Notes From the Past: Family, Love and Turkey Bowling

It’s not a secret that when I have completed my first year here in Brooklyn – the final year of this project – I plan on immortalizing my experiences and encounters in a book. For the past few months, I have been slowly chipping away at the first couple chapters. I don’t know how much of what I put into these first drafts will appear in the final product, but it’s necessary to at least put words on page.

I’m pulling predominantly from my memories for this book (at least at this stage), and unsurprisingly I’m finding a number of holes. Whether that’s due to time or whiskey, I can’t say. It’s fine either way because one of the themes of the book is the way memory distorts and changes with time. Still, to appreciate how much they have changed I need to have a reference point.

Tonight, I dug out a pile of old journals. These are poetry journals which I’ve been writing since I was in high school. You could follow the ups and downs of my life by reading through the years of my shitty poetry. You shouldn’t do that, but you could.

On rare occasion, I broke with the format to free write about my life at the time. No, I didn’t keep a diary. Okay, I sort of kept a diary. But it was done very irregularly. During the summer before my senior year, while living in Washington D.C., I wrote pages upon pages of angst-riddled notes about the perilous state of my relationship with my girlfriend and my loss of faith. If I was a smarter man, I would set that shit on fire.

And then there was the first year of this project, Charlotte. On Thanksgiving weekend, my brother, Daniel, was getting married and I flew back to Kansas for the first time since I moved. While I sat in Charlotte Douglas International, I began writing out my thoughts about all that I had been through in the past 6 months and all that I was dreading about this return to Lawrence (mostly family).

Long before I had created this website, I was already touching on the many themes that I’d still be writing about years later: Same-sex Marriage (I was always for it), atheism and religion, travel, and politics (or lack there of: “I have no real interest in politics. I don’t see why you need to be of one political party or another to want to cure AIDS.” Oh, honey.)

Going back through these old notes was actually a revealing read. My wanderlust and insecurities are on full display within the pages, though, tellingly, nowhere did I mention 10 Cities / 10 Years as that idea was still nascent in those early months in Charlotte.

Downtown 2

Much of the first few pages is consumed with my thoughts on family drama that was unfolding at the time. There’s always family drama, but reading these pages reminded me just how much drama was going on back then.

It wasn’t all family, though. I also spent a considerable amount of ink scribbling about my love life.

“H– picked me up just after 8:30 and took me to the airport.” H– was a woman I dated briefly before breaking it off who was trying to convince me to get back together. Clearly, I was taking advantage of that situation.

I also spent some paragraphs on the end of my 2-year relationship with my college girlfriend and my belief that I was perhaps not capable of succeeding at romance. I was 22, of course I was nihilistic: “I like flirtation. I like friendship. I enjoy sex. But I don’t want to be responsible for someone else, and I don’t want someone else being responsible to me.”
Could I be anymore cliché?

Alternatively, there’s a running fixation throughout the pages with having a meaningless sexual fling that weekend, either with an old high school crush or a complete stranger. Spoiler alert: Nope.

In fact, there’s a lot of wishful thinking in these words. A lot of forward looking. I had enough self-awareness to undercut my most grandiose prophecies with sarcastic asides and I had a persistent belief that nothing interesting would ever happen to me. But I was consumed with thoughts of my future and change. I wrote about New York City being my “betrothed” city, but I knew I would live other places first.

I certainly didn’t get everything right: “Home. Will Lawrence always be home? In some form or another I suppose…”

Already, I was obsessed with the idea of being removed from Kansas. Even though I had been gone less than 6 months, I referred to this trip with only slight irony as a “prodigal return.” I wanted so very bad for this weekend to feel epic, for my time away to have changed so much, both in who I was and how people thought of me. But a part of me knew it was a lie: “I am well-traveled, just not well-lived.”

After landing in Kansas City, there is an account of an awkward drive to Lawrence with my father and his new wife. At one point, they tell a seemingly off the cuff joke about their wedding which I suspect is actually rehearsed. When they retell the exact same joke a few hours later with identical wording, my suspicions are confirmed. (I also noted their indifference to a new album by Sufjan Stevens that I was telling everyone about at the time.)

In Lawrence, we had leftover Thanksgiving dinner with my brother, Steve’s, wife’s family before the younger generation headed out to the local Lawrence “hick” bar, Coyote’s. (I don’t believe it exists anymore.)

