Latest Posts, Poetry

My Not Favorite Teacher

I looked up at him

With my best stern

look, sassy

look, a look

that told him I was serious.

Standing jaunty like

with arms

on hips, feet

wide apart, head

slightly cocked,

and wide eyes.

Tight lips

with a downward curve.

Just like my momma shows me

every time I get in trouble.


Which is often. I mean:

only sometimes, and

maybe never.

I’m a good girl. Really!

Even when my teacher calls

home and speaks to momma

through an interpreter.


I didn’t do nothing. That’s why

I stand there staring

scowling, and showing

my teacher I mean:

I’m serious. He’s my favorite,

but now he’s not.

I’m in trouble with momma,

so he’s in trouble with me.


So I stand and stare

like momma scowls

at me, just waiting

for him to say… something.

But you know what

he said:

“What’s that look for?”

And my reply:

a frown and an upward

tilt of my head

and a jut of my jaw.

But he says nothing,

so you know what I said?

I said:

“You should know.”


And he

he just

just smiled

and said



Can you believe the nerve? But, I just

walked, no

stomped in silence

away from him

my not favorite teacher.

Latest Posts, Poetry

Beneath a Cloudy Vacancy

Smoke puffs and ponders before

billowing and wisping through a window

exchanging a cool breeze for the final

grey thoughts of a weary traveler

chewing on the nub of a glowing cigar

that is soon grasped between

the index and middle finger of his hand

gripping a greying steering wheel

while the other reaches for a mug.


Steam rises with pondering participation

from the mug filled to the brim

and much too hot to gulp

and weary traveler gags,

thoughtlessly throttled awake

as grey ash plunks down

upon his pant leg

causing him to place down

with speed and care the mug

so as to avoid marking up

the other leg with the piping

stains of a meaningless musing.


Brushing away streaks of grey carelessness

and dissatisfied with the results

weary traveler takes another go

at his mug and sips,

squinting into the sunny overcast

and seeing, perhaps a mile or so,

the dark seduction of a stormy sky

and he sighs into the air spicy

with rain, exhaust, and cigar smoke.


Drops plunk poignantly upon

the windshield of weary traveler’s car

as he takes a deliberating drag

on the soggy remains of a cigar

now unpleasant to puff

and tosses it out the window

and into the air heavy with mist

as the pitter-patter picks up pace

and wind pushes weary traveler’s

car from side to side

plunking with rapid speed

drops of rainfall

bringing traffic

to a halting


Latest Posts, Non-fiction

A Heretical Guide to Classifying Beer

Growing up in a household in which beer and wine were never served, or even kept in the house, I never acquired an appreciation of beer. To me, there was one kind of beer – very light in color, served out of dirty, plastic coolers, and consumed by very distant and strange relatives at picnics. In high school, this beer was also consumed by a certain crowd: those who played baseball and lacrosse and talked about the kegger at which this straw, light amber, highly carbonated beverage was served in abundance. The lack of a model at home, the exhibition of poor behavior by those who consumed beer, and the general smell and color of the beer was enough to make me turn my nose up at the idea of drinking beer altogether. That is, until I tried my first beer almost an entire year after I turned 21.

My friend and I were at a Mexican-themed restaurant chain near the college. It was here that I bought my first drink. Deciding to commit all the way, I ordered one that came in a 25 ounce can. This, a pilsner lager I would later learn, had a light golden amber hue and gave off a mild malty aroma. As I drank it, it had just a hint of sweetness with just enough bitter to categorize it as beer. Of course, being my first drink ever and having nothing to eat prior to drinking, I received the full force of its 4% alcohol per volume and felt the buzz almost immediately. This, of course faded as my friend and I ate. Later we would go back to this restaurant and partake of the same food and beverage again.

I didn’t know much about beer then, and I can’t say that I know a lot about it now. But if I did know more, I could talk to you about how beer has been ingrained in cultures throughout the world since Noah’s Ark with the most earliest recorded recipes dating back to 4300 BC. I could talk to you about how the ancient Egyptians brewed beer commercially and had various social traditions associated with beer, such as an Egyptian gentleman offering a lady a sip of his beer, thus announcing their betrothal. I could also talk to you about how the early brewers used balsam, hay, dandelion, and even crab claws for flavoring. I could even go into detail about beer’s various uses during the Medieval period beyond its use for nutrition and celebration. These include tithing, trading, payment, and even taxing. Furthermore, I could go into some depth about how hops were added to the brewing process in 1000 AD, and how 200 years later it became a substantial commercial enterprise in Eastern Europe. I could even share with you some very fun facts like how kings used beer to toast victories and how Queen Elizabeth I of England drank strong ale for breakfast. Furthermore, in the colonial period, George Washington and Thomas Jefferson had their own private brewhouses. Then, as the discussion looms upon modern history, I could even go into some depth about how prior to the 1800s, most beer was really just some variation of Ale. And, of course, Louis Pasteur’s discovery of yeast in 1876 significantly impacted the fermentation process for beer (as well as wine), thus leading to over 2300 breweries in the U.S. in 1880 and Pabst’s ability, alone, to brew 1 million barrels in a year. But, I won’t go into these fun historical facts because this information is easily accessible on where, in addition to a concise timeline, one can find a list of well over twenty books and articles on this very topic.

