms. Feathers falling. Fish are belly-up in the water. Some of them flopping around on the shore. But all of us are calm and happy and warm.” Mary smiled. Sara’s face relaxed. For a moment, I believed she was listening. “And there is this rumbling,” I said. “It’s in the distance. I can hear it. My wife can too. But the kids cannot. We gather together and just sit there. Waiting for the unknown. As the rumbling grows louder—again it’s something only my wife and I can hear—we huddle together. Hug and kiss. And when we look out over the lake we can see it—an enormous wave—rolling in.” A Fed Ex truck roared past. The trash can was freed from the curb. It rolled back across the street. To the neighbor’s yard. And I thought of trash cans all over town whirling around. Their owners never knowing the travels they make on blustery days. “What happens then?” Sara asked. I looked to Mary. She was still smiling. And I wanted more than ever to bring her in. Keep her. Have my Grandma again. Good food. An old friend. And that’s when I knew that the martini was doing its job. My mind was shaking loose the everyday bullshit and my heart was rising up. And little by little the world was making sense. And I knew I needed to go. To get downstairs. To the big old desk. Another martini. The keys. And I needed to write that story about the end of the world. “That’s where we come in,” Mary said and she flipped from the page she’d been holding to another place in the bible. “Mary…” Sara started, but it was too late and Mary began to read. “I have seen the occupation that God has given to the sons of mankind in which to be occupied. Everything he has made pretty in its time. Even time indefinite he has put in their heart, that mankind may never find out the work that the true God has made from the start to the finish. I have come to know that there is nothing better for them than to rejoice and to do good during one’s life; and also that every man should eat and indeed drink and see good for all his hard work. It is the gift of God.” Mary closed her bible. “Well thanks, Mary. And amen!” Sara handed me a pamphlet, WOULD YOU LIKE TO KNOW THE TRUTH? “Thank you, K.J.,” she said. Mary waved. I waved back. And they headed down the steps to their van. They got in. Started it. And as it growled and roared its way down Second Avenue I thought it was probably pretty hard doing what they had to do. Believing so much. Trying to change a world that did not want to be changed. And that a noisy van likely made it worse, eliminating the chances of a sneak attack. ** I passed Hitchcock Street. Continued my walk. Listened as the van vibrated its way through the quiet morning and headed out of town. Wondered if it was Sara and Mary giving it another shot. Converting the world. Changing my neighborhood from lights and decorations to plain old dark. And I thought then that maybe I should not go to work. That I should stay out. In ten degree weather. One foot in front of the other. Cold to the bone. And make my rounds. To each and every house. With martinis and bows and strings of words. To hang like lights. So they would shine. Brighter than politics. Truer than religion. And that somehow. Together. We would bring color to this world. ~ K.J.
Wednesday, December 19, 2012
Cannot imagine. What it would be like. Right now. Not hearing Oogie. Me—finally, downstairs at the writing desk. While she’s in her room. Just a three-year-old. In her big safe world. Scooby Doo. Pink walls. Stuffed animals. Books and dolls. Bouncing around on her bed just before she goes to that place where she says she meets talking ladybugs. Lions that love her. And her brother. And the two of them rule dream world—just as they do in this old house in this old neighborhood—running, hugging, laughing. Chasing bubbles. Building forts. Throwing snowballs in each other’s face just to show the depth of their unbreakable bond. Their BFF-to-the-end affection. And I think of my boy—Little Man—tonight on the couch looking like all the wind had gone out of him. “Rough day at school, hey?” He put his head on my shoulder. And we just sat there. Watching Home Alone. Waiting for fish sticks and tater tots to brown in the oven. And I kept thinking that it was only a few hours ago that I saw him run up onto the stage with a half dozen other kids for their first grade Christmas play. He was smiling and proud, waving at me. Excited. And then, some other kid—probably just as proud and excited—yelled at him, “NO! Get out of here! You’re not part of this!” My boy. Standing there. Just as confused as I was because I saw his name on the program as being part of this part that the kid said he was not part of. And then, he walked away. Embarrassed. Sad. And there it was. Here it is. That little part of me. That breaks. Because no matter what I do to guide and teach. No matter how much I love him. There is nothing I can do to protect him. Save him. Stop whatever it is that waits for him. His sister. All those other little kids that were just there to sing. Wear Santa hats. Penguin costumes. And bring a little joy to our world. But this is the thing you cannot show while sitting among fifty other parents, grandparents, uncles and aunts. It is not the thing you can show to your wife at your side. Your daughter on your lap. Or your boy. As he waits. Awkwardly. Ten feet from the stage. For his chance to get back up there and show us what it is he’s been practicing for every day the past two weeks. A lifetime in kid-dom. No. I cannot imagine what it would be like. And I hope this is the closest I will ever get. To not hearing Oogie. Me—at my writing desk. While the kids are upstairs. Heads to pillows. Bodies cozy in big blankets. Getting ready to run and laugh and hug. With ladybugs. Lions that love them. And the two of them can rule this world. With an unbreakable bond. Filled with BFF-to-the-end affection. Bless you little kids in Newport. And bless you too, kids all over the world. ~ K.J.
