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Carmela has been coming in for a month or more now, working on her resume and trying to get a job teaching. She is a tall, fit, physically imposing black woman from Johannesburg who has lived in Paris and speaks French fluently.

“Can you give me a hand with this?” she asked, coming up to the desk from PC #1, her habitual location.

I scanned her resume and it all read fine to me, but Carmela wasn’t satisfied.

“Teaching isn’t like other jobs, you know,” she said, spreading out her hands, trying to grasp a big concept. “It isn’t about the money. There are other reasons why I want to be a teacher. But how can I say that in a single word?”

I stared off into space for a moment and a word came hurtling toward me like a corporate logo on a 60-foot wide movie screen. “Paramount,” I said, kind of stunned by its sudden impact on my brain.

“Yes!” said Carmela, holding up her hand for a high-five. “Money is not my paramount concern.”






Adorable deer nibbling buds off my apple trees.

Signed up for Medicare Parts A and B today, as required by law. I had no questions and there was nothing to sign. I have closely studied the 135-page Medicare & YOU 2017  publication and the rest of the accompanying blizzard of health insurance industry propaganda you get when you turn 65. My coverage starts May 1 and they’ll send me something in the mail.

The actual meeting with the Medicare rep took less time than I spent passing through the security guards. There was a line of us old people patiently waiting behind the oldest and frailest among us, who had a medical aid to help manage his oxygen tank and walker. These are my peers. There was genial conversation and people talking about medical procedures.

I was reviewing documents in my folder when a wizened old fellow in front of me turned around and said:

“Did you hear about the guy who had the whole left side of his body amputated?”

“What?” I said, nonplussed by the smiling stranger. My interlocutor looked kind of like Yoda, but with apple cheeks bursting with good health and tufts of hair sticking out of his ears.

“Yep, the whole left side was amputated…” the man said, “…but he turned out alright.”

It was all so bizarre I couldn’t not laugh.

“Sorry,” said the merry fellow, “that’s my favorite dumb joke.”

Everything was copacetic there and then, but two hours later I found myself in an Anger Management scenario while talking with a sales rep about Medicare Parts C and D.

What I learned from my 12-step program is that I was angry about wasting my life on a 40-hour week treadmill. I value time more than money and experiences more than things. When the opportunity for a part-time position at the library became available, I applied for it, transferring to a branch closer to my home. I gave up health insurance, but improved my health and well-being. My Anger Management issues were solved by working less, joining the legions of part-time people.

These days, I generally enjoy going to work and think of it as a chance to help others while broadening my horizons. You meet the most unusual cross-section of humanity in a public library. Dealing with all of them is what keeps it interesting.  My job is a planet I visit every day, but not the center of my world.

Another reason my anger management issues went away was not having to commute in a car. Working part-time gives me more time to do things I enjoy, such as writing and biking–even biking to work. There’s no finer way to invigorate yourself before engaging in serious work. After work, biking home is a quiet, alone time to process events of the day. This flexible window of time between work and home is key to my health and happiness.

So it was shocking today when I found myself getting angry for the first time in years. It happened in the cramped office of the credit union where I had arranged to meet with a sales lady for United Healthcare. Randi Lavendar–is that even her real name?–has no idea of how it all blew up in her face.

I came in smiling, fully prepared with a legal-size folder stuffed full of health insurance plans and spread them out on her desk. They were bedizened with yellow sticky notes, facts and figures highlighted and underlined.

This is a negotiating ploy I learned from T.J. in his class on Anger Management 101. Take the initiative and take up space. That worked pretty well for about ten minutes, as I repeatedly interrupted Randi’s sales spiel, digging out competing facts and figures from other companies. Finally, she stopped talking and, taking a deep breath, gathered up all my paraphernalia and firmly handed it back to me.

She was a thirty-something, attractive young woman, confident and assertive. A little older than my daughter, and a little more brassy.

“Please,” she said, laying out a single piece of blank paper on the desk, “let me show you why you don’t need all that information.” There was silence for a few minutes as she sketched an outline of Medicare parts A and B and C and D and then lines connecting them with a few basic options.

“I’m here to help you,” she said, “there’s all kinds of options. You could get part D coverage for as little an zero dollars.”

“That’s what I want! Zero dollars for prescription care coverage. I don’t need drugs and I don’t want to support the pharmaceutical industry. I don’t want insurance at all, but it’s the law. I haven’t had insurance since I started working part-time. My health improved immediately.”

