Spring Breakin’!

•April 11, 2014 • Leave a Comment

My beautiful pictureSometimes, You. Must. Chill.

And that’s just what Completely in the Dark (CITD) will be doing for a couple weeks.

But no worries. CITD will return on Friday, April 25, 2014, with a slew of new stories.

Meanwhile, feel free to check out some previous posts: CITD began in Oct. 2010 with this. Then in May 2013 had some success at WordPress’ Freshly Pressed with this piece.

But I’m especially proud of stories like this and this one.

Enjoy your Easter holidays with family and friends!

Peace, love … and Happy Spring!

On Thin Ice

•April 4, 2014 • 2 Comments

It was a reluctant winter.

Photo credits: Top, © 2014 Beth Bowman (www.bethbowman.com) Bottom, author in late 1970s by Dan Rogers. Used by permission.

Photo credits: Top, © 2014 Beth Bowman (www.bethbowman.com) Bottom, author in late 1970s by Dan Rogers. Used by permission.

Back in 1979, that is.

On Dec. 10, the temps topped out at 54˚F. A 14-day heat wave followed, making it a very warm year’s end.

Final exams at Lakewood Community College hit our desks the previous week; the quarter officially ended Tuesday, Dec. 11.

Then I packed some things at my Mahtomedi rental and headed home for the Christmas holidays, reuniting with the Family Project. Since I had no car, it was likely a repeat of the Thanksgiving holiday weekend—via city bus, as I wrote about in the journal on Nov. 26:

“…Minnetonka commuters are warm bus companions and the air was charged with a sort of Christmas-like excitement as the businessmen curled up sleepily under their rain hats and let their copies of The Wall Street Journal fall to their laps. The snow outside turned to a freezing rain and the bus windows fogged up and made it difficult for me to eye Lafayette Bay as we cornered past Minnetonka Beach in the steaming cold darkness. By 6:15 I was walking Dunwoody [Avenue] after leaving the bus and soon home to a crackling fire and friendly, festive surroundings.”

Just two entries wrap up the 1979 journal: one on Saturday, Dec. 29 (a recap of the previous day), and one into the new year, on Jan. 22, 1980: “I want to say a few things about 1979 and make some prophecies concerning 1980,” followed by … nothing.

Well, sure. But you failed to do that, dude.

So we gotta dive deeper—into Letter XI, written on Friday, Oct. 27, 1989—ten years later—an attempt to explain the 1980s to myself, mailed in a letter from London, England that November:

“…on New Year’s Eve, 1979, I went to a party. The scene thus far: I had started school (for the second time after high school) at Lakewood Community College in White Bear Lake. I was, at the time, living in an upstairs two bedroom apartment atop a house on Pine Street …owned by Sam Wertheimer, attorney and late-sleeper. …It was interesting to remember the other day that Warren [Dahl] had driven out to Mtka to visit me at the folks—I recall this because he drove a Le Mans or some such car and was very proud of it and did not mind driving miles to see some friend and at the same time show it off. It was probably before Christmas Day that he visited—on New Year’s Eve, I connected with my old friend Skeeze … and he drove us to a New Year’s Eve party on the Island at Tom Cashman’s house. ‘Everyone would be there,’ we heard.

It was not an earthshaking event. There was a keg of beer or two, a few guys with pint bottle of whatever and pot, possibly, at every corner. It was true that nearly EVERYONE was there. Class of ’78, Class of ’79 (just graduated) and the struggling-for-a-good-time Class of ’80. Cashman and friends jammed on rock ‘n’ roll in the basement. Upstairs, Bill Gedney was doing the End-of-1979 Countdown. They were playing on the upstairs stereo a Styx song that had the shouted lyric: ‘Don’t look now but here come the Eighties!’


ThinIce2When I left—my friend Skeeze had decided to leave hours before … I ran into Chad Hamstock who promptly popped me one in the face. I hit him back and after a short skirmish—after which he bolted—I was left dazed, injured and a bit confused. I had no ride home and I also had no wish to rejoin the party and beg a ride or be assaulted again … so I walked the distance home … drunk, beaten, tired, jaded, anxious … I decided a bit drunkenly that the quickest albeit dangerous route home was across the ice of Lake Minnetonka to Casco Point. I remember that walk. It was cold and frightening. It is my metaphor for the last half of the Eighties.”