If beer were a religion, it would probably the oldest religion in the world with various offshoots and sects preferring barley over wheat, hoppier beers versus sweeter beers, light beers over dark beers, stouts or porters over ales and lagers, and so forth. If beer were a religion, then the prophets of this religion, who describe their beers with terms like “sessionable” and “malt-driven” or “having a balanced interplay between malt and hop bitterness” would cry heresy and burn me at the stake for refusing to adhere to their strict standards of description, all of which can be found on the Beer Style Guide at

Now, in my earlier years as a beer novice, I would have given a person a blank stare at the mention of such phrases. Though I don’t anymore, not because I lay claim to any real expert knowledge on the matter, but because I’ve experimented with various beers over the years, mostly at parties that are just as much about trying new and interesting beers as they are about meeting new and interesting people. Here I’ve come to conclude that beers, regardless of the family in which they fall (i.e. lager, pale ale, brown ale, stout, porter, and so forth), all of them, like people, can fit into the following categories: The Eccentric, The Nice Guy/Gal, The Life of the Party, and The Asshole. Hence the almost heretical way in which I intend to set out to describe beer, purposefully moving away from any terminology that demands some technical expertise into this world and choosing instead to describe beer in terms that would be more accessible to the common individual who, like myself, enjoy a good beer and tend to further categorize their beer as follows: Another Round, I’ll Drink it if There’s Nothing Else, or Hell no!

For the purpose of demonstrating this thesis, I chose Sierra Nevada’s Beer Camp Across the World, a collection of collaborative projects containing twelve different kinds of beers. For the sake of brevity and to eliminate redundancy, I have chosen four of these twelve beers to illustrate exactly how these categories might work for the average beer drinker.

The Eccentric. Simultaneously intriguing and off putting, the West Coast Style DIPA gives off an aroma almost identical to peeling a grapefruit. However, upon taking your first sip, you experience bursts of sweet citrus in the same way you would if you were biting into a slice of tangerine. The sweetness lingers for a brief moment before it’s overwhelmed by the taste of a sour grapefruit, causing your eyes to squint and your lips to pucker. Upon swallowing, the aftertaste is bitter, but not unbearable. Like meeting an eccentric person at a party who holds your attention until the conversation begins to lag or veers into topics in which you have no interest, you wonder whether this West Coast Style DIPA, boasting of 8.3% alcohol, is something you can, or even should, actually finish. But finish it you do because it feels like such a waste, this far into the pint, to stop. Not only that, but you have no one else to pass it off to and you just feel bad about leaving it alone. To this beer, you might say, “Eh… I’ll drink it again if there is nothing else around.”

The Nice Guy/Gal. The Dunkle Weiss, a German-Bavarian style beer, tries very hard to be well-liked. It is neither inoffensive, nor off-putting. With 5.7% alcohol, this beer smells like a cool spring breeze across a field of grass sprinkled with patches of newly blossoming flowers. Upon your first sip, you are greeted by the familiar taste of cherry candies, like the ones that the old ladies at church carry in their purse. Molasses, mild and watered down, are also noticeable within your first few sips. As you continue to drink this beer, you will also notice hints of cocoa powder, like the air you breathe in through your mouth while pouring hot cocoa mix into a dry mug. This is the mild chocolaty finish you get upon swallowing your first sip, and everyone thereafter. Like the Nice Guy or Gal at the party, everyone spends some time with this beer. Some, like myself, will ask for another round, while others are content with the experience of the single round. However, at some point, you will go back to this beer because it is just perfectly sweet.

The Life of the Party. If the nice guy or gal should suddenly develop charisma, this person would become the one who makes everyone laugh, yet does so in a way that offends no one at all. The Atlantic Style Vintage Ale is one such beer. Upon giving it an introductory sniff, a faint plummy aroma wafts through your nostrils, much like the mist of body spray from five feet away. Upon your first sip, you are greeted by fruit punch and you are taken back to your childhood, sitting on the back stoop in the hot sun, sipping a straw stuffed into a box of juice. It’s pleasant. Yet there is a mild bitterness to this fruit punch taste that enhances, rather than overwhelms the experience. It is much like the taste of tonic water added to the bowl of fruit punch for the purposes of livening up the drink at a dry party. This beer, with its 8.5% alcohol per volume, is a beer that everyone at the party will likely want to drink because the taste is truly something to be experience. The harbinger of this experience – the one who encourages everyone to have a sip – will also be elevated to the same exalted level of “Life of the Party”, even if he or she didn’t even bring the beer. Because of the higher alcohol content and the taste, to this beer I would say, “Another round!”

