Wednesday, November 19, 2014

The March, Chapter 50: Mary Forgives Fred But is Fucking Depressed

Chapter 49

Friends? No, we are not friends. I don't take this shit from friends -- only from lovers


Fred left his Monday night class bored and in the mood for something, but he couldn’t put his finger on what it was.  Fred was well familiar with feeling in the mood for something without knowing what it was.  And, like so may of us do when suffering from unfulfilled, unknown wants, he opted for diversion.  He headed to The March for a drink.

Despite having repaid his debt, he still felt awkward going to The March.  He was dying to both run into and not run into Mary. 

This was his first trip post rebrand, so before heading to the bar for a drink, he took a full tour.  He thought the place looked great.  He was especially happy to note the addition of a separate toilet stall in the men’s room.  He’d once been interrupted mid-pee by a drunk guy who’d walked in, unzipped and sat on the toilet, striking up a conversation about whatever was occupying his addled mind and apologizing haphazardly for the smell.  Fred shuddered at the memory.

At the bar, he waited for Caleb to finish what was evidently an annoying phone call.

Caleb hung up and set an opened Budweiser in front of Fred.  “These kids,” he said. “You can’t count on any of them.”

“What’s up,” asked Fred.

“Oh, my goddamn doorman just booked a gig and has decided his future as a rock star is more important than his current obligations, so he quit,” said Caleb.  “On top of that, I’m breaking in a new waitress on the floor, so I don’t know how I’m going to keep track of IDs.  These kids from Loyola have been swarming lately.”

Staff unreliability was one of the great travails of Caleb’s life. He’d lost count of the number of doormen he’d hired who just failed to show up one night, forcing him into a scrabbling bind.  It was beginning to chip away at his faith in the next generation.

“I’ll check IDs for you,” said Fred.  ‘I don’t have anything else to do – I might as well sit at the front of the door and proof people.”

“Really,” said Caleb.  “I’ll pay you fifty bucks.”

“Cool,” said Fred, who was light on cash since he’d repaid Caleb.  “I can always use a little extra beer money.”

“Just grab a stool and hang out by the front door,” said Caleb.  “Ask anyone who looks younger than 30… wait… younger than 35 for an ID.  If it looks questionable, just bring it to me.  Thanks again.  You’re really helping me out.”

“No problem,” said Fred.  “Let me trade this beer in for a coke.”

Situated on his stool up front, Fred had fun.  He was a rare species of Caucasian American Gen-X in that he tended to enjoy his fellow man.  Most of us have a touch of the misanthrope in us; but for that particular generation, at that particular point in time, disdaining your fellow earth-walkers as hopelessly dull, uncoool and dim-witted was practically de rigueur.  Fred, though, had an easy touch and a way of accepting people as they came.  He liked people.  And people liked him. 

(The easiest way to get people to like you is, by the way, to like them.)

Fred welcomed guests into the bar cheerfully.  If they didn’t have ID or presented an obvious fake, Fred turned them away, but did it without asserting or enjoying his meager authority. Instead, he looked a little sad for this unpleasant part of the job and turned them away kindly.  The 19 year olds left the bar without feeling humiliated, encouraged to keep on trying at the next bar.

He chatted with the new waitress who brought him cokes generously spiked with grenadine and cherries.  When it got busy, he grabbed a bar rag and helped bus tables and wipe them off.  At the end of the night, he stacked barstools on top of tables, and brought cases of beer up to Caleb.

It just made sense that Caleb would offer him a job.

“Fred,” he said. “Don’t you want a job here?  I bet we’d have you behind the bar in a month or two.”

“Thanks, Caleb,” said Fred.  “But my father would kill me.  He’s already depressed by having a sexpot daughter who plays records for a living.  I’m supposed to start interning at a law firm for one of his friends this summer.  That plus school and I won’t really have time for anything else.”

“Not for nothing, Fred,” said Caleb. “But do you want to intern at a law firm?”

“Not really,” he said.  “But I don’t know what else to do.”

“Well, I guess you have to do whatever you think is best,” said Caleb.  “But since I feel like I owe you more than cash for this favor, let me give you something else to repay you: I suspect if you stop by tomorrow and pay Mary a visit, she won’t send you away.”

“She will too,” said Fred.  “She hates me, Caleb.”

“Mary never hated you,” said Caleb, gently.  “And I know that she misses you hanging around.  Pop by for coffee in the morning.”

