Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Tête-à-Text: A True Story

March 18, 2008 – 6:50 p.m.
Justin: I'm back for good. When might you be free to meet for dinner?

March 22, 2008 – 10:52 p.m.
Mary: Well anytime. When are you free?

March 22, 2008 – 10:55 p.m.
Justin: Every night this week except Mon.

March 22, 2008 – 10:56 p.m.
Mary: Thursday. Just us?

March 22, 2008 – 11:04 p.m.
Justin: Deal.

March 23, 2008 – 12:17 a.m.
Mary: Horny?

March 23, 2008 – 12:19 a.m.
Justin: Yes.

March 23, 2008 – 12:27 a.m.
Justin: Want to come over?

March 23, 2008 – 12:29 a.m.
Mary: Out drinking.

March 23, 2008 – 12:31 a.m.
Justin: Well then, what do you have in mind?

March 23, 2008 – 12:53 a.m.
Mary: Threesome with Matty.

March 23, 2008 – 12:54 a.m.
Justin: A girl?

March 23, 2008 – 12:56 a.m.
Mary: No, he’s a really cute bartender

March 23, 2008 – 12:58 a.m.
Justin: No thanks. You know I only play with girls.

March 23, 2008 – 1:04 a.m.
Justin: Come over, Mary. I want you.

March 23, 2008 – 1:32 a.m.
Mary: On the rag.

March 23, 2008 – 1:39 a.m.
Justin: You're flaking out? Then why ask in the first place? I bailed on Lisa and my friends for you. Poor form, Mary. Poor form.

March 23, 2008 – 1:41 a.m.
Mary: Woah. I never said anything about tonight. Don't understand what you're upset about.

March 23, 2008 – 1:50 a.m.
Justin: When you ask me via text, "Horny?" at midnight, I take that as a booty call. I tell Lisa the news, even she agrees and drops me back at my place. And now you stand me up.

Still awaiting response . . .

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Uncles' Keeper


You know, I truly wish that we had more time to sit down and discuss this in person when I was visiting last week. Alas, we were both busy with our hectic schedules, and that didn't happen. I appreciate that you added at the end of your note that you weren't mad at me. It will allow me to respond to you in a less defensive tone; however, I do have quite a lot to say, and I would hope you take the extra time to read ALL of it. I'm not mad or pissed at you either, Kurt, but from what I've just read in your letter, you've been harboring a lot of assumptions about me that are incredibly inaccurate and, coming from you, especially hurtful. Frankly, that needs to stop, and it needs to stop NOW.

First off, I am fully aware of the trouble that Kris is facing both with his alcoholism as well as with his license/registration/insurance. I am fully aware that he WILL soon see the inside of a jail cell or drink himself to death. I've been aware of that ever since I've seen him shuffle off to bed with a handle of vodka at his old place in Reno. I was aware of it even before I went up to his cabin in Portola in December. When I sat down with you and Lisa the day before I went to find him, I had already gathered information from Andy and Ruby about how bad he was doing. Like I said when I asked you to come with me, I was NOT on a mission to hold an intervention for Kris. I've had plenty of experience with alcoholism throughout my life, Kurt. I even grew up around violent and manipulative drunks (see: Jon Bell), so I was NOT being naive about what I could (or could not) do for Kris when I decided to go see what he was up to.

At that point my main concern was ANDY. It had been obvious that Andy had been having an especially difficult time dealing with Kris. Unlike you or me, Andy does not have an extensive history with serious family drama, and all my cousin (and friend) wanted was another family member to check in on his dad. I have ALWAYS held Kris in high regard and actually wanted to see him -- not just check up on his well being -- so I volunteered to go. I asked you to come along just to show Kris that even if he chose not to join us for the usual family functions, we were still around and interested in seeing him. I thought of it like this: "It's one thing for Justin -- who only comes home to visit for two weeks at the end of the year -- to stop by and say hello. It's another thing for Justin, Kurt and whomever else to pop in and say, 'Hey, asshole, quit being such a hermit and come join your family for the holidays.'" Ruby had already told me that she and Kris's friends had tried to arrange a huge intervention for him -- had even offered to pay for his detox and counseling -- and Kris declined. Frankly, I wasn't expecting a miracle on my part either. And when you declined to come with me, I didn't take it personally. It was just an offer for you to join me. You were (understandably) busy with other things, and I was going to go with or without you. The End.

But things changed when I actually arrived there to find Kris huddled under four comforters in a cabin without power or heat. I had driven out there with the idea of finding him drunk and watching football in his underwear on the couch. Instead he was huddled and shivering in his bedroom. The house was a mess -- furniture knocked over, the toilet covered in vomit and shit, all the food rotting in his fridge. He had a black eye, a cut on the eyebrow and a huge bruise on his back. Best of all, he had been detoxing for three days without any food. HOWEVER, he was clear-headed and quick to answer my questions. I convinced him to come to Reno with me -- Andy had requested that I bring him back to his place -- and Kris got out of bed without any assistance. We searched for his glasses, gathered a basket of clothes and got in my car. At this time I told Kris that he really looked like shit and ASKED HIM IF HE WOULD LIKE TO GO SEE A DOCTOR. He declined and said all that he needed was some food and a hot shower. I considered it a victory to get him out of the cabin without a big argument, so I wasn't going to give him reason to leave by fighting and bickering with him about seeking medical help. (You yourself had even warned me about Kris and his temper the day before. I wasn't in the mood to see it flare up in his condition or with me behind the wheel of a moving vehicle.)

And then the real problems began. The moment my cell phone reception kicked in, I received a call from Ann. She pleaded -- PLEADED -- with me, Kurt, NOT to bring Kris to Andy's place. Her words: "Andy cannot deal with this right now. The last time Kris was this bad, he had a seizure in front of Andy and Andy flipped out. He had to see a counselor for a few weeks after that. Justin, you CANNOT do anything for Kris at this point, and you need to either take him back home or take him somewhere else. You're a good nephew for caring so much, but you cannot save him." That's the most fucked up part of ALL of this, Kurt: I WAS NEVER OUT TO "SAVE" KRIS! It's ridiculous that anyone would even think that! My simple goal was to get him cleaned up and try to help him figure out how to get his power and heat back on. Thing was, it was a Saturday, and nothing could be done about the utilities until after the weekend was over. And if I couldn't take him to Andy's, where in the fuck could I take him? I needed to think about this AND talk to Kris, but first he needed to eat. Thus, we picked up a pizza and stopped by your place.

Before I go further into this, let me state this loud and clear: I DID NOT BRING KRIS TO YOUR HOUSE TO GUILT-TRIP YOU OR GLOAT ABOUT BEING RIGHT ABOUT HIM BEING IN DIRE STRAITS. If I had the option, I would have taken him somewhere else to avoid you seeing him like you did. I had no interest in dropping off his problems on your doorstep, ESPECIALLY after the tense conversation we had the day before. That's why I told you, "I'm sorry, Kurt, but I couldn't take him to Andy's. We're just here to eat lunch while I make a few phone calls. Go about whatever it is you were doing." I wasn't trying to make you feel like shit or rub your brother's disrepair in your face, Kurt. I simply wanted to put him somewhere warm where he could eat, talk with me about what's next and possibly take a shower. After we ate and I counseled briefly with Andy, Ruby, Ann and Lon, Kris and I finally started a serious discussion.

Q: Ann told me that you've experienced seizures before. Are you feeling okay now?
A: Yeah, I feel fine. Better, actually, now that I ate.
Q: Do you feel any symptoms that usually preclude a seizure?
A: Nope.
Q: Lon told me that he has AA buddies who can come over and talk to you about going to a detox center. Would you be interested in that?
A: FUCK NO. I would rather go to JAIL before I go to a detox center.

