What Happens When You Treat Your Man Like A Dog?

I have a really good husband. We’ve been married for twenty or twenty two years.  We both always forget.  We also have two really wonderful dogs.

Aries is a German Shepard/Wolf hybrid.  I thought I was buying a simple female German Shepard. A fat man in a red corvette lied to me.

And then there’s Spots.  He’s a stocky white dog with weird brown spots.  He’s a pit bull mix that showed up in our yard, emaciated, with cigarette burns on his head.  I swore I would never have anything to do with a Pit Bull of any kind, but all this dog does is wag wag his branch like tail and he tries to make us happy.

Last night I was lying in bed watching a PBS show about barns in Arkansas.  Spots looked deep into my eyes and I started rubbing his silky ear.  “Look at those pretty spots on your ears. That one looks like an island, that one looks kinda like Cuba and that one looks like a water bottle. You have the prettiest spots, Spots.”

His club of a tail thumped heavily. He was in doggie heaven. So, he rolled on his back and snorted cheerfully.

A few minutes later Spots rolled over to stare at me again and I started rubbing his nose. Slowly, I ran my thumb down, between his eyes and I said, “You are so handsome.  Look at your weird eyes and think neck and sausage like tail.” In less than a minute he was asleep. So happy to be loved.

When was the last time I rubbed Alex’s ears?  I don’t think I ever have. Have I commented on his nose or ears lately….last week I told him I was going to trim his Eisenstein eyebrows or shave them off in his sleep. And what have I ever said about his tail? Maybe years ago.

You see where I’m going?  If we treated the people we love like the pets we love the world might be better.  Man, I would love it if Alex stroked my hair, scratched my neck or told me I was so beautiful and sweet, even though my breath smelled like roadkill.

I need to rethink good behavior, bad behavior and our reward system.

Sure, Spots and Aries give me unconditional love. But so does Alex.



A Dangerous Game…… Part III

Part III

The next morning, Cal dressed and walked into the kitchen.  Tara and Rachel were already eating pancakes with syrup and strawberries.  Typically, Tara slept until almost eight. The kitchen in the morning belonged to Cal and Rachel.

Tara looked at him but didn’t really smile. “I’m taking Rachel to school this morning, Cal.”

Pouring a cup of coffee, Cal nodded. Mark Greenland was already changing his family .

Driving to school, Cal banged on the steering wheel. He didn’t know what he was supposed to do and this was a foreign feeling.  He prided himself on being a man who always approached problems with a system. He studied them, laid out a plan, then took action. But now he was lost.

What he really wanted to do was find Mark Greenland and beat the shit out of him. But that would do at least three things he was sure of. First, it would get him arrested because the kid was a minor, only seventeen. Second, it would cost him his job. And finally, it would turn Rachel against him.  She wouldn’t understand. She didn’t know enough to understand and he couldn’t tell her.

Then Cal had a thought. Why not tell Rachel the truth? Tell her the whole story. She was a smart kid, she loved him and her mom. She was old enough to understand. He and Tara could talk to over dinner, explain everything and then move forward.  If Rachel knew the truth about Mark, she would be safe from him.

Simply having a plan made Cal feel better immediately.And it was a good plan, one that would help bring his family back together. Because he was moving forward, and simply telling the truth, Tara might even possibly start forgiving him.

At 3:00 Cal was on the field, holding a clipboard and pacing.  He was waiting for his team, but what he was really waiting for was the cross country team. By 3:30 his coaches and team were on the field. And so was the Cross Country team, but Rachel and Mark weren’t there.

While his guys ran laps, he found Murphy, the cross country coach, in the bleachers with a notebook and stop watch.

“Hey Coach,” he said as he sat down next to Murphy.

“Hey Cal, what are you doing up here?”

“I didn’t see Rachel. Where’s my girl?”

“Oh, another runner needed to get some new shoes but he didn’t know where the New Balance store was. Rachel offered to go with him. I hope that’s ok. It’s Mark Greenland, he’s a good kid, and fast.”

Call nodded and stared across the field. He didn’t see his players,  didn’t see the coaches or benches or field goal posts. He only saw a vast and empty space. A terrain unfamiliar to him but he knew he had to find his way across.

After telling his assistant coach to handle practice, Cal walked to his office and called Tara. He told her what Coach Murphy had said. Then waited for her to respond.

“Cal, oh my God, if you had just done the right thing. If you did what we agreed you needed to do, we wouldn’t even be having this conversation. You realize that, right? But for some reason, that I still don’t understand, you decided to cover for this kid and now look what’s happening. Cal, do you understand this is entirely your doing? This is all happening because you didn’t do what you said you would do. All you had to do was THE RIGHT Thing!”

Finally he was able to speak, “Tara, here’s my plan. Rachel is smart. Tonight I’m just gonna tell her the whole story. I’m gonna tell her the absolute truth. She’ll understand. ‘

“You can try Cal but I don’t know if that will work.  She’s never really liked a boy before and they were texting this morning when I was driving her to school. You should have seen the look on her face. If it hadn’t been Mark, I would of thought she looked adorable. You have to find a way to make this stop. You have to. Hang on a second. I just got a text.”

The phone was silent and then Tara was back. ‘It was Rachel. She just said she’d be a few minutes late. She said she’d be home by seven.”

“Seven? No, tell her she needs to come home now.”

“Cal, I don’t want to start a fight with her before you even try to talk to her. Thirty minutes won’t change anything. But you have to fix this, you have to. If you don’t I’m gonna talk to Mark on my own.”

“I’ll fix it. I swear to God I will. At this point I don’t care what the fuck I have to do. I love you so much Tara and I’m so sorry.”

Cal waited, but she didn’t respond.


Tara’s car was parked in the driveway. Cal parked, took a deep breath and got out of the truck. There were lights on in the house but not on the front porch.

His wife was sitting at the kitchen table staring at her phone.

“Have you heard anything else?”

No, I texted, “I love you,” but she didn’t answer.

After opening a bottle of beer, Cal sat down next to his wife.

“I’m just gonna throw a pizza in the oven for dinner,” she said absently.

“That’s fine, whatever is easy.” He took a sip of his beer. “Tara, Rachel has never ever been anything but smart and kind. Hell, she’s perfect. We have to have faith in her. She’ll get it, she’ll understand.”

