Those days when you just can’t deal

two men sitting in an office conference roomSo I woke up the other morning to my alarm clock. Its relentless, piercing squawking pulled me out of a deep, restful sleep.

Groaning, I reached out and fumbled around my nightstand, grasping for the snooze button.

Instead of hitting it, I ended up knocking my wristwatch to the floor.

“Uh,” I groaned. “I’m too tired to pick it up. I can’t deal.”

So I yanked the alarm clock’s plug from the wall and left the watch lying on the floor.

Only the clock kept squawking, because I’d put backup batteries in it in case the power went out.

So I reached out and swiped the alarm clock off the nightstand. It hit the floor, the back hatch falling open and the batteries tumbling out.

The clock lay there next to the watch, its relentless squawking silenced.

Hours later, my phone rang. I reached out to pick up the receiver. “Hello?”

It was my boss. “Are you coming in to work today?” he asked.

“No,” I said. “I can’t deal.”

“What do you mean you can’t deal?” he asked.

“Just what I said. It’s one of those days where I can’t deal. I don’t even have the energy to pick up my wristwatch.”

“Where’s your wristwatch?”

“It’s on the floor next to my alarm clock.”

“Why is your alarm clock on the floor?”

“Because it wouldn’t stop squawking.”

“Are you sick?” my boss asked. “Do you have a cold, or something?”

“No. I’m healthy. I just can’t deal.”

“What exactly can’t you deal with?”

“Today. I just can’t deal.”

“But that’s no excuse. You can’t stay home because you can’t deal. You have to deal.”

“I don’t want to deal.”

“But that’s not part of the deal. The deal is that to keep your job, you have to show up.”

“I’ll show up tomorrow,” I said.

“No — you’ll show up today. If you’re not sick, then you need to come in.”

“But I’m sleeping in,” I said.

“Colane, do you have any idea what time it is?”

“I don’t,” I said. “My wristwatch is on the floor.”

“Then look at your clock.”

“My clock is on the floor, too.”

“Oh, for Pete’s sake!” my boss said. “Get dressed and get down to the office immediately! Either you show up in an hour or you’re fired. Deal?”

I sighed. “This sucks. I don’t want to get up.”

“That’s life,” my boss said. “Deal with it.”

Giving directions using long-ago landmarks

giving directions vacant lot.

Me giving directions to a newcomer in town.

I used to work as the receptionist for a small real-estate office. A guy walked in one morning.

“I’m new in town, and I just rented a house from you guys,” he said. “Do you by chance know where the FedEx pickup box is?”

“Sure,” I said. “Just go to the shopping center where the post office was twenty years ago. The box is in front of what used to be the veterinary clinic.”

The man frowned. “What are you saying? The box is next door to the post office?”

“No,” I said. “I’m saying it’s next door to where the post office used to be. The pickup box is in front of the old veterinary clinic.”

“So the vet isn’t there, either.”

“No. They moved away ages ago.”

“So there’s nothing there now?”

“I’m not sure what’s there now. All I know is it used to be the veterinary clinic.”

The man narrowed his eyes. “I’m not sure I know where you’re talking about.”

“Sure you do,” I said. “There was a pizza place in the same shopping center. It’s not there now, though. It burned down in the late 1990s.”

“I’m not sure if I was clear earlier,” the man said. “Did I mention I’m new in town?”

I looked at him, blinking. “Oh.”

“So how would I get to this shopping center?” the man asked. “Do you know what stores are there now?”

I shrugged. “I have no idea what’s there now. I know the FedEx pickup box is there, but I don’t know about any stores.”

“Can you give me a landmark? Anything?” the man asked.

“Well,” I said, “it’s across the street from where the gas station used to be.”

The man sighed. “So the gas station’s not there now?”

“No. They tore it down fifteen years ago. I have no idea what’s there now.”

The man glared. “I can’t believe you get paid to work here. Do you really consider yourself useful?”

“Well,” I said, shrugging, “I used to. I’m not sure I do now.”