I wasn't going to start arguing with Kris, especially in his state. I needed him to know that I was being supportive yet pragmatic. I told him that we needed to find a place for him to stay for the weekend so we could check out his finances on Monday. I told him that he COULD NOT stay with you -- you didn't have the room nor would it be fair to drop him off at your doorstep without warning (and don't you DARE think for a moment that I was going to do such a thing to you, Kurt; you know damn well that I respect you too much to pull a stunt like that) -- so we needed to think of somewhere else. He wasn't giving me any suggestions, so the initial plan was to take him to Leon and Joe's place and look after him there. Fortunately, my mom picked up when I called and told me to bring him over to her apartment.

It was never my intention to have my mother become Kris's keeper. Like I said, I just needed him to stay somewhere for the weekend. My mom said she could handle that, no problem. Well, the weekend turned into the week. Leon and I started running Kris around town in my car, and it seemed like he was getting back on his feet. Meanwhile, he was either camping out at my mom's apartment or Leon and Joe's house. Everything was getting back on track until he had his fucking seizure on New Year's Eve. And that's where all this came to a head. You see, Kurt, NO ONE HAD FUCKING TOLD ME THAT HIS SEIZURES COME 5-7 DAYS AFTER SERIOUS DETOXING. Not Ann, not Ruby, not Andy -- NOT EVEN FUCKING KRIS -- had the foresight to let me in on the key detail that the imbalance of electrolytes in the body caused by all the hard liquor causes serious damage days afterwards. It doesn't happen during detox or even just after -- it happens DAYS after. If I had known, you bet your ass I would've taken him to the hospital the same day that I found him in the cabin. Instead, I was left to coordinate with everyone from an Albertson's parking lot in Phoenix on New Year's Eve.

Meanwhile, you chose to call me at that exact moment to holler insults at me and offer up nothing but unkind words and unhelpful advice -- something that you've still yet to apologize for (and I doubt you ever will, so I'll simply write it off to you being upset about your brother's condition) -- but just remember this: I never ONCE dropped Kris at your doorstep with the expectation that you clean him up and take care of him; I never ONCE accused you of being a bad brother or uncle for not helping me find a solution for/with Kris; I never ONCE thought of you as a shirking your duties to your family. I WOULD NEVER THINK THAT. Like you've said time and again, Kris is a big boy who knows right from wrong. He is killing himself slowly and hurting his loved ones in the process AND THERE IS NOTHING WE CAN DO TO STOP HIM. I am FULLY aware of this, and if you don't think I am, then you are obviously not paying attention. Why do you think I retrieved his car in a fucking snowstorm the moment I returned to Reno, Kurt? I already KNEW beforehand that he's operating on a revoked license! But like Ann, Lon and Ruby told me, "You are not your uncle's keeper, so the only thing you can do is let himself go down the road to oblivion on his own volition." I don't like the idea of Kris driving around the city with a revoked license (let alone under the influence!), Kurt, but it is NOT our job to chauffeur him around or look after him 24/7. None of us have the time or money to babysit him! He's 52 years old! And if he wants to throw his life away, that's his call. I hate the idea just as much as you do, but this is the choice Kris will make for himself, regardless of how little or how much we lecture him about it. My mother has repeatedly given him the option of taking him to a detox center or her counseling sessions; he's declined every time. Not much she (or you or I) can do after that.

And that's where we come to the crux of the situation, Kurt. Just as you need to STOP ASSUMING that I think you or my mom will be the "heroes" who will save Kris, you also need to STOP BLAMING me for his condition. It is SO. FUCKING. EASY. to criticize me for bringing light to an ugly situation, but you MUST understand that I am and will continually be on your side. In simplest terms, WE ARE ALL IN THIS TOGETHER. WE ARE FAMILY. All I wanted for the holidays was to have my closest family members come together and share a meal; it's been such a long time since it's happened, but it didn't mean that it was impossible. (Example: Lisa and I convincing you to invite my mother over for the first time in three years!) It was never my intention to make you feel like you (or my mom) had to go about keeping a constant vigil over your brother. And just like you've had to kick others out of your house (i.e., my mom and Monty '04), you might have to bar Kris from coming in as well. I've told the EXACT SAME THING to my mother, too. I've said to her, "Jan Margaret, it is not your job to take care of Kris. You need to look after yourself first, so if it gets to a point where you can't handle it anymore, you send him on his way." Fuck, Kurt, I've said the same to Kris(!): "Kris, my mom and Kurt (or Leon and Joe) can't look after you all the time. If they ask you to leave, you better have a place to go, so get your shit together." Despite what you think, I haven't been running away from any responsibilities. I've kept in touch with everyone who can keep me informed, Kurt. And when Kris needs to talk to someone, he's never hesitated to call me. But just because I'm realistic about what's coming next and refuse to treat my uncle like a child -- You really think I myself haven't warned Kris about DUIs and jail time? Or the dangers of having another seizure? You really think he listens to anyone? -- doesn't mean I'm short-changing anyone. NOT YOU, NOT MY MOM, NOT KRIS -- NOT ANYONE.

As far as my mom goes, yes, I am thankful for her kindness, compassion and love for her family. But as far as your advice of "practicing what I preach" goes -- and please take the following statement with a grain of salt -- go fuck yourself, Kurt. If you had ever generated enough interest these past few years to actually sit down with me and ask about my issues with my mother, I would have happily told you why I had little interest in getting involved in her dramas. I would have told you that I have no interest in continuing to support her codependent lifestyle, that I had had my fill in life with the Jon Bells and Monty Fullers of the world and had no interest in dealing further with the likes of them. I had no interest in supporting her drinking, the suspending of her nursing license, the voluntary homelessness, the debts she racked up around town, the bouncing checks, the vitriol she spewed about her best friends and family who no longer supported her on her downward spiral and especially THE THEFT OF HER BROTHER'S TRUCK. In fact, the primary reason I stayed out of touch with her for the past three years was partially out of respect to you; her stealing your truck was the last straw for both of us, Kurt, so I would appreciate it if you would stop pointing a finger in my direction. (Seriously, if we're going to futilely lob stones at glass houses, wouldn't it be easy to remind you that you once said my mother was "dead to you" after stealing your truck? Shit, Kurt, even I've never said such a hateful thing!) I rarely if ever badmouthed my mother in front of you. But as far as I was concerned, I had NO mother to come home and visit for the longest time. My mother was a respectable woman who raised me to be upfront, honest and kind to those who gave me the same respect in turn. She stopped giving me that respect; thus, she lost mine. She changed for the worse a long time ago, and she's just now slowly working her way back from whatever dark corners she's been slumming around for the past decade. I am proud of the progress she's making. It is my sincere hope that she doesn't backslide.

And while we're addressing everything at once, please stop blaming me for Tammy's behavior, too. You made a cruel jab recently saying, "If you want to spend time patching up family issues, tell your cunt Aunt to quit suing me." Kurt, you know damn well that barb was simply uncalled for. Whether you like it or not, I come home once a year to see my family. Like it or not, Tammy has been in my family for 23 years (you can blame yourself for that). No, I do not support her recent behavior and have even promised you that I will not maintain contact with her until she decides to knock it off and leave you alone for good. (Trust me, Kurt, her actions are painting a very ugly picture of her, and I am already less inclined to keep in touch even after all this is over.) But you need to respect why I would keep in touch with her in the first place and then get the fuck off my back. It's simple: When I first moved to Chicago and came back home, I had nowhere to go. My mother was AWOL and I had no "home" to call my own. That's where you and Tammy came in. If you don't remember, you and I didn't even have much of a bond until that first time I came home. Same with Tammy. Both of you extended a kindness and support that I had never seen before, and I still appreciate that same kindness and support from both of you to this day. Yes, you are my blood and I would pick you in a heartbeat if it came down to it, but you can't expect me to spurn the woman just because she's always suing you. One of my biggest regrets in life has been losing touch with Ann. She was a wonderful aunt, and now the only time I get to talk with her is when we're chatting about the sorry state of Kris. In that respect, I don't want to permanently distance myself from Tammy. I have never gossiped with her about your life nor do I allow her to make snide comments about you either. One day this all will be over, she will finally retract those claws and then I will make my decision about keeping in touch with her. Rest assured, though, if I do keep in touch, IT WOULD NOT BE TO SPITE YOU. So, please, knock it off!

