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Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Why Mike Matters


How much does one-man matter? What difference in the world populated by billions does one anonymous unremarkable man make? The father of a good friend recently passed away after a lengthy and grueling battle against cancer. Death came neither quickly nor peacefully. Mike was escorted to the brink of his release from his mortal shell by an honor guard comprised of his two daughters. However, he crossed the cosmic threshold on his own.

I met Mike on a Caribbean cruise. He was taking his daughters on what would be their last trip together. Mike’s oldest daughter, Leslie, is one of my wife’s closest friends. My wife and I booked the cruise independent of Mike and his daughters. When we discovered we would all be on the boat together we made requests to be in the same dining party.

I heard about Mike occasionally for several years before meeting him. Leslie clearly adored her father and even from casual conversation it was clear he was the most important person in her life. I knew everyone thought Mike was funny. I knew he had been in the navy. I knew that Mike had cancer.

I thought I had a great deal of empathy for Leslie and her sister Angie. I had seen both my parents fight cancer for years. My mother had drastic life altering surgery. My father went into remission several times, only to have virulent recurrences. He ended up with a bone morrow transplant that stopped the cancer from recurring, at least for now, but also fundamentally changed his life. I knew about the emotional gymnastics involved in watching a parent struggle with cancer.

Mike was not a large man. I would not say he was slight, but he was not physically imposing. He stood perfectly straight. He never slouched. His eyes were always active. His gaze was penetrating. He looked at you when you were speaking as if at any moment his very life would depend on understanding what you had just said. When not in conversation, his eyes were scanning the crowds or the horizon. He seemed very much a military man.

Mike was funny. He used his keen power of observation to find humor in almost any situation. He was not cruel with his humor. One night after poor event planning on the part of the staff had opened our plans Mike and his two daughters and my wife and I found our way to the ship’s library. The tiny room, about the size of a standard home dining room, had shelves of books nobody had ever read, nor would anybody likely want to read. We were the only ones in the room. Mike began a comedic routine that reduced all of us to tears. He was unstoppable. During the course of his performance, a couple of other passengers chanced into the library. They tried to ignore Mike, but smiles quickly swept across their faces as he kept at his antics.

All of us went on shore excursions together. When we made the foolish choice to eschew the cruise offered excursion and find our own way to the Atlantis Resort, Mike made instant friends with our cab driver and the two of them entered into a dialogue that still makes me smile. I also learned more about the Bahamas than I did from either Wikipedia or the guidebooks. Some of what I learned is probably true.

Mike was always watchful of his girls. He always inquired after their comfort and preferences. He really didn’t seem to take any care after himself. He was not patronizing. He treated them like adults, albeit, ones who could benefit a little from his military inspired punctuality. He never complained about waiting for them. He was always generous and sincere with his praise.

Mike had lived an interesting life. He never graduated high school. He joined the navy after and ill-conceived prank went wrong. After the military he was in the print business. During the course of the trip I learned a great deal about the differences between paper measurements in Europe and the United States. He never shared his knowledge without prompting and was never tedious in his explanations. He was a genius with people. He could be charming or firm, whichever the situation required.

Mike was not perfect. He never claimed he was. He was not famous. He made no great contributions to the knowledge or cultural storehouse of humanity. He would be difficult to pick out of a crowd. He was an honored veteran, but none of exploits can be found in history books or secret files. He seemed a lot like the rest of us, living his life everyday the best he could. Except, Mike wasn’t like most of us.

Mike was an extraordinary father. I saw his relationship with his daughters on quiet display every moment of the cruise. The respect his daughters showed him in their speech and in the way they looked and smiled at him showed a lifetime of trust affection. The way his eyes twinkled when they came down to the table for dinner, the easy way he made small genuine compliments about a dress or a necklace his daughters wore, demonstrated an acceptance of his children’s adulthood without an abandonment of his role as their father. These three clearly had a special bond, decades in the making. I also happen to know Mike saved the lives of these girls when they were quite young; he fought for them when they needed him most, when they could not fight for themselves.

I realized on the cruise that I could not empathize with how Angie and Leslie felt with Mike’s cancer because I could never be that close to my parents. There is not enough time to build up that much trust. Looking at Mike I recommitted myself to being the type of father he was. Among many things I hope to give my children is a great relationship with their father when they are adults.

