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Periodically I post pieces written for SPT’s The Writers’ Room Series that ended up on the cutting room floor. They are pieces that I like, but, for sundry reasons, didn’t end up in the show for which they were written.

There is No One

I’m a gardener. And that has taught me…there is no “one.” Nothing can survive on its own. That’s one of the reasons that so many people freaked out when the bees started disappearing. So much relied on that simple part of the ecosystem that losing it could be devastating.

So nothing is, as the poet John Donne wrote, an island entire of itself. Even us. We Americans like to believe in the infallible greatness of the individual. But even the hermit, as sealed off from society as he wants to be, relies on others. Even if it’s the axe he uses to chop down trees to make his hovel. Someone made that axe, probably several people. And he needs the plants to give him food. He even needs the insects to dispose of his waste.

So, if we ever feel like we are the only reason for our individual greatness, or —more like it these days— that we are alone in a sea of humanity, remember that each of us relies on the other bits of our world, and those bits rely on us.

So there it is. There is no “One”…unless that “One” is everything.

I watched Felix Baumbartner’s record breaking skydive. It really was something to behold. For many reasons. But one of those reasons gave me more pause.

My wife and I live in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. We often go to Iowa City, which is about 25 miles away. It takes a little less than thirty minutes.

Yet, if I were to drive my car strait up for 25 miles I would nearly exit the stratosphere. I would run out of oxygen before three miles. Three miles. I could walk that far in an hour. So, if I took a leisurely walk straight up, I would be dead in an hour, if I didn’t freeze before then.

For some reason that just boggles my mind. I simply can’t reconcile horizontal distance with vertical distance.

If Cedar Rapids were the surface, satellites would only be in Chicago.

There is something lusciously invigorating about how insignificant that makes me feel. It renders my understanding of distance into the same category as time: nearly unfathomable.

I was stunned today at my local grocery store, a Hy-Vee grocery.

My son asked for alphabet soup the other afternoon. He has never asked for alphabet soup before, nor have we ever discussed it with him. I assumed it was something he came home with from his daycare, which is fine by me. I thought it was a great idea. I found a can in the Campbell’s wall at our SuperTarget.

He loved it. I loved it. The wife loved it. It was a blast.

So I decided to pick up a couple of cans on my next trip to Hy-Vee. On their vast wall of soup, the Campbell’s, the Progresso, even the Hy-Vee brand, not a single can of alphabet soup. Not even a space for alphabet soup. Let me type that again.

Not even a space for alphabet soup.

Not even a space for alphabet soup. One of America’s childhood food-staples. And not even a space.

I asked a stock clerk about it. She said that they don’t carry alphabet soup any more. That space was taken over by —I shit you not— Campbell’s Goldfish® Pasta Soup. Goldfish: as in the cheddar cheese-flavored cracker. Made into a soup. Supplanting alphabet soup.

I looked closer at the Campbell’s child section of the wall. Certainly no alphabet soup, but a lot of Disney/Pixar Toy Story™ Soup, and Disney/Pixar Cars™ Soup, and Phineas and Ferb™ Soup, and Disney® Princess Soup, and —God help me— Scooby Doo™ Soup.

I was embarrassingly indignant. I felt my face turn red. I mean I felt the blood flush up from my Adam’s apple. I might have even shaken with rage. It was, on the surface, in the middle, and at the bottom, a total over-reaction. Mostly.

But that wall to me was snapshot of America. And I was ashamed to be standing there.

I was out raking today. Every time, and I mean every time I go raking, I have one of my strongest sense memories. It’s an odd one, too. And I really can’t explain why it’s so strong, because there is really no emotion connected to it.

I have several sense memories, usually a couple a week that are strongly linked to emotions or important moments. There is a perfume that always makes me think of my ex-mother-in-law. The smell of bacon, smoke and the slight undercurrent of urine give me a strong memory of my paternal grandfather. It’s odd how often strange mix hits me. Often in restaurant restrooms. Weird.

Songs, places, scents, temperatures: there is a specific kind of day —September, October— just in the mid sixties, sunny, crisp breeze, a few leaves in the air, that make me want to put on some football pads and slip in my mind-flavored mouth guard. It makes my blood quicken and my mind slow down. Nostalgia on steroids.

But the raking… Whenever I rake I think of Bernard Cornwell’s Stonehenge. And without emotion. Just a strong sense of place and sound.

About five years ago, when we were living in our old house, I raked at least twice a week one autumn. And every time I listened to Stonehenge on my iPod. There was nothing special about the raking. I don’t think anything especially memorable about the book. I guess it’s just one of those odd things that made some sort of intrinsic and important connection whose cause might go unsolved forever.

