Not Blinded by, but Raging Against the Dying of, the Light

Amy, as I mentioned, I’ve been struggling with writing a review of the Kansas City Bruce concert Greg, Justin and I attended a week ago on Feb 18th.

Reviewing the performance is easy, and nobody thinks for an instant that I’m objective on this topic.

Saturday night was my 12th Springsteen concert since I was “converted” on June 14 of 1978. I have been an active member of the faithful since, witnessing to the greatness of the writing, music and performance aspects of the artist always known as Bruce Springsteen. 45 years burning down the road.

The KC show was everything I anticipated and promised people it would be. Just another stellar demonstration by a jedi showman whose reputation for live shows is at the apex of the industry. Most live acts are cars with varying feature sets—but essentially they all are engines that take you someplace. Bruce Springsteen is a starship with a warp drive that takes passengers to new worlds.

It lasted around 3 hours covering “only” 25 songs. Bruce worked the sold-out crowd with new and established bits: handing out guitar pics, giving away his harmonica, walking through the crowd at the front of the stage, doing a “more cowbell” joke, leading the audience in an anti-covid chant (just 8 shows into the tour, Covid has been knocking down members of the band. Fortunately, all are bouncing back).

Synergy. Community. From the first song to the last, the crowd and I sang along loudly to every word, fist pumping, clapping, seated dancing, standing dancing, BRUUUUUUUUCING before and after the show. A sonic expression of shared joy. It was wonderful. Magical. It was… Bruce.

Was it extraordinary? Not for Bruce. (Have I been unclear?  If you do not have “Seeing Springsteen live” on your bucket list. Your bucket list is flawed).

Is there a “But” coming? You know me Amy, there is always a “but” coming.

But as I looked around the room I had to concede the steady advance of time. Not the three-hour show—that flew by, but all the grey. Up on stage, Bruce, most of the band, the audience, there were a lot of old people in every direction. And I was one of them.

The setlist and the stories surrounding them were a summary of a life of creation, a body of work, a sampling of five decades of music brilliance.  His art has always been about our life journey. We get out onto the road, and we ride. The ride takes us through love, sadness, joy, pain, betrayal, hope, faith—-life.  And at some point the ride must come to an end. The theme of that night, this tour, more than ever was about seizing the day. In every show this tour he utters some slight variation of these words:

“At 15, it’s all tomorrows. At 73, it’s a whole lot of yesterdays—-and goodbyes. That’s why you’ve got to make the most of right NOW!”

This isn’t a goodbye tour—I believe Bruce will keep creating until the pen falls from his calloused fingers. This tour is about right now. No fear of the clock. No focus on the grey. No surrender.

This tour rages against the dying of the light.

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Good Bye


I keep saying “Goodbye.” I walk around the house, and I see where you aren’t anymore. Your tree, your water fountain, your box, your bed under the Christmas tree (a seasonal treat), the cushions crushed under your weight. We aren’t ready to put those things away yet.

We aren’t ready for you to be gone.

It’s not just me. Brandon would come in the house and find you so he could scratch and kiss your soft fur. I watched him walk in the house last night and touch the sofa space where you weren’t.

It’s that oldest and most common of words strung together: “You don’t know what you’ve got ‘til it’s gone.”

But I’m pretty sure I embraced every second with you. There was an experienced whisper: “This is going away some day—–put down what you are doing—savor his warmth, treasure the sound of his little motor running as he seeks you out. This is not forever.”

Amy said it best, “There could never be enough. We would always want more of him.”

True. How I miss hearing you calling for your food in the morning shadow. Your signal to begin your sacred routine of eating and sleeping.

Your absence means no cleaning your box, no pouring your food, no counting your treats, no twice a day shots. There was something about living with you that reminded us of something besides ourselves, that connection with the Other makes us whole.

Like your life, your exit has brought an outpouring of kindness and love that gives us something to lean on as we bear this literal deadweight.

Your tiny heart was so big. We were so blessed to have you.

So, I will stare at the places, the photos, the videos—- imagine I see you out of the corner of my eye. Hear you where I know you cannot be.

And I will keep saying goodbye.

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Hey Amy, check out the picture below. Not the butt of the guy or even your butt-of-a-guy, husband, but that playground contraption first butt guy is kneeling in front of (his dog leach is wrapped around the base—that’s another story). I want to call it a carousel, but I don’t think that’s right.

During my daily walk, in my efforts to delay the Reaper I went to the “Fish Park” one of many parks we took the boys when they loved us, before we became just branch offices of “Need Cash Now.”  Other parks were “The Scooper Park,” and “The Purple Park.”

One Saturday you tasked me to get out of the house with Brandon when he was like four maybe. It was an overcast day, but a lot of kids and similarly tasked parents were at the Fish Park. At one point the kids were on that very contraption in the photo and spinning it in a lame, uncoordinated way that is symptomatic of ignorant youth. So, I went over, maybe at Brandon’s urging, I don’t remember, and started spinning the thing in one direction. The children were delighted, laughing and shouting. The faster it spun, the greater the thrill, or so it seemed. Children came from every corner of the city and piled on for the ride.

At one point, a fellow father joined on the other side and aided my propulsion with his efforts. Silent, male teamwork began. We formed a testosterone bond, the kind in old drawings of fortresses being erected. We doubled the exertion and the contraption picked up speed. I heard my wedding ring clang against the metal rails, I looked over at Other Father and he was working it, his face a knot of determination to spin this thing faster. We nodded at each other. Men. I leaned into it, together this thing was gonna be the best ride ever.

The screaming continued, but the tone changed, I was aware that the ride was ejecting children who lacked the iron will to remain, weaker things that the herd needed to expel. Some just flew into the sand, but at least one soared with eagles into a tree. _Find your destiny_ I remember thinking. The contraption was white hot, and the fabric of time was beginning to rend, I could see glimpses of ancient Spartans clashing with Persian hordes, and the glittering spires of a grand Trump-less future.

And then this woman began cursing! She turned the air blue with outrage, telling me and my fellow locomotion provider that children were scared and we were “dumb fucks” for not paying attention.

To be fair, only one or two, clearly green, children were still blurring by. One had apparently lashed himself to a handle. Many were crying in heaps, some limped to their mothers’ embracing arms.

Somewhere in all of that Brandon had removed himself, in the four-year-old-version of “fuck this.” Brandon has always impressed me with his survival acumen.

Other Father and I said something to foul mouthed mother, I did not appreciate her vulgarity in front of children, but I engaged her respectfully.

Other Father and I shrugged at each other and went back to our lives of quiet, parental desperation.

Wanted to share that golden memory with you.


