“Don’t stand there watching me. Follow me. Show me what you can do. Everybody let go. We can make a dance floor just like a circus.” ~ Britney Spears

1a2e733ac08c1fe095002f69cc15273dA rope hangs down from the center pole, thick and luxurious, suspended halfway between the tent lining above and the patchy grass below. If he stretches up on his tiptoes he can almost reach its end, where a light bulb hangs bare, naked in the middle of the Big Top. But he doesn’t stretch up because he is distracted by the endless procession of boys moving furniture in under the gaping flap at the tent’s far end.

By calling it “furniture” he is granting it a gravitas it has never had before. The tables, chairs, and stools used to be brunette, but being out in the elements season after season, and year after year, has turned them dirty blonde. They are also scarred and pitted from the fair abuse of patrons at every site, even though they are scrubbed down each time before they get packed away in the trailer.

“He stares into the open space between pieces, toward the raised stage…”

The boys are both familiar and unfamiliar at the same time, as they come and go, sweaty in the glow from outside, carrying it with them inside the shadowy edifice. They are the same in every town, the stragglers and hangers on, the groupies that can’t seem to help themselves. He is always surprised at the allure that the Big Top brings with it, but then again he has also been dragged underneath its spell somehow, in some way. He sees himself as different from them, though, as they carry in piece by piece and place them one by one onto the duct taped grass.

He stares into the open space between pieces, toward the raised stage and all its future glory. But for now it sits in repose, waiting for the adulation that comes with opening night, with the pomp and circumstance of the ancient organ’s creaks and groans and the laughter of a hundred children packed into the tent. He looks up again at the hanging rope and the exposed bulb like god’s finger pointing down, and he imagines a young child on his father’s shoulders slapping at the rope with wild abandon. It’s been done many times before, but he shakes his head nonetheless.

As the boys swagger out, one by one, they pass him and he hands them one envelope apiece. They do not thank him, and only two even look him in the eye as he pays them for their time. He knows they will probably spend it on cigarettes and beer, even though they are not old enough for either.

“And he knows that this opening night will be his last, that his time under the Big Top is coming to an end.”

But he also knows they don’t come from homes where this lack of credentials will matter. He knows because he too came from one of those homes, even though it was in another era, in another time when values were different, back when the tent and everything inside of it was new.

e9c1327039423fb40082d424c5b39e9eAnd he knows that this opening night will be his last, that his time under the Big Top is coming to an end. The fact that he doesn’t even recall the name of the town they have stopped at is telling, the stops all blending together into one dead end, at least for him now. He feels like the furniture that has finally settled into the grass, like he’s become faded decoration for something that used to matter.

The rope light transfixes his gaze once more as it blazes to life, along with its numerous brethren hanging at various lengths throughout the rest of the Big Top. The canvas of the tent’s ceiling ripples in the incoming breeze trying to force it down, to grind it into the dust, but it stays standing. He stays standing, the envelopes all gone, in the inverse fading twilight of tiny flames going up at one time, for his last time. The performers begin to slide into the tent to practice their antics, and he slips out the back, melting into a flap that no one else can ever find.

He walks to the corner of the expansive lot, sits down on the dirt and concrete, and closes his eyes. The show is about to begin.


Chatting With Lexi: On Being Fair

Not Fair Concept.

The refrain of “NOT FAIR” can be heard pretty much every hour on the hour in our household, either by Lexi or by her sister, and Maddie only does it because she hears it a lot from the older one. I’ve tried explaining to Lexi how the things she feels aren’t fair don’t really fit into the category she tries to force them into, how they’re really just privileges she can’t have for a certain period of time, not rights.

We were on vacation for the past few days, and as you can guess, several of the rules are a bit relaxed, like the screen time limit, and the snack food manifesto. I’ve learned, though, that if you give an inch they expect you to give a yard. And if you don’t then it’s… NOT FAIR.

