Let’s Go to Great Britain! (Part 3: Southbound Again)

•January 23, 2015 • Leave a Comment

[Last of a three-part post.]

What goes up, as they say, must come down.WestCoastFinal

And up we went: leaving Whistlefield Lodge #10 on Loch Eck, Thursday, Aug. 19, 1982, in Abi’s 1980 Austin Allegro, en route to Glencoe, then driving as far north as Fort William, in the Scottish Highlands.

We didn’t stay overnight, but continued on—southbound again to Pitlochry, in the Perthshire hills, on the River Tummel. There we booked another B&B and tickets for the play The Treasure Ship at the Pitlochry Festival Theatre. That night I wrote in the journal, “beautiful evening.”

We were back in Glasgow and “home” on Mains Avenue by Saturday. We dressed up that evening (photo of Abi putting on jewelry, below left) for a dinner party at a friends’ home, the Plotnikoffs. Andrea and Jackie (who brought poetry) were also there.

Abi red dressWe drank all night, listening to Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven” over and over again (much to my dismay).

When I tried to get people dancing by putting on Stevie Wonder’s Songs in the Key of Life—off came “I Wish”aaaaaaand … the needle dropped again on the plodding Zep anthem. I probably found a corner, sulked, and kept nursing my McEwan’s Scotch Ale.

The Sunday, Aug. 22, journal entry said it all: “Hungover—walked to Rukenglen [sic] Park—waterfalls and forest paths—supper at Shirley’s—after dinner conversation.” No idea what we talked about over dinner, or whether I’d become more talkative after 23 days in Britain. But Shirley was a friend of Mrs. B’s, and it’s likely Abi and I were on our best behavior.


Just before visiting the Highlands, on Aug. 15, we’d made a day trip to Edinburgh, catching some jazz at the Tron, then a midnight comedy act by John Dowie, as part of the 1982 Edinburgh Arts Festival. On Monday the 23rd we returned to the festival for a performance of Wildcat Theatre’s “Female Parts.” I loved Edinburgh and enjoyed walking its rustic streets with Abi.

GlasgowMoonOn Wednesday Abi said she had a surprise for me, but wouldn’t give a hint about what it was. Some sort of gift? A wool sweater? Tam o’ Shanter? A tartan kilt?

I had no idea.

So that evening we took the Allegro out to Eaglesham where, the journal states, we “parked [the] car at Waterfoot Rd.” and “enjoyed moonlight.” The surprise? Abi wore a short skirt and fishnet tights. She made it clear she’d “left the knickers back at home.”


Abi's Austin AllegroWe climbed into the backseat and, well, things got kinetic.

Ever have sex in the backseat of an early ’80s British-built automobile? I wouldn’t recommend it unless you’re extremely flexible. Or very horny.

To this day I can’t listen to Paul McCartney’s “The Back Seat of My Car,” or watch Cameron Crowe’s Say Anything, and not think of that moonlight surprise.


The end was near. Five more days and I’d have to board a plane back to the States.

I knew it, and Abi knew it. We just refused to talk about it.

Moreover, Glasgow tedium seeped in again.

What with fried fish dinners at home with Mrs. B, taking the car in for repairs (again), and hanging with Abi’s friend Andrea over drinks in Glasgow, we decided to take one last road trip, this time to the west coast of Scotland, down to Ayr, Culzean Castle and Gardens (where Abi snapped a photo of me, right), Alloway (home of Robert Burns) and the seaside at Troon.Culzean Castle

We left on Saturday, Aug. 28. Outside Troon we stopped at a pub so I could take a piss. Abi stayed in the car while I ran inside and ferreted around looking for the loo.

When I’d finished and went to open the door, it was locked. I rattled the handle—only to hear hushed snickering.

When I pounded on the door, it finally opened: All the men in the pub had been leaning against it.

I said, blushing, “Yeah, sorry about just using the men’s room, but I really had to go. I know it’s customary to at least buy a drink first—”

“—You heard wrong, lad,” one of them interrupted. “You’re supposed to buy everyone a drink!”

Gales of laughter around the pub as I went to the bar and dejectedly started to buy drinks. Hearing my American accent, they waved me on my way and I was back out on the street, none the poorer.

“For God’s sake what took you so long?” Abi said when I got in the car.


In Troon we booked a B&B for the night—one of the last we’d spend together. It was a somber road trip, if I remember correctly, and the final entries in the journal—the longest since the journey began—reflect that, too.