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Job Security: Part Three, “There is an A-hole in Everyone”

(Some names have been changed —others are just forgotten)
So, my lovely Amy, by now you are asking, “What happened next to ‘80s J?” Either that, or “Why did I marry this boob?” In the case of the former, away we go…
While I guarded a lot of places in the 80’s the Livestock Exchange in South Omaha warrants special mention. Back then the economy was in recession creating a lot of unemployment. I was a college student being supplemented by his loving aunt. I was young, trying to figure out who I was and where I was headed. I imagined my future in writing somehow. Most of my fellow guards seemed to have no future in their own eyes. They lived day to day it seemed to me. Many were cornered by bad decisions made not only by themselves but even by their parents. It was as if one day they woke up to find they had to feed families. 40 years later I can mock these things, but in the early-mid-eighties some guys needed the thin coin this jackass job brought in. For some of them, and let this sink in, this was the best they could do.
The Exchange contract was Jim’s best account, and because I had proven myself by showing up and Taking Care of Business at various shit holes around town, I was promoted to the stockyard. I worked there with my friend Frank, whom I have known since the fourth grade. Security at the Livestock Exchange for SL&B was a weekend job that consisted of working parties held in the building. We were expected to patrol the parking lot, direct traffic, and make sure partygoers didn’t overload the elevators. We spent most of our time on the ballroom doors ready for things to go wrong. A major responsibility was upholding the liquor laws, making sure drinks didn’t leave, that folks had clear access to the bar and that fire codes were observed. Note the irony: Make sure that folks can get to the booze then deal with the consequences when they do. Here we were not dealing with teenagers in parking lots sneaking beer and booty. Teenagers drinking know they are illegal and will often surrender (unless they are captain of some team. Well, sports team, captain of the debate squad was probably home building evidence cards). Adults on booze are different. They believe their right to drink and misbehave is guaranteed in the Bible. Like most sin they don’t see it as such. They are just having fun.
Fun is highly subjective in security work. This became clear to me when I met Jan. Jan was the autocratic caterer who had contracted SL&B (which I just realized reads like the company was a disease). Jan would walk around in sparkling party attire with a large ring of keys commanding everyone in her line of sight whether they worked for her or not. She ran her parties with the same dedication to good times you find in a Supermax prison. Jan had a bi-polar approach to festivity. She would conceive and host lovely celebrations that at some point crossed a threshold only she was privy to, and we would be sent in to strangle the merriment. As near as I can tell, she made up rules by rolling a cup of Yahtzee dice then interpreting the numbers through some demented lens: “Oh, three sixes and a four—-stop the dancing!!!” She was the witch and we were her flying monkeys.
Kissing Jan’s non-trivial expanse of ass was a key factor in managing the stockyards account which kept multiple guards employed on a weekend. Jan wanted to contain costs so, once it became clear that we were not guarding a Hell’s Angels’ human sacrifice Jan would fly in on her broom and order guards to be sent home. The SL&B supervisor had the critical task of keeping as many guys “milking the clock” for as long as possible. When Jim would stop by for an update it was expected the supervisor would say, “Call it six guards till two o’clock.”
Raintree was supervisor when I started. Tree was a gangly 6’ 4”, and always wore a cowboy hat over a doo rag with a dime wedged in his left ear. Yes, the coin. When I asked about it, he looked at me suspiciously saying “In case I need to drop a dime on someone.” That was a euphemism for making a call and sharing information. In fact, a dime in the ear identifies the dimed individual as a drug dealer.
While I suspected Tree shadow trafficked in controlled substances, he was publicly, slavishly enthusiastic about alcohol. Part of our job was to cover for Tree when he vanished. SL&B guards were like Shaolin monks: listened for they could not be heard, looked for they could not be seen, because frequently they weren’t there. Like most addictions his escalated over time. One stockyard Saturday night Tree was super late even for him. From the 10th floor we watched as his station wagon came pinballing down the long drive over the mostly vacant cattle pens. He rolled over concrete parking guides and careened to a stop in a red zone. He literally fell out of the car and after an uncertain struggle to his feet, began a serpentine stagger into the building dragging his gun belt on the pavement. I turned to Frank and summoning my classical education stated, “This seems to me an ill wind.”
Frank and I could not keep Tree’s condition under wraps and Jan fired him from the contract. Jim was brought face-to-face with the greatest shortcoming of SHOWING UP as a baseline for excellence. Tree showed up—but late, barely dressed and incapable of remaining upright. In the plus column his pistol remained unfired, and he mostly made it to the restroom when vomiting. Little victories. Overall, I’d give Tree a “Needs Improvement” rating if SL&B actually evaluated anything.
This made Frank the new supervisor for the site. To Frank’s credit he was very good at making sure his men got fed but his management style was not something I could buy into. Turnover is an issue in security work. Faces of guards went by like pieces of fruit in a blender—always changing—so I got to hear Frank’s speech to all new guards many times. He advised beginners that he was the ultimate authority at this location and anyone who failed to respect that or back his plan of action, would be shot. Then he would swivel his holster at them suggesting they did not even rate him drawing his weapon. “There’s one in here for you,” he warned. I’m no lawyer but I always thought this had to violate OSHA in some fashion. In hindsight, being threatened with execution might have contributed to the high turnover.
Hindsight. I was young, inexperienced and I brought a kind of black and white view to everything. I would be years learning about shades of grey. SL&B was an education I could not get in college.
As always, the sideshow quality of guard help continued like some massive dam of outrageous characters had burst.
Taylor, who rode around with a live grenade in the front seat as his companion because, “They weren’t going to take him without casualties.” He never specified who “they” were.
Reverend Fletcher. I don’t know if Fletcher was ordained, but he often spoke sincerely of God’s goodness. I deduced that Fletch struggled with the flesh. Fletcher loved too well, too often and definitely not wisely. In offices we guarded at night with assorted phone lines available it was not unusual for him to be talking to a variety of ladies by making use of the hold button. With his deep, Barry White voice, he assured each blinking light of her special place in his heart. As he explored the distaff corners of the universe, he found himself becoming a father fairly frequently because he, “Never fired a blank.” I suppose he was creating future security guards.
Big Dave (my friend since grade school). Ex-Marine Dave had a day job but needed to supplement the piddly income with more piddly income—something SL&B specialized in. Dave was way too smart for security work. Since he wasn’t working on a novel, he could not get past how stupid the job was.
Little Dave. He was very short, very young and dressed like Patton in front of the American flag. He was completely dominated by his girlfriend who brought him to work, picked him up and with whom he appeared to consult about how often to have a bowel movement. He claimed he was an ROTC “red beret” and we teased him that that meant he worked in the cafeteria: We’d sing to him in marching cadence: “Little Dave in the red beret—slap that gravy on a tray!” He was so young he actually looked up to us. Yes, that’s also a short joke.
There are basically two kinds of guards on the spectrum and everyone falls in somewhere on the range. On one end, the guard who thinks _Fuck this, this is a dumb ass job, and I’m gonna go get drunk/high/laid and possibly steal something on my way out the door_. Notice “better job” is not on the list of potential objectives. On the other end is the guard that believes he is the Right Arm of God: _My will be done_. Frank came down on that end of the band.