So, I’ve taken some quality time lately to explain, and explain again, exactly what constitutes being fair in life, and Lexi has taken a lot of time out of her busy schedule to break down for me what being fair means to a 10-year old.

Me: It’s time to do something with your sister.
Lexi: I don’t want to.
Me: I didn’t ask if you wanted to.
Me: What’s not fair?
Lexi: That you’re making me do something with Maddie.
Me: Seriously? You so much don’t want to do something with your sister that you’re going to pull out the “not fair” card?
Lexi: What is the “not fair” card?
Me: You know how when we play Monopoly and you have a “Get Out of Jail Free” card?
Lexi: Yeah.
Me: Well, it’s the same type of thing. It’s like playing with your sister is being in jail to you. Do you know that there are tons of people who would trade with you in a heartbeat, who want a sister but who don’t have one?
Lexi: I didn’t say playing with Maddie was jail! I just said I didn’t want to play with her RIGHT NOW.
Me: So you’d rather lie on the couch and stare at your hand than play with your sister?
Lexi: [laughing] I’m not staring at my hand!
Me: Could’ve fooled me.

Later on that day…

Me: It’s time to help me with the laundry.
Me: Wait. Hold up one second. Do you wear clothes?
Lexi: [sighing] Yeah.
Me: Do you want to wear dirty clothes all the time?
Lexi: Uh, no.
Me: Then, uh, who do you think washes the clothes?
Lexi: You do.
Me: Good. We’re getting somewhere. So I do my part to help you wear nice, clean clothes. And you need to do your part too.
Lexi: Why? I’m a kid. It’s NOT FAIR.
Me: You’re 10-years old. I know of at least a few 10-year olds who wash and dry their own clothes. And guess what? They also put them away. I’m asking you to do only one of those tasks.
Lexi: Oh daaaaad. But I hate putting my clothes away.
Me: Guess what? Washing, drying, and folding your clothes is no picnic either. But do you hear me complaining?
Lexi: Noooooo, but you’re an adult. It’s your job.
Me: Um, my job? My job is to make sure you’re taken care of, not to put away your clothes. It wouldn’t be… what’s the word? … oh yeah, FAIR, for me to rob you of the chance to do a job I know you’re very capable of performing.
Lexi: Daaaaad.

And then, this morning…

Me: What do you mean when you say something’s not fair?
Lexi: I don’t know. It’s just not fair.
Me: Like what though? You use the phrase enough. You have to know what you mean by it.
Lexi: Well, it’s like, when I don’t get to do what I want.
Me: So in order for things to be fair then you always need to get your way?
Lexi: I guess so.
Me: Then I guess I’ll just have to get used to hearing it for a long time then, and you’ll have to get used to things not being “fair.”
Lexi: How come?
Me: Well, let me put it this way… What’s the most important thing in life?
Lexi: To have fun.
Me: No, it’s to be safe.
Lexi: But being safe is boring! I want to have fun.
Me: Life is about being responsible, so when you do have the fun it’s safe and you know everything else has been taken care of first.
Lexi: But I just want to have fun!
Me: See, Lexi, for you to be able to have all that fun someone has to be responsible, to make sure that you’re safe, to make sure that you can be responsible too someday. And sometimes in order to make sure of all those other things we can’t allow you to do what you want to do when you want to do it.
Lexi: But that’s NOT FAIR.
Me: From your perspective, yes, that’s not fair. But if you were the parent you would understand. I used to tell my mom the exact same thing, and now I tell her I get it. Someday I’m sure you’ll get it too, but until then I guess we’re just not going to be “fair” to you.
Lexi: How come you always curl your fingers like bunny ears when you say “fair”?
Me: Those are called air quotes. It means I’m being sarcastic.
Lexi: Um, okay. Can I get back to my show now?
Me: Well, that’s NOT FAIR. I wanted to spend time with you.
Lexi: Daaaaaad.


A Horse and His Drum


It was all supposed to be so simple, really. I just wanted to recreate a photo, and in the recreation of the photo to somehow also bring back a semblance of my youth. Real simple.

