Saskatoon Shines!

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Years ago, I learned to find peace when I traveled, respite from life. Parts of me would come alive when I left my home in Utah and stepped into a new and unfamiliar place, where I could place my feet upon new streets and breathe new air. Travel became crucial for me and for my development, and my soul cried out for it. I traveled to survive.

Now I travel simply because I enjoy it. I like frequent getaways to new places. I enjoy walking and seeing what I can discover.

Saskatoon snuck up on me. It was a word that merely escaped my lips after a stressful day at work, and suddenly I had booked plane tickets for a few months later. And now I’m here, looking out at the expanse of the flat Canadian prairie country and farmland around me. I’m staying on the 21st floor of a tall building, and my view overlooks the river and a few bridges, into the distance and over the city. The skies are grey and I can see the Earth curve on the far horizon.

There is something about being somewhere I haven’t been before, and with a place like Saskatoon it is likely a place I will never be again. The city isn’t particularly magical. It’s drab, all browns and greens and grey and blues that seem muted, like Kansas in the Wizard of Oz. The people are kind, and funny, and go out of their way to be helpful. The architecture is normal. A cold breeze blows across the river. It feels like a normal metropolitan western city, with many of the same restaurants and department stores that I would find back in America.

But for me, it isn’t about the city, it’s about the experiences.

It’s wandering into a city government building to explore and having a long conversation with the security guard about canola farming and the changing temperatures of the northern farm land and the tax incentives for farmers who are looking out for their families’ well-beings generations down the line.

It’s stopping in the tourism office and chatting with a delightful potato bug of a person named Debbie about her passion and love for the city.

It’s stepping into a random restaurant and having a friendly Asian man with much too long fingernails serve you thick noodles in vegetable broth with freshly sliced mushrooms, eggplant, and cabbage, and talking about how good life is with your best friend.

It’s seeing Canadian geese on a Canadian river in Canada.

It’s sitting down and clutching a cup of coffee for warmth as two women loudly cackle while another man rushes into the place looking like he forgot where the bathroom was, and then realizing that look never quite leaves his face.

It’s going out to a nightclub in the late evening and hoping to interact with locals and then leaving two hours later, having been the only ones in the establishment.

It’s repeating a joke to a Canadian woman: “I heard that in Saskatchewan you can watch your dog run away for three full miles.”

And hearing her take it far too seriously: “Well, I suppose, but that is more in southern Saskatchewan, we get a few hills here and there up here.”

It’s complimenting a woman on her niceness, and indeed the seeming niceness of all Canadians, and having her respond, “Well, we are nice, yes, but we are sarcastic too!”

Travel sings to my soul. It takes me to a spiritual place in my own head where I can be anonymous in a crowd and just absorb. I didn’t travel, much, until just a few years ago, and now the memories I can capture in my journal or blog or just in my own head resound within me constantly on a playlist. Ocean Beach and Provincetown and Missoula and Reno and Fillmore and Little Armenia and the Castro and Pike Market. The list extends, and each place brings a smile to my face, though nothing note-worthy happened in any of those places except for long walks and life on my own terms. Community theater, vegan restaurants, saloons, beaches, live music, coffee shops, book stores, and strangers.

Travel releases me. It puts me in tune with myself. It gives me voice. It sings to my soul and through my fingertips. It slows me down and brings me back into my own self.

Yet travel also exposes me. It strips me bare. My insecurities, fears, doubts, shames, regrets, and worries work themselves out of me. At some point on every trip, I feel small and scared. I worry about insurmountable tasks. I think of my children and get tears on my cheeks. I grieve for losses. I think of the unfinished: the book, the documentary, the fitness goals. I shift to gratitude and I wonder if I’ll lose all I’ve gained. But even these parts of me are valid, vital, crucial. They are always within me, the bones upon which I build myself, and it is freeing to feel them there and let them breathe.

When we landed in Saskatoon, the welcome sign said “Saskatoon Shines!” But I haven’t seen the sun yet here. On the first night, the sun was setting, and pinks and oranges blended in with the grey clouds.

“It’s beautiful,” I muttered, and a woman nearby took notice.

“Oh, that is pretty, yes, but we get much better sunsets than that one. That one is just okay. Sorry ’bout that. Keep watching, no worries.”

