Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Players' Identies

[The IDs that are blank are because I did not get an email response either way from the participant. If you are one of the blanks and want your info added, then comment in this post and I will edit it.]

In addition to creating this list, I added an * by all of the most popular posts each TKO. You can see these by clicking on each TKO listed on the far right.

Reminder: Ongoing Onslaught is begining! If you would like to play, drop a comment over there and I will be sure to send you another invitation to join. It's "ongoing" so you can join at any time, but I have posted the first prompt, if you'd like to get in on the action. There is even gonna be a podcast!

Week Removed/Alias/Real Name/Blog Address(es)

1/ Cheery Cantaloupe/
1/Bizzare Banana/Annon
1/Arty Avacado (inactivity)
1/Creative Crabapple (inactivity)
1/Perky Pineapple (inactivity)
1/Newbie Nectarine (inactivity)
2/Cool Coconut/Annon
2/Odd Orange
2/Wacky Watermelon/Shea Donato/Cellar Door/Flickr
2/Cultured Cranberry/Annon
2/Naive Noni/Bill Vigen/Blog
2/Gnarly Grape
3/Alluring Apricot
3/Happy Honeydew/Annon
3/Mad Mandarine/Caity Ross
3/Strange Strawberry
3/Bright Blueberry
3/Benign Boysenberry
3/Crazy Clementine/Anna/Banana Esq.
3/Pretty Papaya/Julie/Julie
4/Tangy Tomato/Annon
4/Gutsy Guava
4/Rare Raspberry/Kiyomi Bolick
4/Alert Apple/Annon
5/Killer Kiwi/Andrea Saenz/Peanut Butter Burrito
5/Lucky Lemon/Vivienne/Xanga
5/Plesant Plum/Elizabeth Hobbs/Tandy Hard
5/Classy Cherry/Anna Grey

The Top Six

Ranking/Alias/Real Name/Blog Address(es)

1/Mighty Mango/Ian Samuel/Burning Light of Reason
2/Precious Pear/Sara DeGroot/Cheap Speech/Last.fm
3/Tart Tangerine/Alan Tauber/Prof To Be/Unexposed Visions
4/Lively Lime/Maria W
5/Playful Peach/Caroline/Travelouge
6/Brash Blackberry/Sean Ludwig/Double Think

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Final Results

First, a huge thank you to everyone. I am very sad to see the game come to a close. Join over at Ongoing Onslaught if you are too.

Everyone was fantastic this year. I really feel like the quality of the game increases so much. Thank you everyone for giving it your all and really upholding the spirit of the game.

Thirty-four contestants began in the game. This week, only the top six remainded. Based on the average rankings recieved over TKO #11 and #12,

Sixth place is Brash Blackberry
Fifth place is Playful Peach
Fourth place is Lively Lime
Third place is Tart Tangerine
Second place is Precious Pear
First place is Mighty Mango (MM averaged the #1 ranking both TKO #11 and #12)

Here's the "Voice Game." If you don't know many other players, then this will probably be useless to you. However, if you do, here's the players who submitted their information (if you chose to be annon or you didn't tell me your info, then you aren't included).



Real Names Submitted

Sean Ludwig
Alan Tauber
Shea Donato
Ian Samuel
Anna Grey
Elizabeth Hobbs
Caity Ross
Andrea Saenz
Kiyomi Bolick

If you want to be considered for the "best voice finder" award, match up these real names with the aliases and email me your list within two days (due midnight CNTL Monday).

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Precious Pear #12

When she was fourteen, she became the island’s youngest kumu hula. When she was thirty-seven, she became the youngest widow. She always said Papa was her twin soul. Mom was full of overly-poetic sayings like that. Whether she actually believed them or just liked the way they sounded, I never knew. I was only in grade school when it happened, but I still remember the endless stream of “I’m so sorry” fruit plates and “we’re here for you” haupia . The accident must have been pretty damn terrible because to this day nobody will describe it to us. If Mom lost her faith after that, nobody blamed her.

August 14, 1963: I saw him fore dem took away yesterday and saw da blood flow back inta da ground dat gave him up. I could see da minit his eyes changed and da beauty dat bilong him passed to da world he was meant fo. Dat nait da skies cried fo da beauty it lost afore it should. Cain’t pretend I wen wish had come later, but I ain’t in no hurry, cuz I know we go hui in da next world and us bein on earth just da first day in all da years comin.

It felt like the water was closing in all around me- I had to get out. I applied to nearly every college in the States and chose the one that sounded least familiar. I promised her I’d come back when I was done, but I never did. Neither did my little brother when he followed me three years later. I don’t think she ever forgave us for that. She was always so damn stubborn. Wouldn’t even move to New Hampshire to live with her daughter and only grandchildren. Instead she only saw them once a year, if she was lucky. Had to stay at “home”. How can you call something a home with no family around you?

January 5, 1974: Sapos you go an drop a bunch o seeds in da ocean at da same time; dem no gat stay wantaim fo da end. Dis ocean it got diff’ren plans for dem all. Some sindaun top, some fall. Da currents go an push an pull em to diff’ren pieces of earth. Fo sho it breaks my heart fo da yangpela ta never know me as yo kin should, but it no can be any way but. I got da Wailua in my veins and da Pu'u-ka'ala in my lungs. No can sooner leave dis island den walk outta my own skin. Ho, if I was ta fall any place but dis place, da good Lord might no figure where ta look.

Sometime after we all moved away, she must have stopped caring. Spent all her time laying out on the beach, smoking those disgusting cigarettes again. We all thought she’d eventually remarry, but as far as I know, she never even went on another date with a man after Papa. It was sad to watch really, knowing that she spent the rest of her life wishing she had been taken, too. If she wasn’t so lazy, I would have worried she’d do something foolish to end it all.

October 2, 1983: Yu see days and months and years pass by ya and yu start gettin tired of dat safe way about people. Yu begin an do what it is yu want ta do… what yu shouldha been doin all along. Ain’t no reason ta hold on ta dis body- ain’t what yu take with. Not my spirit that be smoking, and t’aint nogat wrong widdit. We all come an go wit da same, no matter what we do here, oh yeah no? Real love, dat be what happens in da forever. But dat don’t mean yu got to ignore samting else while yu here. I know he’ll be forgivin me for it and I’ll lettim have his forty years dancin wit angels 'fore me.

Bad habits and inactivity aside, I still thought we’d have her for awhile longer. Actually, I was convinced that in a few years, when she finally started feeling her age, we’d finally convince her to move into a home here where we could watch over her. Sometimes I wonder if it surprised her, too. Or maybe she spent the last couple years fearing that the end was just around the corner. It’s that kind of stuff that makes me terrified of growing old, like maybe a quick death in the middle of life is the way to go. That way you never have to worry about it.

