Mother Dearest

My daughter isn’t gay. Don’t get me wrong, it wouldn’t matter if she were: some people are short, some are tall; some people have brown hair, some have blonde; some people are straight, some are gay—that’s just the way they’re born. Someday, a super smart scientist will find the combination of genes that controls sexuality, he or she will win the Nobel Peace Prize, my opinion will be ratified as fact, and religion will die a little bit. But I digress. What’s important is that to me, it wouldn’t matter if one of my children were gay, but that’s irrelevant because they’re both straight. However, my mother thought otherwise.

My wife and I left for a short trip to Las Vegas. We took our youngest daughter with us, but we left our teenager alone with my mother while she house-sat for us in Durango. Catelynn, my teen, had a friend (we’ll call her “Hailey”), and while we were gone, Catelynn wanted to hang out with her—they wanted to go see a cover band play in the park. They wanted to have a sleepover. I said “no” from Las Vegas, but for some reason, my mother decided not to listen. She loves to overstep her bounds. While Hailey was at our house, she called Catelynn a “pasty face” because Catelynn is a tad self-conscious of her pale complexion. My mother thought she said “tasty face.” To my mother, it sounded like a pet name, and she decided that Hailey was actually my daughter’s secret lesbian lover. My mother loves to jump to conclusions without vetting the facts; senescence comes in many different forms. And all of a sudden, to my mother, it made sense why I didn’t want Hailey at my house: I was a controlling father who didn’t approve of my daughter’s girlfriend, and I was trying to keep them apart.

The truth is a bit different: Hailey is a fledgling criminal. She was suspended from school three times during her first semester as a freshman. The one time that my daughter was suspended was Hailey’s fault; she hid some vodka in my daughter’s backpack, and possession is still nine tenths of the law. Hell, I once had to meet the State Troopers in a grocery store parking lot at two in the morning to pick up my teenager because she and Hailey thought that it’d be a good idea to get drunk in public and break the legal curfew for minors. While I was in Las Vegas, I didn’t want my daughter hanging out with Hailey because I’m a smart father, not because I’m some sort of parochial parent from the sixties: that’s my mother’s father. It would take some pretty intensive therapy for my mother to admit it, but she loves to project her father’s flaws on me now that I’m a father. At one point, she thought that Catelynn was struggling because she’d fallen in love with some boy who I didn’t like. This was false too, and eerily similar to my mother’s relationship with her own father, but my mother couldn’t be convinced because she’d already jumped to one of her fallacious conclusions.

That’s just what she does. She decides that something is true even though it sounds crazy to the rest of us, and she’s unwilling to reconsider because she hates admitting that she’s wrong. She once poured a bottle of rubbing alcohol on my daughter’s head because her hair “smelled musty,” and to this day, she won’t admit how crazy that sounds to anyone who doesn’t have a paranoid fear of things that “smell musty.” Oh well. It’s just like my father always said “we don’t get to pick our parents.” Once my mother decided that her granddaughter was gay, she wouldn’t let go. Long after we came back from Vegas, Catelynn was still receiving texts from her grandmother wherein grandma talked about her own confused sexuality in college. Dear god… I don’t think I need to tell you how much a teenager hates hearing about her grandmother’s sexuality. A conversation like that is where comfort goes to die. It’s gross.

But when you think about it, none of this really matters. What matters is that when I trusted my mother to watch my daughter, when I trusted her to watch my house, she didn’t respect me. She treated me like a child who she outranked once she had the keys to my front door. I told her that I didn’t want my daughter hanging out with Hailey. I told her that I didn’t want Hailey in my house while I was gone. She didn’t respect what I wanted, and it caused something that she didn’t foresee. You see, my mother never raised a teenager even though she tells herself that she did. I raised myself in Alaska at my dad’s house, over an hour away from where she lived, and this is something that she’ll never admit. But if she had raised a teenager, if she had any experience whatsoever, she’d know that once you teach a teenager that respect for authority is negotiable, there’s no turning back. When Catelynn saw her grandmother let Hailey into my house after I’d said no, it became a free-for-all. Catelynn lost all respect for authority, for mine or my mother’s, and while I was gone in Las Vegas, she threw off the yoke of respect and morphed into a pubescent beast. It got to the point wherein my mother had my stepfather tackle Catelynn and take her phone because Catelynn wasn’t listening. My mom couldn’t handle it anymore; she couldn’t sleep in the bed she made. She loaded up her stuff and drove away in the dusk of evening. She stopped answering my calls. She left my daughter and my house unattended while I was nine hours away in a different state. She abandoned us, just like she abandoned me to a dark childhood in Palmer, Alaska. The morbidly funny part in all of this is that she isn’t even enough of a parent to realize that she caused Catelynn’s behavior by going against my wishes and letting Hailey into my house. My mother told Catelynn to keep it a secret. My mother fucked up. She fed the beast from which she fled, and like always, she isn’t culpable. It’s not her fault in her eyes, because nothing ever has been.

Consider this for a second: Thinking that her granddaughter was gay, my mother tried to facilitate a sleepover with a pretend lover against my wishes. And when my daughter started rebelling against her grandmother’s authority, my mother drove away from the problem thereby abandoning my child when I was too far away to do anything about it. To this day, over a year later, my mother hasn’t apologized. She thinks that it’s someone else’s fault. She says that I was interfering too much from afar. She thinks that I was being too controlling of the way she handled my children because I had rules for her to follow (like “don’t let people around my daughter who I don’t want to be around my daughter”). To that, I’d have to say: “Guess what? It’s my house. They’re my children. That week, you were a babysitter, and in that position, you do as you’re told. If that’s not something with which you can come to terms, then you shouldn’t be watching other people’s children.”

It’s ridiculously simple. I’m an adult, and my house, which is filled with my children, is a place where my wife and I get to make the decisions. Period. A rational grandparent would know that; they’d respect what is real and true as opposed to jumping to insane homosexual-based conclusions and dong whatever she wants regardless of whom it might hurt. However, I need to take this a step further and admit something because I need to write what’s true: I need to write hard about the things that hurt just like Hemmingway told me to. On a basal level, all of this really is my fault. I shouldn’t have trusted my mother to watch my daughter or my house because deep down, I knew that she couldn’t handle it. If you play with fire long enough, it’ll burn you, and that’s not the fire’s fault. That’s just what fire does. Secretly, I knew that my mother was incapable of the task that I’d set in front of her. She made a bad parenting mistake, but that’s just what bad parents do. I knew it’d happen. I saw it coming. I was being selfish. I wanted some time away. My wife needed to go to Las Vegas for a convention, and I wanted to go so my youngest and I could walk hand in hand through a grand carnival and smile at the sights. For a long time, I was mad at my mother because of what she did, of who she was that week, but that’s just like being mad at fire for being fire. My mom didn’t make a mistake; I made the mistake by leaving my child with someone who wasn’t suited to watch a child. I fucked up. I trusted someone who wasn’t trustworthy and cold logic demands that I admit my mistake by placing the blame where it belongs: on me. A professional helped me figure this out.

And now, there’s something scarier down the trail. Unfortunately, we all turn into slightly smudged facsimiles of our parents. I’ve seen it happen. When I was a child, I visited my mother’s mother in her nursing home. My grandmother told my mom that she carried mace in her purse just in case someone tried to rape her in an elevator or something. As my mom and I drove away that day, my mom vented her frustration. She said that her mom was crazy because nobody is going to rape a seventy-year-old woman. She told me to shoot her if she ever turned into her mom. Well, guess what? My mom is almost seventy, and she carries things in her purse that are a shit-ton more dangerous than mace. She lives in the same fear that crippled her mother. She spends her money on self-defense gadgets and special wallets that keep the imaginary bad guys from shooting scanners at her purse thereby stealing her precious identity. I’m pretty sure that over the years, she’s spent more money on protecting herself from bad guys than any bad guy could ever take, but she’ll never admit it. To the casual observer, my mother is insane.

I’d love to agree because it’d be easy to write her off that way, but I can’t. My stepfather once told me as we rode home in his corvette that I have a bond with my mother that he doesn’t understand, that I know her better than he ever could. It’s true. My mother isn’t crazy, but sometimes, she makes mistakes and says things that sound crazy. She does things that look crazy. And the reason that she seems so crazy is that even after she realizes that she’s wrong (this moment materializes on her face as a quirky frown), she won’t admit it. She’ll hold her ground until death because for some reason, to my mother, admitting that she was wrong is way worse than being perceived as crazy by the people who know for a fact that she was wrong. If I was saying this out loud in front of my daughter, right now would be the moment when I said “Catelynn, please shoot me if I ever turn into my mom.” And even though I’m going to fight it, in a few decades, I bet my daughter will have some analogous evidence that I have in fact turned into my mom. I’ll say or do something that looks crazy, and maybe I won’t admit it because the notion of looking like an idiot in public will be too paralyzing to face. The hypocrisy will roil in my guts like fetid stream water and I’ll be ashamed of myself. Holy shit. That’s just as scary as a shark swimming in the blue depths of the ocean below my kicking feet.

