Category Archives: Personal

An October Sort of Afternoon

Even though my right foot was still painful from extensor tendonitis (which sounds imaginary), I put on shoes and walked outside. Though it was October, the day was warm, even though a patchwork of billowing clouds covered the bright blue sky. Along the east, the hills bordering this place already presented a palette of colors.

Turning right, a younger girl who probably wasn’t supposed to be smoking cut along the sidewalk. I imagined that my presence was unexpected, and she repeatedly turned to see if I was overtaking her. She puffed on her cigarette as if it would be snatched from her at any moment.

Nearing one of the two main entrances of the subdivision, the smell of marijuana hit me. I’d smelled it before in that stretch. The surprised me again, given that a police officer lives in that area.

As many people have noted, music can be chaotic after you’ve experienced a loss. It sometimes magically rips the curtain away, the one that beguiles you into dropping your guard. Nevertheless, I marched along as best as possible while trying to avoid scrunching my foot protectively as I walked. Most people claim to find walking and sentimentality mutually exclusive; you can’t trust that sort of folk.

I live in one of those efficient neighborhoods with community mailboxes. This roughly translates to mean that everyone is annoyed. It certainly doesn’t help the mail person put the mail in the correct boxes. If I’m feeling nice, I pick up the mail slotted incorrectly and tossed carelessly on the long horizontal top of the run of boxes and deliver it personally to each house. The last time I did so, someone had a credit card, and another person’s unemployment paper was there.

Though anticipating nothing, I delightfully discovered that a solitary friend sent me a sublimely personal card, one anchored on the ridiculous sort of note that fits me perfectly.

I laughed, smiled, and walked with a pronounced enthusiasm for the remainder of the day. Thank you.

P.S. I chose the picture because it is one of the opposite side of the road, bordering the town’s limits. It is the embodiment of entropy and decay. It has just as much of a claim to be representative of fall as the colorful foliage always mentioned.

McNamara And Mike

This post is a portmanteau of lives. One was a dedicated writer, and one was a policeman; both failed to adequately recognize their afflictions.

My wife’s eyes sometimes glaze over when I hear tales of “writer’s block.” I don’t know what that is. I can’t help myself: I always say, “What’s that?” half-jokingly. It’s the same way with me regarding boredom. Reading, writing, genealogy, humor, photography, and just scrolling the window of the internet could entertain me for fifty consecutive years. I’d be ideally suited to be a vampire.

This time, we were watching “I’ll Be Gone In The Dark” on HBO. Michelle McNamara had her deadline pushed forward a month and struggled to realize her ambition of finishing her book. It was her lifelong dream. She died before DNA solved the case of The Golden State Killer. Michelle and I share many attributes regarding writing. I don’t put myself on her level, though, so there’s no need to remind me snarkily. But I don’t understand the inability to plow through. She resorted to drugs to keep her up and allow sleep when necessary. The thing she relied on to help her achieve her ambition also undid her life.

I can’t walk the street, work, or sit and listen to music without wanting to research a hundred different ideas. Things breeze into my mind at a velocity that I cherish. The satisfaction of an overactive mind isn’t diminished by the value or result of the ideas. I’m able to divorce content from needing a goal. This allows me to produce dozens of things that never see the light of day or end up in the ‘delete’ file simply due to happenstance.

Had Michelle raised her hand and admitted she was overwhelmed, Patton Oswald and their mutual daughter would still have her in their lives. Instead, her book and ambition fell to uncertain others to complete, and Michelle lost a presumable thirty or forty years with family.

While I wrote the first part of this a few weeks ago, it still is on my mind. Not just because it was a great show, or a peek into a writer’s life, but also because a piece of it parallels the life of my brother. He was ridiculously smart. He could have worked to be a writer. As I do with anyone I recognize as innately great at writing, I repeatedly tried to convince him to spend a portion of his life writing his stories. I do not doubt that he easily had several books of material in him. Much of his writing might have derived from his professional career as a policeman and detective. Even his Army career was as an MP.

Michelle McNamara’s life revolved around crime and its intricate tendrils. My brother Mike spent his career investigating and collaring criminals. While Michelle’s ambition always included being a writer, Mike could have done the same, and just as expertly.

The contradiction is that his job itself was one of his biggest impediments. It put a wedge between his personal life and his ability to live it. The schedule, the demands, and the danger of having a job that perilously exaggerated his tendency toward authoritarianism. People often ask whether the job makes the man or the man gravitates toward it. I’m not sure. As much difficulty as my brother had coming out of his youth, the job exacerbated his personality defects. It’s no secret that police are more likely to be abusive and susceptible to addiction. My brother chose alcohol to appease his conflict. Michell McNamara chose prescription medications. Anyone who gets angry at me for saying so doesn’t understand me. In Michelle’s case, her husband Patton capably framed her turmoil in a very public and touching television show.

My brother’s intentions to retire as a detective after a full career collided with his inability to stop drinking. He was forced to retire. Even still, he could have turned that blow into a blossoming retirement. Had he stopped drinking, he might have lived to be seventy instead of dying before his fifty-fifth birthday. Because he was smart enough to work in the north, his pension was protected by a formidable police union. He had the option to pursue any interest he desired.

I was envious of that and his ability to work a job that allowed it. It’s a fantasy for most of us to round fifty and shift to do whatever interests us.

In the last couple of years, I sent Mike books, starting with “The Accidental Salvation of Gracie Lee.” I knew it would ignite his interest and recognition of what writing about the South could do. It was my hope he’d begin to leave the alcohol to the side, even if it cost him herculean effort to do so. He’d be able to careen into another career writing feverishly. Whatever else Mike did or didn’t do, he also loved books and libraries. That’s something that can’t be said about many police.

Mike’s death not only closed the door on his gift of writing, but it also cost him a couple of decades with his family. They’ll each struggle with the legacy of his big personality and choices. As Mike declined, I couldn’t help but get irritated at him for the waste of his life. Instead of pivoting to change his course and take advantage of the privilege of a chosen life, he furiously wasted his and his family’s energies to dedicate himself to drink. As bad it was, we were all lucky a few of the circumstances didn’t cause greater harm to others.

Now, silence. What could have been a rejuvenated family and life is now a complicated and unenviable path to an uncertain future for all of them.

As in my mother’s case, I know that much of the harsh words I shared with my brother were a result of alcoholism. Knowing it helps more now that they are passed than it ever did while they lived. He recognized the danger, just as I always did, but relied on his devious inner voice to convince himself he could overcome it. The same personality that made him loud and larger than life also participated in his fall. Many of our family and ancestors did the same. None of our ancestors who knew they were alcoholics successfully pulled out of it. It’s a sobering thought. I’ve written about the infection of my family. While I cannot adequately describe it, the trajectory of those around me gives proof that my theory must have some validity.

Mike loved that I wrote stories. Some of them caused him grief, especially before he could come to terms with the magnitude of the shadow that our dad and others left behind us. He vested energy in secrecy while I opted to throw open the windows. I was often a terrible brother. The only safe harbor I had at my disposal was separation. Mike had trouble seeing that my life was not one punctuated by drama. He also hated that I told him more than once that were I in his shoes, I would do anything and everything to break my addiction. It wasn’t because I felt superior to him in that regard, but that I never fooled myself into believing that any of us have magical skills that preclude us from behaving stupidly. Behavior that is obviously hard-wired into our DNA is that much more insurmountable.

The shelf that could have held Mike’s books will be forever empty.

The lives he could have intersected with for the next twenty years will now bounce obliquely off someone else.

The silences and subsequent shouts of confused recrimination will echo in his vacant place.

A life lived short of its possibilities.

Hanging

I see so much teeth-gnashing about truth and reality.

Even Grammarly, the proofreading AI I use, told me, “Your tone is angry.” If it had such a mechanism, I’d reply, “No, you’re wrong,” to prove this post. I did chose “ignore suggestion,” which does address one aspect of this post. It’s ironic that I pay for this service only to ignore such suggestions.