July 16, 2006: I feel it creepin on in. Not da kine sad heaviness dat way yu hear tell. Mo like a light air fillin up my bones so dat each morning I wake a little closer to Heven til one day I git ta be more of dat next world den dis. Nothing yu can do about it wen yu pau, so no reason to be happy no be sad. Just gonna happen.

She didn’t even want a funeral. Only wanted to be burned and spread out on the beach as soon as possible. We couldn’t make it out there with such short notice, so the money was wired to us. The only other thing she left to anyone was a box she had mailed to me. Nothing but some old records, a photo album, and her journal. Probably full of how much she hated us for leaving her alone and how miserable she was without Papa around.

Some people just give up too soon.

Lively Lime #12

I had lived a good life. I was a good person. It was only proper that I had died peacefully in my sleep, as a healthy old woman. A death reserved for the lucky few. I remember taking a shower, putting on my cotton pajamas, as I had done every evening for decades. I remember laying on the crisp and clean sheets that July night, next to my husband, as a cool breeze floated through the screened window. I remember closing my eyes slowly as I drifted into the night….

And then I was greeted by fanfare. "WELCOME TO HEAVEN!!!", two winged angels in grass skirts cheered loudly at me. They quickly draped flower garlands around my neck before I could say anything. A spectacled man dressed in a sky blue tuxedo with the name tag "Petey" smiled and gestured towards a brightly lit boulevard lined with white buildings. Everything was happening so fast. And the ground looked…fluffy. White and fluffy. A little boy in a white vest ran up to me and opened a small box.

"Cigarette, ma'am?"

"Um…I thought those were bad for us. Why are you offering one to me?"

"Oh no. These are Seraphim 100s, made with cherubimleaf. Additive-free. Even the Boss smokes them. Please, try one."

I still looked skeptical.

"Besides, what do you have to worry about, ma'am? You're already dead."

Good point. I took the cigarette. It lit up automatically when I put it to my lips. Amazing.

Petey put his hand on my shoulder. "Please come with me. I can take you to your residence."

I followed, all the while thinking…Hawaiian angels, flower leis, white neon lights, cigarettes. Was this Heaven or Vegas?

After a short walk on the fluffy yet surprisingly solid street, we came to a charming ivory-colored cottage. A little garden filled with white roses lined the front yard. Next to the front door hung a small wooden sign, engraved "Julia Daniels." Everything about the house was perfect, except that it didn't have a roof. "No need for a roof. It never rains here," said Petey, in reaction to my puzzled face.

Of course, how silly of me. Heaven, duh.

"This will be your piece of paradise for eternity. We hope you will be comfortable. Mary and Elizabeth will visit you soon and introduce you to your neighbors. In the meantime, enjoy your new surroundings, and congratulations on making it into our community." And with that, Petey closed the door and left.

The house was actually quite small, only two rooms, but comfortable. One room was decorated in country classic style, with green pastel fabrics and big windows that let the warm sun in. In the corner was a small birdcage. I gasped.

"Pippin!!" I ran over and looked at the tiny green parakeet inside. The markings on his sleek feathers were unmistakable. It was my first childhood pet. God, I cried so much when he died after 7 years. I opened the cage door and he hopped out onto my wrinkled old finger, no different than he did when it was the chubby finger of a 9-year old. I could sense his words, "I've been waiting for you, Julia. I've missed you." I almost cried again.

With Pippin now perched on my shoulder, I explored the rest of the house. One thing that prominently stood out was a white reclining armchair in the middle of the second room. A large white flatscreen computer monitor hung from the ceiling in front of it. I went over and sat down. A white keyboard popped out from the side of the chair. I laughed when I looked at the logo on it.

Apparently, Heaven uses Macs.

Guess it suits the decor, I thought. I switched on the monitor. I almost couldn't believe what I saw.

"Welcome to LifeVision, a feature of your own personal paradise, where you can watch your entire life recorded on HHHDTV at your leisure. Also, with the easy push of a button, you can activate the new LifeStats function and calculate the frequency of any activity you engaged in while alive. Please contact Noah at the help desk if you have any questions. Smile, as we take a quick photo for our records." A little camera suddenly flashed, and my black & white picture appeared on the screen. "Julia Daniels, registered member since July 12, 2065."

When I was younger, I had always joked about wanting to know how many times I had said the word "potato", or how often I cursed. How many times did I sneeze in my life? How many hugs did I get? How many cupcakes did I eat? And here was the machine to do it. I was really starting to love Heaven.

And so for quite some time....a day, a week, a year, 10 years, who knew anymore?....I relived the happy moments of my long life. I watched my 5-yr old self playing catch on the beach with my parents. I saw myself in the high school ski club. My first "A" in law school. My band, the Goldfish Royals. Nathan. His excited face on the rollercoaster at Coney Island. Our wedding. Traveling across Europe and Australia together. Starting my own firm. Retiring and taking care of our grandchildren. Snorkeling in the Caribbean for our 50th anniversary. At some point, I dozed off. How long was I asleep?

Suddenly, the doorbell rang. I opened the door. It was Nathan! And in a snazzy white suit, no less. He had flower garlands too. No cigarette, though.

"Surprise, Julia. Miss me?" , the little wrinkles forming around his eyes as he grinned. I hugged him for hours. We walked into the house, not noticing that the sign by the door had now magically changed to "Julia and Nathan Daniels."

"I want to show you the most wonderful contraption." Then I stopped, and it was my turn to grin.

Where there had been one armchair, there were now two, placed side by side and close enough for an old married couple to hold hands as they reminisced for as long as they ever wished.

We had made it. We were in Heaven, and it would be forever.

"Want to find out how many times we said 'I love you?'"

Pippin just chirped happily in the background.

Playful Peach #12

My mother died when I was 22. She had ovarian cancer that rapidly became stomach cancer and the treatment for that is a pine box (so I overheard a snarky doctor say). I knew that it was coming as soon as the doctor said it and it gave me this dull pain right under my ribs almost as if I had been punched a long time ago and the bruise stayed deep inside me. While my friends were moving into big cities, sleeping with random men and “finding themselves” I was planning a funeral and trying to stop my Uncle Irving from grabbing my ass. I felt suffocated by the visitors and by the constant flux of scallop potatoes and tuna casseroles that seemed to multiply in the kitchen. The worst part of all of it was I think I was more upset about my loss of freedom than by my mother’s death. Well, maybe not more upset but at least equally so. I needed to get out and fortunately for me my chance came sooner than I thought.