It is not fair to say that Mike was unremarkable. He was a hero. He was extraordinary. He may only have been someone I knew on the periphery of my life, but I am better for that small connection. My wife’s report from the funeral seems too sacred to share in full. But, it is clear that even in death Mike watches out for his girls. He left a legacy of love that lives in their hearts. He lived an example of fatherhood that I cannot forget. 
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Friday, November 16, 2012

Christmas Confessions


I have to confess something. I like Christmas music. I like Christmas music a lot. I have been listening to Christmas music since before Halloween. Christmas music makes me happy. Mom loved Christmas music. She listened to it all year long.[1] Dad issued an edict that Christmas music could only be played after Thanksgiving because he got tired of it. Mom decided it was okay to listen to Christmas music anytime except when Dad was home. She would play her Christmas records loudest while she was cleaning the house. I have over 600 songs on my iTunes Christmas playlist, many of them from albums Mom used to play. Whenever It Came Upon a Midnight Clear from the Carpenter’s Christmas Portrait comes on I feel like a little boy in fizzy pajamas staring at the lights on our family’s Christmas tree. Only the absence of the faint hiss of the record player on my iPod keeps the illusion from consuming me.

Mom counted down the days to Thanksgiving like an inmate waiting for his sentence to end. After the leftover turkey was packaged up and the Tupperware drawer emptied, Christmas music could be played unrestrained. Mom always opened the season with Bing Crosby. How could you not? The morning after Thanksgiving was Christmas Friday in our house. Mom released her inner Macy’s window display decorator and our house exploded with nutcrackers, candy canes, and tinsel. Everything went somewhere different every year.  Decorations purchased sometime over the past year made their McBride home debut. It was glorious.

The only times from Thanksgiving to January 2nd (the closing date of our family Christmas season per paternal decree) that the record player wasn’t blaring Christmas music was when the TV was showing a Christmas movie. I have seen them all. I enjoy Christmas movies too, but there is something about Christmas music that is different, something that sets me free.

Maybe I just remember how happy Mom was during that time of year. How she would quote the lines to the Charlie Brown Christmas record with my sister and I.  Mom was a dancer in her youth and young adulthood. Dad was not a dancer. I only remember seeing Mom dance as a young child when she would vacuum and mop with spontaneity and exuberance to Jingle Bell Rock and Santa Clause is Coming to Town.

One of the things I have taken with from my childhood into adulthood is a love for Christmas music. Everything from the reverent sacred strains of the Messiah to the ironic and unfairly obscure Christmas Wrapping by the Waitresses makes me smile and takes me to a different place. Occasionally, I would listen to Christmas music off-season. Maybe the week of Thanksgiving, or maybe the week after New Year’s, I would sneak a listen to a song or two. The past two years have been among the worst times of my life. I started listening to Christmas music in September of both years. Last year I didn’t give it up until MLK Day. Listening to the music in my car makes me smile. I think about my Mom.

I used to believe listening to Christmas music in June was just a quirk. Now, I think it was a survival mechanism. Mom was loosing her battle with sanity, with life worth living. However, Christmas was her season. Mom lived for the cooking, the decorating, the time together, the religious reflection, the giving, and the living. Christmas music gave her a piece of that feeling all year round. Mom rarely listens to Christmas music now, even during the season.

For the next several months, who knows when I will stop listening to the stuff, whenever I hear Brenda Lee intone Jingle Bell Rock I can picture Mom’s spectacular Kitchen choreography with a squeeze top mop. During my Christmas music season I can still be the little boy listening to It came Upon a Midnight Clear, with fuzzy pajamas laying down with a plate of homemade chocolate chip cookies watching the colored lights blink on the tree, trying to save my sanity.




[1] I will be referring to my mother in the past tense not because she is deceased, but because cancer, heart problems, and mental illness have robbed her of her essence and left a shell that only shows a twinkle of her former luster, and then only rarely and fleetingly. 
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Thursday, November 15, 2012

Of Fish and Family


I am not a pet person. I like animals, just not in my house. This may be due to genetic factors. I am allergic to dogs and cats. This may be due to environmental factors. I never had a pet growing up, not even a fish, and I like my house to be clean. Shark week is great. The zoo is stupendous. Hiking and hearing the birds is even better. Having a Fido or a Fifi? Not so much.