Thursday, December 6, 2012
abrupt endings (part of the new novel) She had the book with her. Little, multi-colored tabs exploding from the pages. And the cover and binding were so beat to hell that it made it hard to believe she’d only had the book for a month. “Cutting Teeth,” she said and tapped the cover of the book. “The sentences are so short and the endings so abrupt,” she said. I took a big drink of scotch. Rolled it round with my tongue. Looked forward to the slow, easy heat. Watched this girl—Emily—go from thumbing like crazy through a copy of my book to writing frantically in a leather bound journal as she talked to me. She was pretty. Dark curls. Icy blue eyes. Young. Looking her best, I suppose. But I didn’t want company, didn’t want to talk about the book, and didn’t want to talk about writing. Especially to some graduate student doing a paper on minimalism while she was home for the holidays. “Do you want a drink,” I asked. The scotch raced down my throat. Warmed the hollow place. And started its mellow release. Through bloodstream. Muscle. Tissue. Bone. To the place that’s always needed it. And I thought of all the times it’s been like this. Me. Bellied up to the bar. Enjoying the dim light. Wanting nothing but quiet. To be left alone. Have a few drinks. To slow my mind and be able to think on the littlest things. And I could see her—Emily—in the mirror behind the bar, looking at me. “Two more,” I said to Mike, the bartender. “You got it, Hoss.” “Why does he call you Hoss?” she asked. Mike smiled. Poured two glasses of scotch. “Fan of Ponderosa, I guess.” She scribbled in her journal. “Ponderosa?” she said. “The steakhouse?” Mike chuckled. Set the liquid joy in front of us. “Jesus,” I said. “You’re so fucking young.” “My Dad used to take us there on Sundays,” she said. “I loved their mashed potatoes.” “Holy shit,” I said, and finished the rest of the first scotch. She fanned through the book. “You talk like you write,” she said. “Lots of profanity.” “Listen, Emily,” I said, “It is a little after noon on a Saturday. It’s cold outside. Snow is building up over the lake. I like it here. I’m in my element. Mike takes care of me. I take care of him. In about an hour, a couple of my friends will be here and they do not give a shit that I write books. They don’t care about words. Fuck, I don’t even think they read. And you know what? That’s what I’m looking forward to. So, if it’s all the same to you, I would like to just get this over with, so that maybe we can have a few drinks and talk like normal people for a while.” She sat there a moment. Back straight. Glancing at the door. I thought for sure I had done it. That she would excuse herself. Put on her coat. Take the raggedy book and pretentious journal and leave. Instead, she picked up the scotch. Drank it in three gulps without batting an eyelid and turned to me. “I can see why you’re wife left you,” she said and smiled. “My charm’s an acquired taste.” “Mike, another please.” And she fanned through those pages and scribbled in her journal and I knew I was in for a long day. And maybe a long night. And that now, anything could happen and probably would because we were drinking scotch on a Saturday afternoon in Alpena, Michigan. The place it all came together. The place it all fell apart. And I was old and she was young and we cared about nothing but the book and everything I had built into those short sentences. Abrupt endings. And small words. ~ K.J.
