Once Upon a Time Again

Neither of my parents finished the tenth grade. Both of them grew up in rural North Georgia in the U.S. where back-breaking hard work was more valued than education. Both of their families viewed education as an impediment to valuable work that could be done instead, so my parents meandered through the school system barely making it until they could quit, and they did.

Today, such an action would be viewed as a tragedy, a failure of the system, but back then, it was regarded as de rigueur, especially in the South, which has always lagged behind other areas in the U.S. by most measures of socioeconomic success. Nevertheless, no one batted an eye when my mom stayed home to help her mother tend to her unreasonably large brood and my dad started a low-paying job that required no skills beyond youthful energy and strength. Neither of them thought much of the consequences that would await them in the future. Very few people around them thought long-term. When you’re struggling to make it day-by-day, the future is a fantasy best left to movies.

By the time I arrived on the scene, my dad had managed to land a decent job. It was still a hard-labor job on the assembly line at a Ford plant, but for someone with no discernible skills even in the 1970s U.S. economy, it was a godsend. My parents finally had some sense of stability, enough for them to consider having kids. For most people in that era, a steady, good-paying job with health benefits almost ensured that they’d join the middle class and enjoy all of the accouterments that come with that status, but as any economic student knows, the auto industry in the 1970s was anything but stable.

Long before I understood macroeconomics, disruption, or geopolitics, I experienced it first hand in the late 1970s. Of course, I was too young to understand it then. I only have the memories of how my parents endured the brunt of it, as is usually the case for those near the bottom rungs of the economic ladder, but those memories were traumatic enough to give me something akin to PTSD. You can imagine how the current economic upheaval has me circling the wagons in my brain.

In 1979, my dad was laid off as a result of the economic disruption caused by the oil embargo and the subsequent failure of the lumbering auto giants to adapt to the emergence of new, innovative players in the market. What followed for us was four years of absolute hell as dad bounced between unemployment and low-paying, menial jobs trying to sustain our family. With nothing to fall back on like savings or marketable skills, he was ill-prepared for such a challenge and primarily relied on luck or happenstance to make it, and his luck was almost always bad.

As a young kid, watching your parents crumble in the face of adversity is one of the hardest and most gut-wrenching things to ever see. I’m glad my brothers were too young to witness it. Today, they probably don’t understand why I am terminally pragmatic and detached, but that point in our lives seared the core of who I am today. Everything about me points back to that period in my life. Even as young as I was then, I swore to myself that I’d never let myself fall victim to circumstances like that, and in times of stress, I revisit that promise like a cornered, feral dog.

Fast forward to today where we are experiencing probably the greatest economic disruption in almost 100 years. Unlike my parents, my wife and I are more prepared, and both of us have valuable skills that are marketable should either or both of us find ourselves without a job, but the thought of going through such a disruption at my age puts me on edge. Say what you want about legal protections, but companies do not value middle-aged or older people. I wake up with risk scenarios running through my brain. I worry about the kids. I know they’re beyond the impressionable preteen years, but I don’t want to leave them with scars that they’ll carry around for the rest of their lives because I know what that’s like.


It’s been difficult to write much of late. I’ve mostly stared at blank pages on my laptop wondering what to write next. I’ve dibbled and dabbled with scenes, blog posts, and general musings with very little to show for it. I have a list of ideas that I keep, but nothing gets me fired up or excited. In the moments when I’m not stressing over work or contingency plans, I find I’d rather sleep than spend time writing. This past weekend, I took more naps than I normally do. The dreary weather on Sunday didn’t help.

My general mood calls my dad to mind. It will soon be five years since he passed. His picture hangs on my office wall, so I look at him every morning, frozen in a serious pose just before the cancer crippled him. I wonder what he’d think about what’s happening now. I wonder what he’d say. Would we still talk about baseball as we’d normally do at this time of year or would we muse about the chaotic state of things instead? Like most people alive today, I doubt he’d have any experience to draw on. He was 15 during the 1957 epidemic, but it was nothing on the scale of what we are seeing today.

Had Dad survived pancreatic cancer, he would have turned 78 this year, which would have put him right in the demographic with the most at risk in the face of the Coronavirus, but one thing Dad was good at was self-isolation. He practically spent his entire adult life in isolation. He retired from his job in 1999 and rarely left the house until he passed in 2015. My brothers and I managed to get him out of the house on a few occasions (e.g. weddings, births, etc.), but for the most part, he holed up in his house like some entrenched war veteran who still thought some imaginary war was raging.

