If Only…

If only he got her e-mail….

It could have all been avoided.

He wouldn’t have left work early.

He wouldn’t have headed to the bar.

He wouldn’t have had his first Manhattan.

And then his second…

…and then his third.

If only he got her e-mail…

He wouldn’t have dropped his phone in a shit-streaked toilet.

He wouldn’t have struck up a conversation with the bartender,

who also happened to be talking to the attractive woman seated next to him.

And then a conversation among three people,

wouldn’t have become conversation between two.

If only he got her e-mail…

He wouldn’t have opened up to a stranger about everything.

He wouldn’t have explained how his marriage was over.

He wouldn’t have offered to buy her a drink.

And then a second.

He wouldn’t have had his fourth cocktail.

He wouldn’t have gone back to her place.

He wouldn’t have driven drunk.

He wouldn’t have gotten her pregnant.

He wouldn’t have been in a car crash.

He wouldn’t have broken his leg.

He wouldn’t have killed that little girl.

He wouldn’t have gone to jail.

He wouldn’t have been accused of date rape.

He wouldn’t have lost his job.

He wouldn’t have been divorced.

If only he got her e-mail..

He could have had children with his wife.

And another unborn child wouldn’t have been aborted.

If only he got her e-mail…

He would have known she was sorry.

He would know she didn’t really want to leave him.

He would know she still loved him, as he still loved her.

They would have gone for counseling.

They could have laughed about it all later.

They could have lived happily ever after.

If only…




Tinder is the Night

For a man who lived life on the straight and narrow for over 30 years, snorting coke and fucking a total stranger over the course of back-to-back weekends was an unexpected twist.

The coke caught Eddie completely off guard. However, fucking a stranger came with a pre-meditated sense of guilt.

His foray into uncharacteristic debauchery started in L.A., where spent a weekend meeting potential investors for the film he had been trying to get off the ground for over six years. (Things developed slowly for Eddie).

A Hollywood acquaintance that he met at a conference five years ago invited him to a party. And after one too many bourbon-soaked cocktails, he lost his sense of self.

When in Hollywood…

For most of the night, he sat on the sidelines, reminiscent of his elementary school playground during recess – an outsider looking in.

“Want some?” his acquaintance asked.

“Want some what?” Eddie said, oblivious to the line of coke awaiting him.

When he realized what was going on, he responded without trepidation, as though he were being offered a mere cookie.

Though he had stopped drinking over an hour ago, he apparently had just enough to impair his ability to say no to drugs.

Goddam bourbon.

Within seconds he went from a booze-induced zombie-state, to hyper-drive. He didn’t just feel high. He felt like he was fucking in flight.

As for his actual flight home the next day, he could barely remember a damn thing.

Had he even slept? He had no fucking clue.

His wife noticed his frazzled condition the second she greeted him at the airport. He blamed it on jet lag. No further explanation needed.

Despite still feeling the effects of his bourbon and cocaine cocktail, it didn’t stop him from attempting to have sex. Though it had been months, he figured five days away would be his best shot.

Absence makes the heart grow fonder?

He was wrong.

Not only did she reject his advances…but it led directly a prolonged argument. And as usual, she would rather argue about what a sex fiend he was for two hours, rather than just throw him a bone every now and then. In the rare instances they did have sex, she acted as though she was receiving a botched root canal from a crazed ape. She blamed her non-existent sex drive on her anti-depressants. But it was even worse when she wasn’t on them. At least when she was on drugs, she could do a better job of pretending to like him.

“If all you want is sex, why not just find someone else?” she asked him for not the first time, not the second time, but God knows how many fucking times.

“All I want? It’s been five fucking months! And how? Who? I never had game when I was single. Let alone now. Plus, I don’t want to risk you leaving me.”
“I won’t leave you. Just make sure it’s not someone I know.”

Though tempting, he couldn’t grasp his head around the fact that that she was willing to risk him falling for someone else, rather than just having sex with him every now and then. It had been over a year since he received anything as much as a hand job. Three years since his last blowjob.

This time, he wwawould do something about it. He spent the better part of the next day at work perusing sites like Ashley Madison and AdultFriendFinder, but quickly realized that he was too cheap to keep footing the bill. Plus, it was too risky, even though he did handle the credit card bills. Ultimately, he couldn’t but feel as though he were soliciting prostitution (though, in someway, prostitution would have been much easier). As desperate as he was to get laid, there was still part of him that wanted to first find someone he shared a strong mental connection with. He was never one to have random hook-ups. Not even in college. But he now found himself in a situation where he had no choice but to have exactly that. Of course, the last thing he wanted to do was fall in love with somebody else. At least, he didn’t think so….

Furthermore, after doing a fair amount of research, he realized that these sites were rife with “bots” – fake profiles that closed the lopsided gender gap with the sole aim of trying to lure men into spending more on the site And then there were the professional. “escorts” disguised as regular women. Which was worse? At least the latter scenario led to sex. The former just left you with a sad dick in your hand and a ball of wadded up tissue paper in the other at the end of the night. He settled on a tie. Then there was his fear of being cat fished.

Enter Tinder.

Despite being aware of its reputation as a hook-up site, he was a tad reluctant to become a Tinderfella. The fact that it interfaced with Facebook seemed just too much of a risk. And what if those he knew saw him? In fact, he had to make sure that the person he swiped had no mutual connections between them, which for most people, was probably a selling point. He had to remain discreet, yet he knew that not using a photo at all would give him no shot whatever. To limit detection, he avoided using a close-up and left part of his face hidden.

Once he got past his initial jitters, Eddie quickly learned to appreciate the left-right ease of the whole thing. It felt more like a video game to him, than real life. With potential to quickly turn into a wormhole. Perhaps, just right swipes alone would give him all the ego boost he needed. It wasn’t just sex he wanted. He needed to feel wanted. Needed.

However, the high of racking up matches could only last for so long before you just had to reach out and touch someone. It wasn’t long before he mastered the skill of being able to formulate a message short enough not to sound desperate, but enticing enough to get someone to take the hook. His initial interactions were a mixed bag (he once right-swiped a cheeseburger). His decision to be upfront from the start (married…but with a greenlight!) backfired. He got it that most women didn’t reply back. He wasn’t exactly an ideal catch… but he was tad surprised at how judgmental Tinder could be!

Many matches reacted to his honesty by immediately disappearing off the screen in a simple Poof! Some expressed some form of condolences before they disappeared. Some thanks him for his honesty. Some preached morality. One simply wrote: “That’s fucked up.” Another said: “sounds like a personal problem.” Another asked: “Why are you telling me this? I don’t get it.” Several asked point blank: “Why don’t you just get divorced?”

Great question. Why didn’t he? It wasn’t like he hadn’t pondered it before, but he couldn’t convince himself that lack of sex was a good enough reason for divorce.

Or maybe it was? And their relationship was certainly far form perfect in other categories, too.

One thing he knew for certain: though he was willing to cheat on his wife, he didn’t want to become a serial tenderizer. If he could just find a married person in the same boat as him. But did he want that extra layer of guilt? Cheating on his own spouse was one thing, but to cheat on someone’s spouse while cheating on your own spouse?

By the third day, he finally found a match willing to meet in person.

Enter Catholic guilt.

It was one thing to let his fantasy play out behind the safe confines of a screen.

