The Boxes

•January 12, 2018 • 2 Comments

Unfortunately, still buried in boxes. Returning to new CITD posts in another week, picking back up in 1989 and the second trip I made to England that autumn. Happy New Year, reader friends! MM

Completely in the Dark

I think the ugly buggers are trying to kill me.

It’s like mud-wrestling with your past. Except the mud just piles up, toweringly stupid and spectacular in its sheer mud-ness, always intimidating, sassing back: “You’ll never take me down!”

So I’ve been fighting back. Because now I have the time and resources to torch the Piles of Sorrow accumulating over the past eight years, so I can move on to better things.

And I’ve had two other thoughts on my mind lately: Why March 1989 might’ve been a before-unrecognized personal breakthrough, and how the current death of conversation affects us all.

So, conversation. It’s dead. Now you can text, Snapchat, Instagram, Facebook, tweet—and that’s all bullshit. I’ll go to social media to catch up, maybe, but rarely converse.

It doesn’t help that small talk exhausts me—making it and hearing it. I want to go for substance every.Single.Time.

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The Last Christmas on Earth

•December 28, 2017 • Leave a Comment

It’s a bitch to write about Christmas without seeming like a huge grump.

So, any feelings I have of sadness, regret, or pain, here’s something I’m willing to toss onto that shit pile: a total poverty of my imagination.

“Willing myself” to feel better has never worked, but some things have: getting out and about in the world, seeing what the day has to offer, as if it were a surprise gift waiting for me to unwrap.

Over the past couple weeks I’ve been thinking about times in my life when I felt really happy.

Instead I discovered I’m leaning on the same old attitudes.

You see, it took awhile for me to settle into Saint Paul after I moved here in December 1992. I rented a room in a Summit Avenue mansion and threw a “Christmas ceilidh” for my friends. That was fun.

Things went downhill from there (as life does when you’re young) and I ended up moving twice before renting a Merriam Park one bedroom in August 1993, the same year my late parents retired to southwest Florida.

Christmas as I knew it changed forever at that point—even moreso the following year when, on Friday, Dec. 16, 1994, a journal entry reports:

“Dad called from Florida and he sounded strange. I had to sit down as he said Mom was in the hospital for what they thought was a mild cardiac arrest Monday night. They didn’t call us up here when it happened because they wanted to learn more. She hadn’t felt well since after Thanksgiving and had swollen up in her legs and belly so badly that she was taken to the Emergency Room and kept over for observation. I felt like I had to comfort Dad, he thought he almost lost Mom, and as I started to think about it, it bothered me too. Before I left for shopping, I cried and prayed by my bedside, something I can’t recall ever doing before. As of today, Mom is home again and taking medication for her condition. I feel better, but am still worried. I’m not used to the idea of possibly losing my parents yet.”

I’d entirely forgotten that incident. It was the first time I learned about Mom’s congestive heart disease, and how she would need to treat it for the rest of her life.

It was, as the journal reports in January 1995, the “first Christmas not shared with my parents” and I was feeling guilty and wary about the future. Christmas was always a happy time in our family—Mom and Dad married four days before Christmas Day 1957. They joyfully embraced the season and generously gave to others.

But back in 1994, I had a glimpse of a future that would arrive in full force 14 years later, when they both died in 2008. That Christmas was truly the last and since then I’ve been asking myself how I can recreate joys I knew long ago.

I’ve come to a troubling realization—something I seem to keep dismissing.

And if I keep doing that, I think it could cost me my life.


I was first diagnosed with dysthymic disorder in 1987 by a psychiatrist in St. Louis Park, Minn. I met him because I was curious about Mom’s descent into clinical depression after her mother died in 1981, and was concerned about what I was feeling.

Or not.

Like, for a long time.

Medication helped to a degree, but I had a hard time staying in therapy. I couldn’t see an end to it, and I did not like being lumped into a group. Maybe I can change that reluctance with a plan toward “wellness,” since ignoring my condition serves no one, especially me.

After poking around on the Internet, I found there’s been new research into dysthymia. This statement in particular really hits home:

“…the damage dysthymic disorder deals to quality of life and social and occupational functioning appears to outweigh that of major depression, although the latter receives far more research attention. Dysthymic disorder should no longer be considered ‘subsyndromal’ but a major public health problem.”

I notice my condition more over the Christmas holidays because I distinctly feel less cheerful. I hear people laughing and think, “Whoa, I can’t do that.” Or, if I do find something amusing, I’m ridiculously self-conscious about it. When I’m feeling “lighter” I don’t act that way. But “lighter” is more “in-the-rear-view mirror” with each passing year.

That’s what I find really upsetting. It’s bullshit. I want it to stop. I don’t want what happened to Mom back in 1994 to happen to me.

