a dollar for your thoughts

You didn’t see my valentine
I sent it via pantomime
While you were watchin’ someone else
I stared at you and cut myself
— fiona apple

I’m taking a test run on a new course. It combines everything — the watchful eye of Surfing Jesus, the reassurance of a restroom at the turn, exactly a half mile if you add a little zig-zag (don’t tell Mo. Mo hates the zig-zags.)

It’s a triangle, so the hurricane wind comes and goes quickly. It goes around a park and next to the beach. It’s just perfect. Totally smitten.

As I come around for the second loop, I’m at the point closest to the church where Surfing Jesus lives. I’m coming up on a guy who’s walking ahead of me on the sidewalk. As I near the turn, he whips around. I go into defensive mode (preparing to scream like a little girl), when he sticks out his hand. Hi, he says. It’s on. He’s maybe early 20s. The last mullet in the free world. He’s wearing nothing but board shorts and an old pair of sneakers. His eyes are clear, his handshake is firm. I’m (beats me. no good at names), he says. But most people just call me Cutter. I say hello and hit the pause button on the watch. This will not be quick.

He’s a messenger or a performer or something. It’s not really clear. He says people look up to him because he looks like this. This being razor thin; he reminds me of Stripie, the stray cat we sneak food to in the apartment parking lot. He has a little parachute nylon backpack with the strings, like the freebie bags they give out at marathons. That’s all he needs, he says.

He says he travels around spreading his message, although he never really says what his message is. The problem? People think because he draws an audience that he must be rich. Some guys he refers to as The Killers (I assume bad guys and not the band, although he didn’t specify) are after him because they think he has a lot of money. He was able to escape them though. The Killers were on a bus from Austin to San Antonio. He was able to stay behind them (not clear how), and when he saw they were going to San Antonio, he went to Houston instead. He then walked from Houston to here (although he’s not sure where here is) and is worried that The Killers may have followed him.

They scare me, he says. And when I get scared, I do this. He holds up his wrist. It’s covered in blood from a series of slash marks, some new, some old. Blood is trickling down his wrist. Caked blood from previous incidents goes up his forearm. He looks me in the eyes. The Killers scare me, he says. I enjoy a good Crazy Homeless Guy yarn, but this is real.

Anyhow, I’m running from The Killers, he continues. I just needed to tell my story. I don’t need your money. I don’t WANT your money. But if you give me a dollar, I’m going to go to Stripes and buy a burrito.

I look up. Surfing Jesus is watching me. What would he do? What would Fiona do? I reach into my running belt. I keep an emergency 5 dollar bill there. This qualifies as an emergency. All I have is a 5, I tell him. It’s yours. Their burritos are pretty good. (they really are.) He takes the 5 and reaches out to shake my hand again. He says thanks. He means it. I tell him good luck. I mean it too.

I run another 4 miles thinking about how strange life is. I live in this little insulated bubble, running stories about calamities happening in other places while maintaining an aloof sense of detachment to it all. Then life comes along and reminds you it’s all too real.  I do all this running to create pain in my life. I’m lucky to have the choice. So many people don’t. Good luck, Cutter. I hope you really got that burrito. And I hope you stay a step ahead of The Killers.

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the puppy story

It’s late. We’re barreling toward 1 a.m. and I’m pushing the night’s last deadline. I’m really tired. I don’t want to play anymore. That kind of night.

I go to put the last story down on my page. I’ve been a journalist for 35 years or so, but this story is so horrific that I pause to wonder about a world in which such things I happen. It’s really, really terrible.

I send an email to Donovan, the wire editor, in response to the email he sent to alert me to this story. “I NEED A PUPPY REUNITED WITH FAMILY STORY. JEEEEEZ.” It’s part joke, part plea. I’m just at the point where I need something happy to happen. And the story he has given me isn’t it.

A minute later he walks over with that big Donovan smile. “Gotcha covered,” he says.

And a minute after that, I see a story attached to the page. It’s a story about a puppy reunited with its family. I assume it’s a joke and go over to congratulate him on whipping it up so quickly. He says he thought I must have seen his budget, because THERE REALLY WAS A PUPPY RESCUED STORY THAT WE HADN’T USED!!!! Puppy falls 50 feet down well, firefighters spend hours to get him back up, reunited with family, happy ending. It’s the perfect story.

