The Day We Shot the Bullfrog

•March 3, 2017 • Leave a Comment

If you asked me, “Do you remember that day we shot the bullfrog?” I’d say, “No, I don’t. In fact…” (I would insist) “I would never harm any. Living. Thing.”

That is, until the photo at left passed before my eyes.

Oh, yeeaaahhh … that.

When did it happen? It must’ve been during the 1960s. Who was holding the bullfrog? Was it me? Or an older boy? (As the arm seems to suggest. At the time I couldn’t have been older than 6 or 7.)

It was likely when the Family Project vacationed around the U.S., as the background shows: a white van, a speckled camper top above which recently deceased Jeremiah Q. Bullfrog is suspended. Also in the background are what seem to be lake cabins, so it could’ve been during a summer vacation in Michigan before we moved out East in the mid-1960s. I don’t know. It’s from “The Time Before the Diaries.”

So many questions. But it did happen. The photo is evidence.

Poor little guy. I felt sad for Mr. Bullfrog.

And I believe that I was the one who shot the bullfrog.

***

Ah, the vagaries of memory. That other side of life—the forgotten side.

What if everyone’s rock-solid “I remember…” was replaced with actual archival footage? Maybe even video that proved contrary to the “facts at hand”? Something like, “Body Cams for the Perpetually Forgetful.”

After seeing the above photo, I wondered about all the missing moments of my life—especially the ones where I probably wronged someone.bullfrog2

It brings to mind a print (at right) my late father cherished, mostly because the boy in the illustration looks a lot like he did in the late 1930s: “Nobody Loves Me.” Pop had happy memories of being a boy then. Its caption reads: “Nobody loves me. I’m going into the garden to eat worms. Yesterday I ate two smooth ones and one wooly one.”

Of course it’s ridiculous—it’s classically American ridiculous. Does the boy eat the worms because he enjoys them?

Hell, no. It’s because nobody loves him.

So, let’s all go to the garden and eat some goddamn worms.

***

My memory is shit, actually.

I wish I had a tenth of what these folks have. Or maybe not; it could be considered a freakish curse.

Keeping diaries and journals all these many years has helped me remember. When in doubt, I refer back to the exact date (or at least within a few days) that I think it happened.

I know I wronged my ex-girlfriend Sally, back in 1986 and ’87.

I’d started a corporate job in June 1985, met Sally in late summer of ’86, after I’d moved into my first apartment that April. I threw dinner parties and hosted movie-watching hangouts with coworkers. Sally and I worked in separate yet adjacent departments, she was around my age, nerdy with long, straw-colored hair, and freckles on her nose and chest. She liked to laugh and, I noted, appreciated my jokes.

An Aug. 6, 1986, journal entry records one such a movie-watching party on Friday night, Aug. 1. A quick recap: After the party, Sally stayed later than the others. She wanted to get to know me. I could sense that.

It got to be later and later, so she stayed over, but we didn’t have sex—we just made out all night. For this 26-year-old, it was extremely frustrating. The entry spells it out:

“I took a shower, got dressed, she floated around the apartment like a ghost. I made coffee and we stood out on the balcony, in the cool clear morning air. How awkward—? No, not much at least, but I could sense it in the distance, like a train. I suppose I was still ‘stoned’ by the renewed sexual vigor, the instant hugs and kisses…”

bullfrog3It’s still an awkward memory—like realizing I did shoot the bullfrog.

In December 1986, I wrote what still amounts to a cryptic journal entry:

“I know I’ve not gotten ’round to my Birthday party and the whole brief relationship with Sally at work. It’s important that that gets explained, because it’s the other side of the [girlfriend from high school/me] coin. I know I’ve told myself in the past that it’s easy to ascribe too much value to something: a person, an event…but sometimes these things move as if they had a will of their own, and I’m just there to watch as it bobs to the surface every now and then. But wanting love, returned love, unearned love. That’s approval, part of the ties with a family; even if it’s a family of two; me, and another, no doubt, no distrust.”

I know now I was rationalizing the situation to myself, probably to assuage guilty feelings. I treated Sally terribly. I tried to make it all about me, as I’m sure most of us do.

***

Then, it was 1987. One of those “bad years.”