One night something Jan ate convinced her the musicians were too loud (she may not have been able to hear herself bitch) and dispatched Frank to lower the volume. When the band did not comply, Frank literally began pulling the plug on their equipment. The band went from loud to silent in mid song; the players went to ten on the fury dial, the dancing crowd stopped in mid Dirty Dog, gathered pitch forks and lit torches. Frank and I tell this story differently today. In my version I find some way to erect a fragile peace through a moving oration that has everyone crying, hugging and singing “Give Peace a Chance.” Sometimes when I tell it everyone gets a car. In Frank’s version he hurls the band leader out the 10th floor window with the guy shooting at him as he plunges down the side of Nakatomi Plaza eventually making a “poof cloud” like Wile E. Coyote when he hits the ground. The other performers realize they are fucking with the Right Arm of God and they beg Frank not to murder their families. In some versions every Christmas they send Frank a card thanking him for sparing them that night. The truth is forever lost to history.
When Frank got a better security job (because seriously, who would have a worse one?) with a company that paid a living wage with benefits, I became supervisor. My first act of progressive management was to outlaw shooting the help.
Many revelers noted that this motley troop of guards had substantial fire power on their hips (Vern carried a long barreled .44 in case a Cape buffalo appeared and got out of line). Concerned citizens asked about our qualifications to bring such artillery to family gatherings. Since we literally had no qualifications that would bear up under any scrutiny it was incumbent on us to lie, and I am highly proficient in that capacity so I crafted this for each guard to share: SL&B stood for “Sheriff’s Law Enforcement Bureau” and “on the grounds of the contract we are deputized officers of the law.” Bullshit like that would not survive a Google search today. I miss some parts of the ‘80s.
Fun facts: along with an hourly wage commensurate with the market value of a turd and absolutely no benefits we had to buy our own uniforms. This led to a substantial diversity in each guard’s appearance. A few, like me, dressed like an audition for CHiPs. Others wore whatever they had just mopped the floor with. Claude routinely wore a green polyester leisure suit that he clipped a badge on. When I suggested to Jim that we advise Claude that he was clashing with those of us in blue, Jim reminded me that Claude showed up.
We had bands, but more often we had DJ’s. I honestly do not know how many times I have heard and watched people dance to the “Hokey Pokey.” Some DJ’s were incredible, working brilliantly to get people onto the dance floor and shaking their groove things. The good ones took pride in filling the dance floor and keeping the party pumped. They would also walk the tightrope between revelry and Jan’s unpredictable cycle of fun suppression. One good DJ was a guy I went to high school with. I’ll call him Bob because that’s his name. Bob would ask me what I wanted to hear. I would reply “Bruce Springsteen” and Bob would sigh, play “Born to Run” and watch the dance floor evacuate.
At the end of the night the bartenders would leave booze for us. Alcohol was never my thing so the top guard of the night would get mine (showing up was not a criterion in my evaluation). We’d close out the ballrooms then sit in the cavernous, dimly lit room to bullshit about the evening. Sometimes guards from other sites would join us. Sometimes cool bands and DJ’s would hang with us. We were strange blood brothers. The night shift. I would listen as each person told his or her story (yes, SL&B had female guards. Jane and Bobbi often went beyond showing up and earned the extra liquor). I knew that I was experiencing something that was shaping me, forcing me to make choices about who I was and what I wanted to be. Not just as a career, but as a human being.
What did I learn during these first two years I worked as a guard? Well, wearing a uniform creates a perception that you are some kind of authority in the industry you suit up for. You may not know shit about lawn care but show up in a uniform with your aerator and someone will ask you about horticulture like you are George Washington Carver.
Some people have authority issues. Some crave to work with authority while others completely, nakedly, despise authority. This animosity comes out when engaging someone who appears to be in charge. Alcohol will greatly exacerbate this anti-authority mindset, like showing Larry Talbot a full moon.
Another lesson I came away with will come as no surprise to anyone: There is an asshole in everyone. Sometimes being an asshole is lonely, but other times assholes find each other. One night, a completely unknown, drunken asshole found my asshole and hilarity ensued.
During a high school ten-year reunion, the revelers parked illegally— blocking deliveries of livestock. We announced the license plates that needed to move, but several high-end cars got towed. Several high-end drunks got mad. When one of them said he would take this to the Supreme Court I laughed at him. He advised me not to laugh at him. He put his finger in my nose for emphasis. I moved his finger in a direction it was not meant to go. Finger owner punched me in the jaw. I drew my night stick and hilarity ensued.
When Jim walked in during his site rounds this exchange took place.
Drunken asshole: “Your guard broke my finger!!”
Jim: “Yeah? I’da broke your whole fuckin’ arm.”
To his credit, Jim showed up for his guards.
Not all mayhem could be reduced to two assholes colliding. I was exposed to a lot of violence toward women, something I was frankly ignorant of in my upbringing to that point. One vile act occurred when Frank and I observed a woman being choked by her male companion who was also slowly banging her skull against a wall. Frank grabbed the cur and spun him around separating attacker from victim. With blood running down the back of her head the woman pleaded with us: “Don’t hurt him, don’t hurt him, please, I love him.”
Today I understand her thinking a little better. Maybe. It still leaves me feeling empty inside.
On another occasion I watched as one bride tried to convince her groom to please get on the elevator because she wanted to proceed to their honeymoon. Drunken groom insisted that as long as there was beer in the keg he had paid for he would not leave. At closing time, they were the only people left. We advised him that he had to go. As the elevator doors closed, separating us, new husband looked at me, smiled and full out punched new bride in the face for my benefit.
I ran down the many flights of stairs to meet them at the lobby.
They were not there.
I have no idea how they got out but that I did not head them off is probably the best conclusion the scene could have. I still think about the bride and where her life might have gone.
Sex. Security work often involves discouraging sex from occurring. Sometimes it just doesn’t happen because the chemistry is missing. Some of Jan’s servers were very attractive women and Big Dave and I were understandably interested in getting their attention. One curvaceous young lady would pass between Dave and me as we stood on the door and she would blink and smile sweetly at Dave.
A lot.
Sometimes she’d do a little finger wave thing. Her clear preference of Dave irritated me. The warmest thing she ever did in regard to me was never slap my balls.
Jealousy burned hard and deep in me (Amy, this was before I became the charming Lothario who swept you off your feet via e-mail).
Night after night as the young lady in question continued her relentless grinning wiggle at Dave, my envy and its pressure built slowly. My antipathy festered with each event she worked.
Eventually my inner goodness crumbled, and I focused my greatest power, my imagination, conceiving a terrible plan in the blackest regions of my mind. What if, I postulated, what if, as she passed between us, I faked a conversation with Dave, and I made certain she could clearly hear me. What if in that fake conversation I said, loudly and distinctly:
“Dave, you keep cheating on your wife and she is going to take those kids and leave you.”
Dave had no wife, no children and no clue that his jealous friend considered salting his garden in this poisonous manner. He would look at me with that face of his that thought J. was just goofing around again. But I could imagine her face, her reaction, the color rushing out of her cheeks, I pictured her spurning him for all time. Their love was forever derailed, never to grow, never to be. Perhaps she would feel indebted to me, realize what a catch I was and love me.
Or at minimum give up a hand job. Insert evil, echoing laughter.
On a busy Friday in the endless stream of parties, serving meals, picking up dishes, she came walking again and again. She moved seductively, sensually, making the bringing of a meal and the clean-up an incredibly erotic collection of movements. All for Big Damn Dave.
I burned; my eyes were flame. The toxic words gathered perfectly in the back of my throat. I would strike—a viper envenoming with language. My heart drummed in my chest, anticipation feeding on my jealous resentment for my old friend and the attraction she had for him while remaining blind to me.
At last I knew the power of the Dark Side!
She passed between us, smiling and blinking and licking her lips and shaking her money maker at Big Dave.
And I kept my mouth shut.
There is an asshole in everyone, and we must each learn to manage it.
Next, Job Security Part Four: Take me Someplace Bracing

