Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Pride and Prejudice


I tried to stifle my tear before it hit my waffle. I stared down at the text from my mother, "Supreme court recognized same-sex marriages. Heart. Smiley Face."
My wife was alarmed at my sudden change of affect, but I was too choked up to vocalize an explanation so I settled for passing the phone across the table.
Our eyes met.

I'd like to say unfettered joy crossed our faces and that we stood up and did a dance, but our prejudices ruined the moment.

We thought about holding hands, but didn't.
We dashed the palms of our hands at the tears in our eyes while cautiously peering around us hoping no one would notice our odd behavior and ask if we were okay.  We might be prejudiced and even occasionally hypocritical, but we're also both horrible liars and we know it.  Don't ask after our welfare unless you want an honest answer, and on that day we were afraid (because of our prejudices) that an honest answer might get us lynched.
We were having breakfast at a Waffle House in Fayetteville, Arkansas on our way to a lakeside cabin near Eureka Springs.  I knew Eureka Springs was relatively hippy and LGBT tolerant, but we weren't there yet.
My wife bit her lip and gave me a smile.
She handed me back my phone and squeezed my fingers as our hands touched in the passing.
Our smiles trembled.  This was just too big to celebrate silently.

I come from a long line (156 years back on the newly immigrated side of the family) of Texans.  My wife comes from an even longer line of Texans.  Parts of both of our families have been in American since 1690.  In short, we live in our ancestors' ancestors' homeland; and neither of us was about to abandon our families and careers to move out of state any time soon--even if that was the only way to obtain legal recognition of our relationship (our status as a family).
Sudden legal recognition of us as a family was momentous. Not because we or our family needed it to validate our relationship.  In our eyes, and the eyes of our friends and family, we had already been married for over three years.  We already had the illegal ceremony and marginally-legal (as long as we don't talk about the city ordinances we broke) wedding reception. We had even already obtained a legal marriage certificate from Martin Luther King County in Seattle, Washington while we were passing through for work (and where more friends than we new we had in town showed up uninvited to the impromptu ceremony to celebrate it with us).
Legal recognition of our marriage in Texas was momentous for us because it restored our faith in our homeland.
We were suddenly free to chase our dreams, buy a house, officially take care of each others' aging parents, and pay our taxes...as a couple (which meant paying more taxes by the way) in our ancestral homeland. We could have some of the same freedoms that our great, great, great, great grandparents came to these lands hoping to find and secure for their progeny.
Somehow it made me feel safer at home again.
But it didn't make me feel safer about expressing my love and happiness in a Waffle House in Fayetteville, Arkansas.

Of course I have an excuse for that.  My prejudice prevented it.
That morning when we wandered into the Waffle House, we were greeted by a spirited, balding Caucasian septuagenarian named Joe, who proclaimed himself a to be a lay minister and witness to Jesus, "Blessing upon us and all strays."

As I said, I'm from Texas, and I'm no stranger to adamant fundamentalist Christians.  I wasn't offended by Joe's strong expression of faith.  I blessed him back and we chatted about his life and the shared points of our faith for several minutes after he showed us to our table.

But I didn't give Joe the benefit of the doubt.  I let my stereotype of adamant fundamentalist Christians convince me that Joe would be rabidly opposed to same-sex marriage as a sin and that he would want to tell me all about how I was bound for hell rather than share our joy.  And I let this prejudice convince me that everyone in that Waffle House would share this condemning attitude.

Fortunately, my tears did hit my waffle, and Joe did notice.
He bustled his way back to our table, slid into the booth next to me and asked the dreaded question, "Are you okay?"  In my hesitation, he continued, "I'll pray right with you, whatever it is."

I thought he would find my answer nutty and offensive, but I had to be true.  I told him we were just happy.  Happy that our marriage of three years was finally legal everywhere in our great country.
Joe was so happy that he cried too.  Then he thanked God for us with enough volume, enthusiasm and specificity for everyone to hear and understand. . . and people clapped. Then he sang a celebratory hymn and people joined in, including me.