The very first pet in my life came via my oldest daughter five years ago.[1] It started one Sunday with a tender bean plant. Her primary[2] teacher gave one to each child in the class. She informed me when I picked my daughter up that the lesson was on being grateful to God for plants. The next week I was shocked to pick up my daughter and to find a room full of three year olds with plastic cups, each housing a tiny goldfish. “Today we learned about being thankful to God for fish”. The teacher explained. I smiled and put my arm around my daughter and asked the teacher “Next week’s lesson isn’t about being thankful for puppies is it?” She promised it wasn’t.

My daughter loved the fish. She named it Goldie, and then changed its name to Nemo Submarine. We did not own an aquarium, or even a fish bowl. After minor pleading from our daughter, we bought a fish bowl. We decided we would make a run at the fish thing. After all, how long could it last? A week? Maybe a month?

Nemo Submarine grew and grew. He lived for two years. His death gave us an opportunity to have a tender lesson about death and our beliefs regarding the resurrection. It also gave me a chance to play funeral director and give an incredible eulogy.

black moor
Our second daughter was now three. The day after the funeral we ended up with two goldfish in the bowl. These fish did not last as long, only a year and a half. During a visit from my parents, one died of an apparent suicide. He was found on the counter outside of the bowl in what can only be described as suspicious circumstances. In a touching and sad follow-up the companion fish, Nemo Submarine II, died shortly after his companion’s, Goldie Gold Goldfish, mysterious demise.

The day of the second death we became the proud owners of an aquarium, complete with light and pump. We also joined the big time with the purchase of four fish, two goldfish and two black moors. The goldfish were named Nemo and Goldie. The black moors were named Shadow and Midnight. My oldest had picked out the black moors. My second oldest had chosen the goldfish. Midnight died after only a few weeks. This was our shortest-lived pet. Pet? We didn’t just have fish, we had pets. The other three were still living, more than two years later.

Except Shadow wasn’t doing very well.  He had all the classic symptoms of a sick fish. He swam slowly, often upside down or on his side. He would rest at the bottom of the tank. In a last ditch effort to save Shadow, I completely sanitized the tank and replaced the gravel. Shadow seemed to improve initially, but seemed destined to soon end his fishy existence in this world. 

I had some internal debate about if Shadow should just be “put down”. I didn’t know if the fish was suffering, I didn’t really know his prognosis. I know my children love their fish. I initially decided to let Shadow live and hope for the best.

I always intellectually understood pets could teach children important lessons like responsibility and stewardship. I also felt these could be instilled by chores and nature walks. For our family the most valuable lesson having fish taught was that living things die and that is part of life. The lesson having fish taught me was my children are capable of grief and disappointment without having their souls shattered. Having a beloved fish die turned out to be excellent preparation for the sudden death of two uncles, and the grief felt by the adults surrounding my tenderhearted children.

The current fish dilemma has provided an excellent chance to discuss end of life issues such as what responsibility do we have to the animals in our care, what responsibility do we have to ease suffering in others, what is the difference between the life of a fish and a human being. I don’t know that there is another more natural way to have discussions about these value heavy topics with my children without this real life problem, all be it on a small scale.

This morning I checked on the fish, and Shadow was lying motionless at the top of the tank, tangled in one of the luminescent plastic plants. My oldest, now eight, was home sick from school. I told her the bad news. She was stoic. She wanted to help bury Shadow. My three year old son took the news the hardest. He morbidly wanted to see the floating dead fish. Boys. My youngest, the eighteen month old just followed the rest of us because that is what eighteen month olds do.

Shadow's Grave
I carefully scooped up Shadow and laid him on a paper towel. My oldest noticed his gills were still flexing, he appeared to have a little life left. We had a discussion about suffering animals and she decided we should let Shadow die. She tenderly folded the towel over Shadow, like a burial shroud, and we walked to the back yard. By the time we reached the back yard there was no sign of life in Shadow. He was dead.

My oldest and I talked about death, physical bodies, and immortal souls with my three year old. I was a proud father. Shadow was respectfully buried behind the retaining wall in our fish graveyard. Everyone helped dig the grave and bury the fish.