I had it all set up, too. I knew where the photo had been taken. Check. I knew how to get there. Check. I didn’t have the original participants (well, I was one of them, but the other was not going to be able to make the trip), but I had a solution for that. I would use my own children instead. Check.

All that was left to do was to get there, to locate the landmark utilized in the original photo, and to take a similar picture. Easy as pie. Except no one told Dutch Wonderland we would be coming. No one rolled out the red carpet. And no one explained to us that the landmark utilized in the original photo was no longer in the park itself. And, really, I should have known better.

The original photo was probably from around 1982 or 1983. I remember it pretty well, actually, considering my young age at the time. My sister was all excited about exploring other aspects of the park, but my dad (who took us that day) wanted to make sure we had some memories. Honestly, I think my mom made him promise to take a few photos of us since she couldn’t be there, and this was his one way of obliging, I guess.

I wasn’t looking at the camera because I didn’t know he was taking it right then. In fact, I think he really took more than one photo of us with that horse and his drum, but I can’t seem to locate any of the others, if they in fact ever existed. My sister was also not looking at the camera, so intent was she in going elsewhere.

But somehow we did stand still long enough for him to snap the picture, and it was developed later. It is iconic to me because it was one of the few times our dad took us somewhere, and it was just the three of us that day. It is iconic to me because it captures a moment that was rare in my life, and I guess by recreating it I was hoping to hang on to it just a little bit more.

It’s hard to hang on to memories from so far back, from when I was so young, and this one stuck. I wanted to have my children pose similarly at the sides of that drum, in front of that beautiful horse, just like I did when I was their age. It seemed like the perfect time, and the perfect confluence of events. But it wasn’t.

And when I had asked the umpteenth park worker today where the drum and the horse were, and they had given me the same blank look, I began to realize more and more that history would have to remain history, that there was no perfect bookend to that experience, to that moment in time between my sister, my dad, and myself.

It would be immortalized in that moment, in that one photo, forever. And it made me sad. It made me frustrated that I was so helpless in what happened, just like I was helpless in my parents’ divorce. I couldn’t make that horse and his drum appear from thin air. I couldn’t recreate something I had dreamed of for years.

It wasn’t to be, and as the full weight of that realization crashed down around me I couldn’t bear its weight. But maybe that’s the way it always should have been. Perhaps the horse and his drum were never supposed to be around when I came back, because moments are moments due to their singularity. Perhaps that photo was always supposed to be the only one, and those memories were meant to just belong to the three of us for all time.

I miss that horse and his drum, but I will always have them so long as I continue to embrace the memory of the rarity that was the trip in the first place. And today… today we created new memories, with no horse or drum in sight.


Dear Journal: Some Like It Hot

Dear Journal,

It’s hot, but I’m not complaining. How could I? I’m the same guy who argued all winter that the chill was no issue. So heat is also no issue, right? I told myself that over and over again while I tossed and turned on the air bed all night, sweating profusely. I wasn’t hot. I swear I wasn’t. Who am I kidding? I miss the air conditioner.

One summer, when I was in day camp, probably around age 10 or so, we were doing basketball that year, and the final program was all about showcasing our basketball skills to our adoring families. This showcase was full of loud background music, and the song I remember the most from it was “Some Like It Hot,” by Power Station.

“Some like it hot, and some sweat when the heat is on. Some feel the heat, and decide they can’t go on.”

I remember hearing that song for the first time and thinking some people were just wusses. I mean, it’s just heat, right? But heat can be deadly. It can also be purifying, though, like sweating out all the bad toxins and coming up from the heat bath refreshed. I like that idea a lot better, especially when it gets so hot I think I’m going to melt like the Wicked Witch of the West.

Which reminds me… water would be nice right about now.


