Our Friend Barry Who Loved Lacrosse

Our friend Barry from college – he went crazy once. He was more of a friend of a friend, I guess, but we all knew him pretty well. He came over often enough. Anyway, he went crazy as a shit house rat for about a week. Dragged every piece of furniture in his entire apartment into the living room and piled it up, barricading the front door. Then he climbed atop the pile and dipped his fingers in canned gravy leftover from Thanksgiving and wrote on the wall:  “THEY’RE WATCHING US AND THEY SEE ALL! SEEK REFUGE OR BE VANQUISHED!” The sentence wrapped around a corner very high up, just a few inches below the ceiling. He wrote just like I wrote it there, in crazed caps lock and with furious exclamation points. 

Then he locked all the doors and windows, wouldn’t let anyone in the house, not even his roommates. They said they could hear him inside talking to himself in more than one voice and got worried he was going to hurt himself or something. One of them broke a kitchen window and tried to climb into the house. Before he could get his feet on the ground Barry punched him right in the face, shattered his occipital bone. Poor guy had six or seven surgeries over the course of the next year and had to wear one of those creepy plastic masks anytime he left the house. He didn’t get laid for eighteen months.

Eventually Barry’s parents came down from Grosse Point and had him institutionalized. Doctors called it a mental break, which seems pretty vague if you ask me. Kind of like pointing out the obvious. But whatever. I’m no doctor. After he was released he was on some heavy duty drugs for a while – lithium or clozapine – I can’t remember which. He went to therapy for a while, too.

Then when we came back for spring semester he seemed like the same old Barry. No medicine, no therapy, no nothing and he seemed no different than before he’d gone nuts. We were all sort of waiting for him to snap, though. Seemed like if it happened once it was likely to happen again.

Right before we graduated a rumor started going around that he’d walked in on his girlfriend going down on this guy from the lacrosse team and that’s what triggered the break. Actually, she was Barry’s fiancé at the time all of this allegedly happened, but then they broke off the engagement. Anyway, it’s kind of funny or, not funny, but weird because Barry loved lacrosse. He used to go to all their games. He’d drag her along with him. He was their biggest fan.

Barricade the doors

Barricade the doors.

For Esme – With Love and Squalor

I hope you see
Long before I ever did
That no one knows shit
About who
Or what
Or why
You should be.
And so the world is yours,
To sculpt into relief
Across the boundless slab
Delivered at our feet
When we fall
Into this indifferent world.

I hope you fail
Miserably,
Spectacularly,
Repeatedly,
Going down in burning flames,
In a fire so intense
Your eyes and ears seal shut
And your hands melt into fists
And your toes no longer bend
So that you must find a way
To make them work again
And then you’ll understand
What it means to see
For the first time
Through your own eyes
And hear
Through your own ears
And feel
With your own hands
And walk
On your own feet.

I hope you have the strength
To be utterly weak,
Transparent,
Vulnerable,
In the face of everything
This world is not.

I hope that you are keen
To the selfish heart of man
So that you might fight,
At least once in your life,
For something greater than yourself.

I hope you forge
A list of regrets
To match in length,
And scale,
And scope,
The list of proud accomplishments
You’ll call your own.

I hope you find the courage
To deny yourself
Things you want
But should not have,
So that you might feel
The exquisite pain
That is life’s sweetest reward:
That of rising
Above your form.

I hope you fall in love
So hard
That when you land
It splits your skull
Shattering your brain and heart
Into thousands of pathetic pieces
With edges that melt and bend
Until their original form
Is lost forever
Like the breath you exhale
Into the ever expanding universe.

I hope that life
Tears you limb from limb,
So that you might mend,
Like a broken bone,
And emerge stronger
Than you were made
Or meant to be.

For Esme - With Love and Squalor

For Esme – With Love and Squalor

The Economic Collapse

Last night I dreamt
I was working with The Snake again
Selling mortgages
Subprime.
Or failing to
In my case
Because of my…
Scruples (?).

The office manager was there,
Whose name I don’t recall.
The nicest guy,
Quick to smile,
Pale as milk.
I think he snuck a nip or two
Behind his desk
From time to time.

Noticeably absent
Was our real boss,
The Big Man
In every sense,
With multi-syllabic names
Sizeable enough to match
His disproportionate mass
And personality:
Stell-i-an-os Pan-a-ga-kis.
Say that without smiling
And I’ll sell you a subprime loan.

Thank you boys
For the memories
But not for
The economic collapse.