I’ll never forget that walk—it was brutal.

And interesting that, even though I wasn’t diagnosed with depression until 1987, I was already aware that things were getting scary and—like walking on thin ice—anything could break open and swallow me up at any point.

Letter XI picks it up again:

“Do you know what it is like to be REALLY cold? Do you know what it is like to feel that the ice of a deep lake is about to give-way under you? Have you heard the cracking of ice on a lake in winter? It sounds at first like thunder, then it is like snapping under your feet, like a branch about to crack under your weight. If you fall, there is no one to hear you. …I recall hearing all those things on the night of that walk home. I trudged on. Eventually, I saw the lights of the homes on Casco Point. I saw our house. I shuffled on. I dodged the wind.

You must remember that it was Jan. 1, 1980. …When I approached our rumpled old dock I knew I was home. I walked up the stairs to the house. I walked around the side of the old cottage. I tried the front door. They knew I was not yet home, so the door was open. I went in. It is quite probable that my father, in his bedroom, tossed about and said, ‘Is that you?’ ‘Yes,’ I probably answered. ‘I’ll lock the door. Goodnight.’ Now that I think about it I should have said ‘Happy New Year’ but that would’ve been obvious. It was more important that I was at home, safe. I would have tossed off my boots and went to bed. I may have dreamed. All that is certain is that when I woke up it was unquestionably 1980.”

The letter continues for another five single-spaced, typed pages, recounting the decade’s highlights. I was desperate to take stock of what I’d accomplished and what I hoped the Nineties would be like.Mike_IceSkate

“STEPPING OFF THE ICE. Coming home, surviving, making it out of the cold and the dark, safe—though the dock was frozen and creaking, batting hands together as I ascend the stairs … the snowy front yard … the streetlights humming … the dogs barking in distant yards … the DOOR. Coming in from the cold. Locking the door, going to bed, dreaming…”

How was that prophecy about 1980 fulfilled?

By moving out of the little renovated summer cottage on Casco Point that summer. And by returning to school at Lakewood that autumn, still chasing after an elusive college degree.

And writing. Always writing.

Letter XI concludes:

“If anything, I’ve probably walked away from this operation with a little more distrust in myself in relation to others, but with a little more faith in myself alone.”

The Foot Locker

•March 28, 2014 • Leave a Comment

FootLock1I’ve been carrying around a coffin.

From place to place, it’s hulked in bedroom corners—a musty, scuffed thing, festooned with cobwebs and containing the rotting corpse of my early life’s memorabilia.

It’s my foot locker.

There’s no serial number, no stenciled lettering, no nothing. Just a metal plate that reads: “Poirier & McLane Corporation, Falconer, NY 1947.” There’s also no record in the early diaries (1972–1978) of how I acquired it. It could’ve been Dad’s old Army-issue, but that’s doubtful. I would’ve remembered that.

More likely, the Family Project bought it at a garage or estate sale.

You see, when Grandpa Adams visited us he and Dad used to hit auctions, estate sales and such. Grandpa was always scavenging around for used camera equipment; Dad likely saw the foot locker, then bought and gave it to me.

I’ve been sorting through its photos, letters and memorabilia lately; I knew that one day I’d have to take inventory of its contents.

FootLockerInsideWell, not much of value, actually.

Why I kept a fabric wristband from a summer camp game played decades ago is beyond me. Or the 1973 and ’74 wall calendars from Dad’s den on Casco Point, with nothing memorable written on them. Then there are the notebooks, sketchbooks, love letters from old girlfriends and birthday cards. Lisa’s letters. Friends writing from their respective colleges. Gift and novelty catalogs. Science catalogs such as the ones Edmund Scientific used to send, like the Scholastic and Bantam Books I ordered by mail when I was a kid.

And then there’s the red and black poetry book.


Labeled “Poetry Vol. I Miscellaneous Works, Writing, Fiction & Nonfiction,” the slim 8 inch by 5¼ inch ruled account book is 144 pages, with only 47 of them filled with poetry. The first poem, “The Egotistical Cat Walks the Shelf,” is dated Sept. 22, 1976.

