Thursday, January 27, 2005

 

In Which I Get Letters...

So the phone rings this morning and it's my assistant, who never EVER calls me at home when I'm sick unless the Huns are coming over the 7th hill, unless the British are burning the White House, unless Lois Lane is dangling by her bra strap from a flagpole on the Daily Planet building.

Well, it turns out the current issue closes this week. Ostensibly my department's copy was sent to the printer last Friday. But no, some last minute ads came, and these clients ALL wants to be placed next to my stories. But these are all fractional ads--1/4 pages and 1/2 pages--which means my stories have to be chopped up and remade to make room for ads and stories on the same page. Which essentially means I have to rewrite some things.

My assistant was calling because every single story in my department for the next issue is being remade. That's almost a dozen stories, an unprecedented amount. And tomorrow is the absolute final day to ship to the printer without incurring overtime costs on the presses.

So yes, sports fans, it was with a supreme amount of self-pity that I rolled myself out of bed and slouched to work. Four DayQuil and two cups of coffee later, I was more or upright and coherent. And I must say that my department pulled together like the town of Bedford Falls collecting money for George Bailey. By the time I arrived, my senior editor had already finished the remake on two of my stories--plus his own--and my other editor was tag-teaming with our young editorial assistant to get some nit-picky one-page stuff taken care of.

We got it all done in a day. In fact, I even had time to help with a section of the book that is not strictly my responsibility, but which I love to assemble: the letters page.

It's not the letters you run that makes assembling this page fun, you understand. It's the letters you'd NEVER run in a million years because they have nothing to do with your magazine, or even reality for that matter. They make my day.

I've had the pleasure of assembling letters pages at various magazines over the years. Here are a few of my favorites. By the way, what you see is what I read, misspellings and all. Let's just stipulate a general [sic], okay? Here we go:

Dear MM:

I love your magazine. I really think you should do some decorating ideas for small spaces. You know, like small bedrooms and crafty nooks and such like.

I am in a minimum security correctional facility and we don't have a lot of space, but I have done nice things with my bunk and toilet area. I would love to share my ideas with your magazine, or test out new ones you might have.

I will call you collect, sorry next week to see what you think.

Yours,
"Trudi"
Inmate #4973068

Um, is that you, Martha?


Dear MM,

I wish you would do an expose on pesticide dangers. My wife is a gardner and in 1994 she was mixing some pesticide powder to spray on her flowers but got some in her eyes. We went to the doctors and they gave her something for it and said she was fine. But after that she would not go to bed with me anymore. She said she was tired and didn't have the OOMPH anymore.

It's been 10 years now and we hardly had sex anymore at all. I think she breathed in some of that pesticide dust and have read where some pesticides make it so the bugs can't reincarnate each other and that's how they die out. The doctor says no but I think maybe there's something there.

Would also like to see you do stories on easy exercise for men who need to loose weight. I have put on "the spare tire" since I retired from the plant. Would also like to learn more about toe fungus and ingrown hairs on your back.

Sincerely,
Greg

Oh Greg, it's NOT the pesticide...


Dear RBM:

My butt itches. What could it be?

Wait, I KNOW this one...



Before I go, a big shout-out to the mighty Batonga for giving me something good and long to read while I was on my deathbed. And special thanks to the faithful SHARFA, the one person who actually said (well, wrote in comments) the only two words I want to hear when I'm sick, which are, of course, "poor baby." Even my own mother neglected this important part of the recovery process. I'm not ashamed to admit that when I'm sick, I am a big, fat, whiny, cranky, poor-ass baby. So thank you for acknowledging the fact (in the nicest possible way), and know that I remain,

Yours,
From Somewhere On the Masthead

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

 

Love's Labour Lost and Found (A Random Anecdote)

To refresh your memory on the first half of the star-crossed tale of the chestnut-haired Robin, go here.

When we started high school, I was crazier about Robin than ever before. It didn't help that over the summer my own Teen Hormone Engine had cranked into overdrive, which lent a certain, um, urgency to my feelings about her, if you know what I mean (and I think you do). I'll say this for puberty: more than the foot of height and deeper voice and patches of hair in all the anticipated places, it gave me, at least for a while, a certain insane fearlessness I had never before experienced. The first few months of high school I remember operating under the sway of a certain giddy recklessness. And it was during this period that I got over my lack of confidence and my fear of rejection and finally asked Robin to the big fall dance.

And now, enter Fate, shoving her fickle thumb firmly up my ass. You'll love this part.

She didn't say no. She never said no, don't think that. Robin told me that she wasn't going to go. A lot of freshmen didn't, after all. She thought we would feel out of place, blahblahblah. Of course, I understood. I thought. This wasn't a "no," this was a "convince me." So I spent a solid month trying to persuade her, leaving notes, sending her pithy couplets rhyming "date" and "great" in reference to myself. And she just smiled and reaffirmed her position: it wasn't that she didn’t want to go with me, it was that she didn't want to go. And I believed her.

And then, a couple weeks before the dance, we were sitting around on the bleachers after gym class, waiting for the final bell to ring. And this yutz, Tommy Grasso, the blowhard of the freshman class, starts picking on Robin. I'm listening with half an ear, wondering if or when I should intervene. Somehow the dance entered into his spiel, and he opined that if she was going, she must have got her dog to take her, har har (and yes, he pronounced his laughs precisely that way).

And Robin turned, looked up the bleachers in my direction, said my name, and asked, "Did you hear what he said about you?"

Time froze, just like in The Matrix. Her words even had little bullet trails behind them. I thought: She's so cool! This is her way of telling me she's changed her mind after all. It's like in a movie or something!

I opened my mouth to reply, and can only thank God that I didn't actually get a chance to say anything. Because just as I was about to speak, I heard a deep voice behind me, responding to Robin. It was a guy I will call Master Man. He was the star athlete of the freshman class, the only underclassman to make the varsity football team. Good physique, ice-blue eyes, feathered blond hair and--not to put too fine a point on it--a distinct contrast to yours truly, the pimply, 98-pound weakling.

Oh, but Master Man and I had one thing in common: The same first name.

Robin had been calling to him, not me. She hadn't even seen me, sitting right in front of her.

I don't wish to linger on this scene (you have no idea!) but just to place a certain context to it: Surely you have had a moment in your life where you heard your name called--in school, in a restaurant, across the prison compound--and instinctively you responded, perhaps with a wave of your hand, or an utterance of a word. But only then did you realize the person who called your name was talking to someone else completely. Despite yourself, you probably felt a twinge of embarrassment or awkwardness.

