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??


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.


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.

All our rooms are non-smoking. Unless you want to smoke.

I moved from Minneapolis to Seattle in the summer of 1996. Ice was the main reason why – freezing rain, to be precise. I parked my car on the street in such a way that the rain came up to about mid-rim of the tires and then froze solid, freezing my car to the ground for five days. During that time, my roommate Kim and I ‘skated’ our way to the local bar, only a couple blocks away, and I had my epiphany and delivered my impassioned speech.

“NO ONE has to live here!”

I think I actually pounded my fist on the bar for effect.

“People can MOVE!”

She said, “I’ll come with you,” and we never faltered. We left the following summer, selling anything that wouldn’t fit in our cars. It was an adventure. But first I needed a new vehicle.

I was terrified of manual transmissions. People in the Midwest don’t know from hills, and when I see the hills now that I was either petrified to drive up (in case I had to – gasp! – stop mid-hill) or walk up (gasping for breath), I have to laugh. I wouldn’t even label them inclines now. But hills, as most things in life, are relative. So, as soon as I knew I was moving, I happily sold my stick shift – a sporty Acura Integra – and bought the only car I could afford – a not-at-all sporty 1995 Geo Prizm. I could walk up a hill faster than this thing. But it had an automatic transmission.

On the road trip, Kim and I had yellow and purple walkie-talkies. I led the way so I tapped my brakes if I wanted her to turn on her walkie-talkie. She flashed her headlights to alert me. We had a blast until we got to the mountains and my car would slow to a crawl despite the gas pedal jammed to the floor. I had to use those slow vehicle turnouts as semis and 90-year olds sped by.

Drive your life
I had been in Seattle for a couple years when my friend J came to visit on a work trip (aka expense account.) She didn’t rent a car, she rented a Cadillac. Driving that Cadillac changed me. I became power-hungry. It was the first time I had the vehicle to match my true inner being and it was intoxicating. I come from a long line of “lead-foots” and driving it felt as natural as breathing. After she left I begrudgingly got back in the Prizm, hit the gas, and it took a good ten minutes to get up to 30 mph. I scoffed out loud. We both knew it would never last.

The Cadillac came with a sense of power, freedom and independence, and I wanted it all.

During J’s trip we also reserved a room at the Alexis hotel in downtown Seattle for a night. We smoked at the time and you could smoke in hotel rooms then, so she had requested a smoking room. When we arrived there was an ashtray on the end table but with a note in it that said “Thank you for not smoking.” Outraged, she called the front desk and received the following explanation, “All our rooms are non-smoking. Unless you want to smoke.”

I had a teacher in high school named Connie Crane. She taught speech and English. She used to order pizzas for the class on the last day. We loved it, of course. I had her for speech in ninth grade and then English the following year. On the last day of English class we excitedly sat down, only to receive the awful news. She told us she got in trouble with the powers-that-be about the pizza. They said under no circumstances could she order pizzas for her classes. She did a great job of telling the story, and had impeccable timing, in what I would classify as a persuasive speech.

She paused for effect. Then smiled.

“But they didn’t say anything about McDonald’s!”

She proceeded to fetch a huge cardboard box from the hallway, filled with the telltale paper McDonald’s bags full of food.

I think about this often. I attended an experimental school from K-6. We didn’t have grades, could decide which classes we wanted to go to and when, and had all kinds of freedom to learn and grow. It was fantastic. I was shocked when I got to seventh grade and had every minute planned out for me; I felt like I had to leave the building just to change my mind. But by high school I had grown somewhat accustomed to my prison sentence and was biding my time until college. Then Connie Crane bucked the system. She was a rebel. She was my hero. She taught me Speech and English but more importantly she taught me an important life lesson.

Life is like the smoking motto of the Alexis hotel. All rules should be followed.

Unless you want to break them.

None more jazz

The title of this post is a nod to Nigel Tufnel in This is Spinal Tap, when he asks and answers the question (about the black album),

“It’s like, how much more black could this be? And the answer is none. None more black.”


I don’t like jazz.

Saying I don’t like jazz is not the same as admitting that I don’t understand jazz. I don’t, but that’s not the point. Jazz afficianados (and yes, they actually call themselves that, need I say more) will snobbily say to anyone who doesn’t like it, “You just don’t get it.”

I can appreciate it as having “given birth” to many other musical genres (although I would argue that’s the blues, and I happen to love the blues) but that doesn’t mean I have to like it or listen to it. I appreciate that my ex sister-in-law gave birth to my lovely nieces, but I certainly don’t like her or want to listen to her.