It doesn’t matter what the specific conspiracy theory or weird belief is. It is not the particular belief that is the problem. People don’t have a system to examine how they got there or how to get out of that particular belief. Politics, vaccines, covid, religion, astrology, or white people’s alleged supremacy are a few examples. We bludgeon our way through our lives, trying the same tactics and responses repeatedly, even as we paint ourselves into constricting circles.

Our biggest problem is that “we know.” Even when we don’t.

As wrong as I was when I was younger, it is still hard for me to accept that I must be wrong about things now too. Having always been wrong about something indicates that I’m currently suffering from an unidentified bit of idiocy.

To get the hypocrisy out of the way, I have my blind spots. I have a system to counteract it. I hold a very few people in esteem enough to let them gleefully bodycheck me if necessary if I’m trapped in a stupidity loop. If they point out that I’ve suddenly fallen victim to believing something stupid, I’ll take a long look. But I don’t include most people in this circle. For example, anyone trying to discuss politics but doesn’t vote, I don’t listen. (But I do believe that non-voters have the right to participate and opine.) If they are working an entry-level job, I disregard anything financial they say unless they are monk-like in their happiness. If someone hasn’t read a book in five years, let’s be honest – they should sit down and be quiet. The tricky part is convincing a good person that you’re interested in frank criticism. It’s a rare offering. Human beings aren’t programmed to make friends by being honest in that way. “Hey, you’re getting kind of chunky, X” would be a good example of something hard to share, no matter how close I am to that person.

One of my favorite go-to comments is that millions of people think the moon landing was fake – and many more millions are ‘undecided’ regarding its validity. I try to say it like a mantra, as it reminds me that no matter how well we explain ourselves, teach science, or rely on the common bond of truth, the lunatic fringe is not only more than just a fringe, but one that we can’t convince to evolve.

Among my list of popular ‘truths’ that are bogus is the Lunar Effect. It addresses the misconception that the moon (and especially a full moon) affects human behavior and especially strange human behavior. Pop culture, our grandmothers, and countless reinforcements have pushed it into people’s brains in such a way that it is just background noise and accepted. Due to the recent full moon, I saw at least two Lunar Effect posts on social media, with multiple comments and anecdotes. I didn’t interfere. The result would have been immediate contradiction and anger if I insisted. A letter from both Jesus and Albert Einstein would not have diverted their certainty.

It’s not true, of course. Like the ongoing and incorrect belief that an ulcer is primarily caused by stress rather than a bacteria, no amount of evidence, study, or direct appeal can convince people that they are completely wrong about the moon’s effects on behavior.

As you would guess, even bringing this up triggers many people’s defensive response. Their brains immediately react with a litany of learned responses. All are wrong. You’ll see a barrage of misstatements, each based on faulty methodology and study – but also cemented into their rigid structures identified as truth.

If you’re reading this and disagree, you’ll invest a great deal of your time and attention to devise a point to ‘prove’ my argument is invalid. Meanwhile, pieces of your life will pass you by, you’ll lose vital energy, and you’ll still be wrong. The only thing you’ve proven is that you’ll waste much of your time and energy trying to convince someone who probably isn’t in your inner circle anyway.

As with the moon landing deniers, no amount of science, data, or facts can dissuade a closed mind.

Don’t try it.

At any given time, about 1/3 of Americans are on the fringe side of any debate, question, or issue.

You can expose people to the truth, but no amount of words or strident argument will ever turn their attention and convince them. People must convince themselves.

Any effort you expend to convince an unwilling dissident will be a piece of your life that you’ve wasted. There is no magic combination of words that will ignite a light of recognition in people’s minds.

When my Facebook author page started getting readers, I had a smart older gentleman start reading all my posts and interacting. One day, I opened Facebook to discover that he’d angrily written at least a half dozen angry comments, each of them detailing the evil of using the word “xmas” instead of “Christmas.” My post was very optimistic. He focused solely on the word “xmas” to the exclusion of all else. Of course, I politely linked him to multiple sources indicating that he should acquaint himself with the historical and religious context of “xmas.” At that point, he flamed out like a cotton bale on the 4th of July.

Over the years, I’ve had multiple instances of grammar experts incorrectly repeating various ‘rules’ that are mostly just generally agreed-upon ways to communicate. Whether it’s the apostrophe, ain’t, you’re/your, couldn’t care less, or any of the other thousand bones of contention, many people want language to be as concise and static as math. It’s not. As a bona fide older person, I’m supposed to become more rigid as I age. I don’t. Quite the opposite. As late as yesterday, I found myself surprised that there is no agreement whether “detectible” or “detectable” is the correct choice.

Without getting into the weeds, I recently had someone challenge me on the validity of something I’d written. I’d mentioned I could prove it. The person in question angrily said I had fabricated the allegation. Naturally, I did my best to stay calm. I wrote an email and attached a copy of the email that proved what I said and an IP index. The reply was hate-filled. The person writing didn’t stop to think that he/she sounded like an angry lunatic. After thinking about it, I wrote back and said, “Ask _. They’ll confirm. That should convince you.” A couple of days later, another reply. This one was worse than the first. They were furious that someone else knew about the incident in question – and worse, that it made the angry person look stupid and hateful – something out of my control. My final reply was an apology for expecting them to respond critically and that I’d keep their correspondence for myself unless they tried to call me a liar again.

A few years ago, I finally hit the end with my mom. I couldn’t do it anymore. I’d been through the cycle of no contact with her several times. Discovering she had Stage 4 cancer forced me to try to navigate the waters with her until her death. I’m not sure I would do it if given an unlikely chance for a do-over. My emotional deficit made it impossible for me to engage logically.

In the last couple of years, I alternated wildly with my brother, despite knowing that I was inconsistent and probably stupid. One of my go-to people told me that I needed to avoid replying, as it would fan the flames and reward the person trying to victimize me. (This person wasn’t my brother.) It took me a bit to see how right it was. It didn’t stop the other person from being a tool to me, but it did leave me out of the equation. When I did get around to addressing it, I was able to be peaceful and calm about it. (Which, of course, made the person even angrier. No one likes being angry while dealing with someone who won’t’ stoop to your level.)

As a liberal, it took me years to understand that not all the immigration arguments were specious. All the shouting obscured much of the meat and bones of the counter-arguments. As a result, I realized one day that while there were a lot of angles and I still generally disagreed substantially with the conservative viewpoint, I saw the truth in some of the objections. More importantly, I noticed that not allowing any flexibility in my stance was causing me dissonance.

More importantly, living a good life is often 80% the act of not engaging. That part is almost a miraculous ability.

If you’ve read this post and wondered what the theme is, accept my apology. I’ve had a version of this sitting in my growing list of drafts long enough to have children.

And The Story Both Ends & Begins

The first picture is my sister, my brother Mike, and me laying like a lump of coal. This picture was taken at Grandpa and Grandpa Cook’s house in Rich, when they lived near White Cemetery. The second was taken when we lived in Springdale for a short time.

*

My brother recently died as he neared 55. Our dad died before he turned 50.

The military was not Mike’s first, second, or third choice. But it’s the choice that got him out of Arkansas and into a career in law enforcement. Whatever else the military does, it spectacularly solves a multitude of problems when people join. It may present others, that’s true, but those are unseen and delayed when you decide to join. No matter how old we get, option fatigue is paralyzing.

Out of high school, my brother recently returned from a very brief stint at Arkansas State University. He convinced me that the military was the worst possible choice for me, even though I was being offered an incredibly cushy spot in the Army music program. As it always does, hindsight paints a panorama of choices and chances for me in the Army.

Mike then turned around unexpectedly and went directly into the Army and off to another life, leaving me with a wtf-face beyond description. He went to Germany while there were still two of them and then to Northern Illinois, where he remained.

My brother with me, before he left Springdale to join the Army. We standing in the driveway at the house on Cottonwood. Many years later, I bought a house right down the street from that spot.