Even today, in the here and now, sometimes I hold my ground when I know that I’m wrong because it feels like doing otherwise might erode my authority; it might diminish my credibility even though I wasn’t credible in the first place thanks to my error. I know that’s exactly how it started for my mother, and today, that stubbornness has matured into a full grown beast of burden that has come close to costing her the only family that she has.

So now what? I’ve made the decision to never again let my mother watch my children without actual adult supervision. I’ve decided to stop playing with fire. But how do I handle it? Do I wait through a few more years without contact hoping against hope that my mother will wake up and apologize? Do I continue to fool myself in thinking that my mother will admit her fault when it really counts even though that’s something I’ve never seen her do? Or do I let her back in? Do I just forgive and forget because that would make it easiest for the person who caused all of this bullshit? Should I just digest the hurt just so my youngest grows up knowing her grandmother? Honestly, how bad could it be if my children grew up not knowing one of their grandparents? All four of my grandparents were alive throughout my youth, but I only saw them a few times—they lived back East and we had short phone conversations on birthdays that were hampered by an enormous generational divide. The detachment wasn’t detrimental. Sure, my youngest wants to see her grandmother, but is that more important than my need to not be around her hurtful refusal to make amends for her abusive denial of what’s right? I don’t know. It’s subjective. But I’m still waiting and I can continue to do so despite the reality of what comes after old age. My mother’s stubbornness is a pond ripple as where mine is a village killing tsunami.

The professional says that I’m where I need to be. I don’t need to work to let my mother back into my family because she’s the one who worked so hard to leave it. It wouldn’t be healthy to swallow my complaints, to forgo the necessary apology, because that’s the flavor of self-debasement that causes someone to resent their parents in the first place. But on the other hand, my mother is a bit broken. She won’t do what needs to be done because the inability to admit she was wrong is such a huge encumbrance that she actually convinces herself that she’s right despite all of the empirical evidence to the contrary. She sends occasional texts about things that don’t matter, and I ignore them because they’re pointless. But who knows? Maybe these pointless texts are preludes to something meaningful. Maybe she’s just trying to get her foot in the door so she can apologize, but then again, thinking so would just be a hypocritical projection on my part because my mother hasn’t spoken to rationality in years. And my youngest would like to see her grandmother.

The answer is pretty obvious. I need to come to terms with who and what my mother has become. I want a mother who can admit fault, who can tell true from false, but that’s not what I have. Expecting things that aren’t expectable is what leads to unhappiness, and unhappiness with my mother is what I have. Like an adult, I need to accept this and move on. I need to let my youngest see her grandmother and call her when she wants to despite what happens as a result. I mean seriously; the last time my youngest called grandma on her own, from the back seat of my truck while my wife and I were at a garage sale, my mother accused me of forcing my child to call her to manipulate her with guilt. In my mother’s eyes, the possibility that a seven-year-old might call her grandmother out of the blue when she’s left unsupervised with a cell phone wasn’t credible. To her and her negative reality, that call must’ve been a subversive attempt to control her. That’s the insane shit I have to deal with. But unfortunately, I have to deal with it. It is what it is. We don’t get to choose our parents. In the end, maybe my children wouldn’t have chosen me. But maybe now, I can do something to make it so they would. I can admit that all of this happened because I left my children with someone I shouldn’t’ve. I can apologize to myself for the mistake I made and I can forgive myself for the fallout. I, for one, do know what is true and what is not, and in this, I know that the apology I make to myself is the only one that will ever be made despite what “should” happen. And when I think about it, it’s the only one that actually matters.

Weight a minute bro

          I’m a steroid shot in the ass away from becoming a complete hypocrite. You see, I used to work out in a small barn that I’d converted into a home gym because I hated the idea of working out in a public gym with a flock of jocks; that whole “meathead mentality” wasn’t for me. I’d open the overhead door and let the alfalfa flavored air dry my sweat as I grunted in private. I’d have to check my weights for black widows and mice would eat my towels if I forgot to bring them in for the night, but I loved it. The wife, however, did not. We lived on an irrigated five acre parcel that was a solid thirty-five minute commute from downtown Durango, and civilization was too far away. Social interaction is the fecund ground in which children grow best, and without it, we feared that our daughters would end up in a cult or something, so we moved into town.

          It’s expensive to live in Durango. Six-hundred square foot condos rent for thirteen hundred dollars a month, and since we need three times that much space, a home gym would’ve been just as realistic as a landing pad for my luxury helicopter or an indoor pool filled with Champaign, so I sucked it up and joined the local gym at the Durango Rec Center. I don’t know what the opposite of a bucket list is, but I’ve got one. It’s an embarrassingly long litany of things that I’ll never do, and “join a gym” has always been right at the top of it; it’s directly above “take square dance lessons” and “swim with sharks.” But now? Well now, I love my gym. I walk in without my pass and the affable red-shirted people at the front desk wave their hands in forgiveness. “Oh that’s just Jesse,” they’ll say if someone new is working. “He never has his card.” It feels good. I’m a buff version of Norm walking into my very own Cheers. Everyone likes to be a regular. We all like it when that familiar waitress or barista asks if it’ll “be the usual” because it makes us feel welcome. It makes us feel like we’re a part of something, a valued member of the herd, and for our social species, that’s what life is all about. And now, I’ve pulled my myopic head out of my ass via a gym membership and I’m a recognized member of the hoi polloi.

          The gym is like a fraternity. Sure, women go there, but for the most part, we don’t talk to them and they don’t talk to us—we like to think that’s because we’re all ripped and intimidating, but really, it’s just because we’re gross and annoying, and women don’t seem to like conversing when they’re wrapped in spandex and covered in sweat. Anyway, like all fraternities, the gym has its rules. You put your weights back when you’re done. You don’t leave your sweat on the equipment (unless you’re tattooed and scary, and then you can get away with it). You don’t scream like you’re giving birth to a man-baby unless you’re lifting a ridiculous amount of weight. You stay home if you’re sick because there’s no quicker way to piss off the athletic type than to infect them with something catching. You bump fists instead of shaking hands (because sweaty palms are disgusting), you never steal someone else’s equipment, and if someone has their earbuds in, you leave them alone. Other than that, it’s pretty straight forward and we all get along marvelously, but the gym has its quirks.

          The parking lot is big, but it’s always congested. People like to drive around in circles in order to find the spot that’s closest to the front door. It makes sense. They don’t want to walk too far before getting to their treadmills where they run in place. But when they’re forced to walk, they do so in slow motion; the men swing their shoulders and the women gyrate their hips in time with the secretive theme music that lives in their earbuds. It’s hard to admit, but we’re really nothing more than animals, and at the gym, we all strut like puffed-up peacocks. Secondly, they gym smells weird. A few of us even started hunting for some long-dead animal that was trapped behind the drywall before our resident genius, Chase, discovered that the malodorous insult was coming from the weights themselves; I almost brought it to management’s attention, but the gym would’ve lost some character if the smell disappeared. My tertiary problem with the gym here in Durango is the music; they play soft jazz and elevator music. It’s like a soporific field of poppies that’s trying to sap my will to be active. Lastly, believe it or not, some people don’t know the aforementioned rules that I brought to your attention. Every once in a while, a sick, sweat-bucket of a fool will come along and steal your equipment after trying to start a conversation despite your earbuds—it’s annoying, but hey, it’s a public place and everybody is welcome.

          The Rec Center itself grows out of the verdant parks that sprawl along the banks of the Animas River as it wends its way north of downtown. The front desk is inescapable when you walk in through the automatic doors; it’s big and it’s filled with friendly locals. There are conference rooms to the right that are booked for karate classes and strange singing church meetings. The locker rooms and aquatic center are on the left. There’s a climbing wall directly behind the desk. Further back, there’s a basketball court that’s usually filled with old people playing pickle ball: it’s a weird wedding between wiffle ball and tennis. There’s a daycare. There are racquetball courts and running tracks and multipurpose rooms. But none of those places interest me. Right behind the front desk, there’s a wide, tiled staircase that doubles back on itself as it leads up. Standing at the bottom, you can hear the rhythmic thumping of treadmills, the metallic clattering of weights, the too-loud bravado of comradery. It smells like detergent and bodies and feelings of inadequacy.