Well, multiply that feeling times 40 billion, no, 400 googol fucking plex, and roll a couple of big boulders on top, and add a dollop of bird shit on my head for good measure and that should give you a sense of just how completely and abjectly mortified and embarrassed I was to realize what had happened.

Although I had asked her first, Robin had been holding out for an invitation from Master Man, and he came through right in the midst of my month of trying to persuade her to go with me. I'm actually flushing with embarrassment thinking back on this. It was then beyond my comprehension to understand why she didn't simply tell me the truth. I thought her a cruel girl at the time, and didn't speak to her again til, oh, junior year. I felt like a complete fool (can ya tell?).

But looking back, I realize now she was just as new at this as I was, and in hindsight I know that she liked me. I may not have been take-to-the-dance material, apparently, but I was a nice kid, and was always very nice to girls especially (my mom was a stickler about that sort of thing). I know now that Robin was, in her own naive way, trying to spare my feelings. I just wish she had played the scenario out in her head a little more beforehand. A simple apology for permitting me to make a fool of myself for a month wouldn't have gone amiss either, but never mind.

As angry and hurt and humiliated as I was, I was mostly just crushed. I really had loved that girl, as much as one can in their early teens, and now that love was unrequited (a word I had learned just that year in English). It took me a long time to get over it.

The next two years were pretty much girl-free, and I threw myself into everything else school had to offer (except sports. I couldn't abide Master Man. Also, I sucked). I got involved in the drama club. I became the youngest editor-in-chief of the school paper. I tried to run for class office with a good friend, who I thought would make an excellent class president. He agreed, but decided I wasn't his kind of vice-president and dropped me from the ticket. I was so steamed, I cobbled together my own ticket during one fateful study hall, ran against him and suddenly found myself president of the junior class.

I mention these things only because I realize now that putting myself on stage and assuming leadership positions were my ways of coping with my woeful self-confidence in, um, other areas (and really, could you blame me?). In the process, I had carved a specific and completely respectable place for myself among my classmates. I was by no means a popular kid, but I wasn't entirely a geek anymore either. I was just...comfortable with who I was, as much as one can be at that age. I made a lot of good friends during that time.

One of them was Gina...

Monday, January 24, 2005

 

In Which the Bed Blog Continues...

Oh, I've been better.

After my last post, I fell asleep and had the oddest dreams. I've had a few lately: one about walking the dog at night and defending myself from muggers by hurling bags of crap at them; one about rowing a boat to work, and the boat's not in the water. No, it's in the breakdown lane and cars are whizzing by while I'm rowing like a mad bastard.

These dreams weren't as detailed, more an incoherent jumble of moments. My mom was bringing me my favorite sick food: chicken broth and buttered toast cut diagonally. Peter Pan was after me because I'd called Tinker Bell a bitch. I was at a party where the only appetizers were brown lunch bags covered in chocolate. My 3-year-old daughter was announcing in an off-hand way that she just took the dog for a walk by herself.

And that's when I shot awake like someone had set the bed on fire. Looked around. There's my daughter, sitting in the bed, watching a cartoon. Whew.

...

I can't help myself. "Honey, did you just say something?"

She doesn't take her eyes off Bugs Bunny. "I just took Blazey Bellow for a walk. All by myself."

Heart's beating in my ears now. "What-what do you mean?" I ask weakly.

Eyes still on the TV, she says, "I opened the door all by myself and he went out for a walk."

"You didn't really go out, did you, honey?"

"No. But Blazey did."

So, I'm not going to jail for snoozing while an unsupervised child went out for a stroll, but apparently I AM about to go out in the ass-numbing, sub-zero blizzard-condition cold to look for my dog.

After some quick and perfunctory retching in the bathroom, I go looking through the house. No dog. Front door, unlocked and sort of closed. Look out. Call. Whistle. Hear sound of some kind of disturbance, somewhere behind me. Go look out back window and there's the dog. He's not alone. In fact, he's staring at another unleashed dog across the street. I blink my eyes. Is it the Mean Dog from my earlier entry? Since their first encounter, they have crossed swords many times. They are not fighting, but there's some serious posturing going on, and that emphatic barking dogs do when they're pissed off.

I've always wondered what dogs say to each other in these kinds of exchanges. Probably something like this:

Blazey: So, Mean Dog, my old enemy. We meet again.

Mean Dog: Ho! Can this be? The brave and valiant Blazey Bellow Hoska Boo Boo Ba Doo without his Man to protect him? Surely the gods of battle have smiled on me this day!

Blazey: You are not worthy to speak the sacred name which the Girl herself has given me, foul spawn of a lesser breed.

Mean Dog: Ah, the Girl. Long have I desired to gnaw her bones. And so it shall be!

Blazey: I say thee nay! Come no farther. For I have in my possession a can which contains pure, unadulterated whup-ass. And here is the opener! (cocks leg)

Of course, I'm just paraphrasing here. And maybe it wasn't the Mean Dog at all. But I opened the back door and shook a box of Milk Bones and he came back in.

...

It's a day later and now I have chills, and feel like someone has swabbed my entire digestive system with rubbing alcohol. My wife brought me broth and toast (cut square, though. Diagonally is better. Don't tell her I told you). Truly, she's the best wife I've got. Although in this instance, I'm sure she did it to put an end to the incessant whining and moaning about how lousy I feel, and how no one has ever felt this sick, and how other men would be dead by now.

Yes, yes, I'm sure there are lots of guys who say this, but in my case, it's true.

And I'm sure there are lots of guys who say it's only true in their case, but in this here instance we're talking about--being me being sick like no one else has ever been before--it absolutely really is true.

Ugh. Even I can't stand myself, and that's saying something.

Sorry this wasn't a very amusing post. I'd be funnier if I didn't feel so funny.

Yours,
From Somewhere On The Deathbed

Sunday, January 23, 2005

 

In Which An Ill Wind Blows...

I seem to have contracted some kind of stomach bug and after the morning I've had, I'm not so sure I'll be leaving this bed except to go drive the big white bus. Maybe later I'll stagger back downstairs to heat up some soup, although all we have in the house is tomato soup, which I usually like, but it's godawful on the return trip.

I'm propped up with pillows and comforters and about 4000 stuffed animals, courtesy of my daughter, who I think is feeling a tad guilty for taking advantage of me earlier. Her mother and brother--aka my wife and son--left (escaped?) the house about an hour ago. But my daughter announced that she would remain to care for me. As soon as they were gone, she regarded me with the gleaming eyes of someone who's just been given a giant new toy.

She's been ruling the roost ever since, knowing, I have no doubt, that I would be too sick to argue about anything. You want a second breakfast, honey? Graham crackers and chocolate chips straight from the bag? Here ya go. What are you doing with those rolls of Charmin? So the dog can be a toilet paper princess? Not sure I want to know more.