Sunday morning we awoke and traded trips down the hallway to the bathroom. While making up the bed, I pulled a lower back muscle. The pain lingered into the next day. Still, the journal reports, we drove up to Largs for lunch at a café called Nardini’s, me clutching my back and wincing the entire time.

Back in Glasgow Sunday night, Abi took me to the Victoria Infirmary. I recall feeling testy and anxious—my flight out was Tuesday morning, and I wasn’t sure how I felt about Abi. We argued in the car. Then I got out and started walking—to where, I didn’t know.

Still in pain, I stopped at the MacDonald Hotel for a pint, and then found my way back to Mrs. B’s flat. They’d gathered in the living room, worried. Abi and I fought again, and then took a walk together.

That night I slept on the living room floor, Abi alongside me while I writhed and flinched.

Monday, Aug. 30. Abi’s brother Colin was in Glasgow for a visit, so he took the train with me southbound to London at 9:45 p.m. Mrs. B, her friend Shirley and husband Arthur, along with me and Abi, drove us to Queen Street Station, where I reported feeling “nervous tension.”

“Abi & I quickly say farewell,” the journal says. I also remember a quick hug, and then Abi turning away in tears. I spent the train ride down to London in a daze “through nondescript English countryside.”

Tuesday, at 6:20 a.m. GMT, Colin and I said farewell at the Kings Cross-St. Pancras tube station. An 8 a.m. train zipped me to Gatwick and my departure on Northwest Orient flight #459 at 1:40 p.m. GMT, arriving in Minneapolis (accounting for time zones) at 4:05 p.m. CST.

Mom and Grandpa Adams (snapping photos, of course) met me at the airport.


Abi gallery 1982If the ending to the story seems a tad sour and incomplete, it squares with many of the things I’d later learn about relationships (or fail to) in life. For example, the glow of a new relationship will always wane over time, and only by looking in the same direction together can a couple survive that tainted shine. And, as every idiot should know, relationships take work.

I keep thinking about that one moment of doubt“Could I run away? Just not answer her back? Cancel my flight?”

“…I will be a lucky man if I make it to London this summer.” Well, I was that lucky young man. The one who got to live as he hadn’t lived before, see what he hadn’t seen, and do what he’d never done.

Yeah, I’m glad I got on that plane.

In 1989 Abi and I met up again in London while I was researching a screenplay. I was turning 30 and she was with a new guy. We Skyped a couple years ago, just after Mom and Dad died. She’s happily in a long-term relationship.

Along with the letters, the cassettes, the photos, all that’s left is the story of us.

It’s a damn good story.

Here’s hoping Abi would agree.

Let’s Go to Great Britain! (Part 2: The Orgasmic Bores)

•January 16, 2015 • Leave a Comment

[Second of a three-part post.]

“I had rather have a fool to make me merry than experience to make me sad, and to travel for it too.”
Rosalind, As You Like It, Act IV, Scene 1

Abi West Hampstead 82We probably lasted 20 minutes—half an hour, tops—before Gary’s flat exploded with pheromones, hormones, all sorts of moans—the culmination of nearly a year of steamy, repressed desire.

And again, that fickle nature of memory: Did Abi come to me on the sofa?

Or did I go to her bed?

Whatever happened, the fact remains that on the morning of Thursday, July 29, 1982, Abi and I were in bed together.

Behind us, a night of sex. Ahead, a long journey through England, Wales, and Scotland.

But first we had eight days in London to enjoy.


The scant notes scratched in my journal indicate few details outside of where we were on certain days: that Thursday we walked around West Hampstead, where I snapped this photo (above left) of Abi in her neon blue slacks at the intersection of Frognal and Arkwright Road, about four blocks from Gary’s flat. Later that afternoon we took in Pink Floyd’s The Wall at the Leicester Square Odeon.

Friday we met up with her brother Colin for lunch at an Italian restaurant, probably somewhere near the Courtauld Art Institute, which we’d just visited. All I remember about that luncheon is Colin asking how I “was finding London,” and replying (perhaps a tad too laconically), “Interesting.”

Friday I also phoned my Manchester pen pal Lindsay.

You see, I’d neglected to tell Abi about Lindsay the entire time we’d been writing letters, recording cassette tapes and phoning each other.

Abi was tearful—furious—feeling totally blindsided. I remember explaining to her that Lindsay and I were just friends—that I had chosen to spend the whole trip with her.