A party of one isn’t much of a party

man eating alone at restaurantIt’s inadvisable to go out to dinner on Valentine’s Day if you don’t have a date.

Common sense, you say? A nugget of knowledge so blatantly obvious that it need not be spoken?

Perhaps. But unfortunately, I speak from experience.

Unattached and dateless — and working at a new job in a new town — I decided one evening to check out the local dining scene. I’d been living on my own cooking for nearly three weeks, so I was undernourished and ravenous for edible fare.

The inspiration struck on a Tuesday in February. After work I went home, spruced up, and wandered across the highway to a Mexican restaurant in a neighboring shopping center.

A waitress greeted me with a large smile. “Are you meeting someone, sir?”

“No,” I said. “Just me.”

“Oh.” Her face fell, and her upper lip started quivering. “Yes, well … I’m so sorry. Please, follow me.”

She grabbed a single menu and scurried through the restaurant, keeping her gaze on the floor. I followed, feeling perplexed. I’d eaten here alone twice before. Why was the waitress acting so squeamish?

As we wormed through the restaurant, I noticed candlelights on all the tables. And there were no families or children; only couples sitting across from each other, some holding hands and gazing into each other’s eyes.

I passed one booth, and I noticed a man fastening a silver bracelet around his date’s wrist. She was smiling as the diamonds sparkled orange from the dim dining-room light.

Now, I’m not the most observant person. I don’t connect the dots in a given situation as easily as, say, Columbo or Matlock.

But walking past the patrons, I started to piece together a series of what should have been obvious clues:

Happy couples. Candlelit dinners. Glittering jewelry. A Tuesday evening in early February.

Oh no, I thought, as the realization struck. It’s Valentine’s Day. 

I’d completely forgotten. As a freewheeling bachelor subsisting on Swanson TV dinners and Grey Goose vodka, Valentine’s Day wasn’t exactly a holiday I had circled on my calendar.

My cheeks flushed as the waitress continued to guide me to my table. She led me to a booth in the middle of the restaurant, in full sight of all the other patrons — which is exactly where you want to be when you’re eating out alone on Valentine’s Day.

I swore she sniffed as she set down the menu. “I’ll be back for you drink order, sir.”

“Please,” I said. “And I suspect you’ll be making a few return trips. Keep them coming.”

I glanced around the restaurant, then gazed down at the table. A candle flickered before me. I resisted the temptation to blow it out.

For the first fifteen minutes, my aloneness wasn’t so obvious. I imagine the other diners suspected my date was running late. In my head, I could hear the unsolicited advice of a nonexistent bystander:

“Oh, you know how women can be, son. They have to doll themselves up before a big date. Romantic evenings like these are very special to them. I wouldn’t worry — I’m sure she’ll be here in no time.” 

But once twenty minutes came and went — and my aloneness became more apparent — the surreptitious stares started coming. Discrete glimpses pierced me like pinpricks. Sideways gazes stabbed me like lightsabers.

One woman even stared at me with a hand held to her mouth, as if I were a two-legged dog dragging its haunches across the floor.

I read and re-read the menu. It was as if I was lounging on the beach with a page-turning novel. It’s amazing how fascinating entree descriptions can become when you’re awkward and uncomfortable, and you have no one else to talk to.

But then when the waitress took my order and whisked the menu away, I was left with nothing but the saltshaker to capture my attention. Individual grains beaded from the lid.

So I took out my iPhone and set it on the table. I scrolled through the headlines on Google, but didn’t really read them. I’d look up every now and then just in time to catch another patron looking away.

And when my dinner came and I started picking at my food — still sitting there, alone — I could almost hear a collective shudder escape from the crowd. It was like the live audience on a sitcom when the main character experiences a moment of anguish.

On this most joyful and romantic of holidays, everyone’s heart was breaking — and it was all my fault.

I swallowed some refried beans, but couldn’t taste them. It was like gnawing on a mouthful of mush.