“I can tell,” said Randi, trying to get a word in edge-wise. “I can see you’re very fit. You take care of your own health. That’s great. Accident insurance is really all you need. Like for an auto accident or something.”

“Or if I break a leg skiing,” I said. “Or mountain climbing.” I tried to think of extreme endeavors, but mostly I play it safe.

“Exactly!” said Randi, feeling that she was finally getting through to me.

Thanks to Anger Management training I recognized the symptoms of my own rising anger. Beating heart. Shortness of breath. Talking too loud, too fast.

Randi plunged on with her sales pitch. I tried to calm down by zoning out her droning voice, nodding when it seemed appropriate, but no longer listening, concerned more with managing my anger at having to buy a product I don’t want. Let’s just wrap this up, I thought. Get me out of here before I say something I’ll regret.

I focused on seeing Randi as a fellow victim of the health care industry. She’s just doing her job, working on commission. Of course she has to try to up-sell me things I don’t need or want. It took about ten minutes of acting like a good listener…and then I was ready to go.

“You know what,” said Randi, wrapping up, “I think we can get you signed up today. You won’t have to take all this home with you to study. What do you say?”

“I’m not buying anything today. I agreed to this meeting because you said you would help me understand the options. Just give me the paper work. I’ll discuss it with my wife and we’ll make a decision. My wife is someone I know.”

“Here, let me give you my card,” said Randi. “We can schedule another appointment now, or you can call me when you’re ready.”

“I don’t want an appointment.”

“So I can help you fill out the forms.”

“I don’t need any help filling out forms. I work for the government. That’s what we do all day.”

Sarcasm is a sure sign that you’re losing control of anger–and it’s not very useful. It was all I could do to keep from jumping up out of my chair and storming out of that claustrophobic den of inequity.

“Okay. I understand,” said Randi, “you’re under a lot of stress today. Applying for Medicare is very stressful. I’m really sorry to be adding to your problems today. If you don’t want an appointment with me…”

“I don’t want an appointment with anybody!”

I certainly had her full attention now, as she almost physically backed away. And yet kept on selling.”I was just going to say you can visit our website to learn more about it. And I just have to tell you about this special new benefit where you can have up to $50 credit every quarter for shopping at our on-line store.”

“Fifty dollars credit every quarter? For what? To buy crap I don’t need?”

I apologized immediately for my language. Randi apologized for causing me stress. Please don’t take it personally, I said. She apologized for having to go through the whole routine.

“I know,” I said. “You’re required to tell me about this deal because of your job.”

“I am,” she admitted. “I have to do it for my job.”

All these years later, it’s odd to discover just how easy it is to tap volcanic emotions, simmering just beneath the surface.

Biked home. Talked it over with the wife. Took the lead role in cooking dinner from a recipe for Cauliflower Couscous that Suzanne had found in Renew, the United Healthcare propaganda magazine.

Working in the backyard after dinner, I discovered 5 deer loitering in our orchard, nibbling choice green buds.  They stared at me as I advanced upon them, making shoo-ing motions with my hands and saying “getalongnow” in a reasonable tone of voice. They stared and went on munching. You should have seen them jump when I got behind the wheelbarrow and charged.

Leaping across the ditch to my neighbor’s pasture, the herd soon resumed their insolent strolling about. Grabbing up the rake I charged again, yelling like a crazy person and beating the rake against a pile of dead branches until they all disappeared into the woods.

“What an asshole,” the deer must be thinking about me. But oh what a feeling.



Getting in touch with my inner Li’l Abner was a great step forward.

T.J. stressed the importance of humor in managing stress. He spoke at length about the noble tradition of satire as a way for powerless people to resist oppressors. He showed PowerPoint slides starting with Goya etchings, George Grosz, and Thomas Nast. T.J. lamented the decline of newspaper editorial cartoons. Comic pages have lost importance, their place being taken by sanitized television sit-coms. Perhaps in reaction to that, local comedy clubs are making a comeback.

Know your Humors and how to use them.

Puns: the lowest form of humor.

Irony:  the Socratic method of discussion by professing ignorance: conveyance of meaning by words whose literal meaning is the opposite: a condition is which one seems to be mocked by Fate. (Greek eironela, dissimulation–eiron, a dissembler.)