Over a decade later, I seriously considered the option of the military again. I had my physical and background check, and also signed up for delayed entry. He got me out of that idea, too.

Because of our upbringing, I often wonder what would have been the course of our lives if he stayed in Springdale and I had left for the Army as a musician. Would his tendency toward drinking and anger blossom so fiercely. Would mine, had I untethered from family?

In those early years, he publicly held the family honor, even as it continued to vex him. Me? I changed my name and kept my distance. Being poor helped me in this regard. Being ignorant didn’t hurt, either. Mike gave me a lot of grief for my dislike for most of the family’s ideas of politics and how to behave. In my defense and as I increasingly learned, racism often disguised itself as politics. In part because he was the big brother and in part because he thought he was indeed the authority, he fought and lectured me to stop sharing family secrets. I often called him Mike O’Reilly, even though he wanted to break my fingers for it. As time passed, it became evident to anyone paying attention thought although I was the weird kid with the weirder name, I was dead on regarding our biography. Mike favored the Terry family while I loved the Cooks. Both had an equal measure of mishap and heartbreak. The Terry family just had a bigger rug they used to sweep everything under.

As late as last year, I was still uncovering skeletons from our family. People make movies and write books about such strangeness. Had I followed Mike’s insistence to let it go, I would have never picked up genealogy or pursued DNA trails.

Who we once were does not determine who we will be; however, its aim is so undeniably true that those who manage to escape their fate are miracles at work. A lot of smart people know their arcs. Few see themselves in the shadow of their choices. I’m often as guilty as anyone. I’ve never doubted that I inherited the infection of whatever ails my family. I’ve felt its breath to varying degrees for my entire adult life.

Mike was smarter than me. It’s unquestionable. There must be some magical sliding scale and accounting that would prioritize other things over intelligence. I would have cashed in a bucket of compassion and a dose of deafness for a lower IQ. When you are as under-prepared for adult life as we were, it is folly to follow our trajectories and assume success.

Somewhere in those years, that shared biography and its litany of grievances overtook my brother. While I arced into a middle-aged life, he let his guard down to how human he was and how inescapable the dungeon of the lesser can be to us.

While I was still talking to him at length, I asked him at least fifty times to take his time and energy and sit and write his stories. He loved to read and had lived a life stuffed with unusual characters. He told several book that he was excited about the book I was going to write. He didn’t take me up on my enthusiasm. So many stories passed with him.

No matter what anyone else said or will say, one of the things I consider a gift is to often recognize the universality of a good story. Mike had many of them. As I’ve often echoed about my youth, though Mike and I often were at odds, I’d be the first to line up to read a book of stories from his life, whether they were darkly shadowed or humorous.

I’m ready to rush ahead to the magical time when our memories shift and shuffle and lose their harsh edges. Nostalgia is one of those things that’s hard to define yet bangs a gong in all of us.

Though my dad died over twenty-seven years ago, I’m still pondering his choices, his secrets, and his pathology. I still find new revelations.


I suspect it will be the same with my brother.

We fought bitterly a few times in my life. As hard as it was for him to understand, I usually fought for quiet.

Some will exit onto the revisionist road, believing that one’s life and echoes end with death and that those who remain can change the stories of a person’s life. Others will individually have their own stories to tell and questions to ask. It is our way as human beings.

As for me, all judgement laid to rest, all I see is a reservoir of memories and stories. Whether they are told or not is not a valid question. They’ll be told, whether in whispers or shouts.

My dad, standing on a horse. Mike liked this picture.
My brother, with mom when she was Budweiser happy, in Aunt Ardith’s back yard.
Me, Mike, cousin Ricky, cousin Jimmy.
Mike, mom, dad, me. We were at Lutheran Church in Rich, near Brinkley – at mom and dad’s second wedding.
Me, with siblings, at Xmas at Aunt Ardith’s house.

Carolyn’s Mashed potatoes

This is my mom standing in Aunt Ardith’s (and Uncle Buck’s) kitchen. Note: I think it was physically impossible for her to be in a kitchen unless she was smoking.



As we learned in “Like Water For Chocolate,” the emotions experienced while preparing food can significantly affect the culinary experience. (If you haven’t read this book or seen the movie, I will wait while you do so. You can read it in English if you need to.) The book on which the movie was based is separated into twelve sections, much like the months of the year. Each era is associated with particular foods that define the protagonist’s life.

It was important for her to unexpectedly inflict a bit of terror (or at least a sense of dread or apprehension) in someone in her vicinity while cooking. In part, it would explain the tendency for someone to wail, cry, or whimper while we ate supper. You might presume we were whimpering from the flavor otherwise. In mom’s defense, she didn’t need to concern herself with food. We were trained to eat anything without an audible complaint. In my case, I loved macaroni and any vegetable, even if coming directly from a can. Because I trusted my Grandma, I’d eat anything she offered. While there were times I didn’t like something she made, I never questioned whether it SHOULD be eaten. With my mom, this definitely wasn’t the case. There were exceptions. Because of my youth’s craziness, people often overlook the exceptions that were not characterized by the lesser human emotions I experienced growing up.

While it may not come across as funny, dad often did have a humorous way of driving mom bonkers about food. “What’s cooking,” he might shout. Or, “What in f$$$ is that smell?” Mom sometimes would scream back at him – and sometimes be funny in her response. It’s hard to explain how shouting and annoyance are funny, but it was. “Whatever the g####mned f### I want to make is what you’re eating,” she might scream. It probably sounded like WWII from outside. While they were often angry about it when their ability to tease back and forth emerged, it was obscenely sublime.

More than once growing up, we’d wake to the horrid smell of a burned cast iron skillet. A couple of times, mom did it. But it was usually dad who left the skillet on the stove. He’d arrive home drunk and cook a chunk of meat or fried bologna on the stove. There were a dozen times he’d try to cook frozen meat – and eat it anyway. It wasn’t unusual to pass through the kitchen and see an array of meat, grease, and a mess left there. Because mom usually got up insanely early, we knew dad left her a mess because mom would be in the kitchen cursing and banging every metal surface possible with pans, metal spoons, or by slamming the stove repeatedly. I’d generally not recommend this behavior if you have someone with both anger issues and a hangover in the house. By the way, a scorched cast iron skillet leaves a stench in the house for DAYS.

Much of the drama could have been sidestepped if someone had just asked us what we wanted. They could have fed me incredibly cheaply and often without the need for any actual cooking – and no ritual sacrifice of animals. In my world, kids were not asked what they wanted. Such a thought was heretical nonsense to people such as my parents. They didn’t need to tell us about starving kids in other countries; we knew that they wouldn’t be bothered with such an explanation when a good backhand said a thousand words. Note for those who don’t know: a backhand can be rendered at twice the speed as a forward-motion slap. Mom certainly could have handed me a can of tomatoes, corn, or green beans and sent me outside to eat in peace. Sitting at the table brought unseen battles to the front. By the 4th grade, I could expertly tip an opened can and eat the contents without utensils. Or without cutting myself.

We were lucky mom didn’t poison us, even if her target was my dad. Like most women in her class, she had no choice but to work full-time and perform all the other menial but necessary tasks of living for the household. Obviously, a lot of mom’s cooking stress was anger and resentment at being married to a lout. Mom didn’t have ‘signature dishes.’ I don’t remember her being romantic about cooking or the subtle art of gastronomy. To her, cooking was limited to the practical necessity of getting it done. It was a bizarre sight to witness her in the same kitchen with other people cooking. It might as well have been alien races sharing cooking space.

On another note, mom could have easily taught us to make one or two meals each. We would have willingly learned and helped had we been shown the attention—anything to avoid potential stress and drama of a ‘family’ meal. I know I couldn’t have been trusted to prepare any meal with meat. My recipe would have consisted only of tossing the meat carcass directly out the door and into the jaws of our succession of German Shepherd dogs named Duke.