I was tempted to rise, clink my fork against a glass, and make a quick speech:

“Can I get your attention, please? Folks, I know how this must look. But I assure you, I’m not a hapless loser who’s been stood up — or worse, didn’t have a date to begin with. I genuinely forgot about the holiday. I swear. See, I just moved to town and started a new job, so my entire focus has been on settling in and adjusting. It’s not like I couldn’t get a date if I tried. I mean, once I’m settled and get everything unpacked, I intend to renew my eHarmony subscription and hit the local dating scene hard. Aside from the untrimmed goatee and hair that needs cutting, I have a lot of desirable traits. I’m passionate. I like long walks on the beach. My ideal Friday evening would be cuddling on the couch with my lover, watching a romantic comedy. So please, don’t get the wrong idea. I’m just as much dedicated to the pursuit of soulful intimacy as the rest of you. My quixotic yearnings run just as deep. My heart, too, burns for the passionate embrace of a loving kindred spirit, with whom I’d promise to share the rest of my life.”

Instead, I flagged the waitress. “Excuse me. Can I get a box?”

“A box, sir?” she asked.

“Yes — and the check. As quickly as possible, please.”

I scooped up my dinner and scurried out of the restaurant like a mouse running along a wall. Returning home, my one-bedroom hovel never looked so cozy and inviting.

I turned on the latest episode of Top Chef and finished the remains of my Valentine’s Day dinner. In the privacy of my apartment, it tasted delicious — especially when washed down with a generous glassful of Grey Goose.

A round of applause for the guy who counted Vanna White’s claps 

hand with pen writing tally marks.

Apparently, someone actually counted the average number of times Vanna White claps during an episode of “Wheel of Fortune.” And you thought you had a tedious job.

In a recent issue of Women’s World magazine (and please don’t ask why I’m reading Women’s World magazine), they cite a fun fact from the Guinness Book of World Records about Vanna White, the famous letter-turner from TV’s Wheel of Fortune. 

According to the magazine (well, actually, according to the Guinness Book of World Records), Vanna White is “Televisions Most Frequent Clapper, averaging 600-plus claps per show.”

OK. I have a question.

And I imagine you can guess what it is.

Who in the world is quantifying the number of claps Vanna White averages in a given show?

Immediately, I picture some guy in a bathrobe with way too much time on on his hands, sitting with a clipboard in his lap and tallying each individual clap.

And it’s not like he arrived at his total by watching only one episode. “Average” implies that he watched a number of episodes, counted the individual claps in each one, then divided the number of claps by the number of episodes he watched to arrive at the 600 figure.

Not to sound judgmental, but that’s downright weird.

Forget about the number of times Vanna White claps — I want to know more about this guy. Who is he? How did he get a job with The Guinness Book of World Records? Does he hold a patent for his amazingly effective tallying methods?

My journalistic instincts tell me that he’s the real story here.

The incessant whining of House Hunters couples

House Hunters RenovationIf I were a masochist, I might reach out and flush the toilet while showering.

Or, I could stick my hand in a beehive and pluck off a chunk of honeycomb.

Or, easier yet, I could simply watch a marathon of House Hunters reruns over the weekend.

Talk about excruciating agony.

If you’ve read this post or this post — or this post or this post — you’re probably aware that I watch a lot of House Hunters. I’m not sure why. I didn’t think I was a masochist, but I have to admit, I get a certain thrill watching spoiled brats looking at gargantuan houses they can’t afford.

These homebuyers often are in their early twenties, but they’re always looking at 4,000-square-foot McMansions on 20 acres with cobblestone driveways and Olympic-sized swimming pools. (When I was in my early twenties, I was living in a firetrap hovel, eating Top Ramen, and pursuing a degree that wouldn’t help me at all in my professional career. Because I’m forward-thinking like that.)

What’s more, these people are incessantly whining about everything.

And I mean everything. For these people, every minor cosmetic feature is an endless source of insurmountable frustration.

“The countertops are granite, but they should be quartz,” they moan.

“The floors are laminate, but they should be hardwood,” they bellyache.

“The bathroom has a step-in shower, but not a jetted tub,” they sniff.