I realize there are many different types of jazz; I’m talking about the schizophrenic kind. The scattered, chaotic kind that makes you want to stab yourself in the ear with a screwdriver. That and smooth jazz, but there’s only maybe three people total who like that.

I want music to mean something to me – evoke a fond memory, move me to laugh, smile, or tear up, entice me to sing along at the top of my lungs in the car – and while this can happen through the music alone, it usually involves both music and lyrics. Use your words.

Jazz evokes strong emotions in me, but not in the good way. It makes me feel agitated. When I hear it I am tense, annoyed, frustrated, anxious, and yet bored, all at the same time. It sometimes makes me angry. I cannot tell where one song ends and another begins. It’s as if someone took all the chords available, mixed them up, and then projectile vomited them. For a really long time.


The “sentence” above is how I feel about jazz.

So, how much more jazz should there be? The answer is none.

None more jazz.


I don’t understand Twitter. #thereisaidit

I joined because at the time that was the only way I could read @shitmydadsays. And that shit is funny. I have 19 tweets, 5 followers and am following 14. I only know this because I just looked. Otherwise it’s as if I don’t even have an account. All my tweets are from 2009. They are trivial, so maybe I do get Twitter after all. One of them says “pc load letter,” another, “nacho belly.” Not a single tweet has a hashtag. I follow friends who are just as inactive as me, and Stephen Colbert, the Onion, the Daily Show, Barack Obama, textsfromlastnight, shitmydadsays, and Khloe Kardashian. #jokes #exceptbarackobama

I am equally clueless about Instagram. I only realized I had an account when I received a notification that someone liked one of my photos. Apparently I have 10 followers. I have one photo. It’s of a giant tub of cheese balls. I didn’t even use a filter. #rookie

I get that the hashtag is there so people can search under that topic and find all sorts of random tweets. But more often people use hashtags so specific or wacky that no one would ever search for them. Or they are using the hashtag to add to or explain their tweet, which is unnecessary. Like if I had added a hashtag #fatass to my tweet “nacho belly.” #obvious

Now people put hashtags and @’s on Facebook status updates. It’s not possible to search via hashtags on Facebook and the @ should create a hyperlink to the person in question, so these random #’s and @’s are distracting and pointless. Distracting and pointless may sum up Twitter nicely, but when that specific language is used outside of that realm it’s #annoying.

Don’t get me wrong, I am all about brevity. I doubt I have a Facebook status longer than 140 characters. And no one loves meaningless more than me. It’s the hashtag that bothers me. The hashtag that means nothing and goes nowhere. Or is outside of Twitter. #pleasestop

I’m as lazy as they come, but I refuse to let a hashtag speak for me. If I have something to say, I will say it in narrative fashion, as it was meant to be.

I realize that my blog has tags. But no hash.



As I recline on a lawn chair in the midst of giant Douglas fir trees, sipping coffee and mesmerized by the dancing fire; the smell of bacon wafts over me, and I am overcome with campingness.

Douglas fir canopy.

Last weekend I was tent camping with my best friend for the first time in over 20 years. I scrounged up a classic picture from our last camping trip where we are staring down at the tent lying flat on the ground, dumfounded as to how to put it up. We reenacted the photo for this trip, even though we are now pros.

Then and now.

This time around we were in the Pacific Northwest, not the Midwest; children and husbands accompanied us, and we brought real food that we prepared instead of a bag of chips and a cooler of beer. But we laughed and connected with each other just like last time. We even made friendship bracelets, a nod to our tenure as Girl Scouts.

Are you ready for the summer? Are you ready for the good times?
Camping as kids, before we even pulled into the site my brother and I would start fighting over whose turn it was to “pop-up” the camper. We loved to turn the crank and watch that Jayco come to life. After that, we had zero interest in helping with any other tasks. Instead, it was on our bikes to explore the campground before commencing the “begging to go to the beach” ritual.

We would spend all day in the lake or playing in the sand. Even if I came out of the water covered in leaches, my tears were only a momentary break. Mom pulled them off, covered the wounds with smiley face “dambaids,” and I was back in the water to face the next adventure.

We played board games inside when it rained, and the deafening sound of rain on a plastic roof is one of my all-time favorite sounds. I remember feeling simultaneously scared and safe inside that camper.