Caleb left a note to leave in the cash drawer letting Mary know that he’d un-banned Fred and urged him to visit her. 

The next morning, when Mary opened the drawer and saw the note, she was surprised by how happy she suddenly felt.  “Fuck,” she thought.  “Am I really this excited to see fucking Fred again?”

Fred came in about 10:30 as Mary was slicing limes.  He offered her a cup of good coffee and said, “Hello” with the question mark hanging audibly off the end.

She put the knife down and rolled her eyes.  “All right, Fred,” she said.  “It’s OK that you’re back.  I guess I’m glad to see you even if you’re still not doing anything fucking worthwhile with your life.”

Fred settled down happily on his stool.  “Most people,” he said in a friendly manner.  “Think that being in school and getting good grades and not gambling are worthwhile.  I got an internship at Kirkland this summer and law school starts for real in the fall.  I’m following the straight and narrow.”

“That would be great, Fred,” said Mary.  “If that were what you wanted.”

“But so long as I don’t know what I want,” said Fred.  “I’ve got to do something.  I missed you.”

“I missed you too, fuckface,” said Mary.

They settled easily into old habits.  Fred did a crossword and sipped sofa and watched Mary as she went through her morning routine, puzzling through whatever was troubling her as she did her set up chores by rote.  This time, though, Mary wasn’t thinking about school or law review articles or anything like that.  This time she was thinking about Fred.  She had missed him, the fucker.  But he came back almost exactly like he’d always been.  She’d thought he’d be changed by his exile.  But he was the same person, still doing what someone else expected instead of figuring out for his own fucking self what his life should be.

Maybe she should just let it go.  Let him ride out his miserable career.  Eventually, he’d figure it out.

Still, it was really fucking disappointing.

The March, Chapter 49: Slut

Chapter 48

Penny Pingleton - you are absolutely, positively permanently punished

- Hairspray

Teddy awoke equal parts relieved and bereft.  He’d lost his helpmeet and research assistant, his maid and his cook. But the companion he’d really wanted, the one who adored and revered him, left a long time ago, if she’d ever really been there at all.

He bundled up the rest of her things and took them to The March early in the morning when he was pretty sure she wouldn’t be there.  He set them at the bar and handed a note to Mary.

Darling Brooke (it read)

I understand why you’ve left me.  I am too old and too set in my ways for a young woman like you.  Youth is delightful but capricious.  Perhaps if we’d met later in life, when you were a bit older, we’d have managed to make a life together.  Alas, you are too young and I am too old.  I have enjoyed our time together though.  I will remember you fondly and wish you nothing but happiness in your future.  I only ask that you remember the promise you made on our last night and stay true to my one small request.

Yours, Teddy

Then Teddy left The March.  It would be his last visit there.  Teddy didn’t really regret its loss, even though it had been his place for so many years.  A bar was just a bar and The March had gotten a little trendy for him, anyway.  He’d stick with Scottie’s around the corner.  He liked his tiny table just off in the corner by the cigarette machine.  It had become accepted as his table and was always empty and waiting for him when he arrived.  The beer tasted just the same there as it had at The March.

But he was not as sanguine about everything as he let on.  He felt cheated.  He felt like Brooke had won.  And he felt that  Brooke didn’t deserve to win.

When he got to Scottie’s that evening, he sat at his little table, papers strewn inelegantly about, ashtray teeming, shirt mis-buttoned, unable to concentrate on what he was reading.  He felt revolted and disturbed and it had nothing to do with his research that day.  He’d long been inured to the revulsion caused by man’s abuse of the planet.

He sat at his table, drawing cigarette smoke in, his mood emanating poisonously.

Scottie’s assistant manager and nighttime bartender, Gracie, walked past him on the way to the bar.  Consummate professional that she was, she greeted Teddy on her way past. “Hi, Teddy,” she said.  

“Here again?  I guess you’ve given up The March all together and gotten some taste.”

She expected a grunt, a curt request for another beer and for Teddy to carry on with whatever endless, boring task he had at hand.  But she was surprised when he stopped reading and looked at her.  He seemed to be pondering something, trying to make some decision.  And then he started talking.

“As you may be aware,” he said.  “I was involved romantically with Brooke Dotry, who works at The March.  That relationship has ended, making my presence there unwanted.”

“OK,” said Gracie, nonplussed.  “Sorry to hear that, I guess.”