“Shut up!” I scream, throwing an empty bowl of Top Ramen at the TV. “You whiny entitled scumbags! You don’t deserve a house! Shut up!”

The show has a spin-off titled House Hunters Renovation, where the pampered jerks not only pick out a house to buy, but renovate it as well.

This version is almost harder to stomach, because instead of the people simply whining about inconsequential cosmetic features, we get to see them spend good money to replace those features – even if they’re perfectly adequate.

And they all use the same terms when describing their plans.

For example, a beautiful kitchen with oak cabinets and a tile backsplash must be “gutted” so that the finishes can be updated.

A random wall must be “blown out” to make a living space larger. (And guaranteed, that wall will be load-bearing and require the installation of a $3,000 beam. I’ve watched enough of these things to predict the storyline.)

A bedroom with a walk-in closet must be “reconfigured” to include a reading nook.

Money never seems to be an issue for these narcissistic scumbags. No expense is spared when renovating their precious high-dollar palaces.

A designer often joins the couple to plan the renovations. (Because who can’t afford to hire a designer when navigating the treacherous waters of the home-buying process?)

What’s amusing is that no matter what the designer’s taste or artistic sensibility (and there’s no guarantee they’ll even have an artistic sensibility, given how many of these people dress), they always design a kitchen with the same three features: shaker-style cabinets, subway tile, and a barn door.

Seriously. It’s all the time — on every episode. Shaker-style cabinets, subway tile, and a barn door.

The homeowners claim they’re updating the fixtures to make them more modern. Oak and granite are apparently out, and it would be inhumane for a homeowner to have to tolerate a popcorn ceiling or laminate floor. The outrage!

But my question is, what are these people going to do when shaker-style cabinets, subway tile, and barn doors go out of style?

Because you know it’s going to happen – and probably sooner rather than later. You know that someday these people are going to list their homes with goal of upgrading to an even more luxurious McMansion. What are they going to say when potential buyers scoff at their outdated design elements?

It’s a harrowing question to ponder.

What’s even more baffling is that many of these people complain about living in cookie-cutter homes and planned-unit developments, because they want their houses to be “unique” and to have “character.”

Yet when they renovate their kitchens, they insist in using the same modern-day design elements as everyone else.

It reminds me of Cheech and Chong discussing uniforms for their band: “If we’re going to wear uniforms, then everyone should wear something different.”

Except it’s the reverse: “I want to live in a unique house with character that looks like everyone else’s.”

As for me, buying a house is currently out of the question, given the sky-high prices. Besides, many of those homes have popcorn ceilings and oak cabinets, and my years of devouring Top Ramen and pursuing a worthless degree have entitled me to enjoy the finer things in life.

If I did buy a house, I’d clearly have to renovate it. The first project I’d tackle is adding shaker-style cabinets to the kitchen.

But then again, maybe I should consider remodeling the master bathroom. Given my rampant binge-watching of House Hunters, I might be better off flushing the toilet while showering.

What your real-estate agent is really telling you

Large mansion with outdoor swimming pool.

Not-so-useful real-estate advice

Real-estate professionals speak a language all their own. However, with the right training (and a couple of evening real-estate courses), you, too, can comprehend the baffling jargon agents use to confound their clients — as well as impress each other.

“Today we’re going to be looking at a cozy bungalow that’s right in your price range.”

“I’m showing you this miniscule dump because it’s all you can afford.”

“With your budget, we’re going to have trouble finding a home that has all of the features you’re looking for.”

“You’re too destitute to afford anything nice.”

“The home just needs a little TLC.”

“This rat-infested pile of crap needs to be completely demolished and rebuilt from the ground up.”

“Wall colors are easy to fix.”

“Obviously, I’ve never touched a paintbrush in my entire life.”

“The kitchen appliances might need updating.”

“Your great-grandmother used to cook with a stove like this.”

“The carpets do show some wear.”

“Be sure to wipe off your shoes before stepping outside.”

“The backyard is a blank slate for your imagination.”

“This patch of weeds would look nice with a fence, some lawn and a couple of trees.”

