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The Game


Eager and willing to do something new or challenging, i.e. she was game for anything. A secret and clever plan or trick, i.e. she was on to his little game.

Mammals hunted for sport.


Female at Birth

Page seven of the Minnesota Women’s Golf Association (MWGA) handbook lists tournament rules of eligibility. I read through to the last item and call my mother.

“Listen to this. Entries are open to amateur golfers who were female at birth. I’d say that’s a call to action.”

“To prove what?” she says.

It is mid May, and I’ve quit my job to go back to school. In September. I have never not worked, and this little book has arrived in my mailbox, in my hand, just at the onset of leisure-panic. “I don’t know what to do with myself.”

“Only you could make a summer off sound like punishment,” Mom says. “Sleep late. Clean your house. Visit me!”

I read on. There are four tournaments, each played on a course I’ve never set foot on. My husband, Rex, glides by and slaps at the pages with the back of his hand. “Play some golf. I sure as hell would if I were you.”

“Don’t listen to him,” Mom says, but as usual I ignore the very advice I’ve called to ask for.

“I’m just a casual golfer,” I say to Rex.

“You’re not a casual-anything. You’re a vicious competitor.”


I fill out all four entry forms.


Team Green

You used to think golf was for (a) the old-money country club set, decked out in their finest Polo and Burberry, and/or (b) the Caddyshacked retiree, clad in blue and orange plaid.

Then, a week shy of your twenty-fifth birthday, you took up the game because your new boss – let’s call him Dennis – told you to.

Dennis had promoted you from within the ranks to a management position in The Company. He summoned you to his office. You sat in a low-slung chair in his high-rise suite, with its inlaid marble floor, and squared off with him from across a span of mahogany so massive you thought you might need to shout. Dennis took the last drag off of his cigarette. He snuffed it out, lit another.

“I hear you’re not a golfer,” he said.

“Never played.”

“See this bright green logo?” He snatched up a piece of The Company’s letterhead and pointed to what you knew, if only you could see it from here, was its tony, downtown address. “We’re Team Green, and the team plays golf. Do you want to be part of the team or not?” It sounded like a question, but you knew better. It was the same tone he’d used in your final interview. “You’re a newlywed, right? If I give you this job, you’re not going to get pregnant are you?”

“You can’t ask me that.”

“I just did.”

“But you can’t.”

“Right. Do you want the fucking job or not?”


Overly Zealous Competitors

The MWGA’s first tournament is a two-day event, and Rex takes off work to caddy for me. In the parking lot of Island View Golf Club, I lean against the car bumper and force my feet into brand new, spiked shoes. It feels a bit like the first day of school.

Golf courses are typically overrun with men. Not here. The few men I see are caddies, on hand to serve the hordes of women stalking the grounds like crocodiles, checking out their competition. It is dead quiet.

“Man, these girls look serious,” Rex whispers. “You’ve got balls, I’ll give you that. You couldn’t pay me to do this.”

On the first tee I meet Lynn, my playing partner for the day. Lynn is friendly and chatty. I play well. I play well, that is, until hole #12 where I over-swing and hook my tee shot towards a Spotter by the trees. My ball disappears into the woods, so I re-tee and hit a provisional ball into the fairway.

I walk to the Spotter. “You can look for your first ball,” he says, “but if you find it you have to play it. Or (he draws out the or) you can abandon it and play the provisional.”

He winks, I think.

Back in the fairway, Friendly Lynn is hovering like a stealth fighter over my provisional ball. “You can’t ask the Spotter for advice,” she says.

“I didn’t ask for any.”

“If I report it, you’re disqualified.”

“I didn’t ask for any.”

“I’ve been to Rules School. It’s an automatic DQ. If you abandon your first ball you should run up here and hit this one immediately. If I were an overly zealous competitor, I could choose to look for your lost ball, even though you’ve abandoned it, and if I found it before you hit the provisional, the first ball would be ‘in play’ and you would have to play it whether you liked it or not.”

Did she just say ‘overly zealous’?

I finish my first day in last place, and the darkening sky starts to sprinkle. Overnight, it pours.

At seven a.m., Rex and I don our rain gear and stuff my golf bag full of towels. He says, “The course will be a mess. They won’t let you play in this.”

We play.

My feet are soaked the instant I step on the course, and I notice my fancy new shoes have open-mesh vents. On the tee, I say hello to my two playing partners for the day. It is our last conversation.

For the next five and half hours, it rains, and these women walk separate from me, as chummy and giggly as schoolgirls. It’s like that time in the ninth grade, I think, when the popular girls decided to teach me a lesson (for what, who can remember) and banned me from their lunch table.

“These are some really nice ladies,” Rex says, fishing for a laugh he doesn’t get. He tries his caddie-best to encourage me, but I am not feeling vicious and I silently will him to please, oh please, just stop talking.

At the end of the round, we sign our cards, attesting to our scores like one might attest to a Last Will and Testament. I note that I am still in last place.

In the car, I peel off my shoes and socks and wrap my pruned feet in dry towels. While Rex drives us home, I call my mother looking, of course, for sympathy.

Mom says, “Well, what did you expect? You never did like playing with girls. I don’t know why you thought this would be any different.”


You Could Get Hurt

As a 20-something newlywed, you had no plans to get pregnant, but you would probably have had Dennis’s baby if it meant getting that job.