I am still not a pet person. I am not ready for a cat or a dog (although I could be persuaded on the dog thing in the right set of circumstances). I have accepted fish and am grateful for the lessons they teach our family. I am proud of the love and compassion my children show for a simple animal. I am also proud of their resilience. The death of a fish is not a newsworthy event. However, in the privileged first world life of my children, it is their first exposure to mourning, grief, and loss. The death of their pet is also their first chance to learn and demonstrate that life goes on after death.


[1] This is not strictly true. In college my roommates and I had a fish tank with small piranhas, betas, and gold fish. We called it our Darwin tank. The betas fought each other and chased the piranhas. The piranhas were too small to eat the goldfish whole and slowly nibbled away at them, a fin here, and an eyeball there. The betas actually “won”. The tank was not mine and I don’t think I contributed anything towards the purchase of the fish or their food. I did come up with Darwin tank.



[2] Primary is a Mormon term for what most Christian denominations call Sunday school. Primary is for children from ages three to eleven. The three year olds are called Sunbeams. Why we don’t call it Sunday school is beyond the subject of this post and probably would make a fascinating anthropological study. 
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Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Pepper Spray


It was salsa day. My wife and mother-in-law were making batches of homemade salsa. I walked in on the middle of the process and saw pots boiling on the stove and my wife in rubber gloves with a knife. If I didn’t know it was salsa day, I might of thought I had walked in on a meth cooking operation ala Breaking Bad. My knife-wielding wife was cutting jalapenos. She suddenly screamed when some jalapeno juice squirted her in the eye. Being the gallant guy that I am, I suggested protective eye-ware. She glared at me with one eye. I then offered to cut the peppers for her.

The salsa chefs warned me that I should wear the rubber gloves. “The peppers will burn your hands. The pepper juice will stay on your hands and you will get it in your eyes and face.” They explained. I had diced and cut many a spicy pepper in my life. I had lived in Asia and chopped many fresh peppers. I scoffed at their cautions. Do cooks and families in Mexico wear rubber gloves when working with jalapenos? Of course not, I thought. I quickly worked my through the jalapeno peppers without any problems. I gloated a little to myself. I also gloated a little to everyone else. I did have eye protection in the form of my glasses. I had been wearing my glasses instead of contacts for several days while I recovered from an eye infection.

The pungent smell of the jalapenos pierced the air. I decided to wash my hands thoroughly after the chopping. A tiny part of my brain mentioned that washing with water might not be effective since drinking water when eating jalapenos can make the burning worse. I scoffed at that tiny part of my brain. What was I going to do wash my hands with milk? The thought to research methods of removing jalapeno juice from your hands via Google or Pinterest quickly crossed my mind, but that seemed like too much trouble.

Two hours after the jalapeno preparation my wife and I were at home. I decided my eye was better enough for contacts. I put my left contact in. The pain only came as my eye began to water. My eye was not merely burning. It was melting. I screamed like an injured cartoon character and went down on my knees. I scrambled to get the contact out of my eye. I could barely manage to keep my eye open. The tears streaming from my eye were toxic. I somehow managed to contaminate my other eye. I began screaming some more. My wife had stopped laughing by the time I had mostly stripped down and was making my way to the shower with my eyes closed. My eighteen-month old daughter would scream every time I screamed and then laugh. The sarcasm is strong with that one.

I feel I must make clear that the pain was horrible. Burning is the common description of jalapeno in the eye. It was more than just burning. Think of a time when your eyes have been fully adjusted to pitch-blackness. Then remember how sudden exposure to light made it impossible to fully open your eyes. Next think of the worst sunburn pain you have ever had. Think of the pain and the simultaneous itching. Now think of your eyes suddenly adjusting to bright light, but your eyeballs are sunburned, and someone is poking your retina with a toothpick and your tears are actually acid. That is what self-inflicted jalapeno pepper-spray to the eyes feels like.

The water in the shower did not help. My wife gave me some dawn dish soap. She told me to wash my hands with it, but to keep it away from my eyes. I lathered myself in the dawn dish soap. The areas around my eyes felt like they were peeling away from my face. I slapped some of the dawn on them and it immediately soothed the irritated areas. After several minutes I was able to keep my eyes open. Upon exiting the shower my wife looked at my eyes laughed, and took a picture. I decided not to put contacts in that day.