But real life was a whole other situation. Dating was never his strong suit when he was single and he lacked the confidence to assume that any woman would be that willing to hook with him right off the bat. He doubted he could ever live up to a right swipe in person. And on top of the guilt he was already feeling, there was a growing sense of paranoia that he was getting himself into something that would require payment when it was all said and done.

And though he technically he had “permission”, he still felt like he was doing something wrong. The implied “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy of finding a sidepiece still demanded a fair amount of sneaking around. He just had to keep reminding himself that he didn’t choose the circumstances that lead to this point in his life. But he could choose to accept them. And therein lies the rub.

And what could he have done more of himself to make things better at home? And should that be his focus now? Or, was it already too late?

Would his physical desperation be enough to eclipse everything else? He thought so. As he drove to the bar, every possible negative outcome swirled in its head. He arrived almost a half hour early and found a table outside on the patio. The chill of early spring was in the air, but he needed the fresh air. He would let her decide if they would move inside when she arrived.

In the meantime, he hoped that one Manhattan would be enough to both warm him up and take the edge off of his nervousness. But it didn’t. It only gave him more time for his conscience to kick in. What also wasn’t helping matters was the fact that he felt a massive shit coming on (a problem he remembered from his dating days). Everything pointed in the direction of just getting the fuck out. So he high-tailed it back to the parking lot, hoping to go undetected.

Back in the safe confines of his car, he sent her a text: “Can’t go through with it. Sorry. Pretty sure I will regret this.”

“Your loss,” she texted back.

And he immediately regretted it.

He took a day off of Tinder.

But like a gambler who just can’t help rolling the dice one last time, along came Maggie.

He right swiped and discovered that she was already waiting in the wings as a match. What ultimately appealed to him even more than her physical beauty was her quirky profile. Most profiles played it safe and cliché. Some didn’t even include a profile. Even though he was looking for someone to fuck, he knew deep down, he needed more than that. He needed a poet, which of course put him into dangerous emotional territory. If past history was anything, he simply wasn’t wired to have random hook-ups. But in his particular situation, it was probably best for the sake of his still salvageable marriage.

But was it salvageable?

However, there was one red flag at the end of her profile: “I’m not married. And neither should you be.” It certainly wasn’t the first profile he encountered with such a disclaimer, which proved one thing to him: Tinder was a breeding ground for desperate married men like himself. Though this made him feel a tad icky, he reminded himself that he had been granted a “permission card.” But then again, did he really? Did she really mean it? And how good would he be about covering up his tracks? It was probably only a matter of time before she found out. And then what? Would she stick to her promise? Or, leave him? Would she be curious to know who he was fucking? Would this somehow turn her on? The questions that clouded his mind were endless.

But his hormones finally won out.

Three hours later, through the sheer magic of his writing skill, lit aglow by a new, much-needed muse, a date was set for the next night.

“All you have to do is ‘woe’ me,” Maggie wrote.

“You mean, ‘woo’?” Eddie wrote back.

“Yes. No woe. Just woo.”

Though he lacked confidence in his ability to woo, he was confident that a wee amount of bourbon could be just what the love doctor ordered.

Their situations were a perfect fit. She was at a point in her life where she was tired of looking for the “right” guy and wanted a casual fling – a NSA FWB. Based on her looks, personality, and interests, she was exactly what he was looking for. But did he have the balls to go through with it?

As for his wife, he used the guise that he was headed out to write done, which he usually did a couple of times a week. He mind worked better when surrounded by the buzz and whirlwind of humanity…and more importantly, it kept him awake. Furthermore, he didn’t have to sit around and dwell on the sex he wasn’t getting at home. Out in public, anything felt possible.

As long he made it back home around his usual time round midnight, give or take, he was at least confident that his plan was relatively foolproof, lest in the circumstances of a car crash – or even, worse – death. His wife would have to live out the rest of her days wondering where he had been heading to. And why. Would she blame herself?

It was a risk he would have to live with.

Aside from that concern, the ease in which this was all happening sent off the alarms of paranoia.

He mulled over one thing in particular that she wrote: “You found me at a very vulnerable time. So you can fuck me anyway you’d like. But just be sure to cuddle with me when we’re done.”

Can’t be that fucking easy, can it? Was this another red flag? Do “real” women actually say this?

After all, it had been 12 years since he last dated and way before the social media age. A lot had changed.

As far as cuddling was concerned, it was even more absent from his marriage as sex. In fact, even more so. Both cuddling and any form of foreplay was strictly verboten.

Next thing he knew, he was on the road, concerned that the half-hour drive that loomed ahead would sound the trumpets of morality.

You want this. So stop prolonging it.

Surely, this is a ruse.

            If she’s fake, you will be able to tell in person.

            Are you sure?

            Nobody can ever be sure about anything.

Of course, if she did turn out to be legit, he had little faith that he wouldn’t come across as a complete, socially awkward weirdo, which would severely cripple his “woo-factor”.

Just be yourself.

That’s exactly part of the problem.

He finally arrived at the bar she suggested, which was conveniently not very far from her place. Before he got out of the car, he took a deep breath, and then said aloud: “You can do this.”

His window was down, along with the car next to him, of whose inhabitant happened to hear him. The awkwardness had already begun.

As he got out of his car, he checked his phone and saw a text: “Seated by the bear.”

Presumably neither a real bear; or a gay man.

As he approached the bar, he wondered if he was being tracked through the window and became self-conscious of the fact that the second she saw him, he would no longer be just a picture in her mind. It would be the real him. And he feared the real him couldn’t live up to a single, static picture. Since when did women find him attractive, anyway?

Maybe she feels the same way.

He finally reached the entrance, took a deep breath, and entered. He scanned the room, figuring he had a better chance at recognizing a bear before her.

But he couldn’t find a bear anywhere!

Where is the fucking bear?

He approached the hostess.

“Can you please point me in the direction of the bear?”
“I’m sorry. Who?”

Fuck. Am I in the wrong place?

“A bear. Is there a bear in here?”

“Oh, yeah. Right over there.”
She pointed toward a back corner. And sure enough was a bear, carved-out of wood. And just to its left, Maggie. She was as beautiful as advertised.

He nervously approached, feeling totally out of his league. She smiled eagerly.


“Yes. Hi, Eddie.”

He offered his hand. She stood up and greeted him with an unexpected hug, which did more to calm his nerves than he would have guessed. It had been over a year sine he last hugged his wife. And not for a lack of trying. As his wife liked to make clear: she wasn’t a “huggy person”.

Maggie smelled so nice. Would his wife smell it on him? Would that be all it took? Nothing he could do about it now. He could always blame it on a strip club.

They took their seats and he realized she was already halfway through a beer. Was she impatient? Or was she nervous?

He hoped the latter.

The waiter approached. He ordered a 7 & 7.

“Nervous?” she asked.

“That obvious?”

She smiled.

“So, are you?” she asked.

“A little,” he said, suddenly growing less so.

“You?” he asked.

“No. Should I be?”


“This is all so surreal,” he said.

“What is?” she asked, with what sounded like genuine curiosity.

“All of this. Being here. With you. On a date. It’s been awhile.”

“You’re going to be fine,” she said, placing both of his hands into her soft, warm ones, dissolving his anxiety.