Then she wanted to change clothes again. The bathing suit doesn't fit over the tiger outfit from last Halloween, see. So we got the tiger suit off and I rooted through the closet. Turned around and...no daughter. Just a pile of socks and underwear where she stood a moment ago. Oh God.

She's doing laps through the living room, bare naked except for the pink nightgown tied around her neck like a cape. "I'm the Flying Bum Boolie!" she screams. And here comes the dog, a canine mummy trailing lengths of toilet paper from his collar, his tail, his mouth.

"Let's take a picture," she says, grabbing the camcorder off the computer desk. She's 3 and thankfully does not know the first thing about video cameras, but she's an expert at breaking things. So I grab the camcorder and then manage to snag her by one naked leg. "Swing me! I'm the Flying Bum Boolie!" she cries.

Don't know if I mentioned this before, but for reasons I can't go into just now, we have no curtains on our living room windows. I suppose, then, I can understand the look of frank surprise on the faces of my neighbors as they walked by and beheld me--in pajamas and bathrobe, holding a camcorder in one hand, a naked little girl dangling from the other. Oh, and just to complete the whole wonderful picture, we have a toilet paper-covered dog leaping in excited circles around us.

So I went to bed, figuring the vice squad will find me no matter what room I'm in. Might as well be comfortable.

Now the Flying Bum Boolie is sitting next to me, watching Peter Pan for the umpty-ump time. She finally settled on outfit #7: black turtleneck, black pants and a jaunty black beret. All she needs is a set of bongos and a goatee, although she might want to rethink the pink socks.

I dusted off this ancient laptop--I think it runs Windows 68--and through a series of arcane adapter plugs, I'm online. I feel fine, well, from the gag reflex on up, so I thought I'd write a bed blog. More later...maybe...

Yours,
From Somewhere On The Masthead

Thursday, January 20, 2005

 

Love's Labour Lost and Found (A Random Anecdote)

I remembered Robin from my first day of class in 8th grade because she got in trouble for wearing clogs, and was therefore out of uniform.

It was my first time back in Catholic school in a long time, and I was a little shocked by how strict the place was. Being new to the lockdown environment, my reaction to the predicament of this slender girl with the pert little nose and chestnut hair was, I'm sure, uncharacteristic. Everyone else was smirking or sighing with relief that they hadn't gotten in trouble. I just felt bad for her.

This poor, befreckled child of angels stood there, tears of shame splashing down the length of her standard-issue parochial school plaid jumper. Chestnut hair shining in the light, she stared down at her feet, at the offending footwear, soaking in the abuse of our teacher.

Mrs. Moore. My eyes still narrow at the name. My, what a puckered, nasty piece of work she was. Soak Ernest Borgnine in a tub for an hour, put him in drag, and you'd pretty much have my 8th grade teacher, in looks anyway. For personality, you'd have to go somewhere south of Hitler, somewhat north of, oh, pretty much any of the crazier Roman emperors (pick one).

If I were Tom Sawyer, I'm sure I could have figured out some way to shield this poor, quivering girl (did I mention her chestnut hair?) from our teacher. But really, what could I do in the event? Stand up and shout, "Those are my clogs! Punish me!" or "Injun Joe! He did it!"? All I could manage was a sympathetic smile, which she remembered, since I was the only one in class who made eye contact with her.

We both ended up on Safety Patrol. My post was on the stairwells at recess and after class, making sure the little kids never ran or trampled each other. Her job was to make rounds and see that everyone was at their assigned post. But she always stopped to talk to me, and I lived for those moments. Unlike with Maryanne, I had recovered my gift of gab. More than that, I tried out different lines on her. Some days I was goofily courtly, like a cartoon dog in armor, other times I tried to a sarcastic rake, making fun of all the teachers we had. Eventually, I just was...me, this smartass goofball who liked to make girls laugh.

I could not get that girl out of my mind (I don't know if I mentioned her chestnut hair yet). I'd think about her on the bus, daydream about her at school. I even wrote a fairly decent mystery story involving her and me (and a few other classmates thrown in, but I gave her all the good scenes, at least til my character solved the mystery, which involved a locket that someone had stolen from Robin).

And then there was the Dream. (no, not that kind of Dream. Jeezus, you people think everything's about one thing. I swear...)

On the eve of our 8th grade class trip to New York City, I had this terrible dream in which our class was up on the observation deck of some skyscraper (no idea which) and somehow Robin fell over the side. I raced to the edge...and woke up.

We can trade Freudian interpretations of this dream down in the comments section and have a right good chuckle about it there, but let me tell you, on that day, it was no laughing matter. I was convinced this was a pure-D premonition and from the bus ride into the city on throughout the entire day, I shadowed that girl.

At one point, walking on the sidewalk in front of the UN, she turned and asked why I was following her. I was caught so unawares I actually told her the truth, "I don't want anything to happen to you," I blurted out. Which embarrassed us both (there were enough of our classmates nearby who overheard this that it prompted a round of teasing) but I think she was secretly charmed by my statement, because later she kept looking at me and smiling and I thought, Okay, this is love. I'm in love. Which was really the first time I can remember giving voice to such a thought. A pretty obvious realization, I suppose, but it made me a little giddy just to think it. To feel it (I have goosebumps even now).

And then we went in the World Trade Center and up to an observation deck and I stopped being giddy and started quietly to freak out. Oh God, this was the dream, come to life. Surely, this would be the scene of Robin's doom! Unless...

Nah, nothing happened. We peered into the fog and then went off to catch a Broadway show. (And yes, since you were wondering, 20 years later, after 9/11, I DID secretly check around--and learned that Robin was nowhere near the WTC when it collapsed. She was safely ensconced in southern New Jersey).

No too long after that trip, our school hosted a little end-of-year dance, and it was there that I faced my moment of truth. The dance was on a Friday afternoon, in the gym, and only lasted a couple hours. But it was a big deal because we didn't have to wear our school uniforms so it was interesting to see people--especially female people--dressed in casual clothes, wearing their hair differently. We all filed into the gym, our hair parted by the deafening music, our eyes blinded by the glitter of a genuine, era-appropriate disco ball. We assumed the classic school-dance positions: girls on one side of the gym, dancing, boys on the other side, sitting, feet nailed to the floor.

About an hour or so in, Robin's best friend came over and wondered in an overly casual way why I didn't ask Robin to dance at the next slow dance. This was the kind of dance where they only played two slow songs during the entire thing, and one had already been played. So basically, this was my last chance. I told her friend I'd think about it, and when she left, I began to feel a little sick.

