Friday, February 9, 2024


Hey there! How goes it. What's been up the last 2,088 days since I posted here? 

In all honesty, I never thought I would post here again. I just looked at my list of 15 followers and 2 of them are dead. I have almost no presence on social media; my social CAPITAL is decidedly lower case at best. So this missive may go exactly nowhere and that is as it should be.

I was inspired by a text, a visit and an awards show to come back to this space. A text on January 21 of this year from my friend Karla commemorating that it had been 7 years since the Women's March of 2017. My housemate and I flew from Chicago to meet up with Karla in New York City for that first march and it was truly memorable.

We rallied at Dag Hammarskjold Plaza in Midtown and took in the spectacle of it. There were people EVERYWHERE, many sporting pink "pussy" hats, many more carrying signs. Signs of all sentiments, messages of empowerment, salty comments towards the newly elected president, lots of thoughts and feelings drawn up on poster board and affixed to a stick. 

It took us hours to move in any direction. The streets were so packed with humans, it was unreal. I generally hate crowds, but there was a sense of calm and an unspoken feeling of order. When we finally turned the corner to look down 5th avenue, I was in awe of the sprawl of humanity. There were people on every inch of space for as far as the eye could see, more than 400,000 in total. 

I saw only cooperation that day, an unfathomably large group moving ever so slowly but with purpose. I saw an older woman in a wheelchair say she had had enough and instantly several men lifted her in the wheelchair and carried her out of the crowd, parting the crush of bodies like a biblical Cecil B DeMille directed miracle shot in VistaVision. It was simultaneously surreal and unreal and yet tangible as fuck. It was a moment in time that stood out to me as a "perhaps all is not lost here and maybe more people than not are generally kind and want to be there for others and it might all possibly be sort of OK?" feeling that was a genuine spark in the darkness of that post election malaise.

As the day wound down, we found ourselves back in Karla's neighborhood in Washington Heights. We grabbed beers at her local Irish bar and found our perfect momento for the occasion, an abandoned sign reading simply FUCK THIS SHIT.  Indeed.

In the 2,574 days since then, in no particular order, I have lost many friends to death and purposeful estrangement, I have been diagnosed with Parkinson's disease, I have moved, I have changed my phone number, I have been to hundreds of medical appointments, I have consumed thousands of pills. I have been on many lovely vacations and other Instagrammable outings yet I have given up on life approximately a million times. Since moving, I have spent many many many days of the last two years in my king sized bed watching my giant television and thinking and feeling precisely nothing. An overall sense of numbness that is a cosmic flytrap that takes in all my emotional energy and all my thinky feelies and zaps them to dust.

Ooooh real talk! Who needs a drink?

Karla recently came to visit our new house in Chicago and naturally we caught up on all the things. Work is a mess. The world is a mess. We're headed into another election year with zero shock and awe over the absurdities committed on the daily. Just disbelief and laughs provided to us by late night television poking holes at it all.

I told her I had done nothing creatively in years and could not imagine where it would belong if I were to cobble something together. It seems odd to post on Instagram...I doubt Mary Oliver would want her musings on her one wild and precious life to be sandwiched between ads for "mature fashion" and "how to treat stuck poop". Seemed pointless to scream prose poetry about suicidal ideation into the image crafting abyss. Definitely no "likes" for revealing that brand of personal funk.

I told her about my latest Parkinson's problem, an uptick in dystonia in my feet. Prevalent in people with early onset PD, my toes can curl up into a foot fist, my ankles become rigid and painful and my left foot inverts to the point of being unusable for walking. This mostly flairs up due to overuse or in stressful situations. I recently had Botox shots in my feet and legs to counteract this potential threat of being immobilized. The shots have shown signs of success, not sure if it's the poison in the muscles or the confidence I've placed in the poison taking over my brain, the organ that the medical community and I are always crafting plans to hack.

Karla headed to Miami for work and I spent an evening with my chosen family of friends watching the Grammys. Early in the show was a performance of Tracy Chapman and Luke Combs doing a duet of her 1988 hit "Fast Car". The energy from the instantly recognizable opening guitar riff was palpable, followed by a smile on Tracy's face that could light up a marquee. Luke's complete adoration of her to the point of lip syncing along while she sang her parts was stunning. I didn't realize until this performance that he hadn't changed the lyric "worked in the market as a checkout girl" to something more manly. He was simply bathing in the warmth of his memory of hearing the song on cassette in his father's Ford F150 pick up truck and the magnificence of standing next to the hero who wrote "his favorite song before he even knew what a favorite song was". 

