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A girl who rose from the ashes...and now is trying to make sense of this complicated world through her writing.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

The Elephants Are Gone Fishin'

When visiting with my friend Katie recently, she recounted a story from her childhood that, much to my amazement, I had never heard before.  I really thought I had heard all of the childhood highlights previously. I had heard about the ducks who got their heads frozen in the pond and the goats who ate the top of her father's car one night and the Christmas list on which young Katie requested a $10,000 racehorse.  (Kids: they say the darnedest things!)  Katie is one of those friends whose stories I've heard a thousand times and still we delight in telling them over and over again whenever we are together.  She's one of those friends I know so well I have concluded I just might know it all.

So when Katie pulled out this new story, it really resonated with me. Katie told a story of how, as a child, her parents were planning a trip to Reno.  Now, wisely assuming that Reno doesn't have much to offer children, her parents built things up for Katie and her brother in the days and weeks leading up to the trip. Katie and her brother were told, over and over again, that when they got to Reno they were going to see a magical show, and in that show THERE WILL BE ELEPHANTS.  Yes, children, there will be elephants and we know you've never seen elephants but the elephants are going to amaze you!  As one can imagine, young Katie - a lover of animals to begin with - could not wait to meet these elephants.  She became consumed with the elephants she had not met yet.

The day finally arrived, and Katie and her family checked in at their Reno hotel where the magical elephant show was going to occur.  All the hopes and dreams of a wonder-filled night of prancing elephants came to a screeching halt when Katie and her parents saw a sign hanging in the lobby that read:  "The elephants are gone fishin'."  Sad but true, the elephants were not available for the show - probably on a sabbatical or the subject of a union disagreement - and young Katie's heart sank.  The night she had so eagerly anticipated for weeks on end was now ruined. It turns out, a life without elephants - elephants you had never met and now you never would - was hardly a life worth living.

Of course, the show went on without the elephants, but Katie did not enjoy it.  I mean really, how can you enjoy a show without elephants, when you know elephants are a possibility?  Katie has surmised, in her wiser adult years, that it was probably a perfectly lovely show and she may have even enjoyed it under different circumstances.  But without the elephants, the show was a lost cause for her and an utter, miserable waste of her time.

There's a lesson to be learned there, a lesson that can provide a gentle reminder to all of us no matter how old we are.  Simply put, the lesson is that we can't bank our happiness on the elephants.  Do we all want the occasional appearance of elephants in our show called life?  Of course.  But in order to really, really be happy - the kind of happy that has you waking up smiling and humming to every tune you hear - you must first free yourself of expectations.  This is not to say you should go into life with low expectations, for that is just plain old pessimism.  Rather, when you can, try to approach your life with no expectations.  When you can do that, you just might find that the show with playful organ music, dancing ladies in glittery gold outfits, tightrope walkers and acrobats will fill your heart with joy.  Even if the elephants are gone fishin'.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Vitamin J

I don't wish to be buried, but if I were I do wonder what the epitaph on my tombstone might say.  "She always appreciated good grammar." "Here lies one sassy woman." "Even in death, she was quite punctual."

What is it that we want to be remembered for?  We each have countless quirks and steadfast beliefs for which we stand firm.  Are you a lover of animals?  A humanitarian?  A teacher?  A spiritual guide?  When it comes time to eulogize you, how will someone encapsulate the very essence of you in a 10 minute speech? I wonder.

Over the years, I've decided I would make my mark in one simple way that can be broadly applicable to any situation.  It is this:  I want those who have spent time with me to feel better after than they did before. Bit by bit, minute by minute, interaction by interaction, I want to elevate the energy field of the world around me. That's it. It's realistically my only goal.

And while it sounds simple, it is not always so.  I manage people, and people can be tough - what with their personalities and dysfunctions and deep, unwavering commitment to their misery and such.  Not only do I manage people, I manage them in an environment that is stressful, contentious, often demoralized and sometimes downright impossible. To maintain an environment that leaves people feeling better than when they entered it is no small task.  But it is a task I take seriously.