In many ways, it was a war. Thinking back over the years, I can clearly see it. Dad suffered from a life-long battle with depression. Men in his generation didn’t cop to feelings or vulnerabilities. Instead, they found other ways to cope. Dad’s coping involved sleeping pills or pain killers. For most of my childhood, Dad hid away in his bedroom sleeping away his worries. When things got scary, he disappeared.

When my brothers and I recall moments in our collective childhood, we often talk about Dad and his endless naps. He routinely took the first two weeks of July off work every year, but we never went anywhere on vacation. Instead, Dad spent most of that time napping. Our mom would shoo us outside so we wouldn’t wake him, and since he slept so much, we practically lived in the woods behind our house.

That was how Dad dealt with things. I wish I had had the courage to ask him why, to get a better understanding of him, but I never did. It’s hard to question those we love without feeling like we’re betraying them. The reality is that we often don’t understand ourselves very well, or at least, we can’t articulate it in a logical way, so it’s doubtful any questions I had would have been answered in a satisfying way. I’m just left to speculate and wonder if he’d react any differently to the current events than he did to anything else in my lifetime with him. Probably not, and that’s okay because I still love and miss him everyday.


Strange Times

The way things are going nowadays have me thinking about the apocalyptic themes that ran through movies like A Quiet Place or Birdbox or books like Station Eleven. Of course, I’m being melodramatic, but the world is in a weird place right now. The rapid spread of the Coronavirus has everyone worried and many people panicking. I’m sure the doomsday preppers are laughing in their bunkers right now as they try to chew through the 30-year-old MRE they just opened. Too bad they’ll eventually have to come back to the real world. We aren’t going anywhere anytime soon, but things may be very different going forward.

Let’s be honest, most of us underestimated the severity of this virus. I certainly did. While it appears that about 80 percent of the cases are mild and similar to the regular flu, the remaining cases can be severe and deadly. Those remaining cases can easily overwhelm the healthcare system leaving doctors and nurses in the unenviable position of choosing who lives and dies because there aren’t enough ventilators or other equipment to save everyone. I wouldn’t want to be on either end of that scenario.

The hardest thing for those of us who want to do the right thing is parsing through all of the information and misinformation that comes our way. In any chaotic scenario, rumors and false conclusions spread like wildfire. It doesn’t help that social media channels are chock full of total bullshit, but before I sound like some old person and bemoan the effects of social media today, I have to remind myself that the same thing happened at every point in history during a crisis. It’s just exponentially amplified now with social media. The good news is that you can eventually get to facts nowadays given the generally free flow of information. Back when I was a kid, many adults around me couldn’t get to facts or didn’t bother with them because it was too hard to get them, so the ill-informed stayed that way.

I don’t doubt that there are harder times ahead for all of us in the short-term, but I do believe that the inimitable human spirit will prevail, that we’ll come out on the other side of this challenge like we have every other great challenge in the course of human history. Adaptation is the prevailing force of evolution, and we will adapt. Let’s remain calm and power through these strange times.


A Walk Through the Garden

Hope is

A ripple of fresh earth,

An eye of green.

Sunlight beckons

The eye becomes a yarn.

A sturdy stalk,

Thrusting toward the light.

Rain satiates,

And nourishes,

Until a bud becomes a bloom.


The pistil dances above the petals,

Firm and fibrous,

An extravagance of youth.

Warm breezes beget a searing stillness,

The firm wilts,

The fibrous softens.

The ellipsis of decay

Sends one petal afloat,

And then another,

Until only the withered stalk remains.


Love and the Things We Miss

I fell instantly and hopelessly in love with my kids when they were born. That moment when I held each of them right after birth still brings me to tears occasionally (yes, I’ve become a sentimental, old man). There’s so much love and hope in that moment that it is simply overwhelming. I had never truly understood how my parents felt about me until I had my own kids. Then, I knew. The love you feel for your kids is a natural force that rivals gravity in its certainty.