Sunday, November 25, 2012
writer’s block 8:06 am Thanksgiving’s been made into soup. Winter’s come out of nowhere. Snow blower’s been dusted off. Shovel has been put into action. We are in it. No getting around it. So, instead of pissing and moaning, it’s time to make the best of it. Pull kids in the sled. Round the block. Round the back yard. Until a few more snows. When I’ll push the Tecumseh-driven snow beast back-and-forth to get as much of the yard’s snow into one big sloping pile. So Oogie and Little Man will have their very own sledding hill. Half tank of gas. An hour of work. A few trial runs to pack things down and make sure everything is in proper working order for the kiddos. And the dynamic duo will be happy and smiling. And Daddy will be the hero. The man. Their BFF. The provider of all that is good. Until, of course, Oogie refuses to move out of Little Man’s way. He flattens her like a Zamboni over a marshmallow. Or she throws snow into his face. Or he pushes her over. Or…It could be any number of things and then, at once, I’m not a very nice guy. Breaking up the fight. Hammering home rules. Telling them things they don’t want to hear because they just want to do things their way and have fun. And so it goes. Over and over again. Kids and playing and fighting and parents trying to help them understand the things we must be able to do to function at least half-assed in this society. But we didn’t wake and make way to the basement with our coffee for this. We came down here because this—unfortunately—is a case of writer’s block. And it is what we need to do to get moving onto other things. Like picking a title for the new book. The one I’ve been working on for longer than I can admit. A collection of work that is not only mine but that also belongs to four other writers that were gracious enough to let me use their writing for this project. This will be the first publication that is a direct result of our new efforts at Horsefeathers Studio. We will sell the books at the shop, but they will also be available at other stores and online. But all of that is to come. For now, it’s that elusive title. And the novel I’m working on. And the work we have to do at the shop to get the doors open to the public. The wood I’ve got to split. The trim in the hallway. The wall in the kitchen. And the fact that it’s Sunday and all I really want to do is stay inside. Drink warm drinks. Eat sweets. Play board games with the kids. And write. But all of that is hard to do when I know that there are plenty of people out there that haven’t got a pot to piss in. Didn’t even have Thanksgiving. And that playing in the snow with kids doesn’t sound like all that much fun when you’re living in it every day. Shit indeed does happen. People end up in bad places through bad choices, bad upbringings, and bad luck. But all I ever think when I see someone that needs help is that person is somebody’s kid. I don’t care who is at fault. That could be my Little Man. My Oogie. And their place in life could ultimately be the result of something I cannot see. So, you push past the fear. Don’t get too drawn up into the hurt. You pick them up. Dust them off. And help them. In whatever way you can. At least for a little bit. To get inside. For warm drinks. Sweets. So they can get fueled back up and tackle that big snowy hill again. Until fight or fate or bad choices send them over the top or back down again. It doesn’t matter really as long as they are given a chance. But that’s just me. Getting too deep. Too early. On a Sunday morning. Smack dab in the middle of a life that I’m thankful for, aware of, but that I sometimes do not believe I deserve. Especially when I can sit here in the basement. Sip coffee. Eat the best damned breakfast sandwich I’ve ever had (Thanks, S.B.). Hear my kids thumping around upstairs, playing. While I wrestle with a case of writer’s block. Best, ~ K.J.
Thursday, November 22, 2012
a shine Missing sunrises and sunsets. So, it is the season for making my own light. Creating spark. Finding flame. Doing what it takes so these days that seem so much the same are broken apart. Bit by bit. And I put a shine to the everyday moments. Seven-forty-five. Thanksgiving morning. In the basement. Dim bulb. Our adopted stray crunching cat food. Hum of the computer. Java hitting the bloodstream. Fingers to the keys. S.B.’s just got up. And now, I listen for my favorite sounds. Their little feet. Out of bed. Across the hardwood floor. Their Good Mornings and the start of another day. And our third Thanksgiving in Alpena. The place where we started. Took root. Then broke away from long enough so we could come back with direction. Intention. A heavy dose of follow through. We live a good life. We’ve got the basics—roof, clothes, food and health—but we have worked for and received much more. And so, as often as we can, we try to give back. Because when you have kids the one thing you should want them to hear—even though they cannot yet understand it—is how good they have it. They are not hand pumping water from an icy well in the middle of winter to heat for potato soup. They are not shitting in buckets. Sleeping on the floor. They are not huddled together. Hiding and scared in the dark. Wondering why their parents fight so much. Instead, they are cozy. Well-fed. Have nice bedrooms. Decent clothes. Books, movies, toys. Love without bounds. And they know that some kids don’t have as much. That people don’t always do the right things. And that even though we have stuff and we have each other, it’s most important that we reach out. To pick up trash that isn’t ours. Take in strays. Buy toys for tots. Pay a stranger’s bill at the check out. And move through this world guided by the will to give more than we receive. I’ve been missing sunrises and sunsets. But that’s okay because this is the season for making our own light. Creating spark. Finding flame. Doing what it takes so these days that seem so much the same are broken apart. Bit by bit. And we are putting a shine to the everyday moments. Happy Turkey Day. ~ K.J.
Tuesday, November 13, 2012
It’s more than selling books. I know this because I just had an event—a signing at a winery where I sold plenty of books—and didn’t break even. It wasn’t until the next day, when I sold a few more books to people that felt guilty for not going to the signing, that I was able tally up the total and feel a little better because finally we were in the black. Up twelve bucks. But all of this—the signing, being up a dozen dollars—seems silly now. It is Tuesday night. The event has passed. The sky is bright with stars. S.B. has candles lit all over the house. Nobody is Cutting Teeth. And I’ve had just enough aiming fluid so that now I’m ready to take a shot. At ignorance. Infomercials. The death of customer service. But I know that doing this—focusing on low-hanging fruit—is like shooting fish in a barrel. And we already have enough of that. Flip through the channels. Watch the news. Listen to cubicle conversations and pop radio. Don’t think. Don’t fight. Just do what you’re told. Push on through the days. Safe. Blind. Timid. Make ends meet. Or better yet, live comfortably. Subscribe to someone else’s beliefs—King James, Muhammad, Buddha, your Husband—and complain about how you’re a victim. Because the way of life you wanted so badly is not there for you. It did not come through in a Red upset. It is not there in a Blue victory. And the worst part of all is that you cannot find meaning in anything because you’ve never been brave enough to think on your own. And brevity is the lifeblood of the spirit. That undeniable, inexplicable thing that drives us each day to put one foot in front of the other and keep at this keeping on. Because it is more than selling books. Tuesday nights. And events that have passed. It is much, much more than that. And the trick to getting there—to having IT—is to be unafraid. Aim truly. And be willing to take a shot. ~ K.J.
