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Archive for the ‘Confession’ Category

*Rabbit Hole Warning. This will be a long, kind of meandering post, but I think exploring something worthwhile. There are about 500 maybes toward the end, precisely because I just don’t know. I’m re-reading it and think it kind of stinks, but hey, how crappy would it be for me to delete this, of all posts?

Maybe I’m wrong, but the perplexing thing about openness is it doesn’t seem like a reflex these days. It takes work to be open — truly honest and open, with no shield.

Before I go further, let’s define “open,” particularly the levels and types. Being open as a government means something different than it does to be open as a friend, spouse or co-worker, than it does to be open as a leader, community or other group of people.

For the purposes of this post, I’ll focus on interpersonal relationships (though some of the ideas can apply to other kinds of relationships.) That’s where many of the ideas come from, and openness is valued within them because the degree to which you’re open roughly correlates with the degree of closeness you have.

And it works for all kinds of 1-to-1 relationships.

As colleagues, if you’re open, you can form healthy working relationships built on respect. You respect another’s role and job, you give constructive criticism and praise when you think it’s merited. You work toward a common goal if you have one. You do not act dishonestly in an effort to advance your own agenda.

As friends or family, if you’re open, you share stories, random thoughts and emotions, offer support for problematic times, develop unique relationships based on shared experiences — maybe even your own language. The degree to which that’s true depends on how good a friend/close a family member the other person is, and it’s certainly not true in all cases. But generally, you can be open because these people will not run away screaming.

For spouses, the same is true, just with an added level of intimacy. Lovers or sex partners don’t necessarily need a deep friendship history, but in any sexual relationship, openness and honesty are needed, just as respect is needed. You cannot arrive at enthusiastic consent without being open. There’s no room for ambiguity, and if there is ambiguity, that should be your signal not to move forward.

With that said, it’s also pretty easy to identify barriers to openness. Let’s start with a big one.

Lies

This is an incredibly broad category. There are big lies, like telling a potential employer, “Sure, I went to Harvard law school.” And of course, there are small, so-called white lies. Fibs like, “I’d love some dessert,” when you’re rather full.

Either way, they’re usually used for some personal gain — whether it’s staying in someone’s good graces, to placate somebody, to extract some benefit from a situation, to avoid an unpleasant situation.

You ever say, after eating the meal a friend made, “Eh, that was okay”? Likely not, because you’re supposed to say it was good even if it wasn’t, and you’re supposed to soften any criticism you do have as a matter of politeness. But that only gets you off the hook, while the friend isn’t really sure what to think, and that doesn’t help. (Though, that’s not to say that you have to be a jerk when you’re honest.)

The lie is also active; you have to say something blatantly untrue. That’s not the case for another type of obstacle toward openness.

Hiding the truth

I can remember several incidents during my childhood where my parents would get very frustrated trying to extract information from my brother, who was an exceptionally well built secret pinata as a kid. You’d hit it with a question, and only a few pieces of candy would fall out. Ask another question, and few more pieces fall. Eventually you’d want to blast it with a mighty swing.

He wasn’t telling outright lies. He told the truth, but it was sometimes not the complete truth.

Many people have done this, and for a person too smart for his or her own good, this can seem like a loophole. But it’s just shitty.

Let’s not leave me out of this. I’ve done it. Hell, I was called an enigma in college because I was unreadable and shared little with anybody. I’ve hidden details because I’m too embarrassed to admit them, to avoid uncomfortable situations and prevent me from hurting someone.

Except, the hiding hurts more.

By hiding your thoughts or facts, you’re closing the door. You’re saying you trust someone only so much, value closeness with that person only so much. You’re saying you’d rather have them wonder and wait than hash something out, than say something that might be uneasy for them to hear. You’re choosing security of self over mutual understanding. And you’re not respecting the other person’s ability to handle the truth.

Do this enough and people will quit on you. You can’t hide and still be someone’s good friend, a good family member, spouse colleague or lover.

Another form of hiding occurs when you just keep silent. You’re not trying to be secretive, but you start to ignore and reduce communication, drifting out of the relationship slowly but surely.

No, you don’t have to be super close to everybody you meet. And there are times when it’s proper to stay closed. For instance, if somebody came up to the A Woman’s Place table during an event, all agitated and asking questions about the shelter, I’d shut down or notify the proper authorities.