Shortly after I retired from my brief career as a loan officer, our economy did this.

The Profound Silence of The Diamond

Been reading Kerouac, again.
About the Zen Lunatics,
How everything is nothing,
The void is infinite,
And the Profound Silence of the Diamond.

Been staying up too late,
Drinking beer and whiskey,
Reading in dark bars
Wondering:
Could I sleep on the side of a railroad yard?
Could I hitch my way from
Here out West,
Cooking steaks for truckers
On the side of the road,
Washing my frying pan in the dirt?

Been getting up too early,
Drinking too much coffee,
Reading on bright streets
Sun beating on my back,
Sweat pouring down
In fat disgusting globs
That stain my shirt
Beneath my arms and on my back
Embarrassing me,
And I wonder
As I read about their yabyum,
Would I be self conscious, too,
If invited to an orgy?
Would I lie alongside
All you naked, rapturous lovers
And kiss your arm tenderly,
Still wearing my long pants?

Where is my mountain?
My desolation peak?
Where is my tree to sit beneath and meditate?

The Bird Poet

In grade school, he was often last to be picked at recess, but won the county youth poetry contest three years running, claiming both first and second place in his age group the last year he was eligible. Both winning poems that final year (he submitted three) focused on a chance encounter, in the backyard of his home, with a beautiful and unidentifiable bird, the bird being a metaphor for a neighbor girl, nearly twice his age, who he would often watch sunbathe from a roost in his climbing tree. More than a few parents of other young poets in the community were vocal about their disapproval of the “consistently biased” decisions of the contest’s jury.

As a third team guard on the seventh grade basketball squad, he logged fewer than 12 minutes of game action before deciding to join the eighth grade team as a statistician, a role in which he blossomed, expanding the categories of statistics tracked, and providing the coach with in-depth analysis based on sabermetric theory of the time. Largely, the coach was unable to take advantage, and the team finished three games below five hundred.

As part of the number one doubles pair on the high school tennis team, he and his partner reached the state finals as sophomores and juniors, losing each time to different opponents. The community newspaper described his play as “heady” and praised his soft touch at the net, but more often, praise was heaped upon his playing partner, whose big serve and reliable forehand were the foundation upon which their success was built.

In college, a latent interest in aviation took full bloom and he became a licensed pilot by the summer after his junior year. Shortly after graduation, he marooned a Cessna in a public park in Iowa – flying and landing there, impromptu, after a fight with his long-distance girlfriend compelled him to cross the state line in a rented plane. The ensuing fight, make-up and make-out held him in Iowa overnight, during which time a torrential thunderstorm buried the plane’s landing gears in 6 inches of mud. In the end he convinced a groundskeeper from a small private university nearby to tow the plane from the field for $20 and a half pack of cigarettes.

He became a sailor, officially, by the time he was twenty-five. Selling all his worldly possessions and cashing in the savings bonds his grandfather had gifted to him upon his birth, he bought a 23 foot sailboat for just shy of $6000 and lived on it for nearly three years, eventually sailing all the way from the Lake Michigan to the southern tip of Florida by way of the St. Lawrence seaway, never stopping for more than two nights at any one port.

He was arrested twice in his thirtieth year, the first and second times in his life, and so he first began to box in jail, while serving a four month sentence for loitering with intent and public drunkenness in Arkansas (his first arrest) on the shores of the Mississippi River, despite the fact that he had not drunk a single drink. After winning the featherweight title in prison, followed by the local and regional bantamweight golden gloves championships, he was forced into retirement after his first professional fight – having broken his right hand, his dominant hand, in the first round of the fight, which he lost in a decision after fifteen rounds. Upset about the loss, he foolishly refused proper medical attention and his hand never healed properly, causing him pain throughout the rest of his life, and eventually forcing him to learn to write and eat and comb his hair all with his left hand. He also failed to pick up payment for the fight, fifty dollars, cash, and left two complimentary drink tickets unspent, choosing instead to punch the fight promoter in the face with his broken hand before exiting the locker room, knocking out two of the man’s teeth, and leading to his second arrest, for assault, and a six month sentence in the same jail in which he’d learned to box. When discussing the matter later, the man would readily admit to having been out-punched by his opponent, but insisted always that he had not been outboxed.