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Job Security Part Two: “Oh, the Places You’ll Guard”

(Some names have been changed ‘cause some of this stuff is embarrassing)

Amy, my love (who isn’t me), as my birthday approaches, it’s time for another covid fueled look back at ‘80s J.

In our last installment your husband-to-be was a college student in the Reagan years freshly hired as private security. Guarding was a temporary gig, a dues-paying layover on the way to glory.

My plan to embrace my future was simple: get my bachelors’, search the want ads, go to the many “Writers job fairs” no one ever hears about, get hired to compose prose and start spending the torrents of cash my words would earn. Swimmin’ pools. Movie stars. Stephen King was looking nervously over his shoulder as I neared graduation.

Yes. You married an idiot. I know that’s not news, but this document is more evidence for your file.

I settled into my new job of taking a bite out of crime by working any location in the metro where trouble was likely to surface. Of course, I wasn’t Batman, my boss, Jim S. negotiated a contract before we were dispatched to protect and secure. Wherever there’s a parking lot, convention center, festival, wedding, alcohol being consumed, wherever there’s a cop beating a guy, look for me ma, I’m probably the cop.

There was little glamor or flash to guarding things, most jobs are like that I suppose. At no time did I ever have to carry Whitney Houston through a concert crowd or away from Bobby Brown. If someone had amassed a mound of feces on a railcar that needed protection from turd burglars, we were likely to be the successful bidders.

Thanks to guarding I’ve been to more wedding receptions than those guys in _Wedding Crashers_.  I was not as accomplished at picking up available women at these events, but it may have had something to do with the fact that my job was suppressing peoples’ fun.  That did not prevent many of my fellow guards from scoring, however.  Is it possible that I was not as handsome? Not as charming? That my night stick was less alluring? I must be careful as I stare into the abyss. But then, how much interest does my wife have in the action I wasn’t getting in my twenties?

Moving on.

In security work you often have to be out in the weather. Murderous heat, meat locker cold, biblical rain, nuclear winter snowfall—-all on the wind-swept Great Plains. Security contracts, like the honey badger, don’t care. Some underpaid chump must occupy a dimly lit place and make rounds to protect other people’s property. Compensation was a major drawback. Working for the lowest bidder in town translates to your income being equivalent to the change that gathers in the cup of a dancing monkey. And the monkey is held in higher esteem.

On the plus side there was no shortage of interesting material for a man who was working on his novel. As I’ve demonstrated, security work treated me to a panorama of characters and situations not offered by stocking at Hy Vee. It was like a circus parade.

There was Malone, an ex-cop who ran call girls out of a bar downtown. Malone taught me that when hitting someone with a pistol try to drive the butt into either side of the head and discharge the weapon upon contact.  “It can blow their ear drum,” he advised. So far, I have been unable to work this tidbit into my life, but tomorrow shines brightly.

Frank (my friend since the 4th grade). Frank took his authority to heart. Once, at the Civic Auditorium, Frank refused to let Tom Petty (yes, THE Tom Petty) into an event without paying admission.  Petty was heartbroken—har! I hope Frank would have made an exception for Springsteen.

Stoop and Poop. Honestly, if I ever knew his real name, I forgot it. He branded himself with this cognomen by making a bold speech at a mandatory team meeting (for which we were never paid) wherein he declared loudly he was ex-service, and “I know how to stoop, and I know how to poop!”  On a hot sticky night guarding the Summer Arts Festival, Frank, the site supervisor, convinced Stoop and Poop that he was too good for such a stupid assignment and he should quit. S&P took Frank’s argument to heart and walked off the job. Jim was furious, because Stoop and Poop pure gold in the showing up department.

Scrap Iron. He didn’t work for SL&B, he was the bouncer at Big Jim’s Bar, a ROUGH establishment on the north side where SL&B guarded the parking lot. One night the manager came out yelling for security to come inside to break up a fight. One guard asked: “Where’s Scrap Iron?” The manager replied: “They threw him out the back door!” When the sound of gun fire began echoing from inside, SL&B’s close out sale merc squad wisely scattered under various parked cars to await the arrival of professionals.

Big Tom (my friend since the 7th grade). Tom was a very good guard, so he was doomed. Tom not only showed up, he took the job seriously, believing people deserved service. The big in Tom was both his heart, and his measurements. Around 300 pounds. Anytime Tom had to lay down security law his opponent would pull the fat card and try to fat shame him.  This will reach critical mass in part four.

Naut. Naut was something you send to haunt a house. It would not be out of line to expect Naut to swing out of a bell tower. He was as big as a sofa, and like most sofas just got dirtier, rougher looking over time and for God’s sake never smell it. He carried a revolver with a butt held together with electrical tape and would often set himself on fire. Okay, he let his cigarette ash drop and burn holes in his clothing. I watched it happen and would alert him that hot cinders were eating through his shirt. Sometimes he would brush it off. Sometimes we both just watched it burn. But, and this is key: HE SHOWED UP. Jim’s gold standard baseline of employee performance excellence (which pertains to all jobs):  SHOW UP. My job was to show up to relieve Naut in the mornings before human beings arrived to discover we had shaved a Big Foot and given it a job. Naut was also stunningly inarticulate and could not always be understood. It may have been his lack of teeth, but his sentences often came out sounding like: “Ardy-Ardy-DingDong.”  Big Tom’s young son would announce Naut’s arrival shouting: “Daaaad! Ardy-Ardy-DingDong’s here.”

The fact that he was a real human being that could be conveyed in such fantastic fashion remains incredibly sad to me. I never tried to discover how he became Naut. That is on me.

Salted through this period of my life was my growing appreciation for the loveliness of the night.  Evenings where the stars glittered like glass beads and birdsong and summer flowers seasoned the air. People were mostly sleeping; traffic sounds were far away so it was just me and God. There is something comforting in the isolation of the midnight stretch.

But being a rent-a-cop was about establishing and keeping peace more than savoring it. In the early ‘80s I worked a lot of places where the faces changed but the ugly never let up.

Parking lots. Lots and lots of parking lots. Any parking lot where teenagers would gather to be teen aged (Burger Kings, W.C. Franks, haunted houses) that had an owner with insurance liability had the potential to have me show up and confiscate their beer, interruptus their coitus and generally rain on the fun. I did not enjoy it, but I got very, very good at it. At some point I started to take security work personally.

Apartments. Apartments seem to host a lot of bad human behavior. Probably because people live in them. I walked around various apartment complexes at night watching cars, smelling dinner being prepared, hearing favorite television shows behind closed doors, periodically asking people to turn their music down. I was a force for mundane justice. On the more intimidating end of the dial there was low income housing on the north side. There, when fun went sideways on Fridays and Saturdays people got shot. Other nights too, but I only did apartment search-and-destroy-fun missions on Fridays and Saturdays.

I worked every weekend for eight years.

Salem Baptist Church. Churches are hot beds of sin. It isn’t just teenagers that have sex in cars. Cheating spouses and the horny faithful all chase the backseat boogaloo. One of the dumbest things I ever did (yes, I know how large that list is) was walk into a mob of people having some dispute over race, religion, sex, or some damn thing, and order them to disperse. God was at Salem Baptist Church that night and he kept me alive.

The House of Large Sizes— a clothing store for plus size women. I walked the aisles in uniform preventing full-figured ladies from shoplifting. Nothing I say here will ever be as funny as I think it is, so I’m moving on.

See? I have gotten marginally smarter in 61 years.

The Game Gal-Ry a hugely popular ‘80s video arcade at the bustling Southroads Mall. Teenagers, underage drinking, cocaine, parking lot sex, Donkey Kong. It was all there. I broke up fights and persuaded players not to beat the machines that beat them. I was a parent without the grocery overhead. I so endeared myself to the clientele (One regular named me “The Bald Eagle”) that twice someone loosened the lug nuts on my left rear tire and each time that tire flew off in traffic. Checking my car for sabotage became one more game played at the Gal-Ry.

The Franklin Credit Union (pre-embezzlement, prostitution and devil worship scandals). I worked the lobby during the day and later the night watch. This was pre-Internet or 24-hour television (dinosaurs still roamed the Earth and three channel TV actually went off the air). I had to read books.

Car dealerships. We would often watch car lots at night to prevent vandalism and theft. I would protect vast sprawls of expensive property I could not afford. I would dream over the gleam of vehicles, wrenched from my fantasy at how distant such a purchase was by the stickers in the windows. I came to understand why cars get stolen.

Not every miniscule paycheck involved guarding things. My boss Jim was a licensed private investigator, so I got to follow cheating spouses and collect proof; when we delivered the news to one cuckold, I was sure we were abetting a murder. Instead, the giant husband wept, his heart entirely broken.