          I walk up those stairs quickly because nobody likes to live in limbo. I make my rounds when I get to the top, bumping fists with all my bros because it’s apropos, and I settle in on a bench. I look around and do a bit of people watching as I stretch. You’d think that a gym is just one place, but it’s not: there are three territories inhabited by three very different tribes. There’s the cardio tribe. These are an energetic people. They wear special shoes that clip into their fancy stationary bikes. Or they wear shoes that’re made for rubber on rubber—treadmill running that takes you nowhere while you watch a TV that’s mounted on the wall like a carrot on a stick. Next, there’s the yoga tribe. These are an earthy people, subdued and smiling in their tight pants while they sit crisscross-applesauce on their foamy mats. They have candles and breathy music and their own room that keeps them safe from the simian group to which I belong: the third tribe, the lifters. These are an intense people. We’re the large ones, the disproportionate walking triangles. We pick things up and then put them down, over and over again, wishing that we could pick up bigger things and put them down harder. We mark our bodies with chalk. We spot each other and give high-fives as if it was 1985, and we love it. I love it. This is something I never would’ve figured out had I not “sucked it up” and paid for a gym membership. But when I think about it, it isn’t just the gym that deserves my gratitude even though I swear that place is a living, breathing character. It’s the welcoming brethren within who deserve thanks. Those men let me act like an idiot in their midst and now I call them friends—they deserve a written shout-out, so here it is.

          Chase is the smart one, but I already said that. Jimmy is the big one; I spotted that man while he benched four-hundred and fifty-five pounds, and that’s just ludicrous. Ed is the gregarious one; he’s our spirit animal who’s always quick to talk and give advice. Matt is the pro; he looks like a baby made by Arnold Schwarzenegger and Jean Claude Van Dame. Patrick is an amateur personal trainer and a professional shit-talker. Ricky disappears occasionally, but like a spawning salmon, he always returns. Josh is the playboy. Jaccinda is one of the only women who can hold her ground, and she puts most of us to shame. Shane can’t rock a moustache but he does so anyway; he’s a badass, and he grows muscle like the rest of us grow hair. Dylan and Bryan are the gentlemen, Tyler has better shoes than you do, Ben’s arms are bigger than my legs, and Vito is going to be a fireman when he grows up. Aaron is just cool as hell, as are Jason and his daughter. John, Brian, Mike, Dave; good people all. These people have made me realize that the gym is a good place to be, and once upon a time, I was narrower minded than I am now.

          The only thing I hate more than hypocrisy is my own hypocrisy. I hate saying that I’ll never do a thing because I’m better than the people who do that thing just to find out that those people are just different versions of myself. I hate admitting that I was wrong. The gym, for me, has been the hollow into which Luke walked to face Vader for that first time. There, for twenty-five bucks a month, I’ve found myself, even though it sounds like a trite cliché. I’ve realized that “never say never” isn’t just a tired platitude. Granted, I’m not going to square dance around in a plaid suit or swim with a great white, but I am going try and grow up a bit. I’m going to forgive my hypocrisy, or at least, I’m going to try to not be so hypocritical. I’m going to wake up and look at the rest of my anti-bucket list (ha! That’s what it’s called!), and I’m going to decide if the things on said list really suck, or if they’re just incarnations of my parochial decision to only participate in certain facets of life. Because, as it turns out, there’s nothing wrong with a flock of jocks; I was once just a flockless jock.

Durango Rec Center


I can’t watch The Big Bang Theory without my wife remarking on the similarities I share with Sheldon Cooper, so today, I’m going to embrace it and give you a little food for thought. Without further ado, here is:

Jesse Anderson presents, Fun With Words.

It’s always bothered be that the word “palindrome” isn’t in and of itself a palindrome. I’m sure you know what a palindrome is: it’s a word, or a set of words, that mirrors itself when spelled backwards—taco cat spelled backwards is “taco cat,” and that’s just awesome. So in my mind, the proverbial “they” should’ve used “palinilap” instead of “palindrome” because that way, the word itself would’ve reflected its meaning via function. But hey, unfortunately, I’m not one of “them.”

However, there’s a wonderful epiphany buried in this frustration. “Palindrome” spelled backwards is “emordnilap,” and believe it or not, it’s an actual word. The only dictionary that supports this claim is the Urban Dictionary, but for me, that’s good enough. Granted, the Urban Dictionary also defines “Cosby Sweater” in a manner that I’d like to forget (don’t look it up), but that’s irrelevant. An emordnilap is a word that creates a completely different word when it’s spelled backwards. “Emordnilap” is hard to say, so such words are also called “Janis words” or “mirror words” or my favorite, “back words” (it’s my favorite because it sounds like “backwards” and puns just make me giggle). So here we go…

Have you ever met a gateman who wasn’t wearing a nametag? Did you notice that gateman spelled backwards is nametag? Do you get stressed when you’re eating your desserts because it’ll make you fat, or because stressed spelled backwards is in fact desserts? When you feed a baby, you’re repaid by a dirty diaper which isn’t as shitty as it sounds because the backwards back-word for diaper is repaid. Your reward for opening a drawer is noticing the mirrored relationship between “reward” and “drawer.” Now you can’t stop reading because you’re stuck in the worst part of my trap. I could go on forever… my daughter is an avid diva. A dirty musician is a drab bard. A belt is made out of strap parts. Vampire bats stab with their teeth. Orange peels don’t sleep. You have to dial to get laid. Well-trained pets stay in step. You can bonk someone with a knob. A lager is a regal beer. Denim isn’t mined. Don’t snub my buns. The evil live but the devil never lived. I think I’m done because I won now

I love patterns, and I love words, so it’s no surprise that patterns made out of words make me smile like a possum eating sweet potatoes. When I find the patterns, or make my own, my smug smile shows my gums, and when it hits me that the emordnilap for gums is “smug,” my mind explodes and I laugh to myself like a word-addled literary fool.

Anyway, this post was pretty pointless, and I just wrote it for the sake of writing. My summer semester starts on Monday, and you probably won’t hear from me for at least a month. I honestly want to thank all of you for your continued patience and interest—almost fourteen-thousand of you have read my writing almost twenty thousand times, and that’s pretty humbling. But I have to take another break. Over the weekend, I need to get ready for class, and right now, I have to do the dishes… I guess you could say that I have to stop to clean my pots… I’m so, so sorry.

Fun With Flags


          It’s a breach of bathroom etiquette to piss right next to someone else. Everybody knows that. If someone’s using a urinal, you leave an empty one between you and him. If it’s impossible to do so, you still don’t piss right next to him—you use the stall. If all the stalls are full, and you’re forced to use a urinal right next to a stranger, you do so without saying a damn thing. You stare straight ahead at the wall with laser focus like a pissing robot and you do your business. That’s how bathrooms work; I didn’t write these laws, but I follow them. And really, if you think about it, bathroom etiquette is like a parable for the rest of life. It’s a cultural miniature for the rest of our social interaction: you give people their space through propriety and respect.

          The Telegraph has been around forever. I’ve read their paper for a few years’ worth of Thursdays. Their articles are real and organic and homespun. That paper grows out of our streets like a poplar and they’re an authentic representation of Durango. They’ve published my work and mailed me checks with handwritten thankyous. Their format is perfect, and from a capitalist point of view, I guess that’s why it was stolen by the Ballantine Cartel. DGO has fancier blue boxes, lacquered and shining in the spring rain, but other than that, they’re an ersatz carbon-copy of the real deal. Seriously though, why would they do that? Why would they decide to copy The Telegraph so blatantly and then even choose the same day for their free publication run? Was it an overt attempt to snuff out local media? God damn it DGO, Thursday was The Telegraph’s urinal. You should choose another. And stop pandering so goddamn much. We get it. You like bicycles and pot and you’re one of us, earthy and artsy in your “Durango Rocks” T shirt, and we should trust you for your trendiness.

          You know that guy who shows up to dinner parties with a bottle of wine just so he can spout off ad-nauseam about the tannins and whatnot? He annoys me. Don’t get me wrong, I love good wine and I love hearing about it from people like Allen over at Put a Cork in It, but every once in a while, I want to remind everyone that it’s just alcoholic grape juice. It’s no big deal. And pot is the same way. I don’t need to read weekly articles about obscure designer strains; that shit is just otiose nonsense because when you get right down to it, pot is just a weed that grows out of the ground. You light it on fire and breathe in the smoke and then smile about it. It’s no big deal. And it’s definitely not something big enough to build a publication upon. And let’s not forget that The Herald, Ballantine’s flagship, was vehemently opposed to legalized marijuana, but now that it’s legal, they’ve jumped on the pro-pot bandwagon as if we readers have no memory. So write about something else DGO (after you choose a different urinal).

