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An Excerpt

I’ve had several requests from people I care about to show an excerpt from my #NaNoWriMo2016 manuscript, “Behind The Waterfalls”.  It’s a draft, so it won’t be perfect, but the setting in Chicago will be familiar to several choir people.  Here it is:

[Thus, the decision to put the parts of the gun into two fast food bags and one fast food cup and then into his string backpack.  He’d go for a quick run before breakfast.  He knew he’d have to report to breakfast by 7:30 so the director could ‘see his face’ and know that they were all on schedule for the morning.  There was time for a 25-minute jog along the morning streets of Chicago.  He’d go nowhere near last night’s street.  He’d throw his trash away, as if he had stopped for a snack while exercising.  A very American thing to do, after all.  Consume calories in order to burn calories.  Why else did we, as gym fanatics, take a 600 calorie gatorade on the treadmill with us?  At a brisk walk on the treadmill, with no incline (that hurts too much), the average member burned almost 400 calories an hour.  If they drank the entire gatorade, they’d have a net gain of 200 calories, if they managed to walk the entire hour.  

“Get back on task, Davis,” he muttered to himself.  Millard snored in the next bed.  He’d wanted to hear the whole story, but Davis told him ‘no, let’s rest first; it’ll be clearer in the morning’.  Which it already was, technically, but Millard had acquiesced, his eyes drooping, hands trembling.

Davis dressed quickly after the shower.  He pulled on his baggy basketball shorts in University of North Carolina colors, a ratty tank top that he’d really only brought along for lounging in the room after curfew, and his trusty ASICS running shoes.  He grabbed his string bag and key card, slid out of the room and quietly closed the door on the snoring Millard.

6:42.  Plenty of time to run out to the Navy Pier and drop the three parts of criminality along the way.  He’d return with a lighter string bag, a lighter conscience, and a new plan for downplaying the drama to Millard.  There was a chill in the air when he stepped through the revolving door of the hotel.  Humidity off Lake Michigan always made the wind cold, except in the month of two of summer when yearlong denizens welcomed the break.  Davis had never been to Chicago in the summer, and after this trip, had no plans to ever come back.  If he got away with THIS, he’d count his lucky stars and keep his head down.  As he warmed up, he was able to trot a little faster.  Once he got past the main street’s stoplights, it was a clear shot along the storefronts to the beginnings of the Navy Pier structure.  In truth, he had little idea why the place had Navy in the name.  Had he read even one plaque along the walkway, he’d have realized it was a landlocked training area for the Navy.  A cheaper one, especially for the boys who enlisted from the Great Lakes area.  Why, the Navy figured, put them all on trains down to an actual ocean when a third of them would fail basic training?  Fail them close to home, was the motto of the Navy way back when.

He only saw a few other people out at this time of the morning.  Most of the hard-core runners had been out and back home already.  Professionals started early so the runners had, for the most part, to be done and on their way by 6:30 so they could get to the office by 7.  Lots of the suits, as he thought of them, had strapped themselves into those jobs and it was their own fault.  He had no sympathy for them.  Davis’ plan was to get through this piddly high school shit, get to a 2-year college, and then be on his own way with his business brilliance.  He didn’t really think he needed any business training at all, but he agreed with his parents that he WOULD go get a 2-year degree (he’d negotiated them down from a 4-year Bachelor’s Degree – already winning in the negotiation department) just so they wouldn’t worry about him quite so much.  Trash cans dotted the pier and had little attention.  None of the cans was overflowing, but none looked completely empty, either.  Perfect for his needs.  He stopped to stretch near a cement bollard, a relic of the Navy, that had a trashcan in a metal permanent structure right next to it.

As he stretched his hamstring, which vibrated slightly from the chill, the adrenaline, and the effort, he casually unslung his bag.  Loosening the top, he reached in and grabbed the soda cup.  Although he was tempted to just get it over with and throw all three things in the same trash, he stopped himself.  He took only the cup and placed in well into the lip of the metal trash can holder, and saw the cup slide down the internal bag, resting with several other brands of fast food bags and cups.  ‘No one could ever tell there was a magazine of bullets in that cup unless they had a metal detector’, he thought, satisfied.  He trotted on, aiming for a distant can and bollard combo.  Reaching his intended target, he stretched the other hamstring, unslung the bag, and threw away the first of two small fast food bags.  This bag was the heaviest and bulkiest of the three because it contained the body of the beretta M9.  It was a calculated risk.  But still his best option.

“Hey, man, you ain’t throwin away any breakfast, now are ya?” he heard from behind him.