My basic work philosophy is that it is not only possible - but rather, it is necessary - to work hard and have fun at the same time.  Maybe I carry it too far - maybe there is such a thing as too much levity - but I want people walking through the halls of our workplace to hear echoes of erupting laughter.  I want people to feel joyful about the difficult work that we do, and to celebrate the small triumphs that are the result of our efforts. I want people to know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that the goodness in their hearts transformed into action has in fact made the world better.

For years I've referred to this intervention of mine as "Vitamin J."  If someone is having a bad day, a bad week or a bad life, it's nothing that a little Vitamin J can't help.  Vitamin J encompasses a myriad of ingredients. It might just be a concerned, listening ear.  It usually involves reflecting the good the person has done and a sincere compliment or two.  It almost always involves a laugh, especially at the absurd.  Vitamin J is offered in regular doses and is always on the lookout for those who are woefully deficient.  Never fear, Vitamin J can also be delivered upon request.

I was once at work standing by the mailboxes and two employees were having a conversation I could overhear, though they had no idea I was standing there.  One employee was lamenting how terrible her day had been.  The other listened and then offered, "Sounds to me like you need some Vitamin J."  My heart swelled with pride in that moment right there. A little time with me had become the antidote for what ails ye. How cool is that?

Do I think I have something special to offer?  Truthfully, I do.  But the secret to all of this is that everyone has
their own version of Vitamin J to offer the world if they try hard enough.  Our society has developed a sorry habit of focusing on the negatives in life, but it needn't be that way. Take the time to watch as others make their way in this complicated life. Recognize that everyone has some colossal piece of luggage they are carrying around with them day in and day out, filled with their problems and their sorrows.  And then take a moment to elevate your energy, say a kind word, pay a compliment, tell a funny story or give a hug.  It's the easiest and best thing you can do to make the world a better place.  And not only that, you just might make your own heart sing.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

The Truth

The truth may set you free, as they say, but before that it might kick you around a bit and bitch slap you upside the head.

I've thought a lot about the truth in the last year.  As I set out on this adventure to write 52 blogs in a year (yeah, yeah...I'm  a couple behind....no worries) I promised myself to try two things:  1)  write a piece of fiction (done) and 2) reveal some truths about myself (done, and painfully so).   For years I've carried things deep inside myself, things that - truthfully - most people would probably hear and say, "That's all you've got? That's it?"  But to me, they were my things, the things I felt too proud or too scared or too whatever to share. It has actually occurred to me that I could make a list of every stupid little secret I have and unveil them all in one single blog.  I'm not there yet, but I do wonder how freeing that might feel.

In the last few months I've witnessed a couple of women I admire tremendously reveal themselves in ways that stunned me and gave me pause.  The first was my friend - a blogging hero of mine - who wrote about the back alley abortion she had when she was in college.  Her rawness of her emotion practically jumped out of the computer screen as I read her story.  She used her undoubtedly painful story as a means of advocacy, and did it perfectly so.  Her story was so meticulously descript, I wondered if she wept while she wrote it. It's possible that the events were remote enough that the sting of the truth had lost its sharp edge, but it is equally possible that the pain couldn't fully resolve until she told that story.  In the end, as I read her beautiful story in awe, I realized that her sharing of one of her painful truths only made me respect her more. And I didn't even really know that was possible.

A couple of weeks ago, our department held a training event in which we invited David Sheff, author of Clean and Beautiful Boy to talk about his son's addiction to and recovery from heroin.  In the afternoon, we asked a panel of individuals to talk about their own experience with addiction, each afflicted in a different way.  One by one, they revealed their stories. Stories that I won't share here, because I respect their privacy and the intimacy that the room of 300 people experienced that day.  But suffice it to say, everyone in that room walked out the door at the end of the day a different person.  Here were people we knew and deeply respected, who shed a bright, burning, unrelenting floodlight on the darkest corners of their lives.  More than two weeks have passed, and I'm not sure the lump in my throat has fully resolved.