Between the salary bump and bonuses, your income would triple. Dennis might not be the boss you dreamed of, but the job certainly was. For years, you’d watched your single mother trudge off to work the second and third shifts at the hosiery mill. The nighttime hours and the machine noise and the constant dust and dirt wrung her out. The asbestos poisoned her lungs. All you’d ever wanted was to have an office (with a door), to sit behind a desk in a high- backed chair (that swivels), to wear pantyhose and high heels (real Italian leather!), and to go to important meetings (where you could act “important”).

You wanted to work in a place where people were so goddamned busy they had to order in lunch.

And, well, there you were.

Your peers thought you were too small-town for the job and, not to mention, a girl, but you had news for them. You’d grown up in a neighborhood full of boys. You raced your beat-up bike downhill, and even when you wrecked and slid sideways in the gravel, you wore your scabs and scars like trophies. You played baseball on the street with sometimes fake, sometimes real, bats, and you would slide into base, even if that base was a white Frisbee on cement, to help your team win.

When you were eight, your mother signed you up to play softball. Softball! With girls!

“Girls don’t play baseball,” she’d said. “You could get hurt.”

Then, like some kind of insult, she handed you a brand new softball. This ball-for-sissies was so big you could barely hold it in your hand, much less throw the stupid thing.

“I can’t throw this,” you said, trying to hand it back to her. “I don’t want to play.” “I already signed you up. You’re playing. You’ll figure it out.”

Golf was no different. At first, you didn’t want to play – didn’t even know how to keep score – but by God, almost from your first try, you could really smack that ball.

You took a few lessons, and it wasn’t long before the game helped you mask so much inexperience and insecurity. Unlike the men in the office, you’d barely chalked up two years at the state college in your Missouri hometown. These guys had gone to highbrow, preppie-colleges and spent their summers sailing and playing tennis on Cape Cod and The Vineyard; their families belonged to country clubs where they’d been playing golf since they were big enough to walk.

You, and your golf game, puzzled them. “Are you sure you’ve never played this game?” they said. “Hide your wallets, boys. I think we’ve got ourselves a ringer!”


Erections Lasting Longer than Four Hours

The MWGA Four Ball is a two-day partner event at Golden Valley Golf Club, and Dr. Ruth West, a good friend and tournament regular, offers her services as my partner. “Only one of us has to score on each hole,” she says. “If you get in trouble, I’ll carry us. If I get in trouble, you will. We’ll ham-and-egg-it. How easy is that?”

Dr. Ruth plays most weekends with Rex and me, and she is perpetually on-call. Her pager goes off constantly – a major infraction on any golf course – but we are so entertained by her “emergencies” that we look forward to hearing the beep beep beep.

Q: I’ve got this rash and all the sex is making it worse. What should I do?

A: Stop having sex and see your regular doctor on Monday.

Q: I forgot I had a tampon in and now I think there’s, like, three of them up there.

A: The nurse can help you. Really. You don’t need me. The nurse can do it.

Q: (nurse) She’s dilated eight centimeters.

A: Call me back when she’s ready to drop. All I have to do is catch the baby and I can be there in twenty minutes.

And there is always, always a Viagra crisis.

“Do they really get erections lasting four hours?” I once asked.

“Four and longer,” she said. “It’s pretty humiliating, so it must be worth it. These guys walk into the ER carrying a jacket in front to cover it, and then they have to sit in the waiting room. There’s usually a woman with them, too, who looks totally embarrassed while trying to act supportive. And if all that’s not bad enough – surprise – he gets me: A Woman Doctor! I have to grab hold of it and insert a giant needle about yea-long and drain all the blood out.”

I laughed. “Men are stupid.”

“Thank God,” she said. “Men keep me in business.”

Unfortunately, the Four Ball does not go well. Ruth’s game is off and she hooks most of her drives into the trees. I hit the ball great but can’t sink a putt.

No ham. No eggs.

After day one, we are in next-to-last place. On day two, we get outplayed by a couple of seventy-five year olds with matching straw hats, lifelong golfing buddies who can barely swing a club but somehow post winning scores.

In the parking lot, Ruth and I are loading our clubs into the trunk when I recognize one of the women I played with at Island View. She introduces herself as though we’ve never met.

“We played together two weeks ago,” I say.

She tilts her head.

“In the rain.”

She squints.

“At Island View.”

She shrugs her shoulders, smiles, and walks away.

“Friend of yours?” Ruth says.


There Must be a Catch

The Company took the game so seriously they sent everyone – male and female, high and low handicappers, rookies and veterans – to golf school at a Ritz-Carlton in Florida.

You called your mother from your luxury suite to tell her about the view. “It’s like nothing you’ve ever seen,” you said, and rattled off your “schedule” for the week.

“They call that work?” she said. “There must be a catch.”

A team of golf pros covered it all. First, there were etiquette lessons. You learned where stand on tees and greens, where to park (and not park) the golf cart, where to lay unused clubs on a putting green, the proper way to tend, hold, and pull the flag, how to mark and unmark the ball, how and when to call infractions on yourself and/or on fellow players, etc….

Then there were stroke production lessons that covered the driver, fairway woods, long iron play, short iron play, bunker shots, chip shots, and putting.

For playing with customers, The Company had its bible of rules: do not discuss business after your customer hits a bad shot; do not discuss business if he displays a temper and/or throws his clubs; do not discuss business if you’ve hit a good shot and he hits a bad one; do not, under any circumstances, take mulligans, give yourself a more favorable lie, nor take ‘gimme’ putts. This is cheating.

If your customer, however, does these things, you must never indicate any degree of scorn nor displeasure.

A sports psychologist lectured us about the mental part of the game. “Unlike other sports, you can’t get amped up and play well,” he said. “Adrenaline is your enemy. Golfing well is about calm intensity.”

