My most popular essays over the last 25 years.
(from Minnesota Monthly)
"You drop me off here at the curb and go buy groceries," I tell Rachel. “I'll pick out the movie, you swing around to pick me up."
Inside I pull a movie from the shelf and put my money down.
Leaving the store, I see a familiar red car idling. I see a woman's hands on the steering wheel. Excellent -- everything is coming together.
What happens next happens quickly but in a very intricate sequence. I will break it down frame by frame.
I approach the car to get in. But as I do so, my brain sends a message: something is wrong. There is no dog in the backseat, as there is in our car. Great, I will rap on the front window to get a rise out of him.
I rap on the passenger window to get the dog's attention.
But as I peer deeper into the window, grinning like an ape, I realize there is no dog there, and worse, that the woman is not one I know.
She is attractive, perhaps thirty, with bright eyes and honey-colored hair. I confess I then did what all men, even married men, do -- for a sliver of a microsecond, I think,
Make a good impression!
The problem is, she is screaming inside the cab, one hand gripping the steering wheel with white knuckles, the other repeatedly punching the LOCK buttons on the door arm.
I am dejected. If she thinks I am a murderer, making a good impression – the prime directive -- is not in the cards. It makes me sad because, well, couldn't she learn to like me?
I take a step back. I adopt what the most inoffensive expression a man in this situation might make. I’m just a guy she has just bumped shopping carts with in the cereal aisle at Rainbow. I do this by arching my eyebrows as high as they will go, and adopting an OOPS! expression with a funny frown. I am mouthing something like: "Oh hey, sorry, my mistake!"
But while I wish there were a universal gesture of reassurance one person can make to another through safety glass, there really isn't one. Midway through my solves-any-problem facial expression, I realize I look like an urban psychotic, a crazy Quixote who has mistaken her Buick LeSabre for a windmill/ogre and is engaged in some weird hallucinatory combat with it.
The instant I realized my too-cheerful expression wasn’t reassuring her, it vanished from my face. The next moment, I show fear for the first time. That expressionless expression is even scarier than the reassuring one.
It is a mask of dread, the kind a man has who is dogged by voices and no longer able to resist their entreaties.
I step in front so she can get a better look. I gesture with my hands: "See, I’m just a man in a Hawaiian shirt with a copy of The Transporter in one hand and The Fast Runner in the other.”
But the headlights make me look like a horror monster, all wacky eyes and horned eyebrows, advancing on a luckless motorist.
And what's that gesture toward my chest with my hands? Am I touching my nipples for her approval? Ah! I grimace in disgust. This is the last straw. I can't read lips, but I believe she is praying.
I slink away, content that she thinks I am a lunatic discouraged by locked doors, to try my luck with some other woman's door handle.
I have only one desire: while I am still within sight of the woman, Rachel will drive up in her similarly red car -- admittedly, a Mercury and not a Buick.
I will greet my beloved with sweepingly affectionate gestures indicating the happiness of our marriage and the cleanliness of my rap sheet.
This time the dog will bark cheerily at my approach, and I will tousle his shaggy head, like the most normal man in the universe.
But Rachel doesn't come. She is in a long line at Whole Foods, waiting for an elderly customer to pay for a quart of organic strawberries with a sockful of nickels.
So I stand by the curb, as if waiting for a bus. Never mind that it is not a bus stop. I want desperately to communicate to anyone watching -- the woman, her husband, the bystanders who witnessed my glory in the headlights -- that I will be leaving directly.
The husband emerges from the store. I am forty feet from them now, but I see her speaking animatedly to him, and pointing at me, then the car jerking away with a screech.
At least he didn't come over and start poking me in the chest.
As for me, what do I care? The night is cool and my love, I know, is no more than a mile away.
Author, Essayist, Storyteller
Truth Never Frightens
Take Me Out of the Ball Game
The Mountain with Low Self-Esteem
The Offset Revolution
Empty Places: Remembering Paul Gruchow
Celebrity Brain Tumors
DOG as a Metaphor for the Soul
Gise Pedersen Sets Me Straight on a Matter of Natural History
A Theology of Brain Tumors
Yukon Gold: Poemes de Terre
The Clarinet Is a Difficult Instrument
Truth Never Frightens
My Darling Serpentine
The New Yorker
In the Night
The Eyed Eclair
Curtis Hotel Farewell
LOOKING FOR CHINA
Triangles Prisms Cones
When We Are Gone
Midnight at the Mounds
A Theology of Brain Tumors
To The Soul Every Day Is the Sabbath
Your Human Being