As I checked in the next day with one of the most forthcoming panel members, the feelings of vulnerability was palpable.  I won't say there was regret, but there was a detectable shred of doubt.  I assured this person that sharing their story was an act of courage I'd not see the likes of before, and it had surely profoundly changed everyone in that room. Then, one by one, emails and phone calls and personal visits were paid to this panelist to express gratitude and awe and pure love.  In less than 24 hours, any lingering doubt -and substantial portions of the power fueled by the painful past - were permanently swept away.  The truth, some of it more than 20 years old, when shared in such a public and bold way, had actually set this person free.  I saw it with my own eyes, and it was beautiful.

I've had my own truths to face at times, truths I avoided facing sometimes for years on end.  Truths that, when finally acknowledged, hurt like hell and made me take a good, hard, painstaking, god awful look at myself and re-evaluate everything.  But always, every single time I tell you, the other side of that mess has been a better version of me.  A better version of me with more respect for myself and more authentic relationships with the people I love.

This blog is my therapy.  More truths are on the way.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

What Dad Really Gave Me

Although I don't have children of my own, I've heard sage advice that when it comes to your children, you should spend half as much money and twice as much time.  My dad never had much in the way of money, but he always made sure I had plenty of his time.

This is the dad who took me fishing and we caught a catfish so big we had to call on other nearby fisherman to help us retrieve it out of the river. The dad who spent a weekend helping me craft a model of the planet Saturn out of plaster, house paint and a coat hanger for science class. The dad who spent countless hours teaching me how to perfect my free throw. The dad who made and decorated a homemade kite with me, named it "The Swearingen Special" and took me out on the perfect windy day to fly it.  The dad who challenged me to save my babysitting money and matched me dollar for dollar until I could afford the ten-speed bicycle of my dreams. The dad who helped me build a bird feeder and paint it orange.  The dad who gave me my first butterfly net and helped me collect butterflies for years to come. The dad who was sincerely impressed with me for spelling the word "yogurt" during an after-dinner Scrabble game.  The dad who took me camping, patiently setting up the tent and making me a foil dinner over a crackling fire in the park just across the street from our house.  The dad who helped me build a hutch for my pet bunny, Eddie Rabbit. The dad who convinced me that whatever I do in life, I should do it passionately and with joy. 

This is the dad who was willing to give me all of the time he had, until his time ran out.  This is the dad I still miss every day. 

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Jimmy Crack Corn

One of the more beautiful things about getting older is that you really stop worrying about what other people think. Maybe it comes from wisdom, or maybe it comes from fatigue.  Realistically, it probably comes from a little of both.  These days, I have to confess that I don't care much at all about what y'all think.  And that right there takes me right to the edge of bliss.  Truly, it does.  It's delightful to see others get there, too, to see them get that taste of freedom.  Because when you bask in the glow of not giving a rat's ass, your true self can really shine through.  And nothing is lovelier than you being authentically you.  Nothing, I tell you.

This weekend was an historic weekend in the State of Wisconsin.  After months of eager anticipation, the ban on gay marriage was lifted.  We weren't even the last state to do it, though there were days I wondered if we would be.  And it's about damn time. Because really, and I promise you will not convince me otherwise so don't even try, love is love.  This day was long overdue.

So on Friday when the judge's ruling was announced, two men I love very much - like so much I would lay down my life for them - made a mad, crazy dash to the courthouse and were the first same sex couple to get a Wisconsin marriage license.  They then stood right there at the courthouse, with their very good friend officiating, said their vows and made the whole dang thing official.  They became the first gay couple to be legally wed in Wisconsin, and since then the whole story has gone viral.  (Seroiusly, I feel like I am going to have to have my people call their people going forward if I want to get together for dinner.)  Their picture on the front page of our local newspaper on Saturday says it all.  The picture, which I think is stunning, captures the joy of the occasion and the sorrow of the long and twisted road it took to get there.  I saw the picture in my Facebook feed on Saturday morning, and I could not hold back my tears.  Even though I was on the other side of the state visiting with my lifelong friend Mindy, I could feel the arc of justice and love reverberating all the way to me.