She apologized for the quality of the sunset. And somehow that single moment captures the essence of this trip for me.

As I type this, the sky is still grey, and river still flowing, the colors still drab.

And the Earth is still curving, and me with it.

Saskatoon may not shine much, but it shines for me.

Asking for Money

money

I hate asking for money. I’ve never been the type to ask for money. I’ve always been the kid who paid his own way and who contributed to others.

As a teenager, I worked after school to save up money for my mission. On occasion, I would slip extra money into my mother’s purse to help her pay for groceries. Sometimes at work, I would clock out early and keep working because I felt like it would help the owners out. I even made a deal with my local comic book shop where I would work for free and be paid in comic books, so I could keep reading them without spending money.

In college, I used student loans for my tuition and books, and I had a full time job to pay for my housing, meal plans, transportation, and leisure. It took me years to pay all those off. Even now, in my 30s, I run my own business and pay all of my bills on time, helping out others when I can.

I don’t think I’ve ever, as a standard, asked for a cent or expected anyone to provide for me.

But making art is impossible without money.

Years ago, I wrote a comic book. I hired artists myself and printed the book myself. But when expenses ramped up, I asked for financial help for the first time. I ran a campaign through the website Kickstarter and promised people prizes in exchange for donations to printing the book. I was able to raise about $1000 of the $5000 I needed to print the book, then I charged the rest on my credit card. The money I made from book sales barely paid my card off. Overall, it was an exhausting process, but I got to see my book in print and share it with others, and it was one of the best experiences of my life. Now, a few years later, the Mushroom Murders remaining copies fill boxes in my basement.

And now I’ve reached a place where I’m not asking for $5000, I’m asking for a few hundred thousand dollars. I’m making a movie, and movies take money.

A few years ago, I discovered a forgotten man, a gay Mormon guy who was violently tortured and killed for being gay, back in the late 1980s. No one remembers him, and I want him to be remembered, because he was special and authentic and his life was cut short, and because no one ever deserves to die like that. I started seeking out his loved ones. I researched the lives of the men who killed him, and I started meeting their loved ones as well. The story is insane, with so many twists and turns. It’s a story about being gay and Mormon, about murder, about the death penalty, about miscarriage of justice. It’s a story about people whose lives were altered forever because they lost a loved one, or they saw a loved one go to jail, and it’s a story about how they moved on with their lives and yet how they never moved on.

The last few months, I’ve travelled all over Utah, and into Nevada and into Montana (where I write this from) to interview these amazing, brave people. I have a professional film crew at my side, talented filmmakers with top-notch equipment, and they believe in the project too.

Making this movie fills me with passion and creativity. All of my skills, as a father, as a social worker, and as a writer, come to the forefront as we tackle this wonderful and painful project. I shed tears and my heart aches as I weave these pieces together, but I come alive doing it because it is work that simply must be done.

This is a story that has changed my life, and has placed an entirely new path before me. This is a story that can change the lives of others, one that when they view it will alter their views, make them reach out to their loved ones with messages of ‘I love you’, one that will help them live for today and want to make a difference in the world.

Yet, without money, I’m self-funding the project, charging trips to my credit card because I believe in it, because I believe in myself. With this approach, the project will take years instead of months. And facing that fact gives me angst and anxiety.

And so a big part of my journey in 2017 has been learning how to ask for money. I’ve had dozens of meetings with influential people who I hope will share my passion on the project. I’ve enthusiastically and passionately described my journey and the told the story with conviction. And literally every one of those dozens of meetings has ended the same way. Every person has said some variation of this:

“Wow, Chad, this story must be told, and you are the one to tell it. I don’t think I can help you, but I think I know someone who can. You need to speak to this person. Let me get back to you.”

And then crickets. Silence. Attempts at follow-up resulting in avoided phone calls, unanswered texts and Emails, and general silence.

Yet still, I’m moving forward. The interviews we are gathering on film are so authentic and powerful and real, and we will keep going forward.

Asking for money is painful and aggravating. It’s so difficult to not get discouraged. I keep finding ways to maintain my passion and enthusiasm. It feels like going through an endless maze and I just keep hitting dead ends, requiring me to retrace my steps and find new paths only to hit more dead ends. I’m determined, and I won’t quit, but I find myself regularly stalled and flummoxed when I want to be moving forward, ever forward.