          This is where I switch it up and talk about my own hypocrisy. I thought DGO was an independent startup the first time I noticed one of their blue boxes. I sent them one of my articles because I love seeing these words of mine in black print on grey paper. I never received a response, and if I’m being honest, I’ve been nurturing a petulant resentment ever since. And now, since I’ve discovered that DGO is a subsidiary of an out-of-town interest, I have the moral luxury of saying that “I’m glad they didn’t publish my stuff,” but it’s a lie. Hell, if they ever offered me a writing job, I’d disavow this entire article like a repenting born-again zealot and sign up without my soul if necessary. That’s how desperate I am to be a professional writer. But as a reader? As a local who’s allergic to the counterfeit? Well in this role, I choose to read The Telegraph. I choose to watch their racks go empty day after day while stacks and stacks of dated DGOs end up in the magazine graveyard in front of the treadmills at the Rec Center. I choose to sit here on my manufactured moral high-ground and support the only true local paper, The Durango Telegraph.

          But I’m a realist. I’m sure that the DGO team knew exactly what they were doing. I’m sure they knew that they were going against bathroom rules. In the real world, principal is pointless and money comes first. So DGO sauntered up right next to The Telegraph’s urinal and whipped it out and started pissing. They didn’t even look at the wall; they turned their head slowly and made uncomfortable eye contact. They looked down into The Telegraph’s urinal and cocked a derisive eyebrow—DGO’s money was bigger. It sucked. And why shouldn’t they? Their repetitive pot segments attract all sorts of advertising dollars from our one hundred and one local dispensaries, and there’s still something novel about legal pot. This is especially true for tourists. If they walk through our town and see one of those shiny blue boxes, they’re going to open it and smile when they see a free newspaper covered with green crosses and pot leaves. They’re going to read it, thinking that it’s part of us, and they’re going to validate a poser from out of town. It pisses me off.

          Eventually, money wins. Always. When 92.9 The Point first came on the air, they promised us to be “no talk and all music” forever. It was beautiful but too good to be true. People are more receptive to oblique advertising that’s masked as a conversation, and the temptation was too great. The Point introduced a seemingly innocent morning show, “the breakfast club,” that’s chock full of not-so-subtle marijuana advertising and a shit-ton of talking. Son of a bitch. What did I expect? Did I think that The Point’s puppet master, American General Media, would be any more benevolent than the Ballentine Cartel? Did I really think that they’d just give me music and no talk just because they were nice people? Hell no. They did what they did to make as much money as possible, and eventually, they’ll grow up to be a normal radio station just like all of the other all-talk-no-music stations in this town. They’ve since changed their motto to “the most music in Durango,” but soon, I’m sure it’ll be “92.9 The Point. We’re just like everybody else.” Jesus, hasn’t anyone learned about the life and death of great media from MTV’s horrible demise? Hasn’t anyone figured out that honest originality and an adherence to principal can also be profitable in more ways than one? Knock it off. It’s been a couple decades, but I still want my MTV. Give me my music. Give me my independent newspaper that’s free on Thursday. Give me less greed and less imitation and give The Durango Telegraph space in the bathroom. Thanks.


Bailey’s Friends

          Bailey’s eyes are a mess. They’re barely blue, like deep bathwater, and they reflect back at her in the bathroom mirror like two vitreous pools of contempt. She imagines the bloodshot creeping through the sclera in each. Red veins grow from her irises and reach out towards her trembling eyelids. Her lacrimal sacs bulge like ripening fruit before tears erupt. Mascara runs.


          She wipes her palms on her cheeks with a sniffle and backs up to assess the damage. Her makeup is ruined and her eyes are puffy, but it’ll be easy to pass off as a touch of angst. The huge bathroom is empty, fifteen vacant stalls lit brightly by buzzing fluorescents. It smells like detergent. Bailey talks to herself.

          “Make it through this class. Go back to the dorm and lock your door. Put on your headphones and wait for tomorrow.”

          Bailey breaths in. She breaths out. She gathers her lanky black hair into a messy bun and walks out. The opening door sounds like an explosion in the quiet. Condon hall is a brick-built masterpiece that grows out of the verdant University of Oregon campus. It looks and smells like history. It’s the type of place that makes you want to know more than you already do. The wide halls and vaulted ceilings feel too empty as Bailey makes her way back to class with her books clutched to her chest like a bulletproof vest, but places that are built to hold crowds always feel a bit alien when they’re vacant. She finds her lecture hall. She opens the door and walks in. She presses her back to the wall and wills herself to be perfectly still, perfectly invisible. It doesn’t work. A handful of the hundred students in attendance turn to look, but then they turn back to the lecturing professor.

          “As you know from last week, Hinduism is the oldest religion of man that’s still practiced,” the professor, doing his best to look like a cleaned up version of Indiana Jones, turns to let his intelligence wash over the crowd.

          Bailey whispers, “Is there any other religion besides a religion of man?”

          “But that doesn’t mean that it’s the oldest on record. For that, we’d have to look to the Egyptians. I’ve studied their religious writings extensively, as you will this semester, and we’re going to take a comparative look at their beliefs. We’re going to start with Horus.”

          The professor turns his back on the class and pushes a button on his handheld remote. A picture of a falcon-headed man appears on the projection screen. It’s a cartoonish representation, and sure enough, he’s walking like an Egyptian.

          “Horus and Jesus actually had quite a bit in common. They both benefited from a virgin birth. They both walked on water. They both had twelve disciples, they were both crucified, and they both arose from the dead,” the professor pauses and turns to look back over his shoulder with an arched eyebrow, “I’ve always thought that the ‘H’ in ‘Jesus H. Christ’ stood for ‘Horus’.”

          The supplicants in the front row chuckle in ersatz appreciation. Bailey makes a sound of disgust. It’s too loud, and her invisibility dissolves. The professor raises his handheld remote and points it at Bailey. He pushes a button. A green laser shoots out and does it’s best to bore through Bailey’s bulletproof vest.

          “You in the back. There are a few seats here up front. Come take one.”

          Bailey’s breath turns to liquid and freezes in her throat. Her heart does a drum solo. Her flesh prickles and sweat floods out of her skin like a malicious tide.

          “Fuck this.”

          Bailey turns to flee. The door doesn’t cooperate. She has to push, not pull, and muffled laughter urges her out as she gets it right. The halls blur by. There’s something about a hallway’s closeness that makes you feel like you’re running superhero fast even though you’re not. She makes it outside and down the stairs. Her shoulders go up and down as she cries. They go back and forth as she runs with her books still clutched to her chest. It’s a mess in motion.

          Anxiety is a lead blanket, just like the ones in the dentist’s office, and it slows her down. She finds a shaded bench and sits. The afternoon passes by. Bailey watches it. It’s a time lapse video that excludes her. Students stop and go stop and go stop and go, always in small groups. The sun moves through the striated sky. The tree behind Bailey’s bench that gives her shade becomes a gnomon. It casts a moving umbra on the ground in front of her that Bailey tracks with her numb eyes.

          Bailey’s phone buzzes in her pocket. She pulls it out to read the text. The world goes back into real time as she swipes her thumb across the glass.

          “Hi honey, it’s me, mom. How’s it going?”

          “Dear god mom, you don’t have to tell me that it’s you. This thing knows whose texting me. It’s a smart phone.”

          “Laugh out loud!”

          “Your killing me mom.”

          “It’s spelled ‘you’re’ honey. Now that you’re in college, maybe you could start acting like it. Anyway, how’s it going?”

          “Your right. College is great. I don’t know anybody. Everyone here is either a smelly hippy or a stuck up white girl. I love it.”

          “YOU’RE going to be just fine. Have you pledged yet? Have you found the Delta Delta Delta house?”

          “I’m not going to join your cult mom.”

          “It’s not a cult! I’ve already called the house. Just go over and ask for Stephanie. Please!”

          Bailey holds down the power button on her phone. She slides to power off. She puts her phone back in her pocket. She leans over to one side and fishes around in her back pocket. She pulls out her can of chew and opens it. The pungent tobacco smell, made riper by the heat in her back pocket, invades her mind with memories of her father. He sits in his pickup, a burly lumberjack smiling over at his princess, and spits into his empty beer bottle. New tears fall. Bailey wonders how often one has to cry before dehydration sets in. She pinches out a chew and puts it in her bottom lip. She focuses on the familiar sting to fight back the nausea. Maybe the chew will do her the same favor that it did for her father. There’d be no more tears.

          “Hello there! My name is Melissa, and I was wondering if you’d like to come to an Alpha Chi Omega mixer!”

          Bailey looks up. There’s a blonde in front of her. She must’ve just appeared like a bubbly apparition. Maybe spontaneous generation really does happen, and maybe sorority girls just crop up out of the grass from time to time in Oregon. They make eye contact. Melissa’s smile melts. Bailey pictures herself, tear covered with a bulging lower lip, and knows why. Melissa takes a step back.

          “Um… ew. Gross. Never mind.”

