At Sea

We were on the ocean liner to Greece. I looked up from my book, Admiral Lord Nelson’s How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days, and across the deck saw an astonishing young lady playing at bocce. “My god,” I said to Hayes Quigley, my constant companion on these jaunts, “tell me, old boy—is that the most exquisite creature you’ve ever seen?”

Hayes squinted. Instead of following the discreet motions of my head in the direction of the astonisher, he misinterpreted my ballistics badly and ended up sighting a largish tentacle creeping over the bow. A pallid thing, purple and translucent, feeling its way over the edge. Hayes said later that this viscous limb was on the order of something you might find in a soup served at one of these less reputable eateries down Hover Street when, after a brisk several in the club, you find an ache in the pit of the belly, realize you feel rather like the whale sans Jonah, and begin to lust after foreign gods and exotic fare, curries, biryanis, and the rest. The appendage did not wander lonely for long but was joined by a host of fellows. Hayes was not impressed.

“I have to say, young trash,” he said to me, lips a-curl, “your tastes have always run a bit strange from my vantage, and I can’t say that I agree much in this instance. Most men feel a strong inclination to the pink glow of health, where you appear drawn towards the lightless regions of the deep. It’s not the siren song of a mermaid catches your ear, but the loathsome clicking of a mollusk’s beak. Well, she’s all yours, old fish.”

I turned to him. I wondered at him, jaw declined more than a little chestward. I knew how Moses felt, coming down the mountain, witness of the divine, face-shining, only to meet old Jethro or Boaz or Tubal-cain or whichever, and hear that it’s all well and good to feel a bit of awe after gazing on the numinous, but it’s not exactly cricket to go clumping around in a distracted state with a face like a dancehall marquee in Piccadilly. But I could not dally at these meditations for long. A quick movement drew the eye and Hayes and I both saw the tentacle from earlier in full career, darting towards none other than the bocce-playing incarnation of the divine light. I mean that virus of a girl, cause of my fever, naturally.

Hayes clutched at my arm, but missed. The tentacle clutched at the girl and got her, I’m sorry to say. It was the work of a moment and she was whisked quite away, hid beneath the veil of the shadowy deep, never again to feel the caressing light of a benevolent sun and all that.

Hayes and I looked at each other, as we well might after such a display. Slowly, my knit brow disentangled itself, as I moved from shock to amusement.

“Oh,” I said. “You thought I . . .”

A gasping chuckle trickled forth from Hayes. “Oh, my lord,” he said. “Too funny.” We shook our heads and both turned back to our reading.

At Sea

I Came Here to Tell You This


Thanks for the very kind introduction, Lynn. I hope I can live up to it. Something tells me I will.

I woke up this morning in a cave. That’s not a joke. I woke up this morning in a cave with stalactites and stalagmites all around me. And don’t bother trying to give me some handy mnemonic device to help me remember which is on the ground and which is up there hanging from the ceiling. I’m hopeless. I’ll never remember it. Anyway, THE CAVE.

Some scary spiders. A few bats. Swimming in one of the cave pools a few of those fish that’ve adapted away from eyes, so now they just have two light sensitive spots on the front of their heads. I’m dimly aware of all of this. I pull out my phone—trust me, I’m never without it; I see you nodding, you guys know what I mean—and I click the home button—I see a number of you are familiar with the home button—and I look around. Lying next to me on the floor is a bear. And no, it’s not my wife before she’s had her coffee—I can tell by your laughter that some of you guys know what I’m talking about. But seriously, I think my wife and I are actually addicted to coffee. I wish we could just get an IV drip of the stuff—looking around I see that a number of you actually have IV coffee drips. Gives a new meaning to “drip” coffee. Due to the luke-warm response to that joke I can see that a number of have already heard it, because normally it kills.

So it turns out that I’ve just regained consciousness in a cave, with a bear, and I’m freaking out a little bit. You know what I mean, ladies? And here I just want to talk to the ladies:

A lot of times men want to put up a big front about being able to handle any situation, but the fact is we freak out too. Not as much as women, not as often. We don’t put on Maroon 5 and have a good cry on the way to spin class every morning, the way my wife does. But we do freak out. For me the trigger is being trapped in a remote location with an enormous wild animal right next to me, no memory of how I got there. So, yeah, I’m a little bit concerned, I guess you could say.

Now I’m going to speak to just the men:

Before, when I was just speaking to the ladies, I assume you couldn’t hear me, so I’ll give you a quick summary: ladies be freaking out, but dudes, we be freaking out too sometimes. Of course, we dudes don’t be freaking out sometimes. I know that, you know that, the pope in Rome knows that. I told them that to build a sense of security for them. Now I’m going to speak to the ladies again, and give them a line of crap about what I was telling you guys over here.

Now I’m going to speak just to the ladies:

I was letting the dudes know what I told you over here, but then I tried to also build them up a little bit, stroke their egos, and say that men don’t freak out, that freaking out is the exclusive purview of women. Was it the right thing to do? The jury’s out on that. It’s hard to say. And I don’t know if I can make the call. I woke up this morning in a cave, with weird fish and a bear, so I’m a little out of sorts. I’m sure you’ve all been there. And I’m feeling like I could just kick back with a couple cosmos and watch a House Hunter’s Marathon.

Now the dudes:

I’m pretending to be cool and vulnerable with them, but what I really want is a cold brew and the game. But I’m not gonna tell them that.

Now the senoritas:

Just more male posturing. Men really are kind of weak and, contrary to gender norms, it’s women who can be very strong, isn’t it?