We repossessed cars. With the title and keys in hand we would legally reclaim the bank’s property when folks fell behind on payments. The pure act of stealing a car and knowing you will get away with it is a big rush.  Frank had a shotgun leveled at him during one escapade and his partner, Bone, advised the defaulted fellow: “You kill him. I kill you.”

Over a car.

On the plus side we were tipped twenty dollars for every car we reclaimed.

One security task prevented folks from stealing cars, in another we stole those cars when folks couldn’t afford them: It’s the circle of life.

Motor vehicle adventures continued with valet parking for the upper crust at swanky parties. Our ever-present companion was the weather. We stood outside in the heat, the rain, the falling, clinging snow watching other people going inside to have a great time. Did you know that the wrong Lincoln Continental key might still start some other guy’s Lincoln Continental? Yes, you will drive up with the horn honking, the lights flashing and the alarm going off, but the wrong car is running and can be driven. There is no tip in such circumstances.

Frank and I painted Jim’s house. When I did the math, I found that we made less money painting than we did guarding shit, so I had to negotiate a pay boost. Jim hated having me around the office because I was always reading his official business communications and correcting his text. Terminating me for insubordination was not on the table, because I was the poster child for showing up.

Why did I keep showing up? One, I’m pretty sure we’ve established I’m a dipshit. Another factor is the whole economy was in a massive recession with an unemployment rate around 10%. Options were not abundant. Also, I was taking the work personally; guarding became in some way about me.  I refused to back down. I would do whatever I was being paid fool’s wages for because I was not going to give in to fear.

Yep, you had children with that guy.

One aspect of security work that resonated– the range and complexity of human situations I met on the clock. While I spent most of my time thinking only of myself (my greatest natural ability), sometimes I got a window into other lives that forced me to pause.

Once, I had to guard a federal prisoner. Before you think I was staring down some tattooed thug with a sharpened toothbrush looking to shank me (and I may change the story later) I was actually watch-dogging a tiny young woman in the hospital who had just given birth to her son via Caesarian section. I was pretty sure I could catch her if she made a break for it. Just watching her try to walk was painful, so I can only imagine how she felt. I have no idea what crime put her behind bars. I don’t know her story and I wasn’t sharp enough, human enough, to ask. On a warm Friday night, I watched her rock her newborn son. From a distance I saw doctors take the infant away. She cried as her bonding time concluded and she surrendered her baby to whatever was ahead. I don’t remember the prisoner’s name.

I don’t know if anyone does.

Next: Part Three, “There is an A-hole in Everyone.”


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Job Security Part One: “It’s a Living”

Amy, while sheltering in place I have been doing some looking back, (yes, I do that pretty much every day pandemic or no but try to focus here). Previously I have shared some things with you about my past, telling you that before we met, I was an international banker, secret agent, porn star and dog groomer.

Over time you’ve come to your own conclusions about my capacity in each of those skill sets.

The truth, or at least what I’m going to say here is, I spent the majority of the 80’s working as a security guard. You know the kind in the movies, the private cops, mavericks that the system could not contain, that are ex-Navy seals, are smarter than everyone around them, collect exorbitant fees and are usually played by handsome, fit actors who can kickbox?

Not that kind.

We were rent-a-cops, those guys you see in malls, whose uniforms don’t fit, have unusual body shapes and lack real authority, but because this is America often have guns. That was me.  I wore a uniform (that fit), carried a firearm, and generally worked a reverse schedule for the majority of the Me Decade. Like Dracula, or many summer teenagers, I slept all day and prowled other people’s property all night.

My first security job was in Texas, where in the summer of ’81 I guarded a foundry. I worked a 12-14-hour night shift guarding Caterpillar engine blocks and glowing white pools of liquid metal. The foundry patrol area was on average 118-degrees (I know because foundries pay particular attention to the temperature). I sweated rivers and I stank. Security consisted of walking around at night with a giant clock on a strap punching keys into the clock proving I had made my rounds once every hour, preventing anyone from slipping multi-ton engine blocks or molten metal into their pockets. As an only child the hours, the solitude, suited me and my desire to read and write. J’s summer of ’81 is another Facebook post entirely.

Eventually I returned to Omaha and in ’82 I got a job working for SL&B security. S, L and B were the initials of the guys who started the company. It was easy to get a job with SL&B. My friend Ed saw the variety of suspect characters employed there and concluded that the standards were low if they existed at all. He said, “I’m pretty sure if you show up with a shine on your shoes, you gotta job.” This was true. The employee roster was a wild cocktail of under achievers, ex-cons, drop-outs and recovering (or not) addicts out of some improbable fiction.

Our friend Frank, his shoes gleaming, got hired. After a few months on duty his opinion was that SL&B really stood for “slow, lazy and blind” and he suggested I apply.  We are still friends despite this.  At the time I was busy cramming four years of college into seven and I needed some way to pay my aunt Evie room and board. So, I shined my shoes…

The interview was long, maybe because I was pretty green. Academically speaking I looked great, and I had experience guarding for a major company in the south, but Jim S. the S in SL&B, wanted to take my measure. It’s possible that having someone who had a high school diploma, no addictions nor criminal record was something he was not accustomed to dealing with. I’m not saying I was better than anyone, but I was very different than Jim’s generally derelict applicants. I take comfort in believing that, anyway. I’m pretty sure I was his first nerd hire

Jim’s big concern was that I “show up.” As I got to know Jim’s management philosophy, I found that “showing up” was the bedrock of being a world-class security guard.

Jim had me show up at the Godfather’s pizza on south 24th street. High schoolers would raise hell there on Friday and Saturday nights, so security was brought in to fight for Truth, Justice and calm dining. Paying real off duty police has a hefty price tag, so enter SL&B. Jim found a demand for marked down protection. Our unspoken motto: “Can’t afford the best? SL&B!” Here was his formula: offer the lowest price in town to companies that needed security, hire a buncha guys who could never pass a background check, pay them dick, and build a reputation for excellence. It is simple math if you are simple to the point of deficiency: 2 + 2 =$220,000,000.

My first partner in crime fighting was Perry, a compulsive philanderer who was primarily interested in afterhours clubs, gambling and sex. Lots of sex that he talked about. Lots. He projected his own infidelity back on his wife. Perry was positive his wife was screwing their dog (“Think about it man, who the dog gonna tell?”).

One night Perry didn’t show up, violating Jim’s prime directive of successful guarding.  Jim sent Tate to be my partner. Tate was a four foot something septuagenarian who resembled an ancient hobbit who had been in a horrific car accident. Tate had one glass eye that was always looking somewhere else, and a Gandalf walking stick to help balance his gnarled left leg which was visibly shorter than the right. Tate was presented to me as my “back-up” if I had to stop a fight between amped-up high school troublemakers. Visions of having the snot beat out of me flashed before my eyes.

There were many, many others in this “bonded and insured” roadside attraction of misfits. Over the next eight years I would work with many of them and I would be challenged and change in ways I could not begin to imagine. Like many people in their twenties I had a lot to learn. The one thing I was confident of? I had job security—-all I had to do was show up.

End part one

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O to 60 in 31,556,952 Minutes: A Story in Constant Revision

“I’ve become aware that there are fewer days ahead than there are behind.” —Jean Luc Picard.

60 years ago, on a Sunday, I came into the world. Lots of other people did too, but I’m only interested in me (my wife will testify to that). Having made it this far, I can’t seem to stop myself from commenting on it. Sorry.

Generally, I do not feel different. I am only vaguely aware that I am not 20 anymore. Mainly I know this when I do something physical with my two sons who are superb athletes and we finally conclude that mysterious wheezing sound is me.  Another clue would be my performance on trivia games. There’s a lot of delay in dredging up information. Watching “Jeopardy” I’m slower to the buzzer. Ironic.  I spend my life amassing knowledge only to have it become increasingly hard to access.