And this, I realize, is the plight of the artist, the dreamer. Every writer, actor, musician, conductor, filmmaker, painter, sculptor, public speaker, and inventor who has a similar passion has to find a path forward against the odds until they find someone who shares their passion. They want a platform, an opportunity, and a benefactor to help them live their dreams.

I won’t quit. And I’ll keep asking. Because the alternative is not asking, which means the dream dies.

And this story must be told. I’m honored to be telling it.

Missoula

View of Missoula from Mount Sentinel, in Missoula, Montana.I could smell the smoke in the air the second I stepped off the plane. Wildfires in the hills nearby, I’d heard, and the wind had shifted the direction of Missoula. But soon, heavy rain came in, and I found myself driving in my rented car toward my rented room with the windshield wipers on full speed.

I was staying in the basement of a home that had a backyard full of chickens. When I entered the small room where I’d be sleeping, I killed a giant spider first thing, with a hastily grabbed paper towel, and I watched it kick its legs for dear life as it flushed away.

I found a trendy little coffee shop full of hipster students, all plaid and beards and nose rings, and I did some writing, tapping into a story from my adolescence, one about not knowing how to receive. But my mind kept wandering. My entire married life had been just hours from here to the west, just a few hundred miles. I’d passed through Missoula a dozen times without ever spending time here. A quick Google search of the town revealed that no historian was quite sure where the name of the city originated from, that the city boasted over a hundred thousand people and was the second largest in Montana, and that there were two universities and a decent acceptance of the LGBT population here.

Back on the road, back in the rain, I drove north, passing through the city and turning onto a state highway. The clouds clinger to the hills here, soft rolling white against the deep thick evergreen rows, all against the grey sky. It took my breath. The rain washed out all of the smoke and the land felt new. I drove through small towns, one that boasted it’s wide diameter trees on the welcome sign, and soon arrived at a bar-and-grill in the middle of nowhere.

I stepped inside and found everything made of wood, tables and chairs and walls and bar and decor. A few old cowboys in ten-gallon hats and boots sat at the bar with drinks in hands and three 30-something plump women in tight T-shirts and jeans waited behind it. I took a table in the corner, somewhere private, and set out my laptop and a pad of paper.

I moved back to the restroom where a sign hung over the urinals.

“PLEASE

Don’t write or Carve on walls

Or 

Spit Chewing Tabaco in the 

urinals, it plugs them up. 

Thanks…”

I laughed out loud with delight at the sign, so perfect and characteristic. It captured the ambiance of the place better than anything else. I wondered if they meant Tobacco or Tabasco, with a grin, and thought that these things must be actual problems in this establishment to warrant an actual laminated sign.

Back at the table, the waitress, who had a name tag that read “Mayzie” delivered a menu and a glass of water, then told me about the beers they had on tap. I had some light conversation with her and learned she was a mother of four, and I noticed that she didn’t have a ring on her finger, leaving me assuming that she was a single mom.

My eyes scanned over the menu, where everything seemed to be either alcohol or some beef product, with many variations on steaks and burgers in every form. Steak salad, patty melt, twelve different burger options, steak and potatoes, steak and coleslaw, steak and corn. I saw one item on the menu called the Vegetarian, that replaced a beef patty with a portobello mushroom cap, so I ordered that with a side of slaw. Mayzie seemed disappointed, but jotted the order down. A moment later she returned.

“Oh, I forgot. We are all out of mushroom caps. Almost no one orders that. But what we could do is chop up a bunch of little mushrooms and just put them in a sandwich?”

I laughed, un-enthusiastically, and accepted her offer. The sandwich came out thirty minutes later on toasted bread, and it was strictly mediocre, but I was hungry and consumed it quickly.

By then, I was deep into the interview that had brought me this direction in the first place. I was talking with a woman connected to a thirty year old homicide in Utah, a story I was working hard to make a documentary about. It had taken me months to earn her trust, and she was now openly discussing this ancient history that had taken place when she was only 21. She talked freely about her life, even the hard parts, and about the impact of the homicide on her family and path. She talked about the different directions life could have taken her with a mix of pain and clarity, and shed tears as she talked about it.

