Four on the deck

“Four on the deck?” the host asks.
“Um, well, we’d rather sit inside, actually.”
“Four on the deck?” he asks again, pointedly.
“No, it’s raining and cold. And we can see lots of empty tables inside.”
“Four.On.The.Deck?”
“Um…OK.”

We were hungry, and hung over. We were also cold and wet and exhausted. And now insecure, offended and confused. What just happened? We hung our heads and dutifully followed him outside to the lone, sad table the deck. At least it was partly under an awning. The rest of the tables had chairs flipped upside down on top of them; the deck was clearly not open. As we walked through the restaurant to our outcast table, all eyes were on us. It felt like a movie scene, where the music and talking stopped as a spotlight appeared above us.

This treatment came at the end of a short camping trip, and apparently our reputation had preceded us. The four of us had piled in Julie’s Buick Special, loaded with the essentials – an absorbent army tent, and several coolers of beer. Judging by our hairstyles, Deano had been dating Dominic (a stylist) for some time. 80’s spiral perms and processed orange highlights were replaced with slick, bold cuts and shocking color choices. We thought we were so cool.

By all accounts, we were the worst campers. We were loud, obnoxious, and intoxicated. We spent the day at the beach drinking beer and frolicking in the water. Deano was mooning us via hand stands in the water. We found some floating logs and took turns trying to sit or stand on them, to various degrees of failure. I had a moment of clarity at one point late in the day when I realized we were not the only four on the beach. It was packed with people, many of them children. When did that happen? We were in our own world, and while it was a blast for us, I’m sure the rest of the campers viewed it differently.

Back at our campsite we needed a few items. Mainly ice for the beer. Maybe a hunk of bread to soak up some alcohol. So the boys went into town. They were gone longer than we expected and had a strange look when they returned.

“What happened? Where is the ice?”
“We don’t want to talk about it.”

To this day, I am sure I don’t have the full story. They went to a local bar, made best friends with the owner and a few patrons, but then something went wrong. It had something to do with them being gay, but that is all I know.

We woke up to pouring rain and in a puddle of water in the absorbent tent and decided to head home early, stopping for breakfast on the way.

Four on the deck?

It’s easy to say this was discrimination against gays, but we have to also accept the fact that gay or straight, we were inconsiderate assholes. It could also be the case that the host at the restaurant had no idea of our previous antics and was discriminating solely based on appearance and odor.

Over the years, we have used the expression “four on the deck” countless times to describe any situation in which we feel outcast, isolated or discriminated against. Or we are seated at a bad table at a restaurant. It has become a joke, but on that day it felt real.

I grew up in a mid-sized city in central Minnesota. Of our high school graduating class of over 300, not one was “out.” I met Deano at college in the same city; we lived on the same floor of a co-ed dorm. He had a girlfriend. He and I hit it off immediately. He didn’t come out to me until years later, after he had moved to Minneapolis. We went out for drinks at Liquor Lyles. Located in Uptown, Minneapolis, Liquor Lyles had red vinyl booths, a scary back room that we called “The Accused” room (after the Jodie Foster movie) and served fried chicken, pickled herring, and a big block of government cheese for happy hour. The perfect place for such an announcement.

We all suspected he was gay at this point, but he hadn’t come out to any of us. That night he didn’t tell me until we were walking home from the bar and I pushed him into it. Later, he told me how nervous he was about it. I couldn’t understand why he didn’t trust me enough with that information and I was hurt by his lack of faith in me. But he was thinking about the city he had to leave to be himself; the city where I grew up and was still going to college. From his perspective and experience, that conversation may have ended our friendship. I say to anyone – please give the people in your life a chance to know you. The real you. You might lose some, but not the right ones. Deano and I have been friends for 28 years.

LL
Back at school, I wrote about sodomy laws for my senior thesis (like you do.) Specifically I wrote about repealing Minnesota’s sodomy law. I majored in criminal justice and in one of my criminal law classes I read a case where a gay couple in Georgia were convicted of violating Georgia’s sodomy law (they were consenting adults, in their own home) which carried a sentence of up to 20 years in prison. (Bowers v. Hardwick, 1986.) The case went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, who voted 5-4 in favor of Georgia’s sodomy law. One Justice noted the length of the sentence could be considered a violation of the 8th Amendment (against cruel and unusual punishment), but still voted with the majority opinion. I was outraged. This would be my first foray into this amendment; later I became an advocate against the death penalty, which I believe also violates this amendment.