Oh, the pressure! Of course I wanted to dance with this girl. And I thought maybe there was a good chance my invitation wouldn't be rejected. I was abominably thick when it came to girls, but I wasn't a complete moron. I was pretty close to sure Robin had sent her friend over to pave the way for my approach.

And yet...I remembered what happened when they played the first slow song. How kids vanished from the dance floor as though a neutron bomb had vaporized them. I didn't think I had the guts to ask this girl to dance and take her out onto an empty dance floor in front of the entire school.

The current fast song was ending.

There was only about 10 minutes left before the dance was over. The next song was going to be the last slow one, I just knew it.

I thought about how, after 4th grade, I had blown the chance to talk to Maryanne on the playground when I came back for a visit.

Was I going to blow this chance too? Well, was I?

I'd like to tell you that I took my shot, that I got up and walked over and smiled my smartass, goofy grin and extended my hand and said, "Whaddayasay, Robin?" and that it was the beginning of something special. I'd love to be able to reach back across the years, knowing what I know now--my skin thickened by years of working in a field where you learn to shrug off self-doubt and smile in the face of rejection and ridicule--and give that poor 12-year-old kid the moment of devil-may-care confidence it would have taken to propel him across the floor and ask the girl with the chestnut hair to dance.

But as you probably know by now, I choked.

The slow dance started, and even after one or two brave couples started their awkward staggering across the floor, I remained in my seat as surely and immovably as if I had been bolted there. I never asked her to dance.

I seethed about it on the entire bus ride home that day, but by the time I was sitting in my bedroom, I had convinced myself that this was not my only chance. I vowed that it would be different next time. In the fall, we'd both be going to the same high school, the Homecoming dance was just a couple months into the new school year. I'd ask her to that.

Yeah, it was a good plan: I'd ask her next time...

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

 

In Which A Phrase Is Coined...

Yesterday, I was crabbing softly about wanting to make my mark on popular culture. I forgot to add that maybe I have added something to my own little culture.

A while back, I was discussing a story with another editor. It was short piece--just a page--and cuts had to be made. But there was one passage, up near the top of the story, that we both liked. We didn't want to get rid of it, but it wasn't clear where in the story it belonged.

"That's okay," I assured my editor. "I'll just do a Tetris edit and see where it lands."

He'd never heard the phrase before, but grasped its meaning instantly and asked me where I'd heard it. I've used the phrase for years. It seemed self-serving to say I made it up, but then again, maybe I did. A quick search doesn't reveal the phrase in usage anywhere, so I'm going to go ahead and take credit for it. You heard it hear first.

Like my editor, you have probably already grasped that Tetris editing involves moving a chunk of story--a quote, a tip, an anecdote, even just a well-turned phrase--further and further down the length of the piece, trying it out in various spots in the narrative, until you finally find a place it fits. Just like in the game. If you get to the bottom of the story and haven't really found a spot for it, it's probably one of those darlings you need to slaughter.

I also find Tetris editing to be useful when I start a writing project. I'll load all the stuff I know I want in the story--anecdotes, quotes, whatever--at the top of the file, all unconnected, just a bunch of blocks. Then I start writing the connective bits between these blocks--if I can. If I can't make a sensible connection between them, it's time to start moving blocks down the page.

I grant you, it doesn't work for all kinds of writing. But story editing--fiction or nonfiction--often requires you to be able to juggle whole chunks of stuff around. Lots of writers dump this stuff in another file, or at the end of a story, and move it around from there. Some writers have a Rain Man-like ability to move the story pieces around in their heads. I can't do that. I lose track of stuff. I need it in front of me. I need it following me through the story, like my kid trailing me down a movie theater aisle, asking me where he gets to sit.

One day, I overheard some editors in a completely different department from mine, discussing stories. And one of them said, "Well, we need that guy's quote in the story somewhere. Don't cut it. Tetris it down and see where it fits." And the others oohed and ahhed over the phrase, and asked if she'd coined it. And she gave credit to...my editor.

Who owed me a nickel, because I copyrighted the phrase when he wasn't looking.

Yours,
From Somewhere On the Masthead

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

 

In Which Marks Are Made...

WE NOW RESUME THE MAGAZINE MAN'S LIFE, ALREADY IN PROGRESS...


...so I yelled "Think fast!" and threw the bag of dog crap right at him. While he's bobbling this precious gift and making disgusted grunts, I went on one side, the dog went on the other, and the leash caught him at the knees, spilling him onto the ice with a satisfying crunch. A fitting end for his kind. Ass.

Speaking of the dog, the lab tests reported him cancer free, which was cause for much elation...until it dawns on you that you've just spent a lot of money on what essentially amounts to cosmetic surgery for your dog. Well, and peace of mind. There's that, sure.

Two days in, and I can already call it a Strange Week. I was elated to follow the upward trajectory of my friend Jennifer's new novel, which besides being a Critic's Choice in this week's People, was also very well thought of by this unimportant rag. I'm so happy for her (but of course she deserves it).

So happy, but then strangely bummed to find that one of my favorite bloggers has closed up shop and gone to ground. I suppose it sounds weird and stalkerish to lament the loss of the writings of someone you don't really know, but in magazines, I always hate it when a favorite writer's or columnist's byline suddenly vanishes, and of course you never get an explanation about where they went. In the end, all you can do is wish them well and remember their name and hope you see it again. Same deal here.

Events like these set me to ruminating about the impact we make on people's lives and on the world in general. I like to think of it in terms of the George Bailey Effect: What would the world be like minus you?

As a writerly type, I never really had what I would call great aspirations to leave behind some impressive body of work that will alter worldviews and warp DNA. My ambitions were a bit more modest.

For instance, as a kid, I thought it would be cool to invent a joke no one else had thought of before and have it catch on and become part of the Joke Continuum. Later, I thought it would be neat to add an urban legend to the modern mythology. And there, I have come close:

In 1991, I was working for an obscure trade publisher, and whilst puttering around the archives, I came across a recently cancelled medical journal for retired urologists and OB/GYNs. There couldn't have been a dozen readers of this thing, and it was a pretty staid and strait-laced place I worked for, so there wasn't much interest in the sensational. You can therefore imagine my surprise to find, in the last issue of this journal, a first person account from a retired urologist who treated a man whose generative organs had an unfortunate encounter with a machine-shop drive belt, causing the kind of injury that triggers the Universal Wince in all males. An injury the man decides to self-treat--with a staple gun.

This was 1991, remember, and in those days the Internet was called the Fax. And I promptly faxed a half-dozen copies of the one-page story to some friends. Including a friend in Manhattan. She worked for the world's largest advertising agency at the time, and knew everyone. Within a week, millions had this story. She faxed it to a friend in the Navy and the story spread around the world.