My mother had been planning to go on a cruise of the Caribbean islands as soon as she discovered she was dying. She told me that dying meant you got to do things you always meant to but never quite got around to it. She died two weeks before her ship was set to take off. At first I felt kind of bad for even thinking I would go on the cruise in my dead mother’s place but I was set at ease by my sister Cindy’s urgings, “Mom would have wanted you there anyway Sadie, you were always her favorite.” She meant it to cheer me up but even mentioning how my mother thought of me realize that I had to think of it in the past tense. She would never ‘think’ of me again.

The moment I walked on the cruise I realized what a bad idea it was. For starters, I was never told that it was a cruise for people 60 and over, (I thought maybe I could meet a man on this cruise, not see one die.) Apparently this was a cruise for single elderly people to mingle and fall in love in their ‘twilight years.’ I was miserable as soon as I walked on the ship and just planned to sleep for the next 3 weeks. One positive (at least to me) side effect of being depressed is that you can sleep for 12 hours like you did when you were a kid. But, when I walked into my room I realized that wasn’t going to happen. I pulled myself through the tiny door to my room dragging my overstuffed suitcases behind me only to discover that I had a 72-year-old roommate

“Hi, I’m Agnes, I hope you don’t mind that I smoked in here,” she said in a gruff voice that indicated to me that she had been smoking for quite awhile and that my minding could really do nothing about it.

The room (which was tiny) was filled with smoke; I could barely see her face. She was decked out like all the old ladies were for the cruise complete with a lei and sandals that showed her yellowed toenails. I coughed a hello and tried to see where my bed was. I am in hell I thought to myself, I was selfish and now God is punishing me by making me die at 22 by second hand smoke. I wanted to cry, which was easy since the smoke in the room was already making my eyes tear up. Agnes finished her cigarette and then began to notice that something was wrong.

“Are you okay darling?” she asked looking more like a nice grandmother than the evil smoke-welding devil she was when I walked in. I shrugged and felt the tears begin to flow as the words poured from my mouth in an unstoppable stream of thoughts. I told her about losing my mother, losing my 20’s and my life and she listened with the intent eyes of someone that you had known for a long time, not only 2 minutes in a smoke filled room on the geriatric cruise 2k6 extravaganza. Her kind eyes made me feel a little better, but more than that it was just having someone listen to me talk. Once I was finished I felt like all my emotion had been poured out like an empty glass.

“You know what you need,” she said fighting back a cough, “you need to get out and have a good time.”

Right old lady, you can show me a good time when you are practically dying, I thought to myself but what I said was, “Well…should we go out then?”

“Yes,” she said more excited with every word, “but first, lets take a few swigs.”

She then pulled out a flask that looked like it was from the 1920’s filled with something that tasted like it was even older but made me feel a little better. After I was sufficiently tipsy Agned decided to show me what her world was like. We went upstairs and played shuffleboard until dark and she talked about all the places she had seen and lovers she had. She told me about a young girl with a lot of dreams from Indiana that ended up leaving her husband and joining the Peace Corps to build wells in Africa. I was so amazed by her bravery and was convinced with every conversation that I should try to live my life just like her. At 22 I felt like I hadn’t really done anything yet but Agnes assured me that living through your mother dying meant that you were much older than you thought. After shuffleboard we got more drinks and flirted with some old men (alright, I mainly watched her flirt they were like my grampy’s age…..eww), and then danced a little bit. It was about 4 am by the time we stumbled back to our room, our feet heavy and happy from dancing all night. I smiled to myself glad that I had finally found a companion even if she was 72 years old.

By the time I got into bed the sun was just starting to peak over the ocean. Finally things were starting to get better I thought to myself. I was having fun and even laughing again something I thought wouldn’t happen for a long time. Even though I was 22 and supposed to be living it up it had been a long time since I had watched the sunrise. I leaned over to tell Agnes to look outside when I noticed she was turned into the wall. I thought she was just asleep so I sweetly whispered good night to her. When she didn’t respond I felt like something was wrong so I walked over to her bed only to see her eyes rolled back into her head. She must be sleeping I thought to myself, this can’t be happening to me again, not another death so soon. I tried helplessly to do CPR on a smoker of 60 plus years and realized that it was helpless. I had obviously thought life was looking up for me too soon.

Mighty Mango #12

I don't know why I started working in a nursing home. I made up a joke: when people ask, I say, "I thought it said nursery. I love kids." Weak laughs, usually, but it's better than "I don't know," followed by "ah," and a few moments of head nodding. People don't ask quite as much as they used to, of course. I mean, I've been working here... Christ, forever and a day, it feels like.

I guess I thought it would be romantic. Or unexpected. Like those stories you always read, about old people with tons of personality, tons of life in them. Someone's salty old grandma with a zillion stories, who can totally keep up with the young whipper snappers. Or maybe old people, reconnecting with romance, and life.

You read those stories, places. Newspapers. A rash of elderly STDs because the guys can't keep it in their pants. Viagra and everything. So you get this image in your head. "Old People: Basically Like You And Me." I'm not saying I imagined PlayStations, but bridge. Cards. Volleyball?

That isn't how it is.

The people living where I work have been, mostly, abandoned. Their families are still alive, healthy, and often numerous. But they don't visit. Yet that is all these old folks talk about: when their son, daughter, or grandchildren will visit next. And when they visited last. I know. It sounds like a cliche: something you'd read in a bad story written by a mean-spirited girl who just didn't like her job.

Surely, they have other things. A lifetime of memories. Wisdom with which to see the world. It just can't be true that they sit around and talk about their bastard children, who loathe the smell of that place (is it urine? is it the low-quality cafeteria food? little of both?) so much that they abandon their parents there.

But it is true. That's how everyone is. None of them even speak to me--and I'm young, here to help them!

"Beatrice," I say. "It's time to change your clothes, dear."

Beatrice is 83 years old. That makes her 60 years older than me. I take care of her.

I imagine life stories for all of the people here because I'm too scared to ask them anything about themselves. So, in my head, Beatrice was an awkward child growing up, and remains an awkward old person. She has a hard time making friends here because she thinks no one likes her, so she stays in her room. She watches Jeopardy! every day at 4:30pm, during dinner, because she thinks Alex Trebek is a nice boy.

I don't know if any of that's true, but couldn't it be?

She doesn't take her gown off, though: she just looks at me, right in the eyes. "Elsie, dear," she says, startling the living fuck out of me.

"What!" I gasp.

I realize I've been rude, but damn, it's the first time she's ever said a word to me. I can literally not remember a single previous conversation we've ever had--and now she's interrupting me while I try to take care of her, to change her? How does she know my name?! Oh. Name tag. That must be it. I work here, so I have a name tag.

"Elsie, dear, I'm feeling a little ill. Would you give Felix a message for me?"

"I... what? Yes."

"Tell him I can't meet him for lunch today. Thank you, sweetheart."