But that’s not the type of relationship I’m writing about. Generally, lack of openness isn’t a good pretense.

So why does it seem like there are so many instances of people not being completely open and honest?

Maybe we’re not used to it as a society. Maybe we’re largely selfish and figured out, by accident or experience, that we can lie or hide truths for personal gain and get away with it pretty easily. Maybe it’s not even that extreme.

Maybe we figure we can put off the honesty until later, when the awkward is thick and we have to cut it down with openness. Even when people are able to be open with each other, there are sometimes periods when people aren’t, and the anxiety starts to build. They hide, if momentarily. And while it’s good to clear the air, you ever think about why it needs to be cleared in the first place?

Really, maybe it’s because being open requires you to be uncomfortable and vulnerable sometimes, to take chances and risk making somebody upset. Maybe it’s because having a truly open relationship requires both parties or people being open.

And by open, I don’t mean open like a water tap, where all your thoughts stream out, one after the other in a deluge of words. Open doesn’t mean talkative.

Open means accessing your true thoughts and emotions and sharing them. It means taking a moment to quiet yourself so you can search inside and pull out something true, it’s getting the words past your throat when they’re ready.

Because to be candid rather than canned is worth it, and necessary for a strong relationships, even if it takes work not to pass on the moment of honesty. Honestly.

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The last thing I want to write about now or any time is Facebook. But this weekend is forcing my hand. I have seen numerous people on Facebook change their profile pictures in the last few days, and it didn’t dawn on me why, at first. Of course, today being Mother’s Day, the new pictures were of people and their moms. It’s interesting to see, mostly because there’s only a 30 percent chance their moms will ever see those pictures on Facebook.

I don’t have a picture like that on my hard drive. But I do have a picture like that in my mind. And in my possession, after some searching.

The snapshot was taken the weekend I moved into an apartment my sophomore year of college. It’s a little trippy to look at it because it captures a moment about eight years old, now, but the photograph doesn’t seem so old that it crosses into nostalgia.

I look relatively the same now as I did then. I’m still the same height. I still have the same build, the same tiny neck and long, narrow face. I’m not sure why I chose to look like an official at a swim meet — navy blue shorts and a white polo shirt — but the photo version of me is still very close to who I am now. My mom is also relatively the same. Same hair style, same attire she might wear now.

It’s not the type of photo that causes embarrassment or elicits an “oh my god” because you looked so absurd way back when. Because it’s not way back when.

We had just finished moving me in and decided to take a picture before she drove back home. So we quickly posed behind the rented van we used to tote all my garbage around, her hand around my waist, my hand on her shoulder. I had to lean slightly because I’m so much taller. The dusk light still allows you to see a sheen of sweat caused by a day of moving in late-summer heat.

And of all the pictures I’ve seen of me and my mom together, this is my favorite. I don’t know why.

It’s tempting for me to write about the symbolism of the photo’s elements.

I could say the dusk represents — and prepare to cringe — the end of another summer break and another move, which leads to the dawn of a new school year. But I’ve moved many times since then, and many seasons have changed, notably and unremarkably.

I could argue I like it because it captures a good time, and we’re both truly happy at that moment. I had spent the summer getting my priorities straight after an irresponsible freshman year. So the moment shows me ready to be grown up, at long last. But the truth is, you could find this same quality in pictures from many stages of my life, and I was irresponsible in some ways in the following years.

I could tell you that I had a close relationship with my mom at the time of the photo. But we’ve been close for a long time. I can remember my mom handing me a small notebook during my senior year of high school and telling me to write my thoughts down. That, as much as anything, set me on the path toward being a writer. And I can remember moments of tumult occurring after the picture was taken.

I’d be reaching with all those explanations.

What might get more to the point is something that always strikes me about the photo, which is how easy it seems.

It’s a nice photograph. We both have nice smiles and we’re looking at the camera, and it’s as picturesque as you can get with a Chrysler Town & Country minivan in frame. But more than that, the stances are natural. It’s not stiffly posed or forced. Hand and arm here, hand and arm there.

And maybe that’s the appeal — that without being privy to any context clues or facial features, I can tell that’s me and my mom. That’s an ability she made possible, and that’s an ability I’m incredibly privileged to have.