Finally, I want to say this again: WE ARE ON THE SAME SIDE. Bickering, finger-pointing and blind accusations will only destroy us. We can help Kris the best we can -- kind words, a pat on the back, a good meal -- but we must accept that he will live and die by his own choices AND we did nothing wrong in letting him do so. I do not have the time to take a sabbatical any more than you do, Kurt. I myself have $8000 in credit card debt and owe another $1000 to my friend for a loan after all my cash was stolen in Africa. No one will pay off my debts for me, and they need to be paid. That said, we all have our problems . . . but we are not alone in our worry and suffering. I have helped Kris every way I can at this time; I know you have done the same. I understand that you are angry, frustrated and worried about his predicament but lashing out at me will solve nothing. You, too, need to understand that you are NOT your brother's keeper. You are a WONDERFUL brother, and I am proud that you are my uncle. I love my family, Kurt. I love you. I respect and admire you. In many ways you are a hero, but I don't ever expect you to be invincible or omnipotent or have the solution to all life's (or Kris's) problems. I don't expect you to pick up your brother's pieces. Just be there when you can like you always have been and know that you did your best when the chips finally fall where they may.

No, Kurt, I truly don't look forward to that phone call in the near future, but I will pick it up when the time comes.


Velander's Epic Vacation 2008: A Summary

Velander's Epic Vacation 2008 (December 14, 2007 - March 16, 2008):

8000 collective miles on interstates and highways.
1018 miles driven in one stretch (damn, I must be getting old 'cause that's just lazy).
120 mph on I-10E from LA to Phoenix.
29 tanks of gas.
11 couches/beds made up for me.
9 states traversed (IL, MO, AR, OK, TX, NM, AZ, NV, CA).
4 friends permanently jettisoned from my life.
3 incredibly vindictive, purposely ill-timed and completely unnecessary mind-games from ex-girlfriend. (So much for that clean break-up that I had in mind . . .)
2 new cars purchased (one in December for trip out West; one in March due to the fact that December car turned out to be money pit).
2 amazing in-studio band interviews.
2 rude and righteous e-mails from an uncle that essentially accused me of meddling too much with family affairs.
1 uncle -- not the author of the accusatory e-mails, the other one -- discovered in his cabin without power and heat detoxing for three days without food. (I dropped in to say hello and find out what the hell was so important that he couldn't make it to Christmas dinner -- part of my alleged "meddling," if you will.)
1 stressful New Year's Eve spent yelling at my mother over the phone to get to the hospital and find out alcoholic uncle's condition after he had a seizure and then going off to have a ridiculous fight with a romantic interest over the fact that there didn't seem to be much interest at all.
1 unnerving phone call from ex on New Year's Day informing me that she was now dating one of our mutual friends -- something she promised me that she had no interest in and would never do "in order to avoid further awkwardness anyway" -- and that there will likely be pics posted up of their fated New Year's kiss, so "I wanted to tell you before you stumbled upon them on your own" (Mind Game #1: "Operation: Adios, Amigos!"). (To be honest, this was the least bothersome mind game of the three. The next two were pure, premeditated evil. I'm still too incensed to appreciate the craft put into them.)
1 wonderful holiday party with friends before making my way out West. (Thanks, Dramafarie!)
1 immensely enjoyable season finale to Season 16 of BFN Networks.
1 incredible offer for what would've been a mind-blowing threesome that, sadly, got called off at the last minute. ("Argh!" indeed, Charlie Brown. "Argh!" indeed.)
1 unexpected rejection from a new flame.
1 completely unexpected, "one-night-only, get-it-now-before-I-come-to-my-senses" booty text message from an old acquaintance. (Alas, I wouldn't be back in Chicago until the next day, so I missed out! Fuck me! But what an ego boost!)
1 cherished farewell before Africa.
1 lackluster homecoming to Chicago.
1 best friend suffering a girlfriend who seriously considers me to be his baggage and a possible future liability. (Are you fucking kidding me?! At what point have I EVER been a goddamn liability?! Okay, now I'm offended!)
1 close friend considering moving halfway across the country again to be with the boy who already broke her heart twice.
1 close friend dealing with an unwanted pregnancy followed by an equally unwanted miscarriage.
1 fight with another best friend over replacing brake pads that nearly came to blows (seriously, what the fuck!).
1 late-night milkshake with an aspiring doctor in San Francisco.
1 movie night in Costa Mesa with an aspiring acrobat.
1 break from the road to celebrate St. Paddy Day's with three highly entertaining strangers in St. Louis.
1 best friend awaiting my final arrival so I could nurse her back to health (Vitamin C and fresh air do wonders, I tell ya! Squeak!)
1 fortuitous renewal of my contract with my my old job.
1 much-needed romantic fling with an intelligent, well-rounded, witty and absolutely gorgeous (and tall!) redhead with colorful knee-length socks. (Best. Christmas Gift. EVER.)
1 possible love interest on the horizon (not the redhead . . . actually, not sure where this is going just yet so don't get too excited, okay?).

West Africa:
3 countries explored (Senegal, Mali, The Gambia).
1 country denied entrance to due to "security issues" (aka terrorist activities) (Mauritania).
$2000US stolen by guide who then abandoned me on the beach on Day 10.
$1000US loaned by the Bank of Mouse on Day 15.
$850US pulled off credit card for emergency cash on Day 11.
$600US pulled off credit card for special purchase on Day 8.
942 photos taken (and 12 videos recorded).
100+ collective hours trapped in horrendous buses, bush taxis, vans and trucks that all should have been scrapped ten years ago.
35 postcards sent to friends and relatives all over the world.
26 collective hours on three international flights.
21 stamps in passport from twenty border checkpoints and the tourism board of Timbuktu.
11 nights sleeping on a mattress in the elevator maintenance room of a 15-story apartment building in downtown Dakar.
10 new foreign friends I would trust with my life (and possibly my wallet; verdict's still out on that).
8 notable arguments/shouting matches over money/schedule conflicts with guides/drivers.
7 professional paintings acquired from local artists.
6 weeks without sex. (Told you I could do it!)
6 kids likely traumatized by my aggressive responses to their unwarranted begging. (Hey, they asked for it!)
5 books read (Dance of Death, Foucault's Pendulum, Gates of Africa, The Memory Keeper's Daughter, Lonely Planet: West Africa).
3 much-appreciated double-feature movie nights at Kadjinol Station (Top picks: Dead Man, Chinatown, Training Day).
3 camel rides in Timbuktu.
3 beaches lounged upon (Cap Skirring, Kafountine, Kartong).
2 expensive paintings transported 208 km across two countries via four buses and one ferry all while suffering from a nasty head cold (now that was a fucking stressful day).
1 pricey but worthwhile day trip to Dogon Country.
1 particularly nightmarish bus ride from Bamako, Mali to Tambacounda, Senegal (trust me, it's a bad omen to see a goat flying off the roof of a speeding bus).
1 awesome car ride from Douentza to Timbuktu (Mali) in which I was able to plug my iPod into the radio and rock out to The Ghost Of You: The Best Songs of 2006 (Free Download!).
1 good to honest rumble in Serekunda, The Gambia. (No bullshit - I nearly incited a riot! Go me!)
1 incredibly sore ass. (Thanks to all those punishing bus/bush taxi rides, I could barely sit down by the end of my travels. The plane ride back home was excruciating!)
Countless amazing meals all throughout my trip!