When I drove home, the skies had cleared, and I wound the same highway curves in the dark. I arrived back at my rented room and did a scan for spiders as I turned the lights on. I showered, then wrapped myself in the covers on the bed for warmth. Outside was silent. No cars, no electric buzzes, no chickens. My brain was struggling to stay awake, buzzing with the experiences of the day and all the new information I’d gathered, but the body won out and soon i settled into sleep, leaving the brain to work out its obsessions with bizarre dreams that flooded my consciousness.

Hours later, the rooster outside crowed, and I brewed coffee, rushing to my keyboard to capture my thoughts.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Origin

 

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Zero

My mother wrote songs as she rocked me

Singing lyrics aloud, her eyes blue on mine brown

A song of the mother Mary rocking the Christ child

A lullaby that soothed until heavy eyelids closed in sleep.

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Five

We cut holes in shoeboxes

Then covered them in paper, pink and red mostly.

Scissors sliced thick paper into hearts and letters

While scented colored markers etched our names

In grape purple and lemon yellow and licorice black.

On super hero valentines,

I wrote To’s and From’s to each member of my class

Except I wrote two for Michael, the boy who made me laugh.

I liked-him-liked-him

The way Chris liked Michelle and Jason liked Desiree.

At the Valentines Party, I placed each small card in each small box

And two in Michael’s.

But I only wrote a From on one of his cards, leaving the other blank.

If I gave two to him, the other boys would know I was different.

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Fifteen

“You are indeed one of Heavenly Father’s choice sons.

Do not in any way disappoint Him.”

The patriarch spoke kindly, firmly,

A direct message from God to me on his breath.

Weeks before, when I had told the bishop my shameful secret,

the message had been the same, kind and firm.

“God loves you, He does not tolerate sin.”

The words of the prophets, kind and firm again.

“Pray, do everything God says, and He will cure you,

Make you straight,

Because He loves you.”

And so I ket my eyes just that, straight

Focused, unerring.

Dad was gone,

And my stepfather spoke with fists and angry words.

I was a fairy, he said. I would never measure up to a real man.

But God, He heard. I just couldn’t disappoint Him.

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twenty-seven

She looked at me sincerely, tears streaming down her face,

And asked why, why after six years of dating, we hadn’t kissed,

Hadn’t held hands, not even once.

I thought of the familiar excuses, used again and again,

About trying to be moral and righteous,

About saying it wasn’t just her, that I’d never kissed anyone,

Never held anyone’s hands.

Those were true words, but not the whole truth.

She needed the whole truth.

“I’m gay,” I said. “But I’m trying to cure it.”

And she didn’t mind. And so we kissed, finally.

There was affection and regard and kindness behind it,

If not chemical attraction,

And relationships had been built on less.

And for her the feelings were real.

And so, three months later, we married.

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thirty-two

The day my second son was born, I got that same sense

Of holding my entire world in my hands.

That word again, Fatherhood,

Overwhelming in its possibility, its responsibility.

Here, a new miracle, different from his brother in every way.

But this time, our lives were different.

Early drafts of divorce papers sat on the desk at home.

I was sleeping in the basement now,

And her heart was broken,

While mine, though sad, had come up for oxygen

After three decades of holding its breath.

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thirty-eight

Pen to paper, I think back on six years of firsts.

First authentic kiss.

First try at an authentic relationship

And first authentic heartbreak.

First time dancing, euphoric and free.

First friends, real friends, finally, friends.

First realization that I like myself, powerfully,

And that I have no need to be cured of something that was never wrong.

First freedoms, from religion and deadly self-expectations.

I live now, loudly.

My sons thrive in two households, and they will tell anyone who asks

That their mother likes boys who like girls

And their father likes boys who like boys.

They are thriving, and smiling, and real.

And so is she.

And so am I.

Bully

Bullybully

When I was 9, I consoled a girl from my class on the school bus
About her recent break-up.
“How could he do that to you?” I patted her back.
“You deserve so much better.”

Deep down, I wanted to be that boy,
The one who broke her heart, who tossed her aside.
The popular and callous straight boy who didn’t have to hide.

He confronted me on the same bus the next day.
Told me to stay away from his girl.
He, smaller in every way,
Told me to watch out at recess,
That I was a nerd
And that he had more hair on his balls than I ever would.