          Anger is a firebrand. Bailey throws off her lead jacket. She’s on her feet now, but her rejoinder is stillborn; Melissa runs away before Bailey’s thoughts can turn into words. Bailey screams her frustration. Brown spittle flies out of her mouth. Melissa shrinks in the distance as she scurries back toward whatever white girl copy machine made her. Bailey starts the trek back to her dorm room. The trip is a blur.

          Bailey calms down and finds herself in front of her computer. Her mouth is empty, which is weird because she has no recollection of losing her chew. I hope I didn’t eat it. Her dorm room is dark, but the glow from Bailey’s monitor is bright enough to reach her door. It’s locked. She must’ve done it already. Weird. Microsoft Word is open to a blank page. I wish Melissa would’ve stuck around to hear this. She centers the first line. “The Beginning.” She starts to type.

          “I don’t have a father. I never did. My mom woke up pregnant after a dream that I’ll tell you about later. I was born knowing everything that I know right now. You see, in the beginning, there was nothing, but nothing is something. This dichotomy caused a schism. It made a force. This force is God, and she is our mother. She never corrects me, and she loves me like she loves us all. Now listen to my words!”

          Bailey types on and on. The words come from someplace else, like a touch from above. They feel true and right and hallowed. Bailey makes her own rules, her own commandments. Thou shall not be a smelly hippy. Thou shall not be a Starbucks drinking white girl. Thou shall only wear loose sweaters. Thou shall not call Bailey gross because she is the one, the Alpha, the Omega, but not the Delta Delta Delta.

          Bailey finishes and clicks “save as.” Her work is stored on her desktop under “Manifesto.” It’s eight pages long, double spaced with one inch borders. She prints out as many copies as she can. She only has one ream of paper. That comes out to sixty-two copies, but it’ll have to do. She looks over at her locked door. Light comes in underneath from the hall outside. It’s darkened occasionally by moving shadows. The real world is out there. They’re out there, the people who make her cry, and trepidation wells up in Bailey’s soul like a tangible thing. But then she thinks about Melissa’s “ew” and makes a decision. Apprehension is replaced by acrimonious rage that demands action.

          Bailey takes her manifestos in hand and leaves her dorm room. Walking down the hall, she passes door after door. She hears people living and loving behind those doors. It’s like she’s walking past boxes full of life. She hurries down the stairs into the common room. It’s wide open and walled by windows on two sides. There’s wood furniture and worn brown carpet; the room smells exactly like it looks. There’s a table against one wall with a large corkboard above it. There’s a bucket of rape whistles on the table, and the board is covered with a smattering of announcements. Bailey steals a thumb tack and pins a copy of her manifesto over a “Feel the Bern” poster. She takes a rape whistle and leaves.

          The cool air outside smells like rotting vegetation and marijuana. It’s autumn in Eugene. Bailey swims through it and goes from dorm to dorm blowing her rape whistle like a boy crying wolf. Her manifestos find places everywhere she goes. Now the people who live in Caswell and Wilcox and all the others will know the truth. When the corkboards are full, Bailey leaves her work on park benches or on the ground or simply throws it at passersby. They look at her with open-mouthed astonishment. She runs out of paper and walks back to her dorm with a smile on her face. It feels like she’s wearing a stranger.

          Each door she passes in her hall has a small dry-erase board hanging at head height. They’re all written on in red or blue or green or black. There are hearts and smiley faces. Bailey comes to her door and stops; there’s a dry erase board here, too, which her mom hung on that embarrassing first day when Bailey moved in. It says “good luck!” in her mother’s hand. There’s nothing else. Bailey doesn’t have a dorm mate. She wipes away the good luck and writes “I shall arise in the morning.” Bailey walks into her room, locks the door, pops an Ambien, and then falls into bed.


          Morning feels like a backhanded pimp slap. Bailey wakes suddenly. Her eyes hurt. Her head is throbbing. She’s still dressed and she smells like yesterday’s frustration. There’s a pain on her chest just above her boobs. Her whistle is still hanging around her neck; she must’ve slept on it. Oh well.

          She grabs her robe and her shower basket and her flip-flops. She opens the door and freezes. The hallway outside her door is packed with girls. They’re all sitting crisscross-applesauce on the floor and looking up at her expectantly with beatific smiles. A collective sigh of bliss washes out from the crowd as Bailey leavens their smiles with her own. They’re all wearing loose knitted shirts of some sort. It looks like an ugly sweater party gone wrong. Bailey breaths in. She breaths out. She addresses her children.

          “Hello. Thank you all for coming. I’m not sure how you found me, but from now on, you’ll all be known as Bailey’s friends.”

Like a Bat

          My mother used to flick me in the forehead whenever I pissed her off. She’d cock back her middle finger and make this weird pursed frown before flicking me right between the eyes with an exaggerated flip of her wrist. I’m sure it looked more painful than it really was, but it still hurt. I always wanted revenge for those flicks and I’d always do something new to piss her off as a result. She kept flicking and I kept pissing her off. Frankly, I’m not sure which came first, the flick or the affront, but that doesn’t matter. What does matter is that one day, not too long ago, I took a bullet in the head. It struck my forehead and it felt exactly like my mother flicking me. The frustrating thing is that they—Detroit’s finest—don’t know where the bullet came from. There were no witnesses and no reports; hell, I don’t even remember hearing a gunshot. I simply remember the pain, just like a flick, and then a blinding darkness that fell over my mind like a suffocating drop-cloth. A short time has passed, but not much has changed. I’m sitting in a bed that goes up and down at the push of a button; it can fold me like a taco. I never let go of the control, because if I did, it’d be lost forever. My mattress is suitably soft and my sheets smell like pungent detergent. I can’t tell you what anything looks like, but the floor has got to be freakishly shiny because the shoes never stop squeaking as nurses come and go. This is a hospital.

          I’ve been here for weeks. People come and offer condolences occasionally. I assume that they’re sincere, but I couldn’t tell you because expressions are hidden from me. The police have come and gone, and they’ve done all that they will until they have more to go on. It’s a paradox. My parents both came, at separate times of course, and my mother wasn’t pleased when I told her what the gunshot felt like. She didn’t say anything, but she didn’t have to. Her silence sounded pissed off, but I was safe from her flicks; I was protected by adulthood and by my gauzy headband. How nice it was.

          But now I’m alone. My door is shut. I can feel it because there’s more pressure in my room when I’m cut off from the rest of the hospital. And the cacophony coming from all of the caring people in the corridor outside is muted to a tolerable point. It’s not that I don’t enjoy all of the attention that comes from those caring people, but the nurses I’ve seen, or I guess that I’ve “met,” always seem to get a bit too mawkish when it comes to blind, gunshot invalids. Maybe they like me better than everybody else who’s here because it’s not my fault that I’m abed. It’s not my fault that they have to spend part of their twelve-hour shifts changing my catheter. That’s the worst part of everyone’s day, but at least it’s not my fault. It’s not like I ate donuts like a true American until my blood turned into pudding; these are the people you hear the nurses complain about—people who’re here because of a choice. But I’m one of the poor, unfortunate souls. I get checked on more than the others, or at least I hear my door open and shut more often than some of the others. Maybe the nurses are battling back bad luck by giving me attention; maybe if they care for me more, they’ll be spared a similar karmic fate. Maybe I’m just a cynical ass.

          I pass the time by playing peekaboo with the light that I know has got to be everywhere around me. I cover my open eyes with my hands and then take them away suddenly. I hope the shock will wake up my retinas or something. But every time I move my hands, quick and dramatic, it’s just dark. Dark before, dark after, just dark dark and more dark. I’ve come to hate that word. It’s just like any other word that you hear or think repetitively. It starts to sound like a word that isn’t even a word at all, just a random noise, and I should know, because sound is all I’ve got.

          Someone knocks three times and then opens my door before I answer.

          “Hello! My name is Jack, and I’m your sight coach. How’s it going?” I picture a tanned man with a moustache because this guy sounds exactly like Tom Selleck.

          “Good. What’s a sight coach?”

          “Well, once upon a time, I’d teach you how to use a folding blind cane, once you were up and about, but we’re just going to jump into the next level stuff.” I hear a muffled sound. It’s moving cloth. A hand in a pocket? I feel Jack press something into my hand. It’s a smooth rectangle of plastic, about the size of a Bic lighter, and it’s warm. I smile, because it was definitely the sound of a hand in a pocket. Why else would this thing warm? I hear Jack stepping away and I hear my door shut.

          “Instead of the cane, we’re gunna start with the clicker. Do you feel the button? Press it.”

          My thumb finds it for me. There’s a small circular depression on one side of the clicker. I press it. It clicks. I let go. It clicks again, but the tone is slightly lower. It reminds me of those safety caps on Snapple bottles. I used to click those things incessantly, or at least until my mother cocked back her middle finger.