Meet... for lunch? Beatrice doesn't meet people for lunch. She does not. Felix? That guy hasn't left his room in a hundred years! I've never seen them hang out.

Oh, that poor woman. I immediately conclude that Beatrice's mental health has taken a turn for the worse, and go to speak to my supervisor, Craig. His office door is always open, but I've never really had occasion to speak with him before. He and the other employees here went out for drinks and things sometimes, but I wasn't really interested.


"Ms. Berry... how can I help you?" He seemed confused that I was there. Well, no surprise. I'm a bit of a model employee: I always do my work, quietly, without bothering anyone. I don't bother my supervisors. I don't bother Craig.

I told him about the strange incident. He refused to seem surprised. He just nodded along, until I finished my story.

"So, pretty weird, right?"

"Why would it be?"

"Because that woman never eats lunch with anyone. She's a total loner, Craig. Felix? Felix hasn't left his room in a hundred years." I was repeating myself, I knew, but Craig hadn't heard the thought the first time.

"Elsie... those two eat together every day, dear."

Dear? Dear!

"Don't call me dear!"

Why was I getting so angry?

I tried to stand, but slipped a little bit, tumbled, and before I knew it I had hit the ground. Hard. Hard enough to hear a dull, sickening snap as I went down.

I woke up a few hours later, in what I can only assume was the city hospital. Thank God they'd taken me out of that urine-soaked hellhole. I resolved to quit my job immediately the next morning.

"Ms. Berry?"

That was me. Elsie Berry.


"You have visitors."

And in came three little boys and two girls, none of whom I recognized. Two adults--their parents, I guess? They looked concerned. The woman was on the verge of tears! And she looked like... someone. Like my mom, a little bit. Why were they here?

"Auntie Elsie Auntie Elsie. Are you okay?"

"Broken hip," said the doctor.

The woman burst into tears. "That place! It's that place, it's a hellhole!"

"Who the fuck is Auntie Elsie?" I said.

"Shh. Honey. Honey. Elaine. It's not a hellhole. They said she was having a hard day, that she was right in the middle of an episode. Yelling at Dr. Craig."


"Doctor" Craig?

Who the fuck are these...

Oh, God.

Tart Tangerine #12

“You’re not what I was expecting.”

“You’re not what I was expecting either,” she said. She sat there, dressed like she was at some Hawaiian picnic in August, a couple of leis draped around her neck, a cigarette in one hand. She looked like an old woman, somewhere in her sixties or seventies. She reminded me of my Aunt Mabel. Then, what she said sank in.

“Wait…what?! How can I not be what you were expecting? You’re GOD!” I cried. And so she was. Five minutes ago I had been enjoying a nice steak dinner at the local Sizzler, when I felt a shooting pain in my chest and left arm. The last thing I remember was falling out of my chair and hitting the floor, the taste of a New York strip steak still on my lips. Then I blinked and was here. It looked like a cabin up in the northern woods of California. But the place was empty, except for this woman sitting there on a deck chair, smoking. She’d just explained that I’d entered the afterlife and introduced herself. I was so shocked at her appearance that I’d said the first thing that popped into my head.

“Why, free will honey. A lot is made down there about my supposed omniscience, but it’s a bit of a crock. Oh sure, I know everything that has happened, and I can tell you what’s happening right now, anywhere. But tell the future? If I could tell you what was going to happen, what choices you were going to make, why then, they wouldn’t be choices, would they? They’d be preordained, and that’s not the way I designed things.”

I was a bit rocked by this. I’ll admit, I wasn’t expecting a long theological discussion. Then again, I wasn’t expecting to die either. I was expecting to eat a nice steak and make it home in time for “House.” Instead, I get this – a personal audience with the Almighty, but not in any form I was expecting. She smiled at me, as if reading my thoughts, which she probably was.

“I know, a bit more than you were looking for.” She smiled kindly, with the infinite patience of someone who’s gone through this whole song and dance countless times. “You were expecting harps and clouds, perhaps? Maybe an old man with a long white beard? Perhaps a burning bush?”

I latched onto the familiar imagery. “Well…yeah. Or, based on some of the things I’ve done, maybe I was expecting pitchforks and horns.”

She chuckled loudly. “Oh come on now, you haven’t been that bad. Sure, you haven’t gone to church every weekend, and you could have shown your father more respect. But I grade on a curve, and you’re hardly near the bottom.”

“Well that’s a relief.” Then something clicked into place. “So does that mean the Christians had it right all along? It’s not Vishnu or Allah or Buddha?”

“Nope. They’re all right.”

“But how can that be? Each religion believes something different. And they all believe they’re the only one.”

“Marketing kid. Marketing. Old P.T. Barnum had it right. You can please some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time. But you can’t please all of the people all of the time. So I don’t try.”

“But…that can’t be right!” I insisted, forgetting for a moment whom I was addressing.

“And why not? I’m powerful enough to create the universe, all-knowing enough to see into your soul, I can take any form I want, but I’m not smart enough to realize that it takes different strokes for different folks?” She smiled indulgently at me, like she was lecturing a four year old.

“But then…why is it a basic tenant of all religions that they are the one true path?”

“Exclusivity junior. You gotta have something to attract them to the faith. Why join one church when any will do? Why tithe 10% to the Tabernacle when the Catholics only want five bucks every Sunday. Why spend time being lectured to about the pits of Hell when the Jews don’t believe in it? Why give up your Friday nights when everything’s already closed on Sunday? You gotta give the folks a reason to come in. Gotta put butts in seats. But really, at the end of the day, the only thing that matters is that you believe.”

I was shocked at the bluntness that She was displaying. Needless to say, while I hadn’t been the most God-fearing man in the world, I still went to church enough to know how God talked and this sure wasn’t it. Alright, God can assume any form She wants, so if she wants to look like an old lady who you’d expect to see gambling in Atlantic City, who am I to say She’s wrong? But God didn’t talk about “butts in seats.” Not the God I knew. It was all “thees” and “thous” and whatnot.

“So let me get this straight…if every religion is right, does that mean those nutjobs who strap bombs to themselves and blow up discos are up here somewhere?”

“Of course not. Don’t be silly. I said every religion was right, not that every interpretation is right. Plenty of idiots have done things in My name that I don’t approve of. Those are the sorts of people who fail the curve. I’ve always been about peace and love. So killing people in the name of peace…well that’s a bit like screwing for virginity, isn’t it?” She laughed at the joke. “I’ve always loved that particular turn of phrase. Now come on now, Junior. Our time is short and I know there’s one more question you’re burning to ask, so ask away.”

“Alright. So why do you let bad things happen to good people?”