The Asshole. The Dry Hopped Barley Wine Style Ale clothes itself with the appearance of The Eccentric. The asshole has opinions and makes various and unfounded claims all of which are initially intriguing, but the more you are around the asshole, the more uncomfortable you feel because the asshole has complete disregard for anyone but himself. This beer gives off the sweet, citrusy aroma of orange blossoms and you think, “Yeah! This is gonna be great!” However, when you sip it for the first time, you are reminded of that one time when you insufficiently peeled an orange and suffered the bitter consequences of chewing the remnants of said peel. However, the bitterness is initially offset by a sweet citrus taste and leaves you with the aftertaste you get when you eat a sour grapefruit. Oddly, there is a mild toffee, almost caramel flavor within each sip, but it’s more like someone decided to further compound the taste by stuffing a Werther’s Original (the chewing kind) inside a slice of the most sour grapefruit they could find. Then, after all of this, you realize how much this beer mimics The Asshole Personality. It boasts a whopping 9.4% alcohol per volume that is guaranteed to turn any well-intentioned person into an asshole as well, should said person decide to have another round. I, for one, never want to put anything even remotely resembling this to my lips and therefore say, “Hell no!”

So from one novice to another, the preceding is a simple way of categorizing your beer. You don’t have to be an acolyte, a beer connoisseur, or even a master-beer craftsman to fluently discuss why you prefer one beer over another. Simply take a sip, take mental notes of its affect on your senses, and categorize the experience accordingly. But I’d recommend trying it at home first with a beer sampler pack and a notebook so as to avoid the distraction of a pesky party filled with assholes who would be delighted to lord over you their claims that they know exactly what a well balanced beverage of malt and hops actually tastes like. Because, you know everyone can go to the produce section of their grocery store and buy hops (whatever that is) so that they can sprinkle it on their salad, toss it into their smoothie, or just eat it raw. But malt, in all serious, can easily be picked up. Go down the Ethnic aisle of your grocery store and pick up a few bottles labeled “malt beverage” and you will know exactly what malt tastes like. But, as for everything else, simply stick to food associations that are familiar to you. Even if some eccentric looks at you like your head is filled with barley, the nice guy or gal and the life of the party will smile with appreciation that you even dared to describe the taste of beer in simple, plain language.

Latest Posts, Non-fiction

My Grandfather and One Hundred Words

We spoke no more than 100 words to each other over the course of twenty years and the time we spent together amounted to no more than a few days. It should come as no surprise that I have very few vivid memories of my grandfather, and the ones I have are like the edges of an old photograph, frayed and stained by age – an uneven yellow, almost brown tinge like someone dipped it in cold black coffee and left it out to dry in the sun.

When he died, my grandfather left his material legacy behind – a two story house and a two car garage, both with matching blue paint fading and peeling, along with one of those fifteen foot contractor vans with the two windows in the rear. This van, brown with gaping rusty holes, rattled as he drove it from neighborhood to neighborhood picking up from the side of the road broken washing machines, old computers, scrap metal, and anything he thought might be of use or value to him one day. These he would stash, stack, or stuff in his garage or house until his garage spewed forth his treasures or the stacks within his house threatened to topple over. I know this because I rode in the front seat of the van while he made one stop before dropping me off at home.

It was a hot August day. My mother told my brother and I that she had arranged for my grandfather, her father, to pick us from soccer practice that afternoon. When the time came, all of our teammates and our coaches left us alone, baking, sweating, and thirsty in the green desert of our high school’s sports complex. We waited, deciding that this man we both barely knew had forgotten about us. At this point, we walked until we reached the crest of the hill leading out to the surrounding neighborhood where we saw the van.

I recognized the van and its driver before my brother did. Or, more accurately, I chose to recognize my grandfather, whereas my brother bluntly refused to get in the vehicle. He walked home and I rode with my grandfather. The van shook and rattled metallically while an old microwave, caked with dust and grease, crashed across the floor as we bounced over potholes until my grandfather spotted a pile of garbage sparkling in the afternoon sun. Without asking if I minded, he stopped the van, cranked the emergency brake, and got out without closing his door. The rear door creaked open and one, two, three pieces of scrap metal slid in, along with another microwave and a filthy computer. The rear door creaked shut with a slam and my grandfather was back in the van. He looked at me, chuckled gruffly, and said, “That’s a good find.”

Years later, long after my grandfather died, my parents were getting rid of their surplus of coffee mugs. I took the two that belonged to my grandfather, a matching set with a cartoon picture of two gloved hands holding a porter cable grinder applying pressure to a pile of coffee beans. The image is captioned in bold lettering: “FRESH GROUND COFFEE”. When company comes, I serve them coffee in these mugs. They chuckle. And I tell them, these belonged to my grandfather, a man who truly saw treasure in what others would dismiss as junk.

Though I never really knew the man, I am fascinated nonetheless. He was a man who I believe had a reason for everything he did. He loved the wild, or so I heard. Though I don’t remember the details, I am told he went camping with us. Attached to this experience is a memory, cloudy and faded with time, of learning how to fish. We were set up beneath a shade of trees upon a lake. He showed my brother and I how to wrap a worm and apply pressure to the squirming muscle until the spear-like end pierced through with a pop. Then we cast off our rods and he let us alone. When we needed help, he came to us, gently showing us again how to set and cast our line and wait a silent eternity until we felt a tug. And there, beneath the shade, he would help us gently real in our line, inspect our catch, then toss it back in. It was not about catching fish, so much as it was about being there as one generation passed on a legacy to another. Just one lesson in what I imagine to be potentially countless others in learning how to survive for days, if not weeks, with just a pocket knife, a fishing rod, and a frugal use of words.

