Saturday, May 31, 2014

The March, Chapter 4: First Loves and First Jobs

chapter 3

Who wants an orange whip?  Orange whip?  Orange whip?  Three orange whips.
- The Blues Brothers

Somewhere at the end of this chapter, Brooke meets her first love.

Ah, first love.  I’ve said the words and you’ve gone all dewy-eyed, haven’t you?   The idea of first love resolving into rhapsodic nostalgia is universal. 

But why?  What is it about first love that turns us into such quivery globs of romantic remembrance?  Is it the blossoming of new feeling, the first flush of life’s rich offerings?  Or is it that we looked so much better then, with our flat stomachs and thick hair?  Could it simply be down to first kisses and the unanswered-as-yet promise of sex?  It’s confusing because most first loves are disasters, notable mostly for putting us on the road to internalizing life’s harshest lesson: Namely, that while Pascal was right and the heart does want what it wants, you ought not indulge your heart in all its various whims and should, as a matter of fact, tell your heart to fuck off every once in a while.  And you know this because your first love was probably a disaster.

Brooke’s was an especially spectacular disaster. It was a real road to Damascus kind of love and we all watched it exasperated, wondering when the scales would finally fall from her eyes.  It was obvious to everyone around her that it never should have happened, that Brooke and Teddy had no business being together and that their relationship was, for lack of a better word, kind of gross.

But despite knowing all that, I’m still going all dewy-eyed.  Because even though it was awful, and likely never should have happened, Brooke’s first love was good for her. So was yours, I wager.  

Love, even when it’s a disaster and leaves you with a broken heart (especially when it leaves you with a broken heart), puts a crack in the brittle shell of who you thought you should be and leaves you more who you really are.  It makes you better than you were before it.  Love is, in all its various forms, good for us.  And our first encounter with it does deserve our fondness.  More than that, if we are happy now, if we love someone the way we’re meant to, then we owe a great debt of gratitude to first love.  Disaster though it likely was.

But, enough of this.  Let’s leave our meditations on love and join Brooke on her first shift at The March.  I suspect you’ll find there’s a lot more going on at your local boozery than you were aware of.


Brooke got to work right on time at 4:30, completed W-2 in hand, price list in her back pocket (where, to be honest, it had never left).  Mary greeted her from behind the bar and gestured to the office door.

The office was a wee, tiny, ramshackle little room.  There was a beat up old desk, an even more beat up old file cabinet and boxes and boxes of booze.  Caleb crouched in front of a beat up old safe, spinning the dial.

“Brooke!” he said, amiably.  “Ready to start your first day?”

She nodded, feeling nervous and then feeling stupid for feeling nervous. 

“This is just some little waitressing job,” she thought. “Any idiot can do it.”

(The only people who think that any idiot can wait tables are idiots who’ve never waited tables.)

Caleb handed her a short apron with three horizontal pockets, and steered her out of the office as she tied it around her waist.  As they walked to the bar, Caleb delineated instruction.  “It’s important, and hard to remember, but keep your tip money separate from the bar’s money.  You have to balance out at the end of every shift, and if you’re short you might have to pay.  If you’re over, it looks like you might be stealing.  One of those pockets should be reserved for tip money. Mary is going to give you a $15 bank, five singles and a roll of quarters.  Mary?”

Mary handed Brooke the money and Caleb continued. “Keep the quarters in one pocket of your apron – but not the tip pocket.  Wrap the bills around your finger like this.”  Caleb folded the bills lengthwise and then wrapped them around his middle finger so the ends of the bills faced palmward, looking as though he had a tacky dollar bill ring around his middle finger.

He continued, “Once you’ve got enough money to make change without this, pay your bank back to Mary.  When you get an order, approach the bar from the wait station and say ‘Ordering.’  Don’t say ‘excuse me,’ or ‘hey, Mary’ or wait to be noticed.  I don’t care how busy or slow it is.  When you have an order, go to the wait station and say ‘Ordering!’  Loud.  Also, don’t say you want two or three of something.  Say ‘two times’ or ‘three times.’  Seems silly, but on a busy Friday night, you want to make sure you get heard.  There’s also a call order:  first drinks with ice, then drinks without ice, then bottled beer, and then draft beer.  So you might say something like ‘Jack coke two times, gin tonic one time, Dewars neat one time, bud bottle three times, pitcher of Old Style, three mugs.’”