Satire: a literary composition, originally in verse, essentially a criticism of folly or vice, which it holds up to ridicule or scorn–its chief instruments, irony, sarcasm invective, wit, and humor. (Latin satira, satura, full (dish), a medley.)

Sardonic: scornful, heartless, or bitter, said of a forced unmirthful laugh: sneering. (French sardonique, Latin sardonius, Greek sardonios, doubtfully referred to sardonion, a plant of Sardinia which was said to screw up the face of the eater).

Sarcasm: scorn, contempt, a bitter sneer: a jibe: a satirical remark, often but not always ironical. (Latin sarcasmus, Greek sarkasmos, sarkazein, to tear flesh like dogs, to speak bitterly.)


Toads of Property by George Grosz (1921)

My father had Anger Management issues of his own, of course, although that’s not what they called it in those days. Spankings were common as rain and as easily passed over. Our family custom was to celebrate birthdays with a ceremonial spanking–one whack for every year, administered by an older sibling and gleefully counted out by others: eventually numbering thirteen.

Haven’t you ever been paddled by a priest, or had your knuckles rapped by a nun? Beating bad boys was the norm where I grew up, and there is no doubt among us that we deserved what we got. Ignorance was not an excuse. You knew the rules:

“Whatever you do, DON’T MAKE MOM CRY!”

H.L. Mencken, “the Sage of Baltimore” was a writer whose social satire T. J. recommended. As founding editor of the satirical The American Mercury magazine from 1924-33, Mencken published one of the first essays by Bernard De Voto, expertly skewering his home state of Utah. Here is Anger Management as satire of the finest and fiercest kind:

Utah by Bernard De Voto (1926)

“Never kid a kidder,” is what my father used to say when I attempted to match his humor with outrageous surmises of my own. He had grown up on H.L. Mencken as the ultimate social critic. Mencken was one of our household gods, cheap re-prints of his collected essays jammed into cluttered bookshelves around the house; living room, basement, and bathroom.

Charlie Chaplin’s little tramp is another well-known subversive. The Great Dictator is a classic example of using humor to disarm a well-armed enemy. The Marx Brothers anarchic humor is another example of popular underclass resistance.

“But Groucho Marx would be nothing without Margaret Dumont,” T.J. handsomely interposed. Her willingness to blithely bear the brunt of Groucho’s rude remarks and double entendres makes for great social satire.


Duck Soup (1933) Directed by Leo McCarey
Margaret Dumont as Mrs. Teasdale and Groucho Marx as Rufus T. Firefly

Mrs. Teasdale: Your Excellency, the eyes of the world are upon you. Notables from every country are gathered here in your honor. This is a gala day for you.
Rufus T. Firefly: Well, a gal a day is enough for me. I don’t think I could handle any more.

According to T.J., Lenny Bruce was a brilliant social critic victimized by the repressive era in which he lived. T.J. said he had really looked forward to seeing the movie based on his life, starring Dustin Hoffman, but was disappointed by the result. The movie makes Lenny Bruce look like a hero, but get real: he was an irresponsible, self-destructive drug addict. He wasn’t a criminal. He was a guy who needed help.

From Lenny Bruce, T.J. transitioned to a tour around the history of drug-abuse and creative people, going back to opium dens of San Francisco, French absinthe-drinkers, and the drug-raddled works of William Burroughs, Hunter S. Thompson, and Ken Kesey, particularly One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. Kesey worked in a mental institution as a student, his story was based on first-hand experience, but making the mental institution into a metaphor for something much larger.

T.J. was a big fan of all Jack Nicholson’s performances but he singled out this scene in Five Easy Pieces:

Diner Scene

T.J. asked the class to discuss how to how Anger Management skills might have helped Jack Nicholson’s character get what he wanted.

Richard Pryor and Gene Wilder were T.J.’s favorite comedians because they were survivors. After trial and error, each overcame self-destructive traits. Blazing Saddles is a great example of popular media delivering a razor-sharp satiric message about racism and the cliches of Hollywood movie-making.

“Who is your inner cartoon character?”

T.J. asked our class to ponder that question as our homework assignment, and then make a one-panel comic strip about the character for a show & tell. We posted our pictures around the room and told our stories, reveling in the freedom of cartoon characterization.

“This isn’t really me, but this is how I feel…”


Linus & Lucy: this is how I viewed my relationship with  powerful Women Managers.