I’d taken the poetry book on a family vacation, likely to Bayfield, Wis., that year. A second poem, “The Gospel Truth,” added on Oct. 2, was one of the few times I remember actually reading one of my poems to my brother aloud:

This poetry book just killed a fly
After many times of trying
It’s hard back cover swiftly caused
The reason for its dying

If the fly hadn’t been so bold
To land upon my knee
Possibly the light of morning
Tomorrow it would see

The warning now is plain and clear
To every prowling fly
A hard back covered poetry book
Is quicker than the eye.

It’s odd to recall it now, especially after reposting “Fork in the Road” last week. I remember Brian chuckling at the poem’s absurdity. But what lingered with me was his “why-would-anyone-bother-to-do-this?” look—a look I often got from the Family Project or other non-writers.

At the time it really stung.


My planet. My country.

My state and city, my neighborhood…

My parents, my house, my car, partner, children, my … self.

We’re all living first-person omniscient—it’s the mold into which everything fills, from bottom to top and into every corner. From each person’s center, the world is constantly created: “That’s my dog. There’s my backyard. This is my boat. Here’s my life insurance policy, my 401(k) balance.”

My foot locker.

FootLock2Who truly owns anything? And moreover, what does ownership even mean? Is it mere possession, or is it a form of stewardship? What if I just gave the foot locker away, maybe to some kid who really needed it? Put it up for sale on eBay? It might fetch $100, if that.

The notebooks, diaries and journals, of course, must stay. They are as much my body as anything. But the memorabilia is pointless, outside of some vague nostalgia or kitsch value.

Someday the Family Project cupboard and dining room table must also go the Way of the Dinosaur. I’m feeling a strong pull away from things that I don’t use daily. Accumulating things never squared with my values and—with the possibility of a big move in almost a decade—jettisoning stuff that’s no longer needed is just downright practical.

So, I look back at the foot locker—a hard look, as I never did before.

It doesn’t radiate joy or contentment any more than a coffin would be appealing as a buffet table.

That goddamn dark box is the sharp steel trap of memory, waiting for me to step into it again and remain ensnared.

I hadn’t realized that before. I see it now.

Maybe when you bury things, it’s important at some point to turn away from the cemetery.

And just keep walking.

Fork in the Road

•March 21, 2014 • Leave a Comment


From the end of 2012, some updates to this post. The news went out February 2013 and was received pretty much as expected. Since then new economic worries continue to badger the remaining Family Project. And that “thin, barely trodden path”? It’s a bitch, brothers and sisters. Pack light if you decide to take it.

Originally posted on Completely in the Dark:

My beautiful picture All families, it seems, have their secrets.

And while that may or may not be true, there’s one secret that this member of the Family Project will need to reveal to the other remaining member in the next couple of days.

But let me back up here a bit.

As previously mentioned, my brother’s birth was the first watershed moment of my life. I now have a photo (below right) that directly links to Mom’s description of Sunday, Feb. 11, 1962—the day Brian was released from the hospital, since he was born a premie on Jan. 3.

Mom wrote in my baby book: “Today we brought Mike’s baby brother home. He was very thrilled but also seemed worried about his status in the household. After I put the baby in his bed Mike climbed on my lap and hugged me very tightly.”

Four days later, my resentment seemed to…

View original 616 more words

A Ghost Through the Fog

•March 14, 2014 • Leave a Comment

[Note: This is the last in a series of stories about autumn-winter 1979 at Lakewood Community College in White Bear Lake, Minn.]

Let’s start with the autumn leaves. Because that’s what I remember first.


Saturday, Oct. 20, 1979, a meager entry in the journal: “Camp Iduhapi, Loretto—Leadership Wkshp. This may be Loretto, Minnesota, but it could be anywhere, anytime.”

Bright leaves were falling when the Lakewood Community College student groups, campus activities board (SPB), senate and newspaper, convened for two nights and three days at the off-campus location in central Minnesota. Unlike the SPB Mankato trip, it was vastly more businesslike. That is, no Party Central.

All I recall about that weekend is kicking through the aforementioned leaves, walking and talking with Deborah Fisher.

And I was starting to like her a lot.