This year I've gone from Chicago to San Francisco to Timbuktu and back. I've never been so happy to return to the Windy City.

Timbuktu OR ELSE!

A note that I sent to my friend Lauren that I thought I would share with all of you:

Greetings from Bamako, Mali! I just got in this afternoon and was finally able to check my OKC mail. (For some reason I can't access my account from Senegal.) The last three weeks have consisted of AMAZING food; wonderful sunsets on white beaches; not understanding anyone (my French is appalling); long car rides on terrible roads in shitty "bush taxis" that should've been scrapped ten years ago; being turned away at the Mauritanian border because they're no longer allowing white people in due to Al-Qaeda (four Frenchman got their throats slit in the desert when passing through for the Dakar Rally); and my guide spending (or pocketing) all my money and abandoning me in Cap Skirring, the southernmost point in Senegal - and one of the most difficult places to be if you have to track a person back to Dakar with little cash. The police are now looking for him, but he has effectively derailed my vacation. After realizing how much of a nightmare this trip has been, I was ready to throw in the towel. But then I remembered that my room in Chicago is subleased until the end of the month AND I've already dumped a large stack of bills just get there, so I might as well stick it out.

And that's just what I'm going to do.

I've lost so much time on this trip - all thanks to this asshole who stole my money - so now I'm forced to make a mad dash for Timbuktu. It's going to be a grueling two-day bus ride to get there, but I'm hoping for the best. I came here to reach one of the most remote outposts in the world and ride a camel, damnit! Wish me luck!

I hope this e-mail finds you well. If I don't reply for a while, it's likely because I'm stranded in the middle of the Sahara.


The Cornwell Incident

“May I speak to Jen?”

“Hold on a second, I’ll get her.”

I’m in my bedroom, waiting for Jennifer Cornwell to answer the phone at work.

“Hi, this is Jen.”

“Hi, Jen. It’s Justin.”

There’s an awkward pause.

That’s not good.

“Oh . . . hey, Justin.”

“So, I was wondering what time you wanted me to pick you up after work. The movie starts at nine-fifteen, and we should leave early to get out there in time.”

I’m taking Jennifer Cornwell to a movie. We have to drive fifteen miles to Gardnerville because the film is a limited release that never made it to Carson City.

There’s another awkward pause.

That’s really not good.

“Um, Justin . . . the thing is that . . .” Cornwell fumbles.

She’s killing me here, so I urge her along.


“I don’t think I should go to the movie with you,” she finishes.

“May I ask why?”

She pauses again. My stomach twists into knots.

This is a predicament.

“Justin, you shouldn’t have been at my house last night.”

“What?” I demand.

This is not happening.

“I saw you last night, Justin. I saw you drive by my house, and I’m worried.”

I’m too stunned to reply.

She’s right. I did drive by her house. But that’s it. Anything else here is simply bad timing and paranoia.

The truth is that Ben and I attended a midnight showing of a second-run indie movie in Reno last night. When I dropped him off at home afterwards, I was feeling quite restless despite the late hour, so I decided to cruise around my old neighborhood. I would roll by the house on Baker Street to see if the place looked any different eight months after our eviction. Then I figured I would kill even more time exploring the still-familiar residential grid and all its intersecting side streets surrounding Seeliger Elementary. It was freezing outside – so cold that my fingers ached from clutching the wheel – but I knew I could keep myself warm by singing along to the oldies on the local AM station.

“I can’t believe this,” I sigh into the phone.

Yes, Jennifer lived in that neighborhood. I turned onto her street and drove by her house. But I didn’t stop. I didn’t slow down. I certainly didn’t honk the horn. I had better stuff to do than ruin my chances with Jennifer Cornwell, so I fiddled with the heater, turned up the radio and kept on moving.

I did notice, however, that her truck wasn’t parked in the driveway.

“Justin, I think you’re a really nice guy,” Cornwell blurts out.

She’s trying to defuse what she perceives to be a volatile situation. She’s wasting her breath. I’m too unsettled to be hostile. To be honest, I had a nagging feeling that things would play out this way.

Because as my rotten luck would have it, we passed each other on the street two blocks away from her house. If I could easily recognize her black Dodge at three in the morning, she would no doubt notice my yellow Toyota. It also came to mind that this random encounter could potentially bite me in the ass. I did my best to shrug it off and not obsess over it, but after spending all of today counting down the hours until our date, it became increasingly difficult to push it to the back of my mind.

It seems my worries were legit after all.


“You’re a really nice guy,” she says louder, more rushed. “I like you, and you’re a really nice guy, but –”

“Jen!” I interrupt.

I don’t want her flipping out at work.

Cornwell immediately stops talking. No joke, she’s terrified of me.

This is a dilemma.

“Jen, you have to calm down,” I tell her.

I speak softly so she has to focus to listen. She’s no longer panicky.

“Jen, can I explain myself?”

I’m careful not to get defensive. If I do, she’s really going to freak.

“Uh . . . yeah . . .” she replies.

“Okay, I saw a movie with my friend Ben last night. After I dropped him off, I felt like driving because it gives me time to think. I was near my old neighborhood, so I decided to drive around there. You live in that neighborhood, Jen. I turned on your street because I was wandering, that’s it.”

“Yeah, but, Justin, I’m really uncomfortable that you drove by my house that late.”

“Jen, I was just driving around! In fact, I was heading home at that time. It’s ridiculous to believe that I was doing anything wrong.”

“Well, Justin, I have my feelings, and I don’t think I’m ridiculous.”

“No, Jen, you’re not ridiculous! I didn’t say that you were. What I’m saying is that you’re jumping to conclusions. You’re not even giving me a chance to tell my side of the story.”

“Honestly, Justin, I don’t think it will help.”

Her words cut into me fast and smooth and catch me totally off guard. I’m afraid to even breathe let alone speak. I hear her on the other end. It sounds like she’s going to cry. I picture her standing behind the register at her work, a worried look on her face making her appear even more vapid, maybe a hand over her eyes for dramatic effect. I think part of her believes that she’s sealing her fate here, that this particular conversation will lead to her violent demise at the hands of a psycho suitor.

We’re both waiting for the other to speak. Finally, I interject, “All right, Jen, listen, I don’t want to have this conversation while you’re at work. I don’t want to get you in trouble over something we can discuss later. Would it be okay if I called you at home in thirty minutes?”

There’s another pause.

This is a goddamn crisis!

“Jen, I don’t want to have this discussion when you’re at work,” I repeat firmly. “Can I call you at home in thirty minutes?”

I hear her sigh.

“Okay, Justin. Call me later.”

“Thank you.”

I hang up the phone and sit at my desk in the glow of the computer screen. I don’t know what I’m trying to salvage here.

I’ve lost Jennifer Cornwell.

I’ve known her for years, but I only recently caught her attention when we started chatting during lunch. A tall blonde with milky-white skin, vibrant crystal blue eyes and an endearing smile (even with the braces), I’m attracted to her simply because she’s cute, kind and doesn’t expect too much from me. She’s a devout Mormon, so I’m not eligible for a long-term relationship. But because I am a nice guy, we can at least enjoy ourselves without getting too serious.

I think of her as someone who can help ease me into the dating game. I’m seventeen years old with twenty extra pounds, a dark sense of humor, a heart on my sleeve and no romantic prospects. I need help here! Finally, after much trial and error, I find a nice girl who thinks I’m charming, and I have to go and fuck that up by driving by her house.