And she was right. Their conversation couldn’t have gone more smoothly – an endless, effortless stream-of-consciousness. Based on their chats the previous night, this shouldn’t have been too surprising. He honestly couldn’t remember a conversation with

somebody who seemed to interested in what he had to say. It felt like therapy.

“I feel like you should be charging me!” he admitted.

“Oh. You will pay me back,” she said. It sounded like a threat, but her seductive smile let him know that it wasn’t.

But where was it all heading? Should he wait for her to make the next move? And what exactly would that move be?

He would get his answer soon enough.

“So, I have gerbil who is an asshole,” she offered out of the blue as she finished her third drink.

The ensuing explanation wasn’t as important as the fact that she said it. Because somehow, it broke through the last remaining layer of ice.

“So when do you turn into a pumpkin?” she finally asked him.

“As long as I’m back on the road by 12:30, I should be good.”

She looked at him seductively:

“Would you like to come to my place and meet my gerbil?”

“I would love to meet your gerbil.”

And with that, he picked up the tab (she insisted they split it. He insisted otherwise. She graciously accepted).

He followed her back to her place – a five minute rive that ended on a dirt road at a dead end. He ignored all the signs.

If anyone should have felt in danger, it would be the female allowing a complete and utter stranger back to her home.

Is this normal?

He got out of the car and took in his surroundings. Though it was pitch black, the sound of honking geese made it evident that a pond was nearby. He looked up at the sky.

“Wow, you can really see the stars out here,” he said. She nestled in closer to him.

“It’s one of the main reasons I love living here. Even though I’m still close to the city, I’m still far away enough to see stars.”

“And the geese!” he replied. “Why are they still awake?”

Is that the best I can fucking do?

“Those are swans,” she explained. “And they’re probably looking for mates,” she said turning to face him, with a seductive glint in her eye. He pulled her in for a kiss, as though he had no other choice, even if he wanted to. Five minutes later, she was disrobing him in he upstairs bedroom and issued this mandate: “I want you to do to me whatever you want. But only after I take you in my mouth.”

“What about you?” he asked.

“I want you to do to me whatever you want.”

They made out passionately, before she decreed:

“I want you to fuck me,” she finally said.

“Shit,” he said.

“What’s wrong?”

“I left something in my jacket. Downstairs.”


“Insurance…” he said.

“I’m covered.”

“Aren’t you worried about diseases?”

“Should I be?”

Eddie wasn’t about to take any chances and started to head downstairs.

“No, I’ll get it,” she demanded. “In your coat pocket?”

He found her reaction slightly askew, but assumed that she didn’t want him to freely wander around her home, which was certainly reasonable.

While she disappeared downstairs, his cock turned limp, which gave him time to gave pause and ask himself:

What the fuck am I doing?

            Exactly what you have been wanting.

A cool, but comfortable breeze wafted through an open window, which faced the pond where the gees—swans!— honked their midnight melody. The curtains even bellowed, like something right out of a goddam movie. As his cock turned limp, he twirled his wedding ring for a second, then took it off. He wanted it out of sight. He didn’t want her to see it. He set it on the dresser and tried to ignore the fact that it was the first time it had ever come off. He felt a slight tinge of sadness, but it faded the moment Maggie returned with his the three-pack of condoms he purchased en route.

They continued to make out and his cock was returned to its full glory in no time.

And then they fucked.

It was a quick finish, which was not a surprise considering how long it had been. But for sake, he was able to keep going.

“Don’t you need a break?” she asked.

“No,” he said, thrusting harder. “It’s my superpower.”

“Wow. You’re amazing.”

And they continued to fuck.

And fuck some more.

And fucked and fucked and fucked.

And fucked some more even after they were done fucking.

And the geese trumpeted outside the window.

And the curtains continued to bellow.

And he knew he would be sore tomorrow in a way he hadn’t felt in years.

Every few minutes, he asked her if there was anything she wanted him to do, and she whispered the same refrain into his ear: “Whatever you want.”

What he wanted to do was give pleasure in equal measure.

“I want you to do to me whatever you want,” she repeated.

So he made her come three times. He came with her on the third time.

The third time, they came together.

They collapsed into one another’s arms, though he got the sense they could both go another round if they wanted to.

Instead, neither spoke. They held each other, their limbs interwoven like a pretzel, as swans echoed in the night.

“Thank you,” Eddie finally managed to mutter.

“Thank you,” Maggie said.

He looked at the clock, then loosened himself from her grip.

“I hate to do this, but…”

“You gotta go…”

He nodded.

And then, like an unexpected hammer to his face:

“So, you can leave $250 on the nightstand before you leave.”

He laughed nervously, but her face appeared to mean business.

“You’re joking, right?” Eddie asked.

“Don’t tell me you’re surprised…” Maggie said with a whole shift in demeanor. A mere flick of a switch.

“Surprised?” Eddie asked. “We just had sex. And now you are asking for money. How do you expect me to react?”

“Don’t tell you don’t know how to this works…”

“Prostitution? Yes. I do. But I didn’t think that – this – is what it was. You’re joking right?”

“You had voids that needed be filled. And I filled them. So now, it’s time to fill mine and pay. You got what you what you wanted, right?”

First, cocaine. Then, prostitution. What the fuck came next?

“I’m sorry for the confusion,” she continued. “I thought this arrangement was clear from the start.”

He scanned his mind for any evidence this would have pinpointed him toward this direction. But aside from the general paranoia he had felt, nothing specific came to mind.

“So, $250,” she said, as though he had forgotten.

“Yeah, well, there’s just one problem. Do you take credit cards?”

She laughed.

“You’re cute. But no.”

He fumbled for his wallet, opened it up, and revealed that he had only about $30 for cash.”

“Where is the closest ATM?”

“Wouldn’t you like to know…”

“Yes, I would, actually.”

“You got to be fucking kidding me…”

As he threw on his clothes, she gave him directions.

He felt a knot in his stomach. Though he could get away with charging anything and everything on his credit card, his wife kept close tabs on their joint ATM account. He thought about using his credit card to take out cash, but he didn’t know his PIN. And did he really want to deal with customer service at a time like this?

He realized that aside from the ATM issue, he was now going to be arriving home later than expected. Hopefully, his wife would be too sound asleep to notice, which was usually the case. And since he slept on the couch most nights, it was easy to slip in undetected. It was only when he came into the bedroom that she noticed him.

She led him to the door.

“I promise I’ll be right back,” he said as he headed out the door, where he

was greeted by the now familiar swan chorus, now accompanied by large black man with a parrot on his shoulder.

What the actual fuck?!

“This is Antonio,” Maggie explained. “Antonio, take this gentleman to Community Bank. He needs to make a withdrawal.”

“Come with me,” the man he presumed to be either her pimp, or personal bodyguard said. The parrot repeated: “Come with me!”

            You got to be fucking kidding me.

Antonio put a meaty, black hand on the back of Eddie’s neck and led him to his Navigator, complete with spinning rims.

Of course…

Antonio opened the passenger door.

“Thank you,” Eddie said, surprised to be the recipient of such special treatment, as he climbed in. He then realized it was more of a precautionary measure to keep him from bolting, rather than any sort of gentlemanly gesture.

Antonio went around and climbed into the driver’s side.

“Buckle up,” Antonio demanded, out of breath. Under ordinary circumstances, Eddie never neglected to buckle up. This was a rare misstep.

“Buckle up,” the parrot repeated, still perched on Antonio’s shoulder. Did this parrot hear this phrase often? Or did it just have exceptional repeating skills?