Brooke started to interrupt but Caleb kept going. “I know it seems like we should say ‘mug three times’ but we don’t. Just go with it.  Continuing, you dress your own drinks.  Clear alcohol typically gets a lime, brown alcohol typical gets nothing.  Put a cocktail straw in every drink you bring out except beer.  When a customer comes in, wait until they’re seated before approaching.  Don’t poach bar customers.  That’s not cool and you don’t want to piss off your bartender.  Remember, ‘Ordering!’  If you’re on with another server, you take turns.  If she gets the table of six yuppies drinking top shelf booze and you get the single guy drinking a mug of beer, she still gets the next order.  It doesn’t seem fair, but it’s more fair than trying to negotiate fair on a busy Saturday night.  Last but definitely not least, we should have a doorman here whenever you’re here.  Do NOT serve anyone who hasn’t been carded.  I don’t care if they’re 50 years old.  If they haven’t shown an ID, don’t serve them.  You can ask your bartender to do it if you’re not comfortable.  Questions?”

Brooke, who had taken in roughly a third of what Caleb had said, thought for a minute and then shook her head.  She was instantly onto more important topics.   “Sounds simple enough. But I do have one question.  Do you guys recycle here?”

Caleb smiled.  Gio had warned him about Brooke’s single-minded focus on the environment and prepared him for the question. “Not yet,” he said.  “But if you want to institute the program and do all the work associated with it, feel free.”

Brooke nodded smugly, sure that within a week she’d have The March operating the greenest bar in Chicago.  She’d be so successful, she’d be discovered and offered a job as an environmental tavern consultant (a profession she’d just then assumed into existence).   She’d get famous before long and end up working for the mayor’s office.  From there it was just a short hop to a cabinet position in the White House.  And all because she’d started the recycling program at a little tavern on Chicago’s north side.

She stood in the wait station and turned to wait for her first customer.  A few minutes later, a couple of twenty-something guys from the bookstore around the corner sauntered in.

Brooke approached.  “What can I do for you?”  She’d learn soon enough that this was a dangerous question to pose to cocky young men, but it was early enough in the day that they were inclined towards civility and simply ordered a pitcher of Lite.  Brooke made her way back to the bar, where Mary stood chatting with one of the regulars about the Bulls’ chances for the season.  Brooke stood in the wait station, directly in Mary’s eyeline and waved.

Mary continued her conversation.

“Um, Mary?” said Brooke.

Mary chatted on.

Brooke got a little mad.  “I know you can see me, Mary!”

Mary laughed at something the regular said.

From behind her an irritated, smoke-scarred voice said, “She wants you to say ‘Ordering.’”

Mary laughed and said, “That’s the ticket, Brooke. Thanks for the assist, Teddy.”

Brooke got a little madder.  “Pitcher of Miller Lite, please,” she said coldly.

As Mary poured the pitched, she smiled at Brooke.  “Lookit, I know it seems silly. But the reason a server starts on a slow shift like this is so you can get used to it.  Dad’s going to put you on the floor with Rosie this Friday and you’re going to have to have developed some good habits, otherwise Rosie will eat you alive.”

“Rosie,” said the deep voiced man named Teddy as he settled himself onto a stool at the far end of the bar, “Is a vulture and a young woman of few ethical standards.”

“Oh, Teddy,” said Mary, setting a draft in front of him. “She’s just a good waitress and knows how to make a buck.  There’s no need to be such a judgmental fuck about it.”

Mary had a knack for calling her regulars a something fuck in a way that implied while Mary couldn’t stand most something fucks, she liked you well enough to tolerate your something fuckness.  It was a neat trick.

Brooke took the pitcher and the glasses and wandered back to the table.  One of the guys handed her $6 and told her to keep the change.  Brooke realized she had no idea how much the pitcher cost.  And who was this Rosie? And what was up with this Teddy guy?

Chapter Five

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

The March, Chapter Three: Employment

H.I., you’re young and you got your health, what you want with a job?
-Raising Arizona

The next morning, Brooke woke up, did some East Indian deep breathing exercise she’d read about a couple of days before, read The Tribune editorial page with a cup of coffee, wheat toast and an impressively furrowed brow.  Then she left for her interview.