Since I hate public speaking of any kind, I was terrified on the day I had to defend my thesis. But because I was passionate about the topic, had done meticulous research on both sides of the issue, and knew I was right; the fear quickly turned to defense. I was all – bring it on! There are so many misconceptions about sodomy, and an overwhelming consensus that no one wants to even say the word. It’s like George Carlin talking about head cheese (“I can’t even look at the sign!”) If you ever want to make someone uncomfortable in any situation; I recommend using “sodomy” in a sentence. Any sentence.

Sodomy is anal or oral sex between consenting adults (same or opposite sex.) Period. If it’s not consenting, that is a violation of a different law. If it’s in public, that is a violation of a different law (why do some people think gay people only have sex in public?) The laws against sodomy have rarely been enforced against heterosexual couples. In the Bowers case the court ruled that the right to privacy specifically did not extend to consensual homosexual sex. The case was a major blow to the gay rights movement, and not in the good, sodomy way.

Fast forward almost three decades and there’s a completely opposite four on the deck situation. My husband and I are in Hawaii with his daughter and her fiancée (a woman.) This time the deck is THE place to be. It has a killer view of the ocean and it’s warm, inviting and serene. Times have changed, certainly – gay marriage is legal in many states, younger kids feel safer coming out, many public advocates are out and proud, and there are no longer any state laws against sodomy – but discrimination is still alive and well.

View from the deck. Four on the deck?

View from the deck. Four on the deck?

While I’m happy and proud of the progress so far, I look forward to the day when the universal meaning of “four on the deck” is “you are welcomed and accepted here.” Everyone.

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Jury Duty

Oh no. There it is. The dreaded JURY SUMMONS in the mail. They had to put it in all caps, too. On the flip side, in case you don’t get it, it says “OFFICIAL BUSINESS.” Despite all this, many don’t appear at all. They told us this during the selection process. Their first question was, “Why did you come here today?” Um, because I was SUMMONED for OFFICIAL BUSINESS, that’s why. Honestly it never crossed my mind that I could simply blow the whole thing off. And I’m not one to always follow the rules.

This was the third time I have been SUMMONED for OFFICIAL BUSINESS, or SOB. The first time I was working for the ACLU. I knew, and my co-workers confirmed, that I would not be selected – too liberal. To make sure, I spelled out “American Civil Liberties Union” on the questionnaire. I should have capitalized it. I was the first one kicked off by a peremptory challenge. That means one side can dismiss you without giving a reason. “It’s not me, it’s you.”

The second time I was SOB I was to appear at a regional court. I was brought to a courtroom for questioning and even though they are not allowed to tell potential jurors the specific facts of a case, it’s not hard to figure out. The defendant was there and I immediately pegged him guilty. He just had that look about him. We sit down and the first question the defense attorney asks is, “Do you ever think it’s OK for a man to hit a woman?”

That’s an easy one, I think, eyeing the guilty party smugly. I knew you were an asshole.

The attorney says, “Let’s start with juror #1.” I sit back and relax, confident in her answer. After all, it’s not a hard question and only requires a one word answer.

“Well…Ya know…” She starts.

NO I DO NOT KNOW.

“I mean…” she pauses for effect. “Like, I guess if someone was coming at you with a sledgehammer.”

WHAT? Am I on candid camera? I look around the room. By now juror #1’s got the room “thinking.” And one by one each referenced the crazy. “Well, yeah, I guess maybe in that sledgehammer situation,” someone would say. This went on in some variation until it got to me, juror #16.

“No.” I said.

And just to make sure I was clearly understood by these idiots, I added,

“I do not think it is ever OK for a man to hit a woman.”

They thanked me for my service and sent me home (it’s not me, it’s you.) They selected juror #1 for the jury.

The third SOB’s a charm. But first I have to do time in the jury waiting area. I sit down, pull out my kindle, and that’s when I hear it. Smooth jazzKill me now. Do they want us to find everyone guilty? But that was just to get us started in a foul mood because it was only piped in for the first hour or so. After lunch they played theme songs to old tv shows. Dragnet, the Andy Griffith Show, Bonanza.

It might as well have been the theme song from the Twilight Zone.