Wednesday, November 7, 2012
fighting battles that matter Too much going on. To take a break. Throw jabs. Get caught up in banter. Especially when reactions are as predictable as I believed they would be. Fear. Oh, the fear. It’s enough to make a man stay home and collect hand outs. Cling to the Bible. Or stock up on guns. All because the way it should be—mapped out in his head over years of ethnocentricity—has got him believing it’s him against the world. “I’m proud of you,” I said to my six-year-old son. A boy, by the way, who is half-Ecuadorian. Not mine by the laws of Nature. But more part of me than my own arms and legs. Thoughts. Dreams. This writing. “For what?” he said. He was on the couch. Watching cartoons. Coming down from a day at Ella White Elementary that I know is harder and more complex than anything I do at my job selling conveyors from a cubicle on 2nd Avenue in Downtown Alpena. “For being good at school. For listening to Mrs. Hunter. For paying attention.” He smiled. I picked him up. Kissed his forehead and hugged him. “Stop,” he said. But then he hugged back. Tight. For ten seconds. Twenty. Then sixty. Maybe more. “I love you, buddy,” I said. “I’m proud of you.” “Thank you, Daddy,” he said. And there is this moment when I’m holding him. When his head is buried into my shoulder and I can feel him smiling that it makes me realize how simple it is. Love. Help. Protect him. And listen to the small unexpected moments. Because sooner than later, they’ll be gone. I cannot fathom how fortunate I am that this boy—a kid who could have ended up a lifetime away at the equator—is my son. That his real dad does not call or visit or even send money. And that there is anyone in this world that would choose to miss out. On his smile. His laugh. His potential. The chance to help something so small in this little town grow. And learn to appreciate things that matter in this big, big world. Like taking a break. Even when there is too much going on. To throw jabs. Be unafraid. Get caught up in banter. Especially when reactions are predictable. Fueled by fear. And a man is made by fighting battles that matter. ~ K.J.
Monday, November 5, 2012
earth bound Storm windows secured. Holes plugged. Cracks caulked. Firewood split. Day after day. Cold mornings. And colder nights. And the long stretch of unforgiving gray is building up over the horizon. So that soon it will be here to stay. And we will add more to the long list that grows longer each day. Bundle the kids. Scrape windows. Salt the walk. Move the snow. Haul wood. And above all, keep warm. So the cold does not drive Northern Michigan’s Winter straight through skin and muscle to the bone. To the place where cold can ache long enough—deep enough—that it can take root and cause irreparable harm. So it is important. To remain focused. Dedicated. Strong. To forget the comfort of dark drinks in dark bars. Grease-heavy meals. And the familiar electricity of unfamiliar touch. Because as lasting as these things can seem to be when you are so far from them, they are the same things that stop men dead in their tracks. Over and over again. A man cannot reach great heights when he is afraid of being earth bound. So, he must carry all the gifts he’s been giving—the kids, the windows, the walk, the snow, the wood—as if they are most precious things he will ever hold. And if he is able to do this—all the while being as strong and patient as he can—he will make it through. Embrace the loneliness of the day after day. The cold mornings. And colder nights. And the long stretch of unforgiving gray that builds over the horizon will be as welcome as sunrise over Lake Huron. Just another moment to be thankful for in a list that’s growing shorter each day. ~ K.J. (share as you like)
Tuesday, October 30, 2012
2. Nobody gets married thinking they’ll get divorced. And if someone had told me even a few months ago that our marriage would not make it ‘til death do us part, I could not have believed them. But now, the wife I loved and knew is someone else. Four years has driven a wedge into us. We've split. And the distance is too great to cross. Our efforts are better spent elsewhere. I will channel energy into writing. She will focus on her art. Teach. Create balance again. But that may take some time. Maggie does not rise, forgive, and create direction on her own. Because of this—whether she recognizes it or not—she is moving north. To Alpena. To live at our cottage on Grand Lake and work at Gallery Fifty-Seven, her brother's art studio. The move is not permanent, she says. Her aim is to save money, get grounded, so she and Sadie can move to Iowa in June. “Why June?” I asked her. “June is when the best part of Michigan weather is coming round. Why don't you set up a little studio at the cottage and just work through the summer?” This was last night. We were on the porch. Exchanging Sadie. “What for? You’ll be on the island. I’m not going through three seasons alone in Alpena.” She brims with resentment. I am leaving her. I am selling our house. I am leaving our daughter. I am giving up on everything. But she is the one that's broken our vows. “For Sadie,” I said. “And for our folks.” Sadie grabs my leg. Squeezes. “I don’t want to go to Iowa,” she says. My wife bites her