Sunday, July 27, 2014

Fear of Darkness

When I was little, I saw gorillas in the dark.

I don’t recall my exact age but it must have been around when I started elementary school. After sleeping with relative ease for years, one night I lay in bed, peered at the blackness around me and saw big black gorillas.

I was terrified. I called out for help. When my parents came to my room and turned on the light, there were, of course, no gorillas. Just plain white walls, the same fringy yellow carpet, the same clutter of toys and clothes and I had, even at that young age started to accumulate.

When I had calmed down, they turned off the light again. And the gorillas were back.

The next step was to plug in a small orange lamp that flickered on and off like a strobe light. I’m not sure who would rest easy in the presence of such a thing, but more troubling was the gorillas who appeared and disappeared in rapid succession, loping closer to me each time I could see them in the dark.

My parents let me sleep with the light on for the rest of that night, and the next day bought a more traditional nightlight that glowed faintly from the corner of my room, bright enough to ward off all manner of beast I might see the black of the room, subtle enough not to keep me awake.

I outgrew the nightlight. Though I had on-again off-again fears of what creatures might share the darkness with me in the years to follow, spurred on by every scary movie I might see, or some of the early episodes of The X-Files, such fears were nothing I couldn’t escape by tucking my head beneath the covers or distracting myself by imagining stories--most effectively of all by turning on the lights for a couple minutes.

*

A fact I never knew until Archie came to live with me--cats can see in the dark.

Well, that’s not quite right.

Without getting overly scientific about it, cats evolved as night-time hunters, and so have a much greater ability to adjust to very limited light. For the contemporary house cat, that means freedom to wander an apartment, climb bookcases, and hunt vermin by what illumination streetlights provide through the cracks between Venetian blinds.

Despite this greater capacity for sight, cats cannot see in true darkness, which brings me to the day when Archie must have snuck into my closet while I fished out my work clothes, and remained stealthy enough to go unnoticed when I closed the door, got dressed, and headed to the office.

What a strange world it must have been for creature accustomed to seeing in all places at all times to be confined to blackness for a period of nine hours. I wonder what philosophical questions he may have pondered. What gorillas his imagination may have conjured.

What I do know: he found his way to a trash bag full of old bank statements I intended shred. Between teeth and claws he managed tear of half the papers to ribbons. Otherwise? I suspect he slept for much of the day, just as he would have in the light. Maybe he slept easier without the distraction of spiders scaling the walls, or the robins in the tree outside the living room window, or the expanse of hardwood floor to dart aimlessly back and forth across.

Still, by the time I got home, surprised that he didn’t greet me at the door, I heard his muted, plaintive meows, luring me to find him and let him back into the light.

*

On a dreary autumn Friday, I went to the gym after work, drove home, and napped. It was dark when I woke. In lieu of any better plans for dinner, I threw on a hooded sweatshirt to walk to the Chinese place a block away to get takeout.

As I walked past a row of houses, through the drizzle on a poorly lit street, a young woman approached from the opposite direction, earbuds in. She didn’t notice me until the space between us had reduced to four or five sidewalk squares. A porch light lit her face as it rose from the pavement and looked at me in terror.

I smiled and said hello.

She quickened her pace to just shy of a run.

And as I continued my walk, it occurred to me that the way the porch light hung may have revealed her face, but coming from the opposite direction, I remained the most shadowy of figures. Tall. Hood up. Face obscured. In all of that darkness I might have had a third eyeball protruding from my forehead. Might have had blood dripping from my vampire’s visage. Might have been a gorilla.

Or may have been a stranger intent on snatching her Vera Bradley handbag. Such things do happen on the streets of Baltimore, particularly in the dark of night.

And I suppose that’s where all this fear comes from. Reality, informed by frightening tales, contorted with all of the disorientation of not being able to see; amplified by a world of the unknown.

I made my way from that dark stretch of sidewalk to the traffic light at the intersection where a line of cars waited, headlights shining a path to guide them to bars and movie theaters; to take them home.

And I rounded the corner, where the red and blue neon sign read OPEN, and stepped into the familiar smells of soy sauce and glossy breaded meats; the same sounds of Mandarin hollers that I’d heard at my grandparents’ house when we visited in my youth. I stepped into the light.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

On Swamp Ophelia

I stood without clothes.
Danced in the sand
I was aching with freedom
And kissing the damned
I said, “remember this as how it should be.”