On Saturday afternoon, Mindy and I decided to take a little jaunt down the road and we did a surprise "pop-in" visit to my friend Vance on his southwestern Wisconsin prairie estate.  He had no idea we were coming or that I was even on that side of the state.  So when we pulled up next to him on the long, windy road leading to his cabin "down in the holler," he was plenty surprised.  He was busy cutting invasive plants out of his carefully tended natural prairie, and yelled at us to give him another 20 minutes before the impending rain arrived.  We happily obliged, and sat on the front porch of his cabin drinking beers and listening to the thunder in the distance.

Vance didn't beat the rainstorm back to the cabin so by the time he got to us he was soaking wet.  This wasn't some gentle little drizzle, it was rain coming down in sideways sheets.  He went inside to get changed into some dry clothes, and by the time he did so Mindy and I weren't far behind.  It was a monsoon out there.

About 30 seconds into our indoor exchange, where I finally had a chance to formally introduce Mindy to Vance for the first time, Vance realized that the door to his shed was open and that this sideways rain was going to ruin all of his chicken feed.  He quickly announced a plan to take his clothes off and run outside to shut the shed door.  Now we thought he meant he was going to put his wet clothes back on to achieve this feat, but no, that is not what he meant.  In short order, we saw this beautiful friend of mine running toward his shed in only his underwear.  A couple minutes after that, we saw him running back in the other direction toward the cabin, now only in a pair of very wet underwear.  As you can imagine, disbelief and considerable laughter ensued.  That man is nuts, I thought, and I love every fiber of his being.  He doesn't care if a woman he just met 30 seconds ago sees him running through his yard in his blue cotton briefs.

And so, this was the theme of the weekend, a weekend for the record books, and perhaps one of my favorite weekends of all time.  It was a weekend I decided I would name Jimmy Crack Corn, because really and truly, I don't care.  From the big decisions, like being the first gay couple to marry in your state and having your love declared on the front page of the Saturday edition of the newspaper - to the small decisions, like doing whatever you need to do to save your chicken feed, you might as well just be you. Brilliant, passionate, loving, caution-to-the-wind throwing, life-embracing you.  It is the best and most beautiful thing that anyone could ever be.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

The Grill of My Dreams

We Midwesterners have endured an extraordinarily long, cold, bleak - and did I mention long - winter this year.  So long, that forecasters have now declared that we are having a "compressed" spring which I believe essentially means we are moving straight from winter into summer.  I choose to live here in the heartland and proudly so, so I hate to be one to gripe and complain about the weather. After all, it's part of the deal. And yet, this year it was hard to avoid complaint. Collectively, I think we are officially over it. I know I am.

So it was on the heels of this particularly harsh winter that I declared 2014 would be "The Year of the Patio." I promptly set up a Pinterest board, pinning all kinds of ideas I was sure I would never be able to execute.  I called upon my brother-in-law to help me with my quest to find new patio furniture.  After considerable research on his part (that's how he rolls), we set out for a day-long adventure that resulted in absolute success - at a 20% discount, no less.  (That is also how he rolls.)  I contacted the landscaper and told him to give me something with strong visual appeal and exceedingly low maintenance requirements on my part.  (He delivered on both counts.)  I spent several weeks in search of all of the perfect flower pots and lanterns and doo-dads to give the patio just the right amount of Jen flair.  And today, on this very day, I think my patio has achieved near perfection by my standards.  If we only get 14 weeks between Memorial Day and Labor Day (a depressing thought if I think about it too much), I am going to enjoy every possible minute I can out there.  Until a mosquito bites me. Then all bets are off.

I am a firm believer that every project in your home needs an inspiration piece. Maybe it's a vase or a framed print or a pillow.  But something must center you and be the guide for your design.  In the case of my patio, it is my grill that takes center stage.  A grill, you ask?  Why yes, a grill.  For I have the most lovely, whimsical, fun, and yet utilitarian grill I have ever seen.  I am not a material girl, and I don't get too excited about "stuff." But I am telling you, I love this grill like it is a person.  I mean, really.  It is a charcoal grill with a propane start.  It has a built-in thermometer gauge.  It has a special side container to hold the charcoal.  It has all the bells and whistles!