While I think the single greatest thing parents can do for their kids is to show them that they are loved no matter what, that love is also blind. We like to think of our kids as better versions of ourselves, but this hope makes us blind to the reality of what it means to be human. Blind to the struggle that is inevitable in life even for the happiest and most well-balanced among us. Blind to the challenges that await them as they try to figure things out. Inherently, I know this. But knowledge and practice often repel each other.

In Train’s melancholy song “Blind”, the chorus pivots on the line “I don’t mind being blind, if you don’t mind doing time.” The song is about how love can lead you to ignore the obvious despite the repercussions. That’s how I feel about parenting. I’m so caught up in helping my kids be the best version of themselves that I’m blind to the struggles that exist right in front of me. I’m not choosing to ignore them, but I’m certainly sweeping those dust bunnies into a corner so that I can say the floor is essentially clean.

Teenagers are hard-wired to escape the orbit of their parents, to become the center of their own universe. They take a few tentative steps away until it becomes a full-fledged dash. They close you off behind that figurative and literal door. You search for small clues that help you understand them. You ask questions that they don’t want to answer or they answer in some rote, robotic way that seems innocuous and banal. The clues are there if you choose to see them, but sometimes, the most difficult thing to see is right in front of you.

More experienced parents will tell you that they’ll come back around one day. That it will all work out if you’re patient. That may be true, but the journey through the parental equivalent of Siberia seems impossible sometimes, and you wonder if you will come out on the other side intact as a family. It’s like any moment in your life where you experience stress; you wonder if it will ever be the same again. It won’t, but it won’t be like this either. At least, that’s what I tell myself.

Parents are hard-coded to worry about their children. My dad once told me the worry never goes away even when your kids are grown and have families of their own. That sounds like some sort of life sentence if you ask me, but it’s one I’m willing to bear because I love these two more than they’ll ever know.


Ring, Part Three

Once the house was out of sight, Millie pulled over to the side of the road. Another truck zipped past her throwing water onto her truck. The rain had finally let up some, but thunder rumbled in the distance. Her hands trembled as she fumbled with her phone and called the police. Fear quavered her voice as she explained the situation, but she felt some sense of relief when the dispatcher promised to send an officer over right away.

She sat back in her seat and exhaled loudly. The light rain dotted her windshield, each drop dribbling down the window in a blurry streak. Another rumble in the distance felt like it vibrated her truck. Her heart thumped in her chest and she breathed in the short gasps of a swimmer who had been under water for too long. A dull ache throbbed in her head.

Millie pulled up the Ring app again and watched the video several times trying to determine if there was anything identifiable about the person who blocked her camera. She couldn’t identify anything that stuck out. The intruder was dressed in a long black overcoat and the ski mask completely covered his head. He moved quickly with only a few seconds between the point he became visible and the moment the camera went black. He appeared to spray something on it like paint.

She switched to the camera on her back porch. It hadn’t been blocked. She could see the live view of her porch, dreary and gray in the storm. Her lone chair stood just as she had left it, or how she thought she had left it. She scanned the recent video history, but other than a bolt of lightning in the distance, there was nothing to see. The intruder did not venture to the back of her house. Was this a robbery?

Another vehicle passed by her and splashed the truck again, startling her. She looked up from her phone as the rain finally relented, but the skies remained gray and threatening. Enough time had passed for the cop to be close to her house, so she carefully nosed the truck into the road and turned around. As she approached her house, she could see the cop had not arrived yet, so she pulled over again at a safe distance. Only an occasional drop of rain fell on her windshield as she waited.

Her cell phone rang filling her screen with a picture of her mother, but at that exact moment, a police cruiser slowed in front of her house and pulled into her driveway. She stared at the screen for a few seconds before she decided to ignore the call and nudged the car out into the road. She pulled into the driveway beside the patrol car just as the officer opened his door.

“Are you the homeowner?” the officer asked as she stepped out.

“I live here, but I rent it. I’m Millie Farquar.”

“You called us, Miss Farquar?”


“Is anyone in the house right now?”

“I don’t think so, but I haven’t tried to go inside.”

Millie pulled out her phone and pulled up the video of the intruder. The officer asked to watch it again.

“Do you recognize anything about that person?”

Millie shook her head.

“Do you have any reason to believe that someone would want to hurt you? Like an ex-boyfriend or something like that?”