The refrain above closes “Fugitive,” the opening track of Swamp Ophelia, my favorite album by one of my favorite musical acts, The Indigo Girls. I first heard this CD in the mid-1990s not so long after its release, and though over time I’ve come to love the whole album, this stand-alone song may stand out most for the sheer fact that I’ve never not liked it. It sounded profound the first time I heard it, sitting at an oak card table playing pinochle with my sister and my grandmother. I loved it no less 18 years later, listening to the MP3 as I drove two hours back to my Los Angeles hotel after a first date that lasted 24 hours, highlighted by a lengthy stretch on a San Diego beach after which I felt every syllable of the sentiment of dancing in the sand. It’s a song about hiding, sure. But just much an anthem for release.

Jump jump
Jump so high
Watch me let you down
If I stumble
I will stumble
If I fall
I will fall

As much as I loved “Fugitive” it wasn’t my favorite track from Swamp Ophelia. In the early days, that distinction went to “Touch Me Fall.” It’s an epic in the tradition of a “Stairway to Heaven” or “Bohemian Rhapsody,” starting in a very dark place before a string interlude ups the tempo, only for an explosion of electric guitar and rolling drums to launch the final leg of the song. You’ll be hard pressed to find a song more emotionally complex and chaotic, yet strikingly beautiful just the same.

It feels so funny to be free.

We all have our demons. I spent the better part of my pre-collegiate years aspiring to a time when I would leave a house that felt far from a home. This is a song of escape. Of discovering freedom and all of the joy that comes with it. I hold no illusions that the origins of this song were much like the associations I applied to, but that doesn’t make the message resonate any less clearly.

Don’t you write it down
Remember this in your head
Don’t take a picture
Remember this in your heart

For me, “Dead Man’s Hill” is and always will be a coming of age song. I remember listening to it while trading AOL Instant Messages with a dear friend a few nights before I left home for what would be the final summer for each of us CTY students. I crafted a clumsy poem for her about leaving her camera at home, and getting ready for three weeks we’d never forget. She tactfully told me they weren’t my best crafted verses, but that she appreciated the sentiment and felt much the same way.

I’ve read that this song is a meditation on a childhood experience in which Amy Ray witnessed older boys setting cats on fire (and the last verse pretty literally supports this interpretation). Less inspiring, for sure, but no less potent as you weave element of shame all the more intrinsically into the power of memory.

“Least Complicated” is probably the best-known song from Swamp Ophelia, and second only to “Closer to Fine” and maybe “Galileo” as an iconic selection from The Indigo Girls catalog. Indeed, I won’t argue with anyone who suggests this song is the best of the album--a simple piece of music, brought to life by just as simple if universally true lyrics, “the hardest to learn is the least complicated.” Perhaps with a touch of clairvoyance, my younger self foresaw a time when I would listen to this song with a hurt heart, and sure enough, years later, spurned by girls who would not return my affections, I would turn to this song, accepting that so many of my attempts were anchored in the fact that “I never was cool.” This isn’t a song you have to work to understand. Nor is it one that you can easily deny.

Sometimes I ask to sneak a closer look
Skip to the final chapter of the book
And maybe steer us clear of some the pain it took
To get us where we are this far.

Maybe that’s all that we need
Is to meet in the middle of impossibility

It’s difficult for me to separate my two favorite songs of Swamp Ophelia--“The Wood Song” and “Mystery.” Growing up Indigo, I was squarely a fan of Amy Ray’s rocking melodies over Emily Salier’s mellower offerings. As such, I tended to gloss over these tracks, positioned in juxtaposition with one another on the album. Whether I’ve softened over time, grown more sensitive, or simply come to identify more closely with the messages embedded in Emily’s lyrics, these two songs are now the epitome of what I love about her as a songwriter--letting ambitious, wordly, but universal truths unfurl with the all the majesty of music and purity of lyrics they deserve. “The Wood Song” has always sounded like a small town song to me. One of community, family, richness and love. “Mystery” is more intimate. A song about a love that is not na├»ve, but is hopeful just the same.

I get flack for my Indigo Girls fanboy status. True, I don’t know many other men whose first concert was an Indigo Girls show, or who will go for a late night walk with Swamp Ophelia streaming through their earbuds. But for the better part of twenty years, this band, and more specifically this album has been a treasure to me. A means to cope. A vehicle of hope. A collection of stories worth every re-telling.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

The Best Cut

From childhood until I moved away for college, my father cut my hair. The process of cutting may have been considered an artistic practice. That is, if my father had had any clue what he was doing when it came to cutting hair.