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Today is International Women’s Day, and also Feminist Coming Out Day. Well, I have hesitated to say it before, but I am a feminist. Yes, I am. Why? Well, why not? Why would I not be in favor of striving to live in a society in which women’s accomplishments or failures are not attributed to the fact that they are women, in which they actually earn as much as men for equal work, in which they are not constantly judged for their looks, in which they have full control of their own bodies, in which society does not tell them certain jobs are for them, in which gender roles are not thrust upon them from birth, in which they have the freedom to embrace anything and not be put down or shut out, in which even progressive men do not get to decide what’s good for women, in which it would not be notable to have a female president or CEO or senator because it happens frequently, in which victim-blaming does not exist?

As a man and a feminist, I have to recognize how my privilege directly relates to ways in which women are disadvantaged in society. So as I sit here and declare that, yes, I am feminist, allow me to let you know what this feminist has looked like across the years.*

(*Trigger warning — Not sure if it’s necessary, but better to be safe.)

Fifteen years ago

I’m in grade school. During recess, the guys usually played some sport, because that’s what middle school-age boys do during recess. Except for that one girl, who usually joined us when we played soccer. She had shorter hair and liked to play hard, and I’m not exactly sure where she fit in. She didn’t display characteristics we had been taught were female, and she couldn’t be a boy. And if you didn’t fit into that binary, well, you weren’t doing gender roles properly.

Ten years ago

I’m a junior in high school, sitting in Latin class, having just finished a hard exam for a hard AP course. The kid next to me remarks that he punched a hole in the exam and raped it. This was an all-male Jesuit place that bred class and male privilege, including in me. Not everybody displayed that behavior, but I wish now that we had been introduced to feminist principles when we talked about becoming men freshman year. I wish I had recognized what an awful thing that exam remark was, and said something.

Eight years ago

I’m a freshman in college, on the phone with a girl I’m sort of seeing. She said that her friend had been taken advantage of by my friend, both of whom were drunk after a party. I don’t know if it’s true or not, but I didn’t speak to that friend again. This was about a year after a good friend told me of her sexual assault through coercion, and also my first real introduction to drunken hookup culture — an innocuous name for something with real problems and, often, lack of consent.

The girl on the phone also mentions that her name is based upon the fact that her dad wanted a boy.

Later in that school year, there is a rape off campus. Later yet, a distraught girl asked me if I thought she was ugly because people had told her that so often.

Six years ago

My mom convinces my sister that she should major in a subject that will allow her to be financially stable. It’s a necessity she knows from experience, because you do not want to put all your eggs in a partner’s basket only to have the weaving come undone.

Five years ago

I’m in my mom’s car, having just gotten off the train. Several hours earlier, my doctor told me over the phone that I had no testosterone in my whittled-down, emaciated body. Even he was shocked. It answered some questions about why I looked the way I did and raised quite a few more. I was so shaken I had to leave my internship for the day. So I boarded the train with dozens of other people and rode home alone. And when I got off that train and climbed into the car, I melted into my mother’s arms.

Here I was, a college graduate with two degrees, a grown dude, crying to my mom, wondering if I was a man.

Three years ago

I scoff when my sister tells me she wants to build a fence.

Two years ago

My sister’s in grad school in the city. She tells stories about guys rolling down their windows to throw cat-calls her way. She also tells stories about a gas station attendant who asks if she has a boyfriend, if she’d get out of the car to show off her body. She laughs. But I don’t know any guys who have to put up with that.

At this time I’m working in the newsroom of a sports news service, but I’m at home when a friend tells me there’s a video of Erin Andrews on the internet. And she’s naked. Turns out, it’s a video taken through the peephole of her hotel room by a stalker. People go on a victim-blaming spree, saying that Andrews does tend to wear revealing outfits, much like they blamed her when some hack reported that she wore a sundress to a summer baseball game.

A year ago

I start to read Jezebel regularly. I’d wasted many hours on Gawker, and only occasionally flipped over to Jez. But the more I visit, the more I tend to want to visit. It starts to influence how I think about things, and I start to think about feminism and gender roles more and more, also because I have a very good friend who thinks about them as well. We talk about them a lot.