I get called to a courtroom and this time I’m confident I’ve got it made; I know how to get myself off a jury. Just be “normal” and slightly rational. But what I didn’t know is that it’s also a simple numbers game. I was randomly picked as juror #11 so I sat in the jury box during voir dire. Voir dire is when they ask their leading questions and “inadvertently” tell you all about the case. This time none of the questions applied to me nor were they directed at me so I figured I was home free; they didn’t know a thing about me. But if they don’t remove you for cause or as one of their peremptory challenges, and your number is 1-12, YOU ARE ON THE DAMN JURY.

And so I found myself a juror for the first time. A civil case where the only issue we were deciding was how much money to award the adult children for the wrongful death of their mother. What a strange thing to deliberate with 11 strangers. We missed out on all the fun of deciding innocence or guilt and instead had to put a price tag on the death of a 78-year old woman. Specifically, how much care, companionship, guidance and love she would have given her children in her 10.5 years left of life. Yes, even how many years she would potentially live had been previously decided for us.

Because none of those four things (care, companionship, guidance and love) are quantifiable, the plaintiff’s’ attorney tried to play on our sympathies. They presented testimony ad nauseum as to how wonderful she was, how healthy, and how much care, companionship, guidance and love she had provided (and therefore would likely have continued to provide) her grown children. There was even a handy slide show to visually illustrate all the ways she was providing said things. In contrast the defense tried to show how “squared away” the children are anyway and how they didn’t really need their mother anymore.

The plaintiffs also tried to prove that the deceased experienced “emotional distress, fear and anxiety” in the 1.6 seconds before she was killed instantly by a semi. If they could prove that, then we were to also award damages to her estate.

Both lawyers were so annoying I found myself wishing I had a sledgehammer.

The jurors were allowed to take notes and I found myself writing things like “WE GOT IT” and “STOP TALKING.” Since we weren’t allowed our phones or a TV in the courtroom and I had finished picking at my fingernails, my thoughts wandered. I thought about something I had read years ago – alleged transcripts of testimony from court cases. One of them in particular:

Q: “Doctor, before you performed the autopsy, did you check for a pulse?”
A: “No.”
Q: “Did you check for blood pressure?”
A: “No.”
Q: “Did you check for breathing?”
A: “No.”
Q: “So, then it is possible that the patient was alive when you began the autopsy?”
A: “No.”
Q: “How can you be so sure, doctor?”
A: “Because his brain was sitting on my desk in a jar.”
Q: “But could the patient have still been alive nevertheless?”
A: “It is possible that he could have been alive and practicing law somewhere.”

Finally the plaintiffs rested and the defense promptly followed. Apparently they couldn’t be bothered to call a single witness. They dismissed our alternate juror (#13) who I named “tan juror” because she looked like a young version of tan mom, but with hooker heels. She was out of place with the rest of us in our sweats and hoodies. I thought my name for her was fitting to begin with, but even better when I found out her name is “Sierra.”

"Tan mom"

“Tan mom”

The 12 remaining jurors went to our room to deliberate. We ranged in age from 20 to 80. Naturally the eldest of us volunteered to be the foreman.

Having no other options, we started throwing out arbitrary numbers. It didn’t take us too long to decide and we only needed 10 of 12 to agree. We had some spirited discussions and were all able to provide input but in the end the case was (as I imagine many are) decided in direct relation to our individual and collective desire to get back to our own lives. And since this case had been going on for seven years, hopefully allow these children who lost their mother to do the same.

Overall, I was happy to get the SOB. More importantly, the case got me thinking about my own mother and how much do I value her life?

Well … ya know… is she coming at me with a sledgehammer?

(and Dad)

You never know when it’s going to hit. It stems from the smallest, seemingly random things. Often it’s a song, or a saying of his that I use without even thinking. At those times the moment is brief, and might even entice a smile. Other times the moment comes with a pang of sadness that I can push down and move on. But sometimes the moment brings heartwrenching sobs and unimaginable pain.

My mom sent me a birthday card and she signed it “Love, Mom (and Dad)”

It was the parentheses that got me. The parentheses that mean nothing and everything. Parentheses “contain material that could be omitted without destroying or altering the meaning of a sentence.” They illustrate what it means to have a family member with Alzheimer’s disease.

My mom wrote my dad’s name in the card as a lovely gesture. She has every right to speak for him and she knows he would wish me a happy birthday if he could.

But, he did not know it was my birthday and was unable to sign the card. More than that, he will never wish me another happy birthday and I will never have a real conversation with my dad again.