He buried an entire table with instructional books: Think to Win, The Mental Edge, Golf is Not a Game of Perfect, Zen Golf….

Evenings at Golf School were a smorgasbord of spa treatments – hot stone and eucalyptus massages, lavender-infused facials, and reflexology – to loosen up your sore muscles and to keep you “relaxed.”

On the last day, you learned how to keep score in the myriad of side-betting games: Nassau, Sandies, Barkies, Wolf, Arnies, Aces and Deuces, Gruesomes, Skins, Criers and Whiners, etc….

All expenses paid, of course.



The MWGA Match Play Championship lasts an entire week and is contested on the

top twenty for degree of difficulty in the United States. I am cowed by the venue before I ever set foot on the course.

During the qualifying round, I play with Mary, a woman who looks to be about my age, and Mikayla, a nineteen year old hauling a golf bag with Augsburg College stitched in giant maroon letters.

Mary points to Mikayla’s bag and whispers to me, “We should be scared, I think.”

My game comes together and I play well-enough. Each day, a series of strong competitors comes and goes. I outlast them. At home I tell Rex I’ve made it to Friday’s championship match and that my opponent is none other than Miss Augsburg College.

“You’ll be fine,” he says. “You’re an animal.” But he has not seen Mikayla play golf, and I am sure she is going to destroy me.

On the first tee, the starter introduces Mikayla and me to Lori.

“All championship matches have their own rules official,” Lori says. “I’m yours. I’ll be walking with you today. I keep your scores and I’m here to answer any rules questions that might come up.” She shakes our hands. “Good luck, ladies.”

A small crowd lines the fairway. After only two holes, I take the lead. Hours go by. I maintain my lead. By the time we reach the most difficult hole on the course – #16 – I am two up with three to play, and I am certain, certain!, I am going to win.

Poor Mikayla keeps looking at her mother, who is walking along as a spectator, as if to say, “How am I not winning this?!”

Then, on the 16th tee, seemingly without fear, Mikayla cranks her drive. Her ball drifts perilously close to the creek on the left, yet rolls to a stop just shy of the water. I play it safe and tee off with a five wood; my ball stops dead in the wind and lands forty yards too short. Mikayla hits her second shot perfectly, dead center of the green. Afraid of dumping my approach shot in the lake, I swing at half speed and the ball doesn’t even make the green.

Mikayla wins the hole with a bogey. My lead shrinks.

On the par three 17th, there is a pond between the tee box and the green. I swing too hard and top the ball and it skids straight into the water. Mikayla wins the hole with another bogey, and she suddenly looks to me like a girl who has never lost.

The next thing I know we’ve played the 18th and the crowd is clapping and Lori is announcing the winner. “Mikayla Baxter wins the match, one up.”

More clapping. Mikayla shakes my hand and says, “Nice match.”

I am barely able to spit the congratulations out of my mouth.

When I call my mother to tell her I’ve lost, when really, I had this thing won, had it in the bag, she says, “I hope you were a good sport. You are not a very gracious loser.”


That Bad Taste in Your Mouth

Dennis gave you Missouri, Kansas, and Oklahoma, and you could tell he ate it up, throwing you into the tank with a region of the country he despised. “Bunch of redneck hillbillies,” he called them.

You had a slight advantage in Missouri because you were from there.

In Kansas, especially in out-of-the-way-specks-on-the-map like Topeka, they were polite but dismissive. “Darlin’, what are you doing out on the road?” a Vice President said while puffing on a cigar. “I bet your new husband misses you.”

In Oklahoma, you encountered your most formidable challenge – the oil company execs – a bunch of foul-mouthed cowboys with initials for first names, like J.R. Ewing knock-offs.

“Well fuck me,” said L.R. the first time you met. You were the only woman in a conference room full of male department heads. “I guess this means we ain’t having our monthly meetings at the strip club anymore, boys. All those good girls are going to lose money ‘cause of you, sweetheart.”

His colleagues laughed. You did not.

He said, “Oh shit, lighten up. I don’t mean nothin’.”

You met F.A. – whom you immediately nicknamed Fat Ass – for lunch at a white tablecloth restaurant in Oklahoma City. He downed one scotch and water, ordered another, and kept telling you how pretty you were, how much he liked your hair, your dangly earrings, your calves (your calves?), your bubblegum-pink lipstick. “I’m harmless as a big old teddy bear,” he said. “But hot damn, girl!”

J.B. kept boxes of Tic Tacs in the top, left-hand, drawer of his desk. Whenever he felt like he’d offended you he offered you some. “Hold out your hand,” he said, opening the drawer. You held out your hand. He sprinkled white Tic Tacs. “A few of these babies will get rid of that bad taste in your mouth.”

And then he would tip his head back like a baby bird, tap in a few Tic Tacs, drop the box back in the drawer, ease the drawer closed, and you would both sit there in silence until the candy, and the tension, dissolved.

After the initial shock of having to deal with a woman, they were all – Missourians, Kansans, and Oklahomans alike – ecstatic about taking entire afternoons off to spend on the golf course.

Playing golf saved your job.

The fact that you knew the game and you knew the rules, that you oftentimes outdrove them or even beat them, gained you some degree of respect. They ratcheted down the nasty rhetoric. You felt like you’d won.

They even bragged about you to your boss. “You better treat her right,” Fat Ass told Dennis. “We can’t lose her till we figure out how to win all of our money back!”