“I hope you’re right but she’s also a fourteen year old girl. I remember what I was like when I was that age Cal. Think about the girls at school.”

“No! She’s not like them Tara. Rachel is nothing like most of the kids I see…..She’s sweet.”

Tara sighed, “I know she is. She’s really sweet. And maybe that’s part of the problem. We’ve protected her too much.”

Cal heard a motorcycle pull up in front of the house. By the time he got to the door, Mark was gone and Rachel was walking up the stairs grinning. She was carrying her backpack and a helmet. “Hey Pops!”

“What were you doing on a motorcycle, Rachel? You know that’s not ok.”

“I know but it’s all good,  I promise. Mark was super careful and he even made me wear his helmet so I’d be safe. His car was broken down so we had to take his bike. It was amazing.”

“No Rachel, you can’t do that. You can’t just jump on a motorcycle and take off. You have to talk to us. You know how we feel about motorcycles.”

“I know, but I promise, we were super careful. Really. And I’m home now. ” She hugged Cal for a long time, and he knew it was because she had so much fun, not because she loved him.

Cal pushed himself away and said, “Go inside. Your mom needs you.”

But by the time he stepped away from her Mark was already gunning the bike, and then he was gone. the chicken shit was scared to talk to him. He wouldn’t even look at him.

When Cal walked into the house Rachel was telling her mom about the adventrue. Tara was silent, she put plates on the table and waited for Cal.

They all made it through their first slice  before Cal tried to start the conversation. “So Honey, I need to talk to you about Mark.”

“I know you think he’s too old, Pops, but we’re just friends.”

Cal shook his head. “It’s not that Rachel.  I need to tell you about him. He’s not like he seems. He’s flirting with you to try to get at me cause he’s really mad about some things that happened last year.”

“Mad at you, why? And what do you mean he’s flirting with me to get at you? What, you don’t think a senior like Mark would think I’m good enough to flirt with, for real? ” She looked at her mother. Tara tried to hold her hand but Rachel pulled away.

Cal pushed on. “No, that’s not it. It’s just that Mark and I had an issue last year and he said he was gonna make me regret a decision I made about him. I think he’s gonna just try to hurt you, as a way of getting back at me.”

Rachel’s beautiful blue eyes were now rimmed in red and her bottom lip trembled”Mark and I are friends, it has nothing to do with you. Nothing.  You know he says such great stuff about you and I can’t believe how you’re trashing him. That’s crazy. He told me you guys wouldn’t understand because I’m a freshman and he’s a senior. He warned me and God, he’s exactly right.”

“It’s not about age, Rachel. Just listen, please?”

“Fine, I’m listening.”

Cal hesitated. He told Tara he would tell Rachel the whole story but now he wasn’t so sure. “Last year, after a practice I found Mark doing something bad, something he wasn’t supposed to do.”

“Something bad? What am I? Four?  What was Mark supposedly doing?”

Supposedly, the fact she used that word hurt. But Cal knew he had to keep going. “Mark was selling drugs to some kids, little kids.”

“Little kids, what kids, how old were they?”

“I don’t know, maybe 5th grade, that’s not the point.”

“And what kind of drugs?”

“Jesus Rachel, does it matter? There was some pot and some kind of pill.”

“You don’t even know what kind of pill it was?”

“Rachel, stop. That’s not the point.”

“Everything you are saying is  ridiculous, you don’t even know what he was “selling” to these kids you know nothing about. And besides,  he’d never do that. He told me all about his mom, about his whole family. They are a bunch of druggies and he hates that, he hates drugs.”

“Honey it’s true,”  Tara said, leaning in closer.

“There’s no way, that’s not him.” Rachel looked at Tara, pleading. “Mom, you don’t understand what he’s been through. You don’t understand how hard it’s been for Mark. You guys are just saying this because you think he’s too old for me. But age doesn’t matter. Oh my God, I can’t believe you  would make up this stuff just because you don’t like him. Mark warned me you might do something like this. I can’t believe he was right.” The tears were starting, she wiped them away as though anger was a weakness.

Cal stood up, then sat back down. “We’re not making it up Rachel. I swear. Honey you know we only want the best for you , you know that. Mark is not a good guy.  When I tried to talk to him about the drugs the next day, in my office, he went freakin’ ballistic, it was crazy. He’s not a good guy, Rachel.”

This time Rachel stood up, tears rolled down her cheeks. “He’s nothing like you’re talking about. You have no idea.  ” She took a step back from the table.” It doesn’t matter that he’s a senior and I’m a freshman but you can’t see that and he told me you would be like this.” She stepped even farther away form them. “Why can’t you understand that we are old enough to make our own decisions, to know who’s right for us? Why don’t you get it? You have to stop treating me like a child, because I’m not one anymore.”

And then she was gone, up the stairs. Gone.

The clock in the living room clicked, the pizza remained untouched, Cal and Tara were silent. They had no words. Nothing to say. For almost thirty minutes Cal waited for his wife to speak. Every time he tried to say something she shook her head, telling him to stop immediately. And so he did.


*Thanks for reading. Let me know what you think and Part 4 will be up next Monday.








A Dangerous Game II Football, Love, Fear and Death

Part II in a series. A Dangerous Game

The next morning, Cal dropped Rachel off in front of the High School building a little early. She tried to kid with him, to play their game, but the best Cal could do was smile and tell her to have a good day.  She looked at him before getting out of the truck like she wanted to take his temperature. Something was obviously wrong.

“I love you sweetie.”

“I love you too, Pops.  I’ll see you on the field after school.”

Mark was waiting outside his office.  He looked as though he hadn’t slept. Quietly, he sat down in front of Cal’s desk and put his head on his arms. “Coach I’m so sorry, God I’ve never done anything like that.  I swear it’ll never happen again. Please don’t report me. I’m begging you.  You and this school and the team are all I have. You know football is my only shot at going to college.  I can’t believe I’ve messed everything up like this. I’m so sorry. Please Coach, I’m begging you, don’t turn me in. I’ll do anything.”