Getting in touch with my inner Li’l Abner was a great step forward, illustrated by the next picture. Abner is the opposite of Lucy Van Pelt’s weakling little brother Linus. He’s a big, strong, self-reliant nature lover in patched jeans and working-man’s boots. And he’s married to the most bodacious woman allowed in the funny pages. Happy-go-lucky is me.


The Stress Test adds up all the possible causes of stress in your life and divides by the number of ways you have to deal with it. I scored pretty high on stress and pretty low on dealing with it. This is where believing in God, or any kind of higher power really pays off, T.J. pointed out. If you have a support group of fellow believers, that’s even better.

But if you don’t believe in God and don’t have a support group of fellow believers you’re kind of screwed. Belonging to any kind of group is better than not for dealing with stress.

T.J. talked about “Bowling Alone” as a common condition of modern life.

Test results showed that one of my major stresses was driving up and down Ogden Canyon every day to work. I’ve had an aversion to driving ever since my then-young son and I were blindsided by a drunk driver. My femur was shattered and I had to learn to walk all over again. I had always biked to work at previous jobs. When possible, I rode the bus to work up in Ogden Valley, until that route was discontinued. And then driving was the only way to get to work: another reason to seek work elsewhere. I was ALWAYS looking for another job.

Another source of stress was editing and publishing the library newsletter. It had formerly been a respected literary journal. Like countless other print publications, my fiefdom diminished by degrees. Accepting its diminishing was a big part of my anger.

“What do you mean, ‘I can’t dismiss the Editorial Board!!'” (A quote from my notebook of those days.)

But the primary source of stress was my son joining the Marines. My wife and I had no doubt that Piete was cannon fodder caught up in an imperial expedition for petroleum, also known as Operation: Enduring Freedom.

“Oh yeah! Operation: Enduring Freedom is in the house!”


Private Sawatzki, Co. D, Class II, 2nd Batallion ITB, School of Infantry, Camp Pendleton, CA

That was when Suzanne stopped sleeping regularly. She worried and she aged. We had 20 years of marriage and mires of mixed feelings. It was ever thus. An open-ended relationship is what we want, allowing for the possibility of things impossible to imagine. Flexible. Married, but not welded, has always been our motto. Our son in harm’s way was an unexpected stress fracture between us.





“Think of me as a coach,” T.J. used to say. He looked the part, comfortable in baggy jeans, short sleeves and sneakers, and his variety of trucker caps, patiently leading a room full of misfits through fundamentals of life. We sat at surplus high school student desks, T.J. at the front of the room with his whiteboard, depending on it as a life line to get him through each lesson plan, step-by-step-by-step.

His diagrams were carefully chosen and explicated. When he felt as if we had mastered a concept he would turn around and thoroughly scrub the board clean, taking a long time while he thought about what next to say. It brought back fond memories of my high school football coach–except T.J. was way smarter.

As this notebook entry shows, the weekly classes were concurrent with my job at the library. Cranking up the ghetto blaster before opening was our favorite way of acting out, and that week it was The Groove Grass Boyz.


The great thing about T.J. as a teacher was his openness to going off topic. Responding to random questions with his own seemingly random questions, thoughts, and observations. T.J. was quick to pounce if he thought he spied a lesson in a student’s remark, or if something happened locally that might be relevant. Any bright thing to make a dreary topic more lively.

Towards the end of the 90-minute classes, T.J. more than once turned around to check the whiteboard and discovered most of what we were supposed to learn had not happened. It never fazed him. “Next week for sure,” he would say with a smile, giving us leave to go. There would always be another chance. Never-giving-up was the primary thing T.J. taught.

T.J. emphasized that he wasn’t an expert on human relations, or a doctor of any kind. If any of us had serious psychological issues they should seek help elsewhere. His background wasn’t in education, either. World history was his first college major and he had a fine time when he was young traveling around Europe visiting sites of ancient history. He might have gone on doing that indefinitely if not for the Draft and the Viet Nam War. So he joined the Peace Corps. Lots of interesting stories about those days, all of them somehow relating back to something he learned about dealing with people.

After getting his first job as a high school history teacher T.J. quickly realized that wasn’t what he wanted to spend the rest of his life doing. He realized that as screwed-up as the Peace Corps was, he had enjoyed the challenge of helping people learn to help themselves. So he went back to college for a degree in Sociology and has had a variety of jobs since then. He was openly ambivalent about his job, its rewards and frustrations.