Taylor Swift, who currently has the power to break sound records, boost local economies, tilt the energy of the Super Bowl as well as holding possible political endorsements that have Fox News scrambling to make her the world's Yoko Ono, was shown regally clad in a white evening gown and black elbow gloves. She was the only one standing at her table during their performance, belting out every word like it was her only job. Powerful stuff. 

No doubt there are a ton of think pieces dedicated to the fact that Luke Combs winning the Country Music Association's song of the year for his cover of "Fast Car" marks the first time a black songwriter has won that award and they would all be correct at least in pointing out this ridiculously overdue injustice. A five minute duet is not going to move the needle on race relations. But it's the first time I recalled that feeling, like the one in at that march in NYC in 2017, that there was a possibility to see the same direction, to believe that more people than not are generally kind and want to be kind to others, that eventually things might move closer to being OK? Seeing an older queer black woman and a younger white dude who could easily be pictured next to the word "REDNECK" in the pejorative dictionary singing a song about coping with a life riddled with a lack of opportunity and have every word sound completely genuine from both points of view and feel their collaborative joy radiating out of the television and not feel manipulated that they were trying to sell me something was a wake up call to me. That all the infotainment "news" designed to divide us has played a part in making me numb and that is a shame. I am officially on the hunt for more evidence of ordinary people doing extraordinary things. Looking out for others. Small acts of kindness. Reckless generosity. Pointless positivity. Not shiny smiles in the promotion of your personal brand, but actual fucking empathy as a sociopolitical statement.

I get that smashing the "LIKE" button is easier than smashing the patriarchy and I'm not going prosytheltize in this space. I really do not enjoy when the self appointed experts of the internet talk to me in the voice of God and tell me what to do. Whatever FUCK THIS SHIT means to you, have at it. I just know that Karla said our visit inspired her to go to Buenos Aires for a few days after her Miami work was over, because FUCK THIS SHIT, you only live once and maybe there should be Malbec and a big steak? And yesterday the idea of posting in this space again after 2,088 days seemed pretty terrifying. Especially admitting that I'd spent more days than I'd care to admit feeling sorry for myself. Yesterday my feet buckled in despite the Botox but I took it as a good sign. Like the stress of revealing stuff that's hard to talk about was actually healthy and my body was telling me to proceed. Because FUCK THIS SHIT. I wandered downtown Chicago a bit limpy and tearful and despite looking like I was out on a day pass from a long term care facility I must admit it was the most alive and connected I've felt in a long time. 

If I've sent this to you and you're not one of my 15 followers that's managed not to die, it means you are important to me and I want you to know that. Peace out for now.

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

One Day We Will Laugh About All This (A Love Letter to Tee Dub)

Dearest Tom Wolferman,

Oh Tee Dub. That’s what I call you as you deserve a catchy nickname befitting your rock star status. Let me remind you that these letters were your idea. Sure, I showed up at our writing group with a letter to Stephen King explaining to him why I hadn’t been writing, but it was you that suggested we collaborate on more with the hopes of compiling them into a book. You pitched the project as “a freefall philosophy of no rules. Our opportunity to bust out of the solitary confinement of spoken word Alcatraz”.  We agreed from the start that the recipients were immaterial, the format was just a device to express ourselves outside the standard storytelling model. Of course I said yes when you asked, because we had a rich history of saying yes to one another, like our relationship was some sort of interpersonal improv class.