He didn’t.

It may been considered an act of love when he delicately threaded curls of my black hair between his index and middle finger and snipped with his pair of kitchen scissors. That is, if he hadn’t tugged at hair until the knots came loose, alternately screamed at me sit still or be more malleable to better suit whichever purpose he fancied at the moment.

An act of love, it was not.

My sister stopped letting my father cut her hair in her early teenage years, after he unilaterally decided to give her a close-cropped, boyish cut. By the time she finished high school, she had grown her hair long enough that she could sit on the ends of it, and had earned the nickname of Pocahontas among her friends.

And I--I walked around with doofy haircuts. Short enough, for the first week or so, that they looked more or less fine, but before long stupid-looking, curling outward at all the wrong angles and proportions.

Around the age of 11 or 12, I started hyperventilating when my father would cut my hair. The solution was to move the operation out of the cramped bathroom, into the more open space of the garage, which, as a bonus, was easier to sweep. My breathing issues went on for a year or two, then, like so many other pieces of my childhood, receded.

*

Toward the end of a particularly stressful summer, working full-time with CTY, I talked with a woman named Sarah who was working for me, and she told me about the time she and her program manager from a decade earlier made a pact and each shaved their heads. She remembered that people stared and people laughed, but also the bond between that older soul and her for taking the plunge together. She remembered another staff member who took her aside in the dining hall when she thought she might cry for being such a spectacle--a woman who took her aside, put her hands on her shoulders, and told her she beautiful and brave.

I had shaved my head once before. Stressed out with a heavy course load and ever-increasing obligations to the college newspaper. That, and my flavor of the week girlfriend had dumped me and I felt the need to make some sort of grandiose gesture.

I remembered that time. Being 19 and capable of such things, and how it had been years since I had considered such an act--embroiled in a series of long-distance relationships, working in an office setting. I reflected on Sarah’s story.

To kick off my California vacation at the end that summer, I stopped at Target and bought a set of clippers.

A couple hours later, I stood in front of the bathroom mirror at my hotel. Not quite bald, but hair buzzed down to an eighth of an inch length. I looked different. Not quite newborn. But new.

*

I sat in a barber’s chair at the hair salon on Main Street, my junior year of college. I’d worked my way through most of the hairdressers by that point. Each time I had scheduled an appointment with the same hairdresser twice, the results seemed to worsen, so I kept switching.

I sat with a new girl, named Christy. Younger than most, probably not more than two or three years my senior. Awkward when she introduced herself, laughing nervously the first time I cracked a joke. Curly, long brown hair. Blue eyes. Copy paper white skin that stood in stark contrast to the bright red stream of blood that poured from her finger after her second snip at my hair.

Christy wadded a tissue against her finger and kept going. When the tissue wouldn’t stay, she got another, ripped a piece of scotch tape from the front desk and fashioned a makeshift bandage, and kept going. If she’d cut herself like that, I grew wary not only of how the haircut would turn out, but if I’d leave without getting the point of her scissors stabbed into my scalp, or if I’d still have both ears intact.

But I stuck it out.

When she washed my hair, she got the temperature just right and worked her fingers against my scalp, firm but gentle, establishing a rhythm, as much a massage as a cleansing.

I looked at my hair when she was done. Short as I preferred it at the time, but perfectly blended between the close-cropped sides and backs and the longer hairs on top. Perfectly asymmetrical. Perfect, period.

I returned to that same hairdresser for the rest of my days at Geneseo, and each cut was every bit as good as the one before it.

I dropped in when I visited town for a weekend the year after graduation, and asked if Christy were around. A woman who had cut my hair two or three times before I met Christy worked the counter, and told me with a sneer (that I probably imagined) that Christy didn’t work there any more.

I like to think Christy outgrew the little college town salon. That classier, more appreciative clientele are appreciating her craft somewhere, and tipping her generously. Or perhaps that she stole away to some other sleepy village to open her own shop.