So I met up with Lindsay the following afternoon in Brixton, after which she showed me Tower Bridge and the Tower of London. Lindsay was a short, soft-spoken, and straw-colored blonde with a broad smile. Friday evening I rejoined Abi in Bloomsbury for a screening of My Dinner With Andre. On Sunday I hung with Lindsay, her brother Mel, and their friends in Hyde Park, later visiting Covent Garden. The journal doesn’t indicate whether Abi was with us.

Four more days in London. We hit the Tate Gallery, British Museum … and took a day trip down to Brighton on Wednesday morning, Aug. 4, strolling the seaside and peering in all the shops.Brighton 82

I discovered some notes about that day trip: We took Abi’s 1980 silver Austin Allegro (which “smelled of petrol fumes” and proved to be a rickety ride) down the M23 to Reigate, then past Crawley on the A23, listening to Toto Coelo’s “I Eat Cannibals Part 1” on Radio 1: “I eat cannibals/It’s incredible/You bring out the animal in me/I eat cannibals…”

In Brighton I enjoyed my first Indian curry. The air was moist and briny, seagulls cawing and screeching overhead. Later Abi and I stopped for chocolate gateau and coffee at a Brighton café.

Thursday was our last full day in London. We celebrated by catching a screening of Kubrick’s Lolita, then treating ourselves to a taxi back to the flat. The next morning we packed up the Allegro and hit the motorway north to Cambridge.


It was an inauspicious start.

The Allegro broke down outside Finchley. An Irish mechanic went to work on it and, 25 quid later, we were back on the motorway and blasting Radio 1 again.

TheOrgasmicBores3I can’t hear Dexys Midnight Runners, Thomas Dolby, or Toni Basil and not think about that road trip—serious shivers down my spine remembering making love with Abigail, visiting art galleries, watching movies, trying new restaurants, drinking pints in pubs, coffee in cafes—it was all so … heady.

In Cambridge we booked a bed and breakfast, then went into town for dinner at the “Greek Eros Restaurant.” Later, while out for coffee and a stroll along the River Cam, we got lost. The journal notes that a “kind gentleman [drove] us back to [the] B&B. Full moon—cool night. ‘Do a good turn for someone in Glasgow,’” he said when we thanked him for the ride.

We left Cambridge on Saturday, Aug. 7, stopping briefly at Banbury, then arriving at Stratford on Avon, where we booked a B&B for seven pounds 50p each.Holy Trinity Stratford 82

“Walked along River Avon,” the journal states, “went for drinks at Hotel Lounge.” We spent the entire Sunday in Stratford, visiting Holy Trinity, the Shakespeare church, swimming in the town pool, applauding “Billy the singing drunk in City Centre” on our way to another Greek restaurant where I reported having “a satori … over red wine and dinner,” later “a cool walk through a quiet Stratford.”

What “satori” exactly “kicked me in the eye”? Absent a detailed journal entry, it’ll forever be a mystery.

Back on the road Monday, Aug. 9, we made an overnight stay in Chester before stopping down to see a Welsh church at Wrexham, visiting Llangollen, then hooking back up with the motorway north around Liverpool and Manchester. After a quick stop-off at Windermere in the Lake District, we drove straight to Glasgow, where Abi then lived with her mom.


Abi’s friends and family were dying to hear about our trip.

JackieBores5Trina invited us for coffee in Eaglesham on Thursday.

Abi’s cynical friend Jackie called to get the latest scoop.

Months before, after listening to Abi gush about our relationship, Jackie had said: “Oh for God’s sake, Abigail. Stop walking around like the Orgasmic Bore of the Year, wallowing in love-struck happiness—it’s nauseating!

Abi’s car barely made it back to Scotland. After we arrived, it broke down again and was towed off the motorway to a repair shop in Rutherglen. Abi and I shivered in the rain, waiting for her mother to pick us up.

At Mrs. Bilkus’ flat on Mains Avenue, I was shown my new “bed,” the sofa in the living room. Mrs. B strictly forbade us sleeping together “whilst in my home.” What we did on the road was none of her business, she’d said.

I found her open-mindedness (something I never would’ve expected from the Family Project) refreshing.

However I recall one afternoon Abi and I were taking a bath together while Mrs. B—we assumed—was downtown at her office for the day. When she came home early, Abi shushed me and slipped out of the tub and into her bathrobe to go triage the situation.

I probably slunk underwater in utter embarrassment.


And then, our first argument.

What set it off will be forever unknown, but it was on Saturday, Aug. 14. The journal reports: “University—Art Gallery—Argument—I sulk for wrong reasons…”

Mrs. B offered a trenchant observation at the time: “Well, you two have been living out of each others’ pockets for over a fortnight—it was bound to happen.” She suggested we get out of Glasgow and visit the Highlands. That is, once the Allegro was operational.