He is gone (he is here)

Fuck (Fuck)

Clay Chucky

You know how when a person starts off with,

“no offense, but…”

what follows is bound to offend someone?

No offense, but, I hate Las Vegas.

First, there’s everything it stands for:  The greed, excessiveness, raunchiness, and wastefulness. The elevated importance placed on money and status. The incredibly insensitive display of indulgence when there’s so much suffering in the world. It represents the worst parts of America.

Then there’s the whole “anything goes” mentality that turns it into a giant frat house on crack. Its famous “what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas” mantra on the one hand is true, as you leave a part of your soul there. And even more of your salary. On the other hand, this concept turns even polite, quiet types into raving lunatics and cranks up the level of douche-iness on the already douchey to 11. There was a douchebag convention when I was there recently. It was called “March Madness.”

Ew
Vegas is an assault on all senses simultaneously. And everything about it is strategically set up to lead people to make bad decisions. Vegas is designed so you lose all sense of time, place, and manners. You can’t even walk the strip without losing your way (and your mind) because of all the ups and downs and twists and turns. You rarely sleep, and when you do, you have crazy, disturbing dreams. You become confused and overstimulated and tired. Finally the city breaks you down. “OK, fine,” you concede. “We’ll just sit in the one place that has chairs (casino floor) and put some damn money in a damn slot machine.” You tell yourself,

At least it might be fun to pull the lever and to carry around a bucket to collect the change!”

Oh, wait…

Vegas is too much of everything. Too many people, noises, lights, and children. What a great place for kids! The dancers on tables, and the hundreds of naked boobs pictured on cards littering all the sidewalks. And what kid doesn’t love a clown? Or a drunk! Plus, there’s the dangerous thrill of all the second-hand smoke.

I found myself mimicking the Jimmy Fallon “Ew” countless times on this trip. One small word sums up this monstrosity.

Cirque du OK
There are some positives. I actually felt thin there. Correction, I was thin during “day Vegas.” And not just thin, but classy and put-together. Stepping out in “night Vegas,” however, I was an old, frumpy fat-ass who might as well be wearing a track suit.

The food, even the “cheap” food is pretty damn good. And you can eat at the restaurants of all the chefs you know from reality TV. Also, the fountains at the Bellagio are surprisingly lovely.

Finally, there’s the entertainment. Not Celine, who perfectly represents Vegas on so many levels, yet, none of them positive (except that she knows she belongs in Vegas, and I respect that.) But the Cirque shows, which are visually stunning, and yet sufficiently eerie to be worthy of the city in which they have permanent homes. Beatles Love is a spectacular event that makes you feel like you are on psychedelic drugs, but in a good way. Except they have a character who looks like a cross between Clay Aiken and the Chucky doll; a miniature, psycho Clay Aiken. During the show, Clay Chucky walks around with a bouquet of flowers looking as frightened and confused as the rest of us. He could easily swap the bouquet for a knife and change the entire concept of the show.

Almost immediately after we left the theater and ventured out on the “night Vegas” strip we saw an adult wearing a Chucky costume. It was as if I expected him. In fact, I would’ve been surprised if we hadn’t seen a life-sized Chucky. It was time to go.

Not my town
Vegas is like that Clay Chucky. Cheesy, campy, confusing and creepy. Ew.

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154 Rose Lane

(For Sue, 1940-2014)

When I think of Green Bay, Wisconsin, I think of summer and my favorite aunt Sue. She had the best laugh in the world – it was a chortle – goofy and hearty, wholesome and infectious. Quite often she threw in a snort, just for good measure. My brother and I spent a few weeks every summer in Green Bay with Suzie, my uncle Dick and my cousins Bryn, Lee and Heather. I absolutely loved it. Green Bay was summer. I was young, out of school, not a worry in the world, and I was away from home. I felt more than free; I felt carefree. Green Bay was Bay Beach, cheese curds at Kroll’s diner, Sue making me pizza and chocolate pie. It was Lynn and Nancy, who lived just down the road. It was magical.

Rose Lane seemed idyllic to me. It wasn’t a cul-de-sac but the lane itself went up, around and down forming a bell curve of sorts. 154 and 139 (where Lynn and Nancy, my “summer best friends” lived) both fell in the top part of the bell – in this analogy we weren’t A’s nor were we F’s. Years later I would find myself explaining this basic bell curve to one of my graduate school professors. “It’s a bell, you see? Not a ‘U.’ You are grading unfairly.” She changed my grade from a 2.1 to a 4.0. She still didn’t grasp the idea of the bell but with my 4.0 in tow, I smiled and walked away, offering no further explanations.