I am ashamed that I did not sing with more courage with Joe in that Waffle House.  I should have suspected better of Joe in Fayetteville.
I am sad that I didn't realize until after we left breakfast that the Waffle House was on MLK street--I should have taken that as a sign from the universe probably.  Joe and God wanted us to be proud of our love and to share the joy and light that love brings without fear born of prejudices.  I should have already known that.
I am proud to know, and call family, so many compassionate and supportive people of a great diversity of religions, politics, ethnicities, educations, sexual orientations, and socio-economic classes. I believe this is America's greatness: that we can all so easily choose to know and love a great diversity of people.
And one lesson I have learned from my fortunate existence in this greatness is that most people prize and share two primary objectives: to love and be loved.  I strive to let this lesson always be my first prejudice now.

Our wedding bouquets. Photo by Andrew Fritz. 

Friday, June 10, 2016

Novel Preview: Catch to Release

Chapter One – Bang, Bang. Got Me Good.



Addison Weller pushed open the underground garage access door beneath the courthouse and glanced over everything before she ushered the Honorable John Errington through the door ahead of her. The fine hairs on the back of her neck stood up. She listened and heard only the hum of the industrial heating system, but a prescient tingle tapped lightly over her spine. Reaching her left hand inside her jacket, she put the tips of her fingers on the butt of her FN 5.7 pistol. She placed her right hand lightly on the back of the Honorable John Errington.
A solitary businessman watched them from over the hood of a black sedan forty feet to their left. Weller noticed he was immaculate in a navy suit, white shirt, and pale blue tie. His face was smooth and regular as milk, until he reached inside his jacket. One of his brown eyes darkened and squinted in an aim as he pulled out a Sig Sauer P299.
Weller drew her heavy FN 5.7 smoothly. Her left forefinger brushed the safety off as she slid her gun over the crisp linen of her suit vest with a soft rasp. She tossed her head to clear away a dark brown wisp of hair in her sight-line. She leveled the gun. Adjusting her own aim to the poor lighting and the lack of breeze underground, she strained to hear over the adrenaline roaring in her ears. With one long, sure step forward, she brought her own body between Errington and the Sig Sauer’s speeding bullet before firing her own weapon.

The two shots fired so quickly that John Errington wondered if he was dreaming them. For a brief second he thought to protest when Weller pushed him to the oily ground in front of a black BMW. Then Weller’s stillness rested heavy on his back, and her weight behind her forearm spread across the back of his shoulders. He listened carefully to hear her breathing. He heard silence.
“Weller?” Errington shifted his face off the floor just enough to talk.
Under the tunnel of parked cars, he saw a man in a navy suit, arm outstretched but still holding a smoking gun, and a pool of velvet blood creeping over the oily floor. The man blinked at Errington as their eyes met, but the man didn’t make any other movements. Errington watched a sigh fall from the man’s lips to the floor. He swallowed, and asked again, “Weller?”
Weller’s weight lifted with such speed that Errington was too stunned to sit up.
He heard the steel door to the garage bang open and lifted his head to watch Weller wheel around to face the door with her FN 5.7 aimed and ready.
Errington let out a long shaky breath. One of Weller’s team members, the exceedingly tall one with short brown hair, filled the doorway.
Errington rose to his knees as Weller lowered her weapon, and he heard her request, “Wimberly, call 911, and then call Jim O’Rourke at the Chicago DSS field office and tell him we’ve eliminated a hitman. He’ll get the investigation rolling.”
Errington stood and watched Wimberly nod before leaving to comply with his boss’s request.
Weller offered a hand up. “Would you like to see if your phone charger is still in the car now?”
Errington tried to swallow the leaden fear bubbling in his stomach, but only managed to throw up on the floor between his wingtip shoes.







Chapter Two – Stage Fright, Stage Right.



Shay Greenaura played the guitar like most people played a piano, with all ten fingers intimately involved. She thought of her guitar as another woman with a driving pulse that she could bend. The cheers of the seven thousand or so souls watching her play rushed over and around her like waves washing against stones at the sound of every clear note she struck. Sweat stung her eyes and she tossed her head to free the tangle of blond curls sticking to her forehead. She sang out the closing note and leaned into the tightening of every muscle in her small body. Her voice broke free and clear beyond the roar of the crowd for a last, lingering second. Wolf whistles and cheering rolled over the stage. She was already drunk with the calm, wonderful weariness of giving all of herself to her passion, her music.