Nothing written in the journal about what happened. No long, drawn-out intrigue; no heartbreak. Sally and I dated for a couple months, went to movies and dinners out, and of course had sex. I left the job in December 1992 and never saw Sal again.

In short, I didn’t care.

So, I shot the bullfrog.

What day was it? Any day we choose to forget.

Who is ‘we’? Anyone that is not me. But essentially that’s a lie. It’s me.

What is meant by “the Bullfrog”? Anything targeted for extermination. Followed by memory erasure.

How does one shoot it?

Every.

Single.

Day.

Grandpa in His Garage

•February 24, 2017 • Leave a Comment

Feeling The Weight. New post needing rewrite. Missed deadline. So, a repost to tide you over. Let’s try it again next week, shall we? MM

Completely in the Dark

Grandpa Adams 1962 You see, there’s a photo. I can picture it in my mind’s eye, but I can’t locate the actual print or slide.

It was taken by my maternal grandfather, Ray Adams. Of that I’m fairly certain.

You know how young children often stare meditatively at random things? Well, this photo cast that sort of spell over me. It’s an interior shot, taken in the 1960s, of a huge auditorium, much like the downtown Minneapolis armory. It was snapped from high in the grandstand seats. In the frame is a lone smudged window at the far end of the building.

I don’t know why that image still haunts me, but it does.

***

He was the first modern man.

Ray Adams was born on Oct. 10, 1900. He witnessed nearly a century of change. And he directed the course of the modern world all from a workbench in his Greensburg, Ind., garage.

If I…

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Goodbye

•February 17, 2017 • Leave a Comment

These days trying to add more hellos to goodbyes, but sometimes you have to move on. All-new post in the hopper for next Friday. Cheers, MM

Completely in the Dark

Goodbye1I’d entirely forgotten that, in the spring of 2008, I almost produced my first short film.

The impetus for the project was a local short-film contest, which set a maximum length of 12 minutes (or 12 script pages), four characters, and use of a specific location—in this case the Witch’s Hat Water Tower in Prospect Park, Minneapolis. The film also had to address the theme of “Agony and Bliss, Unrequited Love.”

I’d written a script with Chars Bonin, an actor-director friend, who cast three other actors. We scheduled production for the weekend of May 30. We chose that date because it was the only time the tower would be open to the public, and we’d be able to shoot our final scene from the top.

Work on the story started as early as April 16. The submission deadline was August 15, so we had it all planned. Our working…

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Heeeeere’s Danny!

•February 10, 2017 • Leave a Comment

I’m grateful to the generosity of my old friend Dan this past week, so celebrating with this piece from 5 years ago. New posts to follow in 2017! Cheers, Mike

Completely in the Dark

[Dear friends: Completely in the Dark will be taking a brief hiatus next week, returning with a new slate of posts on Saturday, Sept. 10. Thanks for stopping by!]

“Summer has just ended. Today was the first day of school. And in this letter to you, I hope to summerize the summer which has just ended. It ended with a wimper and started with a bang. Because on the last day of school I had a hassel with the kids around here and on the first day things went slow. I spent a lot of time with Danny this summer. We both said we should keep in touch and maybe, belive it or not, all this could become a book.” —August 1974

Things could be a real bummer, man.

Like, being 16 and having to work during the summer holiday. And remembering you used to use terms like, “It was…

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Question Everything

•February 3, 2017 • Leave a Comment

There’s this 12-year-old kid who’s got his own bedroom and he’s lying awake on a mid-winter night. It’s probably, oh, around 1971 and he’s got a clock-radio on a bedside desk, and oversized Sony headphones are cupping his young head.

“What’s he listening to?” you might be wondering.

Well, I can answer that.

It’s late night FM radio and the DJ is playing The Moody Blues’ song “Question” (the long version). It’s jazzing the beejeebers out of this kid, like having the top of his head popped off.

So much coming at him. So much thinking going out.

It’s driven by those insistent, thrumming guitars backed by soaring voices, a roving bassline and the lyrics: “Why do we never get an answer, when we’re knockin’ at the door?”