Good heavens! If you have not yet seen the BBC’s new Sherlock with Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman…great, googly-boogly, it is good.

My wife and I watched the first year of the series and we are hooked. It’s so freaking good.

I was, at best, a partial fan of the original tales. I read a couple of the books, saw a couple of the movies. But the new series is totally gonzo good.

I am, as I’m writing, watching their version of “Hound of the Baskervilles.” The modern turn, as with all of them, is just genius. Everything about this show is exceptional in a very BBC way, from the camera angles to composition to the particularly compelling CGI text overlays of Sherlock’s deductions and email/text communications.  Quite compelling imagery over intriguing and humorous dialogue.

And the best part: live streaming on Netflix.

Wow! Just got the part about the lab experiments. Got to go!

What a rollercoaster of a weekend. Got a call on Friday around three o’clock that Banana Grandma was in ICU with congestive heart failure and that I should head to Des Moines as soon as I could, that she had been given hours. Then I got a call two-hours later saying that she had made a miracle recovery and was out of ICU.

Since I had a show closing that weekend, I decided to stay home to see the final show and work strike on Sunday.

My wife was taking the kids to Des Moines anyway. For weeks they had been planning on seeing the grandmothers and going to an orchard. My wife likes to get out of town on show weekends anyway, so it worked out well. She decided to stop by and see Banana Grandma, too.

My father called me during the show Saturday night to tell me that things seemed dire again, so I called my wife. They had moved my grandmother to a hospice. My wife suggested that if I wanted to speak to my grandmother I should probably be there.

I couldn’t sleep well that night. I had thought a couple times of just dressing and driving, and I hate driving at night…and it was raining.

When I got there Sunday morning I thought she was dead. She was sitting in a chair with an oxygen mask askew. I couldn’t see her breathing. She was alone.

I went over and kissed her. She looked up at me and smiled. It was one of those catch twenty-two relief/sorrow moments. Her breathing was so shallow. We sat and talked for a few moments before she fell back asleep.

I sat with her for a couple of hours until my parents came. They didn’t know I was coming. They left around three.

I hung out with her until seven that night. I was positive that she would go at any moment. We had finally moved her to bed before my parents left. She had slept almost the whole time.

She woke up once and said, “I hope I done the right thing?”

I said, “Yup. You’ve done the right things.”

She reached out her hand and I took it. She fell asleep again.

She awoke one more time and said, “Is today Sunday?”

I said, “Yes.”

She fell asleep again.

She began talking. Most of it I couldn’t understand. Her jaw was working almost continually.

She raised her other hand in her “praise-Jesus” a couple of times, still asleep. Finally, still asleep, she said, “I just don’t want to get all bloody.”

That one creeped me out a bit. It was clear as could be.

At seven o’clock I kissed her and left to go home.

My car wouldn’t start.

So, we’re one week from closing TCR’s production of David Mamet’s November. If you know Mamet, you know what kind of toll this production is on the cast and crew, not just physically, but also mentally and profanally. I just made that word up, but not the sentiment.

A lot of cursing. A lot of profane slurs. Which equals the kind of audience squirms and groans that I truly enjoy. I love it when the audience gets uncomfortable. It means that it forces them to think about ideas and situations that they might not normally entertain.

My favorite overheard audience comment was this: “Well, the writer is clearly a degenerate, but it’s really funny!”

Much of it is about the cursing. Sure there are other issues, like cultural and gender slurs, but I think the cursing is really the stuff that offends.

I don’t necessarily understand why profanity has such power. But it certainly does. We can show crime scenes and simulated murders and simulated sex on prime-time television, but we have to cut down on the swearing. I don’t get it.

For me, there is nothing better than a well-placed cursed. But it’s like everything, too much and it loses it’s impact.

The thing I don’t understand is the taboo for the word itself. I don’t know if it comes from some deep-seeded pagan fear of magic or what. Because it’s not the word that has the power, it’s the intent.

I can say the word “bumpkin” with the same ferocity and anger and intent that I might use the word “fuck.” But I guarantee that “fuck” will get more of a rise and response. I honestly think it’s just habit now. Which is a little sad, because it really means that we aren’t listening to intent, to context, more than the simple superficial understanding of the words themselves.

Oh, bother.

Not a long post today, but one that is dear to me.

One of the many things I love about parenting is overhearing monologues or conversations with my children.