“Give me a story that just makes me unreasonably vigilant. Keep me up till five only because all your stars are out, and for no other reason.
—J.D. Salinger, Seymour: An Introduction

On the same day as the Loretto entry, Fleetwood Mac released their double-LP record, Tusk. Suddenly new Fleetwood Mac songs oozed from radios, and “Angel” caught my ear: “Sometimes the most beautiful things, the most innocent things … and many of those dreams, pass us by … keep passing me by.” A brilliant lyrical trope by Stevie Nicks: Start the song with a pronouncement—a statement about the general, but instantly segue into the specific, the personal, the place where it sticks.

Almost a metaphor for what was happening that autumn.

Since at the time I wasn’t willing to spill the facts in the 1979 journal, I’ve tried to reconstruct what happened between mid-October ’79 and just before winter break.

The two weeks after the Loretto workshop lead up to fall mid-terms. My new Art Structure class buddy, Warren Dahl, and I used to smirk at instructor Ken Maeckelbergh’s lecture digressions. By Nov. 1, landlord Sam Wertheimer complained he needed to rent my other room. Soon I had a roommate, a law enforcement student from Mahnomen County named Dave LaGue. Dave had moved into the smaller bedroom by Nov. 3.

The following Monday, Dave (also, like me, carless) and I caught a ride up to the liquor store in Warren’s classic Pontiac Le Mans where, the journal reports, we “bought a hell of a lot of beer. Drank it. Warren stayed over for the night”—likely crashing on the living room sofa.

But what’s really interesting happened earlier that day.

The entry for Tuesday, Nov. 6: “Am writing. Yesterday was busy. Saw Deb and she gave me a few of her writings and a book. We may do something together this weekend.”

Oh how I wish I’d recorded that moment in more detail. But I can picture it now: likely a nervous greeting in the hallway between the school paper and SPB offices. “Oh, here’s a book I thought you might like,” she might’ve said, cupping her long brown hair behind her ear. Her cool demeanor, dark eyes and open smile. That’s all I have. And the book (pictured above right) she gave me—Rainer Maria Rilke’s Letters to a Young Poet.

“Sometimes the most beautiful things, the most innocent things…”

Deborah asked if I’d read The Catcher in the Rye. Of course, in high school. It was the inspiration for The Crowded Room and why, that fall, I decided to publish portions of the novella in the Lakewood Logue. But had I read his later stuff, Franny and Zooey, and Raise High the Roofbeam, Carpenters? No, I hadn’t. I should, she insisted. We’d have to talk more later.

My class calendar that week indicates the first snow fell on Thursday, Nov. 8. I’d crossed out something planned for Friday and written at the bottom, “In the evening,” stretching it out through Monday’s Veterans Day holiday.

I suspect what was crossed out were the weekend plans Deborah and I had made. There’s no 1979 journal entry to support what I’m about to recall… so, well, here goes.

Yes, we’d planned to spend time together and talked on the phone about it. No recollection of whether I called her or she called me early that weekend. New roomie Dave kept popping his head into my bedroom while I tried to take the call. It was a very important call.

So, lying on the bed, I talked with Deborah. It was probably a rambling conversation—what we were currently reading, what we were interested in writing about, which authors inspired us the most and … when were we getting together?

She said she was at home. “Well, you could take a bus down to St. Paul. Stay over if you have to. There’s jazz on the radio and cool sheets on the bed.”

Never in my young life had I ever had a conversation like it. This was great! Why wouldn’t I want this? Sex, finally! And not with just a college girl—with an older, smart, gorgeous woman!

And then I choked. Totally.


“What can they say? It’s not against the law.”
—Fleetwood Mac, “Think About Me”

Those are the facts, from the journal and calendar, of what happened that fall of 1979. I don’t remember seeing Deborah after winter quarter 1980. She just disappeared.

Like a ghost through the fog.

Then, five years later, Wednesday, April 17, 1985, at around 9:30 p.m. to be exact, a “charmed hour and a haunted song” at a dorm room telephone extension at the University of Iowa, Iowa City. My roommate, Bud Morris, answered the phone and handed it over to me.

It was Deborah Fisher.