For years afterwards, I saw this story on people's bulletin boards and I knew it came from me...because in some cases I could still see my company's original fax header on the paper. But in all cases, I could see the underlines and extra exclamations I had added to the copy (as if it needed it).

And now of course it's online, and a part of the archives of every urban legends page worth tracking. I grant you, it's not as famous as The Hook or numerous other stories. And of course the story didn't originate with me. And of course it's nothing you want included in your resume, or your eulogy. And of course...

You know what? Never mind.

Yours,
From Somewhere On the Masthead




Monday, January 17, 2005

 

Love's Labour Lost and Found (A Random Anecdote)

To read about Liz first, go here.

Maryanne was one of the tallest girls in our class, and one of the few kids besides me who wore glasses (hers were cool. Mine? Well, let's just say I could have time-traveled back at least 3 decades with those glasses and would not have looked out of place to denizens of those eras). She had long, strawberry-blonde hair and from very early on, I was...smitten is the best word. I was smote but good. I had never been at a loss for words around anyone, grown-up or child, but when Maryanne said hi to me, I became Goofy, as in the "hyuck, hyuck, gawrsh" Walt Disney character. I couldn't think how to approach her or talk to her. So I did the only thing I could: I wrote her little notes and left little gifts from "a secret admirer" in her desk, her coat pocket, etc.

Today, I'd be on CNN:

"And in Pinardville, a 4th grade boy was expelled for stalking a female classmate. Witnesses say the boy was harassing the young girl by making strange dog-like noises whenever she spoke to him, and then began a campaign of terror in which he left suggestive notes among her personal possessions. FBI agents converged on the school last Wednesday and found the boy staring relentlessly at his victim across the playground. 'He was always such a quiet boy, kept to himself,' said his teacher, Sister Mary Chastity..."

In reality, though, she figured out it was me, gave me back the gifts I gave her and said, simply, "No thanks." To this day, it's two of the worst words for me to hear. Editors have used a variety of language to reject story ideas I've proposed, but the ones who said "No thanks" were the ones that really hurt.

After one year at the school, my dad got a new job off in the Midwest and we moved away. Just before Christmas a year later, we came back and my parents actually dropped me off at the school during recess, just to say hi to my old friends. I hung out with the boys, talking and horsing around, and then out of nowhere, a girl tapped me on the shoulder. I didn't know her.

"Maryanne wants to talk to you," she said. I looked way off across the playground and saw the tall girl with the long strawberry-blonde hair.

"Naw," I said. "I'm playing kickball." And went back to the game. Later, and halfway across the country, the shock of what I had done set in, and I ended up kicking myself. I didn't know what "closure" was at the time, but I knew I'd missed a chance at...something and the loss I felt then was keen. I resolved never to miss the chance again.

But of course I did, over and over again, especially where girls were concerned.

I spent three years in public school in the Midwest after that, and knew a lot of girls, but didn't feel anything like the smiting thunderbolt I felt when I saw Maryanne. In fact, the only moment that remotely comes close was on my birthday, when a miracle happened.

I was 12, it was the last day of school, and it was my last day in town (my dad got yet another job and so we were moving yet again). It already felt like some great force in my universe was pulling things into alignment; it seemed like a day where anything could happen. So I guess I shouldn't have been surprised, but I was, when riding home on the bus, Michelle, the cutest girl in our class, kissed me goodbye (yes, I was bussed on the bus). I was so flustered I couldn't even look at her. You have to understand: this was 7th grade and already the social strata that would define high school interpersonal interactions was beginning to take shape. Even at that early stage, I knew who was in my league and who wasn't. Michelle was so far out of my league that the odds seemed higher that Farrah Fawcett (who Michelle resembled not a little) might kiss a monkey as Michelle might kiss me. But the next day I left town and it was too late to fall in love with her, so I didn't.

My family moved back east and I went to 8th grade at a Catholic grammar school very much like the one I had attended in 4th grade. And that's where I saw Robin...

Thursday, January 13, 2005

 

In Which The Dog Has His Day...


Blaze BHBBBD
Originally uploaded by magazineman.
So I went back to the animal hospital and retrieved the Dog (his real name is Blazey Bellow Hoska Boo Boo Ba Doo, which in the Native American tongue mean "I let my kids name the dog"). The lab results won't be back til next week, but the vet is optimistic. Here's hoping.

Poor guy still seemed a little groggy so I had to carry him into to his bed. The kids were all over him and he managed a feeble wag.

"He's dying!" my son shouted. His sister began to weep.

And then my wife, who has some experience with males who act like big babies when they don't feel so good, showed up with a single piece of Roast Beef, the sacred treat only bestowed on holidays and after acts of selfless doggy heroism.

It was a miracle. The dying dog rose--okay, leapt--to his feet and danced around my wife until the Roast Beef was bestowed on him. He stood there, wagging his tail, chewing thoughtfully, then looked at us looking at him and got the sheepish face, the uh-oh-the-jig-is-up face, and tried to crawl back to his bed, but we're onto him.

This photo pretty much shows him in his natural state, to which he has now returned, 48 hours post-surgery. He's not staring into the middle distance; he's waiting for the moment my daughter goes to the bathroom to wash her hands, at which time he will mount an attempt to steal her dinner.

If this were taken last week, you would have seen a strange pink mound--a bit like a small wad of gum--up on the back of his nose, almost dead center in the middle of his snout. Now there's just some really annoying stitches there and a nasty like patch of yuck that has to be cleaned every night.

Now THAT'S nothing you do for fun, let me tell you. I should sell tickets. Last night, my wife came down, heard a strange commotion and saw me, coming at the dog from behind, trying to pin his head to the ground (but gently!) and dab the antiseptic on at the same time. This was happening in our living room where, for reasons I can't go into just now, we have no curtains. So to my neighbors (and come to that, my wife) it looks like I'm attempting unnatural congress with my dog.

The dog, of course, thinks this is some new game, so he rolls underneath me and stuffs his back paws into my crotch. Then, just because he can, does a little rabbit kick.

Now I'm on the floor, grunting like a wounded warthog and he's doing a victory lap around me, that excited-dog-running-on-his-elbows thing, and the antiseptic stuff is in my hair, on the rug. In fact, everywhere but on the dog. For a second, there's a cold, cold nose probing my ear, and that panting laugh. Then the clatter of paws as he tears off again.

Laugh while you can, Dog. Because tomorrow, I'm eating all the Roast Beef.