I call her when she gets home. I know that all is lost, but I try to end this on friendly terms with the hope that the gossip at school won’t be too harsh.

“Are you feeling better now?” I ask.

“Yeah, I talked to my mother.”


There’s another awkward pause.

This is a fucking nightmare.

“Look, Justin, I don’t know what there is to say.”

Neither do I.

What can I say to comfort someone who thinks I’m stalking them?

“All right then.”

“I’m sorry, Justin.”

“Yeah, Jen, I’m sure you are. Have a good night.”

I hang up the phone. My hand hovers over the receiver. I want to pick it back up, dial her again and beg her to give me a second chance. However, the thought of doing so makes me want to retch. But standing here with the last hour repeating over and over in my head makes me want to scream, too.

My hand drops away from the phone. I don’t want to think about this, but I’m stuck with myself for the night. No movies, no company, no lively conversation, no flirting, no hand-holding, no longing gazes, no kiss goodnight. Nothing here but a goddamn fool who wasted the entire day watching the clock in anticipation for a date that he ruined long before he could pick the girl up for it.

It’s seven o’clock on a Saturday night, but I’m no longer in the mood to go out. I’m not in the mood for anything. I have thirty-six hours until I have to go to school and truly face the consequences of this weekend. Jennifer Cornwell will avoid me, the gossip will spread and I’ll be further ostracized from my peers.

I let out a sigh and put my head down on my desk. My gaze settles on the alarm clock across the room. I keep my eyes fixed on the LED display, but time refuses to speed up. It looks like I’m going to have to wait this one out, only this time I’ll have dread to keep me company in lieu of anticipation. Right now I'm not sure what's worse.

Needless to say, this isn’t my life.

This is a complete and total disaster.


Play It Again, Pat


I first heard Pat McCurdy sing this tune one week after I returned from my trip to Germany in 2004, and you immediately came to mind. I remember sitting in the audience, completely enthralled and all too certain that my heart was going to burst right then and there.

It took me three more years to get him into the studio for an interview. When the opportunity finally arrived last week, I made the request that he play this song. He was more than happy to oblige. I hope you enjoy it as much as I do.

Pat McCurdy / You're Only An Ocean Away

Dagi, no matter where life takes either of us, don't forget that you're only an ocean away. That's not too far at all.


Something Happened on the Way to Hamburg

The door closed and the flip handle hit my lip. You winced and touched your own lip as if to ask if I was okay.

I nodded and laid a palm flat on the glass. I could feel my eyes glassing over, my emotions inside surging forth too fast to temper them. That look of concern on your face made my heart ache even worse. I was leaving you all too soon, and the sound of the door closing shut was the final proof. We were separated, left with no choice but stare at each other and wait for the inevitable.

You began to speak, but I couldn’t hear what you were saying. The train was too loud, the glass too thick. I tried to think of something I could say that you would understand even if you couldn’t hear it. Something simple yet all-encompassing. Something elegant, words that would keep me in your thoughts and maybe – just maybe – work their way into your heart.

I came up with this:

“Dagi, I’m crazy about you.

“I’m certain that I’m falling in love with you, and there’s nothing wrong with that. What I feel for you is so intense, so pure, that it shakes me to the core. And I will not waste a second denying myself such a splendid feeling, especially when it concerns you. I hope that one day you might feel the same about me.

“I’m going to miss you. I’m going to miss you something fierce, and I can’t wait to see you again. Soon.

“Dagi, I’m crazy about you!”

The train started moving. It was the last thing I wanted, but I was helpless to stop it. I cursed your trip to Mexico. I cursed my late arrival and this terribly early departure. I cursed time for being so fleeting.

I cursed myself for holding back on kissing you. At a moment like this, good behavior never seemed so foolish or naïve. In my mind I kissed you a thousand times today. Every sideways glance, every longing look, every deep stare and secret-filled smile was followed by a kiss. I imagined your lips locking with mine and how my heart would well up and clench tight in my chest. How perfect that would be, an entire day of holding you close, kissing your mouth and face and ears and neck and shoulders and on and on over every inch of your body, always returning to your lips, your wonderful lips.

I didn’t know what you would think of that, but it’s what flashed through my mind as the train started moving.

I found everything that I was looking for during my time with you, Dagi. Of course, there was so much more I would have loved to discover, an infinite number of possibilities to explore, but I was still overjoyed with the brief amount of time I shared with you. We had just taken the next step in our strange and curious relationship, and nothing ever felt so right.

Except this. Leaving this soon didn’t feel right at all. Looking at you through the glass, the taste of blood from the cut on my lip keeping me grounded in reality, I knew without a doubt that I wasn’t ready to go.

You followed along as the train dragged me away under protest.

I suddenly envisioned every scenario that would allow me a little more time with you. I thought of doubling back after the first stop. I thought of lunch the next day. I thought of changing my flight. I thought of meeting you on the way to Celestun or picking you up in Chicago. I thought of waking up next to you on New Year’s or getting lost with you in the fog while trekking across Halemaumau at sunset. I imagined you on a white sand beach, the smell of sun on your skin. I thought of keeping your hands warm and that lovely smile on your face. I thought of taking a million pictures of you and still thinking that I didn’t have enough.

I thought of how special you truly are to me.

I yelled out once more, “CRAZY!”

Maybe you heard me that time.

IC 2229: Hamburg, DE --> Dortmund, DE

Non-Monogamy: A Slippery Slope

Author's Note: Originally posted in my OKCupid journal as fair warning to the girls who checked out my profile.

Okay, so let's address what seems to be a point of contention on my profile. One line in particular seems to lead the ladies to jump to all sorts of (extreme) conclusions, but rather than ditch it for the sake of convenience, I think a little discourse might be in order.

The line in question:
I'm a big fan of commitment, but I believe monogamy is overrated.

No, I'm not a free-lovin' hippie or a hardcore polygamist. In fact, I enjoy being in a committed relationship with one person. I'm an incredibly loyal partner when it comes to the girl that I fall head over heels in love with, and I do everything in my power to prove myself worthy of their love, trust and respect. I love sharing my life with a partner who understands me and loves me for who I am, warts and all. Moreover, it's a goddamn relief when you finally stumble upon that special someone after spending so much time being pummeled and pushed aside in the dating game. Even after all the glorious highs and frustrating lows, you truly come out the winner when you can take that person's hand and walk away from the dog-eat-dog singles scene.

Alas, in all my experiences I've never once had that feeling of "I only have eyes for you." I've been crazy in love -- crazy to the point of delirium, crazy to the point of "Yes, I will drive 14 hours to see you for one night," "Yes, I will buy a last-minute plane ticket to see you this weekend," and "Yes, I will move to Washington, DC to be with you" -- but I am simply incapable of equating my girl as my world.

Because when it comes to sex, I always want more.

Now, that doesn't mean that I'm dissatisfied with what I have with my partner. Before I even consider a serious relationship with someone, I make sure that we're a match in that department. Nor does it mean that I'm not truly in love with the person I'm with. That couldn't be further from the truth! If I wasn't happy with the person I was seriously committed to, I wouldn't be with them in the first place. That would be a waste of her time and mine. Just because I "suffer" from what one girlfriend called Acute Roving-Eye Syndrome (ARES) doesn't mean I'm seeking a way out. Simply, my brain is not hardwired to solely think of one girl and one girl only.

The truth is that I am a junkie for chemistry and attraction. I am fascinated by women. When I am drawn to a particular woman, I will make every (sensible) effort to learn more about her. I love to flirt. It's my passion, my vice. And while I am more than happy to go home with/to the one I love, I fantasize about these other women all the time. Yes, I want to seduce them. I want them naked in my bed. I want to bring them pleasure. And I've always felt this way. I can't turn it off -- I've tried and failed miserably -- nor would I even want to. So what do I do about it?