“I don’t. I don’t ‘let’ anything happen. Einstein was right. I don’t play dice with the universe. Not for a long time. I set up first principles, gave you free will, then let the machine run on its own. I observe, I know, but I do not interfere. All the evil in the world, that’s just the depths of human depravity. Which is only exceeded by your capacity to do good. That, perhaps, was my greatest success. For every Hitler, there’s a Jonas Salk. For every Pol Pot, a Mother Theresa. And usually more than one. So when you see bad things happening in the world, and you feel that nothing can be done, look inside yourself and find some way to make the day a little better for someone else.

“And now,” She said, “our time is up.”

“CLEAR!” A jolt went through my body and my eyes fluttered open. “We’ve got a pulse! Let’s get him to the ambulance.” I was felt myself lifted off the floor and placed on a stretcher. And as I was wheeled out of the restaurant I struggled to thank the paramedic who was pushing me toward the ambulance.

“Don’t thank me, pal. Thank the woman at the next table who did CPR until we arrived. If not for her, you’d be talking to God right now.” I managed a weak chuckle.

"Brother, if only you knew."

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Brash Blackberry #12

When I tell friends who met my grandmother before her death what she was really like, they’re usually surprised.

“Come on. There’s no way she said shit like that,” one friend told me when I told stories about the real her.

Sometimes at family functions, Grandma would tell her children and grandchildren stories of her past and we would all gather in a semi-circle, hoping to hear something we didn’t know. We made a rule that anyone 17 or older could hear the stories, as we liked to think of them as equivalent to R-rated films. They were usually graphic and full of obscenities, and only during the telling of these stories would she talk like this.

Grandma King was an artifact – she’d seen the world change and lived to tell of it. As a military nurse, she saw World War II up close and personal. She claimed to havegiven Clark Gable a hand job three years before his death. (She’d add on the end, “Of course, this was before I was married. But still, it was exhilarating.”) Grandma even survived a rapturous tornado that took the life of her husband and a few of her neighbors.

She was full of stories, but only one of her stories struck me on every emotional level. And to this day, that story defines her existence in my mind.


Mary awoke when the bombs started to drop. She’d fallen asleep in a hospital bed the night before, after treating a petty officer that had burned his hand trying to set a makeshift fire outside of his quarters.

As a 22-year-old nurse at Pearl Harbor, Mary never expected to hear the sounds she heard. Dazed, she stepped out of the hospital’s back door, greeted by the sight of mountainous pillars of black smoke. She looked overhead, seeing a swarm of Japanese fighter planes. The pilots dropped bombs and torpedoes at battleship row, the massive naval ships assigned to protect the Pacific.

Mary ran 1,000 feet from the hospital, not caring that a bullet or bomb could graze her. She needed to see what was happening at the bay. When she neared the edge of the shore, she saw a Japanese pilot land a bomb into the innards of the USS Arizona. Many officers on deck jumped ship in a desperate attempt to save their lives. Mary stood mesmerized at that moment, knowing that in just a few seconds the ship would explode from the inside out.

When it exploded, Mary got an expansive look at the gaping hole in the side of the Arizona. She saw a man hanging from the edge of the newly created hole, his torso impaled by a steel rod and flesh burned beyond repair. Mary threw up.

She had never seen anything like this before. Hell, she’d never even had a patient die in front of her. She had a feeling everything – her existence, the lives of everyone here, the world – was about to drastically change.

After the pilots were out of bombs, they began shooting machine gun ammunition into any American they could aim at. Mary immediately ran back to hospital with a clearer head than before.

When she came back, she was ordered by a doctor to begin allocating all available medical supplies and put them out on tables. And as she began prepping the spaces for the dead and dying, hundreds of wounded soldiers came through the front doors, with burns, gun shot wounds and the like.


She was changed. My guess is that when she looked into the abyss of that ship and saw death so close, she learned the fragility of her life. She no longer held onto the trivial things and in turn, her thoughts and actions were lived without remorse.

At her funeral, we blew up the last photo taken of her. It was taken at the Sheraton hotel lobby six hours after she visited the USS Arizona memorial in Honolulu. The photo shows Grandma wearing several leis, smoking a cigarette, and relaxing like she was telling one of her stories.

The night that photo was taken, the 87-year-old woman died in her hotel bed. It wasn’t the cigarettes, as many of us thought it might be. Her heart had just stopped beating.

Most of her family, myself included, came to the conclusion that Hawaii was the best place for her to pass away. She looked back at Pearl Harbor as the real beginning of her life and at the Arizona memorial, she decided it was finally okay if she didn’t continue on.

She had done her part.

Monday, July 17, 2006

TKO Question #12

Be inspired by this photograph. Write. For example, you could describe the picture, write about a scene that occurs in the picture, someone has memories of this picture, etc. Just ideas not limitations.



* Precious Pear
Lively Lime
* Mighty Mango
* Playful Peach
Brash Blackberry
Tart Tangerine

Saturday, July 15, 2006

Precious Pear #11

Something wakes me and I stretch my foot to feel the quickly cooling sheets. How does she keep getting up before me? I turn over and see no body. No good morning. Just her watch on the nightstand. As long as she left her watch, she would be coming back the next day. So we stare face to face and count the seconds until the door shuts. 4,3,2... gone. Two months and she's still as much a mystery to me as the first day we met. Eventually she'll have to give in. Until then, I better learn a few more phrases.


I met Jason two months ago during my vigorous campaign to not die alone. I was terrified of becoming one of those lonely old women with no friends besides my eighty-seven cats. So even if Jason wasn't perfect, he at least walked on two legs. It's possible my standards have become a bit lax. I was in church at the insistence of my mother- apparently all the "best" single men can be met through divine intervention. Whatever. I promised to go, but I didn't promise to like it. I hid the TV Guide in my hymnal and passed the time planning my inevitably solitary week. One Sunday, I had the unmistakable sensation I was being watched. I'd been caught.

"Dieu peut être très ennuyeux parfois." I felt better disagreeing with God in another language. Besides, I learned from The O'Reilly Factor that the French were Godless cowards, so maybe He wouldn't catch on.

"Oui... La vie est belle"

He had no idea what I was saying.

"Tu es completement debile"

"Mieux vaut en paix un oeuf qu'en guerre un boeuf."

That's how our relationship began. And since then, I've kept insulting him to his face while he regurgitates phrases he must have learned from Olive Garden menus. I worked up the nerve to sleep with him, but I still can't quite stomach the early morning post-coital chit chat. Too personal. I'm too smart for him and I don't care for his sense of humor, but if I have to be unhappy, I'd at least appreciate the company.