And though I’ve taken to using the clippers more often than not, as a cost saving measure, I still speculate about a day when I may step into another salon or barbershop, in some altogether different place. A time when I might get my haircut and not reflect on my father’s butchery. A time when I don’t wish to settle for shaving my head or my own humble trimmings. A time when I might recognize a woman I met long ago. And whether she draws her own blood or mine, I’ll nonetheless trust her. I'll trust her to once again give me the best cut.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Go Be It

One of my favorite lyrics--a simple, direct bit of wisdom--comes courtesy of The Avett Brothers, a little before the one-minute mark of "Head Full of Doubt/Road Full of Promise."

Decide what to be and go be it.

I will leave Baltimore at the end of this summer to start my MFA in creative writing with a concentration in fiction at Oregon State University.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

The Broken Thumb

When I was junior in high school, I played goalie for a gym class game of “speedball.”

Speedball, surely the brainchild of an ambitious phys ed teacher, was a soccer-football hybrid in which players could only use their hands if the ball had been kicked into the air and they caught it; the objective was to throw or kick the ball into the opposing team’s soccer goal.

On a particular play, I made a save with my hands. My thumb was sore afterward, and swelled up in the hours to follow, but such an occurrence wasn’t entirely new to me. At that stage in my life, I played quite a bit of basketball, and at least once every month or two, I’d jam one of my fingers. It would hurt for a day or so, but I’d ice it and it would get better.

This time, it didn’t get better. Two days later, my father complained when I was taking an inordinately long time to comb my hair before school, and I explained about my thumb. My old man was traditionally pretty conservative about going to see doctors about anything, but when he saw that I couldn’t bend my thumb, he determined that it was time for x-rays.

Lo and behold, I had fractured my thumb in three places. The months to follow saw a small-scale surgery, a month in a cast, physical therapy and a series of stretches I had to do independently to regain more or less full motion.

I remember the cast part most of all, perhaps because it’s the only time I’ve had to wear a cast and thus marked a several week period when I needed to change many aspects of how I lived my life. I was a prodigious writer for my age, and scrawled most everything longhand. I had to manage a modified grip on my pen as I worked on my novel outside school, and of course, tended to note-taking and homework for a full course load. I played viola in the high school orchestra, and though I remember sitting out playing for a period of a time, I also recall clutching my bow like a club, pinned between my four functional fingers and the hard cast of my thumb to draw it across the strings. I showered with my right hand elevated, and sealed in a plastic bag to ensure the cast remained dry.

And then, in perhaps the cruelest irony of all, that fall turned out to be the time when we had a basketball unit in gym class. Most any other sport, I would have gladly preferred to have sat on the sidelines in phys ed--this was the one game that would stir me to try sneaking on the court to take a few shots until the gym teacher told me I had to sit back down, lest I re-injure myself and he find himself in hot water.

When I reflect on that casted period, I have somewhat distinctive record for the fact that it came up in the same period of time when the photographer took student club pictures for the high school yearbook.

In these pictures, I’m surprised to see myself far more optimistic than the snarky, angst-ridden teenager I better recall. For despite being in fairly regular pain, dealing with all manner of hindrance and inconvenience, despite all of these reasons to scowl and sulk, in the yearbook pictures, I smile. Not only that, but in any number of them I use my cast to give the camera, the school, and my future self a disproportionately large thumbs up.

Sure, there was a part of me that just liked having a conspicuous prop around which to build Roger and Ebert-based puns or pretend I was hitchhiking. But more so, I like to think I was affirming that everything was and would be all right.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

My Best Friend

When I turned 30 I had low key celebration. Just me and a dozen or so friends from work and school having a few drinks at a bar a few blocks from my place. My best friend Mike was overdue for a visit, so I mentioned the festivities to him when I was first planning them. He was tied up with work that weekend, so he couldn’t make it.

I didn’t think much more of it. Then, out of the blue, Mike showed up at the bar.

It wasn’t outside his character to surprise me, or travel long distances on little notice to help out a friend. The end result: I wasn’t just surprised; upon seeing him I stopped, cried out an expletive and burst out laughing before I got up to hug him. He hung around that night. The day to follow, we shot the shit, ordered Chinese food, watched Step Brothers and ended up at a piano bar, then went out for late night burgers.

I recount all of this not to suggest that there was anything particularly outlandish or story worthy in that visit, but on the contrary to illustrate nature of a friendship that has now carried on for twenty-one years (indeed, one of my earliest memories of us hanging out was at his ninth birthday party). Some friendships are based in common passions, or geographic proximity, or in supporting each other through hard times. No doubt, Mike and I have had our share of all of these things. But overlapping all of those more complex, more profound elements of camaraderie falls something much simpler, exemplified perfectly in Mike’s surprise visit for my 30th birthday: showing up.