The fish and game commission has raised the legal kill limit on campers to three
Some of my favorite camping trips involved imminent danger. One summer at YMCA camp, after backpacking all day to the top of a hill, our group of 12-year old girls and our camp counselor, all of 18, had settled into the tent and were playing cards, just as the sun started fading. I looked up and saw a black bear perfectly centered in the middle of the triangle opening of the tent and filling up all the tiny squares of the screen door. He was about 10 feet away, his side facing us, his front paws stretched up on the rock where our packs were leaning. From a 12-year old perspective and seated position in a flimsy nylon tent, he seemed 20 feet tall. I was laughing so hard (I laugh when I’m scared) I almost couldn’t spit out,

“Oh my god, there’s a bear.”

Something in my tone, despite the laughter, made the rest look at once. The counselor, who had read somewhere that loud noises scare off bears, grabbed a flashlight and hit it against the back of a small metal sauce pan.


It was a noise so soft I wondered if the bear even heard it. He did. He very slowly tilted his head sideways toward us, as if to say, “You have got to be kidding me.” He finally ambled off to try to get our food down from the tree. The counselor suggested we quietly exit the tent, put on our shoes, and slowly walk away. We fled in a panic in our socks, running at full speed back down the hill.

Here’s an update on tonight’s dinner. It was veal. I repeat, veal.
Everything smells and tastes better outside. And the fresh air mixed with the rudimentary cookery and makeshift prep brings a rustic charm to each meal. Our pop-up camper had one of those stoves that slid outside. We would fry up bacon and make “eggs in a basket” – buttered bread with a hole cut out of the middle and an egg fried in the center.

Inside, we sat at the table that would later fold down to become my bed and ate off square, primary colored plastic plates. Since we camped in the Midwest, we couldn’t eat outside unless we were safely confined in a screened-in tent, because of the mosquitos. Every meal tasted like it had a slight hint of Off! bug spray. We ended each day around the campfire roasting marshmallows for s’mores or baking “pies” in the pie iron, made from Wonder bread and cherry pie filling.

If you let me, I could be your good friend
When I was older I got to bring a friend along and we would take the canoe out to “flip it.” Flipping a canoe on purpose is thrilling, but not that easy. Once it’s flipped, you can swim underneath and pop your head up in the space between the water and the bottom of the canoe, which is now on top. We would rest our forearms on the bars in the middle of the canoe, tread water, and share secrets. To the outside world, it might be an abandoned upside down canoe floating down a river or resting in a lake. To us, it was an aluminum fort oasis.

The kids are brats, the food is hideous
Ahhh, summer camp. I had my first boyfriend, first kiss, first dance, and first heartbreak at a summer camp. It was also my first taste of independence, which was delicious. I felt powerful and liberated. Camp was where I could make instant new best friends, develop several crushes, and acquire skills and confidence, all while having unbridled, non-stop fun. I was devastated each time it ended.

I have so many fond memories of summer camp that I got married at one. The festivities spanned an entire weekend and guests stayed in cabins with bunk beds, laughed around bonfires, and danced under the moondust… that drifted down from heaven…


Cabin at Olympic Park Institute. Photo by Jenny Jimenez.

Makin’ It
Whether acting as a verb or a noun, the word “camp” makes me smile. As soon as I hear it I get that rush of camping happiness – “campingness.” The feeling is a mixture of fond memories, nervous excitement, and a sense of freedom, mixed with a peacefulness found only when immersed in nature. The feeling is describable and indescribable, universal yet personal. It comes from being surrounded by people you love, sharing stories and laughter, stoking campfires and relationships.

It just doesn’t matter!
A few things have changed since I went camping as a kid. Alcohol is involved, and I no longer dare ride a bike or don a swimsuit. I have the same canoe but wouldn’t dream of flipping it. I still light the marshmallow on fire for my s’more, but the pie iron is now used for gourmet grilled cheese. We play music and tell stories around the fire, but music from an iPod and stories laced with profanity. We all – even the kids – have smart phones and can update our Facebook status from the tent.

But the feeling is the same.

Stop Talking

An open letter to extroverts from an introvert.

Found under: Stories/Stop Talking


This is a story about small towns, the midwest, Wisconsin, family, grandma.

Found under: Stories/Millston


This is a story about hunting, deer legs, childhood, parents, and gifts.

Found under: Stories/Legs

A 100-word version is published in RiverLit

Miracle #1

This is a story about coming back to life, literally and metaphorically.

Found under: Stories/Miracle #1

ps: your friend is dead

This is a story about death, high school reunions, and friendships.

Found under: Stories/ps: your friend is dead