My uncle had a glass-blowing studio in the backyard. Us kids would form a line on the grass hill in the yard and watch in awe as he would take the glass in an almost liquid form and it would shape, mold and move, as he spun it on the end of a big metal rod. We asked a thousand questions and he answered all with astounding patience. I have a few of the pieces he made and whenever I look at them, I am transported back to a member of that audience on the lawn.

Crush
For me, life on Rose Lane was all about Lynn and Nancy and their older brother Steve, my secret crush. His senior picture hung on the wall in their living room and one day I snuck in there and snapped a photo of it. “Isn’t he so cute?” I would ask my friends, proudly displaying this picture of the framed photo on the wall, off-centered and blurry, with a bright flash in the middle, reflecting off the glass in the frame.

All out of love
Lynn and Nancy used to iron for hours. They ironed absolutely every article of clothing – from t-shirts to underwear to towels – everything. I have zero memories of my mom ironing so this was both fascinating and appalling to me. They would iron and we would talk about boys, giggle and listen to 45s. During the “Summer of Air Supply,” all we listened to were sappy love songs. My brother and cousin would sling Sue’s purses over their shoulders and pretend to be Air Supply, insinuating they were effeminate. So when a bully who lived down the hill (on the “F” side of the curve, I presume) shot my brother in the butt with a BB gun, I thought it was the funniest story I’d ever heard in my life. At the end of that summer Lynn and Nancy sent me off with the 45 of “All out of love,” by Air Supply, and they had both written messages to me on the outside sleeve. I cried all the way home on the Greyhound bus back to Minnesota.

Undercat
Lynn and Nancy had a German shepherd, whose name I have blocked from my memory. I was terrified of this dog, and with good reason. This was a trained watchdog that guarded their father’s business. They loved to demonstrate how the dog would protect them by having me pretend to attack them. I really hated that dog. I would get upset and stomp back along the curve to 154 and to where my aunt and uncle had a beautiful collie named Farrah. I always thought that was such a perfect name for a collie and this dog was so sweet, except when my cousins would wrap bologna around the cat’s neck and Farrah would chase the cat to try to eat the bologna.

Sue would come to the cat’s rescue of course; she always stood up for the underdog (or undercat as it were), which is one of the many things I loved about her. And not just the undercat, Sue was always my ally. No matter what , she was on my side. She made me feel like we were in it together; we had a special bond and we were a team.

I was surprised that she seemed so genuinely happy to have these extra two kids join her brood of three. But Sue adored children. When she would take us kids to Bay Beach and later – the ultimate – Great America in Chicago, I don’t know who enjoyed it more. She loved to see us having fun and she would laugh and laugh – all my memories of Sue are of her laughing and smiling. She was always so generous with her love of us and made us feel like we were absolutely welcome in her home. But more than anything, she was generous with that wondrous laugh of hers.

Because she was also a teacher, countless children got to hear her laugh, have her on their side and have been graced with the opportunity to bask in her glow of their own happiness.

I cannot explain in words how much my summers at 154 Rose Lane meant to me. Or how much she meant to me. Rest in peace, dear Suzie. I know wherever you are, you are laughing.

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Aunt Suzie

You win, I’ll place…whatever

I am not competitive. That is, until I get behind the wheel. In my car I’m a completely different person; I throw trash on the floor, talk to myself, scream obscenities at others, and become extremely aggressive. I take great pride in winning a race or a battle that I have decided I am in with another vehicle.

One day, stressed and crazed in stop-and-go (mostly stop) traffic in an exit-only lane, determined to not let anyone in, at any cost, I thought to myself – WHY? Why am I letting this get to me? I am only hurting myself.

Then I remembered a line from the Jerry Seinfeld special “I’m telling you for the last time.” About horse races, he says:

I’ll tell you one thing the horses definitely do not know.
They do not know that if you should accidentally trip
and break your leg at any point during the race
we blow your brains out.
I think they’re missing that little tidbit of information.
I think if they knew that
you’d see some mighty careful stepping coming down that home stretch.
“Take it easy, take it easy.”
“You win, I’ll place… whatever.”
“The important thing is your health.”

