My wife is 53 and I like it — bad spelling and all

My wife looked forlorn when she said, “I’m going to be 53…”

I’m glad my wife is 53 today. If she were 40 or 30 or 20, she wouldn’t be with me and I wouldn’t be with her. I wouldn’t know the joy I felt when she first noticed me (I’d been trying to get her attention for a while). There are a few other reasons why I prefer a 53-year-old J.J.10624940_10202503353164951_4538244234849287657_n

  1. Her name is actually J.J. Leibrock Madden. Call me selfish or sexist but that’s way better than any name she’s ever had.
  2. The night eight years ago when I realized I was in love with her, I hung up the phone, walked into the kitchen and my knees buckled. I sagged into a chair and whispered, “So this is what it’s supposed to feel like.”
  3. One time, as we waited for a table in a restaurant, an elderly woman approached and said, “Excuse me. I couldn’t help noticing how in love you two are. You’ve made my day.”
  4. I get crazy insecure. I think about all the things other men have given her, the places they’ve taken her, that I couldn’t begin to give her. It’s not an attractive trait, but there is something strangely exciting about it. I’ve never cared enough before to make myself miserable like this.
  5. She chose me not them, my friend Carol always reminded me. I will never be her first love, but I get to be her last.
  6. I don’t think I have single attractive feature. Crooked face, decidedly unmuscled body, bird legs, skinny arms, other personal deficiencies I’d rather not talk about.  But she finds something! Which means she also doesn’t give up on a difficult task.
  7. My children love her. My children love her. My children love her. My children love her. I could stop with that, but my children would say, “Jeez, Dad, you can’t come up more.”
  8. She loves my children. When they call they’d rather talk to “mom” not me.
  9. She votes – always.
  10. She doesn’t vote Republican
  11. She makes decisions that are against her interests, because other people’s are more important (Guess I could have just said, “See #10).
  12. She was high school valedictorian but never taunts me when I do really stupid shit.
  13. She has wrinkles from all the sun and wind and worries and smiles.
  14. She hates mean people.
  15. She’s figuring out that “Fuck ‘em,” is always the right answer when dealing with mean people.
  16. She doesn’t get too upset when I give her unsolicited advice about saying “Fuck ‘em!”
  17. She say “Fuck ‘em!” when she encounters Trump supporters (I guess I could have just said see #15)
  18. She is a FANTASTIC liar. “You’re not gaining weight Danny, You’re really smart, Danny, That joke was funny, Danny, You’re a good singer, Danny…”
  19. She smells really good.
  20. She doesn’t think I smell bad.
  21. She’s a feminist.
  22. She’s a bad speller when she’s mad or horny.
  23. She’s a bad speller a lot. That’s all I’m saying.
  24. She doesn’t freak out when I freak out.
  25. She finds my keys so I stop freaking out.
  26. She has a 7-year chip and her sponsor had to tell her to stop taking so many service commitments. Leave some for someone else.
  27. She has cool tattoos.
  28. She gets excited about fruit.
  29. She’s cooks like an artist.
  30. Sometimes she gets sad and has to stay in bed all day.
  31. She laughs a lot.
  32. She buys me all the hummus, avocados and chocolate I can eat.
  33. She is the mysterious, tan, blonde California girl I fantasized about in junior high.
  34. She doesn’t get mad at me unless I am a complete dick. Which is never. Haha! Just kidding.
  35. She likes the TV show Supernatural
  36. She lets me have a crush on singer Brandi Carlile, even though she has a better chance with Brandi Carlile than I. She thinks my crush on Larry Bird is a bit much.
  37. She doesn’t always agree with me (that would be boring).
  38. She wakes up pretty, no need for makeup. And, thank god, no need for hairspray.
  39. Her hair is beautiful and I find it on my clothes when I’m at work.
  40. She’s way too hard on herself but she gets better each day.
  41. She’s way to easy on me but she gets better each day.
  42. She hurts when other people hurt.
  43. She loves Draymond Green.
  44. She promises she won’t leave me if President Obama appears and asks her to run away with him. See #18.
  45. She thinks George Carlin was a genius.
  46. She loves British TV and speaks in a terrible British accent that sounds like someone just back from the dentist.
  47. She loves to swear. She is proficient in “all the words you can’t say on TV.”
  48. She growls when I tell her surfing isn’t a sport. She’ll think it’s funny that I just pissed off every surfer who reads this.
  49. She is a hard worker (which makes us a perfect match, because I’m lazy)
  50. She gets exasperated when I turn on REO Speedwagon music (because I know it exasperates her.)
  51. She always says exasperate when she means exacerbate.
  52. She flips me off when I correct her grammar.
  53. She has shown me that second chances are always possible, and that in love moments are more important than years.