In his thirty-fifth year he taught himself about engines, and rebuilt a touring motorcycle in a friend’s garage over the course of two months. Finally getting the bike to run on a Thursday afternoon, he took it for a three day drive straight up the Mississippi – stopping along the way only for gas, food and sleep. He took no change of clothes. Arriving, finally, at his childhood home, he parked his bike in the street, walked around the house, and climbed to his roost in the climbing tree, and listened for the birdsong of his youth. Over the next seventeen months he put 22,936 miles on the bike, riding through 43 of the 48 contiguous states, before trading the motorcycle, straight up, for a tattoo outlining the swath he’d cut across the country inked on the upper right of his abdomen, just beneath his heart.

No stranger to the attention of women, he made love with 97 in his life. Twice he made love with two women at a time; once he made love with a pair of sisters, or so they said – he’d always had his doubts. He married once, an Indian woman from Bangladesh, who he met while backpacking from south to north throughout the country during his 40th year. They divorced six months later when she’d grown unhappy with his restlessness and wanderlust – she a woman who wanted very much to remain close to her very large, very unapproving family – and he a man who simply could not stay put. They divorced two days before he departed, once again, for the United States, unknowingly infected with Typhoid.

On the day he died, in his forty-fourth year, he was as a passenger in a cab, t-boned by an elderly driver who’d run a red light in an intersection in downtown St. Louis, on a Sunday, mid-morning. The elderly man was with his wife, on the way the way home from church service when he sent his oldsmobile careening mercilessly into the rear passenger side of the man’s cab. As glass exploded and metal bent and shrieked around him, and as the elderly driver screamed a shrill and terrifying last breath of his own, the last thought the man thunk was of the neighbor girl he used to spy on while she sunbathed. She’d been perfect, he thought.

And then he died.

Rebuilt. Reborn. Rewarded.

Rebuilt. Reborn. Rewarded.

Smoked Them All

You spent your hours compiling
mixtapes,
while interest compounded elsewhere
for everyone else.
 
When all your friends
bought new blazers,
you rolled a pack of cigarettes
in the sleeve of your t-shirt
and then smoked them all.
 
There are only so many of these,
ours,
we get to spend.
 
And you spent yours
without regret.
 
Exit
 

Paris London Hong Kong

It is the eleventh hour when we we are brought in to write on the project. But the call goes well. Mutual praise is doled out. Everyone is excited – we to write on the job, the agency to see what we come up with. Oh yeah, that reminds them, they’re hoping to get our bid and treatment early in the day Thursday – less than forty-eight hours from now. That’s a very tight turnaround, but it would be a sweet reward. Glad to be in the mix, we agree to get right to work.

Treatment writing commences. Ideas are born. They go to battle, build on one another, cut one another into pieces and sprout growth in new directions. The bid is assembled and some questions bubble to the surface. How tight is this budget, we wonder? Back and forth with the producer reveals they’ve already showed three director’s reels to the clients, which surprises us. We understood we were late to the party, but we didn’t understand the existing guest list.

Lo and behold, a few of the directors are folks we are familiar with, one more than the others. He’s from a town 15 miles away from where we grew up, he’s our same age. Our high school football and baseball teams battled it out in the very same conference, while we roamed the halls at the very same time. It’s a small world, we remark. The producer agrees – in fact, he’s friendly with a few chaps we went to high school with who also happen to work in advertising and production. It’s a very small world, indeed.

By early Thursday our bid has been whittled down, line by line, until it is achingly close to the amount the client has to spend. Only our strongest ideas are left standing, and we spend our morning packaging them up neatly into an 18 page opus detailing, as specifically as possible, how we’ll tackle the job should we win it. Just past noon we pen a brief but persuasive email, we attach everything we’ve worked so hard on for the last forty-eight hours, we hit send, and then… we wait. Time slows to a crawl. As the old song goes, waiting is the hardest part.

An hour later, a reply from the producer. Succinct. Enthusiastic. “Awesome!” to be exact. Later that afternoon a more thorough response; they’ve had a chance to look through everything and are impressed with the quality of work we turned around on such a tight timeline. We’re thankful for the kind words. Still on track to award tomorrow, we wonder? They hope so. They’ll certainly know internally which way they want to go, the question is whether or not they’ll have buy in from the client – that might not come until Monday. Meh. Okay. We brace ourselves for a weekend of uncertainty.

We fill our time with the Vimeo Staff Picks Feed, with pages from books, with Dmitiri Basil music videos. We plan our evenings and weekend. And we continue to wait. We scroll through days worth of a neglected Facebook feed. We find a pleasant distraction – there is a photography show opening Friday evening featuring the work of Daniel Arnold, a young New Yorker being heralded as the Best Photographer on Instagram.