The entire reason I was at home putting my contacts in was to prepare to go for a walk with my sweetheart. It was a gorgeous day. I managed to make it outside for a walk even in my condition. It turns out one of the side effects of accidental self inflicted jalapeno pepper spray to the eyes is lingering sunlight sensitivity. I felt like my eyes had been dilated.

It turns out cooks and families in Mexico do use gloves, and other protective measures, when working with jalapenos. I learned two valuable lessons from the pepper spray incident. Whenever you think you should probably Google something, do it. Never question cautions from your wife and mother-in-law. The results are painful.
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Monday, October 22, 2012

Notes on a College Football Game

North end zone at Oregon State University's Reser Stadium

My wife and were the lucky recipients of free tickets to Saturday’s Oregon State Beavers football game. The surprisingly undefeated Beavers played a Utah Ute team in the middle of a rebuilding year. We had fantastic seats in the north end zone of Reser Stadium. Neither my wife nor I had been to a college football game since we were in college. We are not attached to either school. We rooted for the Beavers since they were local and it was a home game. That seemed the safest course.

The crowd was electric. 45,000 people filled the stadium. Our section, as was the case with most of the stadium, was sold out. The game was a night game and was broadcast on ESPN2. Night games are wonderful because the drinking does not have to stop early in the afternoon, but can cruise along until early evening. The Beavers won and started a season 6-0 for the first time in since 1907. They are ranked as the 7th best team in the country in the latest BCS standings.[1]

The game was scheduled to be a “black out”. This means everyone was supposed to wear black in support of the team. In answer to the young lightly inebriated attendee in section 18 row 5 seat 5, we in fact did not get the “memo” about the black out. We were lucky we had Beaver gear around the house as it was. We now understand that gray is not the same as black. In the event we go again, we will do better. Our apologies.

I have made some notes for some of my other fellow game attendees. My hope is that these notes will prove useful in the future, not just at games, but also in life.

Section 18 row 5 seats 1-4

1.    All of the people wearing pink ribbons, carrying pink thunder sticks, and sporting pink gloves (including several players), were not trying to stand out during a black out, they were supporting the night’s breast cancer awareness theme.

2.    When a breast cancer survivor is introduced before the game, it is not only unseemly to boo and heckle her (I couldn’t make this up), but also likely to cause some horrible karmatic consequences. I am just saying you might want to get prostate exams soon.

3.    I share your dislike of candy corn and laffy-taffy. I feel some solidarity with you. I don’t know why you needed to loudly proclaim your hatred of these most awful of all Halloween candies, (okay I do know why, you smelled like a joint set to soak overnight in a Budweiser bottle), but throwing candy corns at lower sections is bad idea, especially when drunk or high. You might get thrown out, or beaten down by someone drunker or higher than you.

4.    The reason Mike Riley punts the ball on fourth down is because he is a good coach. Oregon State pays him $1.7 million to know when to punt and when to go for it on fourth down. I realize it almost always works on your Xbox, but I am guessing you do not get paid $1.7 million to play Xbox.  Lastly, Mike Riley is also the winningest coach in Oregon State history, (not that there is a ton of competition).

Section 17 row 2 seat 24

1.    You were sporting all the right gear for a football game on a pirate ship.

2.    You seemed familiar to me, but I couldn’t place you until Utah scored a touchdown and you stood up and began spewing epithets and profanities at the hapless Utah fans sitting ten rows above you, threatening them with halftime violence. I then realized I recognized you from Oakland Raider games.

3.    Seriously, I would get your blood pressure checked. Your team won, in fact they led the whole way.

4.    I am scared of you.

Young Couple in Section 18 row 4

1.    Please go to the bathroom and get your food before the game starts, at the quarter or at the half. Please. It’s not so much that your constant in and out forced most of the row to repeatedly stand up and miss parts of the game, it’s that I am too old to repeatedly get up and down on the metal bleachers. Seriously, it’s a lot of work for a fatty.

Qdoba Vendor

1.    You were awesome. The food was delicious, the service was quick, and the order was 100% correct. Please come manage every fast food joint in Oregon.