I’d been meaning to check in with you and tell you that I submitted my latest letter to the Modern Love column of the New York Times and in the 1 in 100 chance that editor Daniel Jones should publish the piece, you should prepare to write letters like you were ghostwriting for Dear Abby on crack cocaine trying to make a deadline. I wrote you that email 100 times in my head, but I didn’t send it as I’ve been uncommunicative with the world of late. I haven’t been feeling well the past few months and when given the choice between faking that things are fine and being a bummer, I usually check none of the above and shut myself off from everything. I should have sent that email, I should have told you that despite Google diagnosing myself with Parkinson’s, I’m still saying yes to enough mezcal to kill a rhino and getting tattoos. I’m sure you’d appreciate that I go to my neurology appointments wearing purple velvet Converse kicks and a shirt that says “BE YOURSELF; EVERYONE ELSE IS ALREADY TAKEN.” You would reassure me that drab medical facilities could use a pop of color and a splash of Oscar Wilde realness. You always made me feel like my quirkiness was not only tolerable, it was exceptional. I believed in myself when I breathed your air, because you were pure of heart and genuine with me from day one.

Our mutual friend Jill talked you up for months before we actually met. We were both booked to tell 1970’s era stories at a show at the Hideout and I was instantly smitten with you and your recount of getting a man perm in Skokie. We seemed to be aligned from then on, mostly at the behest of our story yenta, Jill. When she and Rachael produced Story Sessions, we did the first show together. You were always a reluctant live lit star, insisting you wanted to go on first to get it over with, leaving the rest of us groaning and threatening to go home. Telling a story after you was like singing after Otis Redding, it just seemed pointless. Your work brought clarity to the most difficult of subjects, weaving your darkest concerns with wit and wordplay. You never shied away from emotional heavy lifting, which magically eased our load. Your super power was making hard topics not only easy to digest, but delicious, like you were hiding crucial medicine in a vat of chocolate pudding.

Viva la man perm!

I was always down for any word nerd adventure if you were involved, because I knew we would share a moment of “What have we gotten ourselves into now?”  I’m sure you recall we once found ourselves in rural Michigan the night before a show at the home of a fellow storyteller. The host asked you to fetch a Sprite from the garage, a garage that also housed a dog that was half wolf and was billed to us as a man hater. You asked me to accompany you on this errand as you said if you were to meet your demise to the jaws and claws of a misandrist beast on a story road trip, you’d appreciate me being a witness. As we stood in the glow of the refrigerator, wolf dog howling in his cage, we both cried laughing at the fact that for two people dead set on flying under the radar, we often found ourselves knee deep in some serious crazy.

Pre-show in Michigan, both of us considering making a run for it. We discussed hitchhiking to Gary, Indiana to sell Michael Jackson memorabilia. 

Post show at Journeyman Distillery. Clearly we survived.

We joked about writing a sitcom called “Totally Tom” where you would play the neurotic landlord to a community of writers, ala “Melrose Place”. I asked you to put me down for the Heather Locklear character; you suggested she should be a former Rockette who owned a dance studio while trying to break into erotic fiction. We both tried our hands at writing fiction for real when we were commissioned to write for “Pleasuretown”, a podcast chronicling the residents of a fictional turn of the century Oklahoma town that believed in pursuing hedonism as a lifestyle. I sent you a draft to review, telling you I thought it read like it was written by a 9 year old with ADD after an overload of Count Chocula and Wonder Woman cartoons. You told me your draft was trying to strike a balance between thoughtful, wise, sage, geezerly and beloved advisor to the kinky. “Story of my life”, you told me. We agonized over these drafts until we threw up our hands and said, “One day we will laugh about all this. AND THAT DAY IS TODAY.”

 Taxidermy tomfoolery with Sheri. Photo credit and total blame: Jill Howe

Publicity photo for "Totally Tom", this fall on NBC.

We both stopped doing story shows for the most part a few years back, but we kept writing. You said you needed to move on from storytelling to pursue your dream of working up a chimp act, you’d just need to change your green room contract to include bananas and diapers. You signed your emails “Tom and Mister Bobo”. I’d always send up a flare before going to our writing group or the occasional social outing in hopes I would see you there. Birthdays and holidays were always occasions to check in; your birthday email entitled “Your Hair Has More Fullness Than That Slow Cooker Chili Recipe I Saw On Facebook” is one of the strangest and most treasured pieces of correspondence I’ve ever received.