Looking back can be dangerous. It’s easy for me to judge myself harshly.  Building a mental spreadsheet of where I failed or fell short in 60 years is not constructive. Amassing a list of successes is not a great barometer either. My experience has been that successes are subjective. I’ve walked around with a swelled head about something I did only to be surprised that that same event disappointed someone. Life has a curious balance to it. When you win big, often there are big losers. At 60 I continue to learn that what we have accomplished good and bad may never be fully clear to us while we live.

It would be completely dishonest for me to say that I’ve improved the planet in any meaningful way. If I catalog how I’ve given back to Earth and the people I share it with, I don’t score well. Basically, I sort recyclables into the right bins. Can you feel the oceans getting cleaner?

Assembling a list of things I’m good at does not take long.  For the things I can do, I’m passable, but if giant computers ever produce a data mash-up on the best man for some mission, I’m not gonna be at the top of any list. Unless the mission needs a loudmouth with minimal athleticism who can’t easily recall everything he has learned.

For someone who has spent his entire life admiring super heroes I did not become one. It seems highly unlikely that I’m going to mature (and my wife will tell you the sentence should stop there) into Batman. There are several key shortfalls here: My parents’ deaths in my youth left me barely a “thousandaire,” and if there was a giant cave under my home I’m pretty sure the house would collapse into it. Some folks have a life which is a remarkable story. Many of those have a hardship component and the strength of character that grew from overcoming those hurdles. I can’t say that at all. I’ve had a few rough breaks, but overall, I’ve been loved, cared for, and encountered the good will of some truly fine people which I probably have not earned.

When I look around I often feel a profound sense of gratitude. I am aware that a large number of people born on May 17, or any other day of any year anywhere else on the globe, lead lives with challenges that would crush me. My sixty years have been swell. Good fortune, fate, God, the Force, whatever name you give it has always found me and treated me well. I could resent the fact that I’m not a superstar in some field but that would be a profound act of ingratitude for everything good that has found its way into my life. That goodness would include many of the folks reading this.

This philosophic tone suggests that I have some life lessons to impart, information and observations I should share.  Ha! Yes, I have learned a lot, but none of it so rich that you won’t do fine without it. When I try to articulate my wisdom into digestible chunks it lays down on a fortune cookie sheet the size of a window shade.   I’ve noted my failure at brevity as I’ve been assembling my memoirs (Working title: Lowering the Bar of Excellence: The J. D. Rummel Story). Failure at Brevity is a pretty good title as well.

After sixty years my life appears to be about the connections I make. I connect best via stories. Either by listening to others or, God help the listener, the ones I tell.  I did not choose that path, it appears to have chosen me.

The greatest constant in my life, besides my fascination with me, is the parade of stories that fill the streets of my mind. From early on in my 60 years I’ve told tales. Before I knew how to tell my own I told other peoples’. Once, in the ‘70s outside the Omaha theater as we waited for the doors to open I drew a small crowd by repeating Flip Wilson routines that I had committed to memory. At work, I will easily get caught in recounting some event either recent or from the distant past. I’m not saying people enjoy hearing them, but I can’t seem to not tell them. I have to work very hard at keeping my mouth shut. Once, in court, as I was testifying the opposing counsel declared: “Objection! This is becoming a narrative.”

Which is how I see it. Life, or at least my life, is a vast collection of narratives. Like in _The Matrix_ when reality is seen as streaming zeros and ones.  Stories are everywhere, like incompetence and corruption in the Trump administration. I’ve learned to see the world as a sprawling play. Sometimes I direct my role in that play by writing my own script. I truly believe I can alter reality by the words I choose and the order in which I release them.

I am aware that many (most?) of my chronicles are special only to me.  My yarns of City News and Book, security guard reports, growing up in the church, working at the Merchant of Venus, the escapades of the Mighty Avengers Bowling Team and Movie Club, a love life only slightly less disastrous than Carrie White’s prom, 29 years of showing up at Creighton University (using the word, “working” might be unfair to actual workers), the Adventures of Married Man, and the befuddled observations of J. Rummel: C Grade Parent are mostly warm places only for me. Despite this lack of any need for folks to hear these stories I keep telling them.

As I kick-off my 60th year (not to be confused with kicking off _in_ my 60th year) I’d like to promise you all that I will be a better person, that my remaining time will be spent in the service of the Greater Good, but we all know that’s crap. I’ll continue my half-ass path in my undertakings. I’ll go on being a so-so father, husband, friend, family member, citizen, neighbor, employee, co-worker and boss. The only thing I’m totally confident of?

The stories, long and short, meaningful and pointless will continue.

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.


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It’s Yesterday Once More

The very last thing I ever texted you were these words: “Ed, where are you?” I was trying to come visit. That was when I still stupidly thought you were going to get better, to go back to being some young, healthy man again. I held onto that idea until a few days before the end.

This month marks a year since that day we stood in your hospital room and watched them disconnect you. You fought to keep breathing but slipped away pretty fast. Maybe twenty minutes.  I wanted to say something that did not focus on those last, awful years as your vitality rotted and you shuffled painfully when you could move at all.

That’s not the way I choose to remember you.  I think of you pretty much every day and the memories are embers that bring me warmth.  I heard someone say that life is a series of moments. Now not all of them are vital or even coherent but for me some radiate a kind of comforting light. What follows isn’t a rounded, fair account, it’s a vaguely directed, drifting free association, because recently a song came on and suddenly it was a hot Saturday afternoon in the late ‘70s…

City News and Book on 16th and Douglas is crowded with readers. You’re standing at the front counter ringing up purchases, I’m helping someone find a book in the aisles. I’m thinner and you are heavier. I have a first-time beard, all my hair and yours is jet black. We are both 19, maybe 20, we will never die, and just getting started in the thing called life.

City News’ summers were hot. One didn’t just perspire, one might actually confess or hallucinate. People really had to want to buy books and magazines to stand around in that inferno. Wet summer customers would quietly simmer in the racks, reading.

At City News we sold books, magazines, newspapers, Hallmark products, pickle cards and smut. Lots of smut. Lots and lots, many thousands of dollars’ worth of porn. Dirty books with titles like, _The Devil’s Sperm Runs Cold_ and magazines full of exposed, air brushed flesh. No novelties. The city fathers often went after the owners as filth mongers. The skin mags revealed a lot, not just in their content, but in who sought them out. The porn aisle was the great equalizer.  One might meet a preacher’s son or a city father.

We worked the weekend and week day evening shifts for a woman we called “The Wolf.” Our pal Frank used to advise us on how to negotiate with her (“Listen, woof…”). We didn’t take his advice, but we found lots of other ways to be rude and obnoxious. There was a crew of antique women who worked alongside The Wolf during the week. Marian, Jane and Mary. You became good friends with Mary often visiting her and fixing things at her apartment.  I think she filled some kind of mother gap in you.  On Sundays we worked with the Wolf’s giant cub, Monica.  A towering high schooler who routinely paid to see _Grease_ or _Star Wars_ every weekend.

At City News we each earned two dollars an hour. I’ve earned lots more an hour since but have rarely had as much fun on the clock. There was also the sole benefit of being able to take anything we wanted and read it. We all treated the place like a lending library. Take it away, read it, bring it back, never spend a dime.  Remember Katie who worked one night a week for the reading rights? Katie could never be fired because she wanted the reading benefit. The Wolf would fire her and Katie would still show up and work. The Wolf did fire one young lady named Ruth for being “too short” and I said, “Wow we’re Ruth-less.” The Wolf fired both of us eventually and oddly I ended up firing Katie and others.