“Love affairs will end,” said Teddy.  “Such is the sad fact of them.  And Brooke has promised that she will not engage in a romantic relationship with my cousin, Will, whom you may also know works there. I believe it was as he interjected himself into her life that our relationship ended.  That promise made, I’ve decided not to burden her with my presence at her place of business.”

“Wow,” said Gracie.  “I guess that seems fair enough.  Can I get you a beer?”

“Please,” said Teddy, returning satisfied to his work.

Of course, a bar is not just a bar.  All bars have their own personality and flair (or lack thereof).  As such, Scottie’s and The March, sibling members of the L.G.E. family, practiced a fairly intense sibling rivalry.  They were similar in tone, had the same prices and roughly similar regular clientele.  But Scottie’s had long held itself as the alpha sibling.  The Marcia to The March’s Jan.  It was above ground and had windows that opened to the out-of-doors.  So Scottie’s was fresh and airy while The March was dank, sequestered and odoriferous.  But then Tré and Bulstrode had decided on The March as their rebrand flagship. Now Scottie’s looked a little run-down and shabby next to the pretty new March.

Scottie’s staff and patrons were resentful of this and prone to grumbling about Tré and Bulstrode.  The fact that The March’s least appealing regular had migrated to them did little to mitigate their disgust.

At around 3:00 or so that morning, the crowd at Scottie’s had emptied a bit.  A few regulars were scattered about the bar, but the staff was mostly killing time until last call.  Gracie, a waitress, the doorman and one of the late night regulars were lingering around the wait station, chatting.

“So, you know that guy, Teddy,” said Gracie.

“Who?” asked Regular.

“He comes in before you,” said Gracie. “The old dude who sits at the cigarette table and drinks draft beers.”

“That guy is gross and he tips for shit,” said Waitress.

“Did you know he was dating Brooke, that bartender over at The March,” said Gracie.

“She lived with him,” said Doorman.  “I’ve seen them walking home together. I never got it.  She’s pretty hot.”

“I know that girl,” said Waitress, who may have had a bit of a crush on Doorman.  “She’s smug and weird.  Plus, if she dated that dude, there must be something else wrong with her.”

“Well,” said Gracie.  “Apparently there was something going on with his nephew, Will, who also works at The March.”

“The doorman” said Waitress.  “That guy is cute.  He could do better than Brooke.”

“So, wait,” said Regular.  “She’s living with the old guy and fucking the his nephew?”

“That’s how it sounded to me,” said Gracie.

“Does the old guy have money or something,” asked Regular.

“Must,” said Gracie.  “I can’t figure why else anyone would be with Teddy.  But, apparently part of the break up was that she not go out with Will anymore.”

“Wonder if she made that agreement out of the goodness of her heart,” said Regular, with an evil smile.  “Somehow I kind of doubt it.”

The four of them closed out the evening discussing it.  Over the next few days, the information emanated out into the crowds amongst beers and Jager shots.  Before too long, Brooke’s reputation in the L.G.E. world had metamorphosed from “Girl Who’s Into the Environment” to “Girl Who Took a Payout from her Gross, Old Boyfriend to Stop Fucking his Nephew."

Which was pretty much exactly how Teddy imagined it would go.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

An Open Letter to my Uterus

In this blogpost, I am going to have a frank and open conversation with my uterus.  Squeamish gentlemen may take warning.

Dear My Uterus,


It was over thirty years ago that you first, rather obnoxiously, made yourself known to me.  During the first years of those monthly visits, I'd lie abed, lightly dosed on Tylenol and my mother's soothing instruction to "just go with it" while you contorted yourself up in a childish insistence for recognition.  "I am here!" you hollered.  "Pay attention to me!"

"Yes, mistress uterus," I sighed into the pillow gripped to my midsection.  "I hear you."

Years passed.  I discovered the halcyon bliss of birth control pills which silenced your yawp.  Mostly.

I wed.  I stopped taking the birth control pills and I asked if I could store a baby in you for a while.  You declined.  It's OK, uterus, I'm not mad about it anymore.  I got my baby without you and I couldn't have asked for a better one.

We've had a cordial relationship these past 10 years or so.  Monthly, you stop by for a visit.  You've been less obnoxious.  You sort of stop by and say, "Hey.  Still here.  How are you?"  And I sigh and say, "Fine. You're here.  Whatever."