Answer: I don't know. Honestly, I'm still trying to figure it out. It took me eight years and three relationships before I finally understood that commitment and monogamy are not one and the same. Although most of us prefer to believe it is, it's not -- at least it's not in my case -- so now I guess the next step is to find the proper balance of non-monogamy. (Oh boy, a minefield! Let's skip!) I don't care for one night stands or random hook-ups; I prefer to know and connect with the people who share my bed. That said, I also don't want to get into a serious relationship with every woman I get physical with either. On the other hand, I would prefer to be the only male partner of my "primary." (Christ, did I just use that word in a serious context?) But if I apply that kind of double standard, I'm all too aware that I'm making it even more impossible of finding someone. Seriously, just thinking about this gives me a headache.

Of course, this leads me to the easiest solution: Threesomes! I spent a lot of years pursuing an MFF threesome in my previous relationships. I love the idea of two girls together. I love the idea of having my way with both of them. The idea of them focusing solely on me doesn't come to mind right away, but I love that, too. Well, I finally got my threesome in my last relationship -- two of them, in fact -- and I enjoyed it immensely. After all those years of doggedly trying to reach the holy grail, I had proof that my efforts were not in vain. And given the chance, I would absolutely do it again. The experience of having sex with someone I'm committed to yet having their permission to cheat is fucking amazing, especially when both things are happening at the same time. And afterwards I found myself even more deliriously in love with my girlfriend for giving me such a wonderful experience. Seriously, it didn't get any better than that!

And I guess that's what I hope to find here: an attractive (meaning HWP, too!), sensual, intelligent, well-rounded, open-minded, happy-go-lucky bisexual girl who will have occasional MFF threesomes with me. It would also be best that she enjoy traveling abroad, not want any kids, smell like fresh-baked chocolate chip cookies and ride a unicorn to work every day.

Anybody know a girl like that? Anybody?

Yeah, that's what I thought.


This Is Not A Victory

Finally, after years of being bullied, I stood up to Jon Bell.

We were occupying a double-wide mobile home located in the rural edges of Carson City during that time. After being evicted from our last residence – an ugly turn of events that was all thanks to Jon, my mother’s long-term boyfriend, a mean drunk and equal-opportunity manipulator – it was the best thing we could find at a moment’s notice. We were only two miles west of where we used to live, but those two miles made all the difference in the world. We might as well have lived in another state. I couldn’t even call 911 when Jon was on a hellish rampage because we would be directed to the Douglas County Police Department, which had no authority in Carson City. I had to memorize the direct line to the Carson City Sheriff’s Office for those times when things got really bad. Sometimes I had to give them directions to our place.

It’s odd to think about what situation designated a need for police intervention. After dealing with Jon for a decade and slowly watching my mother give in to his demands and abuses simply because she was too tired to resist, it was easy to become all too desensitized to the continuous drama. I kept my door closed and my music loud whenever they started their shouting matches. I would only step in when my mother felt like the situation was about to get out of hand. I would hear her scream through the walls, “Justin! Justin! Justin!” It was always three times, each time with more urgency than before, usually followed by a guttural yell unleashed by Jon. Calling on me to play referee frustrated him to no end because I was underage, thus untouchable, and he was quite aware that I was the last thing stopping him from completely controlling my mother. He knew he could dominate her, but if he pushed too hard on me, she would suddenly come to her senses and realize how dire our situation truly was with him in our lives.

Jon’s bark was generally worse than his bite. After spending plenty of time in and out of jail cells for any number of misdemeanors and two or three minor felonies, he knew better than to get too rough. Nevada had tough laws on domestic violence, so it was best not to hit your partner. Shouting and psychological bullying were hard to prove and even harder to prevent – especially when you’re so codependent that you continue to forgive and support the same deadbeat who terrorizes you – so those were his weapons of choice. And that motherfucker knew how to use them well.

His threats became more menacing around the time I turned sixteen. I felt as if he were sizing me up in anticipation for the day it would be legal to pummel me without child abuse charges being added to his lengthy rap sheet. He became more aggressive whenever I was called in to referee another epic shouting match gone awry. When he hollered at me these days, he would make sure to be right in my face, his raw, hot breath reeking of his most recent swig of Jack Daniels. I didn’t mind the yelling or the spittle so much as that goddamn breath. It always caused me to flinch. He took that as a sign of weakness, thus inspiring him to go on until he felt he had sufficiently proven his dominance.

Of course, this was bound to happen. With familiarity comes escalation. After years of yelling at us, we were no longer afraid of him. Sure, we dreaded his tantrums, but we also knew that he would only go so far with it. At least that’s what we hoped. After all, Jon had a short fuse and big fists. And when bullies feel like they no longer strike fear into the hearts of their prey, they tend to take desperate measures to protect the status quo.

Now we were isolated out in the boonies of Carson City in a home filled with discord, resentment and loathing. My mother had been worn down by Jon so much that she had all but given up on her interests and friendships; when she reneged on her promise that Jon wouldn’t be moving with us after the eviction, I knew without a doubt that she had given up on me, too. Jon seemed content to drink, work on his truck and keep us walking on pins and needles. By this time I had slowly pulled myself back from the brink of sharing the same fate as my mother and had promised myself to finish school and get the fuck out. I hated home, I hated school, I hated my peers and most of all I hated Jon Bell. It was the first time I started counting the days until I would be gone.

The afternoon I stood up to Jon was like any other. It was mid-October and unseasonably warm. I had been home for about two hours when Jon arrived in a particularly foul mood. My presence alone was enough to set him off, and he proceeded to open up and tell me what exactly he thought about me. I’d usually ignore him and his insults and go back to the sanctuary of my room, but he was on a mission to let me know just how much of a waste of space I was to him and his preferred lifestyle.

All to which I simply rebutted, “Go fuck yourself, Jon.”

Of course, this didn’t go over well, so Jon decided to dig in his heels and amp up the volume. It was obvious that he’d been leaning on the bottle earlier than usual today, and he wasn’t about to back down to the likes of me, especially when another adult wasn’t around to rein him in. No, we were all alone, and this led him to the conclusion that I just might be fair game after all.

He decided to start things off by stomping around the house, in and out of rooms, yelling that I’m worth shit. One minute I would hear him hollering through his bedroom walls that I’m “a cock-sucking sonofabitch,” and then the next he would be in my face screaming that I’m nothing but “a pussy,” “a fuckin’ faggot” and “a momma’s boy.”

At some point he finally blurted out, “If you weren’t underage, I would take you outside and kick your ass!”

I was seventeen years old. Seven months shy of independence yet old enough to be tired of this life. Old enough to be tired of Jon Bell.

This had been going on for a decade – a fucking decade. And for what? Fear and anger had matured me into a sensible young man, but at what cost? My childhood? My home? My mother’s love? Hadn’t I given up enough for this parasite? What more did this abusive, co-dependent piece of shit need from me! Fuck this!

“That’s it, Jon!” I screamed back, my voice becoming unexpectedly shrill. I sounded like a young banshee trying to master its screech, but the tone was nothing to laugh at. “You wanna go, asshole, LET’S GO! Stop using my age as an excuse! If you’re so fuckin’ tough, let’s cut the crap and end it RIGHT NOW!

His bloodshot eyes filled with rage, Jon thrust his face an inch away from mine and shouted, “All right, you little punk, let’s go outside! I’m gonna beat your sorry ass! And I don’t want you crying to your mother when I kick the living shit out of you!”

My face became flushed as my fury boiled over. I wiped his spit off my face and headed to my bedroom.

“Where you going, pussy? Too scared to fight me, you little bitch!”