Looking back, I’m still surprised that so many supper meals blur together into one indistinguishable mass in my memory. Few at-home suppers were devoid of distrust, dread, or unease. More importantly, I have no memories of meals wherein we gathered to eat where we shared our day, laughter, or happy moments. This was not part of our DNA. I like to think it must have happened accidentally. If it did, my treasonous brain has erased most of these memories. Exceptions tended to happen if dad arrived home drinking without his surliness or if extraordinary circumstances were at play. Watching sitcom families verbally teasing and laughing during dinner were Twilight Zone episodes for me.

On a typical day, mom had to read the tea leaves and decide when or if dad might come home. She was obligated to prepare some horrid slab of meat, partially cooked on the stove in a frying pan if he did. Dad was one of those absurd men who proudly pretended that the meat he consumed could indeed be eaten half-alive. “How in the hell can anyone eat that smell?” was a thought I often had. Along with the immutable truth that you don’t want to see sausage being made, the other is that no one should witness my dad eating meat. He was proof that our ancestors once jumped on wild walruses and ripped their ears off with their bare hands.

As you would guess, I generally wanted no part in the meat process. Given a choice between the meat prepared and eating live crickets culled from the underside of the trailer, you could find me with a mouthful of insect legs protruding from my mouth. Note: crickets thrive under trailers if you happen to be in the market for a truckload of crickets. If a vegetable were offered, I fought to eat an excessive portion of that and be happy. Truth be told, many of my supper experiences revolved around trying to be small and avoid my dad’s gaze. Though I’ve mentioned it before, his barbaric streak often led him to force me to eat things that should never pass the lips of a human being. If he noted I didn’t want meat, I often found myself chewing the fat off a bloody half-cooked ‘steak’ or the dark meat near the bone of an unidentifiable piece of chicken. (I shudder.) Or worse, the skin of a piece of chicken. I ate chicken skin quite often when I was very young and without dad around. It didn’t occur to me to think of how horrible it was. Later, though, I ate a mile of poorly-cooked or unappetizing skin that ruined me for the rest of my life.

It happened so often that I still have no desire to eat such meat. People underestimate how true this experience was. I was the youngest child; as such, dad felt offended by the lack of overt masculinity. He spent much of his life committed to ensuring that I consumed an array of inedible pieces of animals. His alcoholism is probably the single biggest factor that helped me escape his scrutiny. Unless mom was at his throat, dad’s drinking made him magnanimous at times, and his insistence on forcing me to eat things I didn’t like vanished. Some of the Terry family cooked very well and with love, so I didn’t understand how dad could be so barbaric in his approach, and other members of his family could prepare a wide selection of both meat and vegetables. My Uncle Buck cooked a few things extremely well. He also enjoyed cooking and preparing dishes. Especially gumbo and fish.

While I noted I disliked an increasing number of poorly and inexpertly cooked animal carcasses, it did at least drive home the idea that who and how something is cooked can often be 75% of whether you’ll like something you are about to eat. I felt like a medieval court taster who was anxiously waiting to feel his throat constricting against whatever poison had been inserted into the king’s food.

Despite all the instability in our house, mom spent a sizeable chunk of her money from her SW Bell operator’s paycheck going to the meat shops. It seemed strange to me that her dedication to doing this was so pronounced. Dad often could not discern the difference between a decent cut of meat and something found in the dumpster and fried in a pan for 30 seconds. Dad’s nutrition plan included chunks of meat, cigarettes, whiskey, Dentyne gum, and Brach’s peppermint candy. If I accompanied mom to the meat shop, I stood in amazement that there were more than 2 cuts of meat or 3 types of sandwich meat. It seemed odd that anyone needed something except bologna, salt pork, or bacon for a boy who loved mustard sandwiches. Mom was an impatient customer at such shops. It’s hard to believe that smoking was permitted inside them. And smoke she did, tapping her feet as she moved from one foot to the other, expecting her choice to be hurled toward her in less than 3 seconds. It seems strange that the building that currently holds the Las Margaritas Mexican restaurant in Springdale once was mom’s ‘go-to’ meat shop. I doubted my memory so strongly that I once searched for proof in the old phone books at the library and then matched the addresses against old maps.

Between errands, it seemed like mom was always buying cigarettes and alcohol. Much of my Springdale geography command resulted from the infinite trips to liquor stores and places to buy cigarettes. I could walk from Uncle Buck’s house to the liquor store that once stood at the intersection of Gutensohn and Highway 68/412, but wasn’t sure about the route to one of the grocery stores.

My access to the larger world and food expanded only because of my cousin Jimmy and infrequent visits to other people’s houses. Everything seemed exotic to me. Things like bbq sauce, olives, flavored pickles, and lemon pepper ignited my imagination. At home, we didn’t have these things. If such a store existed, my mom would have gladly shopped at “Bare Minimum Essentials.”

This impacted my brother Mike much more than me. He enjoyed eating meat. He also was a bigger boy, more athletic when we were younger, and had an expansive appetite. This annoyed the hell out of my dad. Unlike me, Mike loved grabbing a handful of dad’s prized sliced deli ham and stuffing it into his mouth as a snack. It was a perilous day to hear my dad holler, “Who ate all the g$$$amned ham!?” In turn, it annoyed Mike that I loved mustard sandwiches and was happy to eat basic food. If I annoyed him, he sometimes would take a piece of ham, roll it menacingly into a ball, and stuff it into my mouth, laughing at my cries of torture. I detested ham so much that I might as well be Jewish. Don’t get me wrong; I’d eat it sometimes but never with any enthusiasm and certainly not as a first choice. Having been in my brother’s ham hock of a hand, I liked it even less.

When the grocery store opened across from Johnson Road, my cousin Jimmy went to get Ron Calcagni’s autograph. Mom later went to the store and scoffed at the incredible selections, after listening to my Aunt Ardith list its array of food. I was mesmerized by the dozen types of bread and the endless row of assorted pasta. I wanted to live inside that store and stuff myself with gallons of marinara and spaghetti. Other kids could be seen getting politely or angrily admonished by their moms as they begged for treats from the candy aisle, special cereals, or ice cream. So dedicated was my mom’s brutality regarding asking, this simply didn’t happen with me. I didn’t touch – and never asked. It was a sin akin to peeing on someone’s head while riding the bus. There were a couple of memorable times I forgot myself and vocalized my desire to have something. Because I was a little strange. one of those times was when I saw Mexicorn, the kernel corn in a can with peppers. I didn’t want sweets or chips. I wanted that exotic can of corn. Not only did mom swat me with the wrath of Khan, but she waited to ensure that dad could put his 5-knuckles-worth into the equation. By the way, I had my first can of Mexicorn at my cousin Jimmy’s. Aunt Ardith bought several cans. She watched in amazement and then horror as I ate all of them, at once. When she put butter in them and stirred it, I felt as if Heaven had descended upon me and wrapped its arms around me. While I don’t know for sure that Aunt Ardith treated me to endless Mexicorn because of how my mom behaved, it seems likely. She smiled at me like Christmas while I ate. “You’re going to be sick,” she kept repeating, her voice growing more amazed as I emptied the cans one by one.

My Aunt Ardith on the left, mom on the right.



It was sometime in the summer of 1st or 2nd grade that I discovered that canned corn and green beans were delicious. Heating them was a needless step for me. Being able to skip steps to eat was a revelation for me. Soon enough, I learned how to make macaroni and spaghetti. Though I’d seen it made one thousand times, I was stupidly surprised by the fact that cooking it only required boiling water and waiting long enough for it to soften. A monster was born, one that still resides within me. While I could eat noodles plain, if tomatoes or tomato sauce were available, I would dump it into the water and noodles. We didn’t use strainers; we had to risk burns over the sink using the pot’s lid to drain spaghetti. I think the lack of good strainers is one characteristic that most poor kids share in common. Skipping all those steps was a benefit. Regardless of the size of the package of pasta, I cooked it all. And then ate it. Wasting it wasn’t a consideration.