That’s pretty much where that story ends. I didn’t write about the wedding (the siblings all took shots before the service in the rental car), or about my return to Charlotte. Like I said, I’m an inconsistent journaler.

Before I finished, though, I did spend more than a page on what can only be described as the highlight of the trip: Turkey bowling.

It’s exactly what it sounds like (and exactly what you’d expect at a bar called “Coyote’s”). After both my brother and his wife took their unsuccessful turns, I was up. You might think bowling a turkey would be a rather mindless activity, but based on how much I wrote, there was clearly a lot of calculations involved. I really don’t think a summary would do it justice, so:

...the thought of throwing the turkey is not coming [up with] positive results. I imagine being too weak to pick it up, unable to throw it more than a few feet, or worse, losing control of my throw and sending the cold, hard turkey into the face of some spectator, smashing their nose and ending the festivities. I can be fairly certain nothing that interesting will happen, but still, the thought gives me pause...

I am not certain how to hold the turkey. It seems gripping the whole bird with both hands would allow for the best aim, but the awkwardness would make it hard to throw with much power. The strap does not appear to be very strong and aiming the turkey would be harder, but it would likely be easier to gather momentum, and since the prospect of watching the turkey land only two feet in front of me is seeming highly probable, I opt for power over accuracy.

Fully prepared to make an ass of myself (as prepared as one can be) I reel back, bring the turkey around in a parabolic downward arc and release. The strap breaks in mid swing, the turkey flies three feet before hitting the ground and rolling a couple more before stopping anticlimactically halfway between me and the pin. Well, at least no one's nose is broke. I'm ready to move on, back to the bar and away from the festivities when the man in charge of bowling says I get another turn because the strap broke. Lucky me.

This time, new bird in hand, I decide to go the two handed route. At least, if I only get the bird a few feet, there will be no excuse to make me do it again. Pulling the turkey back to my right side like I imagine a shot put coach would recommend (if the shot put was ten times as big, not particularly round and once alive). I then take a few quick steps toward the line, turn my body and use the momentum along with whatever I can muster in my arms to launch the bird. The turkey flies, past the two foot mark, past my previous throw, past the spectators (and their noses) and to the pins. Strike! Hole in One! Home run! Touchdown! All those fucking pins are down, submissive, broken. Do not fuck with me.

I won a Corona pin because the t-shirts were all too big for me.

And that’s basically it. The wedding happened. All of the family members survived the weekend. Nobody’s cat died.

I’m not sure turkey bowling will make it into the final book, but reading back on those old memories, I was pleasantly surprised by what I had forgotten, what I remembered, and what I was thinking back then. I don’t completely want to punch my 22-year-old self in the face, and that’s the biggest surprise of all.

“After a day of flying, drinking, talking and turkey bowling, sleeping sounds wonderful.”

Well said, you dumb sonuvabitch.



Religion is a Choice

The Baptism of Christ

The recent attempt (and failure) in various states to “preserve religious freedom” by dumping on the gays has added a new wrinkle to the Gay Rights debate. With the tides of inevitability pretty much guaranteeing that within the decade we will see the national legalization of same-sex marriage, the religious right and conservative groups seem to be shifting their focus: If they can’t stop the gays from getting married, they’ll simply refuse to attend the weddings (me-e-oww).

Despite all scientific evidence and reason (and even bigger failures), much of the religious opposition base their public arguments on the notion that homosexuality is a choice. Of course, they have to hold onto this view because if they acknowledge that sexual orientation is as much an engrained reality as gender or race, the whole “Gays are going to hell” thing gets a little difficult to preach (though, never put it past a Christian* to find a nifty, gymnastic justification for whatever belief they hold).

It’s an interesting view: Since homosexuality is a choice, a person of religious conviction has the right to discriminate against them (oh, I’m sorry, not discriminate, “condemn the lifestyle”).

Well, religion is a choice. In fact, religion is nothing but choice. Which God do you want to worship? Allah, Yahweh, Jesus or someone else with less publicity? Which part of the Bible do you choose to believe is literal? Just the New Testament, maybe parts of the Old Testament, or the whole shebang? Which laws still apply to you? Which sins should you ignore? Which IRA investment strategy does God want you to pursue so that you can be rich, just like he wants you to be?