As Antonio pulled out of the driveway, he spotted Maggie in the doorway, half in shadow. He still couldn’t compute how a person that he connected to on such a dynamic level could turn out to be prostitute. He couldn’t help but feel impressed at her master con-artistry. In fact, he found it fucking sexy.

Antonio put on some slow jams and nodded his head to the music. Not a word was spoken. It was all so romantic. The soothing tones of Luther Vandross calmed Eddie’s nerves, which – considering his present circumstances – was quite a feat. Besides, what did he really have to fear? He owed someone money. And had the means to get the money. Problem solved. And nobody gets hurt. Not that he had any experience resembling any of this.

But then his creative paranoia conceptualized a whole new scenario: what if Maggie’s sole purpose was to teach cheaters a hard lesson? What if she were a black widow, who used Antonio as the hired assassin to finish the job? He certainly looked like a man capable of doing such a thing – at last as much so as any large black man with a parrot on his shoulder jamming to CeCe Winans could. Was this his mild prejudice kicking in? Nothing he could do about it now. But could he escape? Perhaps not without putting himself in even graver danger.

They finally arrived at the bank. Antonio must have trusted him enough to wait in the car as Eddie approached the ATM. Then again, he probably stayed in the car to make things appear less suspicious in the eye of any passerby or security cameras. At least now he could avoid the performance anxiety he was likely to feel had Antonio been looking over his shoulder.

“Buckle up,” the parrot said right on cue, despite the fact that Eddie already had beaten him to it.

Antonio drove them back to the Swan Queen’s house, serenaded by the soulful seduction of Isaac Hayes.

When they got out of the car, Antonio led Eddie back to the house with his strong hand on the back of his neck once again.

Maggie greeted them at the door. Eddie handed her the cash.

She took it without saying a word, clearly annoyed by the inconvenience he had caused.

“Are tips standard etiquette?” he asked.

“Up to you,” Maggie said.

He added an extra $10, wondering if 20% was standard. But fuck it. He never wanted to make this purchase to begin with.

She gave him a hug and even told him he was welcome back anytime.

As he headed home, he realized that despite the monetary setback (and the need to come up with a reason why such a withdrawal was made so late at night in a town he typically didn’t frequent), he realized that in the end, it was worth every penny. He got what he needed. And he looked forward to the following weekend, when he could simply just relax.

And maybe…just maybe…there would be a next time after all!

He pulled into his driveway, fully at peace with everything that had transpired that night. Hell, he finally had something new to write about.

He shut off his engine, then noticed something familiar was missing: his ring.

NPR Review of LOVE & VODKA by Zinta Aistars

“Worthy of Several Toasts”(***** out of 5)

by Zinta Aistars

Love, science reveals, is really just another form of madness. The brain undergoes similar changes, from the rational into the irrational, and the resulting pheromone chemical soup tastes like insanity.

Dearborn-native (Michigan) and author R.J. Fox would probably not debate any of that. It took all of twenty minutes for him to fall in love with a foreign exchange student he spotted in a line for an amusement park ride. When she returned to her native Ukraine, he followed her, engagement ring in his pocket. And more madness ensued.

In his memoir, Love and Vodka: My Surreal Adventures in Ukraine (Fish Out of Water Books, October 2015), Fox recounts that initial meeting with Katya and the trip he took to Ukraine a year later to bring her back to the States again—as his wife. His adventures on foreign soil as he works up the nerve toward a marriage proposal and earn the blessing of Katya’s family are both outrageous and hilarious.

Babushka-wearing old women curse him, snarl and chase him, threaten to splatter him with bleach. Well-meaning hosts force vodka on him in toast after toast that he finds he cannot deny, resulting in drunken stupors, cold outdoor showers, and barefoot walks across sharp-edged rocks in his underwear. And so the story unfolds as Fox learns about a culture and a world far different than his own. Within its traditions and people, he finds himself in comical situations, but he also learns lessons about himself, love, and home.

What has remained with him from that mad and maddening journey these many years later, Fox says, “is the immersive experience of being in a whole other world than the one I know. Out in general public, people had a distrust toward me because I was not from Ukraine. This was in 2001, so not too far removed from the Soviet years when Ukraine was the center of missile-building during the Cold War. The distrust—it was the closest to feeling discriminated against that I’d ever known in my lifetime.”

In inner circles of what would increasingly become family, however, Fox found warmth, love, and family connection, not unlike what one would find in any family anywhere, and all liberally christened with yet more vodka. Although the resulting marriage would last only eight years—Fox is now remarried and has two children—he holds his memories of his Ukraine adventure close to his heart.

The memoir is the first publication of a new Ann Arbor-based publisher, Fish Out of Water, run by Jon and Laurie Wilson.

Pipe Dream

The genesis of my writing dream began in a hospital room the summer of 1992, just before my 10th grade “growth-spurt” year. My grandfather was hospitalized yet again, as he had been a significant portion of the last third of his life. One night, after coming home from the hospital, my mom told me that she met the daughter of my grandpa’s “roommate” – a 10th grade English teacher at my school.

“Maybe she’ll be your teacher,” my mom said.

“Yeah, maybe,” I replied.

Not only did Ms. Gautreau become my teacher… she became my lifelong mentor, guiding me through a dream that would culminate with the publication of my first book 23 years later. She is to whom that book is dedicated. And she deserves more than just a dedication page. She is worthy of an entire essay.

The seeds of my future were undeniably sowed in that 10th grade classroom at Edsel Ford High School in my hometown of Dearborn, Michigan. From that point on, every decision, thought, and sacrifice made was built around my writing dream. And thanks to Ms. Gautreau, it was a dream that I never, ever gave up on. Even when everyone else seemed to try and convince me otherwise.

Up until my 10th great year, I really had no idea what I really wanted to do with my life. My grandmother was my biggest influence at the time, but she was determined that her first grandchild was destined for Harvard. As a not-so-subtle hint, she bought me a Harvard sweatshirt when I was 10 – a not-so-subtle hint. (Allow me to point out another family connection to Ms. Gautreau: my grandmother’s long-term boyfriend Chuck’s ex-wife was married to Ms. Gautreaus’s brother. But I digress). Though I wasn’t remotely close to being the smartest kid in class, I was at least smart enough to know that I wasn’t Harvard material. Not by a long shot. But my grandmother never wavered. By the time I got to high school, my GPA (hindered mostly by poor math and science skills) obliterated any outside chance that I could get into Harvard – or any Ivy League school for that matter. I was only slightly above average in the other subjects (but God-awful in math) and I wasn’t exactly a language arts genius in the making (as far as GPA was concerned). In fact, when I took my English placement test for college, I was placed in two remedial classes (math, which was expected…and composition class…not expected!) Surely, there was some kind of mistake, so I begged and clawed my way into the general freshman comp class. And, aced it. (As I did all of my English and lit classes along the way). The only plausible theory as to why I failed my placement test to begin with was my horrendous handwriting. (Then again, I was rejected from my high school’s literary magazine, as well and my submissions were typed.) Though the rejection letter was signed by a student, it was clearly written under the gentle guidance of Ms. Gautreau: “You and the others who submitted are among a special folk that carry with them the guts to take a chance and put your talents to the test…we have to sigh and set some pieces aside. Unfortunately, your work was among these. However, don’t stew over this minor pitfall. Writing is an art that can provide inner sanctum for a lifetime. It is a personal experience and sometimes is meant to reward you and not to satisfy others.”