Still, the stories come. During the span of a few weeks in the fall, I deal with stories involving a Florida football player who texts his girlfriend that it’s “time to die,” a Mets pitcher who violates a restraining order by texting his girlfriend dozens of times, a quarterback who texted pictures of his penis to a woman, and a quarterback who is accused of sexual assault for the second time. During the same football season, TV Azteca reporter Ines Sainz gets blamed for wearing a tight shirt and jeans into a football locker room. She apparently forgot her burqa. Co-workers refer to women’s college basketball games as “the bitches.”

This year was the tipping point. I started this site to write about some of this, and think about volunteering at a domestic violence shelter. While investigating how to volunteer with one organization, I discover that its site has an escape button that automatically leaves the web page. In what sort of world is this even necessary? I start to volunteer.

*****

This doesn’t even scratch the surface of feminist issues throughout the world, but all the episodes have helped shape how I think. I view feminism mostly through a sports prism at the moment, because that’s what I deal with on a daily basis, though I continue to hear personal stories from friends and read a great amount.

So what does this feminist look like? Someone who wasn’t always one, who has been terribly wrong and full of male privilege. But one who does not think feminism = man-hating, one who has used principles of feminism to resolve body-image issues, and one who is still learning about it every day, committed to being progressively better. Because I am a man after all, not a hero, not a savior or anything like that. Just a small piece in the feminist puzzle. To paraphrase Tony Porter, my being a complete man depends on each woman being a person, as I am.

Today

Someone in my newsroom mentions that ESPN announcer Doris Burke should stick to announcing women’s basketball. When I press him on the issue, he admits he’s never listened to her call a game.

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Build that fence.

Whenever I write about feminism, or volunteer for a domestic violence organization I recently got involved with, or argue with friends or co-workers or random old men in bathrooms* about feminist issues, or explain to someone why I got into any of this, I think about how authentic or honest I’m actually being.

Mostly it’s when I write. I can’t write unless I have authority over my words and ideas. It’s not that I need to present one flawless idea or thesis in everything I write. I waffle. I waffle a lot. But I do need to have conviction that whatever words and ideas I write accurately represent me, as a person and an actor in everyday life.

But words and ideas are malleable, and you can squeeze them to look like anything you want them to look like — or more directly, you can write about yourself in ways that you think you are like, or that you want yourself to look like. Even though you type the words yourself, you can make them lie.

And so I wonder if I have ever done this with regard to feminism. Have I ever written something, then turned around and acted in a non-feminist way, rendering my words hypocritical at worst, or at least preachy? I have also wondered this after volunteering. I recently worked a booth for the organization at a bridal show, and spent several hours talking to brides-to-be, mothers, boyfriends, and sisters about our organization.

That is a huge amount of trust to put in a person who you are not paying. And I worried about it the whole day. Could I adequately answer questions? Could I actually help to this organization? It’s easy to sit in a room and talk about issues with a staffer and think you know everything about domestic violence and the power/control wheel. It’s another thing to speak extemporaneously about it. It’s easy to sit and read a story about a flagrantly non-feminist action. It’s another thing to apply feminist principles to all of your words and actions.

Because for me, feminism is not ingrained, not yet. I’m not alone in this regard, and as personal struggles go, this is a minor one. It’s up to me to make thinking about things in a feminist way a reflex, it’s up to me to make my actions feminist, it’s up to me to learn and soak up information. It’s up to me to use what information I’ve learned in a positive way.

Yet, a year is not long enough to do that, and it’s not a seamless transition. I will occasionally say something that is, to some degree, misogynist or not a good feminist reaction. I will occasionally write something soaked in male privilege. I will immediately correct those mistakes when I realize I have screwed up. But that’s the reflex I have to unlearn. Hey, I went to a Catholic grade school, an all-male Jesuit high school. I’m male, I’m cisgender. And I never thought about much in a feminist way until the last year.

Because of that, I wonder if I’m being phony when I write about something from a feminist perspective. Phony is probably too dramatic a word. I have the ability to identify if many things are misogynist, and certain phrases now get my feminist radar beeping. And I am not dishonest in my pursuit of being feminist. I physically cringed when several people suggested that volunteering would be a great way to meet women. That would be an unforgivable betrayal.

But I am no expert. So the idea that I’m not being authentic occurs at the intersection of Developing Feminist Ave. and Being A Writer Blvd. Am I still able — still allowed — to write about feminism if I am not in every moment feminist?