How strange that it took so many years to offer myself the same words.
“How could he do that to you?”
“You deserve so much better.”

the unintentional hypocrite

door

before i went on my first date with a man, i did marriage counseling for dozens and dozens of couples

before i knew what i wanted to do with my life, i successfully completed six years of college with a 3.8 grade point average

before i considered myself authentic, i wrote hundreds of pages of journal entries and poems exploring my soul

before i knew how to tell my story, i published a book

before i had my first real kiss, i had a successful marriage to a woman, and everyone thought we were the perfect couple

before i knew what being mentally healthy was, i was the director of a community mental health center

before i understood my own spirituality, i completed a two year dedicated missionary service and baptized several into the faith i was born into

before i understood how to take care of myself, i was taking care of two sons who required my everything

before i lived well, i merely lived

 

 

The Silver Sea

Tonight
The sea turned silver
The boiling sun
Took refuge behind a mass of opaque clouds
As yellow light spilled from its edges
In life-giving tendrils

With only a slight shift in vantage
I stood in a scattered crowd of humans
And saw the earth curve
A long arc across the horizon

Unconquerable ocean rolled forth endlessly
Walls of it smashing
Into the ground beneath me
Slowly and incessantly wearing it down

Rushing water drowned all sound
The guitars, the children,
The motors and tinny radios,
The fragile thumping hearts

And the humans stood as one
Facing west
Looking toward the circular world
As pin-prick stars
And spreading shadows
And salt-soaked wind
And whispering water
Held their weight.

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NYPD Adventure

nypd

“So when I get there, are you going to demand money for my phone?” Cooper stared off into space, negotiating with the man who had robbed him. I heard the man’s voice come back through my cell phone.

“That was the wrong question to ask me, son. Now you have thirty minutes to get here or I’ll just sell your phone. Meet me at the Bank of America.”

“At least tell me what you look like!”

“You don’t need to know that either.”

Cooper got off the phone quickly and looked at me, not knowing what to do.

We were sitting at a Starbucks in the heart of midtown New York City, just blocks away from the United Nations, the Chrysler Building, the Empire State Building, and the New York Public Library, all iconic and famous buildings.

My sister Sheri and I, there on vacation, had just left the United Nations after a wonderful tour through the massive and reverent facility, and Cooper had messaged me, saying his phone and wallet had been stolen at the coffee shop. He was in town auditioning, preparing for a big move to the city as an actor a few months down the line, and we had talked about meeting up while we were both in the same place. He and I had been on exactly one date a few years ago, and had stayed friends, but he had moved to Los Angeles now and was working as an actor, while I was still in Utah working and raising my sons. He had been working on his laptop, had bent down to get something out of his backpack, and had sat back up to find his phone missing, and with it the attached case that contained his cash, credit cards, and identification.

Before Sheri and I arrived at Starbucks, Cooper had opened his laptop and accessed an IPhone tracker app. By entering his number and password, he was able to see the location of the phone through the city, and it was several miles away. Cooper had entered a phone number of a friend into the phone, which would then allow the robber to call that number only. Cooper could also push a button that would make the phone ‘ding’ loudly, even if it was on silent mode. The only way to quiet it would be to shut it off, and so far the man hadn’t done that. So once we arrived at Starbucks, Cooper changed the number in the tracker to my number, and the robber had called it.

“What did he sound like? Do you know what he might look like?”

Cooper grimaced. “I don’t want to sound racist, but he sounded like an older black man. I know that type of voice. And I think I remember a guy like that here. He was an older guy, blue shirt, with a cap on his head.”

I laughed, lightening the moment a bit. “You aren’t racist. If I said it, it might sound racist, I’m the white Utah kid. But you’re the black Utah kid, so saying another man sounds black is less racist.” We both chuckled a bit.

“Okay, listen,” I told him, leaning in over the table. “This is clearly some kind of scam. When I was 21, I was in Philadelphia, and a guy tried engaging me in conversation on the street. When I slowed down, he signaled his buddies and suddenly I was surrounded by men who mugged me. I ended up unconscious as they ran off. So this guy clearly has some sort of plan. This is something he has done before. You can’t go up there, and even if we had a car, there is no way you could make it in thirty minutes. Maybe you call 911 instead.”