We’d use rubber bands to shoot flies. You got pretty good at it. When we’d compete you’d always have more dead flies than me.  Why were there so many flies? Probably because we ate a lot of food from so many places now long gone (the Olympic, Pik Wik, Maxies, Shiksa’s Deli) and we made a mess that we left behind for others. Then came the morning The Wolf chewed my ass and called us pigs.

Inventory. We hated inventory. We had to bring friends in for that princely two dollars an hour and we had to count every book, magazine and card in the effing place. It took a small army a long night to get it done.  Porn loses something when you have to count it.

You took over my shift the day my mother died. Months later we were both at the counter when you got the call that your father died. I said I was sorry and that I would take over so you could go home. You said there was no need and you kept on working. I did not understand that then and just attributed it to the part of you that you kept hidden. You kept that closeted part until the end.

One Saturday we closed the store, stayed on the clock and went to the Star Trek Convention at the Orpheum before The Motion Picture came out. You let me stay and hear George Takei speak and you went back and opened the store. An unusual act of kindness for young Ed WhiteEagle (that was how you traveled back then).

On a Sunday we closed the store stayed on the clock and went to the Auto Show at the Civic Auditorium. A terminal offense? Probably. An abuse of trust?  Absolutely. Fun? Oh yeah.

We watched parades go by the front window, we closed the store (again on the clock) and watched them implode the Woodman of the World building.

There are no photos of you in the bookstore because for a guy who had a photography hobby you oddly refused to have your picture taken. You only loosened up as you got older. I wish I had pictures of late ‘70s Ed. You had that Yashica camera that you would loan to me and I took awful snapshots of Willie Nelson’s Kansas Summer Picnic and Elvis Presley’s last Omaha concert.

On Tuesday August 16th 1977 when Elvis died you called me at City News. You said, “J., did you hear? Elvis croaked.” While I was sacking a woman’s purchases I parroted you out loud, “Elvis croaked?” The woman went white, her eyes clouded over, and she ran out of the store without her purchase.  Over the weeks came the incredible rush for Elvis material. Books, magazines, newspapers. Elvis was indeed everywhere. It was a frenzy. You had never liked Elvis, but your antipathy grew exponentially with all the demand and furor in the weeks after his passing. Remember the Elvis fan who wanted the National Enquirer with the photo of Elvis in his coffin? You yelled out to me so everyone could hear, “J! We got any more ‘Elvis in the box?!’” The lady went crimson with rage and accused you of disrespecting and being jealous of The King. You laughed like you were talking to a half-wit and asked, “Why would I be jealous of a dead fat guy?” You had a way with people. Not always a good way…

Once you marked some little Hallmark pencil decorations as “Ten cents apiece or eight for a dollar.” We sold a lot of that bargain. Only one guy questioned it.

We almost got robbed by a guy who was smarter than us but not equipped to deal with our complete lack of customer service. The guy faked a pickle card win. We didn’t know it was fake but we told him we couldn’t pay him. The Wolf was THRILLED we did not honor the payout.  She made it clear that we had no winners in our pool of pickle cards. We thought about that. She knew we had no winners in our jar? Hmmm.

We did get robbed by two guys who were smarter, or at least more experienced than you or me. They spilled change over the counter and when you bent down to pick it up one reached into the open register drawer and pulled out the tens and twenties. We used to keep the twenties under the tray but we got busy, sloppy and got nailed. I remember you shouting to me in a panicked voice. I think you were most angry because you were outsmarted by someone. I was just glad we were robbed without looking down a gun barrel. We went to the police station and looked at acres of mug shots.  All criminals look alike.

This was when Omaha had a horse track, so we sold racing forms and many tip sheets.  For a time, we opened the tip sheets, compiled a summary of all the details cited and calculated the best horses then re-sealed the tip sheets. We made a chunk of change having your uncle place bets for us. And we lost it all.

We’d play the stereo loud. Mainly pop music radio or whatever you wanted to hear. I don’t remember having a say when we were both on duty because you felt I had no taste. Sometimes you brought in LPs of your choice that we’d drop on the turntable. Sometimes the customers liked the music, sometimes not.  The band Kiss came in once when I was working solo and playing my 8 track tapes. They told me I had no taste.

Bookstore visitors covered a broad spectrum. We had regulars, stars, freaks and friends. The dyspeptic Barrel with Legs who hated any tunes we played, (“That music is raucous, purely raucous!”). I caught Waxface stealing porn. When I told him he couldn’t come back he looked shattered. There was the lady who was praying loudly in the center aisle for God’s angels to smite us. I advised her she could not call down God’s wrath during business hours. She objected strongly to that. A battle of wills ensued. I ended up strangling her to death. You helped me hide the body because you were my pal.

Kidding. Like so many things long ago I don’t remember how that episode ended.

Shoulda taken better notes. My biggest flaw, if we ignore the fact I was a jerk, was not taking better notes. I stupidly thought I would always remember the incredible variety of events that swept us along at City News and Book.

We brought our imaginations to City News. We were creating all the time. We were both going to be writers back then. You would sit down on the step ladder we used for a chair and scrawl out stories on the backs of brown paper magazine bags. You wrote stories about Thudmore Crevice, Helen Earth, who married H. G. Wheels and became Helen Wheels. There was Wek, the shadow boxing Neanderthal, Mo and Jo, Space Chumps, and their ship, the Zircon Reflection.

Me? I would just goof around making jokes doing funny voices and mixing incongruent situations, trying to twist reality to get laughs. I would free style with oral monologues like The Tribulations of Officer O’Clancy, Beware the Mayonnaise Harlequin, The Uninteresting Adventures of the Shadow and of course, Mike Blaze: Personal Dick. I was always looking for stories, ways to change the mundane into something memorable.

We created our music group, the Great Plains Buffalo Chip Band. We had album titles like _Chip to Shore_ and _Chippity Doo Dah_.   We didn’t have albums, just titles.  We sorta wrote songs. We riffed on things like the word “funk” years before it was a thing (“Mean Mother Funker, “What the Funk”). I wrote lots of funny, small minded lyrics that aren’t funny anymore but are still small minded. We had our entrances to the stage planned when we played the big arenas. You would rise out of the floor wearing a giant hat with a hologram of the Battle of Gettysburg, I would fly in on a flaming chariot. Mike had to swing in on a rope because we ran out of money. Seemed super hilarious then. The band was doomed because you were the only one of us who could play an instrument.

We started our company, Ewe-Fokker Enterprises. “Ewe Fokker, the world’s oldest expression” it said on our business cards. No one was ever so creative, not even us.

The Mighty Avengers social club and bowling team would gather at the front of the store on Saturday afternoons. We’d all be reading something.  John Monasterio, Andy Monasterio, Russ Marquardt, Dave Austin, and we’d plan our Saturday night. Foosball, pool. Almost always a movie. And of course, the bar.

Sunday mornings I’d walk down from church clear eyed and sober while you’d crawl into work, late, hung over at legendary proportions. Towering Monica, who worked those mornings with us would do everything she could to increase your misery. She truly delighted in irritating you. You had a way with the ladies, but not always a good way…

We worked together at the bookstore for how long? Two years? Is that all? So much wonderful in a short span. I suspected the time was special and I tried to savor it but it went fast. Should have taken better pictures, made better notes. I wish I knew what I have forgotten. You know, I have no idea if the bookstore years meant that much to you.  Those days glow golden in my heart.

Many more adventures ensued and sometimes I took better notes and you appeared in more photos. We grew together where we could and respected where we couldn’t, all while the years kept tumbling forward.

Until for you they stopped.