Once in the Trees, Always in the Trees

Dr. Ruth and I show up for the State Amateur Championship, the last tournament of the season, at Hillcrest Golf Club in St. Paul.

Once again, we both play miserably.

It is the second week of August, a hundred degrees, and humid as hell. Mosquitoes are thick as spit. The course is narrow, lined with trees, and unforgiving. The greens are so hard and so fast it’s like putting on a glass tabletop. And the caddy I’ve reserved in advance from Hillcrest turns out to be an eleven year-old boy.

“Play a lot of golf, do you Christopher?”

“Nope. Never played. My mom plays though.”

“So … how long have you been a caddy here?”

“Three years.”

“Three years. Wow. You must know the course really well.”

“Nope, not really.”

On the driving range, I run into Mikayla and her mother, who both tell me how great I played in the Match Play Championship. “Are you playing next year?” Mikayla says. “It’s at Olympic Hills, and their greens are a nightmare!”

I recall what my mother said about me being a bad sport and say, “Hey, good luck today.”

On the practice green, I chat with Friendly Lynn, who is not playing but serving as a Rules Official. On the first tee, my playing partner introduces herself and shakes my hand.

“Hey, I know you,” she says. “My friend Lori called your Hazeltine match a couple of weeks ago. She said you lost a heartbreaker.”

As expected, Christopher proves to be a cute little boy but an incompetent caddy. He lags behind and I am always waiting for him to catch up. He does not give yardage to the pins. He does not read putts nor pull the flags for me. He does not know where to stand nor when to be quiet and I am constantly apologizing to my opponents for his breaches of etiquette. On the other hand, he bounces around and smiles a lot so I don’t have the heart to fire him.

On the last day of the tournament, on one of the last holes to be played, I slice a tee shot deep into the woods. We find my ball nestled up against some tree roots and a big rock. Christopher turns to me and says, “You know what I’ve learned in my three years as a caddy?”

“What’s that?”

“Once in the trees, always in the trees!”

I tell him most golfers will not find that funny.

“Well, just once you get in here, it’s hard to get out. That’s all I’m saying.”

“Shhh,” I say. I try punching out with a four-iron. My ball hits another tree and ricochets even further into the woods.

“See,” he says.


End Game

On a Friday afternoon, the first of May, you called Dennis to give two weeks notice.

“I hate to tell you this,” you said, “but I’ve decided to leave The Company.”

You expected him to ask why, to try and talk you out of it, to say, “You can’t leave! You’re the Golden Child! You’re making me too much fucking money!” But all he said was, “Put Glen on the line.”

Glen worked in the office next to yours. You transferred the call and leaned on Glen’s doorjamb while he said “Sure,” “Yep, okay,” and “Yes sir, I’ll take care of it.”

Glen put down the phone and looked like he was afraid to look at you. “He said he wants you out of here in fifteen minutes.”


“And if it’s sixteen minutes, he says he’ll fire me. Look, this is the way he does it. You’ve seen it a dozen times. I’m supposed to watch you pack up your stuff, take your security badge and your keys, and escort you out of the building.”

“What about my car?” You have a company car, a perk of the job. You do not own a personal one.

“He said to take a secretary with me and follow you home and take the car.”

“But I gave two weeks notice,” you said, feeling the panic rise. “I haven’t told my clients. I need to say goodbye to everybody. I need to get my last paycheck.”

“He said he’ll have HR call you at home,” Glen said, by now as flustered as you were.

“Look, I’m sorry, but he says he’s calling back in fifteen minutes, and if you’re still here, I’m fired.” He leaned out his door and barked at a secretary, “Somebody get her a goddamned box!”

After Glen took you home and you had the weekend to get over the shock, you tried to feel relief. If you were honest with yourself – which you absolutely were not at the time – you would have just admitted defeat. Team Green played golf, but they played with your life, too. How many days out of a month, out of a year, were you on the road? How many times were you expected to be “one of the boys” and shoot tequila until four a.m. and then be in the hotel restaurant at seven sharp, dressed and perky, ready to make your very best presentation at eight? How many times did you have to change hotel rooms and hide out because Dennis or some other entitled, horny executive came knocking at two in the morning?

The last time you’d gone to a Company dinner, you’d called your husband from the restaurant to say you’d be home by ten.

When you’d snuck into the house at 4:30 a.m. – having never bothered to call to say you’d be the slightest bit late – he’d waited until you got undressed and eased, as silently as possible, into bed before saying, “I’m awake, and I’m pissed.”

The next morning, with you leaning over, ready to puke, in the shower, he’d stood outside the steamed-up shower glass, screaming. “Where in the hell were you till four fucking o’clock in the morning? I’m sick of this bullshit!”

You could not tell him – would never tell him – what The Company, what your life there, was really like. You could not bear for him to think you weren’t tough enough, that you couldn’t take it.

You would certainly not tell him that last night you’d left them all at the bar at two o’clock but that you were so drunk you’d mistakenly taken the freeway north instead of south and then gotten lost downtown and had a hard time keeping the car between the lines on the road and barely found your way home.

You did, however, tell your mother. She listened while you ranted and cried and felt sorry for yourself, while you catalogued every wrong perpetrated against you, but she did not offer the soothing words of comfort you were all but begging for.

When you were finally finished, all she said was, “Good God, I’ve played that game all my life. Try being in the break room at three in the morning. You think because they don’t belong to country clubs or wear fancy suits they’re any different?”



Mammals hunted for sport.



This essay originally appeared in the Fall/Winter 2010 issue of West Branch literary journal.