He turned, startled, “Oh, shit, man, you scared me!  Nah, I -” Davis said.

“Cuz I could sure use some hot food this morning, even warm food after that night.  It’s COLD out here now; summer’s over,” said the guy.  The guy looked homeless but harmless.  He had several layers of jackets on topped by an old Nike windbreaker.  The kind of windbreaker runners used to have back in the ‘90’s.

“Nah, man, I just brought my bag and got to thinking it was heavy and so I looked into it and realized I had a bunch of fast food trash in there.  It shouldn’t weigh that much, but damn, it was slowin’ me down,” Davis chuckled, unconsciously matching his speech rate and language to the guy’s own.  “If I had any money with me, I’d give you some.  I agree this is cold.  It’s my last morning here with the high school group.  We’re headed back west in a couple hours and I wanted one last look at this amazing view.  This sure seems like the ocean to ME; I’ve never seen anything so big.  The biggest water I’ve ever seen before this is a reservoir – NOT the same.”

“Yeah, you got that right, for sure.  Ok, man, you take care. Maybe next time bring some food or some money – I could sure use some right now, like I said,” his last comment as Davis turned to trot off.

Davis resisted the urge to turn around and see if the guy believed his story about the fast food or not.  Resisted turning to see if his plant would go unnoticed, or the entire story would unravel, right then and there.  Had he looked, he’d have seen the homeless guy, an Iraq war veteran, holding the open bag and looking down at what was surely a familiar weapon, one that the entire US Army carried as an officer sidearm.  Davis didn’t know that his whole sham had begun to unravel right at that point.

He wouldn’t know, in fact, until he got all the way back to his hometown, an unassuming small town on the edge of the Flint Hills of Kansas.  The third gun part dropoff maneuver was successful, the shower and cleanup and packing was normal, and he even made it to breakfast where he had to show his face to the director before her headcount was satisfied.  The bus trip home, while dull and monotonous, was without incident.  Millard had kept his distance once Davis explained that the only way to play it cool was to play it cool.  Hang with other friends; eat with a slightly different group on the way back.  It wasn’t as if ALL the students weren’t friends with EVERYone.  It was one big happy family, after all.  Millard had hung around with a few of the other tenors, and that group typically had a few sopranos (second sopranos, naturally; the first sopranos kept to themselves) that seemed happy to get to first base, but got quickly offended when a hand’s journey took itself to the upper slopes of a breast.  ‘So it goes’, Davis thought.  ‘Better that Millard gets frustrated in that pursuit than getting no answers from me’.

As they drove the last few miles to the high school, Davis mapped out his plan for the day.  He’d go home, dump his stuff, change into his self-prescribed uniform of shorts and flip-flops and go get some chips, roller meat, and a huge Coke from Casey’s.  It’d been long enough since he had freedom of movement without having to get approval from the choir director, or the bus driver, or one of the chaperones that constantly dogged their steps.  ‘Chicago can go screw.  I’m ready for some “me time”’ he silently pronounced.  Thumped his chest quietly as a tribute to himself.

“Uh, students, I need your attention for a minute.  Students?  Hey, students! Listen up,” said the choir director’s initially calm then strident voice.  “We have a problem.  There has, apparently, been some sort of citywide unrest that happened while we’ve been away.  I have NO idea what happened, all I know is that the bus is about to be stopped at a roadblock.  It looks like police or some kind of law enforcement officials are standing ready to get on the bus and see who is onboard.  Now, don’t worry, I will stop them from coming all the way on.  But please make sure you have shoes on and can produce some kind of ID if they ask.  I’m sure it’s nothing, but just to be on the safe side, just sit quietly while I and the bus driver go out and talk to them, ok?” she finished.

Dread crossed both Millard’s and Davis’s face.  How they found out so quickly is anyone’s guess.  Little did they know that the officials were after much bigger fish.  One little murder in Chicago was not even remotely on their radar.]


We Have Room For 3 – #refugeeswelcome

Could someone please put me in touch with whomever is coordinating the Syrian refugee invitations to stay in the US?  We have room for 3. 

800,000 refugees – my brain simply cannot make sense of how many people that is. Almost three times the population of Wichita. 32 times the size of my hometown Hastings, NE. That’s a LOT of people. 

Also, have you looked at a map of the walking journey most of these people have taken to get OUT of Syria and INTO Europe proper?? It’s a really long way, and it is already muddy, cold, and not always friendly. The kind of unfriendly that, even IF you had money left (and hadn’t spent it bribing your way not a bus or train or across a quickly-closing border), people didn’t want to sell you water. Or food. 