But I’m too tired to care. The page is done. It’s a great thought, but no way I’m tearing it up to put in this story instead.

And then.

The copy editor working on a jump for the page says the story is MUCH shorter than I have dummied. About 10 inches too short. Which leaves me with a 10-inch hole for another story on the page. Cue puppy whining.

And that is how the most horrific story in the world became a little less horrible because it was next to a puppy being reunited with its family. Never question fate. Or the wire editor. Or puppies.


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things i wish i had said, part 50

“A bird doesn’t sing because he has an answer, he sings because he has a song.”

— Joan Walsh Anglund

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just another morning conversation, part 62

me: we become a new company this week.

mo: you will probably need to get out of this business at some point.

me: i’m guessing i will get out of it the easy way.

mo: which way is that? (muffled response)?


mo: of course not.

me: then what did you say?

mo: I said “croak.”

me: oh.

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mo hasn’t watched enough horror movies

never, ever look in the attic.

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the streets of sesame

Two for the run
But something inside you tells you
Some things can’t be done
— the prophet brent babb

i went out to run in a 25 mph wind on a day that would have been futile anyhow. looking for some inspiration on spotify, i discovered they have added the entire dead hot workshop catalog. they’re the band that carried me through the absolute best and worst days of my life. the songwriter, a guy named brent, was sort of a nutcase, but my favorite songwriter of all time. i spent endless nights drinking rolling rocks and marveling at how lucky i was to be in a tiny bar with a 5 buck cover to see a band that never failed to amaze me. rainy nights at long wong’s, the door open and the dancer over in the corner, an audience of half True Believers and half college students out for some wings. and now i was listening to them on an abandoned road in a crappy little town that is almost in texas and it was just so sad. then brent told me

when everything is wrong
and ending all along
and everyone’s to blame
sometimes you come up short
sometimes not at all. oh well.

i had only gone 2 miles. i quit. i just quit. the body just doesn’t work anymore. long wong’s is gone, the sun club is gone, nita’s is gone, doug is gone, elvis the cat is gone, my legs are gone. they’re just memories. i came home and watched two hours of dead hot playing at long wong’s and remembered. i thought those rainy nights of e minor drifting down mill avenue would last forever. i thought the same thing about running. i would be running effortlessly forever. i was wrong. i found myself crying softly in a dark room while brent fired up “free bird” at the end of the show just because a drunk guy screamed it one too many times. i miss those days. i miss charging 6,000 feet to crown king on a saturday morning in march and watching a show later that night, basking in that fuzzy state of too may miles and too many beers. i’ll never have that feeling again. it’s gone.

the guy who wrote that song
handed my friend a bong
and said see you later, so long
so long
so long forever

because in life, and in running, sometimes you come up short. and sometimes not at all. oh well …

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oh, well. at least it’s not the middle finger.

they’re buying and selling
off shares of air
and you know it’s all around you
but it’s hard to point and say “there”
so you just sit on your hands
and quietly contemplate
your next bold move
the next thing you’re gonna need to prove
to yourself
— the prophet ani

I spend a lot of time worrying about my form when I run. Keep arms low, pump as pistons straight ahead, don’t allow them to cross your body. Hands closed but relaxed. Efficiency is everything.

Then I get my race photo back, and there it is.

My right index finger is sticking out.


I’ve always run that way. I have no idea why. The left hand is fine. The left hand is the poster child for running, although you don’t see that many children’s hands on running posters. Whatever. But whenever I run, it’s only a matter of time before the right index finger pops up.

When did this happen? How long have I been doing this?

And then I saw it. The first known photo of Baby Gary.

I was in little league running past first base (yes, I likely tripped and fell.) I’m in a full sprint. And there it is. The right index finger is extended.

Apparently I’ve always done it. 58 years later, I guess it won’t stop.

The obvious solution? Mittens. The obvious problem? South Tejas not the best place for multiple layers.

So if you see me running toward you and I’m giving you the finger, don’t be alarmed. Just think, “he’s weird.”

You might have a point.


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