I later reported to the journal:

“…She started out by saying that she (after all these years) called to apologize for the way she treated me when we were together at Lakewood. It was an innocent relationship, I remember; I was excited about her, and I felt she was excited about me. But one time, I remember, on the phone, all those years ago, she invited me to come stay with her in St. Paul—in so many words—and I felt frightened by the opportunity it afforded—so scared that I stopped talking to her pretty much altogether. I’d, since then, forgotten the incident, and have always thought fondly of the talks Deborah and I had. Now, five years later, she calls to apologize for something she never did—something I never did, but in some ways regretted not doing.”

Lakewood_LogueShe insisted I forgive her, which frustrated me. We chatted about my being at a new university and attending a recent workshop with Margaret Atwood (to which she gasped approvingly); I said I still hoped to publish one day. “She said she had no doubt in my abilities, stressing ‘it was only a matter of time.’”

I asked if I could use her as a reference when I returned to the Twin Cities. Maybe I could visit her at Minnesota Public Radio? She said she “had some people that may be helpful to me, ‘back in the office, in the Rolodex.’ We ended the conversation amid thanks and well-wishes.”

Then, “Fifteen or so minutes later she called back. ‘Michael, I don’t think it’s a good idea that you call me, ever. That’s one door I’d rather not leave open…’ I flushed with confusion. What did she mean? To call me after so many years and then shake up my head like that?”

I thought to write her a letter, but abandoned the idea. “I felt so cheated,” I wrote in the journal that April day in ’85. “The last call left me angry.”

I probably stewed for a good while. But one thing occurred to me at the moment.

The only thing I’ve ever done.

“…I’ve got a lot of writing to do.”

Gas Leak

•March 7, 2014 • Leave a Comment

[Note: This is the 3rd of four stories about autumn-winter 1979 at Lakewood Community College in White Bear Lake, Minn.]

GasLeak1Ray Adams, my maternal grandfather, was in the hospital with a kidney infection.

The news came from Grandma by a letter dated Sept. 20, 1979. It was one of the first letters to arrive at my new Mahtomedi address. I’d forgotten that Grandma was a fairly consistent letter writer.

“How do you like the new school?” she wrote. “Hope you like it and your new home. And make some good friends there.”

By early October, that’s exactly what I was doing.

Once I was on the Student Programming Board (SPB), I learned I’d be joining them at an all-paid conference (including meals and lodging) at Mankato State University. The conference goal was to exchange ideas other student activity groups, meet and greet entertainment acts, and, well, generally party ’til we dropped.

Wed., Oct. 10: “Tomorrow the SPB group—all six of us—Anita, Tina, Jill, Linda, Jim Woodhouse and I—leave for our ‘outing’ at Mankato. It should be an interesting four days.”

Scant details follow in the journal. That Wednesday I hurried off to classes ahead of an afternoon meeting at Anita and Tina’s parents’ house in White Bear Lake.

I rode with them to the liquor store where we “picked up a bottle of rum, whisky and blackberry brandy” en route to the meeting. Two other girls stopped over (I was the only guy), until Student Center Director Dennis Gable and another student named James Toensing arrived. We wrapped it up before 6:30. Anita dropped me off back at my place in Mahtomedi around 7 p.m.

We were four days and three nights in Mankato. I took the journal (which surprises me), as on Sat., Oct. 13, I wrote: “—if my watch hasn’t stopped. A busy nothing now is. For the past two nights I’ve drank myself silly and I plan to abstain from liquor tonight. My next aim for tonight, to be honest, is to find a little sex.”

Hrm. Seems the real focus was less “student programming” and more personal gratification. But hey, we’re talkin’ 19 years old. And still a virgin. It was weighing heavily on my mind.

Our advisor that weekend, Jim Woodhouse, gave us some real-world advice I’ve never forgotten: If you’re going to drink, make sure that before you go to bed you drink plenty of water with two aspirin. Just doing that will—to some degree—take the edge off the hangover you were sure to experience in the morning.

“Ah, the phone!” I wrote. “Tina. I’m on my way over. Ha.” Seems I was angling for some private time with the younger Anderson.

That weekend we listened to college-circuit entertainers (one in particular, a folk guitarist who did a hilarious sendup of Roberta Flack called “Killing Me Softly With Kung Fu”) and inspirational speakers who wanted to book college campuses.DSC02322

Tues., Oct. 16, back at Lakewood but late to campus, I found everyone standing outside. I assumed it was a fire drill, but Northern States Power was fixing a gas leak. When everyone was allowed back in, I headed to the library, where I wrote: “I must keep my ground and stay on top. All the same, school worries me as I do not wish to be lost in the middle of it. But strange, hidden emotions have played my consciousness lately—”

—Vague then, but it’s clear to me now what may’ve been the source of those “strange, hidden emotions.”