Happy 53rd birthday, JJ!



Maybe dynamite is a good idea


Midnight and Hunter is wearing sunglasses

Leaning against his forty-foot red Cadillac convertible

He shoots imaginary jack rabbits in the silver desert

Cactus Ed checks the radio

A road trip without music is intolerableEdward-Abbey-Still-Frame

He tosses a crushed beer can to the side of the road

Only forty-eight more of those until next water

Ed measures miles by beers and litters highways freely

It’s not nature’s highway after all, it’s man’s

Goddamn jackrabbits! Hunter throws his gun in the back seat

Cranks the radio knob hard to the right

A bursts of organ chords level out his mescaline jitters. The Tambourine Man strips menace from the air

A trunk full of Budweiser, cocaine, Wild Turkey, and ammunition

Cactus Ed, loading one last box, jokes about dynamite

An arrest warrant for Ed, the billboard pyromaniac, bulldozer saboteur

Hunter says the Hell’s Angels are On his trail

Maybe the dynamite is a good idea

Ed squeezes in, I’m crushed between the anarchist and the GonzoDwight_conver





A whiff of beer and weed, sweat and gunpowder, sagebrush and dust from the darkness

Cadillac piston’s scream alive, Dylan sings wearily

Hunter scoffs at the the Texaco across the road

We have fuel, he grins, cigarette smoke slithering

With the right music, blasting loud enough

Over woof of wind

Scream of mescaline,

Buzz of whiskey

And thunder of gunfire

(Goddamn jackrabbits!)

With the right music, we can drive 50 miles after the needle hits empty

Rumbling down the Hot Wheels Highway

The rumble up through the seat loosens my bones and I am a child again

The curvy, sun-glistened highway, a strip of orange Hot Wheels track

I sit high in the cab like a boy in his father’s lap, unable to reach the pedals

It is impossible to say the word “truck” and remain an adult

Alone, driving through a landscape of steep hills, vineyards and draws

I imagine I created it all to fit around my winding highway

Truck. I say it again aloud, enjoying the way it feels in my throat

I have no choice but to drive slow, at risk of shifting the load

There is something comforting in that, my normally lead foot is meditating

At the end of my drive, a mother-in-law will boss me as I unload

I downshift


Thin and thick places: A ghost story from a skeptic

“Conscience is no more than the dead speaking to us.”
Jim Carroll

My Uncle Orville was standing at the foot of my bed. He had been gone for so long I didn’t recognize his features. I sensed him, like when you know someone familiar has entered a room.  Then, in the shadows — of my mind or the dark room I’m not quite sure — a silhouette materialized,  short-cropped hair, square stature, big shoulders. When he told me what he came to say, his voice was rough and calm. I mumbled a bleary response and laid back on my pillow.  My heart jerked too-late. Startled awake, I looked back to the spot. Orville was gone.

The noxious weeds along the dirt lane seemed to make the heavy summer day even hotter. The cattle were nervous and uncooperative at first, perturbed at the idea of movement on such a day and they kicked up dust. My uncle had stationed my cousin Kelly and me at the crossroad and gave us the task of waving our arms and hollering so the lumbering cattle would turn up the winding road toward fresh pasture.

The bored cows settled into a resigned gait under the able hands of Orville and my laughing  cousins who darted in amid the herd with switches in their hands, barking unintelligible orders. My face bloomed with embarrassment as I tentatively wondered which cow I should yell at and if there was a proper way farmers waved their arms as opposed to cheerleaders. As the town kid among my country cousins every step I took seemed awkward. I flinched at stumbling cows, or jumped clear when one shuddered or kicked up its hindquarters, sure that it meant to trample me when in reality it was more concerned with the biting flies bouncing in the cottony heat. I could taste the fear in the back of my mouth.
The calf‘s ghost-white face was funny at first. I was relieved to see such a small animal in the sea of beef. It trotted through the dust, underfoot, drooped head swaying sadly. A small, skinny, black body; blotches like patches hid its eyes in the overexposed daylight. With sudden confidence I yelled louder and stepped forward, “Hey, calf!” In the distance I could hear my uncle suddenly yelling something, but I couldn’t make it out over the groaning cattle. The calf kept coming, oddly indifferent to my boldness. My uncle kept yelling, jogging up the road toward me in his dusty work boots. I kept bossing the calf. Orville’s voice grew more urgent.
I looked back just as the calf crashed into me. Air painfully exploded from my body and the sky above me and road at my feet did a sickening somersault. I slammed into the ground, confused. In the dizzying pain,  I still had time to feel embarrassed.
Orville was immediately there, his hand touching my shoulder. He gently chuckled the warning I hadn’t understood: “Blind calf.” I tried to speak but my wind had not returned and besides it was taking all my concentration to hold back tears. “You’re going to be OK,” Orville said, and I knew I would be.
But Orville would not.