Abi’s cousin June Zatz owned a cabin on Loch Eck, just north of Dunoon, “Whistlefield Lodges, No. 10.” We picked up the key on Tuesday morning, Aug. 17, and set off for the Highlands.

Driving around Loch Lomond, then south again near Inverarity, we finally arrived just outside of Dunoon before suppertime. Abi was feeling ill, so I took over driving until we reached the cabin in the misty rain.Loch Eck 82

Behind cabin 10 lay the Whistlefield Inn, where we ate scampi, chips and salad; Abi had a Martini and lemonade; me, a couple pints of bitter. The inn was “a menagerie of British and Oriental artifacts: a beaming Buddha, a grandfather clock, a dusty, framed engraving of a fox hunt. [A] Londoner discuss[ed] American submarines in the Loch.”

Later in bed Abi told me a joke.

“Okay,” she giggled. “Why did my cousins name their parrot Onan? …Give up?”

“…Because he kept spilling his seed!”

Let’s Go to Great Britain! (Part 1: I Before We Except Overseas)

•January 9, 2015 • Leave a Comment

[First of a three-part post.]

“It’s one thing to write letters to a woman you don’t know; it’s another thing entirely to call on her and make love to her.”
—Henry Miller

Shortly after Feb. 17, 1982, a letter from Abigail arrived at the Family Project farm in Minnetrista. She wrote:Juniors Farm 1982

“I loved your tapes 3 & 4; Mmmm… Your voice got really sexy by the end of tape 4; Mum saw my face as I glided down the hall, having just heard it. She was convinced that I had a man in my room! Seriously, though. You’re a treat to the senses.”

The snowy winter of ’82 was melting into spring, and both Abi and I were writing letters and sending cassette tapes—strengthening a bond that promised we’d meet in person late that summer.

Sometimes we phoned each other long distance, much to the mortification of her mother and my parents. “Maybe the cassette tapes are the best way to stay in touch.”

Well … sure. Good idea.

AbiAbi sent a photo (at left) from her previous summer at a kibbutz in Israel. I don’t recall feeling any trepidation about our differing religious backgrounds—I’d formally resigned from the United Methodist Church after I was 18, and she considered herself a “lapsed Jew.” Her mother was a lawyer in Glasgow, but her grandmother, also in Scotland, regularly attended synagogue.

As for the Family Project? No clue what they thought, positive or negative. Perhaps they realized I was lonely on the farm: working at the print shop, then coming home for supper and not really dating anyone at the time. Few people expected Abi and I would actually meet in person, so what was a harmless little pen pal correspondence?

As spring bloomed into summer, so did the number of letters and tapes. On June 12, Abi was despondent and wrote:

“I was absolutely desperate to talk to you—I felt nearly suicidal. …So, I walked to our new phone and dialed your no. The rest is history. I was giggling like a 2 yr. old, wasn’t I? I felt like crying, though. I have 2 months of holiday to kill, until you arrive … I’m not exactly an optimist—never mind, wait till you come over; that’ll make me look on the bright side.”

But I was having doubts. A month earlier, on May 17, I confessed to the journal:

“Tonight I have listened to two new tapes from her. I have noticed this thought I have had: ‘Could I run away? Just not answer her back? Cancel my flight? I would be miserable. I will go back to school, bitterly go about my work, sullenly go out with silly young women who enjoy art, theatre, Christian sentiments, romantic walks … Killing myself is as silly an idea as joining a youth club.’ I am afraid of that grin of hers, I think. I think it is my grin. Hers is shampoo, coffee, Victorian dust, redheaded guys puking their guts out behind a shrubbery, old world. No. I’m not sure; it becomes hazy behind her giggle.”

What’s more ironic, over these many years, is discovering a copy of a letter I’d written to Abi one day before that journal entry, which in part read: “I am writing all the time, by way of little notes and all my letters to you … and the real story of us has yet to happen!”

I’d let her into my fictional world, describing a place “called Dumond, Michigan, where my name is Matthew and I live with my mother’s sister and her husband. I have an elder brother and sister. They live in California, not far from where my parents live. They have separated. They used to live in Lansing, Michigan. The story of my life has yet to ‘flesh out.’”

Then, in the same letter, after a 20-line typewritten rant about modern American pop culture, this:

“The American Life I know is dark, moody, never at home, dead, dying, crying, smart-ass, religious, cruel, lonely, homely, pockmarked, bent, at extension 411, up for rent, pissed off at the missus in the big white house, and hoping like hell to be loved someday.

