Among the Rites of Passage

The first time I ever saw a condom dispensing machine, I was eighteen years old. It was in the bathroom of the Villa, in Niceville, Florida, a now defunct bar. The drinking age in Florida in those days was eighteen.

It had never occurred to me in my life to buy a condom. At that age, I’d scarcely been a situation that called for them. Coming face to face with a condom dispenser, I considered doing so. Upon reflection, it seemed to me that buying condoms in the filthy men’s room of the town dive probably said something about the quality of the experience I would be likely to have using said condom.

But I bought one anyway. Rites of passage, you know.

I placed it in my wallet and returned to the group of friends I had come in there with. The condom didn’t get used that night, nor, so far as I can remember, did it ever. I wasn’t exactly unpopular with girls at that age, nor was I particularly popular. In the year or so that followed this, I probably dated something like twenty-five different young women. None of those relationships ever got to the condom using stage. They just — didn’t.

I made a group of seven male friends starting in 7th and 8th grade that have stayed my closest friends now for something like 40 years. Three of them were with me the night I bought my first condom, and the same three (plus one) were with me at the Villa four years later when I actually picked up someone up at that bar.

I had graduated and was working back in the old hometown; the rest were back visiting family during Christmas vacation. We decided one Friday night to meet out at the Villa; one of the friends had the (good) idea to call some women we had known from school to meet us out there.

One of those women was a very good friend of my old high school girlfriend. She was a very intelligent young woman, but not someone I had every known all that well. As we sat and drank, and talked, and laughed, I noticed how funny and likable she was; when we were dancing, it really struck me just how much fun she was to be with.

At some point, (we were there a long time, and I wasn’t wearing a watch) we were no longer talking to anyone but each other. We also both had quite a bit to drink. We went out to my car, and —

— well, I couldn’t have used the condom then, either, if I’d still had it. But other things happened, things that men rarely complain about when they happen.

Eventually, she decided she needed to get back home. The bar (which stayed open until very very late) was still going strong when she got into her car and pulled out, me right behind her. When she turned, she turned the opposite way from what I was expecting, because (it turned out) she was going the back way to her parents’ house, a way I wasn’t familiar with. But I was puzzled by it just long enough to pull out without looking.

WHAM.

I had pulled right out into a car as it drove by. It smashed into the side of my car, knocking it off the road and into a telephone pole.

I got out of the car (I was either okay or too drunk to notice I was hurt) and immediately started apologizing to the woman in the car. Neither she nor her vehicle seemed damaged in any way. Someone in the parking lot of the bar had headed back in and called the police. An officer showed up about three minutes later.

I admitted it was all my fault; the officer got her information, then mine, then she left, then he was about to administer a breathalyzer to me when five more police cars suddenly came zipping down the street, flashers flashing, pulling into the Villa. The officer who had been dealing with me said, “Wait here,” then dashed across the street.

I stood there for what seemed like hours next to my pitiful, smashed up car (which still ran, surprisingly) while the police attempted to break up a giant bar fight that had broken out.  Ten people (by my count) got arrested and herded into cars. Then, after a long while, the original officer came back, and said, “I can’t believe you’re still here.”

“You told me to wait.”

“Well, it’s been too long for a breathalyzer.” He handed me a citation for pulling out into traffic, and left. I drove my beat-up car the four blocks home.

The next afternoon, my roommate (who had been one of the friends with me the night before, but who’d left early) asked how things had gone. I told him about my car wreck, and the riot that had broken out at the bar, but he seemed impatient and uninterested. “I mean with you and HER.”

“Oh, that. She is fun.”

“Are you going to see her again? Call her?”

I hadn’t even considered that. He continued on:

“Her friends were really excited you two seemed to be hitting it off. She’s never apparently had a boyfriend, or so much as a date.”

“What?”

“That’s what they said. I told Sandra I’d let her know your side of the story. I just had lunch with her. She says she’s never seen Margaret so happy.”

Uh, oh. Um. Fuck.

I called her, telling her I needed to talk to her about something. I drove over to her parents’ house (using the only route I knew) and she met me at the door. We walked around back to a kind of covered garden area.

“You have a girlfriend, don’t you?”

“Yes,” I said.

“Where was she last night?”

“She goes to school in Mobile.”

“So you just thought you’d have a little fun.”

“I didn’t mean to hurt you. Look, I wouldn’t even have come here, except I felt like I owed you…”

“Owed me what?”

“An explanation.”

“I don’t need your pity.”

“No, it’s just that I — I really like you.”

“Yeah, well. Fuck off.”

She wasn’t crying. She was angry. I got back in my smashed up car, pulled out, and drove home.

“So what happened?” my roommate asked as I walked back in.

“Nothing. I told her about Annette.”

“You just made a big mistake, boy. I’ve never seen you as happy with Annette as you were last night with Margaret.”

Mistakes: the true rites of passage.