I remember the whispers of my parents a couple of years later. Something was wrong with Orville. Doctors were puzzled at first. It turned out to be leukemia. The cancer took him quickly. At 49 years old, this strong, kind man was gone. At his funeral mourners had to stand out in the street because the church was overflowing. Tales of big and small kindnesses flowed for days on end. I remember wondering if the sadness would ever go away.

“Tell Martha I’m fine.” That’s what Orville told me ten years after his death from the foot of my bed in Seattle. Martha, his widow, had long since remarried another good and kind man. I immediately doubted what had happened. I have always been a pretty skeptical person. My first reason was, “Why in the hell would Orville pick me?” That one still gnaws at me. So I waited. I waited three years before I passed the message on to Martha, worried about what she would think. When I did pass the message on, I was halfway about it.  I let my dad tell her, adding “for what it’s worth” to the end unsure of how it would be received, and a little ashamed of how long I had waited.

Then, it happened again. This time my grandfather, Al Madden, who had died back when I was in high school, showed up in a dream. “Tell Norman his dad is fine.”  Quick and to the point. Grandpa was never much of a talker when he was alive and honestly I was always closer to Grandma.  I was a little scared of my Grandpa. My cousins used to taunt me when I was little that Grandpa didn’t like me because my family had lived out of state. I was a nervous kid anyway, so I usually cried.

The Norman we’re talking about here is my dad’s first cousin, who had recently lost his father. I had gone to the funeral because Norman was close to my dad.  I returned home to Seattle and had the dream. This time, I figured what the heck, nobody would get hurt by passing on the message. Norman didn’t really know me that well. If he considered me crazy, so what. For a time, I like the idea of Grandpa looking out for his grieving nephew, and it made me feel good to help him out. In my writer’s brain I could almost see the two of us getting into a pickup and driving over to Norman’s house to give him the good news. That’s just the way things work in my head.

The ancient Celtic mystics told of “thin places” where the distance between heaven and earth collapses and we are able to glimpse the divine. Old tales even tell of people travelling between the two worlds.

When I doubted my experiences with Orville and my grandfather, my mother told me I probably received those messages because I was open to them. My mother no longer believes that of me.

It’s more likely that I collided with myself on that hot dusty road so many years ago, a bleating calf, terrified and blind, stumbling forward into the darkness, chasing ghosts in my own head, desperate to see something, anything, and to fit into his own herd. Perhaps my Uncle Orville and my Grandpa knew I had encountered enough insanity and would be so eager to please that I would likely speak of what I heard in the night. Maybe they knew that I’d seen enough ghosts that one more wouldn’t be such a leap. Or maybe not.

I don’t know if the Celtic mystics believed in “Thick places.” They were Irish so if they didn’t they should have. I have had far more experiences with Thick Places. Places so crusted over with resentment, animosity and fear that the divine has no chance of  breaking through. Places so toxic that even God doesn’t dare tread, choosing instead to wait outside. I know people — families, lifelong friends — who no longer speak to one another because they judge their own sins superior to others.  They find people they once loved unredeemable. I don’t know where such people believe their stories are going to end? Probably the grave.

I never checked to see how my Aunt Martha or Cousin Norman received the messages. I never really wanted to know. Once shared, the messages no longer belonged to me. It’s possible that this was my way of rationalizing  and returning to my comfortable position as skeptic. Regardless of whether I believe, I know deep in my heart that Orville certainly was the kind of man who would not want his family to worry. And knowing his sense of humor he might find it funny to use the little guy who was scared of cows to pass the word. My grandfather was a rough man in his later years as he battled emphysema, bone cancer and congestive heart failure, but his midnight message made me reflect on the kindnesses he showed me, how he used to walk me around the backyard, cane in hand, when I know it caused him a great deal of pain. It reminded me that  my cousins were just having fun with the kid who cried all the time, for what cousin could resist that. I always thought my Grandfather a wise man. Perhaps he knew that there are blessings in simply sharing good news with another person. Maybe Norman wasn’t the only one who needed that message. Or maybe it was all just a dream.

Whether you believe in them, it is good to seek thin places. Or at least be open when you rub up against them by accident. The mystics never claimed they were to be found only on high mountains or in great cathedrals. I for one have learned that ghosts in dusty and dark places can take my breath away.