Even if nobody notices I'm gone until the neighbors complain about the rotten smell and constant mewing, I'm determined to leave an undeniable impression on whoever cleans out my house after I die. One of my most prized possessions is a bookcase in the middle of my living room tottering under the weight of nearly eighty identical black notebooks, each filled with the memoirs of a personality that never really existed. Number 29 is a young woman whose lover nobly put himself between a bullet and the British Prime Minister. She subsequently threw herself down the stairs, determined not to go on without him; unfortunately she succeeded only in paralysis and spent the rest of her days bedridden and heartbroken. Number 41 is a 17-year old boy whose years of sexual abuse and acid addiction have convinced him he turns into a falcon at night and feeds upon virgin flesh.

My favorite is number 55. It's about a deeply depressed woman who is tormented by the knowledge that her mother unsuccessfully carried her twin in the womb for five months.

I should have been the other twin. The lucky twin. The twin that was smart enough to hang herself with the umbilical cord before having to put up with this backwards, bullshit world.

That one may or may not have been slightly auto-biographical.

Fictitious friends aside, I still harbor a fantasy that I'll eventually meet a white knight who will fully appreciate my... eccentricities. Like Jason, the funny guy at church who doesn't realize that bitch Isabelle is always insulting him. I wish somebody would fake a language for me someday. Oh well. Time to feed the cats.

Mighty Mango #11

“Mom! Will you tell Ellie to get her stupid friends out of here?”

That was the first thing I heard when I got home: Lisa and Ellie fighting again. When they were born, the idea of having twins seemed vaguely romantic, or science-fictiony, or something. It turns out that having twin daughters is like having twin boils on your ass. It sucks, and there’s two.

“Ellie! It’s seven o’clock. Tell your friends to go home so that Lisa can—oh, Breyer. Hi! I didn’t even hear you come in.”

My wife, Helen. Helen and I went to business school together. Here’s an advice for all the young turks out there: don’t marry anyone you meet in business school. Okay? It seems like a good idea: power couple, make lots of money, Bill-and-Hillary thing, right? Actually, most of the time, you end up marrying yourself, and it turns out that I’m not a very pleasant person.

“Hi Helen.”

And that was it. That was the only thing we said to each other for an hour. And you know what? I don’t even mind. I don’t think she minds, either. My life is not a tale of wistful longing, of lost romance, of wanting. I don’t want anything. I don’t want romance. I just want to keep up the appearances of my marriage and work, because dammit, I like my job. I love it.

So I retired to the bedroom. Getting home at 7pm was sort of a treat, because it meant I could watch “Jeopardy!” (I love Jeopardy!) as it was airing, rather than on the TiVo. So I curled up my feet on the bed, and reached for the remote—

Damnit. God damnit. Where is my fucking TiVo remote?! Probably buried under a pile of… what the fuck is this? Liberté: A first-year French Textbook. Wonderful.

Lately, Ellie's French books have been all over the damn place. I assume they’re Ellie’s books, anyway. They’re… about high school age, I’ve got to imagine. Kids take language classes in high school, yeah? And obviously my daughters aren’t going to take Spanish or something. I guess they could be Lisa’s. She’s… bookish. She has books. I’ve seen her read a book before.

It really pisses me off that they’ve been in here. They’re not supposed to be in my bedroom. I keep private things in here! Well, I don’t, actually. All of my private things are in my office. But I could. I could keep really goddamn private shit in here. I could have naked pictures of their mother in here, spread-eagle.

Thinking that thought weirded me out a little bit.

I’d tell Helen about the books. But the last time I found Liberté lying around and complained to Helen, so she’d talk to the girls, she just looked embarrassed and changed the subject. Helpful, Helen. Meanwhile goddamn Liberté is sitting on the coffee table next to some… tea cups, I guess. Some kind of cup. People drink tea from white cups, yeah? I think my Mom used to do that. Have friends over, drink tea. Whatever.

“Ellie! Lisa! Get in here!”

No one was going to leave a goddamn French book in my room. Not while Breyer Brest Levinson was the king of his household!

They skulked in. “What, Dad?”

“Who left this book in here?”


“I know one of you did. Whose is this?”

“I take Finnish in school,” said Lisa.

“You do? That’s cool,” said Ellie.

“Shut up. I like it!” Lisa was, I think, overreacting. But it was hard to—

“I’m serious! I want to take Finnish.”

“You can’t,” said Ellie, sardonically. “It overlaps with cheerleading practice.”


Why is this drama bomb going off in my bedroom?

“I don’t care who wants to take Finnish,” I said. “Who is actually taking French?”


“Whatever. Get out.” Boils on your butt. Having twin girls is exactly like having boils on your butt. Boils that lie about their French books.


Tomorrow was Sunday. Which meant, inevitably, that sometime tonight Helen was going to ask me to go. Which meant, inevitably, that I was going to say yes. I’ve tried getting out of this a lot of ways. Staying late at work doesn’t work because she leaves a note in the foyer before I go to bed. Falling asleep early doesn’t work because she wakes me up to ask.

I’m not against God, per se. I just don’t… feel like going to church. Is that shallow? Well, whatever. I don’t. I want to sleep in. On the rare Sundays that I don’t have to go into work at all, I like to sleep in, wake up, eat some toast, watch my recorded copy of Meet the Press, and relax. Hearing about how I’m supposed to love blah blah and whatever is fine, but I just don’t… get it.

But I can’t say no. If I tell her no it will become an issue. A fight. Some goddamned thing, that we’ll have to talk over and truthfully, I’ve measured this stuff, the talking and fighting takes more time than church. Which is pretty unfair. She gets to make me go to church by fighting with me for longer than church would take.

Knock on the door. “Breyer?”

The fact that we knock on our own bedroom door should really tell you something.

“Yeah. Come in.” I quickly turned up the TV volume so I could appear to be paying really close attention.

“Are you coming to church tomorrow morning?”



Pause. Helen’s standing there with the door open, I’m pretending to listen to Rear Admiral Dipshit on television miss a basic Kafka question. And there’s this weird moment where I feel like I should say something, but truthfully, I don’t want to talk to her that much. What am I supposed to ask? Hey, Helen. How was raising the girls today? Oh, yeah? Blah blah blah and whatever? Great, great.

“Well, thanks, Breyer.” And she walks away.

And I fall asleep like that. About half an hour after Law and Order. Helen got in bed beside me sometime during the night, because when we wake up, she’s there.

I sit through church. On the way there, Ellie compliments Lisa’s shoes, which she manages to take offense to. Ellie’s wearing these sort of strappy sandal things which, honestly, look goddamn uncomfortable to me, but that’s how all of Ellie’s shoes look. I think 16 is too young to be wearing even a short heel, but all of that’s Helen’s department.

But Lisa is just wearing flat-footed slippers that look like ballerina shoes to me. Comfortable. Drab. Boring. But comfortable. I think there’s probably a subtext here, but damned if I have ten minutes to sit down and puzzle it out.