Since that day I have changed how I drive (for the most part.) I take deep breaths and chant, “You win, I’ll place…whatever.” I try to play nice with other drivers, because it’s dangerous not to, and the important thing is your health. But I can only tolerate maybe three random acts of niceness – aka ignore three complete asinine moves of other drivers – before I hit my limit and revert back.

“REALLY???” I yell. “R.e.a.l.l.y.”
“You’re gonna pull out in front of me and go 10. Niiiiiice.”

Or,

“Nice fucking blinker, asshole!”

Or, my favorite in its simplicity,

GO!!!!!!!!!

You get the drift.

Here are five of the worst offenses, in my opinion:

5. Blinkless
Did you know that blinkers come standard on every car? And they are free! They are also quite helpful to other drivers. One of the most annoying of the blinkless are the ones who turn at the last second and I could have gone minutes before, had I known you were turning. If only there was some way of alerting the other drivers that you are going to make a turn. Some sort of signal. Oh, wait, there is. It is called a blinker.

Then there are the ones who, after the light turns green, realize “oh, hey! I have this strange wand-like apparatus, what does this do?” and turn on your blinker. So now, stuck behind you, I will probably miss the light. Thanks, ass-wipe. Where are your manners?

4. Ass-riders
The ass-riders are especially annoying because I tend to drive fast. But if someone is on my ass then I purposely slow down. This is hurting both of us, so back off and we can both move forward. Literally and figuratively.

3. Sneakers
The sneaker comes in various forms. The most common are those who try to sneak in (or out) of an exit-only lane at the last moment, cutting in front of all the drivers who have followed the rules. This is frustrating to both those who have waited in that lane, and to those who do not wish to exit, but have to slam on our brakes because you decide to cut into a lane where the traffic is going zero mph from a lane where the traffic is moving at 60 mph. This is intentional and we all know it. You are an asshole. And you probably also use the HOV lanes illegally and think we do not notice because you have tinted windows. No one is falling for that banana in the tailpipe.

2. Lefties
Lefties are those people who camp out in the left lane on the freeway. You know who you are. The left lane is a passing lane. Even if you are going faster than most people, there will be someone who is going faster than you. Or who would go faster if you would move the hell over.

1. Slow pokes
As my dad would say,

“This guy went for a walk and took his car along.”

Driving slow is just as unsafe as driving fast.

There many forms of slow pokes but I dedicate the number one spot for the slow mergers, because they are equally annoying and dangerous.

Merriam Webster defines merge as:
verb. 1. to become combined into one; 2. to blend or come together without abrupt change: merging traffic.

The key here is “without abrupt change.” When you merge into traffic going 30 mph, and that traffic is going 60 mph, someone is making an abrupt change, by slowing down to let you in. This is not the intent of the merge. And of course you continue to go 30. Thanks, shit for brains. Smooth move ex-lax. You take the #1 spot.

[Honorable mention to those who block intersections OR sneak in on a red light in front of someone who stopped at a green light to NOT block the intersection. You suck.]

________________________________________
This post is dedicated to Scurvy (the person, not the disease.)

Walking it out

The accident happened on a warm, sunny day on Lake Crescent in the Olympic Peninsula. The early morning sun cast a blinding, shimmering light on the water as the canoe silently floated across the lake. The only sound was the intermittent dip followed by the drip, drip, drip of water off the side of the paddle resting across my lap.

Lake Crescent enchanted me from the first moment I saw it and became more treasured when I got married there. The water is so clear you can see a dizzying 10 feet to the bottom. A far cry from canoeing the Mississippi river where we put off swimming until it was so damn hot that the brown, murky abyss actually looked inviting. Once in the water, we’d slowly lower our hands under the surface to see how long until we couldn’t see them anymore. It happened immediately.

“You have a completely torn ACL and MCL.
It’s a twofer!”

The doctor held up his hand for a high-five. I fived him, thinking – is this guy for real?

If you look up a torn ACL in Wikipedia, it says “Torn ACLs are most often related to high impact sports or when the knee is forced to stop on a dime at high-speed and when the tibia moves forward in relation to the femur. These types of injuries are prevalent in alpine skiing, Soccer, American football, Australian rules football, basketball, rugby, professional wrestling, martial arts, and artistic gymnastics.”

Surprisingly, canoeing does not make the list.

Scene of the crime. Lake Crescent, Washington.

