Monday, March 27, 2006


The sun was in Frank’s eyes as soon as he went outside. Shyly winking at him behind the quiet neighborhood’s oak trees, the bright light made him sneeze. The morning was sharply cold, and it was still early enough for the dew to cover every surface. The windshield on Frank’s rusted Cutlass was dirty and cracked. Frank shuffled to the end of the driveway to pick up the morning’s paper. The minimal effort still had him breathing heavy by the end. His robe, faded blue and tattered like a Union soldier’s uniform, stretched across his three-hundred pound frame as he bent down. He scanned the headlines with little interest, his mouth open and panting behind his shaggy graying beard. The picture at the bottom of the page caught Frank’s attention, black and white and grainy against the damp newsprint. Huh…Miguel made the Chronicle. When he got to the caption, he stopped breathing. Firefighter Dead in Omaha.

The last time Frank had spoken to Miguel was a little over two years ago. They had met for lunch at a deli Frank liked. It took weeks of Frank calling him before Miguel finally consented to meet him on his lunch break. The restaurant was a little crowded, and Frank had found a booth towards the back. He scanned the crowd, looking for the face he’d only seen in photographs, at least for the last thirteen years. Miguel stepped in, tall and clean-shaven. The women in the restaurant immediately noticed him as he looked around the room. His skin was sunburned in places, and tan lines in the shape of sunglasses formed a pale robber’s mask around his deep brown eyes. As he made eye contact with Frank, he looked uneasy, like someone stepping off a carnival ride. Miguel walked to Frank’s booth purposefully. Frank tried to stand up, but his huge belly caught the table, wedging him in the booth. He gave up on that idea, and smiled at Miguel. His teeth were stained with coffee, and his beard did not disguise his sagging jowls.
“Have a seat, son. It’s been a long time.”
“Hey, Frank.”
Miguel sat down and took his hat off, revealing a short military haircut.
“How have you been? I heard you were a firefighter for the city.”
“Yeah, for a couple years now. I like it.”
There was an uncomfortable silence for a few moments. Miguel sighed.
“How have you been, Frank?” he asked, in a way that made it clear he did not much care. Frank didn’t notice.
“Oh, pretty good. This and that, you know. I’m off probation, and I got a job working security down in the warehouse district. Say, you want a Reuben or something? Maybe some coffee?”
“No thanks.”
Frank motioned to the waitress. She grabbed the pot of coffee on the counter to refill Frank’s cup. “You folks ready to order?”
“A coupl’a Reubens, more coffee, aaaand…what are you drinking these days, Mikey?”
“Miguel,” he replied fiercely. “I’ll take a Bud, if you have it.”
“Sure thing, hon.” She quickly walked away, leaving Frank and Miguel alone again. Frank was wearing his best shirt, a discolored but cheerful button-up that had probably fit him at one time. He looked unhealthy, sweating just a little more than would be expected in the air-conditioned deli. Miguel was wearing a tight gray t-shirt that showed off his fit physique without appearing vain. He wore a class ring and a tattoo of some kind could be seen just under his sleeve. He looked around at the other patrons of the restaurant, carefully avoiding Frank’s beady, pleading eyes. A father and son were seated together on the far side of the deli, away from Frank and Miguel. The boy was about five, coloring on the placemat with a red pen while his father talked on his cellular phone. A plate of cold macaroni and cheese was in the middle of the table. The boy looked at Miguel for a few seconds, unsmiling, and dropped the pen underneath the table. Glancing toward his father (who was talking loudly about the difficulty of finding parking downtown and how he clearly deserved a parking space but instead it went to that rat Jenkins), the boy crawled under the table and started playing with the day-old meatballs he found there.
“So…are you still playing soccer?” Frank asked, scattering Miguel’s thoughts like seagulls. Miguel adjusted his wristwatch. Twelve-seventeen.
“I played through high school, and I go out every now and then with the guys from the station, but…not as much as I’d like.” He shifted around uneasily.
“You know how it is.”
“Oh, sure,” Frank replied, not really knowing how it is at all.
“Listen, I’ve got to be out of here by a quarter of. We’re drilling at 1:30 and I can’t be late.”
“Okay…isn’t there anything—“
Frank was interrupted by the return of their waitress.
“Alrighty, here’s your beer, and…here are your sandwiches. Anything else?”
Frank responded, “Not for me, toots. You, son?”
Miguel winced twice, both at the word son, and that his father had actually used the word toots in a real-life situation. “I’m good, thank you.”
Frank took a bite of his sandwich. Too much sauerkraut, but other than that it was pretty good. Miguel looked at his doubtfully. Frank started talking again.
“Like I was saying,” he said with bits of rye bread stuck to his teeth, “isn’t there anything you want to—“
“Oh, I forgot. We’ve got a special on pecan pie today.”
It was the waitress again. Ordinarily, Miguel would have been angry at the interruption, but this time he was grateful to delay the awkward conversation Frank wanted to have. Frank did get angry.
“NO pie. Thank you very much, now shoo!”
The waitress scowled and paced away in a huff.
Shoo, thought Miguel, who the hell says “shoo”?
“Who the hell says shoo?” he asked.
“Who the—never mind. What do you want?”
“I want to talk to you. I want to know if there’s anything you want to ask me.”
“Ask you?”
“About what?”
“Anything. Life, philosophy, the world…women.” At this Frank grinned a conspiratorial grin he thought was wolfish and knowing, but which was actually quite inappropriate and disturbing. Miguel decided to ignore the fact that a man who was out of breath from eating a sandwich wanted to advise him about women.
“Alright, you want me to ask you something, I’ll ask you something. Here’s something, here’s a question for our little game show. Why did you leave?”