Birthday shenanigans

The last time I saw you read at a show was in the basement of a tattoo parlor in the spring of 2016. You threatened to take your last Valium to deal with your nerves, a condition we all lovingly referred to as “Tomming out.” You were brilliant, as always, fighting your onstage cotton mouth with your trusty water bottle. We caught up after the show, you polishing off your Aquafina and me slugging Manhattans from a flask. You always made sure I got safely into an Uber, that night I recall us waiting quietly. I’m sure neither of us thought that our third act would involve standing on a deserted street corner in Westtown far too late on a school night trying to identify the license plate of a stranger’s Toyota Prius, but we were most content. As my ride share chariot approached, you hugged me and said “I love you, E”. I said “I love you too, Tee Dub.” We shared such sentiments more often in writing than in person, not because we were fearful of emotion, but because it went without saying. Although we were brought together by our love of language, there was such joy in feeling seen and heard with no words required.

I learned so much from you, becoming a better writer and a better human through your examples. You moved through this world with such grace and humility and as E.B. White told us in “Charlotte’s Web”, “it’s not often that someone comes along who is a true friend and a good writer.”  When I heard you were gone, I drank all the brown liquor in my house and cried my eyes out. The next day I sobbed on the Ashland bus to the grocery store and then in line at the store buying a case of La Croix to replace all my tears. I was stopped in my tracks by the sight of the initials “T.W.” written in the sidewalk on Ashland, a reminder that your spirit is always inside of me and I should be on the lookout for your greetings and salutations. This is all more manageable if I consider you to be Charlotte to my Wilbur. You were such a wonderful friend to so many, and that in itself is a tremendous thing. I regret not hiring a skywriter to proclaim that during all of our reluctant grumblings and synchronized side eyes we were most certainly having the some of the best times of our lives. But much like declarations of affection, I trust it was a known quantity, an unspoken understanding.

I’m sure Daniel Jones of the New York Times will soon send me a rejection letter, but it will be fine. The letter project was never about recognition or publishing for me. It was just an extension of saying yes to anything that involved working with you. Saying yes to the stories, to the podcast, to the wolfdog, was always a given. I would have said yes to shoveling shit on the road with Mister Bobo, for the record. The letters kept us attached creatively, our voices in chorus. In an arena full of navel gazing narcissists, the letters were our cries to be heard from the cheap seats. This is the only letter where the recipient truly does matter, because it is my attempt to honor what you mean to me. It’s also my last letter as I have no interest in continuing this project without you. The letters were a collaboration and I refuse to try to make jelly work without peanut butter.

Godspeed, you gallant creature. I haven’t spent much time ruminating on the afterlife as I’m having enough trouble navigating this current assignment, but I pray your next adventure is worthy of you. I also hope Mister Bobo made the trek as well. Because that chimp knows that in the face of absurdity, just below your “Totally Tom” sitcom star twinkle, there’s an “Oh, what fresh hell is THIS?” face in search of an ally. That’s my Tee Dub. One day we will laugh about all this, Wolferman, and that day is today.

Love always from your friend and fan,

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Self Medicating

Recently assigned to write on the topic of “self medicating”, I immediately thought of my most obvious go tos: food and booze. As I was pondering this theme in February, otherwise known as mile 22 of the marathon that is the Chicago winter, I was probably actively shovelling potatoes in my face with one hand while guzzling bourbon with the other. But as I generally only use carbs and liquor to cope with my cold weather blues and winter is allegedly over, I decided to discuss some self medicating I do every day of the year. I wake up doing it, I do it throughout the day, I go to sleep doing it. I’m talking about my electronic pacifier, my iPhone 7. My phone is the first thing I look at when I wake up, which I’d say falls under the category of “normal”. I mean, it is an alarm clock, so that’s legit. But even when I don’t have the alarm feature in play, I rarely get out of bed before reviewing my texts, my emails, my virtual communities. I then proceed to consult with the phone ALL DAY LONG...when I’m in line at the grocery store, when I’m at work, when I’m on the train, when I get in bed at night. I sleep with the phone either next to me on a nightstand or sometimes in the bed with me. When I can’t sleep I look to the interwebs to keep me company. When I’ve been in relationships where there are sleepovers, I’ve had to tell myself repeatedly “DO NOT LOOK AT YOUR PHONE” when I wake up in the middle of the night, as I fear not only the light waking the other person up, but the concept that perhaps looking at one’s phone during the sleeping hours is wading dangerously close to deal breakingly weird behavior.