Christians are always complaining that their religious liberties are under attack, yet by their own logic we should be able to discriminate against them all willy nilly because their faith is a choice. It’s one of our sacred rights to discriminate against people’s choices.

Of course, Christians aren’t discriminated against in this country, not really. An individual Christian might face some discrimination, a Christian might have an unpleasant experience in a store or restaurant, or be verbally abused by a stranger, and sometimes Christians are told that they can’t have everything they want. But there isn’t a systematic mechanism in place for discriminating against Christians, like, for instance, the ones they would love to see codified into law against homosexuals.

The reason, of course, is that nearly 80% of the nation’s population are self-proclaimed Christians (I’ll leave it to them to tell you how many are ‘Real Christians’™). The Christianity vs. Homosexuals debate comes down to basic numbers. One side is the majority, the other is the minority. Our Bill of Rights was created to help prevent the Tyranny of the Majority. Granted, our nation has a long, dark history of stomping all over the rights of the minority, but that’s all the more reason for us to not be swayed by arguments such as “You’re changing the definition of marriage” or “Tradition.” The history of the world is the story of greater liberty for all, won through fits and starts and uncomfortable evolution.

If you’re a Christian and you don’t like the changes you’re seeing in the world, don’t fret. Christianity is a choice, so just change your religious orientation to one that’s less judgmental and bigoted and you’ll be totally happy.

Or you could just choose to not be an a-hole.

*For the purposes of this post, it should be understood that any reference to ‘Christians’ refers to the conservative, right-leaning members of the religion.

Returning Home

I’m sitting in an airport being barraged by an odd sight: T-shirts, fleeces and jackets emblazoned with the logos for the Kansas City Royals and Chiefs or the Kansas Jayhawks.

Granted, I’m in MCI, the Kansas City International Airport, so such sightings aren’t, in fact, all that odd. For the first 22 years of my life, if I went a day without seeing one of those team logos, it would have been quite out of the ordinary. Over the past 8 1/2 years, though, the spotting of a Kansas City area team logo has become a rarer happening, the kind of unexpected reminder of my birthplace that flashes by and then fades quickly into indistinct memory.

Since beginning 10 Cities, I’ve averaged 3 or 4 days in Kansas a year, usually to see the family, or returning for a friend’s wedding. We celebrated a brother’s birthday this year, bringing together the 3 of us siblings who live elsewhere back together with the other 2 and our mother who live in Kansas. Drinking, eating, joking, minimal-politicking and drinking ensued.

Cake and Whiskey

These return trips to Lawrence, Kansas tend to be wrought with tension as we are a family of temperamental temperaments and strong, differing opinions (plus, sometimes shit just goes bananas). However, even under the best of circumstances, time in Kansas never sparkles with that pretty nostalgia that so many other people seem to experience when they return to their hometown.

The house I grew up in has long been owned by some other family, while almost everyone I knew from high school and college has moved away or, more simply, I’ve lost contact with them. A few old friends are in the area and I do my best to see at least a couple of them when I’m back, but time corrodes bonds and there are only a select few with whom that connection can be re-established with relative ease. We all have friendships that don’t survive the distance, there’s nothing gained by denying it.

Seeing my family and dearest friends can be an absolute pleasure, as was the case during our all-day barbeque that consisted of a plethora of smoked meats, prolific alcohol consumption, Cards Against Humanity and an impromptu bonfire.

But every return to Kansas reinforces the same cold truth: This is not my home.

Boston is my home. For just a year, true, but no less so for that fact. My life is back there – my apartment, job, friends, books, whiskey – all the more so because my life is all about travel, progression, and Boston is my latest step forward. Sooner than I’m ready, I will be packing up and leaving Boston behind, but for this year between September 1st, 2013 and August 31st, 2014, I live in Massachusetts, I live in this present.

Lawrence, Kansas, as I have always said, is a great place to live, a fine town to have grown up in. But, just as I’ve also always said, I will never, ever live there again.

I return home, today. To Boston.

Home sweet home.

Leonard P. Zakim Bunker Hill Memorial Bridge

A photo of Martin Manley, a Kansas City sportswriter who blogged about his suicide.

“My mom said I was always a happy baby.” The Suicide of Martin Manley

[This post obviously deals with suicide. Do not read on if the subject makes you uncomfortable.]