I don’t want to be blindsided by health conditions that dysthymia might exacerbate. I instinctively know that emotions have a direct impact on a person’s overall well-being (and yeah, you can literally die from homesickness).

And I do know that my dysthymia has lowered my quality of life in long-term relationships, jobs and careers, and just plain “having fun.”

Ongoing cognitive behavioral therapy could be one answer.

I don’t know. I never feel like I know my own mind.

But I’m feeling in my gut that treatment must be front and center in the new year.

When Talk Was Cheap

•December 22, 2017 • Leave a Comment

All-new post in draft mode and not ready by publish time (today), so this will have to do. Happy holidays and Happy New Year to you all!

Completely in the Dark

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…

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Let’s Go to Germany! (Part 1: Escape Is Beautiful)

•December 1, 2017 • Leave a Comment

If your life seems packed with bad situations, maybe the road is calling. Here’s a chestnut about how that played out once before in my life. Cheers, MM

Completely in the Dark

“Riding along on this big ol’ jetliner, I been thinkin’ about my home…” —Steve Miller Band

I started March 1978 with something of a meltdown.Flight to Germany

There it is, in the diary, in all its flying colors: double- and triple-spaced entries, random song lyrics and unfocussed reportage of the day’s news: “Gee,” the March 2 entry reads, “I wrote a poem today.” The following day I got into a fist fight with Vince Marshall. No indication of what caused it (more evidence of general spaciness), just that it “really drained me, sore from Track. I hit him I did.”

Then, on March 4, a Saturday, this bomb dropped on the page:

“I got fired today.”

Apparently Super Sam’s went from bad to worse. After working a shift with fellow burger-flipper Jeff Brodie, I “got real bitchy at Sabrina and she fired me as we were closing down the gate around…

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A Few Short Steps Down to Hell

•November 18, 2017 • Leave a Comment

Dear fellow men: If you loved your mother, would you treat any woman otherwise? That’s been the core of my relationships, as best I can do. Be good. Cheers MM

Completely in the Dark

Dear Mom,

May has always been my golden month, but it suddenly turned sour.

Wasn’t easy that this past week was the ninth anniversary of your death.

Even the previous weekend was difficult. That Sunday I took a bus to my weekend gig. It was a spectacular May day—Mother’s Day, in fact.

—That’s when a crazy man got on the bus.

Another day of shit,” he snarled at the bus driver and plodded toward a seat in the back. All the passengers, about a half dozen of us, were then subjected to his loud self-talk and cursing. When the bus passed the Cathedral of St. Paul, where parishioners were spilling out into the fresh spring air, he started ranting about Mother’s Day.

“Everyone I love is dead,” he howled.

It was then, Mom, that I realized I was in the presence of evil—the kind of evil…

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Wouldn’t You Know It, She Wouldn’t Show It

•November 9, 2017 • 2 Comments

I was a sensitive kid — and one who listened to the radio constantly.

“I found her diary underneath a tree, and started reading about me…”

Music was probably my first Stargazing experience. A sound (like the sad coo of a mourning dove) or a symphony (plunked down in front of the family hi-fi for classical music) or a pop song (Grandpa Adams buying me a 45 rpm of Paul Revere and the Raiders’ “SS-396”), music has galvanized me into the person I am today.

When I heard songs I liked on the radio, I didn’t necessarily run out to buy the records. Music was available everywhere: on the bus to school, on our bedroom clock-radios or turntables, at the mall. After we moved to Minnesota in the winter of 1970–71, I heard a radio song I very much liked: “It Don’t Matter to Me,” by David Gates of the band Bread. Back then I listened (as I do now) to songs for their stories.

What exactly was it that “didn’t matter” to this Gates guy?

I had to find out.

Well, I was just entering my teens and figuring out girls and stuff. What teenager doesn’t try to act diffident about things that really matter to them? This song struck a mysterious tone: Hey girl, you find a better guy than me? Good for you! I truly want you to be happy. But if you come back, I have an empty room and open heart — don’t care who came before, as long as you’re the last.

I recognized the old saw: “If you love something, set it free. If it comes back to you, it was meant to be.”

Whoa — heavy ethos, man. I had to check out whatever this Bread group (pictured at left, David Gates far right) was putting out next.

It was probably in the summer of 1972 when “Diary” reached the Midwest, exactly around the time I’d started keeping my own diary that January. What a coincidence! But wait, the songwriter wasn’t singing about his diary, it was his beloved’s.

And never mind the obvious question: Why does she leave her diary under a tree for him to find? Could it have been on purpose? She did, after all, have a “total disconcerting air,” and wait, what? — she’s also his wife? What gives?