          “Look, it’s like this. The doctors tell me that the bullet damaged a nerve, but they said your visual cortex is fine. Hell, your whole brain is fine. You might not agree, but you got lucky because that bullet didn’t go deep. Now the brain is a crazy thing. It adapts. If you try hard enough, you can rewire it. You can turn your visual cortex back on with sound. It’s pretty simple, but it takes time. You just click your clicker, and you listen. The sound will bounce around the room, and eventually, you’ll start to see things in your mind. You’ll see with your ears.”

          “Like a bat?”

          “Yes! Exactly like a bat! If you think about it, you’ll be able to see in the dark, kind of like a super hero!” I assume Jack is making some pretty crazy gesticulations because his clothing is sounding all sorts of exclamations. “Got any questions for me?”

          “What color is it?” I feel my head tilt to the side. Do I always do that now? Since I can’t see the people I’m talking to, have I started pointing my ears at them? Shit. Do I look like a confused puppy during conversations?

          “Um, it’s an off-white. Kind of like coffee cream maybe.”


          “Alright, I’ll leave you to it. The more you practice, the more you see.” I hear him get up and leave. My door opens and shuts solidly. I guess people don’t shake hands with the blind. I don’t blame them. Awkward.

          I start clicking. Click and listen click and listen click and listen. A nurse comes in to remove my catheter. We don’t speak much. At least I don’t have to make eye contact. She says I’m to start using the bathroom. Jack’s orders. She says the door is on the wall opposite from my bed. She sounds like one of those large women you see in southern church choirs. I smile and name her Aretha in my head as she walks out and shuts the door behind her. 

          The days and nights start to blur together like some sort of weird time soup. I can only tell the difference between the two by the level of activity I hear outside of my door. Jack comes and goes. He starts calling me Batman in his Magnum P.I. voice. And I practice. Walk click listen, walk click listen. Over and over. But now, the black in my mind starts to melt. It’s oil diluted by the thinning agent of sound. The walls and the obstacles and even the moving people around me start to take shape. They pulse in my mind’s eye with each one of my clicks. At first, it’s all greys and muted blacks. But then my brain starts to fill in the blanks. It paints by number. I start to see flesh tones on the moving people and the walls become eggshell white. Running water is a lipid blue, and when I go outside with Jack, the trees turn green under my click and through the wind’s susurration. It’s beautiful. The world starts to open and I feel my eyelids close reflexively because the light is too bright in my cloistered mind. How wonderful they are, these colors and these shapes and these tangible textures that I can feel with a click. How wonderful it is to see.

An Open Letter to the C.I.A.

It’s an odd thing to decide on paper the fate of one’s body. I did so about a decade ago. We sat there in our lawyer’s office, the wife and I, and we stared down at our last testaments. They stared back, blank and bone white, like moribund reminders of the fact that we’d leave behind flesh after death. There were four boxes from which we could choose: burial, cremation, educational use, or government study. The first two are pretty self-explanatory: six feet down or burnt to a crisp. I’d imagine that if I checked the third, I’d end up on one of those burnished stainless-steel examination tables, covered partially by a white sheet, while some medical student stood above with trembling hands and a false mask of indifference glued onto her face. But the fourth? Government study? What the hell does that entail? I didn’t know, so of course I filled in the box with my indelible ink. I’m sure they’ll use my body for something mundane like a ballistics test, but I had grander aspirations. Maybe they have me on some sort of clandestine list and maybe they’re watching me right now. Maybe, when I die, they’ll swoop in and harvest my brain. And then, obviously, they’ll implant it into a superhuman body that’s been engineered in a lab; it’s been waiting for me, floating in a huge tube of pinkish fluid, far underground in an Antarctic bunker that we’ll never know about. They’ll plug me into a supercomputer and I’ll be taught Kung Fu and automatic weapons mastery via a fiber optic cable. And then I’ll be unleashed after minimal pomp and circumstance to fight crime across the globe like an ultra badass. I’ll see my family from time to time, but I won’t be allowed to make contact or else a small bomb slash tracking device that’s implanted in my head will detonate. It’ll be rough, but it’ll be better than the permanence of a dark and endless death. I’m just too damn rational to be anything other than an agnostic, so unfortunately, this is my only hope for an afterlife.

But why wait? This body of mine doesn’t have any cool upgrades like carbon fiber bones or x-ray eyeballs, but I workout and I’m only thirty-six. I’m just as arrogant as anybody, so I’d like to think that the C.I.A. will end up reading this. These few paragraphs could serve as my job application. So here it goes…


Dear the C.I.A.,

I’d like a job as one of your sexy and mysterious spies and/or assassins. All I’d really need is a nice suit and a better haircut. You could direct deposit into my checking a monthly stipend and I could drive around Durango, Colorado in a rugged Jeep Wrangler to keep up my disguise. I’d carry on me at all times my encrypted government cell phone, and when you finally called, I’d answer it with a disaffected expression and a hushed monotone voice so “they” couldn’t find out what you were telling me to do. I’d kiss the wife and kids goodbye, and then I’d board a private jet enroot to a yacht that’d take me to an exotic locale. I’d shoot a couple bad guys, save the day with a cheeky remark for punctuation, and then come back home to complain about a boring business trip.

Don’t you see? It’s perfect. You wouldn’t even have to engineer an elaborate cover story for my identity because I’ve got it covered thanks to the thirty-six years of pedestrian life that I already have under my belt. They bad guys would never be able to unearth my real identity as a super-spy because my alias as a “boring middle aged man who works in the oilfield but dreams of being a writer” is just so depressingly airtight that it’d withstand any amount of scrutiny. Of course, this little letter might give us away, but I’ll delete any evidence that I ever wrote it if you hire me.

Anyway, judging by the amount of time that I’ve been spending on Netflix lately, I’d say that I can start immediately. I’m sure that you already have my phone number and email address, so just give me a shout whenever.


J.J. Anderson (but my code name would obviously be Dirk McNinja)


This is where I’ve been lately. I’ve been hoping for something more. The oilfield is imploding, and while I’m still milking out a paycheck, it’s impossible to avoid reading the writing on the wall. It’s in broken English (because it was written by a redneck), but I know what it means. The obvious effect of fossil fuels on this planet is leading this industry into extinction. Isn’t the irony hilarious? So I’m looking elsewhere. Maybe I’ll just be a fulltime student when the axe finally falls. Hell, school starts tomorrow, and I could always add a few more credits and try to get it over with sooner rather than later. Or it might be better if I became a real estate agent. I love looking at houses, but I don’t like people all that much so this route is dicey at best. And the way I see it, even though the open letter you read is absurd at best, who knows? Maybe you’ll see me downtown next week driving around in an old Jeep with a new phone plastered to my ear. Either way, I’ve had this pervading feeling of “something has got to give” lately even though I know this paradigm is fallacious. Nothing ever has to give unless you make it give. Nothing is ever going to change unless I facilitate change despite my sanguine optimism.

So here I sit, going over the options. That’s not to say that I’m going to choose one today because I’m not. I just wanted to check in with you. I just wanted to give you one more little piece of nonsense to read before I start school on the morrow because alas, you won’t hear from me until the summer. But if you’re a bad guy, and you see me in your rear-view sporting a dashing new haircut and wearing a dapper new suit, it’s best that you start running from Dirk McNinja.


Homeless, Colorado

A man with a teardrop tattoo reached into my truck. I was at a gas station. It’s weird because there was a disparity between his words and his actions. He called me “sir.” He was asking for a handout, but he was trying to take. I slammed my door quickly. He pulled his hand out just in time to avoid a few broken bones. He leaned in to check his face in my side-view mirror. Maybe he wanted to see why he’d repulsed me so vehemently. Maybe he was just checking to make sure his artificial teardrop was in place. And then he walked away as if nothing untoward had happened.

What was I supposed to do? All I had were twenties. Should I have given him one? Should I have used my money to contribute to the track marks on his arm as opposed to feeding my family? Should I have gotten out and confronted him? Should I have destroyed his face with my fist? His teardrop tattoo screamed “I share needles” so best case scenario, I’d be going to the clinic after a fight. I would have won that physical contest, easily, but what would it have done to me in the long run? I drove away and started thinking about the homeless problem here in Durango, Colorado. It was raining. The fat raindrops exploded on my windshield like turgid little water balloons.

The homeless are rampant in our home town. If you look closely at the picture I’ve attached to this post, you’ll be able to count nine homeless people who are mid-siesta. I took that picture in the park behind the Vitamin Cottage; it’s surrounded by million dollar houses. Bums are everywhere, and they’re allowed to be. The ACLU wrote a letter and sent it to our city. In it, they said that it was an infringement on a constitutionally guaranteed right to free speech to disallow panhandling; when the homeless beg, they’re speaking freely through their actions. I’m a left leaning independent like most of us in this town, but even to me, that seems like a stretch. Our constitution is an elastic document, but when it comes to “free speech,” I doubt that its framers were thinking about handouts and cardboard signs. But it’s not like we can ask them, so we have to let our lawyers battle it out semantically in court.