The dangers of calling bad news #FakeNews



I do not weigh myself. Based on how my clothes fit, I think I could lose 10 pounds. Or 15.

Okay, maybe 20.

There is a high-quality scale in the back of my closet. I pretend it’s not there. I pretend because, so long as I do not step on that scale or see a number, I can believe whatever I want. I can go right along with my lifestyle and my habits while maintaining the fantasy that, sure, I could lose a few pounds but I’m fine, just fine.

My fantasy keeps me from being forced to believe something I do not want to believe. If I avoid the scale, I never have to admit I am fat, or wrong.

#FakeNews operates on the same principle. Screaming #FakeNews every time we are presented with facts we do not want to believe does not make those facts any less true. It simply allows our fantasies to fester, and to fool us.

Like the boy who cried wolf, President Trump constantly cries #FakeNews.

On Oct. 5 he tweeted, “Why Isn’t the Senate Intel Committee looking into the Fake News Networks in OUR country to see why so much of our news is just made up-FAKE!”

Six days later, he tweeted, “With all of the Fake News coming out of NBC and the Networks, at what point is it appropriate to challenge their License? Bad for our country!”

And six days after that he said, in response to on-going allegations against him of sexual misconduct from a former contestant on The Apprentice, “All I can say is it’s totally fake news. It’s just fake. It’s fake.”

Whether it’s national security or the Russia probe or climate science or the findings of our Intelligence Community, the president continually declares — without proof — that anything unflattering, anything he does not like, is fake.

On Veteran’s Day, the he said that former Intelligence officials James Clapper and John Brennan are nothing more than “political hacks,” that anything they say about the Russia probe is #FakeNews!

Down in Alabama, four women have accused GOP Senate candidate Roy Moore of sexual misconduct, dating back 40 years to when they were teenagers and he was in his 30s. Moore has adopted the president’s #FakeNews playbook, and why not? It works.

But it can’t all be fake, can it? That would be a statistical impossibility.

Yet the president’s most loyal followers play along, refusing to give up fantasy for facts.

If you’ve forgotten what facts are, the following are indisputable:

Our Intelligence Community is not made up of “political hacks.” The IC is made up of career military, law enforcement, and intelligence experts who put their lives on the line to keep us safe.

177 journalists have been murdered in the Philippines since 1986, making it one of the deadliest countries in which to be a reporter. Yet on Nov. 13, our president openly laughed as Philippine President Duterte ridiculed the traveling American press pool — whom Trump often calls #FakeNews — saying, “with you around, guys, you are the spies.”

Colin Kaepernick and NFL players do not kneel to disrespect the flag; they kneel to bring awareness to disproportional police brutality against black men.

In the last 511 days, we have had 555 mass shootings in the U.S. The NRA has a financial stranglehold on members of Congress and, because of this and because we misread the Second Amendment — owning guns does not equal maintaining an armed militia — we will inexplicably continue to stand for the mass murder of innocent Americans.

Climate change is real, and the U.S. is now the only country on earth that’s chosen not to be part of the Paris Climate Accord.

Roy Moore has not unequivocally denied the allegations of sexual abuse. Still, 37 percent of Alabama evangelicals cry #FakeNews and say they are more likely to vote for Moore after the allegations.

Where does this get us?

We can continue to apply the #FakeNews moniker to any and all news we find inconvenient, uncomfortable, or challenging. But simply screaming #FakeNews at every turn does not make it so. In fact, it keeps us from being able to discern between what really is fake and what is not, to our own detriment.

Every now and again I find myself at a doctor’s office. And what is the first thing that happens when the nurse calls you from the waiting room? She makes you step on the big, industrial-looking scale, whether you want to or not.

I do everything I can to keep the facts at bay. I set my purse on the floor. I remove any unnecessary clothing like sweaters or jackets. I kick off my shoes. I even find myself sucking in my stomach and holding my breath, as though it might help. Desperate measures and all that. But to no avail.

The nurse taps the metal blocks down the sliding scale until the truth, the much-feared real number, is revealed. It is more than 20 pounds. Way more.

I can scream #FakeNews all I want, but the scale does not lie, the number is the number, and the truth is I have been kidding myself. These are the indisputable facts, no matter how loudly or how often I scream #FakeNews!

Facts are stubborn like that.

Thank God Hillary Clinton is not the president!



Photo credit: ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images

FOX news superstar Judge Jeanine Pirro says, “It’s time, folks. It’s time to shut it down, turn the tables, and lock her up. That’s what I said. I actually said it. Lock her up.”

The judge says “lock her up” with such gravitas, like she thinks we’ve never heard the words “lock her up” before. Sounds like Judge Jeanine has never been to a Trump rally. Can somebody get this woman a video?

Sadly, I’ve got some Breaking News for the judge. Hillary Clinton lost. Hillary Clinton is not the president! Though, to Judge Jeanine’s credit, if your sole source of news is FOX and Rush Limbaugh — where it’s all-Hillary, all-the-time, and where Sean Hannity even called her President Clinton this week — you’d think Hillary had won the White House and given her daughter and son-in-law offices in the West Wing.

Alas, no. We dodged that NRA-sponsored bullet!

Donald J. Trump won the 2016 election, and with his party holding both the House and Senate, “The Apprentice” star who wrote “The Art of the Deal” has spent the first year of his presidency tweeting at North Korea, calling members of Congress playground names, and threatening the free press and the First Amendment. Because everybody knows this is how you “Make America Great Again.”

Like the best in baseball, the president has been pitching no-hitters on policy. Not a single hit! But he still has time to get tax reform done before we start saying “Merry Christmas” (again) so millionaires won’t be saddled with those pesky estate taxes.