Drama, Latest Posts

A Winter’s Siege

About the play

This play should come across as a dramatized memoir. The piece came to me as I thought about my own family experience, as well as the idea that as we age we become in many ways like our parents, taking on the hierarchal roles as one generation dies off and another ages to take the place of the patriarchal (or matriarchal) role in the family. In this piece, we have 59 year old Joseph Kahl coming to visit his aging father. Yet before he enters the home, he pulls out Shakespeare’s Sonnets, a collection of work with which he has had a love-hate relationship throughout most of his academic and professional career. As he aged, growing in both wisdom and experience (though not always maturity as you’ll see in the play), his appreciation of the Sonnets grew as well. It is through the wisdom of Shakespeare that he approaches his own memories, seeking to understand each one while still holding on to some of his own youthful cockiness and sarcasm. The opening scene presents us with Joseph’s own issues, both as a teen and as an adult, with the hierarchal order of his family. As the play progresses, his own arc and that of his father’s will climax in two big reveals: the death of Willis Kahl, Joseph’s grandfather, and the steady onset and decline in the mental health of Edward Kahl, Joseph’s father. Each scene, like the scene you are about to read, will be arranged in parallel fashion so as to further develop the themes within this play.

While other characters, such as Joseph’s grandmother, who died after a long battle with Alzheimer’s disease, as well as Joseph’s mother and sister, these have not been thought up as of yet.

To what degree the Sonnets will be thematically woven into the story, I am not certain, but this scene will certainly not be the only moment in which they appear.


(OLD) Joseph Kahl

59; teacher of high school English Literature and Drama. He is the play’s narrator.

The following characters are played in the past as Joseph Kahl narrates the action, looking back on each scene as a part of his memory.

(YOUNG) Joseph Kahl

19; a younger version, as in memory

Edward Kahl

49; his father.

Willis Kahl

75; Joseph’s grandfather and Edward’s father. When he speaks, his voice is gruff and much louder than everyone else’s. He should come across as generally grumpy.

Paul Kahl

17; Joseph’s Brother

David Kahl

45; Joseph’s uncle and Edward’s brother

(OLD JOSEPH enters. He is reading from a book, a complete collection of Shakespeare’s sonnets, small enough to fit in his back pocket. It is tattered, suggesting that this is a book he carries with him wherever he goes. Behind him, the framing of a house. This is where the play’s action takes place in memory. OLD JOSEPH stops center stage in front of the house.)


When forty winters shall besiege thy brow,

And dig deep trenches in thy beauty’s field,

Thy youth’s proud livery, so gaz’d on now,

Will be a tatter’d weed, of small worth held

(Holding the book up and looking at the audience.)

Ha! Shakespeare’s Sonnet 2. I didn’t have much of an appreciation for it when I was a teen. When I got to college, I still didn’t. Not for his Sonnet’s anyway. Though my professors certainly helped to kindle some appreciation for his work in theatre classes. I only hope I can do the same for my own students. I doubt it. At least not in the present. Teenagers: youth’s proud livery soon to be nothing more than a tatter’d weed besieged by forty winters. (Making a sweeping gesture of himself) Exhibit A.

(He gestures toward the house behind him. It lights up with activity. EDWARD and WILLIS enter. WILLIS is shuffling a deck of cards in his hands. He and EDWARD sit at a card table set up in the living room. DAVID is in the kitchen busy putting snacks together on a tray.)

Oh. Exhibit B, my father. And Exhibit C, my grandfather. He’s dead now. Not in this scene, I mean. But now, in the present. Just so there’s no confusion. Dead 30 years ago.

(DAVID exits kitchen with a tray and enters living room.)

Oh. Exhibit D, my uncle. My father and uncle, would you believe are in their mid to late 40s? Good genes. They are still mistaken for being in their 30s. Not sure what happened to me. Must be my healthy regiment of cigars and scotch.

(While the three men at the card table pass around the snacks and sample them,OLD JOSEPH crosses the stage and sits on a bench off to the side of the house. He pulls out a

cigar, sniffs it, drawing in its scent. Shrugging his shoulder, he places the cigar in his mouth.)

But enough about me, at least for the present.

(Lights dim on OLD JOSEPH and brighten on the living room.)

WILLIS: (to EDWARD) Where’s Joey and Paul?

OLD JOSEPH: Joey. I always hated that name. Joe. Joseph. Not Joey.

EDWARD: They’ll be here. I told you.

DAVID: (Laughing. Munching on chips) You said that fifteen minutes ago.

EDWARD: C’mon. Let’s just pass out the cards.

WILLIS: (Grumbling as he begins to pass out the cards) Can’t even keep a handle on your own kids.

DAVID: Pop. The boys are playing, too. If Ed says they’ll be here. They’ll be here.

(WILLIS, in mid-pass, glares at DAVID, then at EDWARD. He continues to pass out the cards for three.)

EDWARD: What’re you doing?

WILLIS: They’re not coming. I told you.