I can lift two cars over my head at the same time. But they have to be Kias. Only kidding. Ford tough.

Okay, now I’d like to talk to everyone at the same time:

I woke up this morning, in a cave, next to a bear, a little concerned. And the bear is starting to wake up. It’s starting to shift a little, and I can see that the bear is going to wake up. And I see that in one of its paws . . . the bear is holding a gun. And I’m still a little skeeved out by those weird eyeless fish, not to mention the scary spiders. And I’m wracking my brain trying to remember about the stalactites and the stalagmites . . . yada, yada, yada. Things couldn’t get much worse.

But I remembered that I had this today. That we were going to be meeting up here. And I pictured you people in my mind’s eye. And I held that thought, because that’s what gets me going. That’s what helps me face the day and all its troubles. Today, everyone out there, everyone in this beautiful convention center, everyone’s here because they feel like something’s missing. Maybe you used to have that thing that got you going, and you lost it. Maybe you never found it. But I knew that I needed to bring something back with me, to show you what’s possible. Whatever you’re facing, it’s possible to take a deep breath, look at your problem, grab it by the ears, and just twist its head right off.

I wanted to bring back the head of that bear for you. And here it is. I want all of you now, form a single-file line, to come up and stare this bear’s head in its glassy, sightless eyes, and tell it that it won’t beat you. Tell it that change is possible. And then, and you don’t have to do this if you don’t want to, you can dip your finger in some of the pooling blood—it’s still warm; I mean this is a very fresh kill—and just paint a bit under each eye. And then you’ll go through the rest of your day with bear blood  on your face. Nothing can stop you. You can have it all. If anyone asks what it is, you can tell them, “It’s bear blood, and I am a force of nature. So you better look out, because a new age is coming. And it’s the age of me living my truest life.”

Mostly people end up saying that to the manager at the Golden Corral, or wherever you people eat after this, but it’s just the first step in walking a new path. And you’re going to get exactly where you’re going.

Tomorrow, when you wake up next to whatever your “bear” is, just remember—pull sharp and twist as hard as you can, because you do not get a second chance.

I Came Here to Tell You This



“I’m going to shoot you, Montgarde,” I said. “I’m going to shoot you directly in the appendix.”

I looked around at my supporters, my blue eyes shining, my head wobbling as though ego had made it heavy. A smile of smug satisfaction jigged across my lips, causing them to wriggle hideously. I turned back to my opponent. The smile tightened. The jig ceased. My eyes turned from blue to slate gray. I continued:

“You’ll have to have it taken out, I expect. Then you’ll be an appendixless freak.”

I put all my venom into “freak” there, like an asp biting into a dictionary. Or a page of a dictionary. Or at least a slip of paper with the word “freak” inscribed on it. Even now, you see, I prize precision in metaphor.

“What?” Montgarde’s voice drifted back to me. He was a mere 10 yards away, sitting on the ground, inspecting several fallen leaves. His legs stuck out in front of him, like they’d been dropped in a rush and left there to arrange later. A disinterested air hung about him.

I tugged at my cravat. A graceless tic, and one to which I am prone. I gathered myself. I struck out first one stockinged leg, and then another. Those legs began my famous “Pig’s Fancy” waltz. My supporters cheered to see my well-sculpted calves at their very best. For a moment the common drifted away as I allowed myself to feel the pleasure of movement. I abandoned myself to this sacred act. I abandoned myself to the mystery of “Pig’s Fancy”. And then, at the height of the exhibition, I stopped of a sudden. I turned my head toward the bastard Montgarde.

“I said—my approximate opponent, Montgarde—’If you will be so kind as to expose your appendix, I’m going to shoot it.'”

“Nah,” Montgarde’s voice glanced off of the grass, as though he didn’t care where it went. “I don fink you will.”

I smiled back at my supporters, over my shoulder. I jogged my eyebrows suggestively, ensuring them that I was about to unleash le meilleur de bon mots on this reclining idiot.

“Then you had better ‘fink’ again, my fine feathered friend,” I said, with a surprising amount of confidence given the heaping rubbish the sentence contained. I’d been caught up in the alliteration, I supposed. Nothing could really explain the use of “feathered” there. I half hoped, as an afterthought, that someone would see it as a suggestion that he was not unlike a chicken, which had some recognizable flavor of taunt to it. But even then. Ugh. My head ceased its wobble.

My supporters withdrew a single step, unconsciously.

“Good one, you lily ponce,” Montgarde shouted.

And as he did, he jumped to his feet and pulled out the hugest shuriken (throwing star) I had ever seen.

duel2What the crap? I thought to myself and just started taking a leak in my pants, all over. He threw the star through the air and it whistled like a fat kid on cake day. It hit me at the knees and tore through both of them like a fat kid munching his way through a Sunday roast. My beautiful calves and feet fell away, never again to delight gathered throngs with “Pig’s Fancy”. The throwing star bounced away behind us, chopping off the heads of my horse, my dog, and my baby cat, before finally coming to a rest like a fat kid after the president’s physical fitness challenge. I toppled, and fell to the ground.

“Holy crap!” all the spectators shouted.

“That’s how we do, homie,” Montgarde said. He stood there like the badass he truly was. My wife—Margaret, Duchess of York—ran over and jumped onto his back. He gave her a piggy-back ride all the way to “divorce-town”, population me.

I write this from my bed, in hospital, a wreck. A ruin of what I once was. Like a fat child twenty years on, in the spasms of a cardiac event, clutching at his heart. Clutching at my heart.