lip. Nearly loses it to tears and crying and everything else that’s balled up inside her. It is an awful sight, seeing her like this on the porch where we used to sit, drink wine, be happy and unwind. A place where we felt safe. Comforted. At home. Where we could watch Sadie play in the yard. And we could listen to the birds. And talk about the day as the sun fell and the old conversion van turned ice cream truck weaved through our neighborhood playing Pop Goes the Weasel. “Nobody’s going to Iowa yet,” I said. Maggie has something to say. It is on the tip of her tongue. But she cannot let it out. Have it go free to run. And it is this—her unwillingness to talk, to explain, to share and come clean—that heightens my pulse, sends my heart to my gut, and makes me wish that she didn’t look so pretty—even now, with darkness all around and sadness in her face—and that I had never caught her. Fucking another man. In our house. Our bed. In the middle of our life. The day I found out—when I lived out the cliché of coming home early to find her with another man—was the end. There was no coming back from that. Her on top of him. Moaning. One of his hands on her tit, the other rubbing her ass. Some stranger doing things to my wife that she never let me do. It is the type of image, scene, nightmare that once you've seen it, felt it, known it, cannot be forgotten. And even though I've forgiven her, I cannot forget. And once physical lines have been crossed, the stronger, emotional lines begin to crumble. And now, I wonder if her lines were ever as strong as mine. And I wonder about everything. How she started smoking weed a few times a week after Sadie went to bed and I went to the basement for writing. How she started leaving dishes and laundry around. How she painted less and less and watched TV more and spent more time on Facebook and had more nights out with the girls. And the sex—always the sex since our honeymoon—how I always wanted it and she never did. And finally, when we would have it—maybe twice a month—she did not kiss me. Would not allow me to touch her tits. Rub her ass. And more often than not, she would not look at me. Something was wrong. I knew it. But when nearly everything else works, when you get along, support and encourage each other, own a home, a cottage, shiny cars, and you have a beautiful kid, and the biggest bang you get out of the day—aside from your family—is that you get paid to write stories—life is good. And when life is good, there's no reason to worry or wonder or think about how it could be great. And so, you have sex with your wife twice a month. You make sure the bills are paid. And you keep a steady eye on the fact that most people don’t have it as good as you do. It has not been easy. I sleep a few hours a night. Eat too much. Drink too much. It is hard to focus. To think. To do anything. When you know your wife has cheated you want for nothing to matter any more, but every little moment seems louder, clearer, and longer lasting. You are given a great gift of perspective and groundedness when your life is broken. And the damndest thing about it is that the heart remains the only thing unchanged. It has learned what it has learned. Knows what it wants. And there is love within it that cannot let go. As my wife wipes her eyes, there is a great sparkle as her diamond catches the porch light. “You’re still wearing your ring,” I said. “I know. I don’t know why. I just can’t take it off.” She was on shaky ground. About to break loose at any moment. “Give Momma a hug,” I said to Sadie. She let go of my leg. Hugged my wife. Their two curly brown shocks of hair came together. “I don’t want to go to Iowa, Mommy.” “I know, honey.” And then they both fell to tears. Hugging. Holding. And I looked away. To the lights of planes as they pushed through dark sky. To other men and women. Husbands and wives. Great distances from home. Traveling together or alone. Some with more disaster, fear and failure stitching together their relationships—their lives—than any outsider could ever know. And I wonder, if people can put their trust into strangers to land them safely from flights so high above the earth, why can’t I work to rebuild trust in my wife? Why can’t I work through it? Why can’t I make it work? The questions, they keep coming, over and over again, but they are questions I cannot answer. “I don’t want to go to Iowa, Mommy. I like it here.” Let’s not worry about Iowa,” I said. “Let’s worry about Frankemuth.” “Frankenmuth?” Sadie asked. “I thought you were going to the zoo?” Maggie said. Sadie stood between us. Wiped her eyes. Smiled. “What’s Frankenmuth? Is it a monster?” “No,” I said. “Frankemuth is a neat little town just a couple hours from here.” “But I want to see the polar bears!” she said. “We’ll see bears,” I said. “We will?” “Sure, and there’ll be a tiger and lion, and …” “But I want to go into the glass cave. The hole with the water around us and watch the bears swim,” she said. “What’s she talking about?” Maggie asked. “The Arctic Ring of Life,” I said. “At The Detroit Zoo.” “And we can watch the blind sea lions swim round and round,” Sadie said. “And the polar bear will play with the big red ball and I will reach up and touch him.” “She must have had fun last time,” Maggie