Brooke preferred to travel by bicycle.  She was happy to explain, exhaustively, to anyone who asked that the bicycle was the only sound environmental choice, but, really, she rode because she loved it.  She loved taking off and kicking her leg over the seat when she was already in motion.  She loved pumping up to a good speed and then coasting.  She loved the feel of the wind through her long hair (no one wore helmets in 1990) and the cool, confident calmness of sitting back with her hands off the wheel.  She was a good rider who looked good riding.  She caught a fair number of appreciative glances as she rode down Clark Street.  She may have also, from time to time, caught an irritated honk or an extended middle finger, but such is the relationship between cars and bikes and you should not take this as a commentary on Brooke’s riding skills.

She arrived at The March right on time for her interview.  She locked up her bike and took a moment to second-guess her decision to interview for a tavern job.  She didn’t drink much, didn’t socialize much, and frowned on time wasters.  She was afraid she wouldn’t fit it.  But she squared her shoulders and soldiered on, reminding herself that she needed the money and that she was used to not fitting in.  

The March was a typical Chicago tavern, comfortable, smoky, bordering on grungy. The March was located below ground level, such that out its windows, behind the various neon beer signs, you’d see the legs up to the knees of passersby.  The front part of the bar, near the stairwell, was furnished with pub tables and red vinyl, backless barstools.  There were plastic framed advertisements for beers and boozes on each table as well as a black, plastic ashtray.  Look to your right and you’d see the bar itself, parallel to the far wall, surrounded by more red backless barstools.  There is a long mirror behind the bar, bottles displayed in front.  One TV, showing a baseball game or ESPN coverage, was mounted at the east end of the bar, called “the corner,” with another at the far end. The only other TV was at the front end of the bar, near the stairwell.  No one ever watched that TV.  Can you even imagine a bar where no one was watching TV?

 There was a fooz ball table and a small DJ booth.  It was cleanish but not sparkling; dim but not dank.  The March was a place for having a beer and watching the game.  It wasn’t a first date kind of place.  It looked like a million other neighborhood beer-and-shot joints in Chicago. 

Oh, it was just a great bar!

The bartender that day was a young woman named Mary Garth.  Mary was the daytime manager/bartender at The March, daughter of the general manager, Caleb Garth.  She was medium build, mid-twenties; she had medium length, medium blonde hair.  She was medium pretty.  She was a nice woman.  She was really smart.

Mary was good at this job.  She was competent, friendly and tough. Most of her lunch regulars, blue and white collar alike, where a little in love with her.  But for Mary, this job was just a way station, a vehicle for getting the rent paid until she started her real life.  One more year and then she’d be out of law school and would bid the March a fond farewell.

Four days a week she served lunchtime pitchers of Old Style to construction workers and lunchtime Dewars and waters to middle-aged, middle management types.  She enjoyed a quiet mid-shift, where she was often the only person in the bar.  She finished off her shift opening bottles of beer and mixing vodka/cranberries for the after work crowd.  Her shift ended at 7:00.

At this point, she was relieved by her father, Caleb.  Caleb’s resume was a veritable roadmap of the myriad ways there are to eat and drink in Chicago.  He’d managed hushed, haute cuisine French restaurants and he’d supervised the intentionally rude staff at chain restaurants offering outsized burgers and greasy fries.  He’d stood ramrod straight in black tie behind sparkling bars in sparkling hotels and he’d befouled his sneakers with dirty bar water from soaked bar mats in bowling alleys.  He’d done it all.  Ten years ago, he’d landed at The March and The March was where he intended to stay.

Caleb was a master of bar management.  He kept the liquor license violation-free and passed every health inspection without resorting to bribery (no small feat in Chicago).  His staff was fond of him, as he was of them, but they wouldn’t dare try to take advantage of this fondness.  He was best friend to all his regulars and could cut off a drunk with such gallant aplomb that the drunk ended up thanking him for his concern. 

During his weeknight bar shifts, you’d find Caleb with a smile on his face, towel tucked in his belt, chatting amiably with the regulars in the corner.  On the busy weekend nights, he roamed the floor, keeping the crowd in line, keeping the young staff on point.  On Sundays, he rested.