(The game commences)


Then being ask’d where all thy beauty lies,

Where all the treasure of thy lusty days

(Musing) Yes. Where? Where were the treasures of my father’s lusty days? I can’t. Remember. (Smiling) Probably out hanging with friends. This was winter break right after my first semester of college. (shuddering) The holidays. Family obligations. You know how it goes. (Beat. Turning toward the house) Ah. Here we are.

(YOUNG JOSEPH and PAUL enter from the front door of the house, which opens into the living room. Quickly, they strip off their winter coats. EDWARD stands and approaches.)

EDWARD: Where’ve you two been?

YOUNG JOSEPH and PAUL: (Exchanging a glance) Out. (They giggle)

EDWARD: You smell like pot.

OLD JOSEPH: Shit! I forgot about that.

OLD JOSEPH and YOUNG JOSEPH: (Giggling. YOUNG JOSEPH hits PAUL on the shoulder.) Guilty as charged.

EDWARD: (Closer, as if to intimidate YOUNG JOSEPH) Please don’t. Not today. Your grandfather’s here. (YOUNG JOSEPH goes complete deadpan) He’s got prostate cancer you know. So please be kind.

YOUNG JOSEPH: (Looking at PAUL) We will.

(EDWARD shifts his gaze and glares at PAUL.)

PAUL: (Rolls his eyes and lets out a loud sigh) Geez. Dad. Really?

YOUNG JOSEPH: Fine. What’re we playing?

EDWARD: Ask your grandfather.

(EDWARD turns and YOUNG JOSEPH and PAUL follow.)

OLD JOSEPH: You know. It really wasn’t my idea. The pot, I mean. It was my brother’s. He’s the wild one in the family. I only went along because… well… damn. That shit was really good. But I digress:

To say, within thine own deep sunken eyes,

Were an all-eating shame and thriftless praise.

DAVID: Pop. The boys are here. I told you.

WILLIS: (Grunting) I suppose you want to play.

YOUNG JOSEPH: (Sitting) Ummm… yeah. Good to see you grandpa.

WILLIS: (Waving his hand as if swatting away YOUNG JOSEPH’S remark) It’s Spades. You know how to play?

EDWARD: Yeah, pop. They know how to play. We played last-

WILLIS: Will you shut up and let the boy speak?

(Silence. Everyone awkwardly staring at each other while simultaneously avoiding WILLIS’S cold glare.)

YOUNG JOSEPH: (Realizing all eyes are on him) Yeah. 13 cards each. We bid tricks. No more than 13 total.

WILLIS: (Narrowed eyes) That’s right. (Looking around the table) We have too many players.

PAUL: It’s okay. I’ll go.

EDWARD: No.You sit. (Looking to DAVE) Dave?

DAVID: (He has been diving into the snacks this whole time. He realizes he’s been asked a question) Oh. Sure. I’ll sit out. Maybe deal.

WILLIS: I’ll deal. Joey, you’re on my team.

(WILLIS deals. Each player grabs his cards, examining them closely, until all have been passed out. DAVID should watch and eat with silent amusement in the following.)




WILLIS: You can’t bid six.


WILLIS: It only leaves 3 tricks left.


PAUL: It’s okay. I’ll bid three. I think I can get three.

WILLIS: (Pounding the table) You can’t. That’s too many.

YOUNG JOSEPH: We can’t? Why? Because it’s against your rules? Your way of playing?

WILLIS: Don’t talk to me about rules. I’ve been playing this game longer than you’ve been alive. I’ve won big in the casino. What have you done?

YOUNG JOSEPH: I… fine… four. What’re you bidding?

WILLIS: (Growling) 2.

(The game commences. OLD JOSEPH looks on with amusement. He cuts his cigar.)

OLD JOSEPH: You mind if I smoke? (Puts the cigar in his mouth, ignites a lighter and holds it close to the cigar, but not close enough to light it. He puts out the light.) No. You’re right. Crowded theatre. Someone’s bound to complain. (Puts away the lighter, but keeps the cigar out, occasionally sucking on the cut end.) Watch this.

WILLIS: You can’t do that!

YOUNG JOSEPH: I told you I’d get six tricks.

WILLIS: (Throwing the cards down) Game over!

(The players all stare in stunned silence at WILLIS as he gets up)

PAUL: God! This is why I hate playing with him.

EDWARD: (Following WILLIS into the living room) C’mon Pop. It’s just a game.

OLD JOSEPH: (with a chuckle) How much more praise deserv’d thy beauty’s use.

DAVID: (Congratulatory) Nice work, Joey. He hates to lose.

YOUNG JOSEPH: But we’re on the same team. We won this time.

DAVID: (Grabbing WILLIS’S hand) Looks like he had a few tricks still to play.

(EDWARD comes over, leaving WILLIS in the living room. EDWARD stands at the table and stares at YOUNG JOSEPH)


If thou couldn’t answer – ‘This fair child of mine

Shall sum my count, and make my old excuse-’

(EDWARD turns and walks into the kitchen. DAVID follows.)

Proving his beauty by succession thine!

(The frame of the house dims to shadows, leaving the scene frozen as if in time.)

OLD JOSEPH: You see, he couldn’t. My dad, that is. Never a job well done. Nothing.