I am sure that not every single one of those refugees is a cheery, pure-hearted person determined to make MY life better by coming to America to pursue a dream, or at the very least, take up residence in a building that has NO chance of blowing up in the next few weeks. 

I am also sure I will be inconvenienced more than once by offering 3 of them a place to stay and food to eat and a piece of clothing or two. 

But, geez, I know it’s the right thing to do. So that is our offer. Room for 3 – and we’ll work out the details as we go. 

Also, does anyone have Rosetta Stone for Arabic (Arabic, right?)?  If so, loan it to me for a while. We might need it. 


Spiritually Comfortable

I do not know why I do or do not feel spiritually comfortable at different times in my day.   I noticed, though, in church the other day, after not going for a while, that I was uncomfortable.

I am turning 50 years old; I should have all this figured out.  I know I am not trying hard enough.  I know I do not crack open my Bible (hardly ever) to seek comfort from God’s word.  I should have a routine that protects me from the tough things life will throw at me.  Our marriage should be insulated.  Our children should be protected from harm.  I should tithe 10 percent.  I should have extra money left over to give as my heart leads.  I should rail against the moral erosion of this country.  I should decry the politicization of caring for the poor, homeless, downtrodden, hungry, pregnant, ostracized population of our fine country.  I know, when I sing, that my heart is not truly abandoned; I have not accepted that Jesus paid it all, and all I owe to Him.  I do not embrace the chorus with true peace and acceptance.  I should be glad (and not judgmental) that all those other sinners are in church with me, even though I know what their particular brand of sin is.  (Am I not just a little better than them, if compared side to side?).  I feel like a hypocrite inside the walls of the church.

I hear ALL of that.  All those voices clamor in my head to chase me away from a place where I can meet God spiritually.  The easy answer is that Satan has established a foothold in my mind.  This is surely true – and I do not have the right ‘god’ on the throne I worship.  C.S. Lewis said in “The Screwtape Letters” that all the devil has to do is to get us thinking about how the other worshippers sound when they sing, or what they are wearing, or what they smell like (I paraphrase, of course, but that is the gist).  The easy answer is that when I “pray about it”, it will go away and I can have peace with my savior.  The easy answer is that as soon as I “turn my life over to God”, all things will be made clear, my path will be made straight, the rough places planed.

I know all the pat, rote, memorized answers.  They worked for me for many years.

God and I are still a team.  Jesus and I are still together.  We lately just need a different venue to meet effectively.

By contrast, when I step onto the ancient, timeless, accepting earth of Ghost Ranch, I feel peace.  When I walk the trails, even the easy ones (especially the easy ones) that Ghost Ranch has to offer, I feel healing and hope and promise.  Those voices that drown my Zen (probably an oxymoron; at the very least a contradiction in terms) in church are not speaking to me out there.  I started my latest re-invention of self out there last spring.  It was quite possibly the only place where I could have found that much truth about myself and what I needed to face my future.  I awoke on my 49th birthday to a cold, clear desert air that filled my lungs with a purity I have rarely known.  I faced myself to realize what impact I HAVE had and what impact I have NOT had (Zuzu’s petals!) on my sphere of influence.

My realization to share with you is that God never changes how much he loves me.  He never changes.  He always loves me.



Safe words to use about God.

My discomfort in a church building is because I hear voices (old tapes) that are not God talking and are not what God is trying to get me to hear.  My comfort in the wildness of Ghost Ranch is not because God is more present but rather that there are fewer distractions to muddy the audio.

I do not presume to tell you how to find spiritual comfort.  I can only (barely) tell you where I find a quantum of solace.  Ironic that Daniel Craig’s Bond found a quantum of solace only after he killed the bad guy, as revenge for the good people killed.  I use the phrase not as a killer, but as a seeker.  A seeker on a pilgrimage.

Like a sign post.  Cartographers of old said, “Here there be Dragons”.

Here (where is that for you?)… There be Peace.

Finding Home Run Pizza

Our son recently asked Grandma and Grandpa if we could go to Home Run Pizza.  This restaurant was a staple of our early visits to Bartlesville, OK.  They had a buffet, and basic salad bar, and would make pizza to the specifics of the customer asking.  It was not a huge place, it was not a chain, and the pizza was just what Jacob loved.  We had not gone there in years, so it was fun and nostalgic that he asked if we could go there.  Jacob, being the middle child, does not ask for much, and when he does ask, it is not very loud.