“No. My last boyfriend lives in New Jersey.” An expression of semi-confusion washed across the officer’s face, but it disappeared into the fold of his official demeanor.

“Any strangers come by to visit you recently?”


“I’m going to have a look. Is the door locked?”

“I locked it when I left this morning.”

“May I have the key?”

She stepped back toward her truck and fumbled around in her bag. The keys normally sat in a side pocket, but they weren’t there. She rustled through the contents until she found her key ring at the bottom of the bag. She could feel sweat pooling in her armpits. Her hands trembled a little when she handed the officer her keys.

“Please stay here. I’ll take a look.”

He didn’t wait for her to respond. He simply turned and began walking toward the porch. He didn’t bound up the three steps leading to the front door. Instead, he walked around the house as if he were looking for a point of entry. He disappeared around the back of the house for what seemed like an eternity to Millie. She felt a sense of relief when she saw him emerge from the other side.

“Is that camera in back connected to your app?” he asked when he returned to the front of the house.

“Yes. I checked it already. There’s nothing on the video.”

He nodded as if he were disappointed, and then, he went up the steps to the front door. He walked lightly on the wooden planks of the porch but they bowed and squeaked under his weight. He tried to peer into the windows, but Millie had closed the blinds tightly. The door squawked when he opened it. He didn’t draw his gun, but he walked into the house slowly as if he would pull his gun at the slightest provocation.

Millie waited outside next to her truck and listened for any sounds to indicate that the officer had found something or someone. Minutes later, he emerged from the house. He took his time looking at the Ring doorbell and scanning the porch outside. He looked up at the the ceiling of the porch. He seemed to be making mental notes.

“There’s no one in the house,” he said from the porch. He took a few more moments to look around and then he bounded back down the steps toward Millie.

“You can go in and take a look now if you want. I’ve checked everything. Let me know if you think something has been taken. Are there any other cameras besides the one out back and the doorbell?”


“Have you noticed any unusual activity on the cameras in the last couple of weeks?”

“No. The only notification I’ve received was for a coyote that ventured onto my back porch one night a while back.”

“I haven’t seen many of those around lately.” He paused as if he wanted some sort of response, but then he said,  “Why don’t you go have a look.” He nodded toward the house.

Millie didn’t want to go inside, even with the officer standing right there. The video had freaked her out to the point that she didn’t even know if she wanted to live there anymore. She tried to calm herself down. She took a deep breath and went into her house. The throbbing in her skull grew more persistent.

As she walked through, everything looked normal. Nothing seemed out of place or disturbed. Her personal laptop sat on the kitchen table clamped shut just as she had left it. The laptop had been an expensive gift from her parents when she had graduated from Princeton. If the person on the video had entered her house, it wasn’t to rob the place, which made her even more uncomfortable because the motive wasn’t clear.

She opened up the tiny pantry as if anyone could hide in its cramped confines. She wandered into her bedroom and slid open the closet door. The bare bulb illuminated her clothes and a few boxes that sat on the floor, but they looked largely undisturbed, just as they had this morning when she dressed for work.

She checked her bathroom, flipping back the shower curtain quickly in case anyone was hiding behind the opaque curtain. The plastic hooks on the shower curtain scraped across the worn rod in the vast quiet of the house. She caught her reflection in the speckled old mirror that covered the medicine cabinet above the sink. She looked tired, worn down, but she ignored that for the moment.

Her hands still trembled when she walked out onto the porch to talk to the officer again. Although nothing seemed out of place or stolen, she felt a distinct unease that she couldn’t shake as if she’d been thrown into a strange world where nothing made sense. The pounding in her head made it hard to think straight.

“Nothing’s been taken,” she said as she walked down the steps toward the officer. He had been talking on his radio from the front seat of his patrol car, but he stopped and looked up to her when she spoke.

He said something into the radio and then stepped up from the front seat to see her eye-to-eye. “Do you have somewhere else you can stay?”

“No, I’m not from here. My family lives in Virginia.”

“The mine bring you to Musk?”


“Do you have any coworkers you can stay with? Someone you trust.”

She thought only of Carl, the one person at the mine who had befriended her in a genuine way, but he was her boss, and he had a family that included six kids. She couldn’t ask him to take her in. She felt uncomfortable just thinking about asking.

“Not really. Why?”