Section 18 cheering a late Beaver
touchdown to seal the game
The game was fun. The score was close most of the way. The game is not destined to become one of the all time classics. Both offenses played poorly. This being Oregon in October, it did rain for a portion of the game. It was awesome to see a stadium of people wait until the rain turned into a downpour before all simultaneously putting their raingear on. The excitement of 45,000 people all focused on the same thing is invigorating. The game may be easier to see on television. The food at home may be cheaper and better (although the Qdoba chips and queso are heavenly), but there is nothing like going to a live sporting event. There seems to be so little that pulls us together in our communities anymore. We have so few rituals, so little in common socially or politically. However, 45, 000 people, a good-sized town, can get together and cheer on their football team to another win, in unison. The minor dissent from the community, the handful of Ute fans, were even part of the pageantry. Their respectful cheering for their team’s few highlights was largely tolerated. Except for the Ute fans in section 17, you should just be quiet; seriously it’s a safety issue.


[1] The BCS stands for Bowl Championship Series. It is a money-seeking cartel, with little interest in determining which is the best college football team in the country is. They exist to make money for their member schools and conferences.

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Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Missing Twenty-Five Minutes


My freshman year at college I suffered a mysterious loss. One bright winter day I lost twenty-five minutes of my life.

I was in school at Ricks College. The school has been swallowed up and is now Brigham Young University Idaho, or BYU-I. Ricks was the dominant feature of Rexburg, what was then a small town in southeastern Idaho. The fall there is a brief interlude between the splendor of summer and the withering of winter. The winters are typically harsh, cold and gray. The snow was late that year. My best friend, Chip, and I were from California. We were rooming together. We used some of our food money to buy plastic discs to go sledding on in eager anticipation of the snow. The first Saturday there was snow on the ground, we took our plastic discs up to a hill behind the science building and enjoyed the winter wonderland. It was early December. We had been sledding for over an hour. We decided to make one last run. I decided to go down on my stomach. We had made a great track by then, the snow was nice and compacted. Winter Olympic luge course creators would have been envious. I don’t remember if Chip went down first or second. I just remember my exhilaration at the wind rushing past suddenly ending when my face abruptly stopped on a rock.

I did not loose consciousness. I did have a monster headache. Chip came over to me asked if I was okay. “Yeah, except my face hit that rock.” I replied coolly.

“Dude, you’re bleeding a bit.” He noticed. “Crap, is that your tooth?” He bent over and picked up my tooth. “Man, you’re bleeding a lot. Let’s go somewhere.” He added.

We picked up our discs of death and walked to the nearby women’s dorms. We walked because my friend’s 1968 fire engine red Volkswagen Bus did not operate in below freezing temperatures. We went to the women’s dorms because I was conscious and why would we go to the men’s dorms? “I think Jen’s roommate is studying to be an EMT, let’s go there.” My friend suggested.

My head was starting to really hurt. I no longer cared where we were going. No one was at Jen’s place, but their neighbors and our friends, Sarah and Sarah, were home. Somebody gave me an ice pack and I reclined on their couch. Chip started going through the phone book looking for a dentist open on Saturday to fix my tooth. Jen’s roommate who was studying to be an EMT happened by. ‘Hit his head, huh? He should probably just go to sleep.” She said. I sat up, “I think that’s the last thing you are supposed to do with a severe head trauma.” Is what I thought I said, but through the ice pack, it was an unintelligible ramble. “Maybe he should go to the hospital.” The pre-EMT suggested.

That seemed like a great idea. Chip and I walked down the hill from the dorms to our apartment and borrowed a roommate’s friend’s car. Chip took me to the hospital. I received eleven stiches and some ibuprofen. I also received the important advice to keep my tooth on ice and get to a dentist as soon as possible; the tooth could still be saved. That was Saturday.

There were six of us living in the apartment. Parker and James were in one room.[1]Chip and I were in the second room. The last bedroom housed Drake and Raymond. Chip and I had also roomed with Raymond that summer. He was nice enough. He was the tallest guy in the apartment, and was the tallest guy most places he went. He was from a no stoplight town a couple of hours away. He played eight- man football in high school, and was a complete slob. You could follow Raymond’s trail around the apartment. His backpack would be open by the door with books on integrated circuits spilling out. A jacket would be by the arm of the couch. On the couch a section or two of the newspaper would be spread out. On the floor by the chair would be the sport’s section and a light blue pitcher sized cup with a little bit of milk still in the bottom. Raymond had not cleaned up anything all semester.