In 2005, I moved into this lovely little house of mine and almost immediately started prepping for the party to end all parties - a co-ed wedding shower for my sister and her husband-to-be.  Plans were well underway when my sister emailed me an advertisement for a lime green Weber grill, exclusively available at Crate and Barrel.  Now mind you, I have an affinity for all things lime green and this grill was clearly something special. But as a new homeowner, I took one look at the price tag and could not justify it.  I sent my sister a polite "thanks for the heads up" and assured her it just wasn't in the stars for me at the time.

I love you, grill.
About a week later, my sister's now-husband David and I were out on the town for an evening of fun while my sister was working.  It was a crisp June Friday night, and I remember it quite distinctly because we were at the Lakefront Festival of the Arts.  As we were parting ways, David was kind of fidgety and asked that I call him when I got home safely. Now, he is a thoughtful guy, but even so this was a little out of character.  I shrugged it off and made my way home.  When I got home, it was pitch black and I had to gingerly climb the back stairs and then fumble around for the light switch in the kitchen so I could properly see to set my stuff down.  There - set up right in the middle of my kitchen - was this grill.  I remember first feeling shock and disbelief.  It was singularly the kindest, most thoughtful, most generous thing anyone had ever done for me, before or since.  I actually fell to my knees and cried from sheer gratitude.

That's why I love the spirit of my sister and brother-in-law more than words can really say.  They took one look at this grill and decided I needed it.  It didn't matter that it wasn't Christmas or my birthday.  It didn't matter that it had a $400 price tag.  What mattered was that it is okay to be ridiculously, over-the-top, crazy generous with the people you love every once in a while.  What mattered was that it felt right to do something really, really nice for the sister who had experienced a rough couple of years and was just finding her way out of it.  What mattered was that life is about celebrating, and this grill would be the center of celebrations - large and small - for years to come.

So here it is...my beautiful patio in all its glory, inspired by a grill.  Cocktails and grilled meats, anyone?

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Dark and Stormy

Every head turned to look as he entered, strode up to the bar and ordered a "Dark and Stormy."  She knew from that moment it was going to be a disaster. 

Patty was sitting at the hotel bar trying to nonchalantly drink her Cosmopolitan, pretending to be engrossed at the content on her smart phone.  It had been a long, lonely, death-by-powerpoint kind of day at the conference she was attending on evidence-based dentistry.  Patty had a strict rule that if her employer was going to send her to a conference, the least she could do was attend every session.  Days like these, her integrity really got in the way of her happiness. 

Patty looked up from her phone to watch the exchange between this man and the bartender.  She assessed the bartender to be equal parts bored and annoyed.  "I've never heard of a Dark and Stormy," he said.  The man didn't just reply, he replied with a sarcastic, sing-songy tone. "Welllll.....first you fill half of the glass with Harp, and the top half of the glass is filled with Guinness."  The bartender sighed and rolled his eyes.  "The rest of the world calls that a Black and Tan."  The man paid no attention to the bartender's snarkiness.  He took a seat right next to Patty and threw down a hundred dollar bill.  Patty assumed, correctly so, that this would only further the bartender's annoyance.    

Patty took another good look at this man.  It was clear that he was arrogant, maybe even the president of his own fan club.  But it wasn't clear if he had the kind of arrogance that was masquerading insecurity, or if it was the kind of arrogance that was just plain arrogance.  He was handsome, but more so from his swagger than good looks.  He was dressed better than most people in a hotel bar should be and smelled vaguely like patchouli.  The man looked at Patty, and gave her a wink and a smile.  "A wink? Are you kidding me?" she thought.  She felt blood rush to her cheeks, and as a reflex she turned back to the content on her phone.  She didn't have the chutzpah to get up and move, although the thought did cross her mind. 

The man was unphased by Patty's indifference and continued on.  "I'm Max," he said, extending his hand to Patty. "That's short for Maximilian."  Patty tried to feign a smile and looked at  his perfectly manicured hand before reluctantly shaking it.  She instinctively knew this man was trouble, but she couldn't get away.  It was as if her feet were made of concrete blocks. 