So, this memory ends where they all start for you and me: the laughs. Like the song says, “It’s the laughter we remember, whenever we choose to remember.”

Ed, here’s to the series of moments called City News and Book, their golden glow and the way we were.


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On the Last Day of Summer Vacation

Amy, during my most recent quarterly review as your husband you expressed concern in the Fatherhood competency category. You asked, “Why did Brandon try to reach mom on a day dad was clearly designated as the Parent on Duty?” My report on those events is below. I have filed it as, “The events of August 16th, 2016” I suspect you will add it as another chapter in your ongoing story: “J. is an Idiot.” I have recreated the key scene below. I have omitted some minor facts which make me look bad/worse:

Brandon and Ryan are sitting with me in the living room. I am in dad mode: calm, thoughtful, almost beatific, and ruggedly handsome.

J: “Gentlemen, all morning long what did I say had to happen?”

Ryan: (age 8, responds like someone who has memorized a speech): “Boys, I have a conference call at 11:00. I am at work and cannot be disturbed during that time.”

J: (patiently, radiating fatherly mastery of the situation) “I got everyone set-up with device codes after making sure chores were done, I did my part. I really needed to have that hour come together. I was phoning-in to an important meeting.”

We sit in silence until Brandon (age 12) says: “Can I go now?”

J: “No. (pause for effect) So I’m downstairs and I hear lots of commotion, but I think, _the boys will handle themselves, they know that dad is Working from Home_. Then during my conference call I get a text from your mother who is asking why Brandon is trying to call mom. Brandon, why were you calling mom at work?”

Brandon: “Because you were on your important call.”

J: “And what was so urgent that you needed a parent at just that moment?”

Ryan: “You suck Brandon.”

J: “Quiet Ryan. Brandon, why did you call mom?”

Brandon: “Because you were on your…”

J: “I get that, what were you calling her about?”

Brandon: “Ryan was shaving his legs.”

Ryan: “I hate you Brandon.”

J: “Ryan was shaving his legs? Ryan, why were you shaving your legs?”

Brandon: “Well…”

Ryan: “Shut up Brandon! Because the hair was getting long! Geez! (he does not use the word, “moron,” but I sense it was there).

Brandon: “Guys don’t shave their legs, Ryan!”

Ryan: “Olympic swimmers do!”

Brandon: “You’re not an Olympic swimmer!”

Ryan: “Not if I can’t shave my legs!”

J: (holds up hands) “Quiet please Ryan. So, Brandon, did he have a razor, or a knife, was he in danger of hurting himself?”

Brandon: “No…”

J: “Did he have scissors?”

Brandon: “No…”

J: “So how was he shaving his legs?”

Brandon: “He had mom’s noise hair trimmer.”

J: (long pause): “He was shaving his legs with a nose hair trimmer?”

Brandon: “Yes.”

J: “So, you tried to call your mom.”

Brandon: “Yes.”

J: “Why?”

Brandon: “Uhm, well, I figured it was wrong to shave your legs with a noise hair trimmer. I have to do something.”

(I recognize the need to do something, because I’m feeling it now, but at this point I go into a kind of parental vapor lock. If I were a TV computer I’d be waving my arms and smoking and repeating, “Punish, laugh, be wise! Punish, laugh, be wise!”

J: (after a long silence I make a weak choice and go with “Punish.”) “Okay, until I figure out what to tell your mother everyone is grounded.”

So, that’s my report. On the plus side Ryan’s legs look fabulous.

Respectfully Submitted,

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Dark Knight vs The Man of Tomorrow

Writing well, turning out a good poem, story or essay takes me a lot of time. Okay, I’ve never written a good poem that I know of, but you get the point. I’m in awe of persons who write well fast. I’d guess that most times something written fast turns out well it is combination of many factors. Talent, experience and luck being top ranked.

Batman Vs Superman looks like something that was written fast, to meet a set of conditions it does not completely agree with nor is prepared for. As someone who has never written a film my impression is that writing a movie must be very hard. Or rather, writing a good, solid screenplay would be very hard for me because there are so many factors. One of which is time. This movie had to be pitched and stitched together fast to meet a lot of business conditions. Movies are collaborative, and often constructed in compromise. They are built on the input of literally hundreds of people. If I write something purely for myself I’m not influenced by business concerns and business concerns are a non-trivial part of big studio movies. Business concerns probably outweigh artistic ones, because getting someone to bankroll something I created to satisfy only myself may not be a good business decision. I understand business decisions to a degree, as I do artistic choices somewhat. Building on collaboration and compromise is not bad, but it is hard to steer cleanly. Simply put Batman Vs Superman does not seem to me to have a well-crafted screenplay. It has good performances all around, great music and tremendous technical effects. Those tools are not given the appropriate platform to build on:

The story.

The story reaches boldly for some things that it does not successfully grasp. I commend the reach because to aim low and score is not a concept that is easy to get behind, but the filmed story is also deeply flawed.

The filmed story of BvS starts from an unstable place. It does not establish Superman as what the public wants: Sunlight, goodness, hope, good-triumphs-over-evil, the hero who succeeds because he represents what is Right and Ideal. Truth, justice and the American Way (in whatever the best sense of that phrase is). The Superman in BvS is not the Superman the audience wants. He is powerful but conflicted, and severely compromised by the fact that he is a murderer. The archetypal Superman that we expect is the ideal, he is what we aspire to be in our best selves. He came to this planet from a foreign place and was infused with the best human ethics we have built over our brief time on this planet. Superman is the perfect molded creation of man. There’s a reason one of his sobriquets is “The Man of Tomorrow.” That’s why writing a Superman story for the general public is hard. One is writing the adventures of God and it’s hard to give the perfect hero compelling conflict. The best fantasy sequence in the film is the one where Kevin Costner as Pa Kent relates a story of how by doing a good thing on his farm he inadvertently harmed someone else. That’s the stuff that Superman rises above in concept (but not Zack Snyder’s Superman). Superman in BvS is a very human superman, and we don’t want Superman to be human. That’s what Batman is for.

The contradistinction is that Batman is molded from the lowest parts of us. Anger, resentment, fear of abandonment, guilt. He is the Dark Knight. Goodness out of the shadow. Why is he the most popular caped hero of all? Because we all recognize him. We look at him and know that we could be him if we had the right genes and bank account. He is imperfect like we are. Something early in life scarred us and we are fighting to make it right. The real battle of Batman fighting Superman is us as we see ourselves versus how we would like to be. This ethic is missing from the movie Batman Vs Superman.

This should be light and hope and the belief in What is Right vs. what we live with every day as Real and Hard. This movie is mostly dark when it needs to sharply juxtapose light and dark. That’s the vs in a true Batman vs Superman.

In the film there is a scene where Superman interrupts Batman’s super-violent car chase and tells him to knock off the vigilante bit. That’s an interesting point if Superman were pure and good (picture Christopher Reeve delivering the message to Christian Bale), that is an argument we could take sides  on and have a  movie party worth the outrageous price of popcorn. That contention is God interfering in our free will. An act that would be a sufficient cause for a fight. Both guys fight the Good Fight but what happens when the new fighter tells the first fighter to stop because the new fighter does not approve? There’s your movie story.

But the BvS Superman cannot come from the place of Truth and Justice. Remember, he let his loving adopted father die to keep his secret and later breaks the neck of the bad guy to end his movie—this hero can’t do the right thing because he has no idea what that really is. Superman can be conflicted but he always makes the Right Choice when it counts.

Batman Vs Superman as written is a very muddy collection of distracting events, too many dream sequences and fights. Add to this the business concerns of needing to launch the DC movie franchise and you get a very unsatisfying story experience.

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