The genius of David Gates as a lyricist (whatever you may think of his musical abilities) is he could put this preteen into such a state of confusion- anticipation that, since this songwriter guy obviously loved his wife, yet found her a bit coy and then discovered her diary, hey maybe everything would work out in the end.

But I was nailed to the base of that tree, just like Gates’ character — reading her diary and becoming tearful. Is he happy? Sad? C’mon already — what the hell is going on?!

“The love she’d waited for was someone else, not me.”

— Noooooooooooooooo!!!

But hold on, Guru Gates still had a lesson to teach this hyper-romantic and overly sensitive young acolyte: “And as I go through my life/I will wish for her his wife/All the sweet things she can find/All the sweet things they can find.”

Awww, man. Is this what it means to be in an adult relationship? Ouch. Growin’ up is sure gonna hurt.

Then came Aubrey. That was her name. And a not so very ordinary girl or name.

What journey would Gates take me on this time?

So, songwriter guy trips the light fantastic with Aubrey. But somehow she’s MIA. “God I miss the girl, and I’d go a thousand times around the world just to be closer to her than to me.”

Okay, whut? How can you be closer to…?

Oh, never mind.

Now, he admits he really didn’t know her but “loved her just the same.” This is stalkerish-creepy, I’ll admit. Moreover, if the song were a big, sopping-wet rag, you could wring it and buckets of syrupy sentiment would gush forth.

But remember impressionable teenagers don’t win awards for emotional maturity. They want love, and they want it now! “If I can’t have the one I want I’ll do without the best!”

You tell ’em, junior!

In the end Gates reads us back some Tennyson, “’Tis better to have loved and lost: than never to have loved at all.”

In the fall and early winter of 1972, I felt nothing but “Sweet Surrender” on the bus ride to Shirley Hills Elementary School.

I admit this is the weakest link in my argument that Bread wrote great story songs. But it’s still a strong pop song — catchy as hell. What I can wrest from it 40 years later is the pro-feminist angle: how many men would admit they weren’t the ones in charge of the relationship, that they were willing to “surrender”?

Not many, buster.

However I probably liked “Everything I Own” from earlier that year best. It spoke to that romantic teenage yearning I felt while nervously walking the school halls and eyeing girls. It’s my Number One favorite Bread song.

But it became even more amazing when I recently learned Gates wrote it for his father, who had just died. I can’t hear it now and not think of my late father.

As reports from Jon Kutner and Spencer Leigh’s 1000 UK #1 Hits:

“At his father’s funeral, a friend took David Gates aside and said, ‘Your dad was so proud of what you were doing.’ David agreed by replying, ‘My success would have been so special to him as he was my greatest influence. So I decided to write and record ‘Everything I Own’ about him. If you listen to the words, ‘You sheltered me from harm, kept me warm, you gave my life to me, set me free,’ it says it all.’”

It sure does.

Dear David Gates, thank you for all your great songs and stories (and apologies for the disrespect below but hey, you cannot win ’em all).

My Top 4 Fav Bread Songs 1. “It Don’t Matter to Me” (Gates) — 2:51 (released Sept. 1969); 2. “Diary” (Gates) — 3:09 (released Jan. 1972); 3. “Aubrey” (Gates) — 3:39 (released Oct. 1972); 4. “Sweet Surrender” (Gates) — 2:38 (released Oct. 1972)

Extra Super Awesome: “Everything I Own” (Gates) — 3:07 (released Jan. 1972)

Really Fucking Awful Bread Songs 1. “Make It With You” (Gates) — 3:18 (released July 1970); 2. “Baby I’m A-Want You” (Gates) — 2:39 (released Jan. 1972); 3.Mother Freedom” (Gates) — 2:35 (released Jan. 1972); 4. “Lost Without Your Love” (Gates) — 2:56 (released Jan. 1977)

Extra Super Fucking Awful (But every wedding reception featured it): “If” (Gates) — 2:36 (released 1971)

Verne Gagne’s Scrambled Eggs

•November 2, 2017 • Leave a Comment

Not much has changed. I’m still working every weekend. But so close, so far lingers. New post next Friday!

Completely in the Dark

My locker opened on the first try.

Like a portent of the school year ahead—my junior year in high school—something as simple as opening your new locker on the first day of school seemed like a good omen.

But at Mound-Westonka high school, it was pure chaos.

Greeted friends I hadn’t seen all summer, and then went through the lineup of new classes: homeroom in the Home Ec department, Geometry, German, Western Civilization, and Chemistry.

But the most exciting thing about the day was getting home in time to call Linda. I’d asked her to the State Fair the following night. To my utter surprise, she said she’d go. So, that first Friday back at school, I was obviously distracted and anxious about our date.

It was something new for us, without other friends around—a real “date” date.

Before our family (Mom, Dad, my brother Brian and his neighborhood…

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