“You could build your dream home here.”

“Here’s a vacant lot. I give up. Do whatever you want.”

“You might have to duck to get through the doorway.”

“Please excuse the low ceilings; a family of hobbits used to live here.”

“I’m not sure you’re seeing the big picture.”

“You’re bellyaching about brass cabinet handles and completely ignoring the rest of the house.”

“There aren’t many listings available that offer the features you’re looking for.”

“No house will ever be good enough for you.”

“You may not have noticed, but you have views of downtown from this balcony.”

“This million-dollar vista might not have leapt right out at you because you have to lean over the railing, squint your eyes, peer through your neighbor’s trees, and stretch your neck to see it.”

“I wanted to show you this amazing property, even though it’s above your budget.”

“I know I’m not going to make much of a commission off you, but you can’t blame me for trying.”

“I’m really excited to show you this property.”

“I’m praying you’ll actually buy a house one of these days so I can pay my bills.”

“Yes, the counters are granite and not quartz, but look at the shape they’re in.”

“The granite countertops are perfectly adequate, you entitled jerk. Quit turning up your nose at everything.”

“Keep in mind that location is everything.”

“This deteriorating hovel is only a mile from downtown, so it’s worth the $500,000 price tag.”

“I understand that the bedroom window faces your neighbor’s house, but you can always put up blinds.”

“I’m trying really hard not to be a sarcastic SOB, and I’m failing miserably.”

“The yard boasts mature landscaping.”

“You’ll need a machete to hack out a path to the front door.”

“This is a bank-owned property.”

“You might be able to move in by the time your kids graduate from college.”

“No, the home does not come with a washer and dryer included.”

“You’re spending $750,000 on a house, and you want someone else’s used appliances? Really?”

“The home does not have the fourth bedroom you’re looking for.”

“With your budget, you’re lucky it has a roof.”

“Due to a previous commitment, my partner will be showing you this home today.”

“I can’t stand working with you anymore, you picky bastard. Good luck with your new agent.”

Where I was from

Dogs playing in river

My three dogs swimming in the Carson River, circa 1988. This photo was taken when I was about 6. The dog on the left, Timmy, lived until I was a freshman in college.

“I am always drawn back to the places where I have lived, the houses and their neighborhoods.” — Truman Capote

“There is no real way to deal with everything we lose.” — Joan Didion

My childhood home is destroyed. Abandoned. Most of the back fence has blown down, and where a gazebo once stood sits a pile of garbage. A foreclosure notice is taped to the door, and peering through the grimy front window, I can see an array of junk lying on the ripped-up carpet. Where the couch should be is — quite inexplicably — a canoe left behind by the previous owners.

The surrounding homes are gorgeous, with fresh coats of paint and well-trimmed yards. The sad irony is that growing up, I always thought my house was the most beautiful. My parents landscaped both the front and back yards themselves, molding the tough clay dirt into our own little oasis in the desert.

Now that oasis has vanished, and the desert is reaching in through the loose fence boards to reclaim the yard. Weeds and sagebrush are scattered about, as if there was never a lush yard here — and, by extension, never a happy home, and never a young family.

I’ve always had a penchant for the past — a yearning for the way things used to be. I’m not sure if it’s healthy. For me, innocent nostalgia often transforms into wistful reminiscence, as I think about the way things were and how much simpler life seemed to be.

As I drive through my hometown, all I can see are the buildings that no longer stand, the boarded-up storefronts where nobody shops. The small town I grew up in is mutating into an impersonal hodgepodge of parking lots and gas stations — yet to the well-trained eye, it’s brimming with memories and the outlines of ghosts. Driving past a concrete pad in a vacant lot, I can still see the pizza place that burned down nearly 20 years ago. I used to play Paperboy in the arcade there, feeding quarters into the slot, the controllers slathered with grease.

child haunting Easter eggs.

Me hunting Easter eggs in 1988. Our house and yard were brand-new. My three puppies are in the background, along with the dog house my father built.

overgrown yard

The yard as it looks in 2016. The dog run is gone, and the dog house was dragged to a different corner. The lawn is dead, almost as if it never existed.