Fortunately, due to encouraging words of wisdom such as this, these early setbacks did nothing to rattle my resolve. My thick skin was forming.

Meanwhile, my grandmother, who had spent her entire career (50 years!) as a Ford Motor Company secretary, had a grandiose vision that her grandson would not only be an engineer at her beloved company, but would one day take over the reigns (side note: my hometown of Dearborn was not only home to Ford, but was the birthplace of none other than Henry himself). In her defense, it wasn’t like I had a back-up plan. The last time I thought I knew was in the 2nd grade, when I wrote in a report that I wanted to be a doctor. Even though I realized early on that I didn’t have what it took to be a doctor, my grandmother’s influence was so deeply felt, it appeared that my fate was sealed: I was going to be an engineer, despite my disinterest and – more importantly – lackluster skill in all areas remotely related to that particular field.

“It’s just a matter of mind over matter,” my Grandma always told me. “If you put your mind to it, you can excel in math, science, an anything else you put your mind to.” She was right about only one part of that – putting my mind to something against all odds no doubt contributed to my eventual “success” as a writer.

To further prepare me for a career as an engineer, my grandmother signed me up for high school engineering workshops at Ford, which required me to wake up bright and early on several Saturday mornings. For a teenager, there’s nothing worse. Not even a potential scholarship waiting for me at the end of the rainbow made up for that fact. Because I knew I had no legitimate shot at them. In fact, these workshops did nothing to inspire me (unless you count being inspired to do anything but engineering). In fact, I was completely bored, disinterested … and confused.

Mind over matter.

And my mind was made up. Engineering did not matter to me.

Yet, despite this minor detail, my grandmother continued to believe that somehow, against all scientific reason, I could train my mind to both like and excel in math and science. If this were the case, it wouldn’t have been a matter of science. It would be magic.

My experiment in engineering coincided with my 10th grade year, which paved the way for Ms. Gautreau to come to the rescue and teach me the true meaning of following a dream with every ounce of your heart, mind, and soul. Her unbridled faith in my ability to succeed as a writer and filmmaker has kept me focused on my dream every step away and through every pitfall along my path. Despite a cavalcade of wholesale life changes I have encountered in my life, there has always been one constant: my dream…and the teacher who made it all possible.

Following years of elementary and middle school misery, there are actually two teacher heroes that came to the rescue, one of which I had the year before and through the entirety of high school: my band teacher, Mr. Otto (affectionately referred to as “Uncle Otto”). From that time on, I no longer felt ostracized by my peers. It didn’t take long for my entire social circle to be made up entirely of fellow band geeks. I had found a home. As I wrote in an article for the school newspaper: “Whenever I need to seek comfort or help, all I have to do is walk through the band room, and someone will be there for me. There is a back hall with couches, where band and vocal members meet in the morning, for lunch, and after school. When I enter the back hall, I feel a sense of relief, like the way I feel when I walk into my home.”

Mr. Otto is quoted in that article as follows: “Band has a special unity. They look out for each other, get the job done. Teamwork and family describe best what it’s like to be in band.”

So even though I found a safe haven and refuge in the band room, I found my soul in Ms. Gautreau’s classroom. I not only felt at home there…but at home with myself. And that truly made all the difference.

Along with Mr. Otto, I had Ms. Gautreau for the remainder of my high school years, which included 10th grade English, creative writing courses, and film studies. In fact, it was in her creative writing class that I began writing my first screenplay – an adaptation of Robert Newton Peck’s Soup on Ice; a gift from my grandma when I was a little boy.

To put it succinctly, Ms. Gautreau epitomized everything that a teacher should be. From an instructional standpoint, her lessons were always engaging and inspiring. However, far more important than any lesson she ever taught me was the fact that she helped me discover myself…and never stopped believing in me. By extension, I have never stopped believing in myself. I should point out that she was the only teacher who recorded any notes on my progress report: Progress report: “Contributes to class./Is a pleasure to have in class./Shows interest and desire to improve./Assumes responsibility/shows initiative.” I hope she realizes how much of an impact such a small gesture had on me. So teaching often goes.

Ms. Gautreau not only inspired me to pursue my dream, but has greatly influenced my teaching “day job”. Though I can never come even close to reaching her level of greatness (my dream ironically prohibits me from the being the selfless teacher she was), I strive to do everything in my power to emulate her teaching style, with the sole mission of encouraging my own students to latch on to dreams of their own…and never let go.

Aside from the constant encouragement to pursue my dream, Ms. Gautreau went above and beyond her job duties. When I was her student, she would frequently give me press clippings from various magazines and newspapers (New York Times and The New Yorker in particular) that pertained to writing, film, or baseball. I have saved every single one of them. Now, yellowed and tattered, they comfort me like a tattered security blanket. The clippings extended well beyond the walls of my high school. I still get them till this day, twenty years later! The epitome of life-long learning.

At least once a year, Ms. Gautreau and I get together to watch an Oscar contending film and to chat. And with each visit, my creative juices are recharged and I walk away feeling like I can conquer the world. When we get together (usually around the holidays), she usually hands me over a giant manila envelope filled with accumulated clippings. Sometimes, she sends them in the mail. Or e-mail. Recently, she joined Facebook, so now “clippings” get directly posted to my wall. Her presence in my life is greater than ever before.

Though Ms. Gautreau is now happily “retired”, she certainly hasn’t quit teaching. She currently teaches writing courses for senior citizens who realize that it’s never too late to discover their voice. And of course, there is no doubt her influence will continue to live on in the hearts of every student she has ever inspired. I hope that in my own small way, her legacy lives on through my own teaching (despite the limitations my dream puts on it). I remember how disappointed I was when she retired the year before I did my student teaching. Initially, I felt like I missed out on a golden opportunity to truly become the young Padawan to her Yoda. But I later realized, the power of her force everything was already buried deep within my soul. As it always will be. There was nothing left to learn.

I can pinpoint the precise moment when my dream truly set sail. And it all comes down to a blue notebook. My holy grail. Like most English teachers, Ms. Gautreau required students to keep a journal. Several times a week, we would either have to respond to a specific prompt, or write wherever our pubescent muse took us. Our notebooks would be turned at the end of each quarter for feedback. I didn’t really know what to expect. In fact, I probably wasn’t even consciously thinking about it. But when I got my notebook back the first go around, the margins were filled with numerous brief, witty comments that outweighed any letter grade (which was an A+, by the way). Even though many of her comments were usually one or two words, this written “conversation” provided the spark of inspiration I so desperately needed. And it made me feel excited about writing in a way that I had never felt before.

Suddenly, life was full of possibility.

And my dream was born, as this passage indicates:

“By wanting desperately to become a successful Hollywood filmmaker, I put myself at great risk. I believe in myself, however. I know I can do it, but it will be no easy road. While pursuing my dream, I look for inspiration wherever I go. I get most of my inspiration from Ms. Gautreau…I have never been told that I can’t make it, but I have been told that it is just a pipedream and that I have no big chance (not because of lack of talent, but because of the odds). Well, I’ll show them. Somebody has to make movies, right? Why can’t I be one of them? Life is all about taking risks. It is those risks that happiness is most commonly found.”