Martin Manley killed himself.

This in and of itself isn’t so unique. Thousands of suicides happen without much notice. Manley was a public figure, a former sports writer for the Kansas City Star and editor for the website Sports In Review. However, what makes his suicide bizarre is that he created a website (no longer active; going to the URL now could subject you to a virus) to explain his reasons for his actions. The final thing he wrote was a post for SIR.

In his final post, Manley explains:

The reason for my departure is 100% within my ability to control. You see, earlier today, I committed suicide. I created a web-site to deal with the many questions a person would rightfully have. It’s called It went live today. In my opinion, there is no question which you could conceivably ask that I have left unanswered on that site. My goal with this post is closure for SIR.

Martin Manley shot himself in front of a police station. His final post touched on some of his reasons, but mostly he seemed to just want to put everything in order. The website he created was split into 2 categories, ‘Life’ and ‘Death.’ I won’t try to summarize or pull quotes. There was too much there to be crammed into a single blog post. The man laid bare his entire existence, from beginning to end, and if people are interested, there are mirror sites where people can still read his writings.

martin manley


There are two reasons this story caught my eye (besides for the sensational angle of it):

First, he was from Kansas. He says that he lived in Topeka and then moved to Overland Park. Both of these cities are about 30 minute drives (in opposite directions) from my hometown of Lawrence. While I haven’t lived in Kansas in years and I was never one to read sports stories in the newspaper, I have to imagine that I have a lot of friends and old acquaintances that were familiar with this man, maybe even regular readers.

Secondly, there was something he wrote in his Pictures section of the site:

These are pictures of me when I was around one. My mom said I was always a happy baby. It seems odd to me that would be the case considering I’m not sure I ever really learned what happiness was as an adult.

Emphasis mine. That really stuck out to me, because my mother has said the same thing of me. She says I was her “sunshine baby.” This has always struck me as odd because for as long as I can remember, I have dealt with depression. I’m sure for anyone who has dealt with lifelong depression it’s hard to remember a time when you could be roundly described as “happy.”

If this story blows up, and it likely will because of its odd, viral nature, it will almost certainly spur a conversation on suicide. I hope it does. But if the comments on related articles are any indication, the conversation may get buried in dross. As soon as a public suicide hits the internet, the opinions start flying: People should be allowed to kill themselves. People who commit suicide are idiots. Only God can help you fight depression.

Everyone brings their preconceived ideas to the topic and nothing of importance ever gets discussed. The conversation takes bunny trails off into topics such as “Is depression genetic?,” “Is suicide wrong?,” and “Is there a God?” Personal agendas get brought in and pretty soon no one is talking about what really matters: How do people who have suicidal thoughts cope?

There is no single answer for everyone, and I don’t feel like getting into my personal beliefs on the topic. (I’ve done so elsewhere.)

It’s that phrase that keeps coming back to me: “My mom said I was always a happy baby.” We all have loved ones in our life and we think we know them, we think that we know what they’re capable of. Part of the reason that suicides so often take us by surprise is that most of us pride ourselves on being perceptive, at least when it comes to the people in our lives.

The TV show House M.D. had an episode where a main character committed suicide. At the time, there was considerable online chatter about whether it was just for shock, many arguing there was no hint that the character was going to do it. But, as unexpected as the episode was for me, it also struck me as incredibly true. My own personal experience of suicide was with someone who I (and, I imagine, most of the kids who knew him) thought was the happiest, most well-adjusted person.

I wasn’t familiar with Manley. I’m sure as people unpack his website and his backlog of articles things will come out that will make his suicide “obvious” and easy to predict in that perfect 20/20 hindsight sort of way. And maybe he had hinted at it to his readers for a while, I don’t know.

But the broader truth is that suicide isn’t something we usually can predict, especially not with our loved ones. There are those who display early warning signs, but for every person on suicide watch, there is a ‘happy baby’ who takes their families and friends by complete surprise.

I think what Manley was trying to do (what the writers of House were trying to do too) is bring this difficult conversation to the forefront and get people talking. Your opinion on Manley’s actions are irrelevant. It happened. Where do we go from here?


If there is any one person in culture having this conversation the right way, it’s the stand-up comedian Maria Bamford. She talks openly in her routine about her Bipolar Disorder and suicide. One of her best bits is called “Stigma” and you can listen to it on Spotify. I can tell you that for someone with depression, it is one of the funniest, most cathartic comedy routines I have ever listened to.