But hasn't this relationship run its course?  In my 20s I often greeted you tears of elation; in my 30s it was tears of loss.  But now, here in my 40s, all that's left is weary resignation.

I don't need you to feel young and relevant.  I can kid myself that I am still that because I like Vampire Weekend and sometimes put blue streaks in my hair.  Am I lying to myself?  Who cares.  I don't need you to make me feel young. Frankly, I'm cool with middle age.  I feel like I make it look good.  Am I lying to myself about that?  I repeat: who cares?

Dear My Uterus, I am tired of your monthly pronouncements.

Take a hint, my uterus.



The March, Chapter 48: An Ally Is Always Handy, Even If You're Not Sure Why

Chapter 47

Heather, why can't you just be a friend? Why do you have to be such a mega-bitch?

When he first got the idea to kick off the revamp at The March, Tré had felt confident in his choice.  He’d always liked The March, always felt comfortable there.  But, contra Caleb, Tré never credited the general seediness that lingered around its edges with The March’s welcoming vibe.  As a matter of fact, Tré had always felt that The March was welcoming and comfortable despite its seediness.  Clean it up, class it up, make the bathrooms less of an adventure and it would still be The March.  It would still be a place people wanted to go.

But over the past few months, Tré’s confidence had taken a beating. Between his increasingly worrisome financial situation and Rosie’s abiding unhappiness at his refusal to pull up stakes and move, Tré was like an open vessel into which Caleb and Bulstrode could pour their competing anxieties.  On Monday, he worried that The March would end up too fancy for its customers and turn into a shell of its former self; a place where three or four guests sat of an evening, quietly sipping martinis and checking their watches.  On Tuesday, he worried that the shiny new fixtures and tasteful artwork were no more than an inconsequential band-aid over gaping squalor.

But then the party had happened, and it had gone so well.  Bulstrode’s fancypants friends had enjoyed their expensive scotches and pretty good Chardonnay.  They’d had fun with the exquisite (but safe) thrill of upscale slumming.  By the time Rosie had come and turned up the volume, they’d been about to head home anyway.  They couldn’t wait to tell their kids away at Cornell or Brown about their evening and that girl with the wild makeup and crazy clothes and that loud music.

In the meantime, Rosie had kicked it into high gear just in time to salvage The March regulars from feeling resentful and usurped.

God, Tré thought.  Rosie had been great.

Going forward, there’d probably be fewer upstanding Art Institute docents and corporate CEO’s enjoying happy hour at The March.  But they might well end up a more welcoming happy hour destination for bankers and corporate middle management.  And if Rosie kept doing what she did, it could carry on as a destination spot for late night party people.  In the meantime, the old school regulars would be content filling the gap.

Tré had done a good job.  The day after the party, he’d walked into the Lightweight offices, buttons about to burst.

Bulstrode didn’t hear him come in.  He was lost in a correspondence.

Bully – a long time ago you stole my life from me.  You set me up and got me sent to jail.  You owe me and you know it.  But I know I can’t keep asking you to give me money forever.  So, I have a solution.  I been drinking at The March, just like the old days. And I like that place.  You give me that bar, sign over the deed to me or whatever, and I’ll leave you alone.  If you don’t, I’ll tell everyone what you did to get that place in the beginning.  I’ll tell them all about Ellinore and how you kept the money she asked you to give her daughter.  And then what will all your fine friends think of you? 
- Rafferty

Blackmail is an evil taskmaster.  It’s desperate and squeezing.  Rafferty had something over Bulstrode and so long as Raff was around, he’d be able to carry on extorting from Bulstrode.  This time he wanted Bulstrode’s flagship bar.  And not only did Bulstrode not want to give that away, he had no confidence that once given ownership of The March, Raff would actually leave him be.

Bulstrode had to get rid of Raff.  He needed a plan. 

Amidst his anxious pondering, Tré knocked on the door and stuck his head in.

“We had a good night, huh, boss?” he said. 

Bulstrode looked at Tré and the seeds of an idea began to germinate.  Bulstrode began to wonder if there were not some unknown benefit to a more robust alliance with Tré.  He wasn’t quite sure why, but the idea had a grip on him. 

“It was a rousing success,” said Bulstrode, in a cheerful, booming voice.  “Excellent work.  As always, excellent work.”

Tré grinned. “Thanks, Mr. Bulstrode.  We’re on our way now.  By the end of the summer, we’ll be done and The Lightweight Group will be one of the most recognizable brands in Chicago.  We are on our way now.”