After Frank dropped the newspaper he ran back inside, knocking over a stack of empty pizza boxes and not noticing the roaches that scurried away from their fallen tower. He picked up the yellowed phone, paused to cough and sputter and wheeze from his run up the driveway, and starting dialing. He got two digits in before he realized he didn’t even remember the phone number.
Frank cursed, and went over to his desk. He knocked over thick stacks of papers, scattering old bank statements and notices from creditors. He opened the only drawer that wasn’t stuck and started flipping through business cards and little slips of paper. Larry Cook, insurance agent, no. Glass Doctor Window Repair, no. Sgt. Steve Barnhardt, parole officer, hell no.
Finally Frank found what he was searching for, the folded up slip of paper covered in his own barely legible handwriting. Maria…Frank picked up the phone. He pressed the numbers he hadn’t thought about dialing in years. The world-weary voice that answered, with the slight Dominican accent, took him back decades.
“It’s Frank.”
There was silence on the other end for a few seconds. Frank thought he heard a few sobs. After almost a minute, she responded.
“What do you want?”
“Is it true? Is Mikey--”
“Miguel is dead.”

Miguel had just asked the question Frank had been trying to answer to himself for years. The older man nervously took a sip of his coffee, wiped his face with a napkin, and took out his wallet. He withdrew a photograph, a glossy but faded Polaroid of himself looking much younger, with a small boy seated on his knee. They are watching television, and they both look happy.
“Do you remember this?”
Miguel took the photograph, scanned it for a few seconds, and frowned.
“I do. I remember every day we ever spent together. I’ve been carrying this picture around for thirteen years. I tell everyone I meet about my kid, the firefighter. The hero. Can’t that be enough?” Frank looked down at his own chubby hands.
“Come on, Frank, it doesn’t work like that. You can’t just come back here and pretend like we have some kind of relationship. You can’t talk to me about the good old days. You left, and you know what?”
“I never missed you.”
The restaurant was getting busier, and louder. The waitress returned, asked if they needed refills, or anything. Frank smiled politely like he just heard a bad joke.
“I’ll take a slice of pie.”
“Oh, now you want pie,” the waitress asked sarcastically.
“Yes, now I want pie. I can do that. I can change my mind about something.” At this he looked sharply at Miguel.
“Alright, one slice of pie, coming up.”
Miguel looked again at his watch. Twelve-thirty-three. Damn, he thought, why am I even staying here? He looked back up at Frank.
“What is it you want from me? Some kind of dramatic reconciliation? You’re getting old and now that it’s convenient for you, you want a son?”
“It’s not about that. I just want to make up for splitting on you and your ma. How is she, by the way?”
“No. You do not get to ask about her.”
“Hey, I think I have a right to know about my—“
“Fuck you, Frank. You don’t have rights to shit.” Miguel practically shouted that, and the busy restaurant suddenly got very quiet, except for the little boy under the table, who was playing with his silverware now and singing the alphabet song. He got from “L-M-N-O-P” to “Next time won’t you sing with me” before either Frank or Miguel said anything. It was Frank who broke the silence.
“Okay, you’re right. I screwed up, I left, and it’s my fault. I could tell you how hard marriage is, and it is, but that’s no excuse. I could tell you how it feels to have opportunities, big opportunities that you can’t move on because your kid needs stability. I could tell you I’m just an asshole, but you already know that.”
“Damn right.”
Frank kept going.
“I’m not a good man. I’ve been to jail, I left you and Maria, I don’t pay my taxes. The only job I can get is walking around with a flashlight, and calling the police if there’s any real trouble. I forgot all your birthdays, because I didn’t care. But I’m here now, and I care now, and I want things to be better. I want to know my son.”
Miguel started to say something, but Frank interrupted.
“And don’t lie to me and say you didn’t miss me, and that there’s nothing you want to know. My old man walked out on me too, I know how it is.”
“And you did it anyway?”
“Like I said, I’m an asshole. Can’t an asshole make things good again?”
Miguel sat, and thought. Frank tried to look at repentant as he could. Finally Miguel answered.
“I’m all you’ve got, aren’t I?”
“What do you mean?”
“You don’t have any friends left, all your big plans fell through. You’re just a fat and lonely man looking for someone to make his life better. To feel like he did something with his life.”
“I did do something. You’re a firefighter, Miguel, your job is to save people from danger.”
“That has nothing to do with you.”
“Maybe, maybe not. Maybe the best thing I could have done for you was leave.”
“Yeah, I’m sure that’s why you did it. So I’d become a fireman.”
“Aren’t there second chances? Assholes on TV get second chances.”
Miguel took a final sip of his beer. He looked at his watch. Twelve-forty-six.
“I’ve got to go.” He stood up, putting his hat on.
“But what about—“
“Look, Frank,” Miguel said before looking down at the ground. “You’re not the Grinch, alright? It’s over.”
“Stay out of my life, Frank.” He took a few bills out of his wallet. “I’ll get this. Take care, Frank.”
Miguel walked out of the deli without looking back.