“No, you fuckin’ prick!” I responded coldly. “I’m putting on my shoes.”

And I was. Jon wore steel-toed boots for his job as a fence builder. The toughest thing I had were my pair of sneakers, but it was better than going at him barefoot. No way in hell was I giving him any advantage once we took it outside. This was it. This was the end. No more hiding, no more backing down to the likes of this monster. If Jon wanted a fight, he was going to get a goddamn fight. And he better put me in a coma or kill me. Those were his only options as far as I was concerned.

Otherwise, I was going to kill him.

This wasn’t a joke. I wasn’t playing the overzealous teenager who wished everyone would go away and leave him alone. As I slipped on my shoes, I realized how much this one malicious, self-destructive, miserable individual had destroyed my life, my family, my home. That was going to stop today. I would exact my revenge, and there was no doubt in my mind that his blood was going to spill.

My mind raced through the possibilities, and I knew it was best to keep it simple: Knock him on the ground and take a rock to his skull. And. Don’t. Stop. Don’t stop until you can’t recognize who he is anymore. Don’t you dare stop until his face is crushed so badly that the police will have to use his fingerprints to identify the body. Got it?

Got it. I was ready to do this.

I was ready because I decided in that instant that I was no longer going to live in fear of anyone, especially not him. Jon Bell’s reign of terror was up. All I knew these past six months was hate. This hideous animosity had devoured every other emotion inside my heart, and I no longer had any space left for dread. All I wanted now was to unleash this hatred with my fists and claws and a howl that would break glass and shatter eardrums. Only then would I get a chance to free myself of his misery.

Fuck the consequences, I was going to dance on his grave.

“You ready, Jon?” I roared out. “This ends today!”

“You know what, Justin? Fuck this! You’re not worth it, you fuckin’ punk!”

I stormed out of my room only to witness Jon slamming the front door. I walked over to the living room window to watch him get in his truck and take off. He peeled out of the driveway, the beat-up engine thundering as he stepped on the accelerator.

That was that. I had won.

I won the fight without a single swing.

And all I had to do was call his bluff.

I sat on the couch. I tried to collect my thoughts, take this moment in and remember every detail, but all I could do was shake. My temples pounded, my heart raced and I suddenly felt sick. This hate inside me didn’t get to feed, and now it was mutating into something else, something all too familiar:


It was as if something had broken inside me. I didn’t get my opportunity. Vengeance was denied, and I was once again lost, confused and completely terrified.

Only this time I wasn’t afraid of Jon.

I was afraid of me.

What the fuck had just happened here? I was ready to kill Jon without a second thought. I had allowed this hatred to consume me to the point where I had backed myself into a corner. I had made it so that there was no other escape. Somewhere along the line I had purposely arranged it so that it would come down to him or me. I had made myself believe that this was the only way to freedom.

But now that I had gotten so close to that reality, it didn’t feel right at all. I wasn’t a killer. I didn’t have a hard heart, a black soul or ice in my veins. I had been harvesting my anger for months, but I had been using it to concentrate on escaping this dead-end existence, to build up the nerve to pick up and go when the time came and have the courage to leave all my worries and troubles behind. I couldn’t afford to squander my rage like this and lose my head. If I did that, I’d never make it out of here. Even worse, I would become the one thing I promised I never would be:

Jon Bell.

With that simple, harsh and blindingly obvious insight, my vision quickly blurred. The tears came fast and hard, and the sobs soon followed. I admonished myself for being so goddamn ignorant. I had stood up to Jon thinking that I was asserting my independence, but it turned out that I had been trained by him all too well.

I feared myself.

I hated myself.

I had Jon to thank for it, but I knew that I had also allowed it to happen. In the end, I had no one to blame but myself.

So, yeah, I stood up to Jon Bell that afternoon. It took a lot of nerve, too.

But I certainly wouldn’t call it a victory.


The Emerald Isle

She loved Ireland.

She loved Ireland for no good reason at all.

Sure, she spoke wistfully of the relaxed atmosphere of a small-town Irish pub on a rainy afternoon. She waxed poetic of climbing the steps of ancient castles and hearing her footsteps echo off stone walls that had known both royalty and ruin. She could spend nights regaling me of her wild experiences across the pond, but that wouldn’t even begin to scrape the surface of her infatuation.

That’s because her stories weren’t genuine.

Yes, yes, I knew she had been to Ireland several times. I knew that she loved the people, the dialects, the attitude, the general joi de vivre. I knew all these things, but I could never tell what made her fall in love with the place. She would tell me fantastic tales of drunken revelries and sobering epiphanies . . . but what foreign land doesn’t make you do that? Those were by-the-numbers, run-of-the-mill postcard anecdotes that any tourist could deliver to their friends back home. I wanted something more.

I wanted the truth.

To be honest, I initially believed that she loved Ireland simply because it was Ireland. I understood that it was rumored to be a land of forgotten magic and lost secrets. From what I could piece together, it was a world where legacy and legend were united as one. The closest she came to hinting at this was when she described how green it was over there. She once told me that it was the only place in the world where she had seen one color run absolutely wild with abandon – a color so vivid and lovely and bright that it wrapped you up in a warmth all its own. When she informed me in all seriousness that Irish green was the color of camaraderie and kindness, I finally got a glimpse of how much her heart belonged to the Emerald Isle.

Alas, I couldn’t relate. I had never been to Ireland – never even felt the need to visit, really – and we both knew that I would never truly understand her passion until I’d seen it for myself. Thing is, I didn’t care about Ireland. I didn’t care about its rich heritage or the "eat, drink and be merry" attitude that possessed its countrymen. I imagined Ireland as being too settled in for my tastes. When I traveled abroad, I wanted culture shock. I didn’t want a rowdy pub experience; I wanted third-world border crossings where everyone spoke broken English and I needed to bribe the customs officer to stamp my passport. I wanted to be the only white guy in the room, not the only sober white guy.

I would never tell her that, though. It’s not like I was opposed to Ireland. It just wasn't on the top of my list. That’s why I wanted to understand her love for the country. I wanted to know what it was about the island that captured her heart. More important than purchasing a flight there for myself, I wanted to know everything about the land as she perceived it. Only then could I possibly understand how to make her feel the same way about me.

Only then would I know how to steal her heart for myself.


Lady Luck

The best night I ever spent in Las Vegas entailed hanging out with a married woman at a porn shop.

This was in late February 2005. My friend Jamie was twenty years old at the time. She had always been a girl who erred on the side of spontaneity. Thus, the recent marriage. And the cashier gig at the porn shop. And the unusual tattoos and piercings.

I last saw Jamie in April 2004. I was in Vegas on business for two weeks at The Venetian. The first time we met in person, she had long hair dyed bright red, a piercing on the bridge on her nose and not a trace of ink anywhere on her body. She was also single. When I strolled into Fantasy World – a porn shop so brightly lit that it could probably be spotted from space – eight months later, I was completely shocked by the new look: short black hair, three lip rings on the bottom lip, a bullring in her nose and tattoos on her arms made to look like autopsy stitches. (I was quickly informed that there were five other tattoos that remained to be seen.) Simply, What the hell happened?

As I quickly discovered, nothing much. This was Jamie – wild, boisterous and impulsive. Even if she looked completely different from the girl I first met over sushi, it was still her. No matter how she presented herself, that killer smile, sweet laugh and those wide, attentive eyes would give her away every time. Fifteen minutes into our conversation, all reservations, hesitations and condemnations had been vanquished.