Yours,
From Somewhere On the Masthead

Friday, January 07, 2005

 

Love's Labour Lost and Found (A Random Anecdote)

We're hard at work on the February issue right now, and while I'm generally not a big fan of Valentine's Day, there have been times over the years where an errant Cupid's arrow actually manages to burrow its way under my armor and I find myself suddenly reflecting on the loves of my life. At times like this, I always think of The Waterboys song, And A Bang On the Ear, in which Mike Scott sings, sadly and fondly, about all the loves of his life.

If I was precocious about anything, it was about girls. I liked them from second grade. They smelled so much better than we boys, they were way smarter, and (this was the cruncher) they laughed at my jokes. Which was important for a boy who, for most of his life, was not the paragon of manhood he is now (see, right now, the girls are laughing, but the guys missed the joke), but was instead more like the skinny guy in a Charles Atlas ad, plus bowl-shaped head of hair and ugly glasses.

Liz was the first (no, you perverts. This was elementary school, for crissakes. Give a guy a moment of sentimental, chaste love, will ya? At least til we get to my teens, okay???). She was the older woman, the smartest in the class. We used to line up at recess and walk the two blocks from our school to the local park, and one day Liz grabbed my hand and announced that I was henceforth her "steady" line buddy. So I was. At first, it was just one of those things, you know? Someone bigger and more domineering tells you what to do and--hey, you're just a kid--so you do it. But then I got to looking forward to recess and the touch of that hand.

By third grade, Liz and I were cast as Hansel and Gretel (not respectively) in a school play. Here was the odd thing: it was all in French. Which meant we cavorted around the basement lunchroom in some kind of makeshift lederhosen but had to speak our lines en francais. In our first rehearsal, the teacher/director (who was a French exchange student working at the school, so that would explain the language shift) improvised a scene where we slept in the woods and awoke the next morning to find the witch's house. I was already looking forward to the moment (for so my teacher promised) when I would get to push Lisa Jo Gibson (who played the witch) into the fire (a cardboard box painted red) in Act III.

So I wasn't really paying attention when the teacher said, in her sing-songy English-is-not-my-first-language voice, "Bon. Now zee brozair and seester, zay kees good morning!" I turned and said, "Huh?" and Liz planted one on me, right full smack bang on the lips.

Bon matin!

We were supposed to kiss each other on both cheeks, which is the custom of French relations, so we had to do the scene all over again, which was just fine with me, let me tell you. So THAT'S why they show this stuff on TV so much, I thought. I mean, even the Six Million Dollar Man kissed Jamie Sommers a time or two. Incidentally, that became my pet name for her. She was my Bionic Woman.

And then, the end of that year, my parents transferred me to a Catholic grade school closer to home. Liz's mom and my mom promised we'd all get together over the summer, but it never happened and I never saw Liz again (although we wrote to each other right up into 8th grade--a long time for kids that crushed on each other in 2nd and 3rd). She found me a couple years ago through classmates.com and we shared some lovely e-mails, but after I started this job I e-mailed her once or twice and never heard back. Still, it was nice to hear from her and to realize the moments I remembered were just as important to her.

At first I was pretty miserable at the Catholic school, although one of my best friends from home was there. And I have to admit that I missed Liz. That is, until I saw Maryanne...

Thursday, January 06, 2005

 

In Which Basho Has Naught to Fear From Me...

Rooting through assorted papers, forgotten clips, and detritus from jobs I've long since left (or in some cases, fled), I discovered a collection of notes in my distinct scribble. Pages and pages of anagrams based on names of beloved co-workers or notorious people in the media (for example: I turned the name of infamous New York Times ex-reporter JAYSON BLAIR into YON JB'S A LIAR).

Halfway through the notes, the anagrams shift to haiku. One that made me laugh, then and now, was in honor of a copy editor I used to work with. She was the stereotype of the uptight, pedantic copy chief: very serious about serial commas, forever mucking with quotes (people have this pesky tendency of not speaking in perfect English). Her name was Linda, and this haiku was for her:

O copydesk queen
Your name has only one "L"
But so does "anal"



Seeing these long-forgotten notes tells me a couple things:

1. I have an enormous capacity to amuse myself, and...

2. I evidently had a LOT of free time at my last couple of jobs.

Seriously, I've always found such exercises to be an excellent way of sharpening the tools. Consider: the average educated person has a vocabulary of roughly 20,000 words, but barely uses a tenth of them in any given week. Playing with words, trying to make new ones out of a limited number of letters, or trying to find ones to fit a specific syllabic format, help unlock the vocabulary you forgot you had.

Try it, and see if it doesn't sharpen your writing and speaking skills--as well as your Scrabble scores.

Yours,
Oh, who snores? Meet me: Mr. Fathead

Wednesday, January 05, 2005

 

In Which A Hero Stands Revealed...

My son has a lot of fears and anxieties. It's that age. If it's not snakes under the bed it's something else. Early in the school year, after a fire safety lecture, my boy freaked out every time Mom turned on the gas stove.

Usually, there's no reasoning with him, but this one time I managed to get through. I was tucking him into bed, and he looked up at me with his big, l'il guy eyes shining, and asked, "Daddy, what would happen if there was a fire in the hallway and I couldn't get out of my room and you couldn't get to me?"

Instead of trying to assure him of the unlikelihood of the scenario, or wondering WHERE he comes up with such specific situations, I found myself thinking: Well, what WOULD you do? And I looked at his bedroom wall. "You know Mom and Dad's bedroom is right on the other side of that wall, right?" My boy nodded. I rapped on the wall, listening for the hollow sound indicating the space between the studs. "Well, right there is where I'd do it."

"Do what?" he asked.

"Come through the wall to get you," I replied.

He sat up. Now THIS was an answer. "You can DO that?" he asked. I nodded and tried to explain the relatively fragile properties of half-inch drywall, but he wasn't listening. All he knew was that, in case of fire, Dad was gonna come through his bedroom wall to save him.

And that was the end of his fire fears. Problem solved, right? Welllll...

A month or so ago I learned that, among his friends who live nearby, my son has developed something of a reputation for telling stories (gee, not sure where he got that). And it came to my attention that he was telling his friends how strong his dad was -- strong enough to crash through walls even! As you can imagine, the reaction was rank skepticism, or in the words of one of his more articulate friends, "That's poop."

Well today, the young posse was assembled at our house, all watching TV. When I came in the door, they asked to see my little TV spot of yesterday. They didn't care what I had to say about anything; they just wanted to see someone they knew on TV. You know how kids are.

Well, it was as good a time as any to break out the old tape I'd be saving for the past month, after rooting through about six boxes in storage for it. The yellowing label on it reads: "Mom and Dad's House, 1991."

I look at my son, and at his friends. "Let's put this in first."

And on screen, it's 14 years ago. It's a short video made by a friend during the summer I helped my parents renovate the old house where they now live. It was a job that required a lot of tear-out, and there's one scene I'm looking for.