I wrapped my tooth in a wet paper towel, placed the bundle in a zip lock bag, and set the bag in the refrigerator upon getting home late Saturday afternoon. I entertained my roommates with the story of my manly stupidity and went to bed early. Sunday I called my parents to explain that I might need some money for dental work. It went better than I thought.

Monday I called and got an appointment for Wednesday of that week. By Tuesday, all of the snow had melted and several days of unseasonable sunshine followed. When Wednesday arrived I came home from class and opened the fridge to get my tooth out. It was gone. I became a little unhinged. I asked my roommates if they had seen my tooth. Most of them said “no” or isn’t it in the fridge”. Raymond simply asked what did it look like. I explained it was wrapped in a wet paper towel in a plastic bag in the fridge. He was quiet for a moment. “I didn’t know it was your tooth.” He admitted.

I was confused. “Whose tooth did you think it was? What happened to it, you didn’t eat it did you?” I demanded.

“No, I cleaned out the fridge. I didn’t know what it was so I threw it away.” Raymond said defensively.

I became completely unhinged. The one time the man cleans he throws away part of my body? I ran to the kitchen garbage only to hear Raymond yell, “I took the trash out too.”

Like a bad sitcom, I ran to the front door to run over to the parking lot dumpster only to watch in horror as the garbage truck poured its contents into the back of the truck.

I was out of time. I left to go to my appointment. The dentist said he could save my tooth if I still had it. I told him my roommate had thrown it away. He explained my options and gave me a price sheet. I would have to talk to my parents before I got any work done. I left the dentist’s office. I looked at my indiglo Timex watch with a green leather (okay pleather) wristband; it was 3:30 exactly. I looked down at my watch again and it was 3:55. I looked up and I was at a downtown street corner. I did not remember anything of the past twenty-five minutes. I had no idea how I got to where I was.

I found the missing time unsettling. I told my roommates about it. We came up with several theories. I was distracted. I was in shock. I was in mourning over my lost tooth. (I should mention I had not even had a cavity at that point in my life). I was making it up. I had a concussion. I had committed some heinous crime and had blocked out the entire incident. Another related theory, I had been witness to a heinous crime and blocked out the entire incident. Aliens had abducted me.

I rejected the shock and trauma theories out of hand. I checked the records and no heinous crimes were reported in Rexburg on or around my incident. I had no concussion symptoms. I couldn’t rule out the alien abduction theory completely.

My own research at the school library, the World Wide Web was still in it’s earliest stages of usefulness, gave one last theory. I had suffered a fugue episode. Fugues are a poorly understood psychological phenomenon where the identity part of the brain shuts off or goes to sleep while the rest remains conscious. It can produce an amnesia effect. Some people have had episodes of fugues lasting years, before they “woke up”. I may have been lucky that mine was only twenty-five minutes. I initially personally prescribed to the fugue theory.

Eventually, I started to disbelieve the fugue theory entirely. Fugues seem to be byproducts of brains coping with some type of physical or emotional trauma. I came to suspect I had been taken.

I was a victim of alien abduction. The fact that I was only gone twenty-five minutes leads to some inescapable conclusions. These beings were not masters of the time continuum; otherwise no time at all would have passed for me. My abductors were not malicious, as I suffered no physical effects. The most depressing conclusion of all is that I was not an interesting specimen. The advanced representatives of a far off world captured me and then tossed me back like a too tiny trout, or a salmon with a clipped fin. I was not fit for study. I guess I am lucky that I am so boring. Still, I have a feeling there will come a time when I could really use that twenty-five minutes back.


[1] I have changed the names to protect the privacy of my roommates.
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Matt and My Oakland A's


The Oakland Athletics secured a playoff spot for the first time since 2006 in their victory over the Texas Rangers last night. They still have a chance to win the division, but are guaranteed to make the playoffs as at least a wild card team. The A’s are unlikely winners. They are a team of rookies, unknown journeymen, and has-beens. They also have one Cuban defector and at least one doper.[1] When the roster took shape at the beginning of the year, I knew they had no hope of reaching the playoffs. I was confident of this, even though a rule change was allowing a second wild card team into the playoffs for the first time. I am excited to watch them in the post-season. I am also confident they will loose in dramatic heart breaking fashion. I also wish I could commiserate about our team’s eventual demise with Matt.