I spent the next four hours with Jamie at the cash register. In between ringing up purchases, we caught each other up on our recent trials and tribulations. I told her that I had broken up with my girlfriend yet was certain that we would wind up getting back together somewhere down the road. She told me about how she had gotten married on a whim one random night when she was at home with her boyfriend. Our conversation stretched on to two hours, then three, and finally I decided to rent a hotel room nearby so we could stay out as late as we wanted once her shift ended. Also, I could still get a good night’s rest and be prepared for the long trip back to Chicago. She was free to leave at midnight, so we hopped into my car and went off in search of accommodations.

It turned out that every room in Vegas was booked that night. No joke. We must have stopped at twenty casinos with the hope of finding a room. We were turned away every time. Upscale, moderate, seedy – nothing, nada, zip. At one point I bluntly asked a desk clerk, "What the hell is going on this weekend?" Her best guess was a convention, but she didn't know what it was for. 4-H? Promise Keepers? Swingers? Tropicana Girls, Celine Dion Fan Club Reunion, Wayne Newton Effigy . . . no one had the slightest clue as to why Vegas was filled to capacity that night.

If that wasn't bizarre enough, I also ran out of gas on Boulder Highway. I'd clocked thousands upon thousands of miles on the road these past few years, and this was a first. Fortunately, there’s a gas station every twenty feet in Las Vegas, so it wasn't difficult to solve this problem. Jamie got behind the wheel while I got out and pushed my 1997 Nissan Altima through a vast intersection on a four-lane highway in Sin City. I had trouble breathing and pushing the car through the ridiculously wide left hand turn lane because I was laughing so hard.

I was able to give the car enough momentum for Jamie to steer it into an empty parking lot directly across from a 7-Eleven. She put it in park, and we strolled over to the convenience store. I purchased a gas can and used it to fill up the empty tank. When I finished, I put the cap on the gas can and threw it in the trunk. (It didn’t cross my mind to refill it just in case I ran into this problem again say, oh, twenty miles east of Amarillo, Texas thirty-six hours later. Not kidding.) I turned around to find Jamie standing right in front of me, just inches away. We were both smiling. At the situation, at each other.

I reached out and took her hands in mine. I leaned down and kissed her firmly on the mouth. It felt like the right thing to do. She leaned into me to confirm it.

The Nissan idling in the background, we shared a deep, passionate kiss that seemed to last an eternity in this empty parking lot across from the 7-Eleven. When we finished, we stared at each other again. We were still wearing those devious smiles, but now there was a hint of anxiety keeping them frozen in place.

“I've wanted to do that since April," I told her.

"Me, too," she replied.

"It's probably for the best that I can't find a hotel room."

"Yeah, it is."

"I don't want to ruin anything for you, Jamie."

"I know. You're not."


We got back into the car and drove around for the next few hours. South to Boulder City then north to Mt. Charles. We found sanctuary in the long stretch of empty freeway that guided us through the sprawling neon oasis cursed by high hopes and terminal insomnia. As long as we kept moving, we were relatively safe. We drove and chatted comfortably about the chemistry and attraction we shared. We spoke of our desires and worries and how much they seemed to be intertwined tonight.

We held hands the entire time.

At sunrise I dropped her back off at work so she could pick up her car. I gave her a kiss on the cheek and told her that I wished I didn’t have to go so soon. Or that she could come with me on the road. She studied me with those wide, wonderful eyes and smiled sweetly in return.

I watched her drive away. I thought about her heading home to love. I thought about how home and love were likely one and the same to her. It was a happy thought, one that seemed to lift my spirits.

I headed south again on Boulder Highway. After staying awake all night, I was exhausted. I pulled into a casino parking lot and curled up in the backseat. I fell asleep thinking of Jamie and all the strange possibilities that stemmed from this one peculiar night in the middle of the desert. No images accompanied the music in my dreams. In the darkness I could only hear Powderfinger's "(Baby, I've Got You) On My Mind" repeating over and over again.

I awoke three hours later in a sweat. Because I didn’t crack the windows, the sun was broiling me in the backseat. I opened the door and savored the soft breeze that greeted me. Reveling in the coolness of the shady asphalt on my bare feet, I sat hunched over in the backseat and wondered if last night was all just a dream. Did the events of the past twelve hours really happen? It almost didn't seem possible at 10:30 a.m. on this warm and sunny day in late February.

They say that what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas. But what do you do when what happens is so fantastic that you're not sure it really happened at all? In this city of one-armed bandits and suicide kings, it was probably best to forget the odds and trust your gut. That way, even if you lost the hand, you could still walk away knowing that you played your cards right.

No, it wasn't a dream. That was obvious – I had a gas can to prove it. Nor was it magic. It was just another hand on the table of life. Even if I couldn't tip the odds completely in my favor this time around, I was still lucky enough to walk away with a little bit more than I had started out with. I had a memory, this incredible moment in time that now belonged to me.

Now I just needed to get out of town before the House could take it all back.


Jennifer E. - A True Story

Walking out of a Best Buy to my car, my mother passes me a piece of paper with the name Jennifer E. and two phone numbers written on it.

"What's this?" I ask.

"It's a girl I met at work. Her name's Jennifer. She's really cute."

My mother is a nurse. She currently acts as a floater, working in numerous hospitals in Reno whenever one is in need a substitute caregiver. I'm guessing that in preparation for my month-long homecoming, she's been spreading the word about how handsome/smart/polite/creative/adventurous/heroic/house-trained her son is and . . . oh, my, wouldn't you know it – he's single!

"What's the matter?" she asks, noticing that I'm looking at her in disbelief.

No, I'm not concerned that my mother is trying to get me a date with any number of cute candy-stripers in the northern Nevada region. I can appreciate the thought. I'm worried that she might have gotten these phone numbers in a more nefarious manner than gabbing about her wholesome, respectable, law-abiding, well-adjusted son. (Where does she get this shit?)

"Who is this?" I ask.

"She's a CNA I work with. I met her last night. Why?"

Why? Because I'm worried this girl might be occupying a bed in the Burned Victim's Unit with first-degree burns over 78% of her body and sucking green JELL-O through a straw, that's why!

"She better not be some girl you met in the ER."

"What does that mean?"

"Oh, nothing. I just want to make sure that this isn't some poor, unsuspecting girl who suffered head trauma and gave you her numbers thinking they were for insurance purposes."

"Nooooooooo!" my mother protests with a long laugh. "Jesus, Justin, you're such a little shit!"

Yeah, Mom, I bet you tell that to all the girls.

"I told you, she works at the hospital," she continues. "I met her last night and told her about you. She said she likes guys who chill with their mothers."

What! This is likely the only time I plan on seeing my mom during this visit, and now we're chillin' together? How wonderful! Move over, Norman, the Bates Motel is under new management!

"Oh, no!" I exclaim.


"She used the 'C' word."

"What? 'Chill?'"


"What's wrong with 'chill?'" she asks.

I begin ranting, "Mom, do I look like I fuckin' chill? Am I chillin'likeavillain? Do I look like Chill Master McG here?"

She starts laughing at my little tirade.

"What are you talking about? I don't get it!" she says in between loud chuckles (with a few snorts thrown in for good measure).

"It's a long story. Let's just say I went out with a 'Chiller.' Didn't really go anywhere."

"What happened?"

"She drank beer on the back porch all day and sported a bullring."

"A what?"

"A bullring! You know, a hoop that goes right through the nostrils. A goddamn bullring!"

"What! No!"

"Yep. I asked if she had a brand to go with it."

My mother is laughing so hard that my car is shaking.

"Don't laugh too hard, Mom. You might have a heart attack."

"Hey, don't say that to your mother!” she scolds between more guffaws.

"Why not? If anything happens, I can take you to the ER. Finally meet Jennifer E. Make a date while they're giving you a jumpstart."

Now she's roaring with laughter.

"Oh, you are a little shit!"

Yeah, Mom, now I'm certain you say that to all the girls.