Frank hung up the phone. He paced around his two-room duplex, eating Cheetos and rubbing his sweaty, cheetoey palms on his shirt. It was a T-shirt with a wolf on it, like you get for selling a certain number of candy bars at a school fundraiser. Frank sat down on a wobbly bar-stool and tried to clean his glasses using his shirt, but the greasy cheese powder just spread all over the lenses, making his field of vision an orangy mess. Damn cheese-dust just won’t come off, he thought.

Saturday, March 4, 2006


About a month ago I asked my girlfriend to marry me. December 29, 2006 I'll be officially taken for good. 'Bout time, actually.


"Let my sighs and the manifold desolations of the earth move you..."
Thomas a Kempis, The Imitation of Christ

So I'm teaching a Bible study for the campus ministry that I'm part of. I'm trying to paint a picture of the Big Story of the Bible. The whole broad historical outline. A lot of times in church and wherever, we hear Bible stories as episodic, isolated incidents that have little to do with each other. They have a neat little moral at the end. Sometimes there's recurring characters, like "Moses and the burning bush" and then "Moses and the parting of the Red Sea" but of what these events have to do with each other in the life of Moses and how Moses relates to the experience of the Jewish people and then what that experience has to do with God, little is said.

One of the themes that recurs in the Bible is the idea of God as deliverer. The Israelites are sold into slavery, God delivers them through Moses. People are oppressed, God sends the Judges, or prophets, or whomever. The whole human race is killing itself, God sends Jesus. You get the picture.

Crap happens and God is there for us. To some people that may sound like a bad joke. "What about natural disasters like the tsunami in India, or hurricane Katrina? What about the Holocaust? Where was God then?" My only honest answer is I don't know. All I have is God's promise, and the knowledge that He hasn't let me down before. But I'm just one person in the world. How do I know He hasn't let someone else down?

My roommate, John, has kind of a unique nickname. We call him "Katrina John". He only moved here six months ago, from New Orleans. Do the math and figure out why we call him that. Recently he told me the story of how he came here after the hurricane, how at one point he thought his grandparents had been killed, how his family was split up, and he didn't know what happened to everyone. He told me how they made their way to family here, and how they didn't know if they'd have enough gas to make it from place to place. Later told me how he wants to be a minister, and serve God with his life.

It doesn't make any sense, sometimes, the way people of faith keep giving God the benefit of the doubt, the way we keep waiting for Him to come through. Maybe it's that we know something other people don't. Maybe we're stupid and foolish. Or maybe we just like the big Guy so much we're always willing to give Him another shot. I don't really know, sometimes.

There's a beautiful and poignant passage at the end of Habakkuk, a book of what Christians call the Old Testament, and which I am trying to call the Hebrew Scriptures. Habakkuk was a prophet, a man whose job in life it was to speak God's word. His people are being invaded by enemies, and he must try to comfort them. But he can't, really. He talks about how the bad guys, the oppressors, will eventually get theirs. But that's just his prediction. In the end, all he can say is this:

Even though the fig trees have no blossoms, and there are no grapes on the vine; even though the olive crop fails, and the fields lie empty and barren; even though the flocks die in the fields, and the cattle barns are empty, yet I will rejoice in the Lord! I will be joyful in the God of my salvation. The Sovereign Lord is my strength.
Habakkuk 3:17-19

Like I said, it doesn't make sense. And rarely do I have that kind of faith. Rarely do I have that kind of trust in God. Rarely do I even have the wisdom to see that my olive crop is failing. My field do lie empty and barren. My life bears far too little fruit, and yet I should be rejoicing in the Lord. Instead I treat Him like the nerdy friend I am trying to get rid of. Lame.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006


This past week I went to MOSI, or the Museum of Science and Industry, in Tampa, Florida. I sent to see an exhibit called Bodies. Guess what it's about. Go on...