Scene of the crime. Lake Crescent, Washington.

On the day of the accident, I had already fallen in the water once. To get us over some rocks near the shore, I was sitting with one leg out of the canoe pushing forward as my husband pulled from the front when the canoe tipped ever so slightly, popped me out and instantly righted itself. As if it was telling me in the Amityville Horror way –

“Get.Out.”

An avid canoer all my life (and in this very canoe, transported across country from Minnesota to Washington), I can count on one hand the number of times I have fallen out of a canoe in 40 years – three. On this day the number jumped to five.

Wet but otherwise unscathed, I climbed back in and we paddled around, the sun warming my legs and drying my shorts. We canoed to the far side of the lake, circled around so we could drift slowly past the wedding site, then headed to shore.

My husband got out first and was holding the front of the canoe. I grabbed the bar in front of me tightly, keenly aware that the canoe (literally and figuratively) had already turned on me once.

I stood and carefully stepped one foot out into the water when the canoe (now with no weight in it) caught a current and started drifting away. I tried in vain to pull it back using the leg and arms that were still in it. As I started to do the splits I simultaneously realized,

“Oh my god, I’m going to fall.  AGAIN.”

And I did. Almost the same fall, only this time I sat there not only stunned, but hurt. I had injured my knee.

The full implications of what happened that day continue to unfold, more than three months later. I am still quite immobile. I am slow. I can’t work out, I can’t take stairs, I grab handrails and I limp. I watch in envy as someone runs for the bus. I have no desire to take public transit, but I sure wish I could move like that. I feel and act OLD.

But one result I could not foresee isn’t physical. I have realized that when I go for walks, I re-energize. I get inspired. My feet move forward automatically but my thoughts zigzag all over the place – creating, contemplating, deciding – I do not notice what is around me or listen to music. I zone out.

After, I’m moved to write something new, or have come up with a different direction to take a story. Maybe I have worked through an issue, or found a solution to a problem I didn’t even know I had. Sometimes I’ve devised a life-changing plan. The process is what I call “walking it out.”

Not being able to walk means more to me than just not walking. And that is the worst part about the accident. So when I got my “twofer” diagnosis and was told my options are surgery or live with an “ACL-deficient knee;” I already knew my answer.

Hockock and Hernan: A story about real love and imaginary friends

This is a story about my father who has Alzheimer’s Disease, and our journey together. It was written to honor his life, rather than focus on the disease that is taking it.

This story has been published in Stratus: Journal of Arts and Writing

Found on this blog under: Stories/Hockock and Hernan

Save some for the adults

Still smiling after giggling in a corner with a friend and overcome with nervous anticipation for all that life might have to offer, Patti grabs a paper plate and “happy graduation!” napkin and heads for the avocado colored crock pot, brimming with barbecued lil smokies. She hasn’t even removed the lid when she hears a small but surprisingly stern, reprimanding voice behind her.

“Save some for the adults!”

And this is how Patti first meets my grandmother Florence. The showdown takes place in the dining room of my parents house during my (and Patti’s) high school graduation party. We are newly 18 and high school graduates, so we think we ARE, in fact, adults; besides, she hasn’t started serving up her plate yet.

My grandmother had a preconceived notion that Patti would take more than her fair share. People of her generation typically felt that people of our generation were selfish and greedy, and were often correct in that assumption. This holds true as generations change hands because we remember how we were at each age. We have the benefit of hindsight.

At 18, “Save some for the adults” was an appalling expression. And I thought I knew everything at 18. At 45 I know enough to realize how little I know and I still feel the same about that expression and its delivery. But I now understand the concept. As I witness the aging process first hand – the aches and pains, the ups and downs (and how much harder it is to get up once you’re down), the fears – I have more and more respect for my elders and appreciate why we should save some for them – not only lil smokies but seats, honor, awe.

Like “pay it forward” we should “pay it up” by practicing random acts of kindness to those whose ages are a higher number than ours. Because someday (with any luck) those will be our numbers.

And if we’ve done it right, there will be lil smokies waiting when we get there.

Crime scene two

I studied criminal justice at St. Cloud State University (SCSU) in Minnesota. In one of my classes we watched a reenactment video of various crime scenarios. The excitable host would critique the actions of the victims, and explain what they should have done differently. Then he would yell,

“Let’s give them another chance!”