“Indeed we are,” said Bulstrode.  “Now, come on in and sit down.  I want to talk to you about something.

Tré came in and sat down, smiling but wary.

“Tré,” said Bulstrode seriously.  “A while back you asked me for an advance on your salary in order to extricate yourself from some financial stress.  Are you still feeling that stress?”

“Well, yes,” said Tré, embarrassed.  “But I’m confident I’ll find my way out soon.”

“It’s terrible,” said Bulstrode.  “To feel so trapped by circumstances.  I remember being young like you once, with big dreams and not enough money to make them happen.  I may have made some mistakes too, when I was young.”

“Oh,” said Tré, wondering where this was going.

“I have a lot of faith in you, Tré,” said Bulstrode.  “You’ve really proved yourself of late.  I’ve decided to help you.  Will $5,000 get the situation resolved?”

“Yes,” said Tré, hopeful.  “That would resolve the problem.”

“All right,” said Bulstrode, opening his checkbook.  “I’m writing you a check for $5,000.  The terms are straightforward enough.  You’ll pay me back $425 a month until we’re even.  Should take about a year.  Can you manage that?”

“I can,” said Tré.  “But what about interest. I should pay interest on a loan like that.”

“I don’t think so,” said Bulstrode, handing him a check.  “We’re partners in this endeavor.  I’m invested in your future.  Let me do this for you.”

“Wow,” said Tré, staring at the check.  “I don’t know what to say.  You’re saving my life. Thank you, Mr. Bulstrode.  Thank you so much.”

When Tré came home that night, he found Rosie in a bathrobe, watching TV and painting her toenails.

“Hey there, rock star,” he said, settling beside her and kissing her deeply.

“Hey there yourself, you Titan of industry,” she replied, smiling.

“Guess what,” he said, nuzzling her neck.  “Your father gave me a loan today.  I paid off my landlord and sent a check to my credit card companies.  I’m back in good shape.”

“He just gave you a loan,” she said, surprised. “Out of the blue?”

“I proved myself to him with The March rebrand,” said Tré.  “He has some faith in me again.”

“I don’t think so, Tré,” said Rosie.  “My father doesn’t have faith in anybody and he doesn’t just give people money without expecting something back.”

“But he is getting something back,” said Tré.  “He’s got me back and fully on board.  Thanks to me, Bulstrode will get exactly what he wants from the L.G.E. rebrand.  I’m good at this job and he knows it and wants to keep me happy. “

“But, Tré,” said Rosie, shaking her head.  “You were working your ass off for him without getting the money.  It’s not like he was worried about losing you.  You need to be careful.  I bet he wants something from you that you won’t like to give him.  If he gave me money, I’d have to go to college and start dating a frat boy.  Fred has to go to law school.  Dad always wants something for his money.”

It was hard to ignore the logic there.  But what did he have to offer Bulstrode?  He didn’t have any money, any family connection.  And he wanted to feel good.  It had been a while since he felt good.

“Well, we’ll cross that bridge when we get to it,” said Tré.  “I don’t want to fight.  Let’s celebrate.  I want to drink and dance and walk into a club with the hottest girl in Chicago.  Let’s go to Lobo.”

“Well, you don’t have to ask me twice,” said Rosie.  “I bought a new dress today.  But promise me you’ll be careful.”

“I will,” said Tré, sliding his hands into her bathrobe.  “But before you put that new dress on….”

The March, Chapter 47:

Chapter 46

It happens sometimes.  People just explode.  Natural causes.
-Repo Man

As the party raged on at the March, Teddy was finishing up his nightly trip to Scottie’s.  On his way home, he’d stopped at The March and noticed that Will was nowhere to be seen.  He decided to stop in for a nightcap.  He was curious about the new look.  And he was curious about Brooke. He’d lost sight of how she was out of his sight.

At the bottom of the stairs, he ran into Caleb, who was keeping watch at the door.

“How you doing, Teddy,” Caleb asked, extending a hand.

“I’m doing well,” said Teddy, returning the handshake.  “Has your party been successful?”

Caleb nodded and smiled.  “Surprisingly, it was OK.  Started off a little stiff, but give people enough free booze and it’s hard to stop a good party from breaking out.

“I see,” said Teddy.  “Perhaps I’ll make my way to the bar.  I see there’s a seat available.”