All of which brings me to the Golden Macaroni Era at City View trailer park. Infrequently, mom would recover from the cyclical violence with dad. She’d violently clean the trailer and then later that evening make a pot of macaroni soup. Instead of simply making macaroni and adding tomatoes or sauce, she would cut up potatoes, onions, and a few other things and boil it into submission. Mom and I would sit at the table and eat. She would watch me eat a gallon of it in one sitting. Though it was simple, it was delicious beyond measure. While she made this after City View a couple of times, I’ll never forget the period at City View when she often did it. Usually, only she and I would eat this soup. She must’ve realized from Grandma that this was one of my favorite things in the world. Over one summer, my Grandma made a version of this for me at least every other day. Weirdly, I didn’t mind that mom had magically used at least 2 large onions in the soup. I count these nights eating macaroni soup as one of the few ways and times that mom tried to have a selfless connection with me, even if only through food. One of the other memorable times was her return from alcohol rehab in Fort Smith after I graduated high school. She made a mammoth pot of macaroni soup, and we ate the entire pot. I can’t see this moment as accidental. Mom returned from rehab, a completely different person.

When our trailer burned at City View and we moved to Tontitown’s fringe, this tradition died. My “cousin” Leta, who owned the house in Tontitown, where we moved, worked at the Venesian Inn. Because she could bring home endless food, it was from there I discovered my love of Italian dressing. Even as dad and family and friends had endless drunken cookouts, I found that salads with huge cut-up tomatoes and a bottle of Viva Italian salad dressing were available. I consumed truck loads of rolls and salad.

Me, dad, mom, and my brother Mike, aka “The Infamous Picture” at Leta’s house in Tontitown. I use this picture as the perfect embodiment of how perception thwarts reality.



In closing, I’ll finish with mom’s secret Mashed Potatoes recipe. This recipe has been sought after for years, so share it only with trusted friends and family.

You’ll need whatever kind of potatoes are on sale, a bit of milk (canned if you have it), a bit of pepper and salt, and access to non-menthol cigarettes. You’ll need to smoke constantly while boiling, mashing, and mixing the potatoes. Also, don’t knock the ashes from the cigarette as you cook. Allow them to fall freely into the potatoes. If you’re adventurous, coarsely cut a large onion into preposterously large pieces and throw them in the mashed potatoes. If the potatoes are lumpy, don’t notice. Hungry people don’t notice, much less comment, that the potatoes are lumpy. If you get a particularly large chunk of onion, spit it into your hand and keep eating. If anyone notices something that looks like ashes in the potatoes, tell them it’s pepper. Fun fact: it is almost impossible to taste cigarette ashes in mashed potatoes, no matter how much is present if you add pepper and onions to them. It’s for that reason that I mentioned that you shouldn’t smoke menthols – which are easily detectable.

Note: I was pleasantly surprised to learn that no one else puts onions in mashed potatoes. In 2017, I wrote about “Newport Potatoes.” Many people thought I made it up, even after citing the episode of “Master Of None.”



My mom and dad sitting at the bar at Uncle Buck’s house. We have no pictures of each other or us at our own house – and not just because we didn’t own a camera.
My brother Mike enjoying mashed potatoes at Aunt Ardith’s table on Ann Street in Springdale.
One of my favorite pictures of Uncle Buck. He was cooking up a storm and stopped long enough to present me with a fruitcake.

They Could Have Called Me “The Streak”

Jimmy isn’t the one in the long dress. He’s the one wearing a white jacket, wondering what he’d got himself into.

One of my regrets is that I didn’t streak naked around Thorncrown Chapel in Eureka Springs during my cousin Jimmy’s first wedding. His first wedding was in August of 1995 to a woman named Lona Heckle. In 1995, I still had the body to allow me to run fast – and, if caught, not feel too badly about my picture being on the nightly news after my arrest for streaking. Camcorders were common but it was still possible to just be a blur on such cameras. Regular cameras were unwieldy and snapping flash pictures inside a giant glass rectangle tended to yield less-than-stellar photos.

Coincidentally, one of my other regrets is that I did not get to perform Jimmy’s other marriage shortly before his death. I overcame my inertia to become ordained due to the possibility of this marriage. I understand the particulars of why someone else was chosen but still remain a bit uneasy about it. Personally, I can’t understand why more families don’t have someone ordained so that the family member doing the ceremony will forever be part of the memory, too. After all, standing with the two people in love is the best seat in the house, so to speak.

Were Jimmy still alive, he’d join me in laughter if I told him, “Yes, I was going to perform your second marriage naked, Jimmy. No need to streak if I’m standing in front of everyone.”

He’s been dead for more than 7 1/2 years now, which itself seems alien to write.

I wrote much of this post a few days ago, before the other shoe fell and my brother died. I don’t recall why Mike wasn’t at Jimmy’s wedding. Fittingly enough, Jimmy and I didn’t make the trip up to the Chicago Metro area to attend my brother’s wedding. Our excuse wasn’t personal; we were both just young, poor, and unaware that we could reach out and find a way to get there.

My cousin was a bit crazy himself. He was prone to get whiskey courage and do some outrageous things. We inherited the tendency from our ancestors.

For whatever reason, Jimmy was very nervous about the wedding itself. All the family he’d ever known was attending. When I first started teasing Jimmy about potentially streaking during his wedding, he laughed and said, “You’ll never do it. You’ll say you will but you don’t have your dad’s crazy streak.” So I told him, “Exactly. NOT having it gives me the courage to do it precisely because no one will expect it.” As the days passed, I could tell I had got into his head.

For those unfamiliar with the Thorncrown Chapel, it’s made of glass and steel and sits in the middle of an expanse of trees and forest. I’ve witnessed people become overwhelmed by emotion while sitting inside. If you’ve ever had the pleasure of being inside during heavy snow or while the sun is beaming through at an oblique angle, you undoubtedly can imagine it again.

Now add the idea of me running around the place naked with dozens of horrified onlookers trapped on the inside watching me do it.

I made the short video cut of Jimmy standing at the altar. It captures his unease at being the center of attention and spectacle. I took it from a VHS tape I had digitized several years ago. It was one of my few chances to be able to see videos and images from lives overlapping mine. Much of the bulk of such photography was lost to me due to the odd lack of sharing many of the family members seemed to inherit.

And because it’s one of the few relics of me on video, here’s a short one of me the day of Jimmy’s wedding. We were milling around outside the motel waiting for the hurry-and-wait part of the afternoon to commence.

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I wanted to post this picture of Jimmy and Lona a couple of years after they were married. I mean no disrespect but I always remember wrong how long they were married.

A Week of Days

Earlier in the week, I was driving to work. My kayak was in the shop to have bullet holes repaired, and a nun stole my bicycle Sunday night. At 4 a.m., I typically see a lot of craziness, including what must be a fair share of inebriated drivers. They could be drunk, too. If you’re not keeping up here, you might be 3.2 sheets to the wind yourself. Before the last bend in the street to reach the roundabout, I noted a large commercial truck was coming toward me fast – and on the wrong side of the road. Instead of braking, I absentmindedly moved to the left/wrong lane. The truck passed me on the right, heading away from me. As I rounded the outer fringe of the roundabout, I noticed one of the stop signs was plastered flat again. It wasn’t until that moment that I realized that I had switched to the wrong lane about 30 seconds before. I don’t worry about the police, as they typically are some of the worst drivers I see that early in the morning. I don’t blame them. What do you have to do wrong to get assigned traffic patrol at that hour?

Friday, my tire pressure system went bonkers again. (For my car – not my kayak.) I did the magical reset thing again with the hazard light. (This is true. For my car, you have to hit the hazard light rapidly with the key turned to an unfindable spot in the ignition. Weirdly, you then let a lot of air out of each tire in a clockwise motion as the horn honks for each tire. It sounds like a prank, doesn’t it?) I then drove around the block to normalize the sensor. Exiting the car, I realized that I drove around with my phone on the top of the car. I did the same thing a couple of years ago. Since I can’t remember one of the steps to do the magic pressure reset, I use the internet to look it up. For some reason, I instinctively leave my phone on top of the car, just as my ancestors must have done when crossing the prairies of the West.