I don’t know if society will ever be capable of taking on this topic in a way that doesn’t fall back on preconceived judgments and fears, but I hope that if anything positive can come out of Manley’s death, it will be a willingness to look at this subject with fresh eyes.

Let us not hide from this.


I have been in Kansas.  I’m not there, anymore.  (Guffaw.)

For a long weekend, I returned to the state of my upbringing to attend the ‘marriage ceremony’ of one of my oldest and dearest friends.  She and her husband had married in Las Vegas some months back, but this was their opportunity to hold a small, semi-formal ceremony with family and friends present.

The trip back afforded me the opportunity to spend time with my friend, her husband and her family.  I also found a day to visit with my own family, my mother, two brothers and their respective significant others and my nephew.  It should be no surprise that with the way I live my life, such meet-ups are rare events.

My Grandfather

The day before I flew back to Kansas, I received an email from my father with the not-unexpected news that my grandfather had passed.  My father has been letting us know for some time that his father was not well and that doctors did not expect him to live much longer.  The question was not so much, ‘When?’ but ‘How soon?’

The passing of my grandfather is a moment that brings into stark relief how distant I am from my biological family.  My father’s family mostly all lived in California, and his parents in particular never left the city of Los Angeles.  Though they immigrated from Mexico I know very little about their past and have found myself on multiple occasions being stumped by someone asking, “Where in Mexico did your grandparents come from?”

The truth is, I know next to nothing about the side of the family that gives me my surname.  This is, of course, a fault of my own, having never invested much time in getting to know them or even asking my father about his family’s history.  At the same time, it also represents the peculiar temperament of my immediate family, a group of five kids who have always seemed most comfortable disconnected from a whole, like islands in an archipelago.

I can’t speak for my other siblings, but for me, relating to my extended family has always felt perfunctory.  I am the youngest cousin by some years on my mother’s side, and I am one of the youngest on my father’s, and generally removed from all by both physical distance and social placement.

The passing of my grandfather stirred a sense of melancholy in me, but I know it stems not from a sense of personal loss (as the tangible hole in my personal life is unfortunately minute) but because I know my father and his siblings are feeling an acute loss and I have little to offer in terms of comfort.  Another familial trait: We do not mourn publicly.

Whatever little tribute I can give to my grandfather, Juan, it should be known that from him has come offspring of great diversity, children and grandchildren who are living lives that bespeak the American Dream, that same dream that presumably compelled him and his wife to move to the United States in the first place.

May that be his legacy.

Back To Kansas

With the knowledge of my grandfather’s passing fresh in mind, I boarded a plane to return to Kansas.  I spent the majority of my first three days there with my friend and her parents.  Being an outside observer of a family is always fodder for interesting rumination, particularly when that family is in the midst of a high-stress situation, like, for instance, preparing for a wedding.

The little things that are done or said may appear small and insignificant to the outsider, but these seemingly petty slights are magnified by the proximity and familiarity that exists in a family.  I came into a house where the parents and the children were clearly frustrated with each other and even the natural pairing of married couples didn’t insulate each individual from at times being clearly flustered with their partner.

At the same time, the loving fellowship between these close family members was a totem on a shelf meant only for me to view from a distance.  Unless I was there for the creation of a joke meme or had participated in some piece of mutual history, mostly I had to enjoy their revelries through a telescope.  They are a family, with all the requisite ups and downs.  But they are not my family.

The Sunday following the ceremony, I spent entirely with my family back in my hometown, Lawrence.  Longtime readers of this site may recall that my returns home have not always been the most successful.  Arguments, blizzards, missed flights, freak cat attacks have all found a way into the reunions.  Any return to my hometown is always overshadowed by a aura of possible (probable) doom.

But we’re getting better at mitigating the more avoidable disasters.  Political talk, even in this election season, was kept to a minimum.  Other than an unfortunate conversation with my mother that took a turn for the contentious (for no reason other than the train took off and I never took the prudent move to jump off), the interactions between our family as a whole were remarkably amiable.  It probably helped that we only saw each other for one day.