Thirty feet away at the edge of the stage, a solitary man in a horde of exuberant women watched Shay touch the hands of her fans and smile at each one as she walked off the stage. The man eyed the crunchy-granola hippie chick next to him and decided she would do fine. All of these liberated, self-righteous women ultimately just want to go home and be given some order, some direction, to soften the chaos of freedom. He would seduce her first, as he knew she believed she wanted to be seduced. Then when she learned to trust him, he would ram order into her with each hammer of his cock and beat her to the edge of senseless before he silenced her life into eternal order. He smiled to himself and smoothed one hand over the Greenaura logo on his T-shirt. He would use the hippie chick for today. But, one day...one day soon...Shay Greenaura will be my bitch. That thought made him hard in his jeans. He caught the blue eyes of the petite blond hippie chick with a shy nodding smile calculated to earn her interest.


Gloved hands pattered on a keyboard in a dim public library just minutes before closing time on a rainy Tuesday. A YouTube video of Shay’s latest concert rolled on in a minimized window, while in a larger desktop window, Shay’s blue eyes crinkled with a grin in a candid still shot. The photo was a nice close-up of Shay in pajamas, at home on a winter night, snuggled up on the sofa with her daughter, Iva. The pleased photographer slashed a warning over the photo in Jack-the-Ripper-horror font, “I WILL KILL IVA. SLOWLY. SO YOU CAN WATCH.” The photographer saved the creation to a jump drive, careful to erase the file properties, pocketed the drive, and erased all history folders before leaving the library.


