Baby goes to traffic court

$242 later, I have enough for 360 words.

I’m a law-abiding man. I keep my nose clean. I wipe my feet on mats and look both ways before crossing the street. But I only heed “No Turn on Red” signs 99.999% of the time.

The corner is right by my apartment, a place I pass through each morning on the way to work. I sit at that red light with my blinker on, waiting sometimes a full two minutes before legally making the turn.

And by NOT honoring such a request, I buy myself a date in traffic court.


Unfortunately, that date was also the morning I played visiting professor at Bradley University. I give my spiel to the sleepy masses, lecturing on the ups and downs and sideways of Twitter and other new media, then awkwardly rush the whole presentation to a close 15 minutes earlier than scheduled. There’s no good way to say that you need to leave for court.

Room 121 looks like a Monday morning, a multitude of transgressors looking for absolution. I check in with the bailiff, take a seat in a crowded pew (yes, the symbolism!) and await judgment. This won’t be quick.

Since cell phones are off limits, one is left with classic time diversions – like eavesdropping. The cases are divided between those with suspended licenses and the petty thieves. The capital offenders are given face time with an honest-to-God judge, while I’m delegated to an assistant state’s attorney. My pew-mates are a ragged bunch, bit characters from Little Shop of Horror’s Skid Row. They’ve been here before, but avoid holding my hand.

After 90 minutes, my name is announced formally and clearly. I enter through the swinging doors and am presented with 3 options:

1. I have the right to a trial.

2. I can pay a $200 fine, but the offense will be added to my driving record.

3. But wait, that’s not all! For two Jacksons more, I can skip my way out of here with no lasting effects.

Ready as I am to fight the power, the promise of immediate freedom forces my hand. They have me where they want me, wallet open and willing.

And I’m a better person because of it.

A date for two

While the rest of the world enjoys a romantic night out, my parents will be together on another quiet evening in their Wichita home.

Valentine’s Day has double meaning for them, you see. This High Holy Day of Love is also their wedding anniversary.

I’ve never asked them why. This feels odd as I sit in the newsroom, a place where answers are gathered as daily routine.

Some might go through great effort to plan such a coincidence, but I doubt my parents are the type. So on their 31st anniversary, I decide to finally do a little reporting. My dad picks up the phone. I wish him a happy anniversary and start interrogating. Why today?

“We didn’t set out to get married on Valentine’s Day,” he says.

“We were trying to do it before Lent,” my mom yells from the background. She’s been tipped off, somehow.

“It was by default,” my dad confirms.

This was merely a day when marriage would work, a time and place that wouldn’t conflict with the schedules and cares of the world.

February 14, 1981.

My dad notes that no red hearts were present at the ceremony or reception.

Wichita, 1981


I’m sure that my parents consider going out for dinner, but most years they jointly agree to avoid the crowds. They’d be competing with the Hallmarks and American Greetings of the world.

“We could do an early bird special with all the other old people,” my mom jokes. They do actually like to eat early, for the record.

Instead, this happened: She woke up this morning, walked into the bathroom and found a pile of candy. She went to the kitchen after that, and again, discovered another pile of candy.

My dad doesn’t think much of this small act.

“I was always kind of a slug,” he says. “Don’t be like me, son.”

But my dad is mistaken, even absolutely incorrect. He realizes that love can’t be adequately measured in chalky hearts, or anything else for that matter. It’s the other 364 days that prove it true.

Chicago, 2007

Celebrity culture in Peoria

This title shouldn’t be possible. I mean it; those letters shouldn’t spell out the words in that order.

Last week, I met a coworker for sushi. It had been a rough week at the paragraph factory, some sort of unrelenting, multi-headed hydra – and I really hate snakes.

Soon after we begin eating, my friend Ashley and her boyfriend arrive and take a table next to us. I say hi, accidentally talk too much about matters of media, then concentrate on avoiding leftovers. Meanwhile, in Florida, election databases are being populated at a rate that won’t allow me time for desert.

A group of young women on the other side of us finish their meal, but before leaving, start toward Ashley. I should mention that she’s a TV reporter/anchor. They meekly interrupt her, say something forgettable and fawning, and I expect them to leave.