I have had various friends/girlfriends be the outsider on my family gatherings (including my recently wedded friend) and I can only imagine what kind of perverse Reality-TV-cum-Court-TV world we must look like when we get going at each other.  I don’t feel particularly close to my family yet, in the sense that I can’t imagine being a part of any other family, there is a peculiar and deep closeness to the way we butt heads.  Yeah, we’re miserable sods, but we’re miserable sods together.

My Family

But I left Kansas as I always do, as I always will, and returned to New Orleans, a new home, but my home nevertheless.

Traveling as I do can be exhausting and nerve-wracking and frequently lonely, but make no mistake: I lack not for family.

Family is the partner who drinks with me until the sun rises.  Family is the cohort who eats shitty-but-delicious nachos from a dive bar not because it’s the only food that’s available, but because why would we want anything else?  Family are the coworkers who hang out together long after clocking out.  Family is the friend who confesses a past she’s never told anyone else about because she knows secrets are always safe with me.  Family is a woman who makes me smile from 1,000 miles away.

And, yes, family is the people whose political, religious and musical opinions makes me want to scream.

Because despite everything, it’s all relative.

March Madness

Jayhawk in Seattle




There you go.  You now know my affiliation, and there’s nothing to be done about it.  If you’ve been a long-time reader of this site, you may recall that I am from Lawrence, KS, a strange little liberal island in the midst of an evolution-denying state that just so happens to also be the home of Kansas University, a college that most of the country ignores for eleven months out of the year.

And then comes March.

Any serious follower of college basketball has likely heard some Kansas fan claim that we invented the sport.  It’s not exactly true, but there is the nectar of truth in the claim.  You see, the inventor of the game, Dr. James Naismith, was the first coach of the Kansas University basketball team, though he actually created the game while working for a YMCA in Massachusett.  No, KU was not the birthplace of the sport, but as our first (and worst) coach was the inventor of the game we do have a tangential claim to Firsties.

Does it really matter?  Or course not.

If you’re a fan of North Carolina, UCLA, Kentucky, Duke or whoever, you undoubtedly believe your university’s history of basketball success represents an undeniable mark of quality and stature.  I suppose it does.

But history only matters as far back as the beginning of the current season.

Born and raised in Lawrence,  I grew up driving down Naismith drive.  I was a little boy when I saw my first college basketball game from the hallowed rafters of Allen Fieldhouse.  As I was four-years-old, I don’t remember our National Championship team in 1988, led by Danny Manning, but I do remember royally unnerving my SoCal roommate in 2008 when I celebrated like a madman as Mario Chalmers made the 3-pointer to send us into overtime in a championship game victory over Memphis.

I stopped watching professional baseball after the mid-90s strike (it didn’t help that Bo Jackson had retired).  I have never watched or cared about football.  I can’t work myself up to pay attention to professional basketball (though, I enjoy when a former Jayhawk succeeds in the pros).  Sports in general bore me.  Golf, hockey, water polo: whatever.  I don’t give a shit.

But college basketball, to me, is still an unadulterated display of athleticism without the unnecessary baggage of endorsements and million dollar contracts.

I grew up with two religions:  Christianity and KU Basketball.  I only believe in one, now.

If the Jayhawks lose a game, you better give me at least an hour before talking to me (unless you’re a pretty girl; there’s no statute of limitations on a pretty face).

In a year like this, though, when a team that most people had written off as second-runs manages to make it to the Final Four, there really isn’t anything that can sour me on my team.  Yes, I want them to get to the championship and yes, I want them to win it all.  I believe they have the talent, the tenacity and, most importantly, the coach to lead them to a championship.  But, after a year like this, even if KU’s run ends next Saturday night, this season will be one of the most memorable and celebrated of the many exalted seasons this university has had.

Thanks in large part to Thomas Robinson.

I’m a guy who listens to Krzysztof Penderecki, has never seen a Michael Bay movie in theaters and would rather read a biology textbook than Sports Illustrated.  In other words, I’m not your stereotypical beer-swigging sports fan (for one, I swig whiskey).  But when the Kansas Jayhawks are playing basketball, I’ll be in the bar pounding my fists and cheering our victory like your drunk uncle, and I feel no shame in it.

Mizzou, Kansas State, Duke, North Carolina:  All hated rivals, all teams that went out early this year.

Kansas is in the Final Four, and for this born and bred Jayhawk that’s a good feeling, indeed.