“This is the Chasten Scorn show coming at you live on Talk Time Satellite Radio. We are all ready to ridicule and beguile Robespierre Greenaura, bass-guitarist and pansy brother of the infamous liberal dyke singer, Shay Greenaura. Say hello to the folks, RobO, you know the drill.”
“Hello, world. I’m Rob Greenaura and I can take the Scorn.” RobO flashed Chasten a wide self-deprecating grin and patted the thinning hair down on the top of his head.
Chasten shrugged his hoodie smooth over the back of his neck and smiled broadly. “Then let the games begin. Our first burning question, RobO, is—and we have done our research, so we do have some dirt—why is your sister quickly becoming a rich and famous musician with a cause, when you were the first one with star ambitions?”
“That’s too easy, Chasten. I never had any star ambitions. I just liked crooning cover songs, and I was floored and amazed that my baby-sister wanted to play along.”
“Aw, come on, man. Aren’t you even a little jealous that the scrawny no-name drummer of your Frank Sinatra cover band achieved all of this success as a singer and a songwriter, while you were stuck tagging along?”
“Well the cover band was mostly for fun anyways. I never expected it to feed us long-term. Our dad died when I was ten and Shay was four years old, and our mom wasn’t exactly reliable even before she died, too. So, I’d already been working as a busboy, and then as a bouncer for several clubs in DC, before I started trying to sing for more money. Shay had an after-school job, but she learned to play the drums so we could take home more of the band’s pay.”
“Got tired of ramen noodles?”
RobO chuckled. “Honestly, we got tired of living without power because we couldn’t pay the utility bills. Even when Shay wasn’t at work, she followed me to the gigs so she could have air conditioning and light for free for a while each night.”
“So you took your underage baby sister along to clubs like The Bottom Line bar for her safety?”
“Ha! No, of course not. Have you met my sister? I took her along for my safety.”
Chasten laughed boldly at the punchline in a deep rumble that was obviously playing it up for their listeners. “Point taken, RobO. So you taught your baby sister to play drums so you could keep her out of trouble and use her for slave wages?”
“Sort of. She actually taught herself to play drums by watching every night, I guess. I didn’t have a clue until one night when our regular drummer got too pissing drunk to stand up and we were about to go on without any drums, she slipped in behind his kit and started playing.”
“But how did she get from behind the drums to strumming a guitar and singing then? And how did you end up behind those drums?”
“We were waiting in the alley to go on at some scummy joint above a nice restaurant one night. Shay picked up Glen’s guitar and sat on his amp fiddling around with it—just like she did just about every time we waited somewhere, but that night she started singing along. Some poem she’d been scribbling all over the back of envelopes and receipts. A more upscale club owner, Jane Karsen, walked out of the restaurant after dinner and heard Shay singing. She handed Shay her card and asked us to play an early evening gig at a coffee house she had just opened called the Daily Grind. Since the time slot allowed us to still play our regular gig that Friday, we went to the Daily Grind first. Shay and I played that gig with her singing and me playing the bass guitar. We had to borrow both guitars from Glen the first few weeks, but then found I found a three-piece jazz drum kit and an acoustic guitar on sale in some pawn shop. After that we played any gig we could get anyone to book with either of us singing lead.”
“The masses just liked your sister best.”
RobO rolled his eyes and shrugged. “No accounting for tastes, heh?”
“What about this Greenaura crap? Couldn’t you guys make up a better stage name?”
“It’s our name. Our father gave it to us. All I know is that it means ‘from the village of Greenaun,’ which is in County Mayo, Ireland. Our father was of Irish descent, but his family had been here so long, and suffered so many separations, that I don’t think he knew much more than that. At least, he never told me more than that.”
“What about your mother?”
“She was part Italian and part Polish. She kept a list of family births and deaths in the front of her bible, but I don’t think she ever knew where or how her own parents or brothers ended up. I think they gave up on her before we were even born. I don’t remember any grandparents or uncles or aunts. None of the names on her list have led to anyone alive so far.”
“You heard that, world. If you’re related to these shady Greenaura musicians, please let us know. Maybe RobO will get sentimental and cut you in on the inheritance. Right?”
“Sure thing, Chasten, we’ll split our whole stock of Irish whiskey and all our bail bonds with anyone who can show they’re remotely related.”
“Now don’t be so damned generous, you bastard. Tell us how the hell you got from sleazy clubs in DC to Chicago in the first place.”
“Well, it’s really kind of a long story. Are you sure you want to hear it?”
Chasten smirked. “No, but I’ve gotta ask you to tell it anyway. How else am I going to get a balding, middle-aged drummer to fill out an hour long show? I’ll interrupt you when I need to.”
“Okay. You asked for it.”
“Yes, I did.”
“Our mom died just a few months after I turned eighteen, but Shay was still only twelve-years old. Child protective services gave me the choice of assuming guardianship for Shay, but they advised against it since they didn’t feel I could take care of myself well enough yet. I opted to let them place Shay into the foster system for three years until I turned twenty-one and got a little more practice at raising myself.”
“So you left your little sister hanging in the wind?”
“Yeah, but in my defense, I thought I was doing what was best for both of us. It wasn’t until Shay and I were back together that I realized just how wrong I was.”
“So what happened?”
“The foster family Shay was placed with over those three years essentially used her as a drug mule and beat her into secrecy.”
“Whoa! Holy Cow!” Chasten’s eyes grew wider. He leaned in toward RobO to listen.
“Yeah, I know. Unbelievable, right? I had my doubts, too, until Metro PD showed up on our doorstep one morning to question Shay. The foster parents had been busted for dealing at a little league baseball game. Based on their subsequent accusations against Shay, and the evidence they handed over in Shay’s old school back-pack, the DA was pressing charges against Shay for possession with intent to distribute.”
“So then what? As far as I know Shay Greenaura has no criminal record.”
“No, she doesn’t. But it scared the hell out of us since we knew it was her word against the foster parents’ implications—and we didn’t think that stood much of chance in convincing any judge. Lucky for us, the public defender worked out a deal. If Shay agreed to serve as a witness for the DA against the foster parents as needed, do 500 hours of community service, and serve two years of probation with active drug counseling, even though she swore she never used any, then the DA would not press charges.”
“Okay, so how does that get you from Washington, D.C., to Chicago?”
“Well, Shay testified and the foster parents were convicted, but then they appealed and the conviction was overturned on a technicality, not too long after Shay finished her two years of probation with counseling. We were both afraid the foster parents would try to cause her some sort of misery in retribution. During the counseling, Shay saw something about a mission and shelter in Chicago called Second Start. I started poking around their web site and saw that they specialized in helping young adults get another start after drug-related misdemeanors. It seemed like our only real chance out, so we started saving for two one-way bus tickets to leave.”
“And you gave up your cover band and your gigs to go?”
“I did give up the cover band. We couldn’t take the other band members with us, and we didn’t have any connections in Chicago to restart the band, or knowledge of the club scene there to arrange any gigs.”
“But?”
“We kept our pawn-shop instruments. Shay and I played for money every chance we got on the way to Chicago, and all around the Second Start shelter once we got there. Many folks at the shelter helped us get paying gigs and promoted our work. Shay is a natural and it was easy for her star to rise once people could see her perform. She came out of her shell of fear and insecurity, too, and found a sense of belonging in the community.”
“Aww. How rainbow-from-the-ass-ends-of-butterflies lovely is that?”
“Yep. A regular happy ending. For me, too. I met my wife Sylvia there. Syl had been arrested for possession of cocaine as a minor before escaping from her rich bitch parents in the suburbs to the Second Start shelter in downtown Chicago. The three of us just bonded, and when Syl got a job in the city’s permit offices, she started networking with vendors who were willing to mentor us all on promoting our music. Everything worked out for the best.”
“So you’re not miffed about giving up your whole chance at fame and fortune to look after your sister?” Chasten’s voice played the tonal registers of false incredulity.
Shaking his head, RobO gave a sheepish grin. “Nope. I just want to keep my family safe. Shay and Syl experienced so many things because there wasn’t anyone who cared to keep them safe.”
“Safety is more important than fame and fortune, hey?”
“Yes.”
“But you never get bummed out about it? I don’t believe you.”
RobO half nodded and played with the zipper on his green pleather jacket. “Well, sure, sometimes. Sometimes I feel I still can’t really keep them safe. Sometimes I get tired of my brilliant little sister’s talent for change, evolution, learning, personal growth. Whatever you want to call it. Getting caught up in all the hubbub associated with that talent can be overwhelming and tiring at times.”
RobO shrugged out of his jacket and pushed up the shirtsleeve on his left forearm to reveal his tattoo. He held it up to show Chasten. “That’s why I have this tattoo that says ‘it is what it is’ right where I can see it when I drum. I think everything, including change, power, and growth is good in moderation. Some things you still just have to accept and make the best of. I just have to accept that I can do more good behind the drums, supporting my sister and hopefully keeping my family safer, than I can pursuing my own fame and fortune as a singer. Sometimes what it is should be enough.”
“Jeeze. Deep thoughts by RobO, folks.”
“Yep. It is what it is. Don’t you enjoy being a penny-ante shock DJ, Chasten Scorn?”
“Oh no, I’m not going to answer that. This isn’t about me. In fact, it’s time for me to ask you the question that matters most, RobO…what giveaway did you bring to appease our audience members?”
RobO smiled and reached behind him to pick up a hard-shell guitar case. “I’ve brought one of Shay’s custom, green-pearl-sparkle, semi-hollow, body guitars.” He unlatched the case and lifted the guitar out to show Chasten the sparkle beneath the studio lights.
“Well folks, I’m looking at it right now, and it is a thing of beauty even if you don’t write lesbian-folk-pop songs. The first caller who can correctly name RobO’s Frank Sinatra cover band wins.”