…My parents are sure, dead-certain they feel, that I will die a lonely, bitter old man unless I change my attitude. But you know why I say all this, don’t you? I want to grow, but the encouragement is not there.”


Suddenly it was July.

I boarded Northwest Orient flight #448, departing out of Minneapolis, at 5:30 p.m. on Tuesday, July 27. I’d be in Great Britain for 35 days, living and traveling with Abi. The roundtrip flight cost $629. I’d fly into Gatwick, take a coach up to Victoria Station, then meet Abi there after landing at 7:00 a.m. the following day.

The journal came with me, but all the entries over the month-long trip were written as brief sentences with short datelines. Rather than writing “in the moment” and “at length,” I gave most of my attention to Abigail—and to experiencing our journey. However, at 37,000 ft., while nursing a beer “and feeling it a bit,” I wrote: “We are over Michigan. It is now 7 p.m. I feel like Jack Kerouac in Tom Sawyer’s best jeans.”CITD_Britain1_Nichols

In the seat next to me was a British businessman named Harvey Nichols. He gave me newbie advice and offered his phone number in case I needed help (clipping at right torn from his copy of the Manchester Guardian).

“I am overseas and the people are kind,” I wrote later in the journal. “I have been like a child since I arrived here; eyes bobbing at the sights, nostrils sensitive to all new fragrances. Tonight Abi and I will go for a walk in Hampstead.”

The coach had pulled into Victoria Station. I’d gotten my bags and went to meet Abigail at the appointed spot, recognizing her from photos she’d sent.

So, what did we do upon first meeting? There’s no record. I want to remember that we awkwardly hugged and acted a bit distractedly.

Maybe she threw her arms around me. Maybe I did first.

But that’s all memory—completely unreliable.

Big Ben 1982What I do recall is we took the Tube back to her older brother Gary’s flat at 28B Lymington Road in West Hampstead. Gary was in Holland on business for a week or so, and we had the run of his place.

I put down my stuff, she showed me my bed (the sofa, while she took Gary’s bedroom), then we went shopping for food. Later that evening, after the aforementioned walk in Hampstead, we stopped at a pub for drinks.

Then we walked back to the flat.

And tried to sleep.

In our separate rooms.

When Talk Was Cheap

•January 2, 2015 • Leave a Comment

Talk1So, I took this class at Lakewood.

Must’ve been fall of 1980, since I can’t find it in the transcripts for fall-winter quarters of 1979–80.

“Interpersonal Communication. 10 a.m.”

We had to keep a journal.

Like, yeah. Hadn’t been here before.

There were ten pages of questions posed by the instructor, whose name I’ve since forgotten. I still have the assignment—I received a B.

First question: What are your three goals in writing this journal?

A: I would say, 1) Fulfill class requirement; 2) Curiosity in seeing how I will answer the questions ahead and 3) Test what I’ve learned from the class.

I found the assignment among the 1980 papers and it gave me pause. I think it was the old love of questioning and being asked questions that lit my fire. It was also interesting as I wrote about the Family Project. Responding in longhand, I wrote with my favorite blue-black ink fountain pen. Anyway, I took to it like a duck to water.

Q: Choose several photos of yourself. What is your immediate impression? Who and what do you see?

A: A boy sitting in a chair two times his size, absorbed in a Hardy Boys’ mystery. Wearing a t-shirt, pants much too short, and a pair of Hush Puppies which rest on a hassock. He seems a confident, comfortable boy.Maryland1968

Hrm, here’s an interesting question: “Looking back, what did you have to do in order to be accepted or loved by your parents?”

A: Do what is “expected of me.” And to this day I’m still not quite sure what is meant by that. (The instructor interjected with a “Yes!”) If what I want to try doesn’t match up with what my parents think is “right,” then I have not lived up to my parents’ expectations and I am in their disfavor.

Q: List things you were told to do or to be:

A: Be good! Be quiet! Do your homework! (Middle school saw me whiling away hours at the dining room table.) Clean your room.

Q: List things you were told not to do or be:

A: Don’t be stupid! (Really, I heard this from my father in situations where [I] lost favor with [him].)

Q: What messages would you like to change?

A: Don’t be stupid. Perhaps I have been naïve, but never stupid.

Q: What do you worry about the most?

A: Whether or not I am an artist. (Instructor: “What does ‘artist’ mean to you?”)

Q: Describe your personality by writing five sentences about yourself.