And so Cooper called 911. “What’s my emergency?”  he said when they answered, and he explained the whole situation, how he could track the man with the phone, and how the man wanted him to show up by himself to a bank. The unsympathetic operator told Cooper to head up there to the bank on his own and see if the man was there, and then to call the police and they would arrive. Except it would likely take the police over an hour to arrive. The call ended abruptly.

We strategized briefly. Cooper had a plane to catch the next morning. He absolutely couldn’t go meet a criminal with a credit card at his bank. A call to the airlines confirmed he could still board his plane if he had a police report that showed his ID was missing, so he could cancel his credit cards, get a new phone, and get the police report.

On our walk to the police station, the man called back and I found myself laughing out loud as Cooper channeled his inner black girl in his responses, his walk more confident, his gestures more dramatic.

“Okay, listen, nigger, there is no way on God’s green Earth that I am coming up to you in a place I don’t know when you won’t describe yourself. No! Just leave my cell phone with a bank teller then! What’s that? Oh, you want me there in person so that you can see the look on my face when you hand it to me! No! I’m not a fool! What do you take me for! Fine, then sell my phone! The screen is cracked and the battery is almost dead, and I have the charger, but I bet you can get 20 bucks for it! Go ahead! Go right ahead!”

The man hung up, and although we tried calling several more times, he didn’t answer again. But he didn’t turn the phone off either. Cooper, strangely, was a bit elated. He talked about having the best time with this, and how this was an epic New York adventure. We kept laughing as we walked into the local police station precinct of the NYPD, an older tomb-like building with poor lighting inside and a set of chairs in front of the reporting desk. We saw several policemen walking around, all men, a multi-ethnic team of professionals of all ages.

Cooper explained the story to the dispatch officer, who called in his supervisor, who called in his supervisor, who called in his supervisor. We showed them Sheri’s phone, which now had the IPhone tracker downloaded on it, and we could see the man had moved several miles again to Central Park. We tried calling him again with the police there, but he wasn’t answering. And suddenly, one of the men spoke up.

“Well, let’s get an undercover car, and let’s go get him.”

And before I could blink, Sheri, Cooper, and I were piled into the back of an unmarked police car. In the front sat Sergeant Morales, a thin, handsome Hispanic cop with a no-nonsense attitude, and Officer Francis, a linebacker-sized Caucasian man with a tremendous sense of humor. Both men had huge hearts and were clearly very passionate about their jobs.

The car began whizzing in and out of traffic down Fifth Avenue toward Central Park, and I had to crack a window to keep from getting nauseous. I was fatigued, and hungry, and dehydrated. The officers triggered the siren to clear traffic when necessary and ran several red lights.

As we drove, Sheri, ever the comedian, quipped, “Cooper, what if the guy just thought you were hot? What if he stole your phone to get your attention?”

Cooper, all smiles, laughed back. “That would be the most twisted and elaborate story of all time. Maybe I’ll meet my future husband now!”

Sheri kept going. “What if the cops are in on it? Are you guys just actors leading Cooper to an epic date?”

Officer Francis looked back seriously. “Yup. Surprise!”

And Sergeant Morales, more serious, still chuckled. “Right. Cause we could get an unmarked cop car and break traffic laws for that.”

Cooper and I exchanged an ‘is-this-really-happening’ look and soon we were near Central Park on a busy intersection, right on top of the blipping dot on the tracker.

“Okay,” Officer Francis explained. “Chad and Cooper get out and walk down the road. Push the little button that makes the phone ding. I’ll hang out behind you and as soon as you point him out, I’ll grab the guy.”

We walked up and down the block, watching for a man that met Cooper’s description. He pushed the button, but we heard no pings. My heart was pounding and my senses on hyper-alert. At the end of the city block, the tracker suddenly showed the man another 8 blocks away. We all piled back in the car, wondering if he was on the subway or a bike or a city bus. Two more times, we walked the busy streets filled with pedestrians, and each time he would be blocks farther away. We kept calling and pinging the phone, but the man never answered.

Finally, we identified the bus he was on. And so the NYPD activated their siren and pulled the bus over. On Fifth Avenue. In New York City. Blocking traffic. And my friend, my sister, two cops, and me walked on to the semi-crowded bus. To catch a criminal. Who had stolen a cell phone. My head was spinning.

As we got on the bus, an older woman rushed off. “I want nothing to do with the cops!” she exclaimed, basically fleeing.

