Secret stories.

There are a few things I know for sure about my five housemates, though we’ve never met despite my best efforts staking out the front door Halloween night. I know one woman leaves every morning at 5:24 for work. I know Girl Upstairs had a tumultuous friends-with-benefits relationship until she just couldn’t take it anymore and told him as much and felt better (singing-in-the-shower better).

But these are just snippets of life, and my insatiable nosiness teams up with wild imagination to craft secret stories for these folks — filling in the gaps with failed acting careers, pet tigers, witness protection program membership cards and alien abductions.

So here’s the thing about Neighbor Charles: He wears this old army cap and he’s skittish as that skinny stray Gray Cat who’s been lurking around the front porch. Charles has obviously been in the military — highly trained, high-level stuff. You can see it in his haunted eyes: premium security clearances, code names (his was “Plymouth Rock”), night missions in high country where the only sound was freezing cold wind and radio oldies stations pockmarked with static (KOOL 89.7 Classic Crooners of the Depression).

He’s been quietly dismissed to a northeast Cedar Rapids apartment complex with his “wife” — a former operative herself marooned here with Charles to make sure a secret kerfuffle with some top officials in Laos stays secret. Charles named his pet ferret Laos. Likes the way the a and the o sound one after another, though he remembers almost nothing from his time there — a manufactured memory loss, and the CIA is none too happy about that ferret.

Charles’ wife calls her supervisors on a phone shaped like a sailboat that sits on the front windowsill, silhouetted against delicate but opaque lace curtains in the evenings. There’s always a chance the skiff is just décor, but it’s a truth universally acknowledged toy boats are spy communication devices 99.3% of the time. For the most part these daily nautical updates consist of the mundane goings-on on 32nd Street: Charles raked leaves in the garage; he’s developed a passing friendship with the neighbor across the hall (this neighbor has been duly noted and codenamed “Goldenface”); he’s visited the neighborhood Dairy Queen twice this week, first for a plain vanilla waffle cone, then today for a more exotic chocolate swirl.

But Charles has been restless lately — breathing heavy like an overexcited bulldog and checking the front hall a dozen times a night before his 7:30 bedtime (a side effect of the memory erasure). It might just be a matter of weeks before Charles’ wife picks up the boat to call Supreme Captain Joe Biden and the pair must hop a ’copter out of CR in the middle of night — just like they left Truth or Consequences, NM, and historic Pilot Knob, MO.

To Be Continued.


This is cozy couch in winter music, primarily, though it could double (quadruple) as rainy spring morning music, summer sunset by the lake music or fall drives along the river music.

Magical thanking.

There’s a Joan Didion book called “The Year of Magical Thinking.” I’ve never read it (too sad), but the title’s pretty enchanting*, and it sums up the first 326 days of my 2012. Contemplating every person and opportunity, good meal and good walk I have to be grateful for this year is a little overwhelming. This much good fortune can only be the result of supernatural influences.

I’m thankful for my passport and for the ability and desire to travel.

I’m thankful for Cedar Rapids’ bike trails and all the people who’ve walked and cycled them with me this year.

I’m thankful for kindness and the endless demonstrations of it this year in ways large and small, including finding this button on the ground last weekend as a reminder:

I’m thankful for my job, where I’m excited by something, learn something new or meet someone wonderful every day.

Always, always I’m thankful for friends and family. This year, in particular, I’m thankful for my friend Annie, who’s working awfully hard and doing awfully good things as a speech-language pathologist/new dog owner/BFF. A, you’ve inspired me — this year and every year — to embrace change and trust and silliness and butternut squash. I’m so grateful for 14 years and weekly chats and that night I forgot the time difference and called you late because I was blue and needed to talk. Thank you for picking up right away. Also thank you for the baked tofu recipe yesterday.

Happy Thanksgiving!

* Other recent favorite titles include Junot Diaz’ “This is How You Lose Her,” the DFW bio “Every Love Story is a Ghost Story” and Shalom Auslander’s “Foreskin’s Lament.”


Weekend outing to Iowa’s only national park (technically “national monument” but what does that even mean?), Effigy Mounds. The trip’s best feature — besides the Native American history, cushy trail and panoramic views of the Mississippi (prime barge-watching for old-fashioned transportation fans!) — is Pedretti’s Bakery in a town half an hour south. Every outdoor adventure should start with a feast of sugar-encrusted gingerbread men and lemon cookies, melt-in-your-mouth soft and the most vivid yellow.

Sunset, 4:45 p.m.

You said the dusk sky made you feel optimistic. When it gets to that point about 27 minutes after sunset and the endless dome of it forms a lopsided colander with pinpoints of starlight peeking through the holes, just one edge revealing the watercolored yellow-pink-blue-black fading back from the horizon and our fugitive Star’s retreat.

You said driving into that horizon on an open road made you feel some kind of joy (whether that was the freedom of the road or the possibility of catching up with daylight, who could say?). Tonight we got two horizons—one above and one reflected on the lake below, spotted with ducks cackling like asylum residents and those bully geese I hate except when you’re around.

And we looked at the moon and noted its circumference and you were my sky half full.