A: I write well. (Instructor: “Yes you do.”) I have a deep love of living. I feel that I have a positive purpose to being in this world. I enjoy questioning the conventions I see in society. I love Nature, and walking.

Three-quarters of the way through the assignment, I typed out my responses. I felt more comfortable behind my manual typewriter, and the words seemed to spill out.

Q: When you decided … you knew this would be read … How do you feel about revealing personal information? What risks might be involved? Why did you decide to take the risk?

A: I write a lot of things meant to be read. … Sometimes I highly disclose myself on paper, sometimes I am like an actor and a liar both in the same and other times I stumble upon both, which seems rather paradoxical, but it happens. For instance, I may write something that someone points out as being moving, revealing, and it has escaped my notice, even as I was its creator. This process is rare because for the most part, any falsity that I attempt to replace for something that should be vital is almost doomed to failure. The risk shifts. Sometimes I get the jitters, yes.

Q: Write about a perception you have of one of your parents or of another significant person in your life. Do you tend to select the positive or negative side?

A: In my father, I tend to select the negative side of him, although I really appreciate seeing the positive attitudes he displays. In other words, I expect to see him grumpy, irritable and stubborn, and I shirk from him when he comes home from work, expecting the worst he can possibly be. “Well, have I got my work done?” “What am I doing now?” All these things I hear and I guess that I do intensify them to a size that they probably are not. How should I then act? I’ve noticed that my brother holds this same attitude, but that he is better than I at groveling in my father’s presence, of asking him polite questions that seem to stike [sic] in my father a chord of well-being: This is my son and he’s such a considerate, strong young man and I deeply love him for his concern and pleasant-sounding talkativeness. I, on the other hand, would rather be silent in my father’s presence and not go out of my way to say things just to be on his side, or things that are meaningless.

Talk2The instructor responded.

“What can I say to you? I am reading the words of obviously a very bright man. I gathered you didn’t like doing this—yet you chose it from the others offered. Contradictions seem to surround you. I felt you open—yet closed. My hunch says start with awareness and feelings. Just feel—don’t think about them! Also ask yourself what you want! You may not have wanted that advice! It was an impression more than anything…

…Good luck!”

Leaving the Lake

•December 26, 2014 • Leave a Comment


Best of the season and Happy New Year! Here’s a fav for reposting, then back with all-new CITD posts starting Jan. 2, 2015—this blog’s fifth year.

Originally posted on Completely in the Dark:

“The past is a story I tell to forget about the present.”

Yeah, yeah, I know.Bear Lake Michigan 1960s

I wrote that the past is nothing I’m particularly fond of. That the beating heart of this blog lies in the questions that arise out of what I thought my reality was—even when the diaries, journals, calendars, and photographs reveal otherwise.

Maybe it’s more truthful to say I’m not a big fan of the future. If that were true I would’ve gotten through college sooner, would’ve made all the necessary concessions to raising a family of my own—AND I’d probably be way more financially responsible. Well, 20/20 hindsight is … like having no vision at all.

You see, I got four drafts into this post and hated reading it every single time.

It was because I was rationalizing, and I had strong feelings about the Family Project photos I’d discovered. Without…

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The War Before The Bores

•December 19, 2014 • Leave a Comment

WarBefore1It’s all found there, deep in the winter of 1981–82.

The seeds of my discontent and contrariness, sown by Watergate, religious dogma, and late-20th century consumer culture, watered daily by dystopian prog rock, Monty Python’s Flying Circus, and Saturday Night Live, from all these and more came the first green shoots of who I am now.

And still fighting the good fight against depression, hopelessness, and bitterness. A mid-December 1981 journal entry spells it out: “Must check a tendency for cynicism I’ve had lately.”

Two weeks earlier I’d noted in the journal: “I’m bored at the moment but have a lot of things shoved back in my mind that I want to bring forward. I’m anticipating Abi’s next letter and the tape she told me about over the phone.”

Our pen pal correspondence was catching fire. And now Abi and I were calling each other.

But the contrast between where I was then, and where I was a year before, weighed heavily on my mind. A Dec. 13, 1981, journal entry explains:

“I awoke this morning with horrible, lonely thoughts about Lakewood, my life there this time last year. I think how it is now, perhaps sterile, quiet … no groups of people talking in the back of the Student Center; I thought of the lonely walk to school … the cold stone face of the building circa 1970 … It was that sort of ‘Death in the Morning’ feeling; of being a half baked human being; of living a small and local life, and of having come nowhere after such a long time.”