And speaking of baseball, Trump won Texas. Go Astros!

President Trump tweets that we are the highest-taxed nation in the world. The truth is we rank 33rd, well-behind countries you’ve hardly heard of like Germany, France, Italy, Spain and Japan.

Is 33rd close to first now? Is this the new math?

Down in Texas, an undocumented ten year-old girl with cerebral palsy is being held by border control. Those Mexicans, they come here, and they’re rapists. Build that wall! Lock her up!

In Tennessee this past weekend, white supremacists marched yet again to show solidarity with the president’s immigration policies. They carried white shields and Confederate flags while chanting, “Closed borders, white nation, now we start the deportation!”

Surprisingly, the president did not tweet about this march, though he likely missed TV coverage as it all happened during his 76th golf outing since taking office.

President Trump has spent almost one-third of his presidency on the golf course. What a relief to know he is just like us!

Four soldiers were killed in Niger, and the president got into a Twitter-fight with a young, pregnant, military widow and her long-time friend, a Congresswoman from Florida. But just a few weeks ago, following the largest mass shooting in American history, the president insisted on having a big church service, one where he could stand at the altar and sing “Amazing Grace,” comfort the families of the fallen, and bring the nation together in mourning.

Oh, wait. Wrong president.

We’ve learned that former FOX News star Bill O’Reilly paid one woman $32M to keep quiet about his years of sexual harassment, and powerful men like Harvey Weinstein are finally being called to account by the women they  assaulted, raped, and harassed.

Remember this time last year when 24 women (20 by name) came forward with similar stories about Donald J. Trump, and we did not believe a single one of them? In fact, we made Mr. Trump President of the United States. That’ll show women who’s boss.

Women! Thank God we did not elect a woman president. Thank God we did not elect Hillary Clinton!

Imagine the boring speeches showing off her depth of policy knowledge. Imagine the lack of threats at the NFL and “Rocket Man” and “liddle’ Bob Corker.” Imagine the innumerable weekend hours a President Clinton would have spent not-golfing or tweeting or traveling to Mar a Lago or being investigated for collusion with Russia.

Imagine, most of all, the stunning lack of Breaking News push alerts on your phone. I ask you, who would want to live in a country like that?

Saving Fort D



In May 1974, three months before my ninth birthday, my newly divorced mother and I moved into the attic apartment above my grandparents’ house on Elm Street, just down from May Greene grade school.

We called it the Fort D house.

Our first day in the attic, Mom and I dug our quickly-packed, crumpled clothes out of the IGA bags we’d stuffed them in, sorting and folding and stacking, desperate to create order out of the chaos of our lives. I remember looking out the window, with its clear view of Cape Girardeau’s Fort D.

“Look, Mom,” I said, hopeful. “Kids playing dodgeball.”

Mom kept sorting socks, but the Fort D lawn beckoned play. But over the next few months, Fort D would become my happy place in the midst of so much sorrow and instability.

Instability, we know, can be both emotional and concrete. The places that hold the memories of childhood can be houses, schools, ballfields, the local Dairy Queen. But there are also the Fort Ds of our lives, and they nurture us along the way, too.

Which is why I was both relieved and thrilled to read that so many good people are fighting for its preservation. “The forgotten park,” Fort D was called in the October 27 issue of The Southeast Missourian.

Not forgotten, I assure you, by me.

I am over 50 now, and I have not lived in Cape for three decades, but Fort D still means a great deal to me, and to my history.

Back in 1974, my grandparents, Red and Ann Brockmire, were renters, and often on the move for more affordable rent. But that summer their Fort D rental house and its tiny attic served as home base, and our days ran on a predictable, military-like regimen. Mornings, Grandpa worked in his large garden and spent afternoons on the front porch swing, doing puzzles. Grandma strolled to Womack’s Drug Store to meet neighbor ladies for a cherry coke and, afternoons, watched her CBS soaps. All while my mom, working nights at the Hosiery Mill over in Jackson, slept.

I did my best to be no trouble, invisible. To stay out of everyone’s way.

That summer I played a lot of softball, dodgeball, hide-n-seek, and war games with the local kids on our little field of dreams, Fort D, and tried to fit in.

The fort meant joy and play and new friends. The fort meant belonging.

Some days, like if it was raining and the grounds at the fort fell empty, I would take my stack of library books — Nancy Drew mysteries, the Little House series, Black Beauty, Aesop’s Fables, Heidi — out onto the front porch and sit on the swing with Grandpa. I could imagine myself as Nancy, off to solve the mystery of the old clock; as Laura Ingalls running in the Minnesota fields with her dog, Jack; as Heidi, living high up in the Swiss Alps (wherever that was) with her grandfather, far, far away from Fort D.

Cape city manager Scott Meyer acknowledges that Fort D does not date back to the Civil War — it is a fake fort, as forts go — but concludes it is “historic in its own right” even though “there are purists who think this should have never been built, that it is a distraction from the pure history of the site.”

The purists are wrong.

My grandparents are long gone. Their Fort D house is gone, razed. My mother is gone. But Fort D, with its sprawling lawn, remains in place, and I am eternally grateful to those good folks on a mission to save it.

I live far away now, but when I am homesick for my family and for Cape Girardeau, Fort D fills a pure, playful place in my memory, my history. As something infinitely more solid than clothes stuffed into IGA bags. As my field of dreams. As the playground that offered safety and stability to this one-time nine year-old, child of divorce, looking for a place to be.

What religion is your president?