We’ve been reading about Daniel Arnold periodically for the last 18 months, since his instagram account was suspended for posting a wonderful, tasteful picture of two unidentifiable women sunbathing on a beach, topless. Arnold is forced to start a new account, and it is even more widely followed than his old one – the publicity surrounding his exodus from Instagram having garnered him no small amount of attention. To pass the time, we read all we can find about him online. We watch his awkward interview with a local news station hyping the photography exhibit. We learn that although he is now New York based, he originally hails from Milwaukee, just like us. It’s a small world, we think again.

According to many people on the internet, this man is the best photographer on instagram

This is a photograph of Daniel Arnold. According to many people on the internet, he is the best photographer on instagram.

Right around five PM on Friday, the phone rings. It’s the agency producer. He thoughtfully, sensitively, tenderly informs us that we did not win the job. It’s gone to the director who grew up fifteen miles away, from the production company we’re quite friendly with, that we respect and admire. The producer compliments our bid and treatment once more – he thinks there are plenty of other opportunities to work together. He encourages us to be in touch when we swing back through Milwaukee, and we promise him we will. We thank him for the opportunity to write and bid on the project, it was a pleasure. And then we hang up.

Shit. There are few things in life worse than not winning a job. Luckily, we have plans for that evening to meet friends for pizza. There are few things in life better than pizza.

With an hour to kill we swing by Daniel Arnold’s photography show at Paris London Hong Kong. Arriving minutes after the doors unlock, we climb the stairs, follow a few signs into a very small gallery where Daniel Arnold himself is standing, phone in hand, grabbing a quick charge before the event hits full swing. We shake his hand and introduce ourselves. He tells us we have familiar faces. We explain that we hail from Milwaukee as well, and he says, dryly “that must be it,” as if Milwaukee is such a small place that everyone who has lived there knows everyone else who has lived there at a glance. We like him immediately.

We take our time looking around the exhibit, and then we move into the hallway where we fish ice cold Busch Lites from a blue plastic tub nestled in a distant corner. A black binder sits on a table at the entrance to the gallery, opened to a print out of one of the articles we spent the afternoon reading. We flip through the pages (more articles we’ve already read) before flipping back to the start of the book where there is a one page write-up on the importance and meaning of Daniel Arnold’s work. It reads almost like an artist’s statement. It is thoughtful, well written, moving, even. Half way through the piece we think “This Daniel Arnold is not only a gifted photographer, he’s a gifted writer.” After finishing the final paragraph our eyes scan down the page to the signature line and we see that this one page was not written by Daniel Arnold – it was written by a friend of his, or an acquaintance, who admires his work. The author happens to be the director from the town fifteen minutes from where we grew up. The director who just won the job that we did not win.

We reread the page again. We were not mistaken – it’s quite good. Draining the last tepid finger of beer from our cans of Busch Lite, we move down the stairs of the building and out the door, onto the sidewalk and into the brisk evening air. Crossing the street, moving toward the pizza parlor where we’ll meet our friends, we can’t help but think, once more, and one time too many, it’s a small world. Oddly so, sometimes.

ANIMATASTIC

I remember strolling around my neighborhood, loudly practicing what I considered to be a British accent as I walked my dog. This was West Hollywood. I’m a bald, bearded giant and my dog is an arrogant, red miniature pincher. We both happened to be wearing leather bomber jackets, ironically.  I imagine we looked like a deranged, leather-bar-fantasy-version of Ren and Stimpy.

“The-e-e-e-s-e… are the Norman Brothers,” I kept proclaiming. I could feel the smile, broad on my face. Kipp was gonna love this. Now, if we could only get Michael Caine to take our calls.

We’d been working intensely on the “Buzz Builder Beer Project” for several weeks at that point, written dozens of scripts, and between the three of us Norman Bros., we were having a difficult time choosing which one to develop. As a form of litmus test, we decided to make an animatic as a proof of concept for the grudging favorite.

We scoured the internet for images. We recorded our lines repeatedly. Dug deeply for music. Laid in sound effects. We edited and re-wrote and edited and re-wrote. It was great, having the chance to make the movie again and again before making the film. And it’s a process we’ve carried forward at every opportunity. The tools available today make it a lot easier to sketch as a filmmaker.  Refining the visual story, putting ourselves into the roles of performers, testing music and sound FX… all of these processes help us tease the vague and imaginary into the realm of the executable.

