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 Songfacts.com 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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Fright Night

•October 26, 2017 • Leave a Comment

Jo’s mother: “Everything’s seen at its best in the dark … You know I can’t understand why you’re so frightened of it.”

Jo: “It’s not the darkness outside I’m frightened of … it’s the darkness inside [of] houses I don’t like.”

—from A Taste of Honey by Shelagh Delaney

I used to adore nighttime.

Don’t resent it nowadays, I’ve just become indifferent.

All this on the cusp of Halloween — a holiday met with similar indifference in our family.

It was the wrong holiday.

Mom and Dad loved Christmastime because, on Dec. 21, 1957, they married. Poinsettias lined the Greensburg United Methodist Church that day. Every year thereafter was an opportunity for them to reclaim their joy of that day — and they waved us into the party every chance they got. It’s one of my happiest memories of them.

Oh, but Halloween. It’s confusing.

My earliest memory is losing a mask a children’s radio event in Indianapolis. I cried buckets that fall. Later in Maryland our Irish-Catholic neighbors, the Alywards, led the charge in costume-making and door-knocking for “trick or treats.” They were always great fun. I totally get the theatricality of Halloween, but there’s a deeper issue here: the disruption before the calm, All Hallow’s Eve, because the Hallowed, the saints and their ilk, arrive at daybreak on Nov. 1.

So, Halloween is the Nightwalking you must go through to get to Daytalking.

We’ve covered this ground before, but I think it needs more teasing out.

Daytalking is easier for me to define because it’s formed the happiest moments of my life.

It’s not exactly “talking” but pure relating — connection, belonging, the thing most lacking in society today. It’s transparency, honest, candor, freedom to be yourself and allowing others to do the same (hence the connection part). For a word-phrase denoting “light” and “speech,” it’s actually a silent activity. You can be Daytalking just by silently holding the hand of someone you love. That’s the gist of it, really.

Nightwalking, however, is rough.

Rough because no one likes going through difficult times. They make us uncomfortable, like a scary movie, until we realize in the end that maybe the catharsis was necessary.

So, what if we approached Nightwalking from a Halloween perspective? I have to delve into movies to make this point, so here goes nothing.

I don’t care much for violent horror flicks — you know, the slasher stuff — but I do love a good ghost story. And I think I know why.

Ghosts, at base, are lost between worlds. I grew up with Casper the Friendly Ghost — and he was forever misunderstood. Even as a kid I got it, because kids always feel like they’re either in the way or just being ignored. The sad thing about Casper is he would remain a ghost because he’d never be recognized for his open-heartedness and generosity. I fear that may be true for many of us.

On the other hand, there are evil spirits. M. Night Shyamalan’s The Sixth Sense demonstrated that evil includes self-absorption, ignorance, and indifference. Heck, just look at Grasper the Unwelcome Ghost, haunting not only the White House but every goddamn media outlet on the planet.

Ghosts are needful things. They can’t slip their “ghosty track” until they’ve been acknowledged — and that’s usually by scaring the shit out of everyone else.

Ghosts (and zombies, their kin) are Nightwalking personified. They’re stuck, undead, spaced out, hungry for attention (and brains), and huge nuisances. But as a metaphor, they exist for a reason. Because we’ve all been that way — some to a greater degree than others.

This past week I encountered two strangers and a dear friend Nightwalking. I know what they’re going through, and will help them if I can. Nightwalking truly scares me. I don’t like the person I become when I’m there. It’s filled with fear, hate, despair and confusion. It’s a state that leads to thoughts of killing yourself.

And holy shit that is as permanent as it gets.

But I now realize it’s just a passage through, if I’m able to call it out — just like acknowledging the ghost that begs to be heard.

I’m reminded of the scene in The Sixth Sense where Kyra, the poisoned girl, needs to show Malcolm the truth — a truth even he’s not ready to acknowledge — and in the end brings an uneasy closure to a family torn by ignorance and deceit.

Maybe that’s the true meaning of Halloween: jolting the system so we can move forward to a better place?

Who knows.

The Gangster of Love

•October 20, 2017 • Leave a Comment

Ah, autumn rains and a high-school romance turned sour. Next week, an all-new post walking the edges of Halloween. Cheers my friends! MM

Completely in the Dark

Now let us speak of the pompatus of love.

When you’re on the verge of eighteen and your inner Joker is on the loose, everything seems possible.

You’re a senior in high school, you have some friends, maybe a little money, and—if you’re a guy—you’re looking for a girl. That one special girl with whom you will magically make a connection that you both will never—ever—forget.

Hey, never said we’d be talking about the truth now, did I? I mean, what do you take me for?

Some kind of Space Cowboy?