Peoria-Bloomington is the 116th largest television market in the U.S., according to Wikipedia.

But they’re hungry. For a photo.

Ashley is mortified, or very close to it. But she’s also gracious.

Their camera doesn’t work the first time.

More fumbling with the dumb camera, her boyfriend sitting patiently like some sort of decorative centerpiece.

A bite of sushi remains between her chopsticks.

They will get that photo. One on each side of her, obsessed sentries.

Allow me a desperate moment here, please…

I’ve somehow fallen for a librarian.


Well, it could be her name. There’s a small chance. And an even tinier chance that she’s thought of me.

$2.20 for a few late DVDs and a book. This happens constantly; I’m just doing my part to support the Peoria Public Library system. She wouldn’t take my money, but she did laugh at my desperate questioning and pointed me to a machine that wouldn’t smile back. I paid $5 and the hunk of steel called it even.

She’s a regular, this girl. I’m usually jamming on a keyboard, scowling. Her? An expert at shelving. A Dewey Decimal damsel.

There are days that this is all that keeps you going: straight dark hair midway down the back, a multicolor horizontally-striped shirt, brown cords, shoes and socks.

Hi, Marian.

Cinema coincidence?

I went and saw “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy” over the weekend and wasn’t disappointed. Purposeful camera work showcasing the gaunt, shadowed faces of the spy world, top-notch acting chops by Gary Oldman et all, and a haunting musical score. Alas, it was more confusing than it should have been – as Roger Ebert explains in his review.

But something stood out in the end and made me uncomfortable (and it wasn’t the crappy seats.) In the orchestral piece playing over the ending credits, a leitmotif centers around strings marching angrily in arpeggios. Sound familiar? Maybe this will help:

Dario Marianelli – “Briony” (click for HQ)

Marianelli won an Oscar for this soundtrack to 2007’s “Atonement.” Melding the sound of clacking typewriters with astounding piano work, it certainly deserved every last accolade.

Now, back to “Tinker Tailor”:

Alberto Iglesias – “Esterhase” (click for HQ)

Any questions?

Call and response

This is the very definition of a desperate email:

To my New York friends-

This is a long shot, but do any of you possess an unclaimed Columbia rain jacket? I may have left it behind during my visit. It has no name, but is gray in color and sports a hood.

In an event soon be known as the “Monday Miracle,” I received this reply from Eric just one minute later:

I HAVE IT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!


TOO FUNNY!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

ALL CAPS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

I’ve learned a lesson here somewhere.

2011 -> 2012

Dear readers, I type this with blood flowing freely onto my white keyboard. 2012 has killed, the prime suspect of introducing my right index finger to a can of BPA-free black beans. I think we can agree that this has consequences far beyond the application of Neosporin.

And so it is with the wind howling permeating my porous pre-war (alliteration!) apartment that I welcome yet another year.

But first: two parties.

First on the NYE tour was a basement party / band sendoff. The only rule stipulated by the invite? “Don’t be stupid.”

We stumbled down some stairs and into darkness. It was like some sort of psychological torture chamber: hands groping for balance, pulsing music, strange smells. I brought along my only weapon, a new Fuji X10, and it was did well as a camera but quite poorly as a defensive weapon. I was barely able to get 1/4s at 12,800 ISO in that pit. My eyes didn’t fare much better. Occasional breaks were taken top-side.

About one of the party hosts – if I was ever forced to follow just one Twitter user on a desert island, it would be Nate. After recently breaking a chair in his own home, he left it in the middle of the floor and chalked a crime scene around it. That chair soon received a mate just in time for 2012.

We threatened to leave (not because of the chair, mind you) and he broke out a harmonica. That was obviously the last straw, so it was on to the next party.

This group was decidedly better dressed than the basement crowd: not quite Great Gatsby, but a mixture of 30-something former bandmates and their now wives/girlfriends. Throw us all in a festive house generously opened to us by the Maags and it was a remarkably fine finale to the evening.

Somehow, in the midst of prepping with noisemakers and booze, we missed the actual transition to 2012.


To those IRL (in real life), I’ve been gone two weeks.

But to you, dear readers, I’ve been gone a whole month.