During our location scout, we staged each scene for photos to work out the angle of view and compositional details, then recut the animatic one last time – but it was the texture of the version below we held in mind as we were shooting.  Ever since, we’ve treated the animatic less like a technical exercise, and more like “the thing itself.” A sort of “found-art animation” that allows us to do some free association and test big ideas before too many resources are on the line.

Your Friends Suck At Tennis

It’s a crisp summer morning. A Friday. Our location is Lake Shore Park – nestled between Lake Michigan and the Museum of Contemporary Art in downtown Chicago. Specifically, we’re filming on a pair of tennis courts and in the small, tree canopied courtyard at the entrance to the courts. The city’s healthiest citizens run laps around the charming four lane track, many of them staring at us with curiosity each time they circumnavigate.

Gear rolls in. Departments unload. The sun crests the lake in the East, and a stout old woman with short cropped white hair and tanned skin marches through the park lugging a basket of balls, a sheathed Wilson racquet and a large, sweating bottle of ice water. Unlike the joggers, her curiosity is not piqued by our presence. Signs closing the courts to the public are posted on the gate; she ignores them entirely, as she did each of us, and swings the chain-link door wide. She settles in at the service line of the western court and begins firing off services without stretching a hamstring or loosening a shoulder, paying very little attention, it seems, to the result she achieves with each thwack of her racket.

We convene to discuss our plan; we’ll start in the small courtyard, shooting the material with the host. Then we’ll move onto the courts to shoot the match play. The group dispatches and we walk out onto the courts, calling to the woman, excusing ourselves for interrupting her.

“Sorry ma’am, but these tennis courts are permitted today for a shoot.” She stops her serving motion and glares over at us. “We have a few shots just outside the courts first, but we’ll be out here soon.” Her glare becomes a scowl. “You can definitely keep playing until we need them, but we’ll have to ask you to clear off when we’re ready to shoot.” She wrinkles her brow, scowling even more.

“What time is it?” she demands.

“It’s six o’clock,” we tell her. She looks off the courts toward the entrance, where a small group of the crew is celebrating, having found more coffee stashed somewhere on the craft services table.

“I’ll be done playing at nine,” she says.

The DP and gaffer confer, and our schedule changes immediately. We need to shoot the wide shot of our match play first, before the sun rises too high in the sky. We’re immediately back out on the courts, talking to our new friend.

“Sorry but our schedule just changed. We’re going to need the courts right away.” She scowls again. “Not for too long,” we explain. “Maybe 20 minutes. You can play again after that, while we shoot everything that takes place off the courts.” She glares.

“Maybe 8AM? I’ll play until then,” she suggests.

“Sorry, this isn’t negotiable, ma’am. We reserved the courts for this specific purpose.” She looks back and forth between us coldly. “We’ll help you get your stuff together,” we say, and we start gathering her tennis balls up and putting them in her basket.

“So you’re going to use force?” she asks.

She did not believe we'd permitted the courts

Truth be told, the toughest part of our day was getting this woman off the court. (Photo: Jon Hamblin)

The nearest private area for changing is five minutes away and we are suddenly in a mad dash against the sun. We change in the open air of the park, obscured from joggers and the people walking to work by only a wardrobe rack. While we are in our underwear, a neighborhood man approaches our make-up artist and accuses us of having having bullied the old woman off the courts. “I’m just the make-up person,” she tells the man. He huffs off, angry, but too busy to identify the “right person” to yell at.

We are on the courts, volleying, trying to warm up a bit.

“We need to hurry!” the DP shouts. He is with the rest of the camera and lighting crew, gathered just inside the perimeter of the jogging track, his eye pressed to the camera. Neither of us have played tennis in a while. We are inaccurate in our volleys, fumbling with our rackets, stumbling through footwork.  We are barely able to hit a few consecutive volleys back and forth from a distance of six feet.

“Okay, we’re rolling,” we hear someone call out. We shrug, we are not really warmed up, but will we ever be?

We back out to the service line and begin spraying shots wildly, knocking the majority of our hits over the fence surrounding the courts. Very few of our shots are returned, or, returnable, even. The crew looks at one another with concern, the thought dawning on them that this might be a very long day. Another old woman, taller, thinner, a bit lighter on her feet than our tennis playing friend, circles by on the track.

“Your friends suck at tennis,” she says as she jogs past.

Fast Forgotten

When I arrived they were fasting.  Only bread and water for seven days, they said, to purify their bodies and center their minds.  Codify their spirits. They’d embarked on the journey together that morning, and I immediately felt pressure to join them.  Mostly, I think they were broke, and had been partying for months, and the constant heat of the desert sun had scrambled them just a bit, collectively.