On this Wednesday morning, Caleb sat at the bar, sipping coffee, inventory sheets in front of him.  He looked up when Brooke approached and smiled, “Gio’s friend, right?”

“Yes,” Brooke replied, holding out her hand. “Brooke Dotry.”

“Caleb Garth, general manager,” he said, shaking her hand warmly.  “And this is my daughter, Mary, daytime manager-slash-bartender, soon to be Mary Garth, esquire, attorney-at-law.”

Mary grinned and waved at Brooke. “Nice to meet you.”

Garth father and daughter were fond of each other.  Genuinely fond of each other.  Mary liked her father who, in turn, liked her.  I don’t mean to belabor the point, but this is not an everyday kind of thing.  We love our parents and we love our children.  But when the child grows into an adult and the parent is no longer obliged (or welcome) to parent, how often do these two end up as friends?  How often do they grow comfortable enough with each other to stop seeking approval or deference and just accept the other as is?  Mary and Caleb had found their way to this, easily.  They were genuinely fond of each other, with such expansive fondness that it became contagious.  Brooke found that she liked them both and wanted them to like her.  This surprised Brooke, who had up until then believed that she didn’t give a rat’s ass what other people thought of her. 

(There is, of course, as vast chasm between not caring what people think and not expecting people to like you.  And I expect you, from your excellent vantage point outside looking in, know on which side of that chasm Brooke stands.)

Caleb decided to hire Brooke on the spot.  As a matter of fact, he’d decided to hire her before she walked in the door.  Gio was a good judge of character and a trustworthy employee.  Caleb had cleared it with Gio that Brooke was a girl who would show up on time for her shifts and wouldn’t think of those shifts as paid party time.  Plus, they really needed a new waitress.

“Can you start tonight,” he asked.

“Uh, yes,” said Brooke, surprised.  “I guess.”

“Good.  Be here at 4:30.  What do you say we train you on the job?”

“OK,” said Brooke, nervously.

“Here’s a W-2 and a price list,” said Caleb.  “Take them both home.  Bring back the W-2 filled in and do your best to memorize the price list.  Mary, do you have any advice for Brooke?”

“Don’t take any shit,” said Mary.

“Excellent advice,” said Caleb.  “See you at 4:30.”

Chapter four

Friday, May 23, 2014

Dogs and Babies

I've been thinking a lot about guns lately.  But, man, they are SUCH a drag and it was such a pretty day and I've finished the work I had to do and I'm heading into a long weekend where I'll get to see awesomesauce friends and family from distant American lands and I can sleep for as long as I want tonight so I just don't want to think about guns.

Actually, I can't sleep as long as I want.  Just as soon as Laney got to be old enough to get herself up in the morning, fire up a laptop and disappear into the mystical and confounding world of Minecraft where she would happily spend hours building things and virtually murdering strangers while I slept on and on and on (baby and toddler parents: It Gets Better ... unless you get into the soccer world, which, come on, don't get into that world!  That kid has been cheating you out of sleep for four years now, why are you willingly signing on for 8:00 am games?  You are not raising Mia Hamm!  And if you are, Mia will work it out on her own.  Sleep in, man.  The soccer world is for suckers.  Let the kid play Minecraft or watch Spongebob while you sleep.  This advice is free. You should take it!), we got a second dog.

I feel guilt about the second dog.  The second dog is so adorable he makes me feel guilty about the first dog.  Ginger (Dog One) is lovely.  She's got these big beagle eyes and her markings make it look like she's wearing eyeliner and she's just beautiful! But she's like a canine Kardashian in that her only discernible talent is lookin' good.  Bunker (Dog Two), on the other hand, has these big furry feet and he greets you at the door with his toy and then, when he's ready to chill, just drops on the floor with his legs splayed out behind him.  He's so goddamn cute.  I just gaze at him and then I imagine that Ginger is telepathically chiding me for the betrayal.

She is not chiding me for the betrayal.  She is a dog.  She is unaware of betrayal.  She knows two things:  dinnertime and walkies.  She could not find a way to care less that I love Bunker.  But I still feel kind of guilty.