Seeing my childhood home in this condition, I wish I’d never come back. It’s hard to see past the dirt to the warm memories of my youth. The lawn where I kicked my soccer ball around is gone. The gazebo where I splashed in my wading pool is gone. The sign marking my pet turtle’s grave is gone; the combination swing set and slide that my grandparents bought me, gone.

It’s not as if another family has moved in to live their own lives and make their own memories. It’s worse. It’s as if all that warmth, joy and love never existed. Of course, I have my photographs and memories, where the warmth will forever remain alive, but seeing the trampled-on ground with the overgrown weeds and the gnarled sagebrush, it’s as if an aching emptiness is trying to gnaw away at the core of my being, grasping for my happiness the way the desert is reaching for — and reclaiming — the once-beautiful yard.

So many things are running through my mind as I step over a broken fence post, ambling through the litter-strewn lot. I think of that scene in Annie Hall, when Woody Allen takes Diane Keaton and Tony Robbins to his childhood apartment, and the present-day adults watch and comment on Allen’s long-ago family. In the same way, gazing past the dilapidated house, I can almost see my 8-year-old self bounding down the back stairs to try out the pogo stick Santa Claus brought him for Christmas.

A friend is with me, and through the weeds I point to the spot where one of my dogs is buried, and where the neighbor across the street once shot a firecracker over the house and set the sagebrush on fire. (Needless to say, he wasn’t the most responsible adult.)

Of course, my friend can’t see what I’m seeing in my head. I wish I could walk her through time — the way Woody Allen did with Diane Keaton — to take her beyond the trash and the dirt to the whimsical impressions unspooling in my mind. Every nook and cranny I look at brings back another memory.

To me, the yard is like one of those 3-D Magic Eye posters, where if you let your eyes unfocus, images from the past will come tumbling into shape. But once you shake yourself away, the past dissolves like a fleck of water evaporating off a hot sidewalk. It’s here one moment, and the next — just like that — it’s gone.

For the most part, I’m able to keep my composure. Sure, seeing the home in its present state roils up a list of emotions, but I’m not so nostalgic or connected to the past that I’m feeling overly sentimental. The past is the past, I remind myself. It was a part of my life that I enjoyed at the time, but now it’s time to leave the old behind and to embrace the new. You can never reclaim what you once had because life not only moves forward — it progresses and evolves. That’s why high-school reunions are always so awkward and disappointing (not that I’ve ever been to one). It was a time and a place that made sense at the time, but now it no longer does.

So, despite this trying trudge down memory lane, I’m not feeling wistful or overly emotional. Like I said, I’m keeping my composure … at least, that is, until I see the dog house my dad built tucked away in a corner, crammed against the front gate.

a brand-new dog house

My dad built this state-of-the-art dog house in 1988 for our three new puppies. I never imaged that it would still exist in 2016, nearly 30 years later.

A weather-beaten dog house

The dog house in 2016, stained by weather and time. I think that’s my old swing set in the foreground.

That’s what sets me off: the dog house. Although I don’t cry, an overwhelming sense of sadness drapes over my heart, and my intestines knot with a deep-seated aching for days gone by.

My dad built that dog house in the 1980s, and more than 25 years later it’s still here, though stained by weather and scarred by time. When I was a child, I wanted a dog so much. We took a camping trip in the hills, and out of nowhere seven puppies scampered into our camp, their little bellies concave from starvation. Someone had dumped them for dead, and we happened to be there to find them.

We kept three of the dogs and gave away the other four to happy families. One died at age 2 (it was the runt), another when I was in high school, and the third saw me through my freshman year at college. When they were puppies, my dad built them an insulated dog house with a window for ventilation and a doorway covered by a flap.

Seeing it here in the yard, abandoned with my childhood home, I’m flooded with memories of walking the dogs, rubbing their bellies, throwing sticks in the river for them to fetch. (Or not — sometimes the current carried the sticks away too quickly, so the dogs clambered onto shore and shook off next to me, so that I was flecked with dirt and smelled like wet fur.)