The actors would reenact the same scene, behave correctly, and not wind up victims. It was entertaining, and surprisingly effective. I have thought about many of the lessons from that video over the years but the one on “crime scene two” stands out in particular.

Crime scene two is where your dead body is dumped, or the site of your murder. The killer first abducts you (from a public area) and then takes you to a secluded, usually wooded area, aka crime scene two. Alive, you should never allow this to happen (jump out of a moving vehicle, run from a loaded gun to your head) as there is virtually no chance of survival at crime scene two.

Cracked Heel Relief
SCSU hosts an annual trivia weekend that boasts 50 hours of non-stop trivia. The first year we played our team name was “Cracked Heel Relief.” The following year (my personal favorite) we called ourselves “Smell my Jif.” We came in last place each year, but won the prize for best name. The Cracked Heel Relief year was 1991 – before the World Wide Web – so we had stacks of books strewn about the apartment. To answer a question correctly, we had to either 1) know things (not likely), 2) look them up in reference books and almanacs (limited success) or 3) call people and ask them. It was an early version of “phone a friend” – the version where you wake people up in the middle of the night and annoy the shit out of them with questions like, “What new color puff was added to Trix cereal this year?” (Lime green).

One year a trivia question was about a city in Italy found at the “heel of the boot.” The answer was Brindisi.

My friend Patti and I knew this city well. Too well.

The heel of the boot
On a map, Italy looks like a boot, and Brindisi is located at the heel. Our trip to Brindisi was in 1989 and came on the heels of a whirlwind month-long tour of Europe on a coach with 44 people, followed by a semester in the heart of London, as part of a study abroad program. Patti and I stayed for a month after the program ended to backpack around Europe and visit some places we didn’t see with the group.

In our infinite wisdom (probably clouded by our stay in Amsterdam), we decided to head straight from Amsterdam to Corfu, Greece. And to get to Corfu we needed to take a ferry from Brindisi.

When our train arrived in Brindisi, as is true with most air and train terminals, locals surrounded us offering cheap taxis, hotels, food, etc. We eschewed all “deals” and went to find the ferry terminal. Unfortunately it was the off-season, we had missed the one ferry that left for Corfu per day, and had to spend the night. Due to limited funds our first choice was the youth hostel.

While we were at a bus stop trying to figure out the public transit system, an older gentleman pulled over to ask us if we were going to the hostel (I’m sure it was our backpacks rather than our spiral perms, Girbaud jeans and over-sized exaggerated v-neck tops that tipped him off that we were not from around there.) He kindly offered to drive us there. He said he knew right where it was (out-of-town, in the middle of nowhere) and that no public transit routes went there. I should have recognized these as red flags, but, blinded by a free ride by someone who was old, like a dad, and therefore harmless; I ignored them.

Patti firmly declined. She had a bad feeling. He argued with her. He seemed taken aback and miffed that we would not take him up on this very generous offer. He tried to persuade us, playing on our fear that dangerous people were lurking, waiting to take advantage of young American students, but Patti held her ground. He finally sped off in anger, and I called the youth hostel to get directions. I heard a recorded message saying that it had closed for the season. Patti and I looked at each other in horror. He was going to take us to crime scene two.

Shaken by our near abduction and subsequent grisly murder, we hightailed it back to the train station and approached the pushiest and most annoying of all the locals.

“Please, here is all our money, take us to your hotel.”

Once in the room, we finally exhaled and relaxed a little. The room looked clean, was reasonably priced, and we started to feel safe. And that is when we decided to unfold the comforter at the end of the bed. Our eyes widened along with the stain.

“Oh my god.

Is that blood??

YES.”

We stared at it in shocked silence for a full minute or more. This was not from a mere flesh wound; it was massive – multiple gunshot wound sized – and took up more than half of the fabric.

It didn’t appear fresh, but it was there.

WHY?

Was a body wrapped in it, taken to crime scene two and disposed of; the comforter returned, neatly folded and placed back on the bed? More likely the killers moved the body some other way, but why leave the bloody evidence behind? And the hotel staff must have known because they folded it.

As in trivia, we had no answers.

Many adventures and close calls followed Brindisi; wild dogs chased us on our rented mopeds in Corfu and I had my passport stolen in Paris, but they all paled in comparison. Brindisi is forever stained on our brains, like that bloody comforter.

Brindisi, Italy is a heel. Geographically and metaphorically.

And no amount of Cracked Heel Relief can save it.