Max looked Patty up and down in a way that made her simultaneously uncomfortable and secretly delighted.  "You look bored," he said. "Let's spice things up."  Max motioned for Patty to follow him as he made his way to a cocktail table off in the corner. Everything in Patty was screaming, "No, no, no!" but for some reason she didn't hesitate to follow him.  

Max took a sip of his beer and flashed his perfect smile at Patty.  He sorted through the crumpled up change the disinterested bartender had given him and slid a $50 bill toward her.  "I'll give you this $50 bill if you walk over to that lady in the red dress and tell her you like her ear lobes."  Patty had never been presented with such a challenge in her life. She looked at Max quizzically and responded.  "What?  Are you kidding me?  Why on earth would I do that?"  Max smiled and nodded before responding.  "It's fun to mess with people a little bit. No harm in spending our night giving out strange compliments, right?"

Patty felt her heart start to palpitate a little and something came over her.  "Game on," she said, as she stood up and straightened out her plain gray pantsuit. She took a deep breath, tousled her hair and walked right over to the lady in the red dress, who was sitting with a couple of friends.  "Excuse me," Patty quipped, "I know this may sound strange, but I've been noticing you and...I just wanted to say...I think you have really nice ear lobes."  The lady looked a little shocked, and then she and her friends shared a throw-back-your-head kind of laugh.  The lady in the red dress cocked her head, looked at Patty curiously, and said, "Thanks...I think?"

Patty made her way back to Max who was proudly holding up the $50 bill for her to retrieve.  "Good girl," he said. Knowing she had fully earned it, Patty grabbed the $50 bill.  She took her seat and gulped down the remainder of her Cosmopolitan.  She felt a little crazy, and more alive than ever.  

Max and Patty spent the next hour or so presenting each other with compliment challenges.  This little exercise had to be done with a fair amount of discretion, so as to not scare away the patrons or draw the attention of the bartender who was already unimpressed with Max's antics.  Odd compliments were doled out to strangers, one by one.  "I've never seen shoelaces complement shoes so perfectly."  "You kind of smell like cinnamon toast."  "Your hair is the exact same color as my cat."  "The way you drink water reminds me of a swan I once saw in Central Park."  "I like how your eyes don't have any crusty stuff in them."  

Fearing the bartender was onto them, and also a little bored, Max motioned for Patty to follow him out into the hotel lobby.  "Okay," he said.  "Let's make a new plan."  Max surveyed the landscape and pointed in the direction of the Oak Ballroom.  "Look - over there.  It's a banquet.  Let's crash it." 

Patty had been having fun, but she wasn't so sure about this plan.  She hesitated and just as she did, felt a rumble in her tummy.  "Oh, all right," she said.  She and Max walked confidently into the ballroom and got in line for the buffet.  They had no idea what group was meeting. While Patty was doing her best to blend in and hope no one noticed her, Max struck up a conversation with the guy in line behind her.  Patty could not believe this guy.  He was fearless. 

Max and Patty sat down at a table with three older, balding white guys.  Must be an insurance seminar, she thought, as she tried to flash them a little bit of a flirtatious smile to keep them at ease with her presence.  They sat in quiet solitude gorging themselves on prime rib, twice baked potatoes, buttery green beans, salad, rolls and cheesecake.  It was a feast, and Patty had to admit that she was perfectly pleased with it.  Max excused himself from the table and left Patty alone with the three older men inquisitively staring at her.  For the second time in a day, she had to pretend to be intently staring at the content on her phone.  She knew this trick was only going to get her so far.  

Max was gone for an uncomfortable length of time, so Patty also excused herself and made her way out to the lobby. Max was comfortably seated in one of the overstuffed chairs with his feet propped up on the coffee table in front of him.  He looked at her, and then at his watch.  "What took you so long?" he asked playfully.  Patty went over and gave him a little shove.  "I am going to kill you, Max!  Don't do that to me again."  