Sitting right there at the front of the bus was an elderly black man with a walker. He was wearing thick black glasses, a blue ballcap, a grey sweater over a plaid shirt, and blue pants. Cooper was off the bus pushing the ‘ping’ button and I heard it going off in his pocket. The man’s walker was draped in clothing and bags.

“Is there something going on, officers?” the man asked. They explained they were looking for a stolen cell phone and the man reached into his sweater pocket and pulled it out. “You mean this one? I was at a Starbucks a few hours ago and I found it sitting in a bathroom. I have been trying to talk to the kid to give it back, but he didn’t want to, so I kept it here in my pocket. I’m just on the bus, headed down to K-Mart to buy me some socks.”

The police pulled the man off the bus and he took a seat on his walker on the sidewalk as the officers got his identification. His name was George and he was 72. He had no criminal record except for a speeding ticket back in the 1970s.

George kept talking, professing pure innocence at what he had done. He seemed to mostly be dialoguing for himself, and now, days later, I’m not sure if he was a master criminal with a very convincing cover story that he has used over and over, or a slightly senile old man who was purely innocent. I found myself questioning him as he spoke, as did Cooper, as did the officers, but his story didn’t change.

“Look, I found the cell phone in the bathroom. I didn’t realize it had your ID and credit cards in it. Look, nothing is missing, see? I had no idea the police could track a phone like that! Wow, how did you guys even find me? And on a bus! Anyway, I didn’t steal it. I didn’t give the phone to someone at Starbucks or see if anyone there had lost it because I didn’t want anyone to steal it. You say you left it on a table? No way, I found it in the bathroom. So I just put it in my pocket. I was trying to give it back to you, wasn’t I? I didn’t ask for no reward. Why didn’t I describe myself? Because I wanted you to be surprised! Why didn’t I just leave the phone with a bank teller? Well, because, I wanted to see the smile on your face when you got it back! That would have been my reward! Why did I threaten to sell the phone? Well, what else was I going to do with it! Why was I miles away at a bank? Well, because I had to go up that way for some glasses! That was just a good place to meet you!”

And in the most telling moment of the entire conversation, the man turned to Cooper and said, “Look, did I ask you for any money for your phone?”

And Cooper quipped back, “No. But I had to get the cops to chase your bus downtown to grab it.”

Officer Francis explained that they definitely had enough evidence to arrest the man, but that he rather believed the man was a bit senile and didn’t mean to steal it. He said it would be the weirdest arrest he had ever made, taking the man in his walker back to the station for booking. He explained that since there were credit cards with the phone, that George would be charged with a felony. And Cooper, magnanimously, decided not to press charges.

Before the police gave us a ride back to the station, before we firmly shook their hands and sincerely thanked them for their amazing service, before we all went about our days with giant smiles and spinning heads, before I could ruminate on what an insane adventure that had been, before George got back on the next bus to go on and buy his socks (and maybe to steal another phone)… before all that, I made one suggestion.

“Hey, Cooper, you and George want to get your photo taken?”

And so Cooper held up his phone and stood next to George, who stood up off his walker and put his arm around Cooper. They both smiled and held up their thumbs as I snapped the shot. People passed behind them, texting, oblivious.

cooper

 

 

a bus ride through New York

newyork

The old man pulled a stray sweater up around his knees and gave a little shudder of cold. He didn’t speak English, but some movements, gestures, and facial expressions go beyond language, and ‘I’m cold’ is an easy one to convey.

He was likely from India, Bangladesh, or perhaps Myanmar. He must have been over 80. His clothes hung on him and he had a classy cap on his head and a small pack in his hands. After I got on the bus at the Port Authority in New York City, he had made eye contact with me, getting consent as he took the seat on the Greyhound next to mine. And as the bus droned on, his head lolled back and forth in easy motions while he slept.

Two men sat in front of me, loudly bantering back and forth about the women in their lives. They had rich chocolate skin, and one had his hair pulled tight in rows while the other had dreadlocks that reached his knees in the back. They called each other the n word and talked about being unappreciated in their homes, working all day and not getting the love they needed at night. Though I listened for several minutes, I could never determine what their jobs were.

A Hispanic woman sat behind me, her hair dyed blonde, bright red lipstick on her face. She soothed a small child, around 9 months old I guessed, rocking him back and forth on her shoulder, clutching him protectively as she whispered things like ‘Mami loves you’ in his ear.