Hrm. A long time. As in 22 years old, 265 months, 1,150 weeks, 8,052 days and 193,248 hours. Hey, even 11,594,880 minutes if you really want to get down to it.

Not to belittle a sensitive young man from such a vast distance of time and experience, but to his credit he was starting to use his journal for more than just reporting the mundane facts of the day. Even to the point where there’s no record of how he—I—spent New Year’s Eve 1981.

The first journal entry of 1982 appears on page 11 of the National notebook, on Jan. 2:

“I’ve wafted in and out of depression lately. Abi says I’m honest about it, so I guess I’m okay. I’ve firmly decided that I will meet her in London this summer—late this summer, hopefully for the whole month of August. I don’t think… I think my parents would rather I don’t go; if I don’t go life will be the biggest joke, the most infirm lie … I’ve got the words but not the stories.

After writing letters, exchanging mix-tapes and calling each other long distance, Abi and I made plans to meet. My 1980s “trip to England and France” quickly became a “Summer of 1982 Meet Your Pen Pal in Person” trip.

On Jan. 11, 1982, a Monday, probably after work at SOS Printing, I wrote her a letter, a portion of which read:

“My thoughts have been crazy lately … thinking of titles for pieces I’d like to write. How do you like this one—The War Before The Bores. Notice that it has two meanings: ‘The war that happened before the bores’ existence’ and ‘The war that is now before the bores; the war that the bores now must face.’ That last meaning has to be my favorite. Think about it. I wonder … what makes up a boring person? An egomaniac, a smug family man, an intellectual, a sportscaster? I’ve often thought of myself as boring; God knows I can sure turn my parents off in a second by adding a philosophical twist to everything. I think that as I become older I’m learning to become more interesting, perhaps more tactful in what I say … I thought today: my energy is—has become a secret. I used to jump around and talk loudly, red-faced, sharp-tongued, tireless. Now it is strange. I’m putting physical energy inside. Sometimes I could burst.”

That, I think, was when war broke out.

Because I was beginning to trust Abigail, I sent her some of the sharpest arrows in my quiver. From a Jan. 13, 1982, letter:

“What makes you think that a creative personality cannot also be a destructive personality? Didn’t van Gogh cut off his ear in a fit of quixotic passion over a whore? Didn’t the styled European Gauguin fuck Polynesian women only to suffer fever and madness? Didn’t Hemingway put a shotgun to his forehead? What makes you think that being creative just means being nice? How many alcoholic artists? Faulkner, Jack London, Malcolm Lowry … Perhaps not many but is living not upon the dying? Where does man get the idea that decay is bad? Who is coming and who is going?”

The journal entries of early 1982 mention nothing about working at the print shop, the routines of life on the farm, and little of anything that smacked of my fictional town of Dumond. It was winter and it began to snow—a lot. Student loan statements drifted into the mailbox along with Abi’s letters. I vented my frustration to her:

“I wish the hell they’d leave me alone and go off to fantasize their own capitalistic heaven and have their little middle-class wet dreams. I don’t think highly of those who think highly of money. My belief is that money is a means, not an end. You’d be surprised to learn how many people haven’t figured that out yet. And they wonder why they never win anything.”

More than just being lonely, I craved Abi’s attention, her thoughts, feelings—her voice. On Thursday, Jan. 21, I wrote:

“…I will be a lucky young man if I make it to London this summer. By God I want to be there; I’m willing to jeopardize my present career and family’s opinions of me for the chance to come see you and live the way I’d like to live; see what I’ve never seen; do what I’ve never done…”

I’d just outlined the terms of battle and was sure there’d be a skirmish—whether with the Family Project or my new job at SOS Printing.

“You see,” I wrote to Abi, “where I live and who I associate with in this place—all find it strange that I should just take off overseas to stay with someone I barely know and have never met … and think that I must be just fantasizing about something that I’ll never do; I MUST PROVE THEM WRONG. I MUST PROVE THAT, for my own life, I make my own arrangements, and spend my money as I please. If I do not do this, then I will forever be a victim of small-mindedness, inexperience and lifeless musings about what ‘could have been.’”

Knives out.

I was writing to someone who seemed to understand me and with whom I was … falling in love. So I restated my case. “Yes,” I responded to a question Abi asked, “we are lovers … of the most spiritual, the purest sense.”My beautiful picture

After she’d replied excitedly on Jan. 22, with a belated Christmas card to the Family Project, nearly a foot of snow fell on the Minnetrista farm.

But my mind was months ahead, dreaming of summer in London.

Let’s be wildcats!” I wrote to her. “Let’s experience as much as we can!”