I’ll withhold answering that question to explain why I have the reservations I do. And it has to do with my sister and a fence.

I’ve always tried to be nice and polite, even if I know there are times in which I’ve not been a respectful person. This is not to say that I have always been an aggressively misogynist asshole. But I’ve been judgmental. I’ve been an asshole. Well, let’s take my sister.

We’ve been told we look like twins, and even though I’m more than two years older, there are times when this could pass as true — mostly when the same thought passes through our heads at the exact same moment. We have a gigantic mental library of inside jokes, and it’s fantastic. To be honest, her library is much better, and her ability to mimic voices is legendary in these parts. She could imitate a kaleidoscope. I don’t laugh out loud a whole lot and I don’t giggle a ton, but when I do, there’s a good chance she’s the cause.

And I have not always treated my sister as well as she should be treated.

We went to the same college, and even though I was two years ahead, I am extremely glad she chose the same school. For one, she definitely enjoyed the place. So regardless of my being there, I’m happy she had fun as an undergrad, and I’m happy she met her best friend — truly, her best friend — there. That’s worth the price of tuition itself. But also, my senior year pushed me to my mental and physical limits. And occasionally we’d get together for a little reprieve — cooking something in my apartment, bumming loads of laundry in her building. She could tell me a story about how she got contact high and ABSOLUTELY REQUIRED CAKE that was in her fridge. Whatever, really. They were nice and fun times.

And I once told my sister that her outfit made her look like a nun or librarian. My family frequently makes fun of how people look, but that was cruel.

We once shopped for accessories for her to wear to Atlantic City. This was after I acted as a pseudo-consultant for her outfit, and said she shouldn’t give a damn about what other people’s reactions were to what she wore, or how it came off to people she didn’t know. As long as she felt good and wanted to rock it, then that’s all that matters. That was recently. This past year, in fact.

And about two and a half or three years ago, I told her she couldn’t build a fence.

She brought up the idea that she wanted to replace one that time has turned into a tangled twist of metal. Support posts are missing, crossbars are bent and disconnected. It doesn’t fence anything in, anymore. And she was extremely excited about this possibility. My reaction was a mixture of incredulity, disbelief, and presumptuousness.

Had she ever installed a fence before? No. Had I? Also no. So why was my reaction so negative? Because she’s a girl?

If I had suggested replacing the fence, I would have expected for people to take me seriously, and if not seriously, then at least like it’s something I could feasibly do. It’s not like she was 10 years old and suggesting this. She was a grown person. There might have been other factors, but I don’t think that reflex — the instant criticism and judgment that she would not have been successful — would have kicked in if she was instead a similarly aged male brother or cousin.

It was a terrible reaction, just like any other time I’ve suggested, through actions or words, she wouldn’t be able to do something not considered feminine. Just like any other time I’ve gone ahead and done something, rather than explain it to her like an actual human being. I can’t recall these moments offhand, but I’ll bet you she can. Just like she can remember having to act unnaturally pleasant because that’s how people expect her — and women, in general — to act if she doesn’t want to be considered a bitch.

I’ve kept moments like that in mind over the last year, so when she asks me about her outfit, I don’t pass judgment. So when we’re outside getting ready to put up Christmas lights, I don’t presume she can’t use the hedge trimmer.

And I’m not perfect about it. As long as I’m trying my best to have a fully functional feminist reflex, and as long as I’m trying to get others to do the same, that’s the best I can do. So does that mean I’m not able to write about feminism and observations of non-feminist behavior? Well, no. That would be absurd and it wouldn’t help anyone. Nobody’s flawless. But maybe it just means that for as often as I use this site as a microscope to examine others, I should put myself under the cover slip.

*****

(*This past Friday night, I attended a college formal. Well into the night, I went to the bathroom only to find an older guy chatting it up, making Guy Talk. The dude had to be about 55 years old. He said, “The way these girls are dressed, if you can’t get laid tonight, you’re queer.” I talked back, saying something like, “Yeah, because obviously we’re just entitled to sleep with anybody wearing something revealing.” I have no idea if he heard me, or if I added anything else. But geez, what a creep.)

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You know, there aren’t too many people who write about Valentine’s Day, and as someone who is on the cutting edge, I feel obliged to blaze this trail. This is especially true now, a few days after the fact, and about 24 hours since the department store gremlins have snatched up every trace of Valentine’s Day merchandise. The shelves are completely scrubbed.