I’ve many times recounted the story of Mike and I buddying up on the bus home from school in the spring of 1993, bonding over a copy of WWF Magazine. While pro wrestling fanship was the superficial glue between us in those fledgling days of our friendship, it was really only a starting point (and though my love of my wrestling carries through to this day, Mike outgrew it within a few years).

After we got to talking on the bus I walked to his house—about two minutes from my own, on the opposite end of the same street. Each day I’d get off the school bus and ask my father if it was OK for me to walk to Mike’s. After a few weeks, the question shortened to, “Can I?” Over the summer, I think I stopped asking altogether.

In the months and years to follow, we talked about everything. Wrestling first. Then video games. Mike drew me into his love of basketball--playing it ourselves, cheering on the New York Knicks on TV, and later collecting basketball trading cards. We talked about which teachers we liked and which ones we didn’t. We talked about our budding interest in girls. We watched movies together, maturing from Blank Check to Billy Madison to The Breakfast Club.

And then there were all the times we hardly talked at all. During my high school years, I wrote four novels longhand. Mike taught himself multiple computer programming languages and designed a tutorial application that instructed users on the form of Tae Kwon Do. For untold hours I sat at a corner of his bed, writing my stories while he sat at his computer desk, trial-and-erroring his way through his program design. Looking back, we laugh about one of the New Year’s Eves we spent together in that room, when we each worked, only to look up and see that midnight had come and gone. We wished one another a happy new year and got back to it.

A decade or so later, I told Mike I wanted to start a website about a cappella music. He didn’t question my lack of experience in the field, or the amount of work it would take to launch such a project. He asked how he could help. A year later my writing and his back end design brought The A Cappella Blog to life. We’ve kept it running seven years and counting.

I could write a thousand stories here. About the spring and summer when we went undefeated playing neighborhood kids two-on-two at the public basketball court. About our shaving cream graffiti art jobs on Halloween nights. About all the friends we introduced each other to. The lengths we went to to impress girls. About traveling to Las Vegas, Chicago, Montreal, Providence, Manhattan, Columbus or Houston. About playing with his nieces.

Friends come and go. Many serve a purpose then recede from our consciousness, only to show up again at a wedding or a reunion, or when they happen to travel through your town. And then there are those who stick.

Mike Scalise has stuck with me through not knowing how to shoot a basketball, to nerding out over AP exams, to heartbreak. We may not see one another every day now or talk on the phone quite as compulsively as once we did. Just the same, I’ll never be completely surprised when his name does show up on my caller ID, or when he shows up in person for a thesis reading, a big speech, a birthday party, or any other occasion that’s important to me. He’s the best friend I could ever hope for, and I love him like a brother--maybe more so.

Happy birthday, Mike.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

My Pet Monster

When I was six my parents gifted me Honk.

He was a blue-furred creature, with red and purple hair, big yellow teeth capped with green mold, and a green, hard plastic nose that protruded three inches out from his face. At full height stood about as tall as my chest at the time. He was a My Pet Monster.

For the years to follow, Honk was my single most prized possession.

Things were never simple in the imaginary worlds of my sister I created. Thus, each of our stuffed animals had its own name and identity; moreover, its own distinctive silly voice assigned to it. There was John Crusher the giant panda and his son Bob “The Slob,” the hapless cook who specialized in “glop;” there was Tammy the snow leopard to whom John was betrothed, who had a proclivity for biting butts. We had Joe Iceberg, friendly polar bear and John’s drinking buddy. Walter, the snooty gray housecat. Petey the musclebound rabbit. Brownie and Spot, Pound Puppies and early favorites who receded to lower profile roles and never developed fully fleshed out personalities as our collection expanded and grew more interesting.

I’m barely scraping the surface here.

There was Honk. My favorite. Sometimes politician, sometimes professional wrestler, sometimes author, sometimes voracious enough eater to consume small planets in a sitting. On one fateful night, on the eve of a new school year, our make-believe world became a school, with each of the animals assigned a teacher role. That night, Honk became an art teacher, a role through which he gained his last name: Creative.