Don’t think I’m a monster. I’m not. I do care about my girls. I just don’t know them. And I don’t think they want me to know them. It hasn’t always been this way—me sitting in church, hoping the Colts win their game this afternoon. I used to work shorter hours, come home earlier. I did love Helen. We got married, after all. I didn’t have to do that.

But who knows? You drift apart in a marriage. I tried to commiserate with “the guys,” but none of them really understood. Helen was… I don’t know. I lost her, somehow, somewhere along the way. I don’t remember a point. Did I do something? I don’t know. But I lost her. And then the girls were born, and they were hers. Twin girls. I was never a part of any of the decisions.

Worked later. More money. More satisfying, to work. Get to contribute to something. Do I miss the old images I’d have, of fantasies of old age, hopes for a hammock together and a glass of lemonade on a summer afternoon? Yeah. Shit, yeah, I miss all that stuff. But things aren’t so bad. My girls are growing up smart. Smarter than me. Lisa’s smarter, anyway.

We arrived at the Episcopal Church about ten minutes before services started. The crowd was still milling around a bit.

“Breyer? I’d like you to meet a friend of mine,” said Helen. “This is Marie-Élise Rousseau.”

“Pleased to meet you. I’m Breyer.” We shook hands, and I sat down. The minister came in, and services started.

“Today’s reading is from the Book of Ruth.”

Playful Peach #11

“Welcome to Camp Refuge, a place that you will soon learn to call home!” the camp director bellowed while standing in front of the crowd of gaunt teenagers sitting cross-legged in a meadow surrounded by tall trees. Three boys stood out in the crowd of young women all frail and pale, all looking miserable. The boys sat together bound by their common gender. They couldn’t believe this place pretended it was a camp (as if they were going to actually have fun here), but they also couldn’t believe they had the girls disease.

Ethan was the perfect child all his life. His father was an Episcopalian minister and every Sunday since he was 8 Ethan sang in the choir. He had the voice of an angel people in the congregation would say. His angelic voice was matched by his perfectly kept blonde hair and shining blue eyes. He was, based on all outward appearances, the perfect child. However, when he got into middle school something changed in Ethan. He looked distracted in church, like his mind was somewhere else. Then, he started losing weight. It started out small; he lost a few pounds here and there. His parents ignored it believing that he was just going through a phase. He was a healthy boy, he said his prayers and ate dinner with them every night. What they didn’t notice was what he did after dinner. The first person to acknowledge his condition was his dentist, who suggested that Ethan’s parents put him in therapy. They didn’t know how to handle their son having this problem and life at home was a nightmare for Ethan. His mother constantly left meatloaf in his room or hid protein bars under his pillow. It was around this time that his parents decided to send him to Camp Refuge.

Jeremy and Jill were inseparable from birth. Jill was born 2 minutes before Jeremy and that seemed like the longest time they had spent away from one another. They were interested in all the same things as children. Both played youth soccer, both were in the Scouts, both excelled in math and science and loved reading. They were set out to defy the belief that one twin gets to be “good at everything.” That is until the 8th grade science project. They both eagerly entered the statewide science project where they had to invent something to catapult people into the future. The twins spent weeks planning what they would do, but it was the first time they couldn’t do it together since they were in competition against each other. When the day of the fair came Jill was prepared with her project but Jeremy wasn’t. He couldn’t get his invention to work and was distraught. Jill went on to win first place in the contest and competed nationally. Jeremy was utterly defeated, he felt like a huge failure. Even worse, it seemed like no one noticed. Everyone was fixated on Jill and her success. That was when he began losing weight. At first it was only small amounts but then his weight began to rapidly decline. He and Jill were two of seven children in his family and while his parents wanted him to get help, they couldn’t give him the attention he deserved. That was how he ended up sitting in a field at Camp Refuge.

It was always difficult for James to talk to girls. He was socially awkward and a little shy, but he was very handsome. He had chocolate colored eyes and olive skin that matched his dark brown hair. By the time he had reached high school his looks made him strikingly handsome, but he still couldn’t muster up the courage to ask a girl on a date. That is until he met Eve. He was in a bookstore, one of his favorite weekend activities, when he saw her looking in the foreign books section. He picked up a book in French and began to pretend like he was reading it. She looked up at him intrigued and asked him if he spoke French. He lied and said yes which was the right answer because she grinned happily at him. This then launched her into a story about her dream of going to Paris and her incessant babble set James at ease. She made him feel comfortable because she talked so much he didn’t have to. They started dating soon after this meeting and were happy for a while until Eve started getting restless. She told him that she loved him but she needed to go to Paris and explore the world alone. The day after she left James didn’t get out of bed. He lost his appetite and began losing weight, only a little bit at first but soon it started getting more dramatic. He received compliments for his new look (he was a little chubby before) and kept denying himself food. Soon his mother became alarmed and asked him what was going on. He refused to talk to her about anything and in reaction to his silence she sent him to Camp Refuge knowing in her heart that something was wrong with her boy.

“Alright, we are going to split up the boys and girls and go have a little art project” the camp director said, trying to evoke some enthusiasm out of the teens. The three boys shuffled silently to the art shed and were told make a postcard about anything they wanted. The three boys sat down and stared at the construction paper and pens and began to draw out the pain in their lives that brought them there in the first place.

Lively Lime #11

"Angie, you have to help me find a good man. I need a real relationship. I'm not getting any younger….this is getting serious."

Angie watched her friend Madeleine stir her coffee nervously. The two women in their mid-30s were sitting at a sidewalk café on their lunchbreak. They were both lawyers. They both were single. They were both lonely. It was tough finding someone these days. Male lawyers were too overbearing or absent. Males who weren't lawyers usually found them threatening. But these females weren't about to hang up their pantsuits for aprons yet. They just wanted to be happy with someone. The search for a good companion had gone on for years, though, and Madeleine was tired of it.

"It can't be that bad. How have your past few boyfriends been?"

"Terrible. I’ve went through three in just the past 6 months. And they keep getting worse. Nothing serious ever happens. I date them a few times and think they're great at first, but then they turn out to be full of issues that I just can't deal with."

"Such as?"

"Well, you remember Peter? That bad boy stockbroker? Well, he had good job security and a knack for numbers…..seemed like he had so much confidence! But little by little, I felt like his out-there attitude, cool style and bold moves were all a big mask. He just wanted to date me because I was a lawyer…you know, be that flashy money-making power couple. The guy has such self-esteem problems. He's always overcompensating for everything and trying too hard to be super-successful. The slightest criticism and it looks like someone just stuck a knife through him. He never really cared about me. He just cared about my money and my status."