But anyway, there’s nothing wrong with giving yourself a little time to reflect. Life isn’t a daily paper; everything written doesn’t need to have immediate news value. In this case, I’m reflecting on something I decided to do for Valentine’s Day, something I’ve wanted to do for the last eight years or so, but didn’t have the means or the opportunity to do until this year.

I bought a bouquet of muted white roses Sunday night, and stashed them out of view in my basement, with the idea of going Kris Kringle the following day. Late that night, I placed one in my mom’s car, and one in my sister’s car. Monday afternoon I tied three together, and stuck them in the door handle of a friend who lives maybe 200 yards away, as the bird flies. Yes, I did type that. But the house is a few streets away, across a creek from my house. The three roses were for her, her mom, and a friend. Today I made another delivery. All of these were anonymous, though it didn’t take very long for them to figure out who did it. It’s a very OrangeRhymed thing to do.

Now, I didn’t do this out of romance. I did it for a few reasons, foremost of which was a desire to make some small gesture that I cared about these people. I also did it because I like sneaking around to give people small, cute surprises. And I also did it because I tend to take contrarian stances on social norms. While the most contrarian thing to do would have been to ignore the day, I can’t hate on it completely.

I don’t like the pressure that Valentine’s Day places on people, and don’t like how it’s commercialized love, and how it’s the one day out of the year designated to express your love (when you can and should do that any day), and how it enforces very specific societal roles.

But at the very least, it is an opportunity to show someone you care. And if you do that throughout the year, through actions and words, it’s fine. So I took the opportunity.

Yet…

Always a yet. I thought about what those gestures say in terms of gender or sex roles. I gave the roses to women only. Even though I had no romantic intent, what I did matched what society expects of heterosexual men on Valentine’s Day. It’s a very cisgender action, but it doesn’t strike me as very feminist in retrospect.

If my goal was to express something to people I care about, I got it only half right. Making those gestures to just women means I either have romantic intent or I am treating them as a separate class of people, in need of wooing or gentlemanly courtship, and I think it was the latter. This is not to say the individuals to whom I gave the roses did not want them — they all liked them, and I thought they would. That’s why I did it.

But not every woman wants flowers on Valentine’s Day, and not every woman wants to celebrate it. That’s why I limited the deliveries to those six women. And if I’m truthful, the amount of love I have for others, the love I have for friends and family, is not reserved exclusively for women.

So I need to rectify that. And I’ll start here.

My longest-lasting, non-familial friendships have been with a group of five men with whom I went to high school. We’ve been friends since freshman year, 1998. That’s about half my life. And yes, throughout college our correspondence wasn’t as heavy — I know I kind of dropped off the map. But we did stay in touch, got together on holiday breaks, and hang out when we have the chance. We’ve written a server’s-worth of e-mails since about 2006, and I’m responsible for a lot of that. I’ve been a groomsman for two of them, and will be in two more weddings this year. While I don’t talk with them in person every day, I still care about them and what’s going on in their lives.

I also recognize, and care about, how they’ve helped me. For instance, I remember the first time I felt comfortable enough to open up about personal problems. It was around 2003 or 2004, and I was riding back from the shore with one of them. I have no idea what transpired that weekend, but I’m sure it was a laugh riot, maybe even a slight shitshow. Our get-togethers tend to center around playing poker, making hilarious jokes at each others’ expense, drinking, and talking about sports. And they really are fun times.

So we’re driving back — we lived near one another and car-pooled sometimes — and I wasn’t saying much, now that the fun was over. I have a feeling I was probably just looking out the window, thinking. And he simply asked me what was going on in my life, providing space and understanding for what I had to say. And I really appreciated it. Still do.

While I will not be delivering any of them flowers — it’s not something I think any of them, as individuals, would want — I will take the belated opportunity to express a bit of thanks that we are all still friends, 13 years after starting our high school journey.

I will also take the belated opportunity to say I am thrilled to pieces that their lives are going pretty damn well, all things considered. And I’d be first in line to help if they needed it.

They’re as deserving of those gestures as anyone else, and hardly the only ones. The same sentiment applies to my brother and grandfather, wonderful men both. But with that said — and I hope it’s sufficient — Happy Valentine’s Day, fellas.

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