Yeah. Bodies.

Actual human bodies that have been treated with a process that preserves them, so they can be displayed at room temperature, not behind glass or anything. It was fascinating, and weird. Some of the coolest displays were where they would have a body next to its own skeleton, holding hands or something. Many of the displays showed cancerous lungs next to healthy lungs, or focused on how the nervous system runs throughout the body. Stuff like that.

As interesting and educational as the exhibit was, it does raise some moral/philosophical questions. Whose bodies are these? Is it okay to display them like this at all? What if they or their families granted permission? What if they didn't?

The exhibit didn't offer any details on where the bodies came from. I've heard (this is secondhand rumor/gossip, I'm not reporting this as fact) that they are unidentified, donated, or otherwise abandoned bodies from China. They certainly did all appear to be Asian. I wonder how much it matters where the bodies came from. They were certainly treated with dignity; it was a museum exhibit, not some morgue peep show. Still, how would you feel about your relatives or your government using your body for this purpose? If the bodies were donated to science/research, that's one thing, but what if we just started sending the bodies of homeless people to museums?

Many of the exhibits were very sensitive in nature, such as the ones about the reproductive system. I'm hugely in favor of organ donation, but I don't think I want my mummified penis in a glass case somewhere. Also, the part on fetal development, while really cool and fascinating (I know, I'm overusing modifiers like "fascinating" and "interesting"), was also somewhat troubling. Before that, however, they did stipulate that the fetuses all died from natural complications.

The trouble with all this is that I can't articulate why it's troublesome. I don't have a logical reason why it bothers me a little bit. And that's all it does bother me...a little. It's not a huge obvious moral problem. It's not an incredibly complicated moral question that I can still come to a position on, like the death penalty or abortion (both of which I'm opposed to, but that isn't my point here). I found the exhibit really cool and neat and still somewhat creepy. I'm aware that that isn't rational. And even on religious grounds, I believe the body is not who we really are, so absent the soul, what does it matter what happens to the shell? Maybe it's just some unconscious taboo about corpses that I've absorbed unconsciously. Maybe it's the fact that you don't see the naked body of an industrialized nation's citizen on display like that. Maybe it's the idea of all those people with no one to care what happens to their body, no one to bury them or burn them or whatever, no one to say goodbye.

If you get the chance, go see it. It really is educational, and cool. But also slightly unsettling.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

New Year

Alright, so it's the middle of January. I'm busy.

Class is back in swing, which I wasn't quite ready for but I'm over it. I like my classes this semester. For one of them, Creative Writing, I have to keep a journal, which I've decided to post here, because I can. So those posts will probably be based on random weird writing prompts. Today's is no exception.

Here's Ten Things that make me stop in my tracks:

1. Horrible, horrible smells. Nothing makes you stop and pause like catching a whiff of somebody’s fart, or burning orange peels, or the stank of wet Florida.

2. Public Nudity. One time at the Marketplace I saw this girl show a guy her nipple piercings. Apparently she thought no one could see her. I wasn’t even looking at her, she was just in the background behind the person I was talking to. So, that pretty much stopped whatever I was talking about.

3. Hearing my name. I hate when someone calls out my name when they’re not talking to me. Bothersome.

4. Pain. This could be getting shocked, or pinching something, or stubbing my toe. Whatever it is, it ends what I’m doing at the moment.

5. Cross-dressers. Hey, I think that cultural norms don’t necessarily have much to do with actual character and morality, and people should be able to wear whatever they want. But a guy in a dress is still surprising.

6. A Sudden Thought. Like the lightbulb signifying inspiration in a cartoon, sometimes random thoughts strike me and need to be attended to. It might be something I was trying to think of before, or suddenly remembering something I’m supposed to be doing.

7. A Physical Obstacle. Nothing stops me like something in my way. This one’s kind of stupid.

8. Restaurants. Sometimes you have to pull over and eat something specific. Maybe it’s Sonic, or Steak ‘n’ Shake, but sometimes you have to eat. Ooh, Checkers!

9. A Lightning Bolt. This one’s hypothetical. I’ve never actually been struck by lightning, but I bet it would stop me. In my tracks.

10. Anchorman Quotes. Funniest movie I saw last year. If you haven’t seen it, see it. Now. That wasn’t a request.

There you have it.

Thursday, January 5, 2006

War in Uganda

Just watched a documentary tonight with some friends. It was about war and terrorism in Uganda, and rebel groups that kidnap children, using the boys for soldiers and the girls for sex slaves. Pretty horrible stuff.

What's worse is that most American churchgoers probably couldn't place Uganda on a map.