These notes are from Class #6, in which we’re supposed to make a list of the things you might do on an Ideal Saturday off work, and then re-consider the list for the benefit of people with whom you live and presumably love.

The reality TV show Survivor was still a new thing in 2002. T.J. adopted it as an exercise for our class, dividing us up into groups who must work together to survive life on a desert island. There was a shortage of students that day, so there were only 2 people on my team; me and George, a guy I would never in my life imagine even talking to. Hunting and fishing were his favorite activities, so our survival was pretty much guaranteed.


There were lots of hand-outs, grainy, photo-copied pages of other photo-copies infinite generations past. Academic studies, magazine articles, and newspaper clippings meant to be taken home and studied later.

T.J. was very clear about the limited scope of what he had to offer and perfectly clear about his expectations. Attend every class you can. Participate when you’re here. Don’t come to class high, drunk, or drugged, because he’s seen all that before. It takes some people multiple times to get that he’s serious about court-ordered Anger Management.

“Be here and be present,” T.J. would say. “Do that 12 times. On the last day all you do is fill out the final evaluation form. If I can read your writing, you get a certificate of Anger Management, suitable for framing.”


T.J. gave us a brief outline of how 12-Step programs work and their origins in the Alcoholics Anonymous program. He endorsed it, except for the part about needing to believe in a “Higher Power.” He went on about that for some time. “If you feel it helpful to believe in a Higher Power–go for it!” he concluded. “If it works for you, that’s all that matters.”

Civilization And Its Discontents was high on the list of books T.J. recommended for further reading. He told us about the split between Freudian and Jungian therapy, and how Adler separated from both of them. He covered William James, the rise of Behaviorism, B.F. Skinner and operant conditioning  were dealt with dispatch. He talked about the growth of self-actualization programs in the 1960s. He went into some detail about the development of drugs to modify behavior and the multi-billion dollar industry that has grown out of it. His conclusion was that psychology is not a science, there are no sure cures for anything, and that the field will always be changing.

It was rather a lot to pack into the first 60 minutes of our first class. Then T.J. talked about the history of personality profile tests, emphasizing that the results can mean a lot or can be useless garbage. “Garbage in–garbage out,” is a phrase I recall, because he went off on a brief tangent about the history of computer processing. The point T.J. labored to have us comprehend is there’s an infinite variety of personality tests and they all depend on the willing cooperation of the person being tested. Then he passed out a 100-question personality profile. We had 30 minutes to finish and then were free to go.



Bob, Mieka, Piete, Suzanne @ San Diego Zoo, 2002

Wednesday, March, 2002. Wheeler Creek Trail head parking area, with 10 minutes to kill on my way to work.

On Saturday, I was at the San Diego Zoo with Suzanne, Mieka, and newly fledged U.S. Marine Corps Private Pieter Thor Sawatzki. Born on a stormy day, we named him after the god of thunder and lightning. Eighteen years later he joined the military. That was last summer, a month and a half before 9-11.

While his comrades  partied their brains out, Piete just wanted to get away. The zoo was his choice to celebrate our day together, partly because as an active duty serviceman he got free admission. Our first stop was the gift shop, to buy a civilian “cover” for his shaved head.

Piete’s feet were aching from the parade ground exercises, marching about in drill formations wearing ill-fitting boots under the brilliant sun. All he wanted was to sit on a quiet bench under the shade of a tree and read a book. We agreed to meet for lunch at food outlet #3: The Treehouse Cafe.

S. wanted to graze at the salad bar. I wanted meatloaf and garlic potatoes. But it all looked like monkey chow to me.


Tuesday, April 2, while waiting in line for the automatic car wash.

Yesterday was Day 2 of Anger Management, a 12-step program I am now enrolled in. This chain of events started when I was joking on the phone with a trusted co-worker about an Item Request.

“That item is unavailable,” I said, “due to the item record being all fucked up.”

T.D., our new assistant Librarian overheard me speaking rudely of an item record. If there’s one thing all librarians are obsessed about, it’s item records. But instead of talking to me about it, T.D. sent me a sternly worded e-mail, followed up by a brief meeting with her and the branch manager, K.B.

T.D., newly divorced, middle-aged single mother and recent graduate of library school anxious to try out her newly-fledged managerial wings by practicing on me.

A few days later, I discovered T.D. had set up a test of my thoroughness in a cart of books I was spiffing-up: cleaning covers, sanding edges, repairing torn pages. There was a book with an item record I was supposed to “discover” and correct. In absolute dereliction of duty, I left the item record uncorrected.