It didn’t take me long to realize that “I love to write because it allows me to escape the chaos of everyday life and relax. I take pride in my writing and if someone else doesn’t like it, I don’t get mad. I just work to improve it until it is as good as I can get it. I prefer to write light hearted comedy-dramas that make people good. I find that combining tears with laughter works good in any film. To me, making a person feel good about life is the best cure for anything. To me, literature is the best way to relax, whether you’re reading it, or writing it.”

The true impetus and value of this notebook came to light after Ms. Gautreau’s father passed mid-way through the year. While attending a viewing at the funeral home, she introduced me to her family with great enthusiasm:

“So you’re the one with the journal!,” one of her family members proclaimed. I felt like a supertar! As it turned out, Ms. Gautreau had shared my notebook with her family in the hospital’s waiting room. It was a tremendous feeling and it was at that moment that I knew right then where my destiny lay.

As Ms. Gautreau told my hometown paper, The Dearborn Press & Guide in an article that came out after I published my first book, “His journal was magic to read…I can still remember the delight and the wonderful quirky observations he would make about life and the wonderful, unique ways of articulating his ideas.

“He had this dead-on, droll sense of humor,” she continued. “He would always spot the absurdity of life. He was always the guy who was willing to go out there and take a chance, take a risk. But at the same time I think he was very honest in his own heart.”

Meanwhile on the homefront, my dream wasn’t exactly a greeted with open arms. The general consensus of my family toward my dream fell along the lines of: “It’s just a hobby,” (Bobby’s Hobby!) or “it’s only a pipe-dream.” It wasn’t so much that they didn’t support me. They just didn’t encourage me. Or is there any difference? But let me get one thing straight: I couldn’t ask more loving, generous parents and am extremely grateful for all they have done for me and all they continue to do (you know, like keeping me despite being an oopsie daisy and staying together to raise three children, despite my dad being just days out of high school upon my birth). In some ways, their ambivalence toward my dream only added more fuel to the fire. And made me want to prove them wrong.

In the meantime, I just had to accept that “Bobby’s Hobby” was never going to be taken seriously. And with Ms. Gautreau’s guiding light, I was determined to prove their doubts wrongs (and for over 20 years, they were right). Even though it took that long, I never once doubted that it was only a matter of time. Just how much time was a whole other matter. Sometimes, I wonder how long I would have stuck with it if I knew how long it would actually take. I certainly never would guessed it would take as long as it did. The longer it took, the harder it was going to be to turn back. You don’t put that much time into something, only to turn around with your tail between your legs. Fortunately, there were always enough clues (contests, optioned scripts, publication of short stories, etc.) along the way that I was at least on the right track. That I wasn’t time on something I had no business trying to get involved with. As long as I kept trying, there was always going to be a chance – or at least more of a chance than somebody who never tried at all. In essence, it came down to one basic principle: my dream was never a matter of if…it was always a matter of when. No matter how many setbacks. It was this mindset that allowed me to freely sacrifice so much of my free time and social life over the years. My dream always lay ahead like a lighthouse beacon surrounded by a dark, stormy sea. I just had to follow one simple rule: “Never give up.” It’s no surprise that my daughter learned to say “Daddy doesn’t give up” at the age of two. My dream is that my children will follow their own dreams just as daddy did, despite the frustration that is bound to result.

From the time my dream was hatched in Ms. Gautreau’s classroom, I have done everything in my power protect it at all costs. I have directed most of my prayers toward it. In fact, every major decision has revolved around my dream, including my decision to become a teacher. After toiling around in the media business after college, I couldn’t resist the allure of summers off and frequent breaks. I even spend my planning period writing, rather than grading or making copies because it is when I know I will be at my creative peak for the day.

Though I never once considered throwing in the towel, I would often wonder if I was doing enough. Or I would ask myself why was I still in Michigan, rather than Hollywood? A decision I still regret from time to time, until I remember that had I moved out there, I wouldn’t have my two beautiful children (though I would possibly have two different children, so I thereby lament the fact that I never got to meet the two children I would have had if I had moved west. Or perhaps I would have none at all?). The best outlook to assume is that I am right where I am supposed to be.

Before I got married, whenever I felt the urge to follow my heart to Hollywood, I convinced myself that I could still make my dream come true…from the comfort of my parents’ couch. And since I stayed home for college, my parents had grave concerns that I would spend his weekend nights sitting at home on the couch writing. Not only were they were worried I would be single forever, they were worried I would be single and sitting on their couch forever.

Writing my life away…

It wasn’t that I didn’t have any friends (this wasn’t elementary school after all!). It was just that I was under the spell of my dream. Though I could certainly see understand their concern, it was ultimately through writing that I fell in love (which in turn, ultimately made my dream come true).

Flashforward to Y2K: I was on the cusp of receiving my English degree and working part time at Ford Motor Company (thanks to my grandma’s connections) – but not as an engineer as she had envisioned: I was working in public relations, writing promotional materials for the Ford Research Laboratory. Although I had fallen short of Harvard, at least I fulfilled her other wish: working for old man Henry.

However, with graduation looming, I was at a crossroads in my life. Since it was clear that Ford would not be offering full time employment anytime soon, it was time to get serious about my future. So I decided to apply to the top graduate film programs and cast my fate to the wind. If, by some miracle, I got into one of the top programs, my decision would be made for me.

But life had other plans.

For my final spring break, I headed to Hollywood to take some film workshops, including Robert Mckee’s famous Story seminar. Little did I know my own personal Hollywood story was in the making.

My trip began with a fateful encounter with one of my childhood heroes while waiting at the gate for my flight. I spotted a man sitting across from me whom I was pretty sure was legendary Detroit Tigers manager Sparky Anderson.

“Is that Sparky Anderson?” I stuttered to the gate attendant.

“Yes, it is,” the attendant replied. Now that I knew for sure, I headed over to my boyhood idol, trying to keep my nerves under control.

“Mr. Anderson?”

“Yes?” he replied.

I offered my hand. He shook it.

“I am so happy to meet you. I am a big fan,” I said, before congratulating him on his recent induction into the Hall of Fame.

I thought for sure that he would brush me off, but instead we chatted for a few minutes about the Tigers and their upcoming season. I then offered him my pen and steno pad, which he signed on the first page: “To Bob. Thanks for being a great baseball fan. Sparky Anderson.”

He shook my hand and I returned to my seat, where I waited to board. I might as well have been on Cloud 9. The next and last time I saw him, I was heading down the aisle in search of my seat. Sparky was seated in first class, already asleep and I realized that I just had the rare privilege of seeing a Hall of Fame coach in repose.

When I finally located my seat, I scribbled in my journal: “My trip’s off to a good start already. Perhaps it’s an omen.” How little did I know how much of an omen it truly was.

The workshops I was attending were on opposing weekends, leaving me with plenty of time to be a tourist and ponder whether I should roll the dice and move out west, or remain in my comfort zone back in Michigan.

And then came March 7, 2000.

The rain-soaked day (in fact, almost my entire trip was rain-soaked. I quickly learned that L.A. had a rainy season) began with a dream tour of The Price is Right, which had been arranged through a family friend of Ms. Gautreau (even though I would have much preferred if this contact was able to place my scripts in the right hands, this was a close second).