I know you’ve had your own experiences. You’ve probably dealt with that pandering career panhandler who stands at the intersection of 550 North and 160. He dresses from head to toe in Denver Broncos gear to leach a bit of local sympathy. I once gave him five dollars. While my window was down, he told me that I needed to “pray” for him to find a ride south to New Mexico. There were too many liberals here and it was getting cold. He must’ve mistaken me for a conservative sympathizer thanks to my company truck and white skin. I was insulted. I told him that New Mexico was just a five hour walk south, and that if he started immediately, he’d be there in time for dinner. He told me that he had too much luggage back at the hotel and that the walk would be difficult because he had a Siamese cat to worry about. What the fuck? My words deserted me. The light turned green and I drove away regretting my five dollar loss.

And then there’s Walmart. The parking lot is a veritable carnival for the homeless. A sad looking teenage girl with a puppy and a religious cardboard sign almost earned a few alms as I drove by, but I was still shell-shocked from my experience with the cat loving Broncos fan. So I watched her for a bit. Her shift ended, and she walked back to a large motor home attached to a Dodge pick-up that was nicer than the truck from which I performed my stakeout. There was a box of puppies and a stack of signs by the motor home. There was a herd of “homeless” children with two adults, a man and a woman, acting as shepherds. My disgust was palpable. I almost fed into their ruse. Stories like this are ubiquitous. A man and a woman asked my wife for money as she walked out of Subway. She said no, and they countered with “we take sandwiches too.” I took my family to dinner on Main Street a few weeks back, and as we walked out armed with naught but Styrofoam boxes, a herd of homeless men in their twenties asked for our leftovers. My seven year old daughter gave them death stares (she’s rather protective of her left overs), I declined politely saying that the food was for my children, and we walked away with that feeling of despair in our guts.

So what do we do? Labeling panhandling as illegal won’t work because it’d supposedly be a civil rights infraction (despite the fact that our rights are being violated by aggressive panhandling), so do we just live and let live? Let’s face it, there are a few homeless people who actually need our charity, like that benevolent and heavy set woman with special needs who hangs out by the frozen yogurt place. She needs our help, and always gets it from me, because she doesn’t have boot straps with which to pull herself up. But in most cases, “homeless” is a choice in our town. Plenty of people gripe about the situation but solutions seem to be just as scarce as vagrant-free street corners. This problem isn’t going away on its own. There’s an illegal homeless camp that’s hunkered down in the woods just north of the Manna Soup Kitchen. It’s grown to the point wherein the wildlife is coming in attracted to the trash in the makeshift midden heaps. A bear decided to chew on one of the homeless residents a few weeks ago and yet they camp there still. If the visceral fear of being eaten alive isn’t going to dissuade the homeless, our spiteful sneers and exclusionary rhetoric isn’t going to do a damn thing either. We have two options: let it be, or fix it through realism.

Where would option number one lead us? Well, Durango hasn’t really been a nationally known destination spot for that long. So to tell the future, we should look at a few well established destination towns that are comparable. Because if you think about it, the homeless want to be here for the same reason that we do: Durango is fucking awesome. The weather is nice for most of the year and it’s beautiful (and let’s face it, pot is legal). So let’s look at someplace else that’s just as awesome: Key West, Florida. Key West has been a destination spot ever since pirates sailed the seas under their skull and crossbones standards. It’s always warm, there are plenty of tourists, and the island is connected to the mainland by a road. It’s a perfect place to be homeless. The wife and I spent some time there this spring and I got the chance to observe firsthand a highly evolved homeless population. You see, there’s competition between panhandlers just like there is in every other facet of life. They’re constantly trying to outdo their compatriots. At first, they battle through their signs. Their words, written in black sharpie, become more and more desperate touching on all of the bases (I have kids, I’m hungry, anything helps, god bless). And then they try honesty and humor (I need beer, I bet you can’t hit me with a quarter, ninjas killed my family and I need money for Kung Fu lessons). After the signs run their course, they’re abandoned for performance art. In Key West, you rarely see homeless people holding signs. They’ve evolved into bums dressed as Darth Vader playing the banjo. They’ve discovered that more money can be made through novelty. Mark my words. In a year or so, if we don’t find a solution, you’ll see Spiderman standing on Main Street with a bucket for tips instead of that crazy dude with a waste length beard. Once our homeless population evolves like the one in Key West, would it really be that bad? Hell, I think it’d add a bit of flavor to this already flavorful town, but if it’s still something that you think needs to be rectified, there’s only one way to do it: outreach.

You can’t make an undesirable thing illegal and expect it to disappear. We’ve learned that time and time again through prohibition and the war on drugs and gun control and teenage pregnancy. We need to help the homeless. We need to fight fire with water, not more fire. We need an army of volunteers. We need our churches to earn their keep. We need to send out amongst the homeless population people who can help them choose something better, something healthier. These liaisons can wear uniforms and arm themselves with strong stomachs and rehearsed speeches. “Excuse me sir, are you okay? Will you please follow me to the community center where I can feed you and show you a way out of this hole? I’ll walk with you. I’ll be seen with you and I’ll treat you like a human, because I know that we share the same DNA. If you and I were switched at birth, I’d probably end up just where you are. I know you don’t really want to live like this. Share with me your story. I’ll listen. I’ll give you help that goes beyond a few dollars for your next meal, your next fix, your next mistake. I’ll help you to find work, I’ll lead you to a new place, a place that allows you to help others like yourself. Wouldn’t that be incredible? Wouldn’t you love that? Wouldn’t you chose that over this street corner? Take my hand.” Or maybe I should go out and try this approach. Maybe I should practice what I preach. And maybe, instead of sneering at a bum or handing them a few dollars, you should do the same (unless you’re looking forward to a busking Darth Vader), because Durango is our home, and when something is amiss in your home, you fix it.

Homeless in Durango

Sorry, not sorry.

My blog is exploding. I’ve never seen traffic like this, and I guess that’s because I’ve chosen a theme: Durango, Colorado. Roughly one out of every fifteen Durango residents read my post from two weeks ago, and from the locals, the feedback has been awesome. If we get right down to it, I’m not much more than a narcissist who feeds on the praise like a weed basking in the sun, so things have been great. But in that post from two weeks back, I used a bit of symbolic prose. I said that New Mexico leaves on your being a dust which needs to be brushed off before entering a place as majestic as our Durango. And for it, I was called a cunt and a dumb-fuck. I was told not to go back to New Mexico because I wasn’t welcome, and that I should quit my job south of the border and find some work here amongst the “hippies.” These labels and suggestions came from three different readers, and for the record, I agree wholeheartedly with the latter piece of advice.

Oddly enough, I wasn’t offended. Their idiocy was more of an indictment against our public education system than anything else; these individuals never learned how to read. And I don’t mean that they can’t sound out their letters and read from a page the written word, but rather, I mean that they can’t comprehend the greater meaning which is represented by the text as a whole. The rhetoric in my post from two weeks back was actually aimed at the myopic few here in Durango who think that others should stay out; I was talking to locals who think that they have a greater right than others to occupy this portion of Colorado. It’s these people who detest the New Mexican dust. But a few readers from south of the border didn’t get that. Hell, maybe there really is New Mexican dust, and maybe these readers have been exposed to too much of it. Maybe it’s clogging their pores and blinding their eyes and slowing to a crawl their already feeble brain activity. But like I said, I’m not pissed. If anything, I’d like to congratulate these individuals for branching out and reading something other than the menu at the McDonald’s drive-through.

But even if I had meant what they thought I meant, why would they get so angry? Why would a few words on a webpage push them over the edge and lead them to call a stranger a cunt? It’s not like I was speaking to them personally. Actually, I wasn’t even speaking derogatively about people; I was writing about a place. So why’d they get so mad? Well, it’s because these non-readers thought that I was insulting their homeland. In their rants, they said that they were proud natives and that I could leave if I didn’t like it. In my mind, “native” is just another word for “stagnant fool who’s too parochial to explore,” but that’s beside the point. And I didn’t like it, so guess what… I did leave, and now I live here. In most cases, these people get pissed because they’re unintelligent birds who’ve flocked together according to a similar feather in towns that accept their bigotry and small mindedness. If you point at them an open-eyed finger of truth, it calls into question their acrimonious paradigms and their feathers start to ruffle. They plug their ears with their fingers and start shouting (by calling a cunt a writer they’ve never met) just to drown out something they don’t want to hear.