Sure enough, I received an e-mail from T.D. about it. Unfortunately, we were alone that day. After reading T.D.’s e-mail, I responded by shoving the cart across the room at her, speaking harsh words I deeply regret.

Just the two of us at a branch library up in the piney woods, me and this little lady, trying to re-invent herself in a very strange state, at her first professional post. Terrified of me, I realize now. Size and sex had everything to do with it.

T.D. locked herself in the back office and called the branch manager at her home for advice. I went back to work at the front desk, cleaning and sanding volumes. Pretty soon, the phone rang and I answered.

“What’s going on?” said K.B. “Are you alright?”

“I’m fine,” I said, “but I think T.D. needs to go home for the day. She’s locked herself in the office.”

“I know,” said K.M. “She told me all about it. But you’re the one who has to go home. Right now. You’re on Administrative Leave.”


There was a meeting with K.B. and legal counsel for the county. I was encouraged to shop around for an Anger Management class that I thought best for me. I called several places, visiting locations and collecting brochures.

I was on my lunch break in the kitchen at work when T.J., the anger management counselor from New Horizons returned my call. He had questions about my situation–did I really work in a library? Located in beautiful, scenic, serene Ogden Valley?

“What do you have to be stressed about?” the voice on the phone laughed out loud. “You’re up there in Happy Valley–working in a library!”

That’s when I knew I had found the right place. Soon after the call, my intuition was  re-enforced when I met T.J. in person. A subsequent meeting was arranged for K.B. to meet him and make her own determination.

On the day of the meeting, I drove up, up, up Ogden Canyon and worked at the counter for 45 minutes. Then I drove down, down, down the canyon to New Horizons at 30th and Grant…followed by my boss. We met in the parking lot and entered the shabby-looking, two-story anonymous stucco box.

“I’ve got a one-thirty with T.J.,” I said to the receptionist. Then we sat side by side on the tacky old sofa. I had my big folder of Anger Issues and a paperback copy of Working Together: A Personality Centered Approach to Management, provided by the HR dept. of the place where I work.

Beasley, the office cat, came right to us, rubbing up first against K.B., and then against me.

“Do you think he knows we’re cat people?” said K.B.

Beasley went over the to reception desk, flopped over on a throw rug, and rolled himself up like a taco. Just then, T.J. walked out to greet us. Short and stocky, compensating for small stature by always wearing a trucker cap. There were a number of caps, I came to learn over the course of our classes and in the decade and a half since those tumultuous days, all of them well-used.

I introduced K.B. to T.J. and then we all went upstairs to talk.

Poster on the wall: There are no bad apples, there’s just misunderstood fruit.

There were 10 to 12 of us in the Anger Management Class, mostly angry, white males. Attendance varied because of drop-outs and work schedules. Just 2 or 3 women. Some of us were there for problems at work, but most people had been court-ordered by a judge for spousal abuse. One of these was a handsome young latino police officer, giant-size, a brown Achilles. We all had a moment to share our stories, but his testimony was the one that really slapped me in the face–you might say–because of his sincere contrition. He loved his job yet was in danger of losing it. He loved his wife and yet he beat her. How the hell, he wondered out loud, did he end up here with all us losers? He got a big laugh for that.

What I noticed right away was these were my kind of people. Opinionated, sarcastic, plain-speaking, working class citizens–no shrinking violets here. Leave your pc-manners and politesse at the door. In many respects it was like being in high school detention again with all your favorite trouble-makers. If they had served alcohol it would have been just like hanging out in a bar. I took careful notes and came out of each meeting totally jazzed, learning a new language.

I was ready to acknowledge being unhappy and causing grief for people I loved, along with innocent bystanders such as T.D. And I was ready to do whatever was necessary to change. But after only three classes, I had to take a previously scheduled week-long getaway around southern Utah.




Great Gallery, Horseshoe Canyon

Wednesday, April 24. Just around the bend from “The Great Gallery” in Horseshoe Canyon.

Today’s Ranger looks to be about 19 or 20 years old–a summer job for a college kid. He had big gaps between yellow teeth and food on his face.

“I’m about to take a group up to the ledge,” he said. “If you’d like a closer look.”

“I’d better not,” I said.

He looked crestfallen, like he had failed miserably again.