said. “We’re not going to the big zoo,” I said. “We’re going to a little zoo, but we’re also going to go shopping, and swimming, and we’re going to eat and drink …” “Not too many drinks, ” Maggie said. I ignored her. Kept right on rolling. “ … and play video games and miniature golf and go to The Cheese Haus and Kern’s Sausage shop.” “Okay! Okay!” Sadie cheered. “Let’s go!” And I picked her up and we hugged and Maggie stepped closer and touched my arm and for a moment, we were home again. A husband and wife. With our daughter. On the porch. Decompressing from the day. All we needed was a little wine. The birds. And Pop Goes the Weasel—the ice cream truck serenade. “Where are you staying tonight?” I asked. My wife dabbed her eyes with a tissue. Took her keys from her coat pocket. Pulled her collar up to her ears. “In Canton,” she said. She moved closer. Kissed Sadie’s cheek. Hugged her. “I’ll meet you guys in Alpena in four days,” she said. “And Sadie, keep Daddy on track.” “I will!” Sadie said as she hugged me. Then we turned to watch her mother, my wife, walk away. Down the porch steps where we used to sit and watch sunrises and sunsets. Feed breadcrumbs to the family of mallards that adopted our neighborhood. Into the driveway where we played basketball and hop scotch. And into the car that took us everywhere. Grocery shopping at Meijer. To Wasabi in Westland. To Hines Park. Red Robin. The Drive-In on Ford Avenue. Tigers games. Bald Mountain in Lake Orion. And always up north, to Alpena. Our home away from home. And that, after her stay in Canton, was where she was headed. “I still don’t want to go to Iowa,” Sadie said. “I know, honey. But Iowa’s not so bad.” “Why?” she asked. “They have corn. Good schools. Lots and lots of windmills.” “They do?” “Sure, they do,” I said. I set her down. We watched Maggie’s red taillights until they were gone. I shut off the porch light and we went inside. “Time for beer and Scooby-Doo,” I said. “Okay,” Sadie said. “But not too much. We need our rest.” “You can never have too much beer and Scooby-Doo,” I said.
Saturday, October 20, 2012
~ Jan. 23, 2010 ~ MANGE Raccoons up an old elm as we tour a 1940’s custom-built brick home and dream of what it might be like to raise our kids there, in a neighborhood nicer than we deserve, and how me and my wife can sit by the fire and be content, and how maybe I can use the basement to write and drink and read and maybe even smoke a pipe, and we see the coons. Three of them. An adult and two young. And they do not look good. Mange has a hold of the two little guys. Something else has hold of the other. I know this because they do not look strong. And I know this too because it is January and daylight and 22 degrees. I say nothing, but the realtor does. "Oh, there are the critters," she says. And Little Man and S.B and even Jovi look out the kitchen window. The kids--they do not know--but S.B. looks at me. I look at her and we pass it off as the realtor does. An obvious fact of life. "Two of them have mange," she says. "And the big one, she doesn't look well either." Little Man stretches his neck. Watches as the animals wobble and shake thirty feet above ground. "They won't make it through the winter," our realtor says. It is sad. True. Another dose of brutal reality in this life that grows warmer and colder each day. And all of us turn from the window and keep looking. In closets. Bedrooms. Upstairs. Down into the basement. And nothing is known. For certain. It is, after all, just a house. Another building. A place to call home. And no matter what, we will have shelter and food, and we will last the winter. Not like the coons. Or the snowflakes. Or the people pushing through this life fighting for the wrong things. "I think we'll get the loan," I said to S.B. Tonight. As we sipped wine and watched bits and pieces of WALK THE LINE. "I think so too," she said. "We're good people, I think." "We are good," she said. Just then, Johnny Cash appears in the studio singing about prison and shooting a man just to watch him die. "Johnny goddamned Cash," I said. S.B. looked at me. Smiled. "People these days, they don't get it," I said. "Get what?" "Anything. People just don't get it." She smiled. Sipped her wine. "They don't get old brick houses, coons with mange, family, or doing what it takes to rise up and be better," I said. "You okay, honey?" she asked. I drink my wine. "I'm okay," I say. And head to the kitchen for more. But I am not okay. I am caught up in work and not writing and how our world has moved too far from a life where faith outweighs fear. And I wish to fuck our world had a Hemingway, Grant, and Johnny Cash to battle E.L. James, Tatum, and T.I. "Could you imagine," I said. "One of these hip-hop rapster-shits that think they're so tough in a room, one-on-one, with Johnny Cash when he was young?" She smiles again. "It's just not the same anymore," I said. "It's all different and based on things that do not last." "You seem tired, honey. Maybe you should sit down and rest." But I don't want to rest. I don't want to sleep. I don't want to do anything, but drink more wine, fight the good fight, and believe we have what it takes to hold onto the greats. But instead of drinking or fighting or believing in anything worthwhile, I sit at these keys--these goddamned keys--and I tap away at ideas that mean everything. Raccoons with mange, clinging to trees. Families. Trying. And these days. Autumn to winter. The tired dreams. Eating away our time. ~ KJ