Max grabbed Patty's hand and walked her right out the doors of the hotel.  They stood just outside the doors and this time Max pulled a $100 bill out of his wallet.  He gave a nod to the Mercedes Benz sitting in the front of the hotel, its owners presumably checking into the hotel. "Looks like the owners left the keys in that car.  I'll give you this $100 bill, if you take that car and move it into a parking spot around the corner."  Patty couldn't explain it, but she wanted to prove to Max she was as fearless as he was.  She gave a quick look around and saw no hotel workers or patrons.  She got in the car and, just as Max had instructed, moved it into a parking spot just around the corner.  As she put the car into park, the door flung open and scared the bejeezus out of poor Patty.  It was just Max, though, and he commanded her. "Get out of the car!  We need to make a run for it!"

Max took long, fast strides and got he and Patty safely back in the hotel through a side door.  They ran up several flights of stairs and stopped to catch their breath at the 4th floor landing.  Breathless, with her heart pounding, Patty could not believe herself.  Here she was, in a city she had never been, with a man she had never known, doing things she would have never thought possible.  In a matter of hours, she could barely recognize the former shadow of herself - a mom, a wife, and a dentist from upstate New York.  Now, she was bordering being a criminal and loving every adrenaline-filled minute of it.  She gave no thought to the chaos that was probably ensuing downstairs as a hotel customer came to believe his car had been stolen.  

Max bargained with Patty.  "Just in case someone saw you, you had better come to my room."  Patty knew he was right, and she knew he was wrong, too.  But if she had any sensibilities left, Patty quickly discarded them and followed suit. She followed Max right into his room, and watched him strip down to his boxer briefs and pour each of them a stiff drink from the mini bar.  It took not a single word, only a nod and a smile, for Max to convince Patty to strip down to her skivvies, too. He took her in his arms and spent the next three hours fulfilling Patty in a way she wasn't sure had been done in the 38 previous years of her life.  Exhilarated and spent, Patty fell asleep nestled in Max's chest. 

When Patty awoke at 5:00 a.m. the next morning, she sat up in a straight panic. The room was dark and she was disoriented.  It took her a moment, but she quickly remembered all of the crazy things she had done the night prior.  She felt next to her in the bed and it was empty.  She got up to turn on the bathroom light, and realized that Max and all of his belongings were gone.  The only remnants left in the room providing evidence of Max's one-time presence were his empty cocktail glass and a used towel on the bathroom floor.  Patty realized she didn't know a single thing about this man who had provided her with the most dangerously delicious night of her life, and now he had left her without a trace. Disheartened, sad and ashamed of her gullible nature, Patty made her way back to her own room.  

Quickly returning to her true form, Patty showered, put on her sensible black slacks and prepared for another day of conference sessions on oral cancer detection and implant prosthetics.  She made her way downstairs and searched high and low for signs of Max, to no avail.  Dutiful as ever, Patty attended each conference session scheduled for the day and even stayed for the closing plenary session.  Each time the door to the conference room opened, her heart raced in anticipation of Max's arrival; each time she was sadly disappointed.

Patty returned to her humble home in upstate New York that night and was warmly welcomed home by her husband and two little girls.  They were accustomed to Patty's predictable ways and never seemed to long for anything more.  In time, Patty found her way back into her regular life and only felt the occasional pang of guilt and loss when Max and his crazy, unpredictable antics would flash through her mind.  

Months later, Patty was making grilled cheese sandwiches and tomato soup on a rainy Saturday afternoon when her smart phone chimed.  She picked up the phone to read the text message before her:  "You stir soup with the precision of an Amish woman making butter."  Patty's heart practically leaped out of her chest.  She looked out the window and saw Max leaned up against his car - the same Mercedes Benz he had convinced Patty to move at the hotel so many months prior.  He gave her a confident, knowing nod and flashed that smile of his that always equated trouble.  She looked back sorrowfully at her husband and children playing Chutes and Ladders in the next room.  Not knowing how he had found her, but knowing she was not capable of making any other choice, Patty walked out the door and smiled back at Max. "The tires on your car are the most perfectly round tires I've ever seen."