A white woman with red hair sat across the aisle, looking heartbroken. Her clothes were disheveled and she didn’t seem to have any bags with her. Once in a while she would look up and make eye contact with someone, but she would quickly look away, seeming frightened and sad.

The Greyhound bus driver had left his comm-device off its hook, and it created an obnoxious staticy feedback over the speakers, where there should have been radio. The static grew in intensity, sounding like an alien ship landing, then would go back to gentle white noise, and everyone kept waiting for the driver to notice it, but no one said anything. The bus was mostly silent except for that. From time to time, the driver would pick up the device and speak into it, and it sounded like a barely audible whisper, as he announced intersections or stops. “Is anyone asleep?” he said over and over. “Don’t want you to miss your stop.” But I had to crane my ears up to hear him over the static.

The bus drove through several neighborhoods in New York, through the Upper West Side, and Jamaica, and the Bronx. There were seas of people walking on either side, and endless buildings with businesses on the ground floor and apartments stacked up on top of them, 27 stories high on one building I counted. I pictured all of the people crammed into these small spaces, paying high rents for rooms, signing leases, acquiring ramshackle furniture, packing bikes and groceries up and down the flights of stairs, decorating small balconies and fire escapes with plants and chairs and storage items. I imagined what is must be like to raise a child here.

My eyes took in all the logos on the businesses. An apostolic church that advertised the 12 lost tribes of Isreal as all of the non-white races on Earth, a third floor barbershop where I saw black men laughing together as their hair was trimmed, students sitting on the sidewalk with papers and cups of coffee scattered around them in sidewalk spaces in front of coffee shops, flowers sold out of carts, a chandelier shop with a practicing psychic on the floor above it, on and on, endless, buildings stretching everywhere. Rainbow flags adorned many windows, especially on small bars, with the universal message that all were welcome within.

I watched the people, the beautiful people, rushing in every direction, people of every color and hue. Deep rich cocoa to milk chocolate to sepia, beige to deep earth to caramel, creamed honey to cinnamon to sand. So different from the streets of Utah, where any of these colors stands out in the sea of Caucasian on the streets. Here, regular white bread white was the hardest to spot. Men in traditional suits with red ties, women in flowing African robes, t-shirts and shorts, sundresses. Ball caps and hijabs and turbans and yarmulkes. Men jogging with dogs, women clutching hands with their children, grandmothers waiting for busses, everyone in a hurry.

I wondered what it would be like to live here, to claim parts of the city as my own, a coffee shop, a park bench, a gym. What it would be like to find friends, a routine, to explore these streets and these people in all of their vibrancies and cultural enmeshments. To always be in a hurry.

The bus kept driving, over the river and out of the city, on through Connecticut and into Massachusetts where I would be spending my week with my sister and her wife. But I would be back in New York to explore in just a few days.

I had only been to the city once before, years ago, on a trip with two college friends. I had walked through the city, haphazard, looking at various places with casual interest, not daring to let myself be seen too much or heard to much at the time, as that was how I approached life then. I traipsed through Ellis Island and the United Nations, along Times Square and Broadway, in Greenwich Village and across Fifth Avenue. Now, I long to see it again now, now that I’m authentic and real, and to compare it to the other cities I’m learning to love: San Francisco and Denver, Seattle and Los Angeles, Portland and New Orleans, San Diego and Miami. What a rich and beautiful world it is.

But for now, it is a noisy, cozy, cold bus full of strangers, each with a story as vast and diverse and fascinating as mine.

 

absolutely electric

Lightning1.jpg

In my most powerful moments
when lightning flashes outward from my fingers, toes, and eyes
and I float evenly in the center
kept aloft in the night sky
seeing over every horizon
in those moments, I am
limitless
bulletproof
invincible
free
I rise higher, willfully
with clouds at my feet
absolutely electric
in time
I grow chilled
and lonely
and weary of the winds and jets and birds
and I return
to mud, to dirt
to safe holes in familiar glens
to roots and dust
to burrowing aphids
to warm damp subterranean space
and there, safe, I dig my toes into the soil
and I sing into the darkness
hearing the life forms plodding on the ground above me.
they have no idea I’m here
not until I’m ready
again
for the sun and song of the surface.