Shay pushed open the steel exit door a crack and found a score of people crowding the alley behind the Maddux Theater in St. Paul. She quickly pulled the door shut again. The cold air fanned in behind her and washed over the entire sweaty band at her back.
“What’s up?” RobO asked from behind her.
“They alley is lousy with media, fans, and,” she sighed, “protesters.” She looked at the ratty concrete floor and a dewdrop of sweat beaded down the edge of her nose to splash against the top of her boot.
“No other exit gets any better, I’m sure.” RobO’s voice was calm and smooth.
“Let’s just do it.” Fallow, her drummer flexed up and down on the tiptoes of his green Chuck Taylor’s.
“I’ll go in front.” RobO nudged Shay away from the door.
Shay rubbed her palms over her face and pressed herself close to RobO’s broad back.


The crowds parted around RobO letting him through. After twenty or so steps, he turned to smile at his sister and found that he could no longer see her. The crowd around him was looking behind him and shouting.
Hoots of “Shay, over here,” and growls of “Jesus can still save you, sister” echoed around him. Smartphone cameras flashed. Bodies pushed past him.
The rest of the band was lost in the sea of people. Everyone and everything sparkled dewy with the night’s humidity.
RobO spotted a small blond head bouncing above the writhing mass of humanity and turned to push his way back to Shay.
This alley, this venue, the security isn’t built for this level of recognition. RobO used his arms in a breaststroke manner to swim through the crowd to rescue his baby sister. I’ll never keep her safe.

An early cover concept draft.


Popular Posts