“Holy Ghost” panel, Horseshoe Canyon


Out by the reservoir, horse hooves coming up the trail. A girl on horseback, and behind her a boy saying, “This was always my grandfather’s favorite place. He hated it when they made him sell.”

The sun shines fiercer here in the clear mountain air. Time again to go  back…to a book discussion group.


On board the #12 bus to Huntsville. It was 8:36 a.m. when I figured out that the Subaru was gone because S. took the car to Salt Lake City for that yard sale at her sister’s house.

Rode my bike to the bus stop. Waited 5 anxious minutes, the sun coming up over the Wasatch Front–blinding the driver of the bus as it approached…and passed by.

Lunging out into the street, waving and shouting. The bus stops in the middle of the intersection. It’s a lady driver, laughing and apologizing. “So sorry. I don’t usually see anybody at this stop.”

Waiting for the bus ride back down the canyon. Sun setting on the hills. An owl calling from the park. After the library closed, as we were locking up: a stunt bike dude and his roller blade doing laps around the building.

Let’s Go Toby is on the bus today. And the retarded kid up front by the driver.

Unable to sleep, I get up, get dressed, and get out. Come back later to sleep in the shed. Fall asleep listening to the roar of traffic. Waking up hours later, traffic has subsided to a background murmur. The clock inside says 1:38 a.m. I’m in the living room, sleeping on the futon.

Sunday, Oct. 7

I was hanging up laundry when S. came out and collapsed on the lawn. Laid there crumpled up in the sun. “The problem is…I want to jump your bones. But I have a headache.”

Dragged the Ted Williams sleeping bag out back. Set up the bamboo screen against the fence. S. brought sex toys: a pear she had picked along the way…and 3 raspberries.

Monday, Oct. 8

On the #317 bus to Huntsville. Yes, you do have to stand there on the curb waving a dollar bill to get the driver’s attention!

Wed. Oct. 24

K. was half sick this morning. Sitting at the counter reading the anthrax stories in the paper. Mike was hovering, a dragonfly giant in short pants and sneakers.

Rebecca swooped in on K.’s low pressure area, then donned the rubber gloves and face mask, taking the mail out back for processing. Returning a few minutes later with a full color fold-out of a California condor she had removed from Your Big Backyard.

She stood there reading a while while I sat there cleaning and sanding the edges of our core collection.

“Do you realize there’s only twenty California condors left?” she says in that voice she reserves for all living things except humans. Brown-skinned, brown-eyed beauty. Doll-sized but don’t mess with her. Fiercely efficient and loving fun. “This picture is at the secret location in California where they are breeding.”

I nodded my head and kept working. Sanded the edge of a book, clonked it into a box, and reached for another.









On the tenth day of the new year–ten days before President Trump–there was a calm between storms. Icy streets melting into slush as we drove north, paralleling the Wasatch. A surprise day away from the Mother Ship. Among all these recent staff changes, somehow my free day had been left off the schedule, unnoticed until yesterday.

“You can have tomorrow off…or Thursday,” the department manager had informed me with her brightest smile. “What’s your preference?”

“Tomorrow?” I said. “I can have tomorrow off?”

“You can have tomorrow off,” she repeated, pen poised over the clip-boarded and marked-up schedule. “Is that what you want?”

“Yes,” I said. “I’d love tomorrow off. We’re going to the hot springs!”

“I look forward to seeing the pictures.”

2017 has pounded us with more snow that we’ve received in years. Side-streets impassable as city snowplows struggle to keep main roads clear. Heroic measures have been required for all the residents of our little corner of Whoville; shoveling sidewalks,  driveways, and parking spots out on the street until you can’t raise your arms anymore. You’re not sure if you’re exhausted or just dehydrated. Most likely both. Unending days of dark, grey, wintry weather and that ever-present impending great glooming Cloud of Unknowing: the incumbency of President Trump.

Granted a random day off and the blessing of an incoming Pineapple Express, everything seems to pause. Tomorrow there will be flooding. Today we’re on our way to soak and recuperate. And here’s the thought that occurred to me today while floating, drifting on my back in 104-degree water. Writing doesn’t have to be like the myth of Sisyphus, where you’re struggling to roll this great rock up a hill that always rolls down again. Sometimes it’s like rolling a great snowball up a hill.

Starting at the edge of the pool, right over there, where they’ve piled up snow. Then up the hill, across the highway, onto the bench, over the mountain tops. What a sight when it inevitably rolls down again and dissolves into these steaming springs.