They showed me where I could throw my bag, and I tossed my threadbare backpack down in the corner of someone’s room – I’m not sure whose.  They offered me a glass of water, and I accepted.  Someone pulled a pitcher from an otherwise empty fridge and poured me a tall clear glass.  It immediately fogged over with condensation and was dripping wet by the time it hit my palm.  The same seemed to happen to me – I was sweating profusely.  Rummaging through the contents of my backpack I realized I’d failed to pack any toiletries.  No deodorant.  No toothbrush or toothpaste.  I’d packed one pair of swimming trunks, two t-shirts, three socks… and four belts.

Eric volunteered to walk with me to the drugstore.  I hadn’t seen him in well over a year.  He looked the same, but thinner, with longer hair and a deeper tan, still with calves like you imagine on the legs of Atlas, the greek god, himself – capable of holding the entire world aloft. We left the others sitting on the couch, listening to jazz, pontificating the many imagined virtues of fasting.  They seemed genuinely excited about the idea – or perhaps they were selling themselves.

“You like it down here?”  I asked him as we walked, my core temperature steadily rising with each step.  “I fucking love it,” he said.  “It’s paradise.”  I asked about school and he shrugged.  School was not the point of going to school in Tempe, Arizona.

Eric stopped at an ATM while I procured my sundry needs.  When I returned to him he was staring down at the ATM receipt in his hands.  “What’s up?” I asked.  “I’m not sure. There’s two thousand dollars in my bank account that shouldn’t be there,” he said. I didn’t understand, and apparently, neither did he.  “There must be… some sort of mistake.”

We returned to the apartment with with several cases of beer, tooth picks, bar soap and a few bags of hastily chosen groceries: nacho cheese corn chips, pretzels, cheese-spread and tiny, toe-sized sausages that were to be drowned in BBQ sauce and simmered, Eric said, until they ripped at their seams.

Everyone was confused and excited as he explained.  Through a clerical error, or a computer bug, or a mistaken deposit — Eric wasn’t sure, exactly — he’d been the recipient of a two thousand dollar windfall.  “How much did you take out?” one of us asked.  “Everything,” he said.  He made a show of the pile of cash, fanning it out before stacking it in one tall pile on the countertop.  We stood and admired it in silence.  “I thought I should… before they took it back.”  This seemed like sound logic to all of us.

Groceries were unpacked and hastily unsealed, shoveled by handfuls into eager mouths and barely chewed before being swallowed.  Beers were popped and guzzled thirstily by all parties other than myself; I would refrain from imbibing for three more years, until just ten months shy of my twenty-first birthday.

Over the next few days various other items were purchased.  Clear and brown liquors.  An acoustic guitar.  Incense.  Two gigantic wall posters.  A double disc version of The Dead at Cornell from famed Archivist Dick Latvala’s “Dick’s Picks” series.  A pair of black Air Jordans with red laces.   A carton of cigarettes, despite the fact that Eric never smoked.  A handful of other substances I will refrain from identifying precisely by name.  Innumerable tacos.  And a pure bred German Shepherd puppy that Eric would name Motown.

One thousand seven hundred twenty three dollars and ninety two cents later, everyone was hungover, as they had been each of the previous mornings.  I scurried about, cramming my unfolded clothes into my backpack, worried I’d miss my flight home.  Eric was on the couch, thumbing through what remained of his pile of cash.  His eyes were a touch red, a tornado of hair swirled atop his head.  “How much is left?” I asked.  “Just under three hundred,” he reported, emotionless.  Then he announced, to everyone and no one at once, that he would be saving the rest of the money.  I scooped Motown up off the carpeting and pulled my swimming trunks from beneath him, where they rest on the floor, precisely in the spot I’d left them the night before. They were still wet.  I balled them up and tossed them in my backpack. “The last thing I’m going to do with a two thousand dollar gift is waste every goddamned cent,” he said.  This seemed like sound logic to all of us.

On the way to the airport, watching the desert whisk by in the unrelenting sun, I listened as the group laid out plans for their coming fast.  Everyone agreed it would be a welcome change.  An opportunity to simplify things.  Gain clarity.

Motown grew to be a big, happy dog. Sadly, like many of his breed, he suffered from hip dysplasia and passed far before his time, at the tender age of nine.  Eric moved back home from Arizona about a year after my trip, where he finished school. He now works as banker.