My wife and I never use real butter. It’s not because we loathe cows, although we do. The last one we had insisted on standing on the coffee table while we tried to watch tv. The wife wanted to make something called Texas Sh#t Cake. Technically, it’s Texas Sheet Cake. Basically, it is 22 lbs. of what amounts to fudge instead of frosting. Legally, you can’t eat it unless you have full coverage dental insurance. The cake almost killed my mother-in-law, by the way. Strangely, it’s a funny story. I’ll bet she tells the story a bit differently than we do. A couple of days later, I surprised my wife by making baked sweet potatoes for her. I thought real butter would make the skins more palatable. And easier to eat. This doesn’t make sense anyway because she’s one of ‘those’ people who don’t eat the skins. She’d be a terrible cannibal, FYI. Even though I microwaved the butter for only 20 seconds, as soon as I pulled it out at eye level and removed the paper towel, the hunk of butter exploded, spraying butter onto my head, covering my glasses, as well as covering every inch of the available counters, cabinets, and floor as it sprayed. Somewhere, I heard a cow laughing at me. It took me forever to clean the kitchen. Luckily, I was wearing my reading glasses during the mishap.

Earlier in the day, I had to reach something over a pile of inaccessible supplies. Typically, I could be described as “stupidly clumsy.” During a typical day, I find myself climbing like I’m a jungle gym assembly tester. It’s just intrinsic to the insanity of what passes for a career. (Note: kids, stay in school unless it is welding school or rodeo clown school.) I was about 6 feet off the floor. I stepped off the side of a pallet of stuff onto a series of large boxes. As I soon discovered, they were literally large boxes with very little content. Just as happens in the I-fell-through-the-ceiling-from-the-attic fail videos, instead of stepping down a foot onto the top box, I crushed through at least 4 feet of empty space. I’m certain I made a long and quick series of nonsensical faces as I plummeted. I didn’t break anything if you’re worried about property damage. Until I took a shower and discovered that the soap burned, I didn’t know I left a piece of skin somewhere in that large box. Note: the pandemic has greatly worsened the safety of millions of workers. I’ll breathe a sigh of relief when we go back to a large, stifling bureaucracy to protect us. I’m not sure I can survive much longer, having an employer watch out for my best interests.

Thursday afternoon, I went to the store to get a cartful of delicious diet tonic water. Evidently, I’ve crossed the threshold into addiction. Since my mask usage proves my breath already smells like a dead hyena, I’ve decided that the sewage water aftertaste of diet tonic water doesn’t really detract from my overall personality. I did wonder why my wife insisted on a 12-foot long couch, though. As I rounded the aisle, I noted a flu shot table in the middle of the aisles, with an attentive nurse seated there. Near it, an older rough-looking gentleman was provoking his counterpart, seated in a wheelchair, to give his birthday already. He said, “Okay, it’s 1962.” Because I was in a great mood, I shouted, “1962? Jesus that’s old!” as I went by. Everyone looked at me – and then back to the man seated in the wheelchair. We all laughed. The only other option was for someone to shoot me. A few minutes later, as I was loading my cart full of diet tonic water, I saw the man roll by. “1962!” I hollered again. He laughed. When he was done, laughing, he laughed some more. I got him one more time near the registers. I’m certain he told that story later. As I was putting the 80 lbs of delicious diet tonic water in the car, a bag ripped, and one of the bottles rolled under the car. I searched for that bottle, even after backing my car away a bit (at risk of life and limb in that horrible parking lot.) I never found it. I can only imagine that someone picked it up with enthusiasm until they noted it was a bottle of diet tonic water. At that point, they probably cursed and hurled it like an insult at a slow waiter.

On the way out of the store, I stopped at one of those automated Lottery ticket checking devices. Of the 22 entries I had, none paid. Out of the last 34 tickets I’ve purchased, none have been winners. This is the longest losing streak I’ve ever had – unless you count the totality of my adult life. “This is so 2020!” I told myself as I crumpled the tickets and discarded them. “Hindsight is 20/20” is going to lose the publicity race and be replaced by “That is so 2020.” Sorry, Raven.

Also this week, I discovered another thing I could do well by not trying. I also rediscovered simultaneously that many people take themselves way too seriously. Holden Caulfield might call them a phony; I’d call them exasperating.

On a similar note, I played “crazy website snipe” a couple of days this week. Using the social media of a couple of genuinely deranged friends, I hid/blocked a torrent of stupidity forever. I can’t be the only person who notices that some people should have the ‘share’ option ripped from their fingers. Meanwhile, I watched a couple of people suffer from trolls and lesser people. Life’s too short and you’re making your cool friends irritated by tolerating the people you wouldn’t invite over for dinner, anyway.

Here’s a reminder, for those who need to know:

The Social Media Wisdom Observation

Say what you will about social media, but it has destroyed the mistaken urban legend that people get wiser as they get older.

We don’t get wiser; we get more sure, which tends to be a dangerous thing.

If you can’t drink diet tonic water, shout potentially hilarious and/or awkward things at strangers at the market, or drive on the wrong side of the road, my conclusion is that you shouldn’t be ice skating, either.

Burns of Denial

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When my wife died suddenly several years ago, I opted for an awkward visitation after her cremation. I know it was awkward; such things were not common, especially in the Venn diagram of the converging families affected by her death. Many of her family were Catholic; a few of those hid behind their Catholicism to attempt to blame their dislike of cremation. To be fair, I didn’t care. In my case, I was lucky. The death of a maternal uncle about a month before had crystallized any doubts what my wife wanted if she died. She loved the Catholic church through her grandmother’s eyes; she rejected in the world at large. Her displeasure with it took on its own life when she observed some of her family members use it as a disguise for the things that infected them.

Though it strays from the theme of this post, one of the first serious conversations I had with her involved her dad. Her youth was punctuated by heartache. Both parents were not appropriately tuned in to their kids. She was the youngest of a series of children born to a mix of fathers. Both misbehaved; the mom especially led a promiscuous lifestyle. I convinced my wife that she would almost certainly reach a point where she could sit in a room and laugh with her dad. That day came before her death. It wasn’t perfect, but it was miles from where they’d started.

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Deanne with her dad Ralph…

Even though it made some people uncomfortable, for the visitation I had a table with letters, photos, and both mementos and moments for people to see. Like it or not, none of us are prepared for the unreasonable demands of sudden death, especially when young.

Someone familiar with my story and the players involved told me a story I keep forgetting. Her accounting of memories and happenings is much stronger than mine – though she would not agree with me saying so.

When she attended my wife’s visitation, the wife of my biggest critic turned to her and mentioned the cigarette burns on her husband’s back, ones earned during his abusive childhood.

I wasn’t a part of the conversation. Although I was told the story before, it slipped out of my mind as things do.

It was such an odd time to bring it up.

It was an odd and unrequested topic, too.

Given the recent uptick in unsolicited criticism, it echoes in my mind as a benchmark for so much.

I felt like I should share this story.

Because the story comes from someone unimpeachable, it seems important that the wife would later attempt a hard right turn into becoming a revisionist regarding any abuse.

The abused themselves do this with an astonishing frequency.

The Great Undefined Before

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*Note: as with any mention of Trump, I acknowledge that Trump supporters are not automatically racists. I loathe the entire agenda of superiority, though.

“By elevating those who fought against equality, you are sending a message to those once with a knee in their back that you would prefer it be that way again, whether you realize it or not. America was not great when we enslaved people, chose to keep women from voting, or did any of the things that would be considered sociopathic if a person did them.” – X

Before Trump dreamed up “Make American Great Again,” I endured family members who constantly whined and moaned that the United States needed to return to what it once was. They were vague on specifics. What exactly were the parameters and years of “the good old days” in America? Because most of them believed that their religion and their color was the only way of life, all others were therefore inferior and the enemy. It’s true they had to live in the real world and interact with their perceived inferiors. Despite their exposure, though, they lived each day with the certainty they were victims to modern society’s demand that all men be treated as equals. They didn’t believe it. Many racists still don’t. They’ve learned to silence those vocalizations unless they are in their own bubbles of town, church, or family. As we live our lives, we run up against these unstated prejudices all the time. They simply aren’t labeled.