Cal closed his eyes and nodded. Mark seemed truly sorry. He understood how bad he screwed up.  “Alright, it’s between us, but you’re off the team for the rest of the year.”

Mark’s head snapped up, “What? You can’t do that. I have to play.”

“Mark, I can’t just completely close my eyes. You were selling weed and what ever that pill was to little kids.  I should turn you in, that would be the right thing to do. But I know where you’re coming from and I want you to have a shot at college. We can make it all work next year.”

“No fucking way! You need me! You can’t kick me off the team, you know I’ve got scouts looking.”

Shaking his head Cal tried to control his breathing. ” It’s just for this year. I’m sorry, Mark. but that’s it. You can go out for the team again next year. The scouts will still be looking, but for now, that’s it.”

When Mark stood up, he knocked the metal chair over. “No fucking way!” He screamed, ” You can’t do that. God dammit your talking about my life, my life! I’m not gonna let you fuck me like this. And you don’t have any proof. What will you tell people. No fucking way you’re ruining my year.”

“Son, you need to calm down and sit down. My decision is final. I’m sorry but you made a mistake.”

“Fuck you!” Mark screamed.

Cal stood up. At six three he was four inches taller than Mark and 75 pounds heavier. Cal consciously tried to control the building rage, it was like a heat creeping up his body. He stepped closer and looked down at Mark. Softly he said,  “You’re off the team for good, now get out of my office and stay away from my football field. It didn’t have to be like this you stupid punk.”

“Fuck you! God damn it, fuck you,” he screamed as he slammed the door. “Your going to fucking regret this James. I’m gonna fuck up your life.”

Cal stood for a full minute, then sat back down in his chair.  What the hell just happened? Where did all that come from? He tried to dissect the conversation, if you could call it that.  How had it gotten away from him and so out of control? Over the years he’d had to deal with a lot of really angry young men but this was something else. Cal leaned back in his chair and closed his eyes again. He hated that he’d lost control and called Mark a stupid punk. He shouldn’t have done that. Frustrated, he looked at the ceiling and said out loud, “I swear to God I was trying to do right by that kid.”

# #######

It had been a year but Cal could still hear every word that came out of Mark Greenland’s mouth that day. Opening a bottle of water Cal tried to remember when he’d last actually seen Mark.  It had been at least a year.  Once the season ended, last year, players and fans stopped asking about him. He just disappeared. Cal never saw him or even heard anything about him on campus, which was fine.  He  didn’t want to think about that situation ever again. So why, after a year was Mark back in his weight room? That smart ass grin made him want to take his head off.  Obviously, Mark was trying to antagonize him. But why now?

Somebody was knocking on his office door. “Coach Cal, can I come in?”


Jose Fernandez stuck his head in the door and grinned. He was a freshman and still so excited to be on the team.  “I thought you’d want to know McKenzie made a 45 yard field goal this morning,  Coach D saw him.”

“That’s amazing, Jose! His longest by three yards, right?”

“Yes sir.” Jose was McKenzie’s holder.

Cal stood, slapped Jose on the back of the head and walked into the weight room. “Thanks for letting me know. I needed that.” Most of the guys were gone. He glanced at the clock. 8:05. He’d spent thirty minutes reliving the Mark Greenland nightmare and was late for his first period class. Study hall, no worries.

Classes let out at 3:15 every day and most of the White Deer Destroyers were dressed out and on the field by 3:30. Stragglers ran laps without being told.

Cal and three other coaches, all with clipboards, discussed the plan for practice while the team’s offensive and defensive captains got the team stretched out and warmed up. The team was in full uniform and lined up across the field in three rows.

Cal looked up as they did high knees and then jumping jacks. They were really good boys and he was caught  in a moment of overwhelming pride.  They trusted him and were willing to work so hard. They literally did everything he asked. Then he saw Rachel at the other end of the field, stretching and laughing with some other cross county runners. From that distance he couldn’t quite make out who the other kids were.

When Rachel saw Cal looking at her, she gave him a big silly wave and he involuntary waved back, with the same enthusiasm. Glancing at the other coaches, they knew better than to laugh.

Ten minutes later, as the  team got ready for tackling drills, he watched  Rachel and the three other runners take off.  He thought he remembered her telling him they had to do one mile interval training this afternoon. They would run a mile, rest for five minutes, then run the same mile faster, then one more time after that. The goal was to run as fast or faster on every mile. It was grueling. Cal couldn’t imagine what his players would do if he made them do that.

The track was built around the football field but Cal wasn’t really watching Rachel and the runners anymore.  He was focused on his boys.  They were so close to the playoffs if he could just keep them focused. Forty five minutes into practice Cal looked up as Rachel and another runner, a boy, approached him.  Lord, she was so graceful and long legged.  She made running look easy. Normally, as she ran past him, he would have yelled something silly at her like “Too slow Chicken Butt!” But he couldn’t think of anything clever as she approached. He studied the guy running next to her. His pace was different and he was obviously trying to match her stride for stride.  She looked over at the guy and smiled.

Cal realized he was holding his breath as the two runners sprinted toward him, then just as they passed, Mark Greenland looked over and grinned, not at Rachel but at Cal.

Then they were both gone, already at the far end of the track. Cal watched as the pair left the track and disappeared onto the cross country trail.


It was only six when Cal left the football field.  The players were still cooling down, but Cal needed to be home. After putting the Ford into drive, he found his cell phone and called Tara.

“Hey Honey, how’s it going? Is Rachel home?” He tried to sound normal.

“No, not yet, she called an hour ago and said a friend was giving her a ride.” He could hear background noises. The news was on and something was sizzling on the stove.


“I don’t know, she said a friend from the cross country team. ”

“But who is it Tara? Did she say?”

“Cal, she’s in high school now, we have to give her a little room. She said she’d be home by 6:30. It’s all good sweetie. She’s fine. Come home. I’ve got a dinner surprise for you.”

“I’m on my way.” How was he going to explain everything. He’d never told Tara what happend with Mark. He was too ashamed, to embarrassed, to admit how it blew up in his face. The truth was, he didn’t know how to explain what happend.  Then Tara got busy with a new gallery opening and the subject of Mark never came up. Nobody cared about Mark Greenland. Cal knew his wife would be furious and disappointed in him for not turning Mark in, for not doing what he should have done. For not telling her what was going on, but at the time he was just relieved  it was all over. He didn’t want to bring it up again and he didn’t every want to think about Mark again if he could avoid it.