There it is: a shot of a blank wall. It's quiet for a second, then there's a loud BANG! that makes the kids jump. Another BANG! and there's a crack in the wall. Then there's an almighty crack and a cloud of dust and a whole section of wall caves in. The dust begins to settle and standing in the breach, mugging for the camera, hands on hips Superman-style --

"It's my dad!" my son shrieks and the rest of the boys gape--at my son, at me, at the TV. By God, it IS me: I may be 20 pounds lighter and 14 years younger in the image, but there's no missing my goofy-ass face.

They rewound and watched it four times.

I know, I know: It was shameless showboating for a bunch of elementary school boys, but the years in which a man can be a flawless hero in the eyes of his son are few, and we're probably only a couple years away from the day he's rough-housing with his friends and puts a couple holes in the drywall himself and sees how easy it is.

But for now, today, I make no apologies for wanting to be the Dad who crashes through walls. There are worse ways to be remembered.

Yours,
From Somewhere On the Masthead

 

In Which I Will Be More Careful What I Wish For...

As a kid, life as a magazine editor struck me as incredibly cool and important. Like most kids whose lives will someday be ruined by endless magical thinking, I naturally imagined that by becoming a magazine editor, I would likewise have coolness and importance conferred upon me. Also, I would become dashing and handsome and smart and funny and spend a lot of my time jet-setting around the world and going to parties and rubbing elbows with famous people, such as Lee Majors or Randolph Mantooth, the two coolest celebrities I knew of at 10.

By the time I was in high school and actually started pitching stories to magazines, my imaginings had changed, insofar as the famous people had become swimsuit models. Otherwise, it was all pretty consistent in my head.

Here's how a typical day would go:

As a key guy in the office, one of my fellow editors would be waiting for me when I came in. Like most of my coworkers, he looked to me for answers ("Hey, MM, I need a headline for the news story on incontinence." And I'd reply, "How about 'Looking Out For Number One'?").

Nubile young editorial assistants (NYEAs) would linger around my office, hanging on my every word, watching me while I edited layouts with one hand, conducted important telephone interviews with the other, and typed a last-minute story with my third hand.

I would live life like a character in a movie, and my day would be the line in the script that says: MONTAGE--Shots of Magazine Man at the office (on the phone, writing, taking time to offer guidance to a NYEA, running out the door to chase a story (dramatic sweeping shot as he dashes into traffic), doing a guest spot on a talk show (cutaway when the host laughs), settling in for a quiet evening, martini in one hand, beautiful woman in the other. SOUNDTRACK: Some cool, funky 70s number. Loop and run forever.

And then I actually got my first job as a magazine editor. At a trade magazine. In the warehouse district, where dashing into traffic meant getting crushed by a vegetable truck. The youngest editorial assistant on staff was a grandmother. And as I slaved away over my first story--about the tensile strengths of assorted chain-link fences--it dawned on me that I might have ended up in the wrong movie. Which always struck me as a terrible injustice.

Until today.

I came in late, so I'm hurrying along to my office. I was out Monday, and one of my department's stories blew up yesterday, so here's one of my editors, actually following me to my desk, layout in hand. Complete rewrite needed. Layout changes. And the issue closes in 5 hours.

"I've got to finish another story," he says, looking pained.

I hold out my hand. "Give me the layout."

As he leaves, he says, "Copy desk needs a headline for that story yesterday. The chief hated the first one." I get to my office, call the copy desk, blurt out the first thing that comes to my mind, hang up, turn on the computer and get working on the rewrite. While I'm typing, the phone rings.

It's the editor-in-chief's editorial assistant. "Did you get the chief's email?" she asks. Of course not. Haven't turned email on yet. Promise to do it as soon as I finish the rewrite. But of course, curiosity gets the better of me and I open my email to discover the chief wants me to fill in for her, doing a little human-interest spot.

On the 6 o'clock news.

On NBC.

Tonight.

Oh dear God.

I haven't done a TV spot since my book tour, and that was 7 years ago. It's not that I don't like going on TV. It's kind of fun. If I have, oh, a week to prepare. If I'm talking about something I know cold, like, say, a book that I spent a year of my life writing. Instead, I'm being asked to do something about winter and cabin fever and cool products and fun videos. Tonight!! Already I'm in a flop-sweat.

I need time to prep talking points. I need time to do the rewrite. I need time to make layout changes. I need a vitamin B shot.

I keep plugging away at the rewrite, when the phone rings. It's the head of the magazine's PR department, calling to go over tonight's segment, which the chief has already told them I'll do. As we talk, I see something in the layout pages I didn't see before and start jotting notes and move-here lines, while listening to the PR guy with half an ear. I get off the phone, grab the layout pages and spring out of my chair to run it over to a designer. I almost knock over our new editorial assistant. She's a pert young woman, fresh out of college, with great ambitions in magazines. I don't usually interact with her, but she's been trying to come up with some story ideas and she has one that she thinks would work in my department. Can she bounce them off me?

"In a minute," I say, then dash off to layout, while she waits in my office.

I come back, we bat ideas around. Ninety-eight percent of my mental functions are thinking about the rewrite and the prep work for the TV segment. I have no idea what I'm saying to her, but she's laughing a lot, so that could be really good or just plain godawful. I remark that watching me slowly turn into a smoldering husk must be quite a thing to see up close, and she laughs some more. While we're talking, here comes another editorial assistant: the chief's assistant again. She wants to know what I'll be talking about on the segment tonight. I answer honestly, soberly, "I haven't the vaguest idea." It's not funny, but it gets the biggest laugh of all.

The assistants leave. I finish the rewrite, merge the story document with the new layout and file the story with 14 minutes to spare before the issue closes. I work on the talking points. I field four more calls from various PR people as well as the producer over at NBC for tonight's segment. She tells me to prep enough material to fill 2 to 4 minutes. That's a LOT in TV time. And to get to the studio in time for make-up and sound check, I have to leave the office in about...20 minutes.

While I'm working on my notes, the PR assistant comes in. She has a cover of the current issue that she wants me to bring to the studio so they can use it as a graphic. The assistant for the Web site is on her heels. She has a unique URL she wants me to plug, or give to the producer so they can put a link on their site. The chief's assistant comes back with a couple of important you-better-mention-this-or-else notes from the chief. By now I'm rocking in my seat, tugging at my hair. The young women all get very quiet, deposit their notes for me and leave.

Time to leave! Shit! Shit! My talking points consist of the following:

"NBC
Nxt ish on sale nxt wk.

Winter? Snow!

Cool products
List here
?

Kids get cold. Moms too.

