7:30 a.m. Sunday morning. Alone in the laundry room of Liberty Apartments at the east end of town in an undisclosed convention-defying Kansas community. I'm drinking Maxwell Piss coffee and and speaking to you over wheat fields and over Facebookland and Twitter through an apparatus in a medium that might be felt by you. And isn't that what we're all looking for these days? Some feeling?
We occupied tables at The Galveston, an upscale restaurant off Douglas in Wichita's Old Town District that sometimes featured jazz combos with weekend brunches. It was the kind of event I attended more for professional reasons than any desire to bullshit with people even though that's what I always end up doing. The Big Names from the Wichita Media and Communications industry were there.
At every such meeting, attendees have to stand and introduce ourselves. I stood up from the oval table and my honey garlic chicken with potatoes and wine glass and talked for 30 seconds. I can BS, I can speak extemporaneously. Shoot from the hip as they used to say. It reminds me of high school speech class when Mrs. H assigned us to give an improvisational speech. What she didn't know was all my speeches had been improvisational. Today I'm a member of a Wichita branch of Toastmasters, from which I've won four blue ribbons for public speaking. We have yet to become a chartered organization.
"I have an online presence," I said. "Some of you are aware, there's a small cult of readers. I'm not like Big Time Viral Bloggers -- Hyperbole and a Half and Nadia Bolz-Weber's Sarcastic Lutheran. My presence is unconventional -- or to use my friend, Shannon's word, 'edgy.' In my day job I work for an underground writing society where I write in a more conservative fashion, but I'm not at liberty to divulge details about that at this juncture."
I was told me I might want to meet the Date Goddess. "She's unconventional too," Shannon said as she poured herself a glass of water. "I'm aware of her," I said.
Janna Hauff is the self-proclaimed Date Goddess. She's a local relationship expert and matchmaker who primarily works with professionals because they're the only ones who can afford her services. Her website is topnotch professional. She's a hell of a marketer.
I introduced myself after the meeting as people were networking. Told her I was a big fan. She had purple streaks of dye in her almond-colored hair. Jewelry around her wrists. A psychedelic mini-skirt dress with pink Go-Go boots, sundial necklace and Etsy bracelets bearing hemp and a longing for the beach. She talked about the "art of relational existence," of connecting people who share a congruence and setting them free to share space together.
"So you're the guy with the blog?" she said.
We shared our Linkedin pages. Connected there. Exchanged business cards. Mine features the caricature that my cartoonist friend Bryan Clark drew for me.
Two days later I sat in the lobby of the clinic, reading a book, when Jennifer poked her head out.
"Jeff," she said.
I sat my marker in place, closed the book, grabbed my fedora hat and walked in front of her, back to her office.
"How's Mr. Jeff?" she asked.
"Well, I'm alive."
"That's a victory," she said. "Every time you go out, you're winning."
"I like Butter Cake," she said.
That's Jennifer. She has several flavors of coffee for the keurig stationed by her bookcase, from which I once noted she had a copy of Jung's Man and His Symbols.
"I just use Classic Chap Stick," I responded. Original style.
"You're a basics kind of guy, aren't you?"
"You must have a lot to talk about. That's a long list," she said, referring to the list of topics I'd jotted down on the Sticky Note affixed to my book cover. It was my old copy of Ken Keasey's One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest? "We had to read it in high school English, Jennifer told me. "This book depresses me," I said. "The writing is brilliant. Next to this guy, I suck."
"Who says you can't write something and accidentally create something as good as 'Blowin' in the Wind?' You project your own insecurity on the world, into your relationships." Other books her shelf -- Rollo May's The Courage to Create and Robert A. Johnson's Inner Gold: Understanding Psychological Projection.
Then I told her how I get jealous of married couples with cute little kids. "That used to be my life," I said.
"That's normal," she said, tying her dark hair back in a pony tail. "It's like a couple struggling with infertility. They see another couple having babies and they're happy for them. But at the same time, yeah, they're jealous."
"You're one of those people I'm jealous of," I said. She has two kids of her own. The oldest is 5.
Then she added how she's just a normal person and has problems in life like everyone else and it's not all idyllic. I knew she'd say that. My envy? "That's silly," she said.
"Yeah, Maria always said how I looked at the past with 'rose colored glasses' and wanted what I didn't have."
"We've talked about that."
Oh God, I miss having someone to do my laundry with, someone to throw ingredients in the crock pot with, but I just can't see myself stepping out in that world, I told her.
"When you're ready, you'll know it," Jennifer told me.
Now she thinks I've crossed a threshold.
"You were a basket case in the beginning," she told me, while simultaneously spraying a fragrance on her wrists and rubbing them together like writhing bodies. Pressed together and rubbed like so many emotional rhythms.
Friday night. Got a text from my friend Sawyer. "In town, you wanna go grab a beer?"
Back when he lived in town, we both wrote for the Industrial Media Complex. Now, he's news director of a radio station in Kansas City, Missouri, but says his days there may be numbered.