(The frame of the house dims to black. OLD JOSEPH stands and walks to center stage.)

Which brings us to this point. Like my father before me, I go to make my obligatory visit. But we don’t play cards. No. Never cards. His game is Backgammon. Sometimes he wins. Sometimes I do.

(OLD JOSEPH steps into the frame of the house and the lights come up. EDWARD, much older now, is sitting at the same table with Backgammon open before him. OLD JOSEPH sits.)

It’s your turn, Pop.

(EDWARD grunts. And makes his move. OLD JOSEPH does the same. The game continues in this way as OLD JOSEPH speaks, looking directly at, but not speaking to EDWARD.)

This were to be new-made when thou art old,

And see thy blood warm when thou feel’st it cold.


Latest Posts, Non-fiction

You’ve Been Buttoned

Growing up, we all had a small collection of buttons. Some of us wore our buttons proudly for a day. Some pinned our buttons to our bags. At school you might remember the one kid who had plastered her bag with a monumental medley of colors and images which caused you to wonder whether a bag even existed beneath the collage of pins strapped to the kid’s back.

Buttons were a great way to dress up the faded bag handed down to you by your older brother or sister when the bag had long passed its expiration date. You would hide the bag’s blemishes with smiley faces and peace signs. Then, to personalize your bag , you would include buttons of your favorite bands. Maybe KISS, Green Day, or even the New Kids on the Block were included in your envied array of buttons.

Whatever you had, your buttons represented the places you visited and the things you loved. Each button was a timeless memento printed on a thin paper disc, shrink-wrapped on a cheap piece of tin and lovingly pinned to your bag. Until a few days ago, I thought these cheap, but fun little trinkets, had passed their prime in favor of their modern counterparts, the meme. But a meme you cannot hold. A meme, existing only in digital format, does not possess the palpable immortality inherent within a button.

A few weeks ago, I was visiting a Foundations of Technology (FOT) Class to observe critical thinking in instruction. Apparently I was supposed to see how the instructor fostered an environment in which a high level of critical thinking could occur. The intended result of this peer walk-through would be to create a continuum of conversation around the topic of increasing levels of critical thinking in our school-wide instruction. So I chose FOT because it fit two requirements: it was outside of my content area and it was taking place during my planning period.

During this class, tenth grade students were to create buttons using a template on Microsoft Word. The template was already populated with images the instructor had previously inserted as examples of what the students were supposed to do. Basically, the students were to find images on the web or through clip-art and replace the instructor’s images with the images they found on the internet, which they then carelessly copied without giving credit to the original source. Not much critical thinking was happening here, unless you count the times when students screwed up the template and had to figure out how to fix it, or simply gave up (or didn’t try) and opted instead to ask the instructor or a friend for help.

As I walked around the room, I went through the motions of putting tally marks on various and vague descriptions of behaviors I observed being demonstrated by the teacher and the students. Did the students identify a problem and try to solve it using more than one method? Did the students persevere until the problem was solved? Did the teacher ask open ended questions? Did the teacher give students a real world problem to which they had to apply real world skills? To be honest, I thought it was a stretch, but I did my best to find the critical thinking, however minute, in everything the students were doing.

For about ten minutes, I continued my rounds of observation and note taking and managed to apply a great deal more critical thinking than some of the kids in the room were applying to their projects as they chose pictures that they pasted into the template, then chose an appropriate color for the accent ring around the picture. Maybe that was the point. Maybe it was I who was supposed to think critically in my mission to discover critical thinking which I could implement into my own teaching practice.

Scouting out and endeavoring to discover active critical thinking, I came across a student from my English class. He managed to find several pictures of myself on the Internet, which is really not that hard to do with a quick name search. If you’d like, you can search my name and you will find numerous pictures of myself which you can also download, but I’m not sure why you would want to. But this kid did. He copied the picture and pasted it into the template then looked up to see that I was looking at his work.

“Sure,” I said, “if you really want to use my face, you can. No need to ask my permission.”

He got the hint, then asked for permission. I obliged his request because I really didn’t care one way or the other. When I left after doing my rounds of critical thinking observation, I headed to my office, then reflected upon my findings. When I was finished, I dropped the peer observation on a pile somewhere in my office knowing that it would be one more thing that we were told we had to do but there would be no follow up, and, like the paper, I completely forgot about my picture potentially being used on a button project for FOT.

I forgot, that is, until this week when the creator of the button walked into my classroom and sat down next to his friend. Because of their banter throughout most of my classes and their various antics, I refer to these students as Waldorf and Statler (the two crotchety old critics from the Muppets). At the start of the class period, I began class with my usual overview of my expectation for the day before launching into the lesson. Then I paused to take notice of the button worn by Waldorf, the creator of the buttons, then noticed that his buddy, Statler, wore a different button.

“I see you found a second picture,” I said to Waldorf.

“Yes,” he said, “And I made one for Statler. I figured he’d want one once he saw mine.”
Looking at the two buttons pinned to their t-shirts, I noticed Waldorf’s button had a caption below my face:


And so I did. And in my pondering, I concluded that I have certainly made quite the lasting impression on these two students. I imagine they will have those buttons for years to come and they will one day, maybe in twenty years, be cleaning out a junk drawer and each will find his button respectively. They will ponder and, in their pondering, they will tell their kids about me and my class. And so, I too will be an immortal memento simply because I allowed a picture of my face to be used for a FOT project.