I have no shame in discussing my phone habits as it appears most of us have some degree of addiction as well. I don’t feel like a freak admitting these details, but I recognize I use the phone as an escape all too often. The device offers me a sort of dual citizenship; a loose commitment to the people I’m interacting with electronically combined with being blissfully unaware of what’s happening right in front of me. My brain seems to be most comfortable having one foot in these two worlds, because this straddle prevents from being fully conscious of the boring, irritating and truly awful parts of being alive these days. I’m convinced there’s always a possibility of a dopamine hit if I look at the phone enough amusing text, an email with good news, a compelling post, or being the first to know something particularly juicy. In tandem with bill paying, news alerts, shopping, sexting, selfies, counting steps, mapping directions, and reminders about my obligations, I’m not sure when the phone became the pocket headquarters for my every waking move. What happened to the days when I’d just use it for basic shit like “Hey, I’m almost there” and “Great, I’m on my way”?

I decide to commit to a 100% phone free experience for a limited amount of time. I’d already booked a 35 hour train ride on the Coast Starlight from Seattle to Los Angeles and I vow I will not use the phone at all during the ride.

To get an idea of how much I was agreeing to part with, I download Moment, an app that tracks your phone use. I get a blaring “BOOP BOOP BOOP’ in the mid afternoon indicating I’ve been on it for 3 hours that day. More BOOP at 4 hours, and again at 5 hours of use. I stop 3 minutes short of 6 hours, mostly as I can’t handle any more alarm shaming. My usage is above average, with most people falling in the 3 to 5 hours a day range. Moment tells me I’ve checked my phone 50 times that day, which strikes me as a lot, but teens and millennials on average check their phones between 75 and 200 times a day. I suddenly regret I didn’t choose to write this piece about alcohol.

While I wait to board the train in Seattle, I madly look at every website known to man, I pay every bill, I text everyone goodbye, I consume data as if I’m going off to war and I may never communicate with the outside world ever again. I find my sleeper car cabin and dramatically slide the iPhone power screen to OFF. Let the head games begin.

My roommette onboard is 3 and a half feet wide by 6 and a half feet high with two seats that face each other that recline into a bed as well as a bed that folds down from the ceiling. It’s snug but totally serviceable. I settle in as the train pulls away from Seattle and I take in the scenery. There’s a certain gloomy charm to this part of the Pacific Northwest...the landscape mostly comprised of farmland, abandoned trucks, dead trees, cemeteries, bridges, and shabby seaside motels. Although I appreciate the grey quiet of the rural sprawl, I’m still hungry for mental static. I stare until my eyes are tired, maybe 25 minutes, but my brain remains restless. It wants more action. It wants CNN and Instagram and maps and that perfect song on YouTube and texting about what’s up. I fold down the top bunk and crawl in, convinced I maybe just need darkness and a nap. I lay there stressed out that I shouldn’t just cop out and sleep through this experience. I shift to stressing out that I’m not strapped into the safety net they advise while sleeping on this upper bunk, but then I think what a dramatic turn this story would take if I inadvertently rolled off and crashed from a six foot drop. I then get up and frantically rearrange my personal effects to make the tiny space more optimally efficient. I pause to take in the fact that my brain is being a hyperactive asshole, like a 4 year old throwing a temper tantrum that it’s been denied a cookie. Sorry, brain. No electronic cookies for you. You can read, you can write, you can sleep, you can wander the train, you can look out the window. It’s only 2 days. That’s the deal.

Reading, sleeping, and wandering are usually some of my favorite activities, but my head still is anxious and cranky for more stimulation. When you give the 4 year old that runs your mind permission to look in the cookie jar 50 times a day, it doesn’t go quietly when it gets cut off. I have a hundred patient pep talks with myself over the next handful of hours, and as we pass through Eugene, Oregon, I’m finally able to look out the window and have my mind go blank for considerable chunks of time. This void feels like a zen flavored miracle.