Rainbow Colors: Violet

An empty room contains an infinity of possibilities.

 

Love is a mystery, and we each get one lifetime to figure it out.

 

Gentle pressures that completely surround us win out in the end.

 

New realities, experienced firsthand, teach more than words ever could.

 

Peace is comprised of all the things worth not doing.

 

“Criticizing other people’s appearance” is one of our nation’s more popular spectator sports, ranking somewhere near “minimizing other people’s problems”.

 

Real family is there when the storm appears and still there when the storm departs.

 

Love doesn’t need the words to know the music.

 

We are meant for happiness and wonder, and the real wonder is why we don’t find more happiness.

 

Rainbow Colors: Indigo

There was a fish pond in front of the Episcopalian Church down on the beach where we were to be married. We were headed there, under a bright September sun, for pre-marital counseling. Being a few minutes early, we stopped to look at the beautiful fish. It was a very bright day, the white sands reflecting the sun from every direction.

Father Ed’s study looked out on the water; he greeted us and motioned us to chairs. I’d always liked Father Ed. He was very direct. He impressed upon us the long-term nature of marriage. He asked a lot of questions; and since both of us liked to talk, he got answers.

At one point, I stood up and walked over to his window. There were a few palm trees and some white rocks.

The day is white and indigo
The years are long and can’t be known;
For all we have’s the pond we swim
As distant (maybe) sails are somewhere blown


It was September, again, six years later, and raining hard. I sat out on the carport, watching the water deluge down the driveway and into the street. I saw her car round the corner on to the street and pull into the empty space in the two car carport. I walked around to get our three year old son out of the safety seat in the back of the car. She didn’t get out of the car, or roll down her window, she just spoke to me without turning her head:

I’ll be in Europe for three weeks. I’ll try to call at night when I can. I left a number at the office I can be reached at if there’s an emergency.

He was asleep in my arms. I closed the car door, and she pulled back out into the rain.

The world is dark and indigo
But for you than me;
I hold you sleeping in my arms
And wish that I could spare you from
A pain you never caused


It was a Saturday afternoon in April of this year that my now-wife told me a young couple was coming over for premarital counseling. I was spending the day writing, so I told her I would be in the back room. It was a bright beautiful day, and it reminded me of the day I had gotten premarital counseling before my first marriage, all those years ago.

The young couple came: they were both nervous and excited. I slipped back to finish my writing, hearing them leave several hours later. After that, my wife left to go to see her mother, and I, having noticed that bright colors had appeared out in the yard, walked out back to take in the view.

I stand there, realizing: for someone like me, if I could not actually see colors like these, I could not possibly imagine them. Even for those of us who cultivate our imaginations (and many of you do so to a far greater degree than I do) life is largely a series of unimaginable happenings, things far beyond the little ponds we think we’re trapped in. I never could have imagined getting married, or having a child, or getting divorced, or getting remarried, or the life I live now.

I hope I’ve learned some humility through all of this: for what I thought I knew, I didn’t, and what I thought was important, largely wasn’t. So the same might be true now. I can only do the best I can to add whatever colors I am here to add.

Enchanted Memories

Starting with Volume 4 of the Harry Potter series (“Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire”), my son and I followed the same pattern as each new Harry Potter book was published; he was ages 5, 8, 10, and 12, respectively:

  • I would buy the book on a weekend he was at his mother’s. I would plop down and read it, essentially in one sitting.
  • He would come back home the next day, and we would begin reading the books together, aloud, at bed time, one chapter a night until finished. That meant 37, 38, 30, and 37 nights of reading – including the epilogue of the last book – or 142 nights of reading together on just this series, up until he was almost a teenager. (We had also read the other three books aloud, just not immediately upon publication.)
  • Since I was reading these out loud, I felt obliged to do voices. I had a voice for every character, and my son was quick to point out if I used the wrong voice or confused the characters.

When you read to a child, you experience literature like a child does; openly, intently, and full of wonder. Storytelling is every good thing about being a parent: it’s closeness, it’s imagination, it’s safely exploring the dark and scary things that children’s minds will find anyway. It’s bravery, and daring, and fancy, and humor, and friendship; it’s also contrasts of those things with cowardice, and fear, and drudgery, and cruelty, and malice. It’s the enjoyment of artwork, the answering of questions, and the asking of even more questions.

(It’s worth noting that I was editing out things I thought were too scary when he was five years old, but by the last two books, he was getting pretty much the complete stories. This is also a way in which reading is like other aspects of parenting: you have decide what you think is appropriate for your child at what age, and act accordingly.)

It was said at the time that the Harry Potter series in some ways reinvented the practice of parents reading chapter books to their children; certainly for us, before that, there were mostly picture books and very short chapter books. We had always read at bedtime, but what these books did for us was to send us back generations, in a way; to a time before computers, before television, even before radio; when storytelling was the only entertainment there was, and parents did a large amount of their teaching that way.