Facing Goliath

•December 12, 2014 • Leave a Comment

“I cannot go in these,” David said to Saul, “Because I am not used to them.”
—1 Samuel 17347px-Osmar_Schindler_David_und_Goliath

Sunday, 5:00 p.m., Nov. 9, 2008: My girlfriend at the time, AJ, and I attended worship service at House of Mercy, then on St. Paul’s Snelling Avenue.

The previous weekend she’d talked me into returning to regular church services after the death of my father that September. I was reluctant. It’d been a long time since I’d crossed the threshold of a Protestant church.

“I still think I’d like to do that,” I wrote in the journal. “The commonsensical approach [AJ] takes to emotions and spirituality is really appealing to me. I’ve never met a woman like her. I’m learning a lot and guess it stands to reason that a 48-year-old numbskull like me isn’t going to change overnight…”

Well, we attended services at House of Mercy throughout that Christmas season.

It resonated with me as in days of old: holding hands with my high school girlfriend Kim during Sunday services at our hometown’s Methodist church.

Sitting next to a loved one in a house of worship brought to the surface powerful feelings, both good and bad.


There was a time, however, when Sunday was The Day of Dread.

Facing Goliath 1Roused from bed and forced to wash up, dress up and pile into the family car to make it to church in time—it was always a hassle, whether the grandparents were with us or not. I recall a lot of sharp words, Dad’s scowling face, Mom applying lipstick at the last moment, baby brother absently picking his nose, and me wanting nothing more than to stay at home, head buried in a comic book.

Then there was the sitting. And the standing. Then the sitting. The choir, singing. A prayer, the Gloria Patri, the Apostles’ Creed, the Lord’s Prayer. And torture of torture to a young person—the sermon.

As a boy at my maternal grandparents’ United Methodist Church, in Greensburg, Ind. (above left), I was fascinated by the lone red light above the altar. “Dad,” I whispered. “What is that?

“That’s the flame of the Holy Spirit, son.”

Holy Spirit, Holy Ghost … man, why did this all have to be so creepy?

Years later, after we’d moved to Minnesota, I questioned Dad during service at the evangelical church in Navarre. Behind the altar was a tall, realistic-looking wooden crucifix. “That cross—d’you suppose it’s similar to the one Jesus was crucified on?”

I’ll never forget what he said.

“No, son. That was made with hate. This was made with love.”

Again, spooooooooky.


After AJ and I broke up in the spring of 2009, I attended House of Mercy one last time.

It was Sunday, June 14. Pastor Russell had asked the previous Sunday if I’d read the liturgy, a passage from Samuel I about David and Goliath.

AJ had left on an international trip, so I was attending the service without her. It felt strange, like missing a limb or something.

Since the beginning of that month I was sliding into a depressive episode that plunged deeper while I was at work on Friday, June 5. I was so shaky and lacking in sleep that my boss told me to go home and take care of myself. The journal tells the rest of the story:

“When I got back to my car, I was awash in tears and anguish. I prayed to my parents, to God, to explain why … why we couldn’t be together. I never felt so ripped up … I had to almost pull the car over, but I made it home … I slept a lot that Friday, cried, slept, and felt I was sinking.”

Eventually I got out of bed. It was the Sunday I was supposed to read the liturgy. I really didn’t want to. Since the service began at 5 p.m., I finally mustered the energy to go.

“I was nervous,” the journal states. “Pastor Russell and I talked before the service” about the breakup and my current mental state. “I said I’d go ahead with it. I decided to take it slowly. Really read the text. Think about what it said to me.”

“[Saul] put a coat of armor on [David] and a bronze helmet on his head. David fastened on his sword over the tunic and tried walking around, because he was not used to them.

‘I cannot go in these,’ he said to Saul, ‘because I am not used to them.’ So he took them off.”

Goliath 2Young David took up his sling, as he used to do as a shepherd, along with five smooth stones from a nearby brook.

Then he went forth to face the giant, Goliath.

“I brought water up with me and didn’t particularly feel nervous because I was so numb from sleeping and being depressed. But the text lifted me up. I felt David’s power and confidence. It was restoring.”

I couldn’t go back to my old way of being.

I was moving into unfamiliar territory.

“I miss my folks, Mom and Dad. I miss AJ. I miss my friends. It has been very isolating and strange lately. My old friends seem weird and disconnected and half the time I don’t know what they’re talking about, nor do I care about what they’re interested in.

Maybe I’m changing. Or not enough.


[Top image: Osmar Schindler David und Goliath”. Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org%5D

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