Cookies and Bambi!

URL is [can't read my own handwriting here]"

I dash to my car. Thank God I drove to work today!

Except...car won't start. Car actually will not start. Do a little freakout dance, then remember something: the studio is actually just across town. I'll never get a cab this time of day, but it's only a few blocks--okay, quite a few. I still have time. If I run.

So there's me, sprinting down the sidewalk, cutting across parking lots and finally weaving between not-quite-stopped cars in the middle of a very busy street at rush hour. One driver has his window rolled down and I can hear the absurdly funky strains of the song "Rubber-Band Man." Six hours later, I can still hear it.

Defeating all odds, I reach the studio lobby only three minutes late. They whisk me up to makeup, where they brush frozen flecks of spittle off my face and hold a hurried conversation with wardrobe as to whether or not the enormous sweat stains will show on TV. No time! "Keep your arms down, honey," says the wardrobe lady, pushing me out the door.

And then I'm on a set. Far from the anchor desk, in the set that looks like the fake living room of a morning show. They mic me and pop an earplug in my ear.

"Thirty seconds," a voice says in my ear.

"What?!?" I shriek.

The cameraman says, "That's the producer telling the anchors when the next commercial is. She'll talk to you by name when it's your turn."

"Oh thank Christ," I mutter.

"OH THANK CHRIST!" booms my voice from a nearby control room. The sound engineers cackle, then give the thumbs-up. "Mic checks okay."

Now the producer's in my ear again, telling me I'm up after the commercial break. Silently, I utter the Astronaut's Prayer ("Dear God, don't let me fuck up.")

And suddenly I'm live in millions of homes (maybe even yours). And a correspondent (not the anchor) is talking about winter doldrums and lifestyle blather, and here's our resident expert at the Really Big Magazine to give us some tips for making winter fun for you and your family.

And suddenly, a wave of dead calm descends on me. I've been here before. I've done this a million times (okay, a dozen). And I smile. And I project Real Warmth. And I mention my own kids by name and talk about some of the things I've done with them. And I tie it back to a story I just-that-second remembered is in our latest issue (on newsstands now).

The anchor interrupts me: "But tell me: everyone wants to go sledding this time of year. My son wants to go downhill really fast. Any hints to help him out?"

And I'm like, Wha? Sleds? Hunh? The producer didn't say anything about this.

And in the same instant, I see myself at the age of 5, and I see my dad spraying the barest mist of WD-40 on the bottom of my old plastic sled and winking at me.

And I hear myself say: "Well, if you want to go like the dickens, try a spray-on lubricant like WD-40 on the bottom."

I freeze. Did I just say "SPRAY-ON lubricant" or "STRAP-ON lubricant"?

And then we're out of time and the anchor is signing off. I was on the air for 35 seconds. Walking back to the office, my wife calls on the cell phone. The kids are screaming in the background. Daddy was on TV! And said their names! And I gripe: Four hours of prep time and fretting about my performance and I'm in and out in 35 seconds. My wife diplomatically refrains from making a sex joke, and promises to fix me a drink when I get home.

Back at the office, I'm the only one there. Except for our new editorial assistant, fresh out of college. She wants to know what it was like, being on TV after a long day of being an editor. "I can't wait to do what you do," she gushes.

And I hear myself saying: "Be careful what--"

Aw hell, you know the rest.

Yours,
From Somewhere On the Masthead



Monday, January 03, 2005

 

In Which Old Acquaintance Are Not Forgot...

I met Chris when I was 2, and I swear I almost remember it. We went to pre-school, kindergarten and grades 1-3 together. Because we were hip-deep in the energy crisis, our moms decided to carpool, so we always rode to school and back together (we both lived way out in the sticks, much too far for a bus to come haul us), which meant that we spent a lot of after-school hours together too, usually at his farm, playing GI Joe, or living out the lives of our heroes, Johnny Gage and Roy DeSoto from Emergency!

Later, when I moved away, Chris was the first person to send me a letter, and I probably still have it somewhere. His family came to visit us (and it was a long damn drive) wherever we lived. And whenever we came back to New England, we always spent a good chunk of time on their farm.

By high school, I pretty much lost touch with Chris, and by college, a weird kind of role reversal took place. My brother had by that time moved back to our old home state and he--who as a kid could never stand to be around the two of us--found out he had a lot in common with my old pal and they became good friends. I was glad to hear it of course, because our families have always been such good friends and it seemed right that the connection should be maintained. And yet, some part of me, some 7 year old part would occasionally begrudge my brother. Chris is MY friend, MINE! he'd shout.

And he still is. While I left home and lived in about 14 different places in 5 years and got married and had kids, Chris has so far remained a bachelor and bought a house not far from his family's farm and became a real-life Roy DeSoto, working for the local fire department. That wasn't the only childhood fantasy he got to live out. What he had in common with my brother was a love of firearms, which for Chris went much deeper (my brother's just a gun nut, and not always a safe one, but that's a random anecdote for another day). Chris went through ROTC in college and joined the National Guard. We grew up to be about as different as we could be. And yet, he's still my friend. More than that, he's my family. When he came to my wedding, we hadn't seen each other in years, but he traveled over 1000 miles to be there. I remember seeing him out on the dance floor at one point, cutting the rug a little awkwardly with a girl I'd gone to college with (this is why everyone should get married at least once: your wedding is like seeing all your favorite characters from all your favorite books, movies and comics, all together in the same room, interacting. It's the ultimate crossover event of your life. I digress). I remember thinking how ungainly Chris looked out there; and chalked it up to the fact that I had never seen him dance before. I didn't find out til later that Chris had broken his foot a few days earlier. And still he came and danced at my wedding.

Just before Thanksgiving, his guard unit was activated. Just after Christmas, he shipped out for Kuwait. He'll be starting his New Year in Iraq.

My mom called tonight to tell me. My poor mom. She's still great pals with Chris' mom, and thinks of him as her own son too. "It's like one of you going," she said despairingly. And I know it's not bad news, exactly. There are friends and families of soldiers who have received much worse news, to be sure. But it was sobering information to me, nonetheless. And I asked my mom for Chris' email, mailing address, contact info, anything.

My wife, I think, was a bit baffled. She knows I haven't seen Chris since our wedding. She knows we don't call or write to each other. We are not, in the strictest definition, friendly. But he's still my friend. And it bothers me that I sit here in my warm home, with my wife and kids close by, every comfort at my fingertips, while my friend is going off into harm's way. And at this moment it seems to me a letter is the least I owe the man who danced at my wedding with a broken foot.

Smart-ass remarks about my sad, wonderful life to resume later this week...

Yours,
From Somewhere On the Masthead

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