Matt died almost four years ago. He was my brother-in-law. It is customary to not only eulogize the deceased, but to lionize them as well. Matt was complicated. That’s a euphemism for he could be a jackass.  Matt would also drop anything to go help a friend. Matt died ignominiously. Matt was an alcoholic. Matt loved the Oakland A’s. He loved them more than I did, than I do.

Matt and I were never especially close. I thought he could be hilarious and charming. I also thought he could be rude and inappropriate. Matt was never boring. We lived relatively close and saw each other a lot. Matt made a real effort to try and make me feel uncomfortable. It didn’t bother me. When I married, one inroad I had with my new extended family was sports. We rooted for most of the same teams, Bay Area teams, but most of all the Oakland A’s.

 My wife had four brothers, three older, one younger. In a manner unique to males of our species, we could grow closer together in a room watching the A’s play and only speak ten words to each other the entire game. Matt and I both read Moneyball. We debated whether Brad Pitt, Billy Beane, was able to build a team that could win the World Series, or were destined to just be good enough to get to the playoffs. All of my brothers-in-law rooted for the A’s, but Matt was always the head cheerleader. His enthusiasm mixed with, but untempered by, cynical realism, was charismatic.

We were watching the A’s play the Yankees in the 2001 American League Division Series. The A’s had a good team. They were close to being a great team. The A’s had a commanding two games to none lead over the hated Yankees. That was the year Derek Jeter miraculously flipped the ball to Jorge Posada who tagged out Jeremy Giambi at the plate because Jeremy Giambi failed to slide. Some fans are convinced that Giambi was safe anyway. When Matt saw Jeremy Giambi run in, he was screaming obscenities at the television, at Giambi, and at Derek Jeter. He got up threw a throw pillow across the room is disgust and stormed out. He came back a few minutes later. He said, “The series is over” as he sat back down. He was right. The A’s never recovered, they lost that game and the next two, their season ended.

The A’s have not performed well in the playoffs in the past twenty years. Even when they have won a series, they have failed to look impressive. But the A’s are fun to root for because they should be even worse. They spend little on payroll comparatively, have a horrible baseball stadium, and compete for eyeballs in a part of the country that is decidedly not sports obsessed. The weather is too nice and there is too much to do to spend all of one’s time worrying about the 132nd pick in the amateur draft as sports fans in the northeast do.

2006 was the last year the A’s made the playoffs; Matt was in the middle of a downward spiral that would eventually lead to his death. None of his loved ones had any idea how the last two years of his life would play out. Matt thought the A’s had a punchers chance that year because they avoided the Yankees in the first round. The A’s swept the Twins and the Yankees lost to the Tigers. A World Series appearance seemed possible. The Tigers destroyed the A’s in four games in the American League Championship Series.

Matt died in October 2008, the end of the baseball season. We mourned. His life ended when it shouldn’t have even been half over. Before life could return to any type of normal, Kevin, Matt’s older brother died in early December. We mourned more. I was the last one at both burials, making sure that all was done orderly and respectfully. It was the least I could do for the living loved ones. That winter was interminable. The pain for the men’s parents, my mother and father-in-law never heals, how could it? They only become better able to bare it.

I am still not sure how I feel about their deaths, or the lives they led. I probably will never fully come to grips with any number of complicated family, religious, and emotional dynamics surrounding their deaths. Most days, most weeks, most months, I don’t think about Kevin or Matt.  My life is busy and I am complicated.

Last night I thought of Matt. I thought of how happy he would have been that the A’s made the playoffs. I found out the A’s had won from my phone, from a news app, but not from a semi-obscene text from Matt. I believe Matt’s soul still exists, and I hope that he has found some measure of peace that eluded him here. I also hope he gets to watch baseball. We both know the A’s are first round cannon fodder for sure, but that doesn’t mean it’s not fun to watch and yell at the television because our team is finally back in the playoffs.  Baseball doesn’t offer peace, but offers a nice distraction to the weary soul.



[1] Bartolo Colon at age 39 was enjoying resurgence. He was putting up numbers like he had earlier ten years earlier. He was given a 50 game suspension when his bloodstream was found to contain elevated levels of testosterone. 
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