I head to the dining car at my designated mealtime, dreading Amtrak’s communal seating policy. My inner 4 year old and I do not want to meet new people right now. I’m seated with a tired looking but pleasant suburban mom named Cathy and her 14 year old son Dylan. Cathy tells me they’re headed to Los Angeles to visit her father who she hasn’t talked to in over 20 years. Cathy hasn’t told her father they’re coming, she thinks it will be fun to surprise him in hopes he’ll want to meet his grandson for the first time and accompany them to Disneyland. This strikes me as a terrible plan, but I tell her it sounds great, because I’m not going. Cathy then tells me she has confiscated all of Dylan’s devices for the trip, because she wants him to enjoy and remember the experience. “I’m a mean mom.” she tells me. “Right, Dylan?” Dylan is all dark bangs and surly pouts as he replies, “It totally sucks, man.” He finds a jelly jar filled with colored pencils and begins to sketch an elaborate outer space depiction complete with dancing robots on our paper table cloth. Dylan instantly becomes my technology detox spirit guide.

After dinner I am sure I will miss my phone the most as it’s too dark to see outside. I’m surprised when I crawl in bed and immediately fall asleep, perhaps because my brain isn’t all hopped up from blue light exposure and it’s exhausted from being a whiny petulant bitch all day.

I wake up with the sunrise around 6 am as we pull into Sacramento. This is typically when I’d use the phone to read the news, check in with friends, and tinker with my work schedule. Without that ritual, I fall back asleep until we reach San Francisco. After some coffee, I commit to taking a few notes for this story and I end up writing for hours. I write ideas for this story, for other stories, for writing prompts...copious pages of notes, mostly hot garbage, but who cares?  I cannot write fast enough to keep up with my thought process. It’s as if that blank space I usually fill with mindless phone jabber was repopulated with freshly minted possibility. It’s an eye opening victory for my creative side, which has been pretty dormant these days.

I celebrate with a stroll to the bar car for a beer. I end up conversing a Charles Manson look alike who tries to tell me all women are “high maintenance and predictable” and I probably take up two parking spaces when I drive my Lexus to Whole Foods. I reply, “Dude, I don’t even own a car. I certainly have some time to kill, but not with this bullshit.” Who needs the trolls of Twitter when you can slay misogynist dragons in real life?

As the day winds down, the train makes its way through California’s central coast region, through Salinas, Pasos Robles, San Luis Obispo.  As we make our way south towards Santa Barbara and the view for hundreds of miles is unspoiled beach and the steel grey blue of the Pacific, I cannot stop staring at it all. Combined with the Santa Ynez mountains and the oak, lilac and manzanita trees, I am glued to the window by its postcard worthy perfection. I’m so glad I’m not missing a minute of this crafting a witty Facebook post, or trying to take a photo that wouldn’t do it justice, or scouring the web for latest about Stormy Daniels. I just absorb without question and note my brain is officially in time out, content to be at rest.

About 20 minutes from the end of the line, I turn my phone back on. I have a handful of emails, texts, and notifications, all of which are not urgent and can be returned another time. I send a text to an old friend who lives near Los Angeles’ Union Station, a friend who is waiting to pick me up.  “Hey, I’m almost there”, I tell him. “Great”, he texts back. “I’m on my way.”

Tuesday, November 28, 2017


While exchanging Thanksgiving stories, a friend encouraged me to write and share this. Thanks, Tashie.

Last week in this space I proclaimed that the holidays are a choice, not a requirement, and I'd like my ballot to reflect I've officially opted out. This year I’ll be working Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s, a triad I lovingly refer to as “The Loser Triple Crown”. Yes, I know I’m a soulless money grubbing jerk. I checked the spot where my heart once was and it’s now just sinew, brown liquor and a well worn copy of Hole’s “Live Through This”. I'm fine with it. I’m certainly passionate about other things in this life, so I don’t lose sleep over my lack of seasonal spirit.

Last week on Thanksgiving, I overnighted in Milwaukee. We stay at a lovely Hilton downtown, attached to the hotel is the ChopHouse, an upscale yet comfortable steak house. The food, cocktails, and service are all sublime. It's a wonderful place to spend a holiday, even as a heathen non-believer.

This Thanksgiving I was far more conscious of being alone than in years before. I generally protect and savor my solo’s when I recharge and do my best thinking. But this year on Thanksgiving I was acutely aware that over the holidays last year I was with my roommate who feels the way I do about the holidays. I was missing the esprit de corps of being with someone who gets me. I appreciated being in the company of someone who didn’t require me to play along with something I don’t subscribe to just to fit in. When I get lonely sometimes, I’m not lonely for the company of just anyone. I feel more isolated when I spend time with people I don't click with. Last Thursday I could have made plans with my co-workers or crashed any number of flight attendant dinners and made small talk about what hotels have bed bugs or how our new eco-friendly plastic uniforms melt if the iron is too hot. PASS. Party of one for the win.