Twenty minutes after Cal got home he heard a car door slam.  He was at the door before Rachel got to the porch.  He studied the ratty car in the drive way. One headlight was burned out. Cal locked eyes with Mark, then  that kid had the nerve to smile and wave at him, like they were buddies.

Rachel ran up the steps and gave Cal a hug.  “Hey Poppa Bear.”

He hugged her back but never looked away from Mark, “Go inside Rachel, your mom needs you.” He pushed her gently toward the door and started down the steps, but Mark backed up and took off. Cal watched his tail lights disappear and wondered what the Hell he was going to do and how he was gonna stop this little shit.

Tara already had dinner on the table.  The last thing he wanted to do was eat, but he knew he had to act as though nothing was wrong.  He didn’t want some kind of blow up at the dinner table but once again everything was spinning out of control.

Cal put his napkin in his lap and picked up his silverware. For the second or third time today he tried to sound normal. This was new to Cal, he never pretended to be anything but honest. He cleared his throat. “So Bucket Head, who brought you home tonight?”

Rachel was glowing. She glanced at her mother and smiled.  “Mark, he’s on the cross country team now. Pops he used to play for you last year but then he quit, you know him.”

Cal nodded. “Yeah, I remember Mark.”

“Yeah, he said you were awesome.  But now he’s running track and he’s really good.. Fastest time after a week of practice. He cracks jokes while we run, it’s really funny  And he writes songs.”

Taking his time, Cal cut I piece of his pork chop. “Isn’t he a senior?”

“Yes sir.”

“So, he’s too old for you, right?”

Rachel instantly looked at her mom, for support, for reassurance? Cal didn’t know. Women were like that and it confused him. But he knew he had to move carefully or both of them would be mad at him.

“It’s not like were going out or anything. He just gave me a ride home.  Don’t make such a big deal out of it. Please?”

“Sure Kiddo,” Cal said, staring at his plate.  He didn’t’ know which way to move, what to say. But he knew Tara was staring at him, wondering what the story was. Why was this messed up kid giving their daughter a ride home?

“I’ve got to take a shower.” Rachel kissed her mom on the cheek, but she didn’t even look at Cal, before vaulting up stairs.

Once Rachel was gone,  Cal helped Tara clear the table. They were silent and Cal knew what was coming.  The questions, the interrogation.  Why hadn’t he turned Mark Greenland in. Why was that kid still at White Deer, giving her daughter a ride home. Cal didn’t have an explanation.  He knew what he should have done but now it was too late. And  he knew he should have told Tara what happened.  But he didn’t. And now this.  He never thought he’d have a lapse in judgment like that. But he was wrong.

Finally Tara said, “So you didn’t tell the administration?”

“No. And I don’t know how to explain what happened to you.”

Tara started putting dirty plates in the dish washer.  She rinsed each one, carefully and then finally said, “So you never did what you were supposed to do, you never reported this psycho and now he’s driving my daughter home? You lied to me.”

“I never lied to you Tara and I’ll talk to her.”

“And say what? They are friends, she’s obviously got a crush on him. But you’re gonna talk to her? And what exactly are you going to say? How are you going to explain all this. Jesus Christ Cal, I trusted you to do the right thing. I can’t believe this. I trusted you.  How bad is this kid Cal?”

“He’s just a stupid kid, Tara. I can handle him.  I’ll fix this, I swear to God. And think about this,they just met, what a week ago?   It’s nothing.” As he spoke Cal James knew he was lying, in a way he’d never lied before. And he  knew he was simply saying what he desperately hoped was true.












A Dangerous Game….. Love, Fear and Football

There was a senior high football coach in the semi-rural Arkansas community of White Deer. Cal James was probably the most popular man at White Deer High School. He was loved because he won the State three A  Championship two years in a row, and that always makes a coach popular. But he was a ridiculously friendly man. Coach Cal high-fived little kids, hugged grandmothers, taught his players to act like real men and  made up corny names for nearly everyone he met.

Coach Cal had a smart and pretty wife, Tara. She worked at the Art Center downtown, coordinating programs and soothing the egos of high maintenance artists. One of the reasons she fell in love with Cal, ten years earlier was because he was so unlike a lot of the artists she dealt with everyday. He loved life, he loved their family, he loved God and his team. He did not brood or obsess. Even when the team lost, he accepted responsibly, analyzed and created a plan to move forward.

On a sunny Wednesday morning in October, Coach Cal parked his fat black Ford F 250 in front of the high school building and looked at his step daughter Rachel. She was so adorable and bright Cal smiled every time he looked at her. Rachel was in ninth grade so being in the high school building was still pretty new and a little exciting.  He could see that in her blue eyes.

“Alright Bucket Head, get out of my truck and have a good day.”

“Ok Pops,” she smiled at him and gathered up her backpack and flute case.

“Are you running after school?”

“Yes sir, we’ve got practice from 3:30 to 5:30.” She pushed the door open.

“Alright, I’ll see you on the field then. And do me a favor, stop being such a bully. I’m hearing stories all the time.” He grinned at her and she smiled a little.

Just before slamming the big door closed, she pushed her long strawberry blond hair back and let out an exaggerated sigh, “I promise,” as though the request was just too much. It was one of their many running jokes.

Driving up to the football field he said a little prayer.  He thanked God for Rachel. She was still so sweet.  And he knew first hand that wasn’t always the case with teenage girls. She wasn’t snarky or mean or sarcastic.  She was almost a little too naive and that worried him sometimes but made him love her that much more.

Cal was the only father Rachel had known since she was four years old. Her biological father, Jamie, lived down in the Florida Keys. He owned a little beach bar and gift shop. When Rachel was a baby he’d gone to prison for bringing a boat load of weed in to Miami from Jamaica.

After serving three years, he came home.  Both he and Tara realized pretty quickly that he wasn’t going to change and he really wasn’t very good at being a dad. So they split up on friendly terms, knowing it was the right thing to do. Tara moved back to Hot Springs with Rachel.