Isn’t it odd that people get so fiercely protective of the dirt upon which they grew up? If we were to take an objective look at the two towns in New Mexico (Farmington and Bloomfield) that are closest to Durango, we’d find that there’s nothing about which to be proud. These cities are really nothing more than dirty shanty towns that are plagued with crime and low income and failing schools. Sure, one could say that this is just an opinion, but if an opinion is held by the majority, it takes on a hallowed glow; it becomes something else, something greater than an opinion. Nobody in their right mind would argue that the shittiest part of Nebraska is better than the best part of Hawaii. The statement that “Hawaii is better than Nebraska” could be called subjective, but we all know that it’s not. It has breached the barrier between fact and opinion and most of us would agree that the former is a more apt categorization. The assertion that “Durango is better than Farmington and Bloomfield” is the same. If you’re south of the border, and you’re reading this, please think long and hard about what I’m saying. If you’re in Bloomfield, go stand on Main Street. Go look at those three gas stations and that dilapidated grocery store. Smell the diesel fumes and listen to the trucks that bypass your town on their way to deliver goods to greener pastures. And then come up here. Stand on our Main Street. Look at our historic buildings and our culture. Smell our cooking smells and the river and the pine in the air. Listen to our laughter and our music and then tell me that I’m not right. Tell me that your town doesn’t suck ass compared to our utopia. For fuck’s sake, let go of your misplaced territorial allegiance and open your eyes.

That’s exactly what I’ve done. I once fought tooth and nail to protect verbally my homeland of Wasilla, Alaska. But if I sit back and let go of those atavistic urges to stake a claim mentally on the place in which I was reared, I can see things in a more vitreous light. Wasilla sucked. Sure, it was surrounded by pretty mountains, but the town itself was just a bunch of pole-barns infested with rednecks. So I moved on. I gave up my “native” title; now, I’m a “local” at best and a “tourist” and worst. And life is better. I can take my daughters out to the river and let them frolic in its green waters. I can stand on the train tracks above and watch them loving life. Afterward, I can take them into a clean town full of educated peers for a bite to eat. All the while, I can know in honesty that I live in a great town. It’s a town I’ve selected thanks to research and experience. I chose to live here instead of the place from which I came, and frankly, that makes me more than a native, and it keeps me out of reach from the little people who try to impugn me with their impotent insults.

Animas River

Dirty Clowns Too

Once again, I made the mistake of letting meth heads watch my children. A lot of people call it “letting your kids go to the carnival,” but I disagree with them semantically. They’re polishing a turd at best while I’m keeping it real with an accurate description of what’s actually going on.


My eldest daughter is pretty. It’s the super kind of pretty that’s acknowledged by everybody, not just her father. But she’s only thirteen. She and her friends are starting to look like women even though they’re anything but. My daughter, along with one of her precocious compatriots, went to that carnival that crops up seasonally over by the Durango rec center. I let them go alone. They paid for tickets. They boarded one of those rides that operates on the principal that going around in circles never gets old. They got off and then got back in line to get back on again. But this time, the tattooed and toothless carnie who operated the ride said that they didn’t need any tickets to ride his ride. They got on for free, but now, they were the only ones riding. The ride ran its circuit, around and around, and as it slowed, the carnie told them that they could ride for free all day, and that he wasn’t letting them off of his ride. He said they were too pretty; too pretty to get off, too pretty to pay. They got off eventually and left immediately. The creepiness bit at their heals doggedly as they speed-walked away to call me. They told me their story. My brain caught on fire and ninja stars shot out of my eyes.

So I did what any father would do. I called the carnival and told them that I’d be a paying customer the next day and that I’d be bringing my whole family. I told them that I was going to have my eldest super pretty daughter show me the forty-something year old carnie who thought it appropriate to hit on a couple of thirteen year old children. And then I told them that I was going to murder the carnie by ripping off his head and sticking it on a stale churro that I’d hold above my head as a warning to the other carnies… you know, like they did with pikes back in the good ol’ days. They understood. They fired that carnie and gave him a ride back to Phoenix before I showed up the next day with murder behind my ninja star throwing eyes. The day was uneventful.

Anyway, that was a while back, sometime in the spring. I left Durango three days ago and right now, I’m sitting in a Las Vegas hotel room with my youngest daughter. She’s seven and promises to be just as pretty as my eldest. The Cartoon Network is washing over her catatonic mind as I type this. Sure, she’s drooling and my parenting should be called into questioning if I prolong this situation, but the TV was kind enough to babysit so I could type. And I promised her a trip to the cupcake ATM if she lets me write for a while (seriously… they have a twenty-four hour cupcake ATM here) so it’s all kosher.

Las Vegas is just an enormous and slightly less ephemeral carnival than that seasonal one we have back home in Durango. Each version has two sides; the rubes and the carnies. Rubes are all the same. Sure, some of us can afford to buy more peanuts than others, but a rube is a rube and the carnies feed off of us all. And the carnies are all the same as well. Sure, the naked freaks who do triple back flips in Zumanity are higher paid and more talented than the guy who dresses up like Spiderman and busks for our bucks on the boulevard, but a carnie is a carnie and they couldn’t survive without a rube’s charity. It’s just that the clowns here in Vegas are slightly cleaner than their counterparts back home. Most of their teeth are present. Most of their tattoos are hidden. You have to look a bit closer to see their inner carnie. This is the big league for people who feed off of other people.

High Roller

I usually tie into the pieces I write a maxim, but right now, I just want to share a few observations I made regarding three specimens (people) I observed while walking through this town. The first looked like Will.I.Am on steroids. His muscles had muscles. He was wearing a beaver hat like Davy Crockett and retro swimming shorts like me in the 80s. He was confident, from his aviators to his tank top, and I envied him. The second was someone who’d we all refer to lovingly as a hood rat. She was fit and wearing a leopard print dress that was tighter than saran wrap. Her hair was oiled and so was her sneer. Two dudes walked by as I watched. She tried to flip her hair with her press-on nails much the same way an angler fish flips its lure. But her nails caught on one of her “gold” loop earrings. It fell out of her ear and bounced down her boobs like a miniature hula-hoop. I’m still laughing inside.

But the third was a woman who looked to have seen more than the rest of us combined. She was standing behind a blackjack table just after noon. Her hair was blonde and her skin was painted and old. It was hard to guess her exact age. It was kind of like looking at a tree; you know they’re old once they reach a certain height, but it’s impossible to divine an exact number without cutting it down and counting the rings. That’d be rude (for a tree or for a woman), so we’ll say that she was sixty-five. I spend most of my life making assumptions, and I’ve gotten pretty good at it, so I’m pretty confident when I say that I can tell you that woman’s life story without vetting any of my assumptions.

She looked comfortable on the strip, kind of the way I imagine myself looking amongst the spruce back home in Alaska, so I’m guessing that she’s a lifelong resident of Vegas. Her boobs were fake and comically large, and she clung to the last vestiges of her youth much the same way her customers clung to their hope. She probably started off small, as a cocktail waitress, saved up for the breasts, and then made it into a show of some sort. But then age knocked her down to the blackjack table. And somewhere along the way, she saved up some stories. I’ll never know them, but I know she has them. Her wizened eyes made contact with mine briefly and I glimpsed the depth of her experience before walking away. It was like listening to time pass through the gnarled branches of an antique oak. I shuddered. Maybe she was the secret queen of the carnies because she had a look that let a passerby know that she’d never be fooled again, but that she could make a fool out of just about any passerby.

What type of life would that be? How crazy would it be to go through your one existence as a career carnie? I shrink back from the thought. I’m happy to be a rube, even though it’s a negative term given to us by the carnies (dipping into our pockets wasn’t enough; they had to be derogative as well). For the sake of this article, I’ll admit that I’m a Britney fan. In one of her songs, she says that “there’s two type of people in this world: those that perform, and those that observe” (it’s apropos that this quote comes off of her Circus album). The latter type of person is supposed to be the inferior, and I disagree vehemently (even though right now, by writing for you, I’m performing). By sitting back and watching the carnies, we only dip briefly into the pool that’s stained their souls. We can shell out our dollars, feel like a sucker for a short while just to feel something new, and then go back to our lives. The carnie has to go home knowing that tomorrow, they’ll be wading through that pool once more. Their sense of superiority is manufactured, just like everything else here in Vegas, and even at best, age will bring them back full circle to the bottom rung. Even Britney, who performs a lip-synced version of her younger years here in Vegas nightly, will eventually fade thanks to the new stars that’re being pumped out by Disney. Her end is known, just like the blackjack woman’s. But I don’t know where I’m going (and I mean that figuratively; in a while, I’ll be going back to the cupcake ATM) and neither do you. As rubes, we roll the dice as opposed to handing them out, and I think that pretty awesome.

Cupcake ATM


Anyway, in case you were wondering why this article was entitled “Dirty Clowns Too,” you can read the first installment here: Dirty Clowns