Today there were two that made me smile. The first was hearing my son play through a conversation between his feet. Yes, his feet were talking to each other. The left foot, named Smallfoot, was speaking to his right foot, Bigfoot, about sad he was that he was smaller. It was hilarious, mostly because he was doing appropriate voices for each. Bigfoot was also very sympathetic to Smallfoot’s plight, which was quite sweet.

The second conversation came between my oldest son and my wife while changing his diaper.

It begins with my son: “Tickle me! Tickle me!”

“Ticka ticka ticka!”

“Tickle my penis!”


“Yeth, tickle my penis! Tickle my penis!”

“Sorry, buddy. Mommies don’t tickle penises. That’s something you’ll need to do on your own.”

Just not the kind of thing you hear everyday, and I love it.

I love trunks.

Now, now, people. No need to go there. I am, of course, speaking of travelling trunks: steamers, packers, safaris, Jenny Linds, dome-tops, saratogas, and wardrobes, and even chests.

There is this little tan dome top with leather straps outside an antique shop that I pass by nearly every day. It’s all I can do not to stop and look at it. But I shouldn’t. I’d love to. But I can’t. Because if I did, it would be all over.

I don’t collect anything. Well, I collect names, but nothing that hangs around the house. If I purchased one trunk, it would be over. I would be an instant addict.

I can only guess as to the pull trunks have over me. I’m pretty sure it all revolves around my constant wanderlust. I love travelling and so rarely get the chance to do it. Trunks represent travel, and not just world travel. It also represents a sort of time travel for me as well. The old ones come to me imbued with mystery and cruises on black-hulled steamers and captains with Edwardian facial hair. They offer me hope of extended excursions to exotic locales. Hell, Omaha would be exotic for me right now.

I haven’t travelled just to travel for some time now, and it really is starting to get to me. Perhaps that’s why this little trunk, this little tan dome-top with dark leather straps is such a siren for me. It calls me to pack her with underpants, swimwear and paperbacks. To find ourselves somewhere not here, somewhere unspecific, somewhere to just be.

A scene or state of wild uproar and confusion.

Originally, the word “bedlam” was simply the colloquial name for the Hospital of Saint Mary of Bethlehem in London—perhaps the world’s most famous lunatic asylum.

Thus is my home.

I feel like I am an attendant in a lunatic asylum. A Victorian era asylum. There is something creepier about a Victorian asylum.

If you want to know what that is like, have two children. Sorry singles, one simply does not cut it. I would have thought, when I only had one child, that I new what bedlam was, but I didn’t. And I’m sure that if I had three, I would scoff at those, like myself, with a mere two inmates.

If I were a simple-minded fellow I might even say that that both inmates need to be boys. This comes from the many friends who have girls. They are, generally, very different.

Now, before I had kids, I would have thought that someone who said boys are intrinsically different from girls was a traditional, small-minded, buffooning troglodyte.  But I have to tell you, many of the stereotypically boy things that my kids do are beyond me and anything I have taught to/modeled for/dreamed of. We do not have guns. I don’t pretend to have a gun. We don’t watch family movies with guns. And yet my son began shooting things with his finger well before he began seriously interacting with other children. Also, if it moves, he wants to beat/kick/throw it.

We have friends who have a girl the same age as my son. We went over to their house for dinner and were terrified from the moment we entered. They had breakables —serious, crystal and porcelain breakables— at knee level. Well, he went right for them. He wanted to climb up their built-ins and touch everything he could. Our friends were a little stunned. Their daughter never thought to do anything like that. She’s a pleasant young lady.

I’m assuming that some of you may be taking umbrage with my assessment of toddler gender differences. I do have a friend who has a daughter that exhibits the same crazy death-wish tendencies as my sons do. She has a second daughter who does not. Her assessment is the same as mine. “My daughter acts like a boy.”

But back to crazy. I have one son, the youngest, who is so preternaturally happy that he makes me nervous. How can someone be that happy? Don’t get me wrong, I love that he’s happy. I just can’t figure out what he has to be happy about. He’s living with a toddler-psychopath.

That’s my eldest son. I can’t figure him out. He’s my Randle McMurphy. Which I guess makes me Nurse Ratched. Which is not good.

He loses his mind over the craziest things. The cheese slid one-half inch down his slice of pizza today and it was the end of the world. I honestly don’t understand that. And I can’t reason with him. He’s only three. He hasn’t acquired that facility yet. But, God help me, I try. That’s my first impulse, to reason with him. And it does nothing.

Then there is the sudden screaming. The screeching at his brother for looking the wrong way or saying the wrong thing. The throwing and stomping and hitting and jumping. The sudden joy and even more sudden anger or frustration.

It leaves me in a cold sweat of bewilderment.

Maybe I’m the inmate.

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