The Debate, Baseball and Life in Alpena, Michigan (please, share as you like…thanks for the support) So much going on. In our little part of the world. Two men debating. And for what? Most of us have our minds made up. Driven not necessarily by what is right, but instead by whatever validates our thoughts. Our feelings. Our grand ideas of how life is supposed to be. When it begins. How it ends. And what we do in between. As if either of these two men will change the way I wake November 7th. Kiss my wife. Hug my kids. And go on about my day. But then again, I’m not afraid. And fear is exactly what it’s about. Someone’s gonna take my money. Take my God. My guns. My Big Gulp. And the saddest part of it is that the people that should be afraid are not. And then, we have the mighty Tigers. Playing against the Yankees. One state against another. One wallet against another. Men playing a game. People cheering. Booing. Art in power. Grace. Some people get it. Some do not. But one would suspect that if a person appreciates paintings, music and film then they too would appreciate baseball. The movement. The wait. The fact that these men train, practice, and do the one thing that they have loved since they were just little kids. Because the truth is most of us do not. We do what we’re told. What’s expected. What needs to be done. We work our jobs. Pay the bills. Put food on the table. Clothes on backs. And we tumble along through day after day—garbage day, grocery day, pay day—with a hard shell. Thick skin. Our Bible, our drugs, our drinks to get by. So that we are pleasantly surprised by little, unexpected parts of the day. Like getting out of the office. On a beautiful Tuesday morning. Getting your ass out of the cubicle. Away from the phone. The computer. And out to the shop. To the place where real men do the real work to make the machines that you sell. And as you walk toward the big building on a warm, blue-sky October day, thinking about your wife, your kids, how lucky you are to be living this small life far away from all the shit that seems to be ruining the world, you see a baseball bat. In a bucket. In the back of a pickup truck. And you see a opossum there too. Head split open. Curled up. Like a baby. Next to empty beer cans. And garbage. Just trying to keep warm. Breathing deeply. Slowly. In. Out. In. Out. Copyright © K.J. Stevens 2012 http://www.amazon.com/Cutting-Teeth-K-J-Stevens/dp/110563891X
Saturday, October 13, 2012
I don’t care if I have to cut meat with a butter knife. Use paper plates. Or if the plastic forks don’t match the plastic spoons. And if we were rolling in the dough, you can be sure that we’d share as much as we could. So others could eat. Sleep soundly. Have sturdy roofs above and solid foundations below. A place to keep warm. Be safe. And call home. But, we’re different, I guess. Me and S.B. We appreciate things—especially the small ones—and when you care so much about all the little parts that make up the whole, life is good. You realize that imperfections are potential. Years of wear adds character. And there is nothing wrong with mismatched plastic ware. The light of the world breaks wide open when you learn how to make the best of a bad situation. And as much as I can figure, this little nugget of happiness is directly related to trial-and-error, personality, and whatever magic is working behind the scene. Numerous things that cannot be understood at the time, but are Truths once you pull yourself up. Wipe the blood from your nose. Shake cobwebs from your head. And fearlessly, take another swing. Like being at the bottom. Going without. Having hand-me-downs. Being second best. Recognizing your roots. Being mindful of the past. Reaching out. Giving. Creating connectedness. And always—and I mean always—pushing ahead with chin up, guts in check, being ready and willing to take on whatever the day offers. Which, in the whole scheme of things, isn’t a calendar boxed off with days. Or hands on a clock that go round and round. But a big space of unknown. So, here’s to waking. Another lighted morning. One more chance. To celebrate what we have. Working slowly, steadily—one word at a time—to get from the bottom to the top. ~ K.J. [Copyright (c) 2012 by K.J. Stevens] As always, share with others as you see fit. Thanks for reading. ~ Stevens
Wednesday, September 19, 2012