How do people with more than one kid do it? Do you constantly feel guilty? I mean,  Of COURSE you do!  You have children - guilt comes standard.  But do you find yourself going "My baby is so fucking cute!  Oh! The four year old is ok too."  Bunker is doing something to me.  I think babies are less cute than Bunker.  I mean, they are more beautiful and obviously you love babies more than I love Bunker... but you should see those big furry feet!  They are the feet of adorableness.

It helps that Bunker smells (and I believe I am being very precise with my language here) like straight up ass.  I love him a little less for his stinkiness. You probably feel the same way about your babies.

I have now become a person who is conflating babies and dogs.  I never wanted to be this person.  But this is where I am.  It helps that I can sleep until I start to worry that one of the dogs is fixing to pee or poop on the floor.  That should keep me abed until about 8:00.  9:00 if I take them out before bed.

You baby parents are jealous, right?  Your baby smells amazing.  Babies do that.  If I'm being honest Bunker and Ginger both smell like ass.  And one of them peed on the floor last week.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

The March: Chapter Two, Brooke and Celia

“Screws fall out all the time. The world is an imperfect place.”
- The Breakfast Club

When Brooke was 12 and Celia almost 11, their mother died.  She was biking home from a town hall meeting when a car took a sudden left turn into her path, killing her instantly. 

Immediately following, their father took his own left turn into an understandable but selfish grief, and became prone to desperate bouts of weeping over the most mundane of inconveniences – out of toilet paper, closet light burnt out. 

So Brooke began managing the house.  She bought the toilet paper and changed the light bulbs (which were only incandescent in those days).  She navigated these domestic tasks while squelching a feeling that they were all sprawled precariously on the thin ice of their father’s grief, their mother’s corpse floating, visible, underneath. She was terrified of the ice cracking, of the living rest of them tumbling in after her.

And then when Brooke was 15 and Celia almost 14, their father met another woman.  In a matter of months, he’d moved with her to the far Western suburbs, leaving Brooke and Celia alone in their apartment in Rogers Park, a neighborhood in the far northeastern corner of the city.  And there he stayed, ensconced in a spacious suburban house, providing a monthly stipend to Brooke and Celia for rent and clothes and groceries, leaving them alone to manage their uncertain teenage lives.

It sounds sad, and it was definitely irresponsible, but Brooke and Celia were glad to be free of their father’s grief. They were happy he’d found some other woman to love and take care of him.  And so they smiled their way through the suburban wedding and the suburban christenings of their suburban half-sibilings. But they were always eager to leave; always relieved to pass back into Chicago, across the invisible line of demarcation between them and their father’s guilt.

So, you see, they were each other's whole family.  And if they were different (Brooke spent those teenaged years indulged in lofty and loftier ideals; Celia kept her feet stylishly shod and on the ground) they still loved each other madly.  And always would.


Brooke considered Gio’s offer.

“Well,” she said finally.  “I guess I could use the money. And I can’t see waitressing being too taxing timewise.  I’ll be able to spend my days on my important work and my nights making a little money.”

“Go in around 11:00 tomorrow,” said Gio. “I’ll tell them to expect you.”

“Fine,” said Brooke, heading into the kitchen to get a glass of water.

“Bye,” said Gio, heading back to his own apartment.  As he walked across the hall, he imagined crazily romantic scenarios: in the soft dawn light, he’d walk her home and then, at the door, she’d let her hair down and smile up at him…

You know where this is going, right?  I mean, you probably know better than Gio.  The poor guy is such a sap when it comes to romance (and by that I mean he’s prone to confusing being horny with being in love).  He’s also not right for Brooke at all.  Celia, on the other hand… well, let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

When Gio left, Celia turned off the television and followed Brooke into the kitchen. 

“Look,” she said, tentatively.  “Do you want to split up Mom’s jewelry now or what?”

Their mother had left behind a small but rather nice collection of jewelry that their father’s new wife had urged him to present to the girls at Brooke’s graduation dinner.

“Oh, Celia,” said Brooke.  “Can’t you just keep it?  You’re more into that kind of stuff that I am.”

Celia sighed softly.  “Don’t you want something that was Mom’s?”

"I guess," she said, chastened. 

Celia rushed into the other room and returned with the box.  She opened it up and pulled out a simple silver chain with a ruby pendant.  “Here,” she said to Brooke.  “This will look so pretty on you with your coloring.”