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The Taxi Driver

Drops of rain fell upon a faded grey sedan, labeled Charlie’s Cab Company, which sat in an otherwise bare parking.  Next to the car,  Charlie stood.  He allowed the rain to fall upon him until tiny creeks flowed between the wrinkles around his eyes and trickled down his cheeks.  He squinted at the sky.  An endless sea of grey clouds told him that driving today would be dreadful, but he had to do it.

Last night’s final fare occurred because of a choice Charlie made.  This choice proved to be dangerous, but not because of his passengers, a young couple recently married.

When the young husband gave out directions, Charlie cringed.  He knew the route through the mountains would be treacherous.  For a moment, he thought to leave the young couple at the restaurant on Main Street. In his brief moment of hesitation, he recalled memories long stashed away of scary tales of married couples on dark winding roads.  But he shook his head, smiled, and told them to get in.  They were clearly in love and Charlie, though distant was his memory of young love, could still relate.  

He drove through the fog as Phil, the name he overheard the wife call her husband, gave out directions over the drunken giggles and slurred speech of his wife.  Her name, he would later discover, was Alice.  As Charlie drove, Phil and Alice sat in the back seat and spoke in whispers occasionally broken by a joke, or some circumstantial story only understood by those riding the buzz of a late night party. Charlie was glad that Phil was sober enough to guide him around one dark, foggy bend in the background road, then another.  

Though short in miles, the trip seemed like an eternity, especially since Charlie fought to keep sleep from weighing his eyes down, but he lost the battle as his head bobbed and his eyes closed.  Somewhere between awake and dreaming, he swerved to the left, then to the right as a horn from an oncoming truck blared.

“You OK, pal?” Phil asked.

Charlie nodded, rubbed his eyes and continued to drive.

The eternally brief trip through back roads eventually lead to a brightly lit house.  As Phil and his wife got out and paid their fare, he placed his hands on the door of the car, leaned into the open window and whispered.

“Say.  Uh.  It’s really late,” Phil paused and looked over his shoulder at his wife, who had stumbled over the first step up to the house.  He looked back at Charlie, then began again. “We were thinking you might want to come in and sleep in our guest bedroom.”

Charlie looked at his watch.  4:05 am.  In all his years as a cab driver, no one had ever invited him in. Odd as it was, he was tired and agreed to stay the night.    

“Great,” Phil smiled.  “Can you help me with my wife? She’s had a little too much to drink.”

After locking the door and grabbing from the trunk the small duffle bag, which he kept packed for emergencies, Charlie hoisted Alice from one side while her husband did the same on the other.  Together, the trio marched, or rather two men dragged an unconscious young bride, into the house and up three flights of steps where they laid her in bed and turned off the lights.  The two men then headed down four flights of steps, the fourth of which led down to a basement where a room was already prepared should the host ever have a guest like Charlie.

After Phil left the room, Charlie locked the door, shut off the lights, and collapsed on the bed.  Sleep overtook his tired body until a bang and the splintering of wood caused him to stir.  As though a part of a bad dream, a blinding light illuminated the hallway and seemingly seared through Charlie’s closed eyelids.  He groaned and attempted to roll over but found himself unable to do so.  Upon opening his eyes, Charlie squinted.  A light, perhaps a lamp or a flashlight, was held close to his face.  Just beyond the light, Charlie could barely make out the movement of a person.

“Charlie.  You’ve been… selected.”

“Phil?  Alice?”  Charlie questioned.  The pitch and voice quality was such that he could not tell whether it belonged to a man or a woman.  


“Then where am-”

“Oh, you’re still where you’ve always been,” the voice continued.  “Only, you’ve forced us to change the game.”

Charlie cleared his throat.  He thought back to his most recent fare.  Was it just a few hours ago?  The only thing he had done differently was take them home, help the wife inside, then accept their hospitality for the night.

“Oh, no,” the voice seemed to chuckle. “It wasn’t anything you did last night, or even the night before.  You’ve just forced our hands.”

From somewhere in the darkness another set of footsteps approached.  The ripping of duct tape being peeled from adhesive was heard. Charlie squirmed, but as he did, he found himself held fast by several hands.  One set held his wrists, while another set removed blankets, then his t-shirt.  A cold metal object was placed on his chest.  Then, with deliberate care, the metal object was secured to his chest with one layer after another layer of tape.  As this occurred, the thought running through Charlie’s mind was singular, “I hope that I’m around to feel the pain of removing that tape later.”

After his head and arms were shoved back into his t-shirt, Charlie was hoisted to his feet, blindfolded, and shove up the stairs, then led outside. His paused briefly just outside of the door.  Charlie pointed his blindfolded eyes toward the sky but was unable to sense the time of day by the position of the sun.

How much time passed between last night and this moment? Charlie thought as a heavy hand prodded him forward.

His feet shuffled upon the concrete, then blacktop as he was led down a familiar set of steps.  He knew he was still at Phil and Alice’s house.  