Immediately, images fly past: a burning world of persecution, yeah, just like the Vietnam War on the TV news every night, backed by skeevy politicians and faceless corporations “burnin’ in its greed…”

But “the truth is hard to swallow…” The boy recalls a Bleeding Heart Jesus knocking at the door—an image from Indianapolis in the mid-1960s—then, just as suddenly as the torrent began, the song sags into something sorrowful and sweet and lost, making the boy feel lost, too: “Between the silence of the mountains and the crashing of the sea, there lies a land I once lived in, and she’s waiting there for me.”

***

“…Back in 1987, on a Wednesday at exactly 4:41 a.m., the boy eyes a streetsweeper pirouetting the intersection of Blake Road North and 2nd Street Northeast in Hopkins, viewed out the sliding-glass patio window of his apartment. A space he will never inhabit again.”

Here is where we pick up the story again. It’s years later and he’s on the verge of completing two new pieces to follow on the previous year’s work.

When I look at the The Question of Survival section from Vicious Frieze II (1988, at left), a lot comes back.

I was struggling in the late 1980s to figure out what I wanted to do, creatively and professionally. I’d finished the first Vicious Frieze and naturally 1988 would yield up a Vicious Frieze II. Heck, I might even have a Vicious Frieze III in me. Who knew?

But what made things work was to just settle in with what I had directly in front of me at the time. You see, I grew up around crazy-makers—you might not have thought so, but to a person such as I was becoming, it might be more accurate to say “others whose values did not reflect my own.”

As a kid, I always felt I was to blame for this predicament. Now I’m seeing it differently.

It was a question of survival.

The cool thing is I survived.

***

Ten days ago I moved all my planned Vicious Frieze posts on creativity off WordPress and over to Medium.

For the next 100 days, I’m experimenting with drawing again, once every day, accompanied by a 100 words-or-so blog post.

That culminates on May 4, 2017. Yeah, I know! Seems like forever from now. The world could be completely different.

I’m excited about this because it allows room to experiment while keeping CITD true to its somewhat original mission: Making sense of whatever remains after losing everything that mattered, or in other words, a place for long-form, more autobiographical, deeper-dive pieces. The Medium posts will be no more than 200 words and accompanied by new artwork.

Completely in the Dark begins its 7th year here on WordPress and I’m grateful for all the loyal readers who’ve stuck with me.

Thank you for your friendship.

You Can Have the Town

•January 26, 2017 • Leave a Comment

RIP Mary Tyler Moore. Reposting this seemed like the right thing to do and brought back so many happy memories. Cheers, MM

Completely in the Dark

“Saw her walking thru the crystal court/she made a scene by the revolving doors…”The Hold Steady, “Party Pit”

We motored into Navarre, Minn., in our blue-green Chevy station wagon one snowy, cold January in 1971.

She came down to Minneapolis from a town up north, with everything she owned in a white Ford Mustang.

My father would be starting a new job with the University of Minnesota.

She left her friends, family, a dead-end relationship, then landed a plum gig at WJM-TV.

I was a shy kid trying to make new friends.

And she, of course, had spunk.

Say it with me now…

“…And I hate spunk.”

How Will You Make It On Your Own?

Mary_and_Rhoda_1974My first memories of Minneapolis blended with a sit-com that aired on Saturday nights at 8:30 p.m.

When I was a couple years older, in 1975, my new Minnesotan friends…

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Peeling Onions

•January 20, 2017 • Leave a Comment

All-new post sitting in draft folder. So, instead of calling it a day, here’s how to make SOS for lunch.

Completely in the Dark

“Boys! Home for dinner!”

The alpha male with the booming voice was tasked with ringing the front door dinner bell and bellowing that call to the entire Casco Point neighborhood.

That daily ritual reminds me how important food and mealtimes were to the Family Project—especially Dad—right from the beginning.

Even when we were guests of my maternal grandparents, Ray and Mamie Adams (at left, picnicking in July 1964), Dad was at the head of the table, saying grace, our heads bowed. The women cooked the food and set the table.

Years later, after we’d moved to Minnesota, the task of setting the table fell to me and my brother. And, since Mom never really learned to cook, meal preparation was eventually split between Mom and Dad.

Because of grandmother’s preoccupation with making her husband’s life hell, she perhaps neglected Mom. I never recall Mom deeply considering supper menus…

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