The bar at the ChopHouse was full of festively dressed holiday patrons enjoying drinks while waiting for their tables in the dining room. The host offered me the last hightop table available, one adjacent to the bar. An older foursome was huddled nearby finishing their wine. As I settled in, one of the women picked her purse up off my table and said “I’ll give you this chair back when the rest of your people show up.”

I told her not to worry about it as it was just me.

All four of them in unison belted out, “JUST YOU ON THANKSGIVING? OH NO!”


I told them it would be fine. Really. They remained unconvinced. The patriarch paid the check and put his meaty Midwestern palm on my table, saying “I truly hope you can enjoy your dinner,” with an expression like he was giving a pep talk to a burn victim.

Well, this could only get better.

My waitress swooped in shortly after to see if I wanted a drink. Danielle was fresh faced, with her dark hair pulled back in a ponytail and she was tremendously pregnant. Like Dear God, Should You Still Be Running Your Ass Off Waiting Tables far along. I ordered a Hendrix martini, which she prepared with care. She dropped it off saying “I love Hendrix gin. I want you to enjoy that for me.” I told her I was on it. I am picky about my martinis and it was flawless.

I ordered the short rib with beet gnocchi for dinner with a glass of Tempranillo and I went back and forth between people watching, reading articles I hadn’t had time to read and writing absurdly angsty poetry in the Notes app on my phone. I was amazed how Danielle was constantly in motion. She and the bartender were getting their asses kicked with only the two of them to take care of a full 7 seat bar and six constantly needy tables. Danielle never lost her smile. She looked like there was no place she’d rather be, which didn’t seem humanly possible.

As she cleared my dinner plate, she asked if I wanted to to see the dessert menu. I’m not usually a sweets person, so I was surprised to hear myself say “Yes, definitely.” I chose a carrot cake cheesecake, Danielle said it was her favorite. As she put it down, she said “I am so blissed out on your behalf right now.”

I was officially in indulgence overload after polishing off the cheesecake and I asked Danielle for the check as I finished my wine. When she dropped it off, she said “Thank you for being such a pleasure to wait on.” I was surprised by her sentiment because although all of our encounters had been delightful, they had been brief as she had been so busy. I thanked her for working on Thanksgiving. She smiled, rubbed her belly and said “I won’t be working Christmas for obvious reasons.”

I said “I’m glad you’ll be pursuing a better opportunity.”

I took care of the bill and decided to walk it over to her where she was diligently closing out checks at the point of sale machine. Danielle extended her hand to shake mine just as I opened my arms to hug her. I may be a socially awkward introvert with more than a hint of bitch face, but I am still a diehard hugger to the core. Danielle’s face beamed and she said “Ooh, yes, a hug!” As she pulled me as close to her as her frame would allow, she whispered in my ear “The light inside you is so bright. I just hope that you can see it too.”

I thanked her and said good night, choking back tears as I walked to the elevator.

I'm still not jumping on the holiday hoopla train, but I won’t ever forget Thanksgiving 2017 because of Danielle and how she made me feel. May I never lose sight of how powerful a small act of kindness can be.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

THIS JUST IN: The Holidays Are Optional

Well, it’s the most wonderful time of the year again. This year's season of giving was heralded in with an annual email my company sends out to inform the staff that our employee assistance program is available for those who may be “quietly suffering through difficult life events and circumstances with stress, trauma, depression, or perhaps even addiction” this time of year.

Sounds pretty wonderful, amirite?