By the time the last volume was published (10 years ago), I had thought my son would want to maybe just read the book himself, being twelve years old and all, but he still wanted me to read the book to him — just the way we always had. So we did.

My child has since grown up and left home, and it became easy to think of parenting as an “either/or” type of activity: that we’re either “good” parents or “bad” ones. Because my child grew to be unhappy, I questioned every decision I had ever made as a parent. But life can be like that. Dark days can come, from without or within.

If we learned anything from our reading of those books together, it’s that it is “our choices that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities.” We choose to love, we choose to stay loyal, we choose to keep hope. We choose to do the best we can, to keep fighting the good fight.

And to keep reading great books. For I have grandchildren now…

Guys Who Hoop

When you play basketball outdoors, it is a totally different experience than playing in a gym. I spent the first half of my life playing outdoors almost every day: in bright sun, or freezing cold, or even rain. Many guys I knew, whose games were “all-world” outdoors, couldn’t transfer that brilliance to the insides of gyms. Every new test separates people into levels, and some of us don’t make it.

I wasn’t anything special, even among young guys who you might see hooping every day or every weekend. Nevertheless, it wasn’t unusual to see me out here, early in the morning by myself, practicing, running, working on shots.

I did it because I loved doing it; I didn’t need any other reason. I dreamed of playing in the NBA, not because I wanted to be a “star”, but because I wanted to be that good. There was no coach barking at me, no trainer giving me fitness tips: there was just me, or me and my boys, out running around for as long as we could hold the court, or sitting to the side, bouncing balls, waiting for our turn.

Once, during a game, I had my legs cut out from under me and I fell on my head on the asphalt; my teammates weren’t too happy with the guy who did it. He was a newcomer to the court, and he disrespected the culture; it didn’t go well for him. The game is bigger than the players, and the culture of the game, in many ways, is the game.

Which is how life works, of course.


At whatever human beings do, there are degrees of achievement, where some people are so far beyond others as to be on a different level. Within that level, there are other levels; the all-stars, the champions. (4)

At whatever human beings do, there are those working to get better at it: the beginners, the learners, the perfectionists, the dreamers. (3)

At whatever human beings do, there are those who do it simply because they love doing it. (2)

At whatever human beings do, there is a culture that comes with it, and that has to be understood and respected. (1)

There is (1) the game itself, then (2) the love of the game, then (3) the striving to perfect one’s own game, and finally (4) one’s placement into levels within the game. This happens over and over in life, as many types of human interaction work in a very similar way.


The world of blogging is both a modern and a timeless thing: modern in its technological immediacy, timeless in being a mode for almost every form of human communication. Passions to live by and information to make decisions with: these are the products of the blogging world.

I came to love the world of blogging primarily through a number of writers whose work entertained me, or made me think, or in some other way spoke to me.

I’ve written a ridiculous amount these last three years (almost 7,000 separate posts, mostly of poetry) attempting not only to express myself, but to get better at it.

In terms of levels, I realize I am an obscure and middling sort of blogger; so far, my largest strength appears to be my unwillingness to give up on writing. I’ve never been “discovered” or “freshly pressed”, I’ve won no awards, been invited to no conferences or banquets, and have developed a knack, in my essays, of making people angry — a thing I am most decidedly trying not to do. So why do I bother?

I’m not entirely sure, but, I think part of it is that a large number of us who blog, men and women, are just “guys who hoop” — we’re out here, playing on the local court, working on our game, and loving and respecting the game. We’re not NBA, and we’re certainly not all-stars — though some reading this may be — but we’re part of the game, a vital part.

So, all of my respect to you today: you, who are out there, trying to say something with your blog; trying to find new ways to express yourself to the world, or maybe change it. To you at the highest levels: I will continue to read and be inspired by many of you. To you who aren’t at the highest levels, I will continue to read and be inspired by many of you, as well.

Remember: if there is nothing in life that we do just because we love doing it, there is little in life worth doing.

(“Guys Who Hoop” – July 2nd, 2017)

Hurt Boyfriends

I’m sharing this quote only because I thought it was rather profound. It certainly gives guys a lot to think about.

Driving home from work Friday, I was listening to “The Right Time” with Bomani Jones, a (largely) sports-themed radio show on ESPN radio. A male caller to the show had made the point that a certain sports figure – it doesn’t matter really who – was acting “like a hurt girlfriend” when the host of the show, after thanking him for the call, said this:

“… we like to use analogies like ‘he’s acting like a hurt girlfriend’… I’m not going to, like, go over the top about that, but always remember this: you tell jokes about the things that hurt girlfriends do. Hurt boyfriends kill people.

Like, seriously… when you stop and think about that, ask women how afraid they are on a consistent basis about what’ll happen if some dude gets his feelings hurt.

We don’t ha-ha-ha about that on the radio.”