Photo credit: MSNBC

The pastor came with questions. “If you don’t mind my asking,” he said, minutes after arriving and me handing him a glass of red wine, “what religion do you practice, where were you raised?”

The pastor was measured in his speech. He swirled his wine, and waited.

“Catholic as a kid,” I said. “But I don’t practice anything now. I grew up in a small Missouri town. You’ve probably never heard of it. Cape Girardeau?”

His eyes caught light. “Sure, Rush Limbaugh’s hometown!” He smiled for the first time.

It was January 2015, and I’d had to shovel a snowy path so my neighbors could make it to my front door. I’d lived in rural Kentucky all of a week. My house was still basically empty — I had a bed, a sofa, and a crock pot — but I’d emailed the neighbors up and down the road and invited them for chili and wine. I felt alone. I needed to meet some folks. About 25 people showed up, all bearing gifts, all a little wary of the stranger, the new non-Kentuckian, on their road.

“I don’t claim Rush,” I said to the pastor, though by now we’d drawn a crowd of men. “It’s a shame Rush is all that Cape is known for, though, to be fair, I don’t care for anyone, on the right or the left, screaming at me, telling me what to think.”

The other men went quiet. The pastor set his wine glass down with purpose, then he let Rush go and went on to tell me he’d recently retired but he’d had two big churches and would be happy to point me in either of those directions. End of conversation.

I thought about the pastor this past Saturday, as Sgt. La David Johnson was laid to rest in Florida. All as President Trump, who had been picking at this poor family’s wounds all week, spent his pre-golf minutes on Twitter hawking Pastor Jeffress book, “A Place Called Heaven.”

I wondered about the president’s pastors, the crowd of men and women we see so often in photo ops, the ones who supposedly advise him when he’s fake-fighting with Congress or calling people childish names or threatening the free press.

Where were his pastors as he called this new, young war widow, a liar?

A few weeks back, Pastor Paula White described the president as a true Christian, “a person of repentance.” Maybe she could start small and teach the president how to apologize.

Here in small town Kentucky, where we voted 70+% for Donald J. Trump, where are the questions of the president’s leadership? Wouldn’t a Christian president have made it right with Mrs. Johnson by now, made a public showing of his condolences, possibly even gone to the funeral and said a few words of comfort to the family, to the community, to the country?

In the words of Press Secretary Sarah Sanders, Mr. Trump is all hat, no cattle.

He has only been in office nine months, yet it is already hard to imagine having a president who is man enough to stop tweeting about patriotism in the NFL, long enough to show what true patriotism looks like by attending the funeral of a fallen, young soldier.

There is a scene in Jane Smiley’s novel A Thousand Acres: “Daddy thinks history starts fresh every day, every minute, that time itself begins with the feelings he’s having right now. That’s how he keeps betraying us, why he roars at us with such conviction.”

Like Daddy, our president spends Sunday mornings roaring his feelings on Twitter before his tee time. Do his voters notice? Would they ask the president, as the pastor asked me, “what religion are you practicing?”

This past weekend — with Sgt. Johnson’s funeral, the 5 former living presidents raising more than $30M for hurricane relief, Congress preparing for the budget and tax reform, and 82% of Puerto Rico still without power — President Trump was painstakingly busy.

Busy tweeting and playing golf.

I used to play golf. Not all that long ago I was a 10 or 11 handicap and once won the Women’s Club Championship. I’ve met many Mr. Trumps on the first tee. He’s the guy who, within minutes of introducing himself, tells you he’s a scratch golfer, and then spends the entire round taking mulligans, dropping balls without penalty, and picking up 10 foot gimme putts while saying, “This is good, right?”

And what I know as fact is that no golfer, Trump supporter or not, takes Sen. Lindsey Graham’s recent, gushing tweet, “President Trump shot a 73 in windy and wet conditions!” seriously.

Why the need for Sen. Graham’s desperate lie? And why, if the president is as devout as his Oval Office pastors claim, is he never seen going to church on a Sunday with his family?

Photo ops aside, Mr. Trump’s religious devotion seems about as real as that 73.

And yet, his supporters do not waver. The president and his staff of devoted propagandists, like my very own Rush Limbaugh, with their distracting attacks on kneeling NFL players and “the war on Christmas” make sure of that. They’ve got my own father terrified that Sharia Law is coming to his small Missouri town, my niece worrying that her Christian way of life is under attack, and my Trump-voting baby brother fighting “the Muslims” in Afghanistan.

Here in Kentucky, we’ve got Maj. Ldr. Mitch McConnell assuring us he trusts the president. That regardless of Mr. Trump’s tweet-tantrums and golf schedule (1 for every 5 days he’s been president), he is working hard for real Americans.

I sat by the pastor a few weeks ago at a neighborhood campfire. I asked after his wife, and he asked what I’ve been up to. When I said I’d been writing for the local paper, that maybe he’d read me there, he said, “Oh, I don’t get any of that. I get enough news on the radio and TV.”

This time, it was me who came with the questions. I wanted to know what he thought about President Trump and his circle of pastors. I wanted to know if he thought the president was working hard, as McConnell said, for real Americans.

But when I asked, “Who are you watching, listening to, these days?” the pastor said something about not needing so much misinformation and turned to talk to someone else.

It’s Sunday morning in America. Where is our president? He’s on Twitter, calling his colleagues hateful names, threatening war with North Korea, and shaming young war widows before heading off for his weekly tee time.

I hope the president’s pastors are informed, rigorous, and open. I hope they can be honest with the president. But I have my doubts.