Jamie called sometimes and came to visit Rachel every couple of years. But he was never a father, more like a silly uncle who tried to win her over with hundred dollar bills and sea shells.

Cal parked his truck in front of the weight room door.  He could hear the clanking of weights before he opened the door.

When he opened to door he bellowed, “Alright. Today is the day!!!!”

The fifteen players in the smelly concrete room hollered back in unison, “Yes Sir!” Then went back to their weights, some in teams others worked alone.

Cal took a second to look around the room, he checked each station one by one then yanked a clipboard off the sign-in table and read the names. Slowly, he walked to the bench press in the back corner of the weight room. He stared at the young man, lying on his back pushing the loaded bar up. Unlike the rest of the players in the room he was wearing jeans, a tank top and boots.

“What are you doing in here Mark?”

The young man slowly returned the bar to it’s rack. He sat up and smiled, “Hey Coach. It’s been a while.” He stretched, intentionally showing off his upper body.

“I asked you what you were doing here.”

“Just, thought I’d get some work in. That’s ok, right?”

“No, not with the team. You need to leave.”

“Oh come on Coach, you can’t still be all jacked up about that shit last year.”

“You need to leave, Mark.”

Mark Greenland shrugged, smiled again and stood up. “Whatever you say Coach, you’re making this a lot harder than it has to be.” The room was still noisy with banging weights, as he slowly walked toward the door.

Cal walked into his office and closed his door, something he rarely did. Looking out the window he could see Mark sauntering toward the high school building.

Cal James had been a football coach in some capacity, for almost fifteen years and he knew Mark Greenland was the biggest mistake he’d ever made.  He regretted the decisions he’d made last year about that kid every day. But there was nothing he could do now. He’d already screwed up. But why was Mark back in his weight room, obviously trying to piss him off?


Last year his team had been so strong. There were two games left in the regular season. The White Deer Destroyers were 7-1. And Mark Greenland had been a big part of their success..  The kid came from a bad family with all kinds of issues,but Mark was a gifted athlete. He was fast, physical and found holes that weren’t really there. It had been a while since Cal had trained a kid who was so much fun to watch and averaged nine yards a carry. And if the Destroyers were having a hard time containing a quarterback, Cal could put Mark in as a defensive end. But some of his sacks were so brutal and violent all the coaches felt a little guilty. They were legal but Mark hit boys with so much obvious rage and hatred, it worried Cal. He’d thought about asking Mark to hold back just a little but couldn’t figure out a way to word it without seeming soft.  All the hits were legal but they still scared Cal just a little.

Three times last year he called opposing coaches the the morning after a Friday night game to check on quarterbacks Mark and laid out.

Scouts from colleges, good colleges were already showing interest.  Cal talked up Mark, sent tapes and worked with Mark and his mom on what they needed to do. It was pretty obvious Mark’s mom was messed up on something but Cal didn’t know what. She was too skinny, with dark hollows under her eyes.  Mark bossed her around or dismissed her completely most of the time. She obviously loved the kid but wasn’t really mom material.

On a Tuesday night the year before Cal was about to let all the guys go. They had worked hard and were exhausted. But he changed his mind suddenly. “Everybody take a knee.”

Some simply sprawled out on the turf, others tried to stretch. “Listen guys, we’ve got two games to go. but I’m telling you now, If I see a  Skol can anywhere, back pocket, truck dashboard, back pack, I don’t care where. You’re missing a full game. If your momma calls and says there’s a Skol can in your underwear drawer. You’re not playing. You understand? So listen, pat your buddy on the butt, pat your self on the butt, just make sure there’s no freakin’ can in your pocket. I’ve got teachers complaining about some of you actually dipping in class. It stops now. That crap is poison. Yes sir?”

“Yes sir.” they answered with the strength they could muster.

After the team left, Cal stayed in his office. He actually had papers to grade from his health class. Sometimes he asked Rachel or Tara to help him but he’d given the class an essay, and he wanted to read the answers himself.  The topic was, “How do we stop tobacco use in high school.” Hopefully, simple threats worked on his players this week.

It was a cold clear night and the Ford was slow to warm up. He drove across campus then turned toward the basketball gym. There were three people in the shadow of the school sign. Mark Greenland was handing a kid, a little kid, maybe fifth grade something. Cal his his high beams and put the truck in park. Mark smiled at him. “Hey coach.”

Cal stared at him, the two boys looked like they were about to cry. One pulled the hood of his sweatshirt up over his head.

“What’s in your pocket.” the little boy didn’t speak.

“Nothing Coach, I was just loaning him some money.”

Cal extended his hand “give me what ever it is in your pocket.”

The smaller kid sniffled and tears started rolling down his face. He handed Cal a wad of tin foil with something inside. He opened it. There was a little pot and a single yellow pill.

“What is this?”

“Nothing Coach, it’s not even their’s. It’s for their dad. He’s got a lot of medical issues.”

“Shut up Mark.”

“Hey Coach, you don’t want to make a big deal out of this. It’s nothing. Just forget about it.”

“Shut the Hell up Mark. And don’t try to tell me what I want to do.”

“I’m just saying Coach, you don’t want to fuck with this.”

Cal stared at Mark.Who was this kid? “You need to stop running your mouth now Greenland, get the Hell out of here. I’ll talk to you tomorrow. Do you understand?”

Mark shrugged and started walking across the parking lot, toward Sonic.

Cal focused his attention on the boys. “Where do you two live?”

Both boys pointed to the trailer park across the street.

“Get in the truck, right now.”

Cal didn’t speak again. He left Mark in the shadows of the school sign and drove the boys who were both shaking and sniveling across the street. “Which one?”

They pointed to a dark trailer. There was a beat up pickup outside but no lights.

“You both live here?”

“Yeah, we’re cousins.”

Cal got out of the truck and walked up the sagging porch steps. He knocked on the door but got no answer. What the hell was he supposed to do now? He waved for the boys to get out of the truck. One of them had a key and opened the door. The smell of cigarettes and cat pee hit him hard.

Should he stay and wait for their folks? He looked at the boys. “Do you know who I am?”

“Yes sir.”

“Alright, I expect to see you both on the football field tomorrow right after school. You understand. If you don’t show I’ll be right back here on your porch. You got it?”

“Yes sir.”

“Now go to bed.”

That night, nearly a year ago, was a long and miserable one. Twice Cal had considered moving into administration, maybe accepting a vice principal position. But he knew there would be too many situations exactly like this.

Cal stayed up most of the night thinking about his options. He knew what he should do, what he was supposed to do. Report Mark to the principal.  Because the incident was on school property he would probably be expelled, maybe even arrested. That’s what the kid deserved.

Cal also knew, because of his family situation,  his academic career was over if he was expelled.  He probably wouldn’t finish high school and definitely wouldn’t make it to college. And Mark was really a smart kid.

His second option was to keep it to himself. Not tell the administration. Kick him off the team for the year and hope  he learned a lesson. At least then he’d still have a chance at finishing high school.

Just after midnight, Cal woke Tara up.  He had to tell her, he had to tell somebody.

Curled up in her blue and pink fuzzy robe, she listened, without speaking for fifteen minutes while Cal told her the story, then laid out the options and the pros and cons of each side.

Finally, she said softly, “Honey, you have to turn him in. He was selling drugs to little kids, what if those were our sons. If he’ll do that his capable of almost anything. And if you don’t tell it could cost you your career. White Deer is a little school, we don’t want that kind of kid in there with Rachel. Let me ask you one question. Does Mark seem like the kind of kid who will “learn his lesson” from this?”

Cal thought about Mark’s smile, even when he knew he was busted. And he just kept on lying, it was no more difficult than breathing for him.

He looked at his wife and shook his head “no, he’s not gonna learn any lessons.”

“I know it’s hard, Honey, but you have to turn him in.” She stood up, offered him a hand and pulled her husband off the couch. “Come on. Let’s get some sleep.”

Cal accepted the help, but he felt uneasy. What was he supposed to do? He still didn’t really know. Maybe sleep would help.


I hope you enjoyed Part One.

Part II will be available on Thursday, February 2. Do me a favor, if you enjoyed this share with a friend. Thanks. 





A Pit Bull Decision

A few months ago a skinny white dog with spots appeared on our lawn.  We have a great big German Shepard wolf hybrid who barked furiously at this stray. Our dog, Aries, tried to run the dog off.  Barking and growling constantly. The dog would disappear in the brush, then reappear an hour later.

This went on for three days and finally, on the third day, Aries allowed the spotted dog to come closer to the house. He was painfully skinny After another day or two the dog accepted our food but would not let us touch him.  When we reached, out he cowered and ran away.

Aries acts as though she still disapproves of the dog, who’s big square head seems disproportionate to it’s body.  But they were obviously becoming buddies.  After a week Spots allowed us to pet him, if we were sitting down and very calm.  He had cigarette burns on his head, so we tried not to touch those.

Fast forward three months.  Spots is firmly entrenched in our family.  He’s a joyous dog with a club like tail, that bangs back and forth when he’s happy. And that’s all the time. He’s broad chested with a  a neck as thick as an elm tree. We laugh because he sleeps on his back in chairs with his paws sticking up.  We laugh because he snores and if you hold you hand up in the air and say, “Face Five” he’ll jump up and hit your hand with his nose.

Spots, who probably weighs 50 pounds, is extremely protective.  Aries barks and growls when strangers drive up the drive way, but when we tell her to stop, she obeys.  Spots goes into “mad man” mode.  His bark and growls are terrifying and spit flies from his jowls.  We have to physically reassure him everything is alright before he believes it and calms down.  He feels he has to protect us at all costs.

If Spots wakes up in the middle of the night and need to go out, he comes to the side of the bed and whimpers. If that doesn’t work he puts his front paws up on the edge of the bed and very sweetly licks my ear. He’s that kind of dog.

Here’s my problem. Spots is obviously a pit bull mix. My guess is he’s a Pit Bull/Bull Terrier.

I don’t hate pit bulls but every time I hear a story about a pit bull attack, I’m one of the first to say, “Pit bulls are different than other dogs. They were breed to fight. They turn into savages way faster than other dogs.”  Other dog breeds are abused and neglected but you don’t hear about Hound Dogs and Labradoodles turning into ne cold killers because of the abuse.  In my opinion, there is a  flaw in Pit Bull DNA that makes them more likely to attack and sometimes kill.  It’s rare to hear of a Beagle, Great Dane or Collie attacking it’s owner, mauling a child or killing a stranger. Very rarely. But Pit Bulls do these things pretty frequently, especially when compared to other breeds. There’s a problem with Pit Bulls.

But I love Spots….so what do I do? Am I hypocrite who says, “not my dog”.  I think Pit Bulls are dangerous but I love Spots.



Am I Racist?

I try not to be racist, but the truth is every single person on the planet is a little, I think.

Yesterday, I was in the post office, patiently standing in a line behind four other folks. To my right there was a young man who was Middle Eastern. He was tall, probably 6’2 and wearing grey sweats. And he had a long black pony tail and a great big bushy beard. He had head phones and an I phone. I watched for seven or eight minutes as he walked around picking up different envelopes then putting them back. He picked up various sizes of shipping boxes and put them down and he kept looking back, at the front door.

When it was my turn to approach the counter I looked at him and smiled, “We’re you waiting in line?”

He just shook his head and said “no.”

Once I left the Post Office I sat in the parking lot and wondered what I was supposed to do. For fifteen years we’ve been hammered with “If you see something, say something.” and the dude was acting weird.

Had it been a black, white or Hispanic guy I would not have even considered calling the authorities. But he was Middle Eastern, it was a post office and I was worried.

But reporting that young man for being what I thought was “suspicious” could wreck his life.  If he was investigated it could appear on job back ground checks, maybe it would keep him out of grad school or mess up his housing situation.

I was doing everything I try not to do. I was judging him, I was racially profiling him, I was thinking like a racist.

But I’m human…and that’s the problem. We are all flawed. Are our thoughts or actions more important? I don’t know.

I can only hope, someday, when God takes a look at my track record he doesn’t judge me by my actual thoughts. And I hope the youngman in the Post Office can forgive me.  I hope you found your envelope.

Your Kids A Cry Baby!!!!

If you’re a mom or dad, you’ve dealt with it.  You say “no” to a child and the meltdown begins. They cry, they beg, they fall on the ground and do the  worm thing and that’s the worst.  If you pick them up, they go limp and spongy…..so you leave them on the ground. The crying and screaming is not just embarrassing it’s infuriating and frustrating.  But more than anything, they cry baby makes us all mad….really really mad.

My oldest daughter, Mary, was a cry baby.  When she was little, every time we left a store and I didn’t buy her something, candy or a little toy she went “Three Mile Island” on me. The meltdown was epic. Kicking feet, waving arms, crying, screaming. People looked at me like I was a child abuser or kidnapper.

Here’s the reality.  If you spank your kid for being a cry baby you are a moron.  Spanking, hitting and smacking makes them cry more.

You have to find a way to be smarter……than a three year old. You have to be more clever than a four year old. You have to be wiser than a five year old.

Here’s what worked with Mary. When Mary started getting mad because she didn’t get her way she’d start slow with a pout face, then kicking feet. I would smile. Then she would start crying and I’d keep on smiling. Then the eruption would hit with hands and feet, tears, wailing and screaming…..And I would start laughing.  Often times I would take pictures.  And that made her really really really mad.

As we rolled across the parking lot I’d say something like, “Good job, Mary. Keep it up. Your’e doing good.” This made her so mad she went nuclear.  After a couple of days she began to realize something was wrong.  I wasn’t responding the right way.  Kids do this because they want you to respond in a certain way. They want you to say, “Oh baby what’s wrong?”

After two weeks Mary was burned out. Throwing fits is exhausting…and futile if it doesn’t work.  Her fury failed….she realized  it and gave up. But it took two consistent eeks of smiling and laughing every time she melted down. And if you are in a house….you have to leave the room, as though it’s no big deal. Who wants to put on a show when nobody is watching.

Once, when Mary was three and Jack was four I walked out on her temper tantrum. She stopped crying instantly and said to Jack, “Do your like our mom?”

Here’s another idea that worked. If you are at somebody else’s house and your kiddo turns into a cry baby and throws a temper tantrum….every body hates that. It sucks.   Pick that child up, take them to a different room, and walk out of the room.  They don’t get to act like that in front of folks. It’ll work out.

A child finds no joy in melting down if nobody is watching. And following in order to melt down is no fun.

Not only was Mary a crybaby…..she was a bully. We spent 2 years telling jack not to “hurt the baby” so he’d never defend himself and she tortured him. It was awful.

Finally, we realized at age  three, Mary was a total jerk and bully. It was time for a  sit down.

“Mary, everything you do to other people, to bug them….we’re gonna do to you.  So, if you turn off the lights and slam the door and leave Jack in the dark to scare him…you have to sit in a dark room for 30 seconds.”

It took a while. But finally Mary, The Boss Bully, realized if she took stuff away from Jack we were gonna take it away from her.  If she turned off the tv, we turned it off for thirty minutes for her. If she pushed his plate or cup on the floor….we threw hers away. And if she pinched or pushed him….he had permission to pinch and push back.

It was pretty simple. It was fair, there was no yelling or shouting…just simple retribution.  And it worked.

Bottom line…if you have a crybaby….if you have a baby bully. Stop being violent and loud. Instead…be smart and crafty.

Outsmart that kid and you’ll win.  Spanking and screaming is for amateurs and losers.


Teen Age Boy Brain Goes MIA

Rich people are different than you and me. And so are stupid, brilliant teenage boys.  Their brains are different, waaaay different.

My fourteen year old son,  makes great grades but still can’t remember to put on deodorant or brush his teeth in the morning before we leave for school. I’ll say “smell good?” a couple of times, he’ll say, “oh, yeah, right.” Ten minutes I’ll find him in his room studying sheet music or looking at a youtube video of a guy who strained out all the pulp from 65 dollars of orange juice……ate it.

“Sandor, you  don’t have time to watch that. Teeth and arm pits, Buddy”

“Yes ma’am.” he says smiling and walking into the bathroom.

He never remembers to ask for lunch money or pack a lunch.  Old schoolers tell me, “let him go hungry and he’ll start remembering.”

So I did that, two weeks in a row. He just walked around hungry for ten days.

He forgets to eat, literally forgets because he’s so caught up in playing the drums, writing music and talking to his buddies. Then, at three o’clock in the afternoon he’s suddenly so hungry he wants to eat his own arm. He devours everything he sees, first come first served, chips, cookies, noodles, post roast. It’s crazy how much he goes through and I say, “When was the last time you ate?”

“Last night at dinner I guess. I just forgot.”

But his brain is still functioning.  He still remembers to hug me first thing every morning when he stumbles out of his room. He collapses into me as though his life depends on it. Then starts him morning ritual.

I’ll send two boys into the store with a twenty dollar bill. “I need ten in gas.”

They will appear, five minutes latter with a Gatorade. “How much gas do you need?”

But they can memorize an entire foot ball play book so I know something is going on in their heads.

Everyday when he gets out of the car he remembers to tell me he loves me first. He remembers our secret handshake and all the different handshakes with his buddies. He remembers to do his homework and exactly how to mix the dog food for the puppy dogs.

He remembers when I touch my nose it means “say thank you”, when one of his sisters extends an open palm, he’s supposed to tap it with his fingers and say “happy chickens!” And he remembers to say grace in Hungarian at every family meal.

He remembers the language of family. He never forgets the words and gestures that make us…..us.

Sandor can always make up for a stinky day because he forgot to take a shower. He can always gorge after he forgets to eat.  But the families precious orbit and loving satellite system is different. When we need each other, we all have to remember. We all have to be there. His stupid boy brain will settle down some day and he’ll remember to brush his teeth seven days in a row. Until then what’s important is he remembers  “Happy Chickens and the “Sexy Dolphin Dance.”

Are Christians Nice?

crossHuum. I know we are supposed be, but I keep running into folks who are devout Christians but they just aren’t very nice and that really throws me for a loop.

Nice sounds like such a wimpy,soft word, vacuous and lame but it’s a very important quality.

We all know what “nice” means but I looked it up just to be sure. Nice means “giving pleasure or joy.Kind, polite and friendly.”