The Publishing Aftermath

reader-booksUpon finishing and publishing a book I always have mixed feelings. On one hand I’m excited to get it out there in the world, and on the other… it’s out there in the world. That means my words, my characters, my imaginary, private world is now very much public. I loved getting to know them in the microcosm of their world, to breathe life into them, to interact with them far away from others. But now they’re out in the harsh lights of the larger world, and they will be judged for who they ended up being when I decided the book was finished. They have no more chances to grow and evolve into anyone else. They’re in effect stuck in that fateful moment when I ended things without asking for their opinion.

The good news, however, is that they will now get to interact with so many more people than they ever have before. Instead of being just characters inside my head, or inside my flash drive, or on my computer screen, they can now be downloaded onto your iPad. They can now be exposed to people in Australia, in Calcutta, and in Costa Rica. Others can form opinions about them and their motivations for their actions inside the world that I created for them. They can fit nicely into the pages of a book that I can sign, but it was never about me. It was always about them, and that remains true even though they’re out in the larger world, maybe even more so now than it ever was before.

One of the brilliant things about still being in the process of writing and editing a novel is that there is always a chance to change things. If I don’t like my word choice I can switch out different words. If I’m not sold on my character names I can name them something else that resonates more. I can change anything and everything, relying on my instincts to refine and to keep refining until I’m satisfied. But I’m a writer. I’m never completely satisfied. If I took long enough to be completely satisfied with my work I would never publish anything. Hell, I wouldn’t even be able to write this blog. But I have to get to a certain point when I realize there is nothing more I can do to this world I’ve created, when I have to just let my characters out into the real world and see how well they assimilate.

It’s gotten easier to know when I’ve hit that point, to know when tinkering even more will be tinkering too much. It wasn’t too hard this time to hit that “save” button for the last time on this novel. And while I know I can’t change it anymore, I know that it’s for the best. It was time to let the inmates out of the prison, so to speak, of my mind. I was reading back through the book this morning, and I’ve made my peace with it. It’s as good as I could have possibly gotten it, and as a writer that’s all I could ever ask of myself.

Now, on to promoting it. Book signing coming soon.


Leaves in Fall: A Novel

LeavesinFall4My latest novel is equal parts coming of age story and mystery. It is fraught with controversies — some earned and others the product of gossip — and its main characters are not immune to any of it. In fact, the lynch pin that holds the entire book together is the frailty of everyone who inhabits it. With that being said, though, it is a quiet strength that keeps things from falling off the rails in the end.

Welcome to Arcadia, gateway to the Midwest, the “Town that God Forgot,”or if he didn’t forget it then perhaps Santa Claus did on his way back from the North Pole. Whatever the excuse, the town is bereft of both a true heritage and a viable future. As for its present, well, that’s up in the air too, dependent as it is on a shaky infrastructure and poor management of town funds.

Life is a boring experience for nine-year old Jeremy Renton, a stranger in his own house, so he’s learned to head into the far reaches of his family farm, where excitement waits in the form of his bountiful imagination. But something happens out on that land that imagination can’t control, that shapes his life, and the town’s very nature, in ways that he never could have fathomed. In the course of a year things change immeasurably, causing Jeremy to doubt everything he’s ever known, as summer turns to fall, and winter looms on the horizon.

For Kimberly Jones, her entire life has been an exercise in futility. Her father is the town big shot, but his reign hasn’t extended to her, and she’s struggling to make ends meet on a teacher’s salary in a small town. When a juicy piece of gossip shakes Arcadia, though, she can’t help but get swept up in it, and in its possible implications. As she begins to put the pieces together, with a help of a few others, a picture begins to form that leads her in directions she hoped she would never go.

With this small town backdrop, where everyone knows everyone else, and where all secrets come out in the end, Leaves in Fall comes alive, keeping you on edge throughout in a race to know everything before the thrilling conclusion.

Or at least, that’s what I hope happens when you read it. I’m proud of how it’s turned out, and I welcome you to check it out, now available on Amazon, in both Kindle format and in paperback form.


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