Since our school newspaper field trip to the University of Minnesota, Darla and I were spending nearly every day together. We stayed after school for a drama club meeting; we worked together in the Smoke Signal office, typing up stories for the next issue; and, on the rare occasions Mom let me borrow her car, I drove Darla home…

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How to Detect a Man in Hiding

•October 12, 2017 • Leave a Comment

Hey my brother, how’s that man cave thing workin’ out for ya?

Gettin’ a tad claustrophobic in there? No prob, let’s open a window.

Buh maybe you should put that hammer down first. Let’s open it the normal way and get us some well-needed face time, OK?

Don’t know about you, but I was shocked, saddened, and then angered by the news from Las Vegas last week.

A lone gunman, on the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay hotel, armed with 23 guns, 12 of which were fitted with bump stocks (that allow semi-automatic weapons to precisely mimic automatics), opened fire on an outdoor country music concert, killing 58 people, including himself, and injuring 500 more. Police later discovered over 50 pounds of exploding targets and 1,600 rounds of ammo in the gunman’s car. It was to date the worst mass shooting in American history.

Maybe it’s easy to become numb to this seemingly neverending horror in American society. It deadens the senses, adds to cynicism at Congress’ inability to break the NRA’s grip on it, piling on more divisiveness into an already sharply divided electorate.

But what I couldn’t get out of my mind was the reaction of the gunman’s brother at hearing the news.

Eric Paddock told CNN his brother Stephen was “an army of one” and, aside from having a girlfriend, he “hung out by himself.” Paddock related that their late father was on the FBI’s “Top 10” most wanted list, but they’d had no association with him. Stephen Paddock lived solely as a gambler, with no political or religious affiliations or criminal record, amassed millions of dollars, traveled freely, and “could do anything he wanted.”

Paddock said he “knew” his brother for 57 years.

Well, I’m now 57 years old. And I, too, have a brother I have “known” that long.

And I’ve never owned a gun.

My brother Brian (at left, with me in 1968), however, keeps our late father’s handgun and hunting rifle, and probably has another rifle he bought for himself. Brian raised three sons who often go hunting with him in the fall.

I’ve never thought twice about Brian’s gun ownership. And I’m not sure this incident has changed my mind about that.

But it has made me think: Why should two brothers be such secrets to each other? What are the lessons, rules, and traits—the sins—we’ve acquired from our father?

And am I my brother’s keeper?

I do know this: As children we were encouraged by Dad to not be weak, to not cry or feel extremes of emotion (which, oddly enough, included joy, go figure), and to “buck up and be a man.”

The women in the family, my mother, aunt, and grandmothers, all stood by in silent complicity when Dad ruled the roost. I’m sure I felt betrayed and abandoned by them.

You can only imagine.

My brother went on to play sports in school: first basketball, then football, later track and field. When he raised his own family, he grew closer to our father. Meanwhile, Dad and I became more distant. I was determined to assert the few lessons of humility, cooperation, sensitivity, and kindness I learned from our mother. It’s still challenging to stick by those values, especially in this hyper-competitive, male-centric world.

So what’s an emotionally intelligent male supposed to do, to fight the madness and shit-can the despair, inertia, and cynicism?

Well, I think I have some ideas.

Break the silence: It’s way overdue to finally deep-six the “strong, silent male” stereotype. Women should stop revering it, and men gotta spot-check their need for it.

It’s tough for me as I’m an introvert (and have always been cautious in a crowd), so I’m naturally reticent to speak about anything until I’ve thought it through.

The question I now ask is: “Can I encourage other men to speak out?”

The answer is: I must.

Feel all the feels: This will be challenging. I’ve often wondered about the energy it must take for men to hold their emotions in check. Sure, Pop got angry—he’d storm and yell and let it all out—but he was also wise enough to apologize later, or try to make amends.

Later in life, Dad and I got the chance to grieve together after Mom died. We held each other and sobbed. I’ll never forget that. The man had a big heart. It was just hard for him to let it show.

Be present in the world: The Las Vegas killer “could do anything he wanted.” He was a free agent, living in the Free World.

While America exalts freedom (and privacy) above all, the gaping hole in Paddock’s life had to be a lack of community. Hey, look, it’s okay to decide not create your own family, to not father children, and to privately enjoy the benefits that freedom affords you.

But it’s not okay to check out from the world you live in.

The one we all live in.

What if everyone contributed more to volunteering? And I don’t mean just dialing in your dollars. It doesn’t take much time or effort to personally make a difference in others’ lives.

This is something I plan to do more of after this tragedy, to find ways to give back and grow within my community, in person. And that means a diverse community—not just my fellow aging white bros. Only through reaching out have I learned things I would’ve never discovered otherwise.

So, am I my brother’s keeper?

Yes. Yes, I am.

I was raised to believe that is one of humanity’s deepest articles of faith.

Will it be easy? No, probably not. But I want to help all my brothers get out of hiding and into the open—where we can make things better for everyone.

Are you with me?

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