“Ma’am, I don’t know what happened. I don’t know if this was just a prank to scare you or not. There’s no sign of entry into your house, but someone made an effort to approach your house and spray some black substance on your doorbell. I can’t even scrape it off with my key. You’re probably going to have to replace the face or maybe the entire doorbell. That’s a serious prank. The person in the video didn’t look like some kid out to scare people, but it’s hard to tell. I can’t guarantee he won’t come back. It’d probably be best if you spent the night or the next several nights at a hotel to be safe.”

“The nearest hotel is 45 minutes away from here.”

“It’s up to you. I’ll file a report and you can always call us if anything happens.”

“Has anything like this happened around here before?”

“Not that I’m aware of, but almost no one around here has one of these doorbells.”

Millie looked toward her door at the blackened face of the doorbell. She wondered if someone was just being outspoken against her use of technology. Musk was odd like that, like some Luddite enclave. It looked like a throwback to the western towns from the old movies her grandfather used to watch.

“I think I will stay. It doesn’t appear the person went into my house. Maybe it was just a prank as you say.”

“Okay. If anything else happens, give us a call. We can get here in about 20 minutes from the police station.”

The officer dropped into the front seat and shut the door to his cruiser. He nodded to her before he backed into the nook in the driveway and then ambled his way across the gravel path to the road. Once the officer pulled back onto the highway, Millie went back into her house.

The hairs on the back of her neck stood up. She checked the lock on her door twice before she walked back to the bathroom. She needed an Advil to ward off the headache that threatened to derail her evening. She also needed something to take the edge off, and Advil would do the trick.

When she pulled open the mirrored door to the medicine cabinet to get the bottle of Advil from the shelf, she saw the writing instantly. She stepped back and stifled a scream. Tears flooded her eyes as she backed away from the sink. She stumbled over the hamper against the wall of her bathroom and almost lost her balance. The words looked like they had been written with one of her lipstick tubes, but they were very distinct and clear: I’m watching you.

Get Back on the Horse

I’ve been a runner almost my entire adult life. I started running midway through my junior year in college. Ironically (because I’d been skinny my entire life), my impetus for ever strapping on running shoes was to lose weight. I’d packed on a bunch of pounds after two and a half years of sedentary studying and working with no workouts to speak of. With the dreaded metabolic slowdown upon me, I needed something to stay in shape, so running it was.

I never intended for it to become an obsession, but I’m sure nobody starts something with that in mind. Nevertheless, I found the runner’s high addictive and have ever since. I started racing and having some moderate success, at least in my age group, and that made it more addictive. Over the years there have been some highs and lows, but generally, mostly highs. I’ve flopped in races and suffered through the occasional injury, but luckily, nothing has stopped me from running yet.

The times I’ve been injured have been the toughest. There’s nothing worse than telling a runner he can’t run. I’ve had some nagging injuries that have put me on ice both figuratively and literally over the years, but I’ve only had three injuries in over 25 years that have kept me down for very long. Each time, I rebounded and got back to where I was before the injury.

As I’ve gotten older, the rebounds take longer and are less successful. It seems the toll of injuries past leaves a mark on me and that’s slowed me down. I used to do training runs at about a 6:20 clip. Now, I’m doing them at a 6:45 clip on a good day, but more likely, I’m slipping into the 6:50 range. For years, I fought this decline, but somewhere along the way, I decided it’s better to go slower and keep running than it is to hurt myself and not run again. It’s a hard thing for an aging runner to accept, but eventually, we all have to come to terms with it.

That’s not to say it’s easy to accept. My mind still thinks I can run like I used to, but my body says otherwise. This past weekend, I had my first marathon of 2020, and to say I flopped would be an understatement. My time was terrible. I simply ran out of gas in the last 10K. Short of the very first road marathon I ran way back in 2001, this was the worst marathon time I’ve had (I’m not including adventure or trail marathons, which have unusual challenges and often take longer than road marathons).

The key is to keep moving forward and not stop no matter how disappointed I am in the results. Later this week, I’ll get back out there and start training for my next marathon in March. It’s more of a trail marathon than a road marathon, so the time may not be much better, but I hope that I’ll get through it with a better result in terms of how I handle the last 10K. Failure is painful, and in this case, it’s physically painful, but I will get back on that horse again and again until I can’t anymore.