Brooke held up both hands as if she were warding something distasteful away.  “Oh, no!” she said.  “Who knows who was exploited to get that stone!  We should send it straight back to Africa now.”

Brooke was completely sincere in this wish. Although, in those days and with no internet to guide her, who knows how she would have found the address for the African P.O. Box where guilty white people return things?

Celia frowned and stared into the ruby.  “Mom wore this whenever she got dressed up.  Do you remember?  She’d put on her little black dress and the ruby would pop out all red against the black.  She was so pretty.  When she came home she’d come into the bedroom to kiss us good night.  She smelled like cigarettes and red wine and perfume.  When she stood up after kissing me, I remember the closet light would catch her and I thought how much I loved that smell and how pretty Mommy was and wanting to grow up and be just like her.”

They were silent for a bit before Brooke said quietly, “Yeah, I remember that.  You keep that necklace, Celia.  You look more like Mom than I do anyway.  Next time you get dressed up, you can put on a little black dress and that ruby.  Put your hair up like Mom did and all the little girls will want to be just like you.  I’ll take these silver earrings. Do you remember when Dad vacuumed them up and Mom dumped the bag in the back yard?  I wanted to help and ended up covered in dust.  Mom hosed me of outside.  I can wear them whenever I want to play in the hose.”

Celia smiled fondly.  “Take more,” she urged.  “There’s so much more here.  What about this ring?  Or these other earrings?”

“No,” said Brooke firmly.  “Just these.  You can keep the rest.”

And then Brooke left her sister sitting on the couch to sort her jewelry and her feelings, while she went into her bedroom to work on a letter to the editor about the deforestation of the Ecuadorian rainforest, dead mothers and job interviews absent from her thoughts.---

Chapter Three

Monday, May 19, 2014

The March, Chapter One: Meet Brooke Dotry

“Ow.  Quit it”
-Bart Simpson

Brooke Dotry, tired from an afternoon spent downtown collecting signatures for Green Peace, entered the living room of the Wrigleyville apartment she shared with her sister Celia. Celia was sitting on the floor painting her toenails, while their neighbor, Gio, lounged behind her on the couch.  They were watching cartoons and laughing.  Something called The Animaniacs.  Brooke rolled her eyes. 


She rolled her eyes again, this time accompanying it with a loud sigh.

“Brooke,” said Celia.  “Why don’t you just watch it with us instead of being such an asshole about it.  It’s funny.  God.”

“I might be an asshole,” said Brooke.  “But at least I’m a grown-up asshole.”

Celia flipped her the bird with the hand she held the polish wand in.

Gio, in the meantime, had leapt guiltily off the couch and now stood awkwardly, wishing he’d just sat up straighter.  He ran his hands through his hair and grinned at Brooke, which irritated her.  It bugged her that Celia’s little meathead boyfriend was always hanging around.  And it bugged her that Celia kept insisting that Gio had his meathead crush on Brooke.  As though Brooke would ever be interested in a meathead like Gio.

Poor Gio didn’t deserve this malignant opinion.  Sure, he was good looking in a perpetually tan, slicked-back hair, leaning towards beefy way that is the common cultural representation of the American meathead.  He also had a very unfortunate predilection for Zubazz pants.  But he was a bright guy and a nice guy.  He worked hard for not much money at a local tavern while pursuing an MBA at DePaul. And he was one smitten kitten when it came to Brooke.

Gio had crushed on Brooke ever since the day the sisters had moved in across the hall.  He’d helped them with their boxes, instantly enamored by the pretty girl with her message tees and extravagant long, dark hair.  Later, they shared a pizza while Brooke held forth about saving the whales and the evil that Bush (the first one) was doing in Central America.  She was smart and passionate… and, God, that hair!  He’d been picturing it splayed carelessly post-coital across his chest since the day he met her.

Celia found the whole thing both be- and a-musing.

She slapped him on the leg and said, “Gio, tell Brooke what you told me.”

“Oh, yeah,” said Gio.  “My boss is desperate for waitresses.  I told him about you and he said to come on in.  I bet he’ll hire you on the spot.  You can wait tables a few days a week to make some money and spend the rest of your time on your environment stuff.”