I’ve been in the travel game long enough to observe a predictable pattern of behavior that rounds out the rest of the year. Right before/during Thanksgiving, there is excitement and positive energy and goodwill towards mankind and festive sweaters and eager anticipation of breaking with the mundane routine of life to CELEBRATE GOOD TIMES. Somewhere in mid-December there is usually some fatigue from trying to do it all...I mean it’s hard to go to all the parties and bake all the cookies and drink all the eggnogs and deck all the halls and spread all the goddamn cheer and such without a break. There’s a quiet period between Christmas and New Year’s where people just seem to regrouping and gearing up for the final push. Then when it’s all over, THE GENERAL PUBLIC IS JUST AWFUL. That mulled wine/pecan pie/reindeer sweater socializing/work hiatus hangover crash hits real hard and then there’s the realization that we still have the seemingly endless winter to consider and a bunch of credit card debt and muffin top to deal with from all the Fa La Fucking La biz that’s now in the rear view mirror. I always take early January off as I don’t like to get kicked in the teeth by John Q Public after he realizes that going back to your everyday life after a steady diet of fruitcake and Dewars for a solid month is an emotional swan dive into a block of cement situation.

How much of the above traditional scenario do I subscribe to? ZERO. Holidays are all days like any other to me, no special significance.


If it means something to you, I support that without question. I understand that your traditions have meaning TO YOU, and I respect that.

What I would like in return is for you to return the favor.

I have worked most of the holidays since I moved to Chicago in 2009. I’d love to tell you it’s because I’m such a giver, and I want someone who believes in all the holiday joy to have the day off. Truth be told, I’d suck the devil’s dick for double time, because it’s free money to fund other days to spend exactly how I see fit. It’s nice to have a job where you have a choice; I was off many holidays in the past when staying home was more appealing than making that paper. Since I’ve been back on the holiday work train, I’ve had many, many co-workers ask if I have family in the city where I end up spending Thanksgiving/Christmas/New Year’s and when I reply I don’t, I hear “OH. HOW SAD”.

If ending up in San Diego spending Christmas running along the water in shorts and enjoying oysters and a gin martini by myself followed by getting 10 hours of sleep is sad, it looks like we’re going to have to agree to disagree on that particular definition.

I suppose in a more global sense I’m disappointed that people seem to require that everyone else either mirror their choices or defend their position. If eating a dead bird and watching football and being surrounded by your relatives makes you happy, I AM SO HAPPY FOR YOU. But quit trying to shove your traditions up my ass like they are the only acceptable alternative. Perhaps there would be less stress, trauma, depression, and addiction for the employee assistance program to attend to if everyone just eased off all the expectations a little. Lots of people aren’t where they’d like to be in this life and the holidays are just a giant flashing billboard that announces “YOU ARE A GIANT LOSER AND 25 VIEWINGS OF “LOVE ACTUALLY” AIN’T GONNA CHANGE THAT SHIT”. Try to be mindful of them when you crank up your cinnamon scented mirth machine.

Again, I’m not trying to go all Scrooge McDuck on your holiday table. But perhaps in these stressful days of Trump and Kim Jung Un dueling their dicks like teenage boys with lightsabers and every dude that ever had a taste of power being accused of feeling up anyone who was within their creepy arm’s reach, could it hurt to try to be a tad bit more open minded to other people’s thoughts and feelings? My life is filled with people who love me fully and without question who I am grateful for EVERY DAY, not just some random Thursday once a year that’s sponsored by Butterball and Bud Light. But I lead a non-traditional life in a lot of senses and perhaps I’m saltier than usual about the holidays as I am tired of the message from the general public that if I wish and hope and try hard enough, some day I will be magically awarded the prize of having a normal life. I don’t want a normal life and I’m tired of trying to explain that to everyone politely as they stare at me in disbelief. Their concern for my actual circumstances is indiscernible; they just don’t want to consider that perhaps opting out of the machine is an option for everyone, and freewill is still a fucking thing. I’m concerned about our systemic failure of imagination here….is it so hard to recognize and acknowledge that not everyone wants what you want?

I’ll wrap up this rant by saying I hope the holidays bring you whatever your heart desires. If you’ve worked hard and Santa deems you worthy of a new iPhone, hooray. Use it to call me and we’ll hang out. I intend to give whatever money I would spend on presents as a holiday consumer to a local bookstore and tell the people in my life that want for nothing that I did so on their behalf. Not because I’m such an altruist, but I generally try to do what makes me feel good. Isn’t that what we’re supposed to do this time of year, or did I read the memo upside down? If you need me, I’ll be washing down fruitcake with Dewars because I’m not opposed to hedonistic pursuits on any given day, in fact quite the’s the hot buttered holiday bullshit I can live without.