I should probably point out that I had a rather unhealthy obsession with this show … due in part to the fact that I had come to associate this show with being unhealthy, accompanied by chicken soup with crackers, chamomile tea and gag-inducing cold and cough syrup. And standing there, on the set, it was as though I walked right through my television set, just as I dreamed of in a fever-induced daydream. As I wrote in my journal, it was as though “I had stepped foot on sacred ground.”

I was taken aback by how small the studio was. It was as though I was standing on a miniature replica of the set – not the actual set itself. There was no way it could possibly be this small. But it was. Even the Holy Grail itself – the Plinko! board seemed too small to be real, not to mention the Showcase Showdown wheel. I asked her if I could give the wheel a test drive, but was told that CBS has a strict policy against spinning the wheel unless it was during game time. Beggars can’t be choosers. Years later, I got to attend a taping of the show – just a couple of years before Bob Barker retired. Since I was in attendance as a guest of a CBS employee, I would not be permitted to have a chance to “Come on down!,” but both experiences were the next best thing.

As magical as my Price is Right encounter was, it would pale in comparison to what happened next. After the tour, I debated whether or not to head to Universal Studios on the account off the damp weather, before ultimately deciding that a little rain wasn’t going to hurt me. So I took a $80 cab ride (which caught me totally off guard). Though I immediately regretted by decision, it would turn out to be the best $80 I ever spent.

After wandering the park for awhile in a melancholy daze, I spotted an attractive woman who also appeared to be by her lonesome on the Terminator ride. I lost sight of her and then later spotted her entering the E.T. ride. We were both eating peanut M & M’s. So I followed her in (making me a quasi-stalker). As fate would have it, we would ride together. We struck up a conversation and I learned she was an exchange student from Ukraine, living in Mississippi. Twenty minutes later, we were going our separate ways, with contact info in hand.

We became pen pals. At first, we started writing one another. First monthly. Then weekly. Then daily. E-mails soon became instant messages. Perhaps most importantly, she had read all of my scripts, showing more interest in my writing than anyone ever had in my life with the exception of one special teacher. Before we knew what hit us, we had fallen in love…through writing. Before long, our love blossomed until it was too big for even distance to contain us. Just over a year later, I headed to Ukraine with an engagement ring in my pocket.

Following the most amazing, magically surreal experience of my life, in which every moment felt like the coolest independent film ever made, I immediately got to work on a semi-autobiographical screenplay based on this experience, in the cold, dark shadow of 9/11.

A few years later, I optioned the script to a producer (for a whopping $1.00). My dream was finally coming true!

But then it didn’t.

Following extensive, excruciating re-writes, the script became more and more fictionalized, but I was willing to go along with whatever changes the producer suggested. But then the producer suggested that the location of the script get changed to Asia, on the account of potential Asian investors that he had waiting in the wings (somehow, David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive cowboy comes to mind). Fortunately and unfortunately, the producer abandoned the project and the option expired. My script was an orphan again. And I was devastated. The rug had been completely pulled out from under me. Though I had fallen to my lowest point, I wasn’t willing to give up the ghost. Drawing upon the wisdom of the bestselling self-help book Who Moved My Cheese, I … moved my cheese and set screenwriting aside and try my hand at prose. At first, I felt like I was abandoning my dream. But then I realized, my end goal remained the same. I was just seeking an alternate route; I would have to enter Hollywood through the backdoor.

No longer bound by the constraints of screenplay structure, writing prose was an incredibly liberating experience. I was therefore able to go back to the original draft of my script and resurrect previously cut scenes. Furthermore, the script was essentially a skeleton outline, so all I had to do was add meat to the bones. The biggest challenge was to learn how to write prose that didn’t read like the sparse choppiness of a script. By the same token, the brevity of screenwriting also came in handy. It was just a matter of finding the proper balance. Over time, I got into the groove. And thus a book was born.

Sadly, around the time I was completing my book, my marriage had begun to unravel. And I would be in denial if I didn’t admit that my writing had a lot to do with it. If you marry a writer, know that writing will be your spouse’s mistress. Perhaps, the best advice I could give any writer is not to marry. It only ends up hurting people.

During the last couple of years of my marriage, there was a lot of pressure to stop writing. To abandon a dream that clearly wasn’t ever going to happen And at one point, I did. For the sake of my marriage. And I had never been more miserable in my life. I never felt more incomplete. I felt like an addict without a fix. When I’m writing, I never feel more alive. A literal high. In fact, I usually feel more awake and full of energy on the heels of a late night writing session than I do on a full night’s sleep. So once I lost that lifeline, I unraveled. Dear God, did I unravel.

Asking somebody to give up on something you put in so many years and sacrifice into is just about the most selfish thing you can ask someone to do for them. Quitting would mean everything was all for naught. It would have been one thing if I lost all faith in myself. But my faith never wavered. Yet, I wanted to do what I could to spare my marriage. Consequentially, it destroyed it. It is perhaps no coincidence that for most of this period, communication with Ms. Gautreau was at it lowest peak, short of an annual Christmas card. In fact, it was the longest stretch I had gone without seeing her. I wasn’t even conscious of it at the time. But looking back, it is no coincidence that it paralleled at this point in my life.

Though broken, I wasn’t completely beaten. And then I started writing again, but did so secretly. I was a closeted writer. A painful, daily reminder that the person who once shared in my dream – who I fell in love because of her support of my dream – had forsaken me. So after trying to hold on as long as I could, I pulled the plug after eight years of marriage. And just like that, I was left with an unpublished book about a love story that no longer existed in reality.

The craziest thing about this was the fact that my divorce – as tragic and painful as it was – wasn’t my lowest point. It was the period when I had stopped writing.

When I first fell in love, I wondered if my Hollywood dream was only a ruse by fate to lead me to my soul mate on that fateful, rainy day at Universal Studios. I now realize that falling in love was actually part of fate’s grand plan that would lead to the book that would later make my dream finally come true. With no shortage of sacrifice, pain, and tears from two people, who once upon a time promised live happily ever after.

Five years later, my book was published. And as exhilarating and magical the experienced has been, I would be remiss to ignore the bittersweet melancholy that has accompanied me on this journey. On one hand, with every revision, I got to re-live my life’s most amazing experience over and over again. It is as close to time travel as the human mind can get. At the same time, these memories are soaked in regret when I think about how it all ended. And though I take comfort in the knowledge that this life-altering experience will live on forever in the pages of my book, I would be lying if I didn’t admit to the regret of not sharing in this experience with her by my side. No matter how many book signings I have done and no matter how many copies I will ultimately sell, there will always be a deep, melancholy hole in my heart.

When the time came to write a dedication, the choice was simple: I knew I couldn’t dedicate it to my ex-wife. And I certainly wasn’t going to dedicate a book about my ex to my second wife. So it was only fitting I would dedicate it to Ms. Gautreau – the person who most made this publication possible. In an e-mail to her, I wrote:


“I never even had to deliberate my decision to dedicate the book to you. And seeing your name on the dedication page was almost equal to the feeling of holding the book itself for the first time.”

I sent her the first copy of my book along with the invite to my book launch (which fell on the eve of her 70th birthday). And here is what she wrote:

Dear Bob,


Who knew that that shared room with your grandfather and my father in residence at Oakwood Hospital would lead to such connections?

To find your book in the mail after returning from Japan was pure delight.

The dedication gave me a thrill shiver and goose bumps.

I never anticipated such an experience.