It occurs to me that unlike my family and I, that dog house has never left my childhood yard. When I graduated from high school, it was here. When I graduated from college, it was here. When I got my first professional job, it was here. While I grew up and carried on with my life, that dog house never left.

But what does it matter? I tell myself. It’s not a living thing. It doesn’t care. It’s not like the dog house misses me or was waiting with hope for me to return. It’s not The Brave Little Toaster. It’s a bunch of lumber hammered together with nails — that’s all.

Yet looking at it, I can’t see the wood or the shingles or the general structure. All I can see is the past in its water-color clarity, and all I can hear is the patter of paws clicking excitedly across the wooden floor.

“Come on,” someone says, tugging my sleeve. “It’s time to go.”

I look up, startled. It’s not my friend summoning me. Rather, it’s the present, with its harshly defined edges framing the dreary lot that used to be my backyard.

Used to be. It’s not anymore. I don’t belong here. Although I have many happy memories here, those moments can’t be rekindled into reality, no matter how tightly I close my eyes against the onslaught of tears.

I realize that I don’t want to forgo the present by living in the past. Life is a natural progression. Like a river carrying a stick, it flows toward unseen curves and bends. And although it’s murkier and choppy in some places, so many of the stretches are serene and beautiful, and the entire ride is worth taking.

So I take one last look at the dog house, as if saying a formal goodbye, and then I turn and leave, stepping over weeds and empty bottles of Crown Royal, to return to the car. I walk down the driveway where I used to ride my bike, stepping past the corner where the neighborhood kids once waited for the bus (perhaps they still do).

And I leave then, my chest feeling taut, my heart heavy and sad. Memories of my dogs replay in my mind, as well as birthdays parties gone by, and lazy summer days on the swing set.

I turn for one last glimpse, and looking past the torn-down fence and the brush-scattered sand, I can still see that oasis in the desert … as well as three exhausted dogs lying atop a lush carpet of lawn, resting and panting from their walk to the river.

Check out my serialized fiction on Goodreads

I used to publish my fiction on this blog, but for easier readability, I’ve since moved my stories to Goodreads. If you’re looking for free reading material, please check them out! Just click on the book cover to access the story.

Also, if you prefer reading on your mobile device, many of these stories are available for free in my book, Dying for Eternity: A Short-Story Collection.

Hope you enjoy, and as always, thanks for reading!

The Colane Conundrum: A Literary Sitcom

The Colane Conundrum Cover

Former newspaper editor Lyle Colane never imagined he’d have a mid-life crisis at age 30. But after losing his job and his live-in girlfriend of two years — both on the same day — he’s forced to make some dramatic changes in his life. The results (as you might expect) are life-changing.

With witty, comedic dialogue in the vein of Neil Simon and Woody Allen, “The Colane Conundrum” is a literary sitcom for people who enjoy TV shows, but hate TV.

The Colane Chronicles

The Colane Chronicles Cover

A prequel to my main fiction serial, “The Colane Conundrum,” this miniseries tells the story of Lyle Colane, a young man living in Reno who’s trying to figure out what he wants out of life — besides a second round.

Dying for Eternity

Dying for Eternity Cover

Two college students, Andrew and Matt, awaken in a mysterious compound with no memory of how they got there. They encounter a strange woman who tells them they’ve entered a spiritual realm … a halfway point between heaven and earth … because the unimaginable has happened:

They’ve died. 

However, for Andrew and Matt, death is only the beginning — the beginning of a murky and twisted reality that feels more like purgatory than a peaceful afterlife. And when it seems the spiritual realm they inhabit might not be so spiritual after all, their priority morphs from resting in peace to running for their lives….

Permanent Detention

Permanent Detention Cover

Since age seventeen, Paul has been serving a life sentence in Permanent Detention, a special prison for enemies of the state. His crime? Possessing a banned book — one he inherited from his long-dead rebel father. 