“Fantastic,” said Brooke dryly.  “I can wipe spills up off the table with my college diploma.  Dad will be so proud.”

“I doubt will Dad will notice,” said Celia. “And I doubt even more that he’ll mind when you don’t ask him for rent money.”

“Jesus,” said Brooke.  “There’s a huge hole in the ozone layer and you’re worried about rent.  Who’s paying rent for the planet, Celia?  Huh?”

Brooke’s commitment to the environment was noble and all-consuming. It was also, to be fair, pretty new.  Through her first three and a half years at Loyola. Brooke had devoted herself whole-heartedly to a series of causes: anti-Apartheid, PETA, ACT UP.  She’d written letters to Lech Walesa and Gloria Steinem.  She’d bounced from worthy cause to worthier cause with boundless energy and single-minded determination.  But nothing stuck until the second semester of her senior year when she’d taken a class on environmental ethics for elective credit.  Fifteen minutes into the first lecture of the first class, she found her world both endangered and rocked.
Thus was the great passion of her life (so far) born.

She worked tirelessly at all the action items suggested by the professor, putting so much effort into Chicago’s big 20th anniversary Earth Day Event that she barely passed her other classes.  But she pulled it off in the end and graduated on time ready to take our poor poisoned planet by storm.  Brooke was convinced that all the environmental movement lacked was talent, doggedness and an extreme level of commitment.

She and her extreme level of commitment had been active her first post-university summer, waving placards at sparsely populated rallies, petitioning for Greenpeace, writing passionate letters to the editor.  By August, Brooke had grown used to feeling like a Cassandra and secretly (not so secretly) enjoyed being so much more prescient and virtuous than her fellow man.

Of course, all the prescience and virtue in the world won’t pay the rent.  And lately things had gotten a little tight. 

Back in May, at her graduation dinner, her father had given her a check for $1,000 and some jewelry that belonged to her late mother. He then, as was his wont, left quickly, eager to return to his new life, his new wife, his new children.  Brooke didn’t mind.  She was used to it.  And the $1,000 would certainly be adequate to finance her until something better came along.

But nothing better had come along.

And she was broke.

Click here for Chapter Two.

Reflections on the Novel

This morning, I was driving to work and thinking of Patrick Rothfuss and all the great storytellers in the world and thinking of the stories I want to tell.  Which led me to thoughts of my maligned, neglected, abandoned novel.

And I decided to publish it.


A couple of chapters a week.

This intermittently updated blog is, of course, my real writing baby.  It's been such good company for me.  And while it's true that when I began it, I'd hoped to become Wonkette or Tom and Lorenzo or some such thing.  But then I divorced it from bloggy ambition and let it just became a place to dump my thoughts.  And it's nice to have a place to dump my thoughts.

This novel, The March, I did have ambition for it.  But it's been such a long process.  And it's time to end it and set the damn thing free. But before I end it, a quick note about the beginning of it: the book is 63 chapters long.  I've spent more time on Chapter 1 than all the other chapters combined.  Maybe twice as much.  I've never figured out how to start it well.  It's hard to start a story.

I just spent about two hours here murdering, with extreme prejudice, all my chapter one darlings.  And now I'm sending it out into the world.  I'll post a chapter every Monday and Thursday.  I'll keep a post for a TOC and link to next chapters as it's published.  I'm joining my wordy babies.  Read it, share it, it's not terrible. Maybe.  I don't even know anymore.

But it's time to put it out there.  And I'm putting it out with this.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Mom's Blog

This is not a weird blemish on my mother's face.  It's just a 44 year old photo.

When I was little, and we lived on Autumn Avenue, my mother used to come into my room at night to tuck me in bed.  She always smelled like Oil of Olay.  To this day when I catch the scent of Oil of Olay I feel instantly safe and comforted.  She would sing with me.  Duets.  I'd sing "I hear singing when there's no one there... all day long I seem to walk on air..."  and she'd sing the part about the velvet glove. Velvet touch.  I can only remember my parts.  And then she'd kiss me goodnight and I would feel safe and loved.

My mother is so pretty she can even pull off that horrible yellow!

When I grew up a little, my mother and I would fight!  By the time I hit 13, we would fight and fight and fight.  But we always made up.  It's something I've held onto my whole life: the fight will end.  If it was a bad fight, you might be making up through tears.  But you will make up.  It's another way she makes me feel safe.