I’d been running into the Logue advisor Deborah Fisher in the student center. She wanted me to leave the SPB and join the student paper. We connected immediately over literature, writing, ideas. I was buzzed talking to her—a definite attraction since she was mature, witty and smart—and very pretty.

Later that week the SPB was invited to a “Lakewood Leadership Retreat” at Camp Iduhapi in Loretto, Minn., the weekend of Oct. 19–21. With the student senate.

And the school newspaper.

And Deborah Fisher.

Happy College Campers

•February 28, 2014 • Leave a Comment

[Note: Here’s the 2nd in a series of stories about autumn-winter 1979 at Lakewood Community College in White Bear Lake, Minn.]

“This is what it feels like,” I thought, “to know nobody.JillK_CITD

Journal entry for Wednesday, Sept. 19, 1979, almost a full week after classes had started at Lakewood: “I’ve been very busy and anxious even since school started … each day my expectancy in relationships heightens.”

On the 1978 German student exchange, I was still among my high school classmates. But here, in White Bear Lake, I was for the first time entirely on my own.

It was scary, lonely … and exciting.

That Wednesday afternoon, exhausted from bus commutes to and from campus, recovering from the ’flu and homesickness, a surprising thing happened that entirely changed the course of my time at Lakewood.

“I was dozing on a window side bench,” the journal reads, “by the stairwell in the Theatre section of the building—dipping off into that subconscious netherland where one tunes softly and slowly out of the range of present time, when I hear a girl, from the stairway door, say: ‘Mike!’ and still, looking sleepily at her, do not recognize her.”

I had no idea who this person was.

“She walked up and introduced herself as Jill, who was up at [Camp] Shamineau … She said she remembered when I played piano … She said she saw me come out of Art Structure a few times—but didn’t have the courage to talk to me.”

Ohhh yeah… it was all coming back. Her name was Jill Kummel (Logue portrait above right). She said she was surprised to see me at Lakewood. We caught up on people we knew from camp days, then she invited me to get involved with her friends at the Student Programming Board (or SPB, as the student activities committee was called) and the school paper, the Lakewood Logue. Both organizations shared office space on the west wing of campus, along with the Student Senate and College Center Director Dennis Gable’s office.

Lakewood2Dennis Gable was a burly man with a wide mustache, beaming smile and loud, generous laugh. His office door at Room 2671 was always open—out of which spilled John Denver (his favorite). When student volunteers came to him with ideas or news about whatever college center group they were involved with, he always bellowed, “Fan-TAST-ic!”

Dennis was a one-man encouragement machine.

That fall the SPB president was a statuesque brunette named Anita Anderson, often assisted by her younger sister Tina. The Lakewood Logue’s editor-in-chief was another student, Terri Nordby, whose advisor was a slim, dark-haired grad student named Deborah Fisher. Deborah was probably in her late 20s at the time.

After reconnecting with Jill, suddenly everybody wanted me in their group. You would’ve thought the school paper would’ve been a natural move, but for some reason I felt wary of both the Student Senate and Logue, and opted to help the Anderson sisters at the SPB. They promised fun events and great ways to network and get the most out of Lakewood.

Heck, I was sold.

Later that Wednesday, in the school library, I scribbled an ad hoc entry on a sheet of legal paper: “I am perhaps more hopeful now than I have been in a very long and unrelenting time.” I was nostalgic about high school football season, and the forthcoming last summer on the lake, all the while knowing that change was in the wind. And it was going to feel strange.

“Before I left for Lakewood,” I wrote, later affixing the entry into the journal with masking tape, “… it has been my secret wish that someday soon, upon my return [to Mound] there would be one gigantic party that everyone would show up at, and that I could walk around with my old friends and talk to others, laugh and deeply reminisce until the pang of memory would ring in our chests; I had hoped for this, hand in hand with my new love, proud that I had made for myself a hope that became not a crutch but an important fiber of my well-being…”

“…I would be happy.”


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