Back in those wild days, he lived on the third floor of a kick ass apartment building -- Empire Apartments -- down the block from the office on the left side of the street and the stately Barron Theatre, built in the 1930s in Blushing, Kan. (oops, looks like I revealed the name of the town). The apartment building also dated back back to the 1930s and had recently been restored to its original grandeur. (I guess people wanted glamorous movie stars and opulence to take their minds off the Depression.) There was a spacious lobby with an ivory colored sculpture of a gown-wearing goddess leading to stairs. Elevators with neon buttons and gold framing the door. There was a sleek wooden floor in his apartment and room for a washer and drier. Back at Liberty Apartments, (a rundown building also built eighty-some years ago) I didn't even have a dishwasher.
On a few occasions, we jammed together in the industrial building where we worked. Why not? We had the fucking keys. We plugged into the amps. Just played stuff I could handle. Old, moldy versions of uncomplicated stuff. "Smokin' in the Boys' Room." "Summertime Blues." "Louie Louie."
Sawyer and I met at The Cave, a rathskeller off Main and Sycamore streets. There were Miller Lite and Budweiser bottles everywhere, but Sawyer and I are what my Apple Ale drinking pastor at the Church of All Saints and Sinners calls "beer snobs." We both ordered Irish Red. Waitress said we were a couple of smart guys. We were joined at our booth by my gardening gurvi friend Jessie and her husband, Shane, looking like they'd emerged from an ashram. They were also drinking craft beers, but would you expect anything less from a couple of lovers of earth-grown farmer's food from the local free land?
At the back of the bar, drunk girls sang karaoke. "A lot of sexual tension here," Sawyer said.
A guy and two girls, on the high road to oblivion, sang the country weeper, "Don't Take the Girl."
"Johnny's daddy was takin' him fishing when he was 8-years-old," they sang almost off-key, but kinda cool and buzzed.
As it eventually always happens, later in the evening a drunk blonde chick would be holding a mic, singing "Like a Virgin." Lyrics sliding down the screen.
A woman, I surmised to be about 35, sauntered over to our booth. She had a mildly attractive face, and thirtyish crows' feet, signaling she'd been around in life. There was nothing remarkable about her except the black yoga pants. When a woman wears yoga pants, I don't care what she looks like, how big or little she is, I'm gonna look at her ass.
She said something about how her kids were with their dad that weekend.
"Macy (we'll just call her Macy), this is Sawyer and Jeff," Jessie said as she motioned to each of us. They used to work together at the ______. Jeff did that special on us for channel 8."
"Oh yeah," Macy said & turned to me. "That was brilliant."
Jessie and Shane sat on Sawyer's side of the table. "I'm sitting by Jeff," Macy said, as if she wanted to and not because there were no other choices.
"You write that blog," she said.
"You've actually read that thing?" I said.
"Dude, we follow each other on Twitter," she said, taking a sip of her drink.
"Yeah, I follow your personal Twitter handle and your blog's handle."
Suddenly, I remembered. She looked more chill, less reserved than she did in her Twitter profile.
"Oh yeah!," I said. "Now I remember. You tweet about stuff like chauffeuring your kids to soccer games and being in PTO."
"That's my life," she said. "Now, it's the kids' dad's weekend and I get to indulge in a little me time."
She was having a Dark n' Stormy, a highball cocktail made with dark rum and ginger beer over ice with lemon lime.
We all laughed characteristically for a bar. Talked over the noise of the crowd and the karaoke singers. Did shots -- Irish Car Bomb and the Mind Eraser. I ordered more beer, told stories about living in Liberty Apartments -- "There's this stoner kid there, thinks he can do levitation and have out of body experiences. Some old hippie-ish woman whose into sock puppets and Jesus freakery. This other woman, fortyish -- she's into bourbon and body art."
"Liberty Apartments," she said. "Back in The Village where the writers, artists, musicians and drug addicts live."
I told her I'd written on my blog, while sitting right inside that bar when it was as crowded and noisy as it was that night. I just tuned everybody out. Sometimes listened to Davis or Monk with my ear buds.
"Writing is just the greatest goddamn thing," I said. "I publish something good and feel like freakin' Elvis. It's like cocaine, sex."
"Probably better," she said, looking straight at me. Wide-eyed and with intent. We both looked at each other right then with that look you give someone when you know it's going to happen.
One-thirty a.m. Last call. Jessie, Shane and Sawyer were talking more low key with stupid laughter, finishing drinks. A week later, Jessie would tell me she knew something had gone on with Macy and me before Macy told her about it.
We were legitimately buzzed. Not fucked up, but over the legal limit. She used the Lyft app on her phone to get us a ride.
She had her legs wrapped around me as I turned my key into the hole, getting into my apartment. We hurried inside 'till we were standing by the bed, taking each others' clothes off. I was expecting drunk, sloppy sex but a few seconds after I got on top of her, she rolled me off, got on top of me and rocked her body, it was mind blowing.
"Oh fuck," I said, caught up in momentary passion. "Oh my fucking god."
She rocked back and forth. Wild.