In the same way that blacks and women were left out of this country’s founding, the ideals that so many claim to cherish ring hollow to me. The revolutionists didn’t have women and minorities in mind when they phrased such lofty phrases such as “with liberty and justice for all.” People weren’t equal. Millions of people weren’t people at all. Much to our shame, it’s codified in our law. We can do better than the constitution we now have. I realize that such ideas go against the prevailing sense of patriotism. This country is people, though, first and foremost. It is malleable, adaptable, and flexible. It’s why we have the ability to change it.

Before my Mother died, she befriended a black woman who worked at Brinkley Schools. By all accounts, they were close friends. Saying this without understanding that my Mother didn’t believe her black friend to be her equal does a great disservice to the truth. My mom died with much of her racism intact and real. The stereotypes most of us reject were a large component of my Mom’s identity. Her alcoholism was a prism that intensified her anger toward those she felt superior to. I’m not writing this as an accusation toward my name. It’s not. It’s the truth.

I’m not saying that my Mom actively mistreated every minority she came into contact with. That’s not how the world works. Did she believe that she was superior to them? That she had a right to be served first, to be hired first, or that her color was better? Yes. My youth was filled with such diatribes and rants. If Mom would have had the power to enforce her superiority over minorities, would she have done so? Yes. If a black person was a cop, he got the job because they had to hire him. If the supervisor was black, it was affirmative action. In any argument, the n-word came out as if it were a label that negated the other side of the argument. Mom mocked and ridiculed me for speaking Spanish. She ridiculed any accent other than her own, saying it was a sign of a lack of education, breeding, or whatever nonsense might pass as a justification.

Mandatory sidenote: it is possible that someone can do an about-face and change their beliefs and way of living. This includes racists. People can change. Were it not so, we would all be cynical and filled with loathing for most people. There would be no incentive to change. As with all other behavior, if a racist succeeds in learning a better way, he or she should get a chance for redemption. It’s unfair to label someone as racist if they grew out of it. Likewise, it is no crime to point out that people once were racists; it’s just a fact.

For those without obvious intensifiers or addictions, I watched as their ideology sharpened their resolve to put the others in their place. Even as their ability to give voice to their poison lessened, their actual prejudice seethed inside of them.

There is no golden age of America, not an inclusive one. Whether we demeaned blacks, women, Jews, Latinos, or gays, the truth is that we’ve never been a county that truly worships the idea of equality. The South of my early youth was predominantly racist in a literal sense and metaphorically much worse. The surrounding elders lamented the loss of the ideals of their country. It confused me because from where I stood, efforts to force prejudices into silence were slowly improving our ability to live peacefully and equally. I didn’t have the tools or understanding to give voice to what was wrong with so many of my family members.

Whatever infected them, I could see that it was wrong.

It didn’t leave me without my own measure of guilt. Unlike others, I resented it, rejected it, and learned that such things were hurting everyone. For almost all of my adult life, I’ve been free of some of that ignorance.

I’m not sure if we can blame it all on ignorance. Many of my family members were truly intelligent. Had they focused their intelligence on bettering everyone’s lives, society would have been a better place.

When confronted, they’d ascribe the questions to youth or inexperience. If I pointed out that I needed a reason other than, “That’s the way it is,” they’d either resort to harsh anger, their Bibles, or some other circular reasoning.

Mostly Bibles that were rarely opened to the pages asking us to live peace and kindness.

It’s no surprise that my research skills have demonstrated that many of them had some sinister skeletons in their closets. “Pious bastards” rings in my head a lot.

Many still reside in that cauldron of prejudice. They don’t see themselves as racists, of course. They consume media and reinforcements that mirror what they believe. Their opinions do not change with new information.

One of my relatives couldn’t understand why I didn’t want to hear the n-word, sincere prejudices about Jews, or his definition of the differences of each kind of color. His job gave him the excuse to stereotype. Over time, it blinded him. He would get angry at me for telling him to stop using it while talking to me. I understood him, but in the opposite way than that which he’d appreciate it. My wife who died years ago secretly bit her tongue every time she was around him. It infuriated her that he couldn’t see that his heart was dark. Because I was younger and foolish, I didn’t appreciate that all of us would have been better served to let her unleash her fury on him.

If we do not exercise great care, the rising prejudices hidden in plain sight within “Make America Great Again” will ruin us. We can make America great, but not by following the lead of people who feel they are superior to others.

People see these arguments and falsely claim that such logic implies that we don’t want the best for the United States. It’s a vacuous argument for them to make – but one they’ll always make because they think it negates the need for further explanation. We all should be focused on making the best decisions for everyone.

The racists know their own hearts.

The Broken Record Is Renewed

For those who wanted a simple timeline, instead of my endless commentary. Names have been changed to protect whoever wants such protection.

One part of my motive for this blog was to share my stories and cement my stories so that revisionists couldn’t later do what they do when attempting to silence someone doesn’t work.

This isn’t going to be perfect. I’m leaving out huge gaps of nuttiness and drama.

People who read this blog won’t know who is being discussed unless they have a Ouija board or an exceptional dossier on the thousands of people in my life.

Earlier this week, my family member (who I will call Mark) created more identities and emails to attempt to interact with my blog. I already have a large list of blocked IP addresses, aliases, and emails he’s used previously. Though I can screenshot them, only people in denial would claim I’m making it up. I’ve shown it to a couple of people, ones who are familiar with the long pattern of anger and addiction that I’ve dealt with.

Mark was always a blowhard. When he was younger, his wit and intelligence were formidable. As his personality hardened, he became a victim to his own assuredness and secrets. We had a lot of great moments. To talk about the ones that diminish him does not negate that great moments occur. Mark hated my outspoken nature, especially when it walked over family honor. (Or dishonor.) Throughout most of his adult life, he was angry. Addiction did not help him in this regard. Whether anyone wants to hear it or not, his legacy will be one of anger and discord. There will be those who point the finger at me. Those who know me know that my life isn’t punctuated by this sort of addiction or constant refueling of anger and drama. It’s pointless.

When Mark resurfaces and starts in on me, he usually has a commensurate reaction in his personal life. When people get out their flamethrowers, they tend to scorch everyone. Previously, I let his wife know. (I’ll call her Jolene.)

I wrote Jolene a simple email to let her know Mark was at it again.

She responded angrily and with a swatch of allegations regarding my motive, character, and credibility.

I replied back, saying I wasn’t going to reply in anger, given that it wouldn’t help anyone, much less either of us.

She replied again, doubling down on her accusations. The email was boiled in anger. I could post the email chain here with names edited. It’s obvious when reading them who is suffering. And although Jolene wouldn’t want to hear it from me now,  I still feel a profound sense of loss and empathy for her and those who grew up in Mark’s sphere.

It has nothing to do with morality, superiority, or any of those accusatory defenses. It’s simply a matter of life not well-lived.

I replied a final time, using a short 3-sentence reply, one absent rancor, or accusation.

I went a long time without interacting with my Mark. In 2013, while I was helping to care for a cousin who was dying of cancer, Mark launched an all-out campaign to threaten me. It was effective. He worked in a job that gave him great ability to follow through on his threats and had a long history of alcoholism and anger issues. Instead of pressing charges, I tried to get someone to get him some help. I nearly lost my sanity for a bit.