My flight back to the doldrums was no cakewalk. 90 minutes aloft, in what resembled the agitating action of a high-efficiency front-loading washer. Turbulence, constant and hellish.

Before each and every one of you jump on my back in a race to call me a wussy (or worse), let me assure you that this was different. ‘Twas that famed “clear-air” variety, which sounds a lot more pleasant and refreshing than imminent peril. And although I’m no pilot, ours seemed big fans of using the rudder in a perfect mimicry of a car skidding on ice.

I made one critical mistake. While gripping my tray table with dual vise grips, fully convinced that a parachute exit would be preferable, I notice the flight attendant at the front of the cabin. She picks up the phone after hearing the familiar DING DING of the cockpit’s call, then spends a good 60-90 seconds just listening and saying very little.

While still on the phone, SHE STARTS PEERING OUT THE WINDOW.

That’s when I lose my shit. The phone is set back in the cradle, then she stands there looking very deliberately around her work area. 30 seconds later, she picks up the phone again and manages to squeak out something about seatbelts and their importance before the plane pitches down and my stomach finds its way into my throat.

I distinctly hear the cartoonish “dive” sound you hear in old war movies – rrrrrRRRRRRRRRRRRRAAAAAAAAAAAAARRRRRRRR! We’re still a good 45 minutes away from O’Hare, but a decision has been made to bring this baby way under cruising altitude. The very same flight attendant now has her flight manual out, flipping through what I imagine to be the emergency evacuation procedures.

Some people never learn from their mistakes (see figures A, B and C.)

Terror twilight

A 2009 tornadic storm dipping and weaving through farmland south of Peoria.

You may want to skip this. Nobody likes hearing about dreams.

I was living in something approximating the offspring of a mobile home and a house tent. Warnings of a dire storm had me battening down the hatches, zipping any windows and walls shut.

I turned around to survey my humble place; clearly visible through my front window, the inky black maw of a tornado churned with abandon. The idea of being paralyzed with fear seems so ridiculously silly until your body slows with hardening cement and your heart works to dislodge itself.

After an eternity or 2 seconds, I frantically grab a nearby camera with fixed 20mm lens, aim and fire.

Two frames of that twisting wreckage through my window, probably blurry.

One frame of flames licking across the eaves of the house across the street. My roof feels absent.

Two frames of the tornado rushing forward, enveloping said house in debris. I’m still inexplicably ignoring my motor drive.

Three frames of the house exploding, birthing a bright fireball of hell from blackness. My brain is a full 500ms behind what my eyes are relaying.

And then it’s upon me. I dive into a closet, wrapping myself in a pile of clothes, and know deep inside that I’m not going to make it.

All I feel is disappointment. I’m an idiot. And now I’m finally going to die from being one.

Then, amid the din, voices. I quickly crawl toward them, shouting to ask if they have a basement.

They do.

But I’m outside in the open air and it is silent. The funnel has moved on, leaving a terrible void where the neighbor’s house once stood. Dark clouds hang like shredded cotton in the air, stable at last.

One of the voices belongs to a friend’s mom. She’s asking if I have any good photos.

I flip on the screen; there are the half dozen frames that I remember. And then there’s the dozens more that I don’t, awful shots of people pulling away from the tornado, their faces taunt in nauseous agony.

Wake up.


So what does it mean? I count four things.

1. I briefly chatted with Lauren right before I fell asleep in my chair. She’s the friend with the mom.
2. I read this yarn in Esquire last week
3. I really enjoy my Panasonic GF-1. It’s my knock-around camera of choice.
4. I need to get much more sleep.

Here goes nothing

The author as a senior, trying to keep his cool. Uniforms were mandatory.

I‘m going to tell you that I’m in Wichita for the express purpose of attending my 10-year high school reunion. And you’re not going to believe me.

I may have a screw loose.

This is the whole enchilada; tailgating at the Bishop Carroll homecoming football game against our crosstown rivals Kapaun Mt. Carmel, a campus tour of buildings unfamiliar, and a swanky formal at a downtown art gallery to cap the weekend off.

Never in a million years would you have caught me even considering this idea. But I’m unable to find any downsides.