"Do that again. Can you squeeze your vagina?"
"I'm trying" she said.
Near the end, she said, "I'm gonna ride you like a horse."
years ago when Maria and I were living together before we got married, i had a dream that she was riding a mechanical horse outside some small town '60s looking Dillons Grocery. as she tilted back in forth with the horse's motion, she spoke those same words in my dream
i'm gonna ride you like a horse
I looked up at Macy -- "yes, yes, yes," she said -- and I exploded inside her.
I woke up alone at 6:30 a.m., but I knew she was still there because I smelled fresh brewing coffee. I rose, put on my boxer shorts and a T-shirt, went to the adjoining bathroom for a needed morning piss. When I walked into the living room, she was sitting naked on my couch, reading my journal and drinking from my Snoopy coffee cup.
"That's private," I said, a little pissed. "Those are my own personal thoughts."
I grabbed my a mug (It had a seal and contained the words, "State of Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation." I collect coffee cups) from a cabinet in the adjoining kitchen and poured myself a cup.
"You already reveal a lot on your blog."
"Maybe so. But that's all for publication. This is not. It's the principle of the thing."
She ignored what I said.
"But this goes beyond your blog," she said. "Why don't you just go there?"
"My audience ain't ready for that shit."
"It takes two people. You don't have to live in a house of regret."
"Okay, but you wouldn't know about all that if you'd respected some boundaries and hadn't gone where you weren't supposed to. That journal is my own, you know."
"I'm sorry," she said. "I was wrong, but I wanna see you happy. Wherever you land."
"I have a therapist. Her name is Jennifer. Actually, I wouldn't mind sleeping with her too. Of course she has this thing about not wanting to breach her professional ethics and I don't want to do anything to destroy our professional relationship of counselor and client."
No need to explain why to her why I looked the way I did. She'd read the damn thing. It's my place, I should be able to lay that damn notebook anywhere I wanted. I lightened up a little, told her a little history. "My high school English teacher, Mrs. Hanzlicek, had us keep journals. I just kept mine going."
She looked penetratingly at me, the cartoon-covered notebook resting on her naked thigh. "I wouldn't have let you pick me up if you weren't something."
It was dawn outside the window curtains and I stared, for no reason, really, at her nude body. So blessedly real in the emerging morning light. All its imperfections.
"Set that bird free," she said.
I took a wooden chair from the attached kitchen, sat across from her. "Before I had this longing to live kind of artsy," I said. "Maria said the grass is always greener with me."
A recent Saturday afternoon. I went to the Kansas Authors event at Wichita Public Library. I had a limited amount of time before I had to shoot a small town drag racing event down a farm town main street. A thing my producer, Reese, had suggested. It would probably be a minute-and-a-half story for KPTS's Kansas Personalities. There were children's authors, mystery authors, Christian writers. (I remember there was a Christian sex therapist displaying her book, Like a Soul Virgin.) Hindu stuff. Buddhist. Fiction. Romance. Self-help.
I ran into Janna Hauff, the Date goddess. Wearing a tight mini-shirt, sleaveless black shirt, loopy ear rings and high heels. She displayed the three books she'd written. They were all about about relationships, dating, sexuality. I hadn't read any of them yet even though I was a fan of her website, which contained a short blog. Her latest book was called, Perpetual Emotion: Being Attune to Your Emotional Rhythms (and Your Partners).
"Remember me?" I said.
"You look familiar," she said, inquisitively. "Tell me where we met."
I reminded her of the social function a couple of months back. It came back to her, how we'd connected on Linkedin.
"Oh yes," she said. "Sorry I haven't gotten around to reading your blog yet, but I will. I've been very busy."
I admitted that while I've read her blog and was a fan, I had yet to read any of her books and didn't have the money to buy one that particular day. "That's okay," she said. "You're here."
"I am what my friend Jennifer would call 'being present.' Hope I'm mindful too. She talks a lot about being mindful."
Hopefully, I would be at the author's event next year, I said. "The pastor's wife at my church told me emphatically that I had to write a book. I thought she was gonna take me to task for all the cussing and sinning in my blog. My ex-wife likes to remind me, 'You're no saint, Jeff.' But the pastor's wife -- her name is Emily -- she was pretty cool."
"Well I hope to see you next year with our group of authors. It's a diverse club. There's definitely a place for you here."
"We all need to fill space," I said. "I'm still figuring out where I belong, being divorced, losing my identity as a Family Man. And I severed my ties with the underworld writing organization. It felt like the ground fell underneath me, but perhaps I'm finding my footing again."
"Welcome to life," she said.
"Yes, I'm finding it to be quite transitory," I said. "And I've moved back to the Wichita Metropolitan Area."
"You have to stay activated to your social network. Stay engaged."
"Well I'm meeting my friend Reese for a beer tonight at Maggie O'Malley's pub. We meet there for a book club."
"Super. We all need a buddy even if it's a drinking buddy."
"Yep. Then I have a date. A new gal. Meeting her at IHOP. We'll see how it goes."
"Don't Do Me Like That" -- Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers