Bad Jonny: A Vignette

On the train last week I saw a young man sitting at the end of the aisle.

He looked to be in his mid-twenties, and his blue jeans, black jacket, and navy Nikes were nondescript. His red-blonde hair was long and slicked back, curling around his neck and the collar of his coat. He had five or six day old scruff, mostly covered by the bandaids and gauze on his nose and cheekbones.

In one of my stories . . .


“Jonny, someday you’re going to be someone great.” His mother turned from the sink full of dishes to look at her eight-year-old. What she saw was normal—he was laying on the kitchen table with his arms hanging off the edge and his head dangling over. He was swinging his arms and humming, only she knew he was listening because he sang when he wasn’t.

Ten years later, after his last high school orchestra concert—as first violin—he was voted “Most Likely to Succeed” by the graduating class of East Rivermouth High School.

Four years after that, he graduated from an esteemed university with his BFA in Violin Performance, and took an internship with the Seattle Symphony.

Three years later, he was living in a studio apartment above a Vietnamese restaurant on the north side of Chicago, working mornings at a diner and evenings as a security guard at Chicago museum.

Things had been promising at the Seattle Symphony, until the conductor’s granddaughter took an interest in Jonny. The conductor, zealously passionate for his granddaughter’s career (not her love interests), released Jonny with little explanation and less goodwill.

The professional violin industry is highly competitive, and when Jonny fell down the steps and broke his hand moving out of his Seattle apartment, it sealed his fate. Unwilling to tell his parents, he moved in with a cousin in Chicago, where he scraped together a living and developed a nasty temper. He didn't sing anymore. And his attempts to play the violin always ended with him slamming the case shut angrily.

His coworker at the museum, an elderly man who mumbled a lot and chewed tobacco when he thought no one was watching, took a vague interest in Jonny. Whenever he saw him coming, he muttered,

“Bad Jonny. You bad.” Jonny’d lost his temper once at work and slammed a glass on the floor—the old man helped him clean it up before anyone saw.

This morning, Jonny was at the diner when the Seattle Symphony conductor came in. Without thinking, Jonny swung a fist at the old man. Shocked but savvy, the old man swung right back, hitting Jonny’s nose which gave a loud crack.

Several punches and two minutes later, Jonny was on the street, out of a job and dejected.

That night, when he arrived at the museum with a bandaid covered face, the old man took one look at him and said,

“You bad, Jonny. You bad.”

Three Rules for Driving in Chicago Traffic

Most people are prompted to write because they have some terrible experience or because they have a burning message in their heart they need to share.

In my case, it’s a little of both.

On Saturday, Curtis (he’s very wonderful) and I drove into Chicago from the suburbs. Since it was rush hour, the drive that should have taken us one hour took us two.

By the end of the trip—though I’m neither prone to fits of rage, nor inclined to acts of anger—I was having a rather tortured experience. You know the feeling: when you sit for 20 minutes in a line of cars at a traffic signal and just when you’re about to go through, a speeding car cuts you off. It inspires some grim emotions.

What if, instead of looking out for their own gain in driving, people were thinking about each other?

Ground rules for driving in traffic and in general:

Be Smooth
Growing up, my sister gave me one ground rule for driving: imagine you’re balancing a glass of milk on your head, and drive accordingly. AKA, your grandma doesn’t want to get whiplash from the half-mile drive to the grocery store.

Be Shrewd
Think you can make the light, but you’re not quite sure and there’s a semi speeding toward the intersection? Practice critical thinking. For everyone except the man himself, driving is not a time to be padding the Evel Knievel section of your resume.

Be Courteous
If you’re letting cars in on purpose instead of trying to keep them out and waving your hand angrily when you get cut off, it pays in two ways. 1) You don’t get a rage ulcer from repeatedly not getting your way, and 2) good will begets good will. If everyone is being kind to the other drivers on the road, everyone will get receive positive benefits from it.

If every Chicago driver lived by these rules, we’d have fewer accidents, fewer heart attacks, and fewer gray hairs.

The Third Sunday of Advent: Joy

Gaudete Sunday—the Latin word Gaudete means rejoice.


Shout with joy and gladness,
let rejoicing fill the earth;
make songs reach to each abyss—
to proclaim the Infant’s birth.

Clang the bell,
sound the horn,
hear the knell
this early morn.

Cry hallelujah in your town,
dance to welcome baby-King;
men of old, of great renown
worship Him with gifts they bring.

Shepherds, worthy of not much,
race to town to see new Lad;
reaching stable with fervor such
they tell the city to be glad.

And always, angels, back to them,
shouting, each, To all good news,
a babe is born in Bethlehem!
He came as king for you to choose.

Rejoice, rejoice, now on this day,
the King is here, He’s come to stay.

Until the time when it is right,
when He wins battle, war, and fight.


With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation. And you will say in that day: “Give thanks to the Lord, call upon his name, make known his deeds among the peoples, proclaim that his name is exalted. Sing praises to the Lord, for he has done gloriously; let this be made known in all the earth. Shout, and sing for joy, O inhabitant of Zion, for great in your midst is the Holy One of Israel.”

For you shall go out in joy and be led forth in peace; the mountains and the hills before you shall break forth into singing, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands.


Why You Should Love Doing Laundry

I looked up poems about doing laundry, but found mostly stream of consciousness rants from disenchanted housewives.

Being neither disenchanted, nor possessing an articulate stream of consciousness by this time of night, here instead is a list of all the reasons why you should love doing laundry.

Socks: If you wash your socks your feet won’t smell. That’s good, because if your feet smell, when you go bowling and trade in your shoes, it will ruin the taste of the pizza.

Jeans: Remember the day you called in sick to work but actually walked around New York City in the rain? At the next company picnic, your boss might be suspicious when he sees the mustard stains, muddy hems, and little white spot where you sat on bird scat without realizing it.

Undershirts: Every once in a while, when you’re lifting chili or saucy wings to your mouth, a little bit might spill around the neck of your white shirts. If you wear that under your collared shirt to a job interview, it will be distracting. So distracting that your chances of getting a job may be ruined.

Under-other-things: this is just a good idea for hygiene etc.

Dress shirts: Everyone knows the middle school boy look—crumpled shirt with sweat stains around the armpits. It shouts, “I found this under the bed where I kicked it last time I took it off.” You’re thinking, if it’s fine for them, it’s fine for me. Here’s how you should decide if that’s right: are you in middle school?

Dresses: Unwashed dresses have a certain limp look to them, a look that whispers, “Four wears ago I was clean. Now I smell like musty deodorant.” And if you wear musty deodorant on a first date, the effect will likely be somewhat underwhelming.

Skirts: Wrinkles and spots: 0, Looking professional: 1. The best way to get a promotion is to look like you deserve it.

Dress pants: Dress pants are notorious for collecting white powder-ish stuff, which the casual observer might mistake for dandruff, which would interfere with their ability to make eye contact with you.

Sweatshirts: It’s hard to make an every-wear wash case for sweatshirts—but when you notice your sweatshirt smells a little funny, and has sticky drips on the front from where you ate ice cream in the dark, coffee spots on the sleeves, and a little engine grease from when you changed the oil, it’s time to wash it.

T-shirts: See Undershirts and Dress Shirts.

Many of the reasons that pressure you to do laundry are social and societal—and maybe it’s nice for everyone else if you don’t smell funny and have strangely shaped stains on your clothing.

But what’s really nice is putting on clean socks, fresh-smelling jeans, and a crisply ironed dress shirt.

And that’s really why you should love doing laundry.

The Second Sunday of Advent: Preparation

They wrote, The King is coming, a thousand years before,
He’ll bear the weight of government, royalty, and more;

He said, Your Offspring will crush head, of serpent and of sin,
And though times will be a-trying, the Offspring, He will win.

They heard the Ruler would be born in Bethlehem the small,
Arriving in a tiny town, He’d still be known by all;

Appearing to her one fine day, the angel spoke a word,
He said, Your baby will be holy, note, from God you’ve heard.

But the people were not ready, in Bethlehem that night,
For though they’d grown up hearing tales, they weren’t looking for the Light.

Packing streets, filling inns, eating all the food;
A stable full was all there was to set the birthing mood.

And when the Baby came along, just sheep beheld his face,
Asleep had gone the city, this Bethlehem-town place;

But full of glee, delight, and mirth at all that He had done,
God emptied heaven’s cities full, to herald newborn Son.

He sent the angels, one and all, to shepherds in the sand—
All preparing’s ended now, the King is in this land.

And just like that He came on in, after years of word and warning,
To signal night’s ending now, Him the beginning of the morning.


A voice cries: “In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord; make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low; the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain. And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”

Eight Classic Office Personalities

There’s a lot of high drama in an office environment. Combining a small space with tight deadlines is bound to bring out people’s real personalities fairly quickly.

What personalities, you wonder? I’m so glad you asked.

Social butterfly
Things you’ll often hear from the social butterfly:
My computer broke so I’m just wandering around talking to people.
What did you think about the new movie? I went to see it with three different groups.
I invited 270 people to my wife’s birthday party—wanna come?

Prickly nice guy
Though it’s a label with an identity crisis, there are people in the world who can grumble about projects or people in one breath and check to see if you’re doing okay in the next.

But I didn’t do it
If I’m walking with my eyes closed and you’ve got your back to me, and I walk into you and you drop hot coffee on my foot, it wasn’t me. No one listens to me, I’m misunderstood, and I didn’t break it.

Fashion connoisseur
A lot of people (okay, me. I’ll admit it) have 10 or 15 outfits that they cycle through week after week. But there are some people with special fashion taste that dive into their closet, dig out some clothes, and make new combinations every day. And they somehow always look straight-from-a-magazine good.

Endlessly consistent
Signs that you work with one of these:

  • Every time you schedule an event or plan something, it’s the exact same as the last one, and the one before that, and the one . . .

  • Whenever you see something they’ve done, you get déjà vu

  • Deviating from the norm is simply not an option

Staunch introverts
If there’s one thing that can really give ulcers to 80 percent of a crowd, it’s putting four staunch introverts in a room with one social butterfly. Side note: though they say opposites attract, in this case it’s not true.

Information bank
Everyone prides themselves for different talents, but these people have a special talent for nosing into information, keeping it all in their heads, and pulling it out whenever needed.

Who you know
Somewhere along the way, someone said it’s not what you know, it’s who you know—and really, what better excuse is there for missing a deadline: I was having coffee and crumpets with the boss.

A lot of life is spent learning how to work with people.

The process often lives on a sliding scale that can move from ‘miserable’ to ‘frustrating’ to ‘rewarding’ to ‘delightful’ in a manner of moments (words, really), depending on how an interaction is going.

When you’re working through something with someone who’s different from you—social butterfly and staunch introvert go on eight-hour car trip to a sales conference—remember that you have as many idiosyncrasies as they do. Remember that you both need bountiful grace, and at times, neither of you will deserve it.

And remember that one of the great joys in life is overcoming relational difficulties and learning how to get along. Maybe even becoming friends, if you’re feeling crazy.

The First Sunday of Advent: Hope

Advent: a season of prayer, fasting, and hope to prepare for the coming of Christ Jesus (from the Latin adventus, meaning “arrival, appearance”)


Birds cry, sunshine shouts, the wind whistles exuberance;
but I, dredged down from sin,
shame, scorn, guilt,
cannot raise my weary head.

Morning brings joy, again and again, but I have no room;
instead it’s a daily reminder of my pain,
insufficiency, heartbreak, failures,
1,000 reasons over not to try again.

And when I thought that all was lost, and the tunnel had no end;
suddenly, with most inconvenient clangor—
light in the darkness, shouts in the hills, cries of a mother—
Something more appears.

Something foreign:
constant, holy, kind.
And it seems He just might be
the answer to all our pain.

It seems He just might bring
hope.


But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose coming forth is from of old, from ancient days. . . . And he shall stand and shepherd his flock in the strength of the Lord, in the majesty of the name of the Lord his God. And they shall dwell secure, for now he shall be great to the ends of the earth.

And he shall be their peace.

Lolita and The Fur: A Vignette

This week as I was walking to the store to buy groceries, a tall woman ambled along in front of me. Her deep brown fur coat reached from shoulder to calf. Six inches of her purple pants showed, and the shade of her brown fur cap matched the coat perfectly. When she turned to cut across the street, I was surprised to see that she was wearing enormous sunglasses. It wasn’t sunny.

On her, the fur coat was serving pure functionality, blocking the cutting wind on a 20 degree day.

But in one of my stories . . .


Lolita Franks, 55 and unhappily wed to Ted, had wanted just one thing her adult whole life: a fox fur coat. Unfortunately, year after year Ted paid no attention to her longing sighs and the magazine articles strategically left by the TV remote, in the cabinet near the chips, and on the back of the toilet.

Christmas Eve repeatedly found Lolita casting curious glances at the often large parcels under the tree—and the early morning light of December 25 caught her wearily trying to smile as she pulled yet another set of pillows or a potted plant from a poorly wrapped box.

Ted tried to be a good husband, really, he did. He didn’t cause any trouble—where other men came home late and fought with their wives, Ted came home early and spent the rest of the daylight in the garage with his tools. He loved tools. Often he just sat with them. After dinner, he watched TV quietly without making any commotion, except when his favorite team lost a game. Then he moped and grumbled for two days.

Lolita had long since given up on trying to make her marriage successful. Ted provided for her, she cooked for him, and they coexisted peacefully—not happily.

Her friends always asked Lolita why she didn’t just buy herself a fur coat. She’d sigh wistfully and say,

“It just doesn’t seem right.”

But she never cited the guilt and the real reason. It came up in the only fight they had, just once every few years. Things would go from tense to terrible, each would become furious, and finally Ted would shout,

“You NEVER gave me children, so I’ll NEVER give you that DUMB coat you always hint about.”

And so Lolita became more wistful, and Ted more withdrawn, and their unhappy peacekeeping routine continued.

I wish Ted repented of his vindictiveness and forgave his wife’s inability to conceive. I wish Lolita grew the backbone to stick up for herself.

But neither did. And the cycle followed them into their late 70s. Finally, one November, the main window at Macy’s featured a beautiful fox fur floor length coat. And after Thanksgiving and a particularly nasty brawl, Lolita stormed out of the house and squealed the tires out of the driveway—which calmed her down a little because she was so surprised—and marched into Macy’s.

White wispy hair sticking straight out from her head, wrinkled cheeks burning red, untrimmed bushy eyebrows set stiffly pointing down—Lolita stalked to the front counter. The cashier took one look at her and edged his hand toward the panic button, but before he could press it she demanded the coat in the window. She plunked $7,000 cash firmly on the counter.

Ten minutes later the security officers followed at a distance as Lolita flounced proudly out of the store in her new purchase. Then she tripped over the curb and fell to the ground.

Even the new coat couldn’t save her from a broken hip. Ted came to get her, and his anger melted into compassion when he saw his wife, helpless. She got a hip replacement and never walked much again. But she kept the fur coat hanging in sight, and she wore it whenever she did out in any season and temperature.

She died ten years later, and Ted died three months after she did.

At their estate sale, one Bert Jamison bought the coat as a present for his niece, a spunky girl who had odd style.

She hated it, though, and never wore it. After she left for college, her mother donated it to Salvation Army.

And that’s where Mary Jones, the fur enthusiast shuffling down a Chicago street that cold November day, bought it for $25.99.


Winter in Chicago

Just like that—with the subtlety of a charging rhino, and pomp of the rich and famous—winter arrives in Chicago.

Every year it make a difference appearance. But it always brings a variety of behaviors, wardrobes, and sniffling noses.

And it always showcases a certain urban beauty.

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Sunday Thank-Yous—Pt. 5, conclusion

Sunday naps
Brisk (cold and fast) walks
New baby snuggles
Breakfast for dinner
Chocolate milkshakes
Love
Christmas jazz
Cheeseburgers
Snow in the forecast

Conclude this week of thankfulness with a list of things you’re thankful for—maybe make it a habit for every Sunday. Gratitude isn’t the answer to all life’s problems, but it’s a good reminder that we’re not in control and that God is good.

The LORD is righteous in all His ways and kind in all His works.