"I wonder what kind of kind of upbringing he had to make him turn out that way…you ever meet his family?"

"Hmmm…no, I never met them. No, wait! Yes, I met his sister once. Oh, she was so nice! Such a great person. Very pretty, with good manners. She's a pediatrician. Peter's fraternal twin, but she carries herself completely differently. Nothing like him..."

”Well, too bad you can’t date her, haha. Well, how about…uh, what's his name? Trevor?"

"Travis. Yea, that one was a total winner. I wanted a break from the bad boy type, and you know, try a nice calm guy for a change. But he turned out to be a total stuck up religious nut. Nice at first, very polite, but when you start talking to him, he starts going on and on about Jesus this and the Lord that, and how this person will be punished by God for doing that and blah blah blah. He wanted to take me out to Mass on a date, and kept trying to convert me. You know, save my soul and all. And if we weren't talking about religion he was talking about how much he loves to watch Animal Planet and PBS. I mean, I'm fairly religious and I'm respectful of faiths, but he was just constantly breathing down my neck about it."

“Oh yuck…that’s kind of creepy, actually. I assume you two broke up?”

“Yea, pretty quickly, actually. One day, after I quickly ditched Travis after Bible study, I ran into John. He was on the track team in college, remember? Hadn’t seen him in years, and he seemed kind of down, so we started talking. We actually got along really well at first. Dating him was fun. We went to see French films, and went to fancy French restaurants. It was pretty romantic, and he was so sophisticated! He talked about traveling to France and how much he loved my name because it was French. But pretty soon I felt like I was just replacing someone else in his heart. I wasn’t the girl for him. And I wondered how much French he really knew. I couldn’t live a lie like that, so we split up....

You see? All these relationships always fall apart. I set myself up for something wonderful, and then just get the rug pulled out from under me. I have the worst luck. There’s no guy out there for me, Angie. I’m destined to be alone.”

“Awww…hang in there, girl. I’m sure there’s someone out there for you. Hey, you’re not the only one looking. We gotta stay strong….don’t worry, I’m always here for you if you want to talk. We’ve made it together all the way through college and law school and butthead law firm partners. We’ll get through this.”

Angie gave Madeleine a hug as they parted ways. When Angie went home, she sat at her computer and visited her guilty pleasure, Postsecret.com. She had never posted a secret, and probably never would, but as she scrolled down and read the confessions of strangers, she stopped at one particular secret. One that hit home.

“My best friend keeps on dating jerks. If only she knew that I loved her."

Friday, July 14, 2006

Tart Tangerine #11

I am a bad person. I have no one else to tell, so I’m telling you. I do something that people just shouldn’t do. When I’m in church, and the people around me are praying, I’m thinking about the TV shows I want to watch that week. Now, I know what you’re thinking, it’s not that big a deal, plenty of people’s minds wander when it’s time for silent prayer. But there’s a difference. I’m not just any person. I’m the pastor. I’m the Shepard of the flock, and while my sheep are asking for God’s help and forgiveness, I wonder which team will be last to reach the goal in the Amazing Race.

Why am I, a man of God, more focused on secular pursuits than on the spiritual? Because I just don’t give a damn anymore. Not since that bastard took my Gloria. Oh I know all the platitudes, believe me. I’ve uttered them often enough to grieving loved ones. “She’s in a better place.” “It’s all part of God’s plan.” “The Lord works in mysterious ways.” Bullshit. There’s nothing mysterious about cancer except why some people get it and others don’t. And I don’t believe there’s any rhyme or reason, or anything resembling a plan to it. After all, I’m supposed to be God’s go-to guy – his rep here on Earth. The guiding light for others who have strayed. And instead, my faith has been destroyed. How am I supposed to keep others on the path when I’ve lost all sight of it myself? Some days I can barely bring myself to look up at the Cross. Now I understand why the Catholics don’t let their priests marry. Because nothing shakes your faith like losing a spouse.

I’m jealous of the others. I’ve seen some whose faith has been renewed. They pray all the more urgently that they’ll be rejoined in Heaven. And others, like me, who give up and drift away from the Church. But I can’t leave. I have to be here every Sunday, singing the praises of a God who I don’t even believe in anymore. And the worst part is, I have no one to talk it over with. No one with whom to discuss. No Shepard of my own to lead me back to the path. And so I’ve resorted to this. Sending a postcard to a website one of my parishioners once showed me. God help me.

Speaking of my flock, I sometimes also look out at them as they pray silently, thinking about the various problems they endure. I feel less sympathetic now than I used to. Everything is so different after losing your soulmate. Like the Wilson twins. Debbie and Donna. God I’ve always hated parents who do that to their children. But that’s another story. Poor Debbie. She feels she’s always in Donna’s shadow. Donna was the homecoming queen, Donna got good grades, why can’t you be more like Donna? It’s almost like something out of the Brady Bunch. But what Debbie doesn’t know is that Donna urgently wishes to be her. She hates the pressure that she’s under – to be perfect, to get good grades, to go to college. All she wants in life is to run away and goof off for a while, maybe see Europe.

But her parents would have none of that. Not for Donna. Donna has to go to college, then law school. She’s going to meet a nice young man and become the First Lady someday. She already dates the high school quarterback. But he mistreats her. But Donna can’t tell anyone. Just me. And I’m forbidden from talking as well. So Donna comes by for a weekly cry and all the time Debbie is jealous of the life she wishes she had. If only she knew.

Then, there’s Alex. He’s a young man, about 15, and like all young men at that age, he believes he’s in love. Her name is Zoe and she is an exchange student from France. She speaks English well enough, but prefers to speak in her native French because it makes her feel more at home. Alex doesn’t speak a word of French that he hasn’t heard on television, but he pretends to understand every word she says. I’m sure she knows by now that he’s clueless about what she says, but she is a kind girl and allows him to think he’s getting away with it.

Not that I necessarily blame him. I did similar things when I was courting Gloria. She was in the choir and wanted to be a great opera soprano. So I pretended to like opera. Some of it isn’t half bad, but really, I don’t speak Italian so most of it is lost on me. But it gave me something to talk to Gloria about, so I read up on Carmen and Pagliacci and would discourse extensively on the various benefits and detriments of Placido Domingo’s rendition versus Pavarotti’s. She must have thought me a fool. But she still married me. And God did I love her. I can see the same love in Alex’s eyes every time he looks at Zoe.

Sadly, summer is almost here and then she’ll have to return to France. Perhaps that’ll save him the heartache of having to sit next to her hospital bed some dark day in the future, when some doctor explains apologetically that there’s just no hope. But now, I have to wrap this up. I see from the clock it’s almost time to head out and welcome the flock to this week’s services. I wonder what’ll happen on CSI tomorrow night….