It turns out that Home Run pizza had closed some time ago.  The question really being asked was, ‘can we go somewhere to eat pizza, laugh, enjoy each other’s company, and relive old times’?  Although no one said that exact phrase out loud, the sentiment that pulls us together through history is an unseen, yet urgent, current in the river of our lives. Can we recapture the sepia of our youth?

Friends who shared a weekend at the lake – they never forget what happened, who did what, how much fun it was, the campfires and stories into the night.  Camping trips up into the mountains – do you still remember what you gave up to get what you gained?  We traded comfort for challenge and accomplishment.  The policy at Philmont Scout Ranch is to ‘human sump’ the dinner dishes – basically swirl water in our cooking pot after cooking and then drink that water. The thought of that gross water ruining the taste of dinner will never go away.  Did it get cold at night? A few of us camped by the Great Sand Dunes one January to commemorate Pike’s journey through that area200 years earlier.  We slept with our water bottles so we would have water, and not ice, in the morning.  Did a tent pole break?  My lover had to repair a tent pole with Band-Aids once so we could put the tent up in New Mexico.  A grin unchains my face at the memory of those times.

We all remember once in a lifetime trips; those are understandable.  Paris in July with the sun setting through the Arc de Triomphe?  Amsterdam at the Anne Frank House with on a cool, sunny morning?  The high-speed train (224 km/h – seems fast) between Koln and Paris – we repeat to this day what I said THAT day, ‘wow, this baby HAULS’?  The indescribable power of the water over the Falls at Niagara?  ALL of those memories are indelible – a reference point to take one back in an instant.  Surely you have a stuffed accordion file of these same recollections.

Perhaps you have read or listened to someone describe the approach to filling your life with the “fill this jar with rocks, pebbles, sand, and water” allegory.  Only a few huge rocks fit (God, family, work), then some pebbles fit (friends, outreach, neighbors), sand (hobbies, diet, exercise), top off with water (breathing, storytelling, video games).  Your jar is not truly full until the water has risen to the top.  Listeners are amazed that they can fit so much into their lives when they decide what size rock each thing in their life should be.

A request for Home Run Pizza is a hearkening to the smaller stones of our lives – the ones you pour into the jar AFTER you put the biggest building blocks of your life in.   It calls us to think of the daily joys we share together.  It is not the grandiose, or the majestic, or the life-defining memory.  By its very normalcy, this indeed is the sinew that builds our family, our ties, and our love for each other.  Once we find a point of commonality, our tribe – be it blood relatives or friends – uses that memory as cement or bungee cord or twine or superglue to pull closer and grow stronger.

Our visit was full of enduring traditions; we like sitting in the TV room watching movies that we choose together, having dinner in the dining room, sharing a few gifts.  We did clear new ground for growth – we finally went to the Phillips 66 Museum where grandpa worked for many years.  There is a picture of him with his crew of aviation gas salesman and the planes they flew to reach their customer base.  It is good for the grandkids to see what their people have done.  He is from that generation that will never bring it up, let alone brag about it.

I cannot help but think that when we passed on the opportunity to find a NEW pizza place with the grandparents, we may have missed a chance at a new tradition.  If, per chance, a voice asks about that ‘old pizza place we used to go to’, perhaps we should listen.

It could fill the jar in a whole new way.

What Humble means

I try not to be too serious, but I think sometimes that’s bad for me. At my place on the trail, in my 40’s,
it can’t be all fun and games and jokes. I have 3 marvelous children. Marvelous – as in I marvel at them. Whether they think so or not, they look to/at me for guidance and direction and approval. I matter to them, and what they do matters to me.

So, I resolve this year to be a student of humility. I need to work harder, do the ‘big-talker’ thing less, but at the same time, make my words mean something. Clete Doyal once said, in a sermon, “the richest heads of barley hang lowest to the ground.”

Keep an eye on me; help me out.

A Different New Year

Hey, so here is the standard “Happy New Year”! Ok, now get to work.

We are all 5 of us at home laughing at possible ring tones that you can download for free. Angie is an addict to Facebook now. Jacob and I are going running in the morning. We had a great dinner at the Chinese Buffet tonight; open until 9:30. He said, “Sure we’re open, come on in, buddy!” pretty neat!

Ok, that’s all I got…

Propensity for wadding

That is what my wife said she had. The coupons on the table looked like trash; and she crumpled them up to throw them away.
Which reminds me of our high school prom. I was helping the cool girls because I was a ‘provisional’ member (dating one of the cool girls). I picked up trash, crumpled it, and weathered their outraged screams while I found out that I’d crumpled a carefully cut out letter for the prom theme, Almost Paradise. Who knew? At that point, I became a ‘probationary provisional’ member of the cool club.
Oh, well.