If you knew how my hair worked, you would know how long it took Mom to get mine to look like that!

My mother made me do stuff.  She made me study piano and go to church and do my homework and limit my television and some of the stuff she made me do, I still do.   She helped me through all the scary parts of growing up. She walked me gently through hugs after I first noticed my own breasts and thought I had to hug people sideways.  And she talked me through my first terrible tampon experience. And she let me stay in a room by myself at the horrible, scary Heart of Chicago hotel when I was 18 and off to visit Loyola for the first time.  That one was probably pretty tough! But I was accustomed to feeling safe because I always did.

And I know how much she loves me still.  And how much she loves my girl. And she loves my Don (even though, fun fact, when I told her I got back together with Don after a horrible breakup in the mid-90s she recommended that I seek therapy.  But she's been cool with him ever since).  Mom is always good for a chat when you need one and a kind word when you need one. And I love her a whole lot.  And I hope the smell of Ponds is as comforting to Laney 40 years from now as the smell of Oil of Olay is to me.

So, happy birthday, Momma!  I sure do love you a lot.

Friday, May 9, 2014

A Hateful Post

There were thunderstorms last night.  Thunderstorms used to soothe and relax me.  But then I got dogs.  I have one dog who is deeply neurotic about thunderstorms and another dog who is deeply neurotic about being any distance greater than 18 inches from a human person.  The scene:  twas roughly 1:00 am when the thunderstorms began.  Ginger carried her weary, aged body up the stairs and cast her regal eye on Bunker who had the audacity to occupy the dog bed that sits next to the human bed. "Male dog," she demanded, "You are in the space where I typically pant and fart until the thundery danger has passed.  Please remove yourself."  Bunker replied,  "I am yours to command, O alpha lady."

And thus the next several hours were filled with the sounds of Ginger panting and farting her terror away whilst Bunker click-click-clicked his nails on the hardwood floors, pacing, wondering "Are the humans close enough?  I'd better jump up the bed to make sure … there they are… that's better… I'm so relieved I'm going to scratch vigorously."  Then one of us would kick Bunker off.  Then Ginger would refuse to vacate the dog bed.  Then Bunker click-click-clicked his nails as he paced...

And so, after some time of muttering "stupid asshole dogs" as I fluffed up my pillows, I gave up on the idea of sleep,  and instead turned my weary mind to more productive things. I counted the things I hate the most.  And then I began judging the things other people hate.  And thus a little listicle was born.

First, the Judgment: A Short List of Things You Probably Hate Too Much, If You Hate Them at All

Kanye West
I know… but My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy is SO GOOD

Reality TV

You would watch this one, though, right?


They're not all like this!

Gwyneth Paltrow

I admire her for her liberating lack of self-awareness

Kids in Restauransts

Be cool about it - no one wants to be Betty


If the show's been off the air for more than a year...



Still, tourist… speed it up, man!


It's exhausting, but it still matters

Country Music

This lyric makes me doubt my assessment.  We may not hate her enough 

Second, Self-Recriminatory Judgement: Things I Hate Too Much

People who don't immediately go when the light turns green



SHHHHHHH, motorcycle!

Talkin' about how Saturday Night Live hasn't been good since Belushi left

The Lost series finale

So… that's it, then?


But not this one… this one is awful

 People who claim they've never heard of really famous people

I know you know who Jennifer Aniston is.  

Oracle databases

I hate what I do not understand

That tiresome bacon thing that's ragin' through the nation

It's funny when Ron Swanson does it, though

Aaron Sorkin

Look - it's a smarmy dude and a woman who thinks he's amazing!

Third, Acceptance: Things That I (and, I Hope, You) Hate with All the Searing Passion They Deserve 

The song Blurred Lines

The musical version of a roofie

People who engage turn signals as they're in the process of turning


Donald Trump and the People Who Invite him on Television

The Battlestar Galactica series finale

It's been 10 years now.  I'm still not over it

Daniel Tosh

Skeevy, sexist, and racist to boot! 


Purity Balls

Tacky may be understating it...

Charlie Sheen

Chris Brown


Ayn Rand is also a terrible storyteller!

Still like the dogs though...