Breathing a little easier because he had gained his bearings, Charlie was not at all surprised to hear the latch of the driver’s side door of his taxi cab click open.  He was shoved toward the open door and told to sit. He reached for his blindfold.

“Not yet,” the voice from before whispered in his ear. A hand belonging to the voice placed a small square object in his hand.  “Not until you hear this phone ring. When it rings, answer it.”

The door slammed.  Moments passed in silence as Charlie listened.  Sensing he was alone, he reached for the blindfold.

The phone rang and Charlie tore the blindfold from his eyes and tossed it into the backseat.  As the phone rang again, he lifted his t-shirt.  A black object secured tightly to his chest by duct tape flashed a series of numbers on a small LCD console.   Time ticked.  The phone rang again.  Charlie was sure it had rung several times, so he answered it and hoped he had not pissed off the person on the other end.

A woman’s voice on the other end of the phone spoke first.

“Say a word to the police and you die. Do you understand?”


“Why?” She interrupted. “Simple.  You asked for it.”

“I don’t-”

“You don’t need to.  Do you understand our demands so far?”




He lifted his shirt once again.  A small red light next to the LCD screen of the box attached to his chest blinked twice.

“No need to check,” the woman’s voice continued.  “We’re monitoring your every move.  The box you are looking at is set to a timer.  You have 45 minutes to meet our demands. Reach beneath your seat and open the envelope.”

Charlie did as he was told and found a white printout paper within the envelope.  He unfolded it and read.

Keep the phone on you at all times.  You are to go to First National Bank on Main Street and hand the teller, Anna, this yellow envelope.  You now have 44 minutes.  Destroy this note and be on your way.

Charlie glanced at the box beneath his shirt.  Sure enough, 44 minutes remained.  He glanced in his rearview mirror, then up toward Phil and Alice’s house.  The house seemed abandoned.  Not a single car was in the driveway.  Even the porch lights were off. No one was in sight.

Perhaps, Charlie thought, the car Phil and Alice took to the party still sat in a parking garage on Main Street. I wonder where their other –

“Charlie,” the woman’s voice on the phone screamed.  “Get moving.”

He set the phone down, then buckled his seatbelt and turned the key.  The taxi’s engine hesitated and conked out. He swore, then turned the key again.  The engine came to life as he pushed on the gas pedal and sped off.

Back on the winding road, which he had been down the night before, Charlie realized the note, now crumpled and damp with sweat, was still clenched in his hand.  

Destroy the letter.

He crumpled it in a ball, stuffed it in his mouth, and chewed slowly as he rounded another bend in the road.

Arriving in town, Charlie turned down Main Street, a two lane one way road which led north toward several farms owned mostly by Amish families.  The next turn he made brought him into the parking lot of First National Bank.  He drove in a circle around the small parking lot so that his car would face the exit, allowing him easy access to Main Street should he need it.

He turned off the car and lifted his shirt.  Ten minutes remained on the LCD screen.  He checked his watch. 9:55 am.  He had 5 minutes before the bank would open.  He looked up and large drops of rain began to steadily land on his windshield.

“Great,” he muttered.  He got out of the car, grabbed the envelope, shoved it beneath his shirt, then closed the door.


For a few moments, Charlie stood in the rain until it began to trickle down his cheeks.  He checked his watch, then looked up at the bank.  

“Pleasure. Adventure.  Is there really a difference?” He smiled, then wiped the tiny creeks of rain from the around his eyes.  He headed toward the bank as a blonde-haired woman unlocked the front door and held it open for him as he entered.

“Welcome to First National,”she said with a smile.  “What can we do for you?”

Charlie glanced at her name tag, which read Anna. He handed her the envelope.

As Anna opened the enveloped, her smile faded. She locked the door of the bank, then signaled to another woman who sat behind a desk in a windowed office.  She stood.  Charlie turned in her direction and raised his shirt revealing the counter.


The woman inconspicuously hit a button beneath her desk, then stood and smiled.  

Sirens blaring in the distance rapidly approached the bank.  Uniformed officers and a swat team then surrounded the bank.

The telephone held in Charlie’s hand rang. He answered it.

“Well done, Charlie.”

“What do you,” Charlie began.  Then continued, “Hello!”

The deathly silence of the other end gave him the dreaded answer.  He was alone with no recourse upon which to fall.  No proof of his coercion.

Later, Charlie’s story would be published on the fifth page of the first section of the Sunday paper with the following headline and corresponding story:

Cab Driver Holds Up Bank with False Bomb.  Claims He ‘was forced’.

A 57 year old man was arrested on Tuesday morning as he attempted to rob a bank with a fake bomb strapped to his chest.  The retired steelworker turned independent taxi driver maintained that he was abducted early Tuesday morning from the home of his last fare.  Upon further investigation, police detectives did determine that he stayed in the basement of a condemned mansion located in the mountains just south of town.  Detectives did find DNA and forensic evidence which indicated that the 57 year old man had been living in the basement of the home for several years.  At this time, they have made no connections between the man’s most recent activities and the thirty year old mansion fire.   However, the home, once owned by Phil and Alice Johnson was condemned some thirty years ago after undergoing a severe fire.