Now approaching thirty, Paul’s life has devolved to an empty, meaningless and very lonely routine. But one evening, his life takes a sudden and unexpected turn. For the first time in twelve years, he meets a woman — a fellow inmate named Pam. And though their encounter is brief, Paul falls deeply, profoundly in love. 

Flushed with emotions he never knew existed, Paul dreams of Pam at every waking turn, envisioning the life they could share if only their lives were their own — if only they were free and far away. 

Only Paul must cope with the fact that his life, like Pam’s, belongs to the state … and that no amount of dreaming can penetrate the prison’s thick walls. And when he’s told he can never see Pam again, Paul is forced to grapple with the emotions surging inside him … and to find meaning in a life over which he has no control. 

Set in a dystopian future in which liberty and privacy have become relics of the past, “Permanent Detention” depicts a young man’s resolve to find beauty amid bleakness, and to dream of love in life’s darkest hours.

The Do-Over

The Do-Over Cover

Jimmy Borman is a nerd. A lame, awkward, unpopular nerd. He’s never gotten the girl. He’s never even spoken to the girl. That’s how bad it is. 

He and his best friend, Ronald, occupy the lowest echelons of the sophomore class. And unless something drastic happens, that’s exactly where they’re going to stay. 

But then something drastic does happen — and it involves Jimmy meeting the girl of his dreams, Stacy Beckham.

The only problem? Jimmy’s family is planning to move to Reno during the summer. 

Will Jimmy succeed in winning the heart of the girl he dearly adores? Or will he blow the opportunity and require a do-over? 

Festering in Fremont

Festering in Fremont Cover

When Erin loses her prestigious job at a public-relations firm, she’s forced to move back in with her parents, returning to the small town she grew up in. Will she have an opportunity to reclaim her life, and her career, or will she remain festering in Fremont?

Nightmare of a Malefic Mind

Nightmare of a Malefic Mind Cover

Fred Walsh gave up on his dreams long ago. But now he’s entering a terrifying nightmare over which he has no control….

Baby Camp Recall

Baby Camp Recall Cover

Ted is a 29-year-old loser who can’t hold down a job or maintain a relationship. He’s not sure why. All he knows is that his whole life, he’s been a miserable failure.

But then Ted’s mom gets a letter from a summer camp that Ted attended years ago. According to the letter, the camp used experimental education methods that have proven to be traumatic. In an attempt to reverse the damage, the summer camp is asking for all former students — who now are all adults in their late 20s — to return for a cure. 

They’re issuing a recall.

If Ted goes back, will it solve all his problems and put him back on the path to success? Will he be able to live the life he should have been living all along? 

Find out in Baby Camp Recall.

’Tis the season to be seething

Christmas Card Colane Conundrum

Yeah, up yours too, Santa.

A relative last week mailed me a Christmas card. On the front it said, “Here’s wishing you the happiest of holidays!”

How rude, I thought. Why would he want this particular holiday — Christmas 2016 — to be my happiest? What about next year? Does he not want me to be happy then?

I don’t want this particular holiday to be my happiest. Why does this Christmas have to be the highlight of my life?

Does that mean all subsequent Christmases are going to be less happy? I’d have no reason to look forward to Christmas, knowing my “happiest” took place in 2016, and that all the rest went downhill from there.

Instead of wishing me the “happiest” of holidays, why not wish me a “happy” holiday, instead? Why put so much emphasis and expectation on this particular holiday season? I can’t handle that kind of pressure. And why should any one Christmas be happier than the other, anyway?

My relative might as well have said, “Have the happiest of holidays now, because life’s only going to get worse from here. Your future is going to be dismal and hopeless. Maybe you’ll lose your job, or the world will end in a nuclear holocaust. Or worse, maybe the Taco Bell down the street will run out of ingredients just as you’re pulling up to the window. You never know. There are so many ways life can stick it to you. So be sure to enjoy this holiday season, because you may not have anything to celebrate next year. Love you, and God bless!”

Relatives can be thoughtless sometimes. Luckily, I only see them once a year — around Christmas.