As he does, Mark flipped it on me and told everyone that I was trying to get him fired. I still have the emails with his bosses that easily prove I’m telling the truth. Having perfected his skills over the decades, he told his bosses that I was bipolar and his family that I was out to ruin his life and get him fired. It took me forever to make him stop contacting me. My cousin died while I was dealing with Mark. Afterward, I had to endure the interference of family members who tried to paint it as a disagreement, despite that Mark had threatened to kill me – and that I believed it. People who knew me and who had heard his voicemails and calls knew it. While I might have been guilty of being an asshole, a charge I must confess to, Mark was guilty of an actual crime, one which I contributed to me trying to get him help instead of arrested.

In the intervening years, I dreaded the other shoe dropping. I knew that it would.

Not terribly long ago, Mark was forced to retire from his job due to alcoholism. I didn’t know that for quite some time. I didn’t know that he had been forced to get treated before, either. How could I know?

He began to call me intermittently and I answered. I was cautious. During one of my trips to Hot Springs, Mark called me. I’ll never forget telling him that he broke something in me in 2013 and afterward and that I might not ever regain it.

Mark began calling me more frequently. I tiptoed around his issues, wanting just to reconnect.

Many of us foolishly try to keep a relationship alive, even while swallowing huge parts of ourselves in exchange for doing so.

I sent Mark books, encouraged him to write his stories down, and made him personal gifts to encourage him. I tried to put in an effort.

Later, his wife Jolene wrote to me using an alias on social media, asking me to please call her. It’s important to note that I did not reach out to her; she asked me to talk.

Much to my surprise, we had an instant rapport, after so many years of not communicating. She shared with me that Mark was suffering badly from alcoholism. We talked many times and at length. I can’t stress enough that it was rewarding. We found out that Mark had told us differing stories to keep us from comparing notes. He had constructed a huge web of deceit and was continuing to victimize those around him.

At some point, Mark called me and told me he was another state to confront an ex-brother-in-law who slept with his wife Jolene. He was going to come back through Arkansas afterward. When I called Jolene, she said, “What are you talking about? He’s outside the house right now.” And she sent me a picture, which I still have.

Suddenly, all the things that Mark shared with me were called into doubt. He had told me a 1,000 stories, many about how evil Jolene had supposedly been to him. Most of them weren’t true. Jolene and I shared a lot of stories and compared notes. Mark had lied about his injury while drinking, as well about so many others. I won’t recount the list here. Suffice it to say there was a staggering amount.

My heart broke for Jolene and her children. All those years of assuming she hated me washed away. Mark was the spider in the middle of the web.

I tried to continue to talk to Mark. We talked many times, usually reminiscing. I tried to avoid mentioning the disparities or anything that would crash his fantasy world. It became harder and harder to do it – as well as to be nice to Mark. The longer I interacted with Jolene and her children, the more I tried to make him get help. I also worked hard to convince Jolene to get as much help as she could and to leave Mark if he wouldn’t do everything possible to get better. We talked many times about these issues.

I can prove it all, not that anyone reasonable would doubt what I’m saying. For those that do doubt, I can prove it. I’d hope that no one would make me. It’s needlessly traumatic.

During one episode, I recorded Mark at Jolene’s request. I emailed her the audio of the conversation. It laid bare to her how deeply Mark’s pathology extended. I’ll never forget that conversation we had. There was no escaping how deeply Mark’s addiction had advanced or how far he’d go to protect his choices.

At one point, Jolene sent me a picture of Mark passed out inside the garage, between the car door and the car. He wouldn’t stop drinking and driving. He was hiding alcohol everywhere.

I spoke with Jolene and one of her children.

I didn’t do it to refuel my drama cart. I did it because I was concerned. That concern grew to be anger at Mark for refusing to get help – as often as it took and for as long as it took. I discovered that he’d been misbehaving for a long time. I already knew it to be true due to a combination of observation, instinct, and passing comments from friends and family. Families traffic in gossip, truth, and innuendo.

It’s true that toward the end, I grew to be disgusted with Mark. I had to avoid him for long periods because I couldn’t peacefully maintain the facade of deceit or pretend I approved of his life. It would have been different had he not been so evil to his own family.

At some point in all this, he was caught driving drunk and endangering a lot of people. It was mishandled and because of his profession, he was not required to be accountable like a normal person. And so, he continued to drink and drive. I won’t share those stories which were shared with me.

He threatened his family and did and said things that were truly malicious.

Jolene told me to let it out and tell him how I really felt. I finally did.

Naturally, Mark waited until the day of the funeral for another family member. I’ve never participated in a conversation so ugly, even those involving my Mom. The level of pathological lying and misdirection was beyond what I’d dealt with before.

For me, the worst I behaved during all of it was during the phone call on the day of the funeral and later texts I traded with Mark In October 2019. I hit him in the jugular to try to get him to admit his issues and to get him to talk with me and Jolene simultaneously so that I could ask questions with her listening and gauge his response.

 

 

 

Screenshot_20191028-163325_Messages jeanine and numbers removed

Screenshot_20191028-163332_Messages without names and numbers

 

There are other screenshots in which I’m chasing Mark to be honest, to talk to me with someone else, etc. Truth be told, I wanted nothing except to have Mark and Jolene on the phone with me at the same time.

 

Ultimately, Jolene stayed with Mark, even though the children wanted her to leave. Jolene tired of talking to me and said she thought it would be easier if she didn’t keep me informed anymore. I agreed. I couldn’t be nice to Mark anymore and I realized that Jolene reached her endpoint.

I talked to her another time, as well as to one of her children, who told me that it was still terrible at home.

I knew the risks of talking to someone so close to Mark and that the likelihood of it being spoiled given enough time would be a certainty.

I traded texts back and forth with someone earlier this year – and it was worse than I had left it. It killed me to know that Mark not only had angrily refused help but had tightened his grip on those around him.

Each time I asked Mark to stop calling me, texting me, etc., he took great pains to go out of his way to ridicule me and do it even more. I have screenshots of pages of his calls. If I blocked his number, he’d leave nasty voicemails. For a time, I had to leave my voicemail full just to keep him out of it.

A few years ago, I had changed my email and phone number to avoid talking to him and my Mom. An allegedly well-intentioned family member gave him my new phone number.

No matter what Mark’s mental condition, he was together enough to employ complicated and ongoing efforts to create identities, use IP addresses, and continue to bother me when he knew it wasn’t welcome. His addiction and anger worked together to continue to convince him that I had no right to keep him at arm’s length.

I missed being able to talk casually with Jolene. We all shared a common battle and it shaped all of us and all of our lives.

But even that is gone now, probably forever, another casualty in the addiction war. Mark won. He’s poisoned us.

I have a mass of notes and records from all the craziness. I don’t like to peer into it for too long or look up details to understand. There’s nothing to understand. It’s just another wasted life being brought to a withering end.

Because Jolene called me a victim and insisted that I love washing in it, I’d agree I’m a victim in the sense that Mark perfected part of his skill at angry manipulation on me. I was stupid for returning to the scene of the crime. I failed Mark – and I failed Jolene and her children.

I knew there was a good chance that I’d end up on the wrong end of anyone conected to Mark. He’s gaslighted so well and so consistently his entire adult life that it is a rare person who escapes unburned.

As for that, there are more footprints on the internet that Jolene may realize. Not from me; rather, from those who were close and shared bits and pieces in their own way. They too shared parts of their stories, whether Jolene realized it or not. I didn’t go out of my way looking for them. They were offered voluntarily and at their own pace. They prove that the carnage was real and much worse than what is willingly admitted to. A lot of people eventually tell their stories. They validated what we all knew and whispered about. It’s no shame that someone had an addiction or couldn’t get their loved one to make amends.

We all failed. I wasn’t equipped to deal with it. I learned my own way and mostly avoided the craziness that Mark did. I didn’t escape it entirely, though.

As to whether I wrote too much about it, I only wrote about it when it dramatically crossed paths with my life. That’s my right. I can’t help it that some of those involved wouldn’t escape it. I understand that they have to paint a different picture, choose another villain, and ask someone else to pay their price on their behalf.

If you think I’m the problem, you need to take a long hard look across the internet. The truth is out there.