“Nice chatting with you,” said Caleb, with an ironic grin.  “Enjoy your beer.”

But Teddy stopped midway to the bar.  He saw that the whole staff was gathered around the wait station, doing shots.  Gio was leading the toast: “Here’s to free drinks, free love and pretty, pretty people!”  Brooke laughed with the others and drained her shot.

Will, standing right next to her, drained his and let out a “Woo!”

Teddy turned on his heel and left, without Brooke having seeing him.

An hour or so later, Caleb cut Brooke.  She and Gio split their tips, Brooke had a drink at the bar with the first cut waitress.  At around 2:00 or so she headed home, on foot, as she was inclined to.
A block or so into the walk. She was surprised to find Teddy sitting at a bus stop, smoking a cigarette.

“Teddy!”  she said.  “What are you doing here?”

“I came into The March to see you, but you were drinking with your friends so I decided to leave you and just wait for you here.”

“Why didn’t you just come in?” she asked, exasperated.

“I didn’t want to interrupt you with your friends,” he said.

“Well, let’s just go home,” she said, starting to walk.

“I’ve been here for hours,” he said, still sitting.

“I was working hours ago,” she said.  “I didn’t have a drink until about a half hour ago.”

“Yes you did,” said Teddy.  “You were at the bar with Will and you did a shot.  I saw you.”

“Wait…” said Brooke.  “Are you talking about staff shots?  We do staff shots every night at midnight, Teddy.  All of us.  Not just me and Will.”

“You should quit,” said Teddy.  “I have enough to support us both.  Maybe you should quit and we could get married.”

“Oh, Teddy,” said Brook.  “It’s 2:00 a.m., and you’ve been drinking and I’m tired.  I don’t want to talk about getting married.  Let’s just go home.”

“When you leave me,” said Teddy. “Promise me you won’t start sleeping with Will.”

“Oh for fuck’s sake, Teddy,” said Brooke.  “Don’t be so stupid.  Let’s please just go home.”

“Not until you promise me that,” said Teddy.

“Why are you so freaked out about Will,” said Brooke.  “We’re barely friends.  We’re just people who work together.”

“Then it shouldn’t be hard to promise me that,” said Teddy, standing up and looking down at her.

“Fine,” said Brooke, walking away.  “I won’t ever date Will. I won’t ever sleep with Will. I won’t flirt with Will. Now can we please just go home?”

Teddy smiled and took her hand as they started walking home.  After a few steps, Brooke pretended to have an itch on her shoulder and dropped his hand to scratch it. 

As they walked into the apartment, Teddy asked her if she were hungry.  He usually only asked that when he wanted something to eat, and Brooke generally took that as a cue to make him a sandwich or something.  But this time, she demurred saying she was really tired.  She washed her face and then went straight into her room.  She sat on the edge of the bed, thinking.  She heard Teddy cooking a grilled cheese sandwich.  She heard him not doing his dishes.  She heard his snuffling and grunting walk down the hall.  She heard the old man noises he made in the bathroom.

And, all of the sudden, just like that, she was done.  She didn’t want to be there anymore at all.  She was sick of the smell of Teddy’s cigarettes and the food he ate.  She was tired of washing his clothes and cleaning his house.  She was sick of the condescension and superiority.  And she was sick sick sick of the endless fucking research for a book she knew would never be finished.

She sat on the bed for a few more minutes, gobsmacked by the revelation and the feeling of relief that poured through her.  She looked at her watch and saw that it was just past last call at The March.  Caleb and Gio would still be there.  She could go home with Gio and stay with him and Celia.  She grabbed a few things, stuffed them in her duffel bag and fled from the apartment, walking swiftly back to The March.

Teddy lay in bed and listened to her leave.

Brooke got to The March a little after 4:00.  The doors were locked, but she knocked loud and Will let her in.  “Did you forget something?” he asked.

Brooke couldn’t quite find the words.  She stood there, dry-eyed and shocked, stammering, “No… Teddy and I… I just…”

Gio who’d been counting tips at the bar, looked up and said, “You broke up?”

“I left,” said Brooke.  “I just didn’t want to be there anymore.”

“Oh, Brooke,” said Gio.  “That’s gr… Um, are you OK?  Do you want me to take you back to our place?  Celia’s asleep, but I can probably wake her up?”

“Not yet,” said Brooke.  “Can we just sit here for a minute?  Can I have a drink or something?” 