We as Christians are supposed to be nice to everyone, not just people who are just like us.  I keep running into Christians who are not kind, friendly or polite to the boy at Sonic who is Goth and wears mascara.   They are not nice to the very effeminate, over weight boy who works at the Smoothie place. They are not friendly or kind to the woman in line at Walmart wearing the head scarf or the Hispanic man cutting their neighbors grass.

Parents and preachers, I think, need to teach the talented jocks, the beautiful mean girls and the cool kids that they are not acting like a Christian when they bully, taunt, tease and harass.

But some of the people, kids and adults, who are not kind, are still very quick to tell everyone they are Christians.

Here’s the thing. I believe God loves all those people previously mentioned, the Goth kid, the fat kid, the immigrant, the guy who just got out of prison, just as much as he loves you are me. And I think it breaks God’s heart when we are not “nice” to all of his children. Thankfully, God is not as picky about who he loves or we would all be in trouble.

Last week at WalMart the cashier was a 40 year old black man with a speech impediment.  He was slow and the lane was backing up because of his disability.  The woman in front of me, wearing a big silver cross, had to repeat something several times because he didn’t understand.  Then she looked at me, obviously annoyed, and rolled her eyes.  I wanted to punch her in the face.

Maybe she was a Christian but she was not a nice person.

But I think I have an idea.  Preachers, pastors and parents need to teach their children to be Christians and be nice. We need to stop assuming kids instantly understand being Christian means you are supposed to be nice, kind, friendly and polite….to everyone. We need to teach our children, from a very young age, that it is their duty, as a Christian, to be kind to teachers and hobos and waitresses, to those who serve the public and those of other races and beliefs,  to be kind to everyone, not just to people who are like us or we agree with. And we should do that because Jesus asked us to.

I know I fall short every day. I get mad at myself sometimes when I act ugly. There’s a guy  who works in a store I frequent. He drives me CRAZY, I mean really really bugs me. I just want him to stop talking and stay out of my space. But that’s my problem, not his fault and I have to remind myself that God loves him just as much as he loves me.

And when you see the goth kid, with the giant gauges in his ears, holes big enough to put a shot glass in, the big gold ring in his eyebrow and tattoos all over his body…..God loves that boy too, just as much as he love you.

When you see the kid with the tank top and jeans sagging down so low you can see his red checked boxers, running across the street, against the light. You might not agree with his fashion decisions but God loves that guy a whole lot too, just  as much as he loves you.

Christians are supposed to be “Christ Like”  and Jesus was nice.

But I will try every day to teach my kids to be nice to their family, to those they love and those they don’t understand. Because we are all God’s children. So teach it and be it….Be Nice.



“Stop and Frisk” is for Idiots! or how to make kids hate cops forever

friskImagine for a moment that my son, Sandor, who is about to turn 14, his adorable girlfriend and his best friend, Sam  are walking down Central Avenue in Hot Springs, Arkansas.  It’s Saturday and they are going to see a 2 pm movie.  They laugh and push each other as they walk toward the movie theater.

A police officer pulls up next to them and gets out of the car.

“Hold up a second. I need to talk to you guys.”

Sandor looks at his phone, he doesn’t want to miss the movie.  His girlfriend suddenly  looks pale  nervous. She squeezes his hand. He squeezes back.

“I need to see some ID.”

They all shake their heads. “We’re only 14, we don’t have any ID. We’re just going to a movie.”

The officer smiles, but it’s not friendly.”Well, I guess you’re gonna be a little late late. We got a call about some kids spay painting a building just a few blocks from here. One of them is a blond. Where are you guys coming from?”

“Our house, right up the street.”

The questions go on and on an on.

“What’s the address?”

“Where are you going?”

“Who are your parents? Do they know where you are?”

“Where were you an hour ago?”

“Is that paint on your jeans?”

“Why are you in such a hurry?”

Sandor isn’t as nervous now, but he’s starting to get angry. “It wasn’t us, we’re going to the movie. Seriously. You can’t do this. We weren’t doing anything wrong.” He’s wondering, why is this cop hassling them?

“Yes sir,” the Officer says. ” I can do this. I need both you to put your hands on the back of my car.”

“Why?” Sandor asks and his girl friend starts to cry a little.

“Just do what your told, kid,” the cop says and pushes both boys against his car.  He kicks their legs apart, really wide.

The girl friend pulls out her phone and starts to call her dad but the police officer says, “Please put you phone away.” The girl does what she’s told.

The officer runs his hand up and down their legs, inside and out, around the waist band of their jeans. He reaches inside Sam’s boots, then checks the front pockets of their jeans and the pockets of their hoodies.

A car load of teenagers honk and holler as they pass by.

Then the officer gets a call on his radio. He says, “Don’t move” to the boys. Sandor is so mad and humiliated, he wills himself not to cry in frustration.  He wants to hug his girlfriend and tell her it’ll be ok.

He can read the words on the side of the police car “Protect and Serve.”He looks at Sam, he wants him to see those words too. But Sam is gone. His face is ashen  blank, absolutely empty. His eyes look as though he’s shut down.  Sandor knows that look. It’s how Sam looks when he’s beyond angry, when he’s thinking about revenge and getting even. It’s his game face. Sam never lets anyone see his real emotions. But he never forgets.

The officer returns, “Alright guys, your good to go. They picked up the kids working on another building. Stay out of trouble.” And then he’s back in his squad car and gone.

Sam and Sandor don’t know what to say. But now, at the age of 14, they both hate and fear cops.  The officer humiliated, embarrassed and violated them. He made them feel weak and powerless in front of the entire town, in front of the girl, and for no reason. This feeling will never leave the boys.

That’s what the “Stop and Frisk” policy does to young men. I understand it might lead to a lot of arrests. But      “Stop and Frisk” will to turn an entire generation of African Americans, Muslims, Hispanics and whites kids against law enforcement. The officers will never be trusted or respected. Just feared and hated.  And that’s not what cops want.

“Stop and Frisk” is a lazy and easy way to make arrests. But it will destroy any hope of having minority communities work with the police.

Our Law Enforcement Officers deserve better and our young people will demand better, or seek their revenge for being humiliated.


  • This story is one hundred percent a work of fiction.