And I have a serious question for Trump voters: what religion is this that your president practices?

Saying #MeToo isn’t enough. Women have to stop excusing men, too.



Excerpt from my OpEd in today’s Washington Post.  Click here for the article.

Here in rural Kentucky, six months after the election, I sat next to a 30-something woman at a party. A grade-school teacher. She did not like Hillary Clinton and voted, she said, for Trump. Turns out she was on a third date, and she and her new beau had not yet gotten around to politics.

He was as stunned as I was. And when he and I both took our hard stance, when it started to feel like we were ganging up, I began to feel sorry for her — she was, more than anything, uninformed, it seemed — and I decided to leave them to their now-ruined date. Astoundingly, she had not only not heard of the “Access Hollywood” tape, she had no interest in hearing about it. The election was over.

I wish I could say I found this woman’s lack of information shocking. But the truth is, beyond the confines of coastal news and entertainment, much of white, churchgoing middle America accepts both Trump’s “locker room talk” excuse and his wife’s lackadaisical “boys will be boys” defense. Many of the women I meet here — of all ages — do not follow national news, much less national politics. They also tend to follow their pastors’, or their husbands’, talking points: Clinton can’t be trusted, she thinks she’s a man, she should look at her own husband and her own marriage.  I suspect they looked at their own marriages and families, as well. Was Trump any different in his rhetoric from their own husbands, their brothers, their fathers?  Their pastors? What can you do? Men have needs.



The ready amplifiers of rage



Within hours of the worst shooting in modern American history came the usual talk of Second Amendment rights, men and their guns, and the collectability of assault rifles.

While gun enthusiasts defended their right to buy and collect, a report on the history of assault rifles called the guns used in mass killings “ready amplifiers of rage.”

What kind of man gets enthusiastic about a ready amplifier of rage? Do Americans have a gun problem or a manhood problem, or both?

The Village people sing a catchy tune about what it means to be a man. “Every man ought to be a macho, macho man, to live a life of freedom, machos make a stand. Have your own lifestyles and ideals, possess the strength of confidence, that’s the skill. You can best believe that he’s a macho man.”

The song came to mind with the recent run-off election for Judge Roy Moore down in Alabama. Noted conspiracy theorist, birther, Bible-quoter, gun rights advocate, and militantly anti-gay, Judge Moore celebrated his big win by strolling onto the stage dressed in a black leather vest and Stetson, carrying a handgun. Dressed like one of the Village People.

Manhood as showmanship.

Manhood is on daily display in America, as the president himself needs constant reminders that he’s “the man.” During a briefing in Puerto Rico, he went around the table (as he once did in an on-camera cabinet meeting) asking everyone to give a fawning litany about what a great job he’s doing, what a capable man he is.

The gun lobby exploits weak, insecure men like the president with their simple formula for manhood:

  1. Mass shooting occurs.
  2. Gun lobby’s paid-for Congressmen make their paid-for statements, “It’s not the time to talk about gun control. The liberals want to take away your guns.”
  3. Men run out and stockpile more guns.

Gun industry expert, Brian Sullivan, reports that ten years ago we had about three million AR-15-style assault rifles out there. Now there are an estimated eight to nine million.

Sullivan says, “The majority of the gun industry is controlled by a private equity firm called Cerberus, by a guy named Steven Feinberg who is very secretive, but he has basically bought all of the companies, Bushmaster, Remington, etc. … he is a reclusive guy, apparently doesn’t even use email, is a multi-billionaire…. The AR-15 has so many potential accessories it’s called ‘a Barbie doll for men.’”

Mass murder and manhood, it turns out, is worth billions.

This same week in October 2015, my dad and I had the following text message exchange about gun control:

Dad: The liberals want to take my guns.

Me: I don’t know a single liberal who wants to take guns away from responsible gun owners. Some of my liberal friends even own guns.

Dad: Who commits 90 percent of crimes? Not your average citizen, so why are we the target for new laws?

Me: Average citizens are not targets. The guy who drives to another state to buy 80 guns and then sells them on the street is the target. The guy who beat up his wife and she won’t/can’t press charges, he’s the target. None of the proposals for gun control target law abiding citizens. You could still buy a gun and so could I.

Dad: I did, and I may get more.

My dad is in his 70s, retired, on a fixed income, living in a small Missouri town with virtually no crime. He can’t remember the last time he shot a gun. But he hears the fear-mongering calls of Rush Limbaugh and FOX news and the NRA and men like Judge Roy Moore, and they tell him he’s got to man up. So he buys more guns.

A white man with a gun massacred little children in their Sandy Hook classrooms, and Judge Roy Moore blamed it on “forgetting the law of God.” A white man with a gun murdered Americans in a Colorado movie theatre. A white man with a gun shot a group of black churchgoers, one at a time, during Bible study. A white man with a cache of weapons fired hundreds of rounds from the 32nd floor into a crowd of 22,000.

See a pattern?

Meanwhile, we are asked to spend billions on a border wall for our “security.” We are lectured by the president, Congress, and right wing media to fear radical Muslims and black men and immigrants. Yet we never call white men who terrorize, terrorists.

Such are the rules we obey here in our sweet land of liberty. Rules that keep getting us killed.

The Vegas shooter stockpiled 33 guns in one year. He carried ten bags of guns into a hotel for a three-day stay, and no one noticed. “Gun stocks rose Monday following the deadliest mass shooting in American history.”

We have a gun problem. We have a manhood problem. We defend enthusiasts who stockpile ready amplifiers of rage. We are the United States of America.