And there was Mud Puddle. My sister’s favorite, an over-sized brown Pound Puppy, wedded to a fancier border collie named Shannon, with whom he raised his son, a miniature version of the same Pound Puppy we creatively dubbed Mud Jr. Mud was a scientist most of the time, but also fairly often a musician with a Rowlf the Dog-like propensity for flopping on the keys of our toy piano to sing songs (a bit morbidly, often songs about death).

Honk and Mud were best friends. Mud, the more straight-laced, intellectual of the two; Honk, the wild man who wasn’t especially brainy. Think of Mud as the Donatello from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, the Larry from Perfect Strangers, Harold Ramis’s Egon from Ghosbusters; think of Honk as Michelangelo, Balki, and Bill Murray rolled into one. As a pair, they were the objects of adoration when my sister, grandmother and I forged The Honk and Mud Fan Club. The purpose of the organization was never entirely clear, but we kept it up for some time, complete with regular agendas and the taking of minutes; I seem to recall us collecting dues at some point, again with little clear purpose to which we could apply them.

But beyond the imaginary worlds we created, Honk was my constant companion when I would otherwise have gone it alone. I’d bring him with me to sit on the steps by the front door to read, or write, or draw. I’d bring him to the basement with me for company while I played Nintendo. And, yes, I’d cuddle with him while I slept at night.

As I mentioned before, each of the animals had its own distinctive voice. Honk’s was a high pitched, crackly one that I put on to embody the character’s eccentricity. That said, the choice may have been prophetic. By the time I hit puberty, I had outgrown most of our make-believe world, and so, too, had I lost the ability to speak in Honk’s original inflection.

And there was Honk’s nose. The boldest part of the monster, which designers didn’t necessarily engineer with a great deal of foresight. Yes, it looked impressive, but, no, it wasn’t built to withstand a kid’s rough and tumble. The nose cracked at its base, the fracture spreading by degrees until the whole thing fell off of him.

I stopped carrying Honk around the house. Then I stopped sleeping with him. When I left for college, I left him seated on the shelf of my bedroom closet, all the while cracking weak jokes about actually having a monster in my closet. When I came home for breaks, I’d always take a moment to pull open the close door and look at him. Sometimes I’d even hug him, for old time’s sake.

One year, my sister bought me a new My Pet Monster for Christmas--a sweet, if impractical gift that I’m sure was meant to celebrate a piece of our shared childhood nostalgia, but which I didn’t have much to do with, living ten months out of the year in college dorm rooms. The new model was a little smaller by every proportion, most notably with a much smaller nose, better plotted for a long life with one’s face intact. I put the new monster up in the closet with Honk.

More years passed. After college, I rarely came home aside from Thanksgiving and Christmas. Then, not long after I moved to Baltimore, Thanksgiving fell from my regular visitation schedule as well, so that more often than not I was back in the old house for just three or four nights a year. Perhaps it was the scarcity of the visits that renewed my interest in saying hello to Honk each time I was home, as often as not snapping a picture of him on my phone, or taking a second to rub his head like a dog or shake his hand as if he were a man.

A couple years later, I started the slow process of moving the last of my remaining possessions out of the old house, loading two or three boxes of my old things in the trunk each time I went home. As I neared the end of that process, there came a point when I looked at the two monsters in the closet—the old one that I knew I’d never want to say goodbye to altogether. The newer one that I didn’t feel so attached to. I thought of taking Honk back to Baltimore with me.

I hesitated to separate him from the newer monster. As absurd as it is to think such objects have thoughts or feelings, I’d infused enough personality and care in Honk for a long enough period, at a formative enough time in my youth, that I don’t know I could ever look at him as entirely inanimate. I worried that taking him to Baltimore, where I still wouldn’t interact with him regularly, might mean a starker fate for him.

Then, I looked at him in juxtaposition to that goofy newer model. Leaning toward him, with brighter eyes, while Honk stared straight ahead, as if refusing to make eye contact.

I thought maybe the youngster was annoying him to death.

In the end, more rational heads prevailed, and I set aside my concerns for either monster’s emotional well-being, wrapping Honk in a garbage bag, placing him in my trunk, and seven hours later, setting him up in his new home in the bedroom closet of my little apartment.

I can’t claim to play with Honk these days. Truth be told, the way I have my closets organized I don’t even need to go into the closet where he sits on a daily basis. But I know he’s there.

On nights when I think of it, I keep that door open when I sleep. I imagine my old buddy might watch out for me like he did when I was a kid. I know I’ll smile if I wake up and he’s the first thing I see.