Kids settling in their rooms. S.B. gone to a meeting. So it is just me. The dog. The cat. Winter out there somewhere. Pushing its way toward this old house. And as the dog sleeps at my feet. The cat sits next to me and purrs. I finally come down from another day of doing what needs to be done so my brain can stretch its legs. Warm up. Then run. Take me down the road. To the time when winter comes for good. The warmth and light are gone and I’m left standing in an empty room. Just me. The Unknown. And the highlight reel. One last chance for me to revel in moments I missed while I was busying being alive. My childhood on The Ridge. Running the woods and fields with my best friends, my brothers, Kevin and Keith. The three of us a team and together no matter what. The shitty years of school. Elementary through high school. Being teased. Picked on. Shoved aside. Fully of worry and a great lack of self confidence because nobody could have ever known what was going on inside. Moving out on my own. The apartments. Jobs. Friends, parties, and girls. Coming alive and recognizing my strengths at CMU. Then Minneapolis and Saint Paul. Where everything rose up like a great wave then came crashing down. Because I had not yet learned the art of moderation. And then back to town. To find love through fearless loving. And follow it. Meet my boy. Marry my girl. Discover my daughter. And begin putting together the bits and pieces I’d gathered over the span of 33 years so I could make good choices. Be the best husband and daddy I could be. And somehow get here. Wednesday night in Alpena, Michigan. Kids safe and sound. Slipping slowly into dream. My wife out there, putting her goodness into the world. So it is just me. The dog. The cat. And winter whirling around in the trees. Forcing autumn to move along. Get on with the change, so it can come and stay for good. Threaten us with darkness. Cold. That subtle emptiness that fills quickly with regret and worry when we’re alone. But that’s why it means so much that we have this. This old house. Dog sleeping at my feet. Cat purring. And time—finally—to come down. Do what really needs doing. So the brain can stretch. Warm. And run me away from the Unknown. So I can revel in the highlights and remember that this is IT. My last chance to live the moments that are sometimes missed when I’m so busy being alive. ~ K.J. Copyright © KJ Stevens 2012
Tuesday, September 18, 2012
I'm supposed to blog here to increase my chances of being a successful writer. I'm supposed to write about writing. I'm supposed to read other blogs. Get involved. Be a contributor. Provide feedback. Share tips. A writer these days needs to network. Employ social media. Write about politics, religion, current events. But I’m raising kids. Trying to make my wife’s life the best it can be. And all I ever want to write about is THE EVERY DAY. But this—it appears—is not enough. You must want more. And you must be able to do more. The requirements of success are only met by having a broad skill set. But mine has been narrowed—over the years—to one. And that, my friend, is like being bitched from the start when all you’ve ever known is that you want to be the best fucking writer since Carver, Davis, Shaw, and Hemingway. But you aren't supposed to want to be the best. You're supposed to build a portfolio. Provide constructive criticism. Run workshops. Teach English Comp. And—most importantly—you should embrace the flavor of the season. Vampires, erotica, the election. Because if Stephanie Meyer, E. L. James, and Mark Owen can do it, you can do it too. Just read them. Imitate. Emulate. And before you know it, you’re selling books. Doing readings. The next best thing. But I don’t want fifteen minutes or a series of like-minded books. I want a lifetime. And if that means I’ll never cash the checks, pay the tab, make the house payment, and I’ll always be that guy from Michigan that drinks too much, writes too plainly, and never hits it big, then I suppose I’ll have really accomplished something. ~ K.J.
Tuesday, August 14, 2012
Jovi, my three-year old daughter, and S.B., my wife, are sitting on the front steps talking about daycare. "School" as we like to call it. "Tomorrow, if you have to go potty at school, be brave," says S.B. "Tell Miss Tracy you have to use the bathroom and she'll help you." "But I don't want to, Mom." "Why don't you like going to the bathroom at school?" "Because I don't want to." "But you don't want to pee your pants, Jovi." "Mom, Miss Tracy has extra underwear and pants for me to wear." "I know, Jovi, but you're three now. You use the bathroom at home all the time." And just then, there is a man. Early 50s. Ruddy complexion. Wearing a Tigers baseball cap. He rides by on his bicycle. Looks in their direction, but does not smile, nod, or even say hi. Just keeps pedaling his way down 2nd Avenue. Jovi looks at him. Looks at S.B. "Oh...that is an angel. Hmmm." "An angel?" S.B. asks. "Yep, I don't see angels much," Jovi says. You do not wonder at this. There's no reason to. She's a kid. She's in tune. If there are angels to be seen, a kid's gonna be the one to see them. And so you savor the moment at 3:06 pm. In your cubicle. At work. And it carries you through the day. Brings you home happy and alert and wanting nothing more than to hug your son, your daughter, your wife. And for all of you to have more time. Together. Because as you know--more than ever lately--time is running out. Summer is leaving. And it won't be long before you are struggling through the dark season. Trying to keep yourself and everyone else upbeat. Active. Believing that Spring and sunshine and flowers are always there. Just a breath away. Below the ice. The snow. Allof this unknown. And that no matter what, there are better days to be had if you are hopeful. Aim truly. And listen to the simplest things. Like a little girl. One that doesn't see angels much, but sees them more than I do. Best, ~ K.J.