“Caleb,” called Gio.  “Brooke’s here.  Can she have a drink?”

Caleb came out of the office, took a look at Brooke and said, “Sure.  Have ten drinks if you want, sweetheart.”  He walked behind the bar and mixed a cocktail.  “Jack and coke, honey.  Good for heartbreak.”

And just like that Brooke’s disastrous first love ended.  She emerged as most of us do: older, wiser, and glad of her friends.  Gio told her funny stories about the night.  Caleb resisted the urge to hug her. Will hung back and grappled with the glad feelings coursing through him.

When Brooke got back to the apartment she once shared with Celia, she crawled into bed with her sister and cried a little.

She’d loved neither well not wisely, but she’d been brave enough to give it a shot.  And love is one of those things you get better at with practice.

As Brooke lay in bed, softly crying on Celia’s pillow, Will sat on a rock at the shore of Lake Michigan and started out at the water, letting his mind wander.  He thought about Harold Washington and ward leadership.  He thought about his own grandfather.  He thought about school and classes and how The March looked all polished up.

And he thought about Brooke.

Teddy lay in his lonely bed, in his lonely apartment, thinking less of Brooke than of the empty space she left behind.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Veteran's Day

I am grateful to the people who volunteer for military service.  I am grateful to the people who volunteer to be away from their families for months at a time, who risk their lives and put their personal wants and needs aside in defense of the country.  They deserve our gratitude.  They deserve our gratitude free from politics, absent point-scoring.

So first: thank you to service members past, present and future.

I am a proud American. But I'm an adult American.  And as such I recognize that there's a sicknesses in our culture, which manifests itself in the way we privilege the trappings of gratitude over the hard work of real gratitude.  We celebrate letting service members board planes first and then turn our backs on homeless veterans.  We clap our hands across social media when someone picks up the check at Applebee's for a vet but pay no attention when a soldier does tour after tour after tour in Afghanistan. A slim, narrow minority bears the full, enormous burden for all our military adventures in the middle-east.  And we thank them by playing Lee Greenwood before the game.

Look, I think it's great to let military members board planes first.  I think picking up the check for a marine is really nice.  I can't stand that Lee Greenwood song, but I've heard from some real live veterans that they love it, so OK. I'm not arguing against any of that stuff.

But let's do some other stuff too.  And I mean as a nation, let's do more.  Can't we make sure the VA is staffed and funded?  Can't we make sure homeless vets have a place to get the mental health care they deserve?  Can't we make sure we're not sending 19 year olds off to die in the middle east because Dick Cheney and his cronies rattled their moneybags at Congress?

Because it doesn't matter that the soldier got to sit in first class on his flight to Tucson if it means that the rest of the time we treat his life like it matters so much less than the rest of ours.

Thursday, November 6, 2014


I have two of my sisters-in-law much on my mind.  Two of my sisters-in-law and cancer. One of them died a year ago.  One of them has gone through hell, but is alive, is here with us.

I loved Debbie so much and wish so hard that I could change the way of the world and have her here to enjoy her amazing children, to have the great joy of her beautiful grandsons.  I hate that her grandchildren won't know her almost as much as I hate that my own daughter never knew her grandfather.  It makes me angry.  It rears up and makes me angry.  It's not fair.

Debbie was so warm, so lovely.  My heart aches for her children and for my husband and her other brothers and sister.  My heart aches for all the people who knew and loved Debbie. And there are so, so many of them.

I love Jennifer so much and wish so hard that I could take away all the horrible stuff she's suffered through this year.  She's such a wonderful partner to my brother, and such an amazing mother to her three children. I'm so glad she's here.  I'm so happy she gets to watch them grow up. And, I'm so glad that on my trips to Franklin, I'll get to sit on comfy couches and laugh with her.  Jennifer has the BEST laugh, and she's so quick to it.  She has one of those laughs that make you feel like everything is OK, one of those laughs that bring you right in.

Both such mighty women, such wonderful mothers.  Both with three children - two girls and a boy; both so lovely; both such wonderful sisters to me.

I struggle mightily here with tenses. One in the present, one in the past.

But what else is there to do?  Mourn the sister I lost, celebrate the sister I have.  Share in the huge communities that love both these women. Wish so hard that I could use present tense with both of them.  Wish so hard I could ease the suffering of all who love them.

Debbie, I miss you so much.  Jennifer, I'm so happy I'll get to see you soon.

I love you both.

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