This old gal is very touched and pleased!

Looking forward to seeing you soon.


All the very best to you and yours,



Consequentially, one of the most joyous moments of my life was being able to introduce Ms. Gautreau to the packed house at my book’s launch party at Literati Bookstore in downtown Ann Arbor. That very moment was the culmination of every ounce of sweat, blood, and tears shed over the past 20 years, going all the way back to the moment that an awkward, directionless boy first entered that 10th grade classroom, only to exit with laser beam focus.

The next day, Ms. Gautreau wrote this on a Facebook post:

“Bob, you were surrounded by autograph seekers after our launch; so I want to let you know how touched I was by your remarks. I felt as though I were going to burst into tears when you offered your kind remarks to me. Your reading was the best. I have attended a helluva lot of readings over the years. Yours hit all the right notes. The audience was enchanted and enthralled, tickled and touched. If I had ever had a song I would have wanted him to be exactly like you. I marvel at your keen-quirky mind, your self-discipline, your willingness to be a risk taker, and your sheer determination. BRAVO! Also, it thrilled me to be inside a NEW independent bookstore. It tickled me to see a younger couple risk starting a new publishing company. It delighted me to see people scrambling to find copies of your book down on the first floor. Finally, I hope lots and lots and lots and lots of people realize that your novel would make great Christmas gifts. ALL THE VERY BEST TO YOU FOR A GREAT SUCCESS!”

As the above comments demonstrate, as long as I live, her influence will always be felt through the deepest reaches of my soul every time I put pen to paper. Or fingers to keyboard. No matter how much further my success carries me and no matter how many setbacks I must endure, every brick of my future will be built upon the foundation that Ms. Gautreau laid down for me.

I will conclude this essay dedication with a Christmas card from 2004 that encapsulates everything that is great about this guiding light in my life. On the envelope to the card were two rubber stamped Shakespeare quotes: “This above all; this thine own self be true.” Along with “It is not in the stars to hold our destiny but in ourselves.”

Inside the card, in her own magical handwriting:


“Continue to create. It’s significant energy, important to counterbalance the forces devoted to destruction on the planet. The creative process is necessary, meritorious and precious.

All the best, Anne.”

Published in:

Four Foxes, One Hound blog



Down with OCD

Looking back at my childhood, I am 99.99% sure I had undiagnosed obsessive-compulsive disorder. And though under control, there’s doubt I have it as an adult. As I think about my strange, childhood behaviors, I can’t help but wonder: how did this affliction untreated? Was everyone too focused on my speech impediments? Surely my parents noticed me making sure that that every Kleenex box was perfectly aligned and straight 30 times a day. Or, did I simply do a great job staying closeted about it?

Though my undiagnosed condition has been a sometimes a cumbersome, debilitating hindrance, I have learned to embrace it. In fact, I am convinced that my obsessive compulsiveness stems from the same part of my brain that fueled my obsessive devotion to a dream that a less obsessive person might have given up on. After all, rebounding from rejection after rejection is much akin to doing the same thing over and over and over until something gives. Because eventually, everything finds its place. The planets will be aligned. And wall will be right with the world.

In addition to the aforementioned Kleenex boxes, I obsessed over everything from the corner of a video game cartridge label peeling off, to a smudge mark on the cover of a comic book. The one thing that drove my family the most nuts was my insistence on making sure the bindings of my books never got bent. They knew better than to open a book of mine. Anytime somebody would attempt to open up one of my books, or (in rare instances, loan one of my books to someone), I would issue one simple, panicked caveat: DON’T BEND THE BINDING!

Though some of my OCD tendencies have faded over time, proper book care has not. And it’s just my books that I worry about. I cringe at the sight of any book binding abuse. If preserving a book’s binding means not being able to open it up more than half an inch and straining my neck in order to read the words on the page, then godammit, the book ain’t opening more than half an inch. And don’t even get me started on bent covers.

Here are some of my other ODC quirks over the years (and more reasons why I had such a tough time making friends):


1st grade: Obsessively staring at my digital Casio watch so much so, my parents had to take it away.


4th grade: Feeling the need to constantly clear my throat to make sure my voice box was still working


5th grade: The aforementioned straightening of Kleenex boxes.


6th grade: Crashing my R/C monster truck into a basement wall and then obsessively trying to tape it back on.


7th grade: obsessively putting sidewalk chalk over a bleached out portion of a Simpsons T-shirt.


The list can go on and on. Over the years, I have saved insignificant items from dates, ex-girlfriends, and even random friends, including candy wrappers, uneaten candy still in wrappers, ticket stubs, and napkins from dates, etc. It’s a wonder that I’m not a hoarder. I have come dangerously close. Fortunately, three women have made me get rid of things at various points in my life: my mother. And two wives. Especially whenever the time had come to move. I still have a box of love letters from my high school girlfriend stored into the deepest recesses of my basement. In fact, I have dozens of boxes spanning multiple eras of my life. Someday, the R.J. Fox historical society is going to really appreciate this fact.

My hoarder tendencies became magnified tenfold once I had children. God forbid my wife throws away a small scribble my son or daughter makes on a crumpled up piece of paper.

My undiagnosed condition still rears its ugly head in all areas of life:

I overly-obsess checking e-mail, Facebook, Twitter, etc. – no matter how busy I may be (and especially when I am writing). Then there was the time I re-painted a door over a dozen times attempting to cover up a small pockmark that was made after attempting to sand bumpy paint before it was completely dry. No matter how many coats of paint, the pockmark remained. I obsessed over it once I sold that house. And continue to obsess over it from time to time.

Every now and then, my OCD over small things lead to even bigger problems. Take, for instance, a recent incident involving an old pair of tattered gym shorts. (My inability to get rid of clothes – no matter how worn or old – is a side effect of my OCD). These particular shorts were navy blue, with a small a strip of white at the bottom. While re-surfacing our blacktop driveway, a small drop of black coating landed right on the white spot of my shorts. It drove me absolutely crazy that these old, raggedy shorts were now tarnished. In a frenzy, I whipped up a solution to the problem: bleach! Of course this would work. White on white! After dabbing a bleach-soaked cotton ball on the black spot, I laid the shorts upon my bed to dry, thinking that the wet part wouldn’t penetrate through my bedspread. Not only did it leave a bleach stain far larger and far more noticeable than the little black spot on my old pair of shorts, the bleach didn’t work (though in my defense, it was definitely more faded). Three years later, I still obsess over this incident and an endless others just like it. As much as I realize nothing can be done to change these things, my mind still acts as though it can.

Though I realize none of these obsessions really matter in the end, I think I much prefer living in a world where everything does.


I Need Juice

There is nothing that makes me cringe more than the thought of a needle entering my vein. A needle into flesh is one thing. They suck, but they don’t make me pass out. Stick a needle through my flesh and into a vein …well. Shit. I’m getting woozy just thinking about it.

Ever since the age of 12, I have either passed out, or have come close to passing out during multiple blood tests over the years. I’m not talking about gallons or even pints of blood. I’m talking a single vial, which means that it is completely psychological – well, for the most part.

As a result, I can never donate to a blood bank. Despite feeling guilty, the fear of passing out overshadows everything out.

Most of the times I have passed came on the heels of having to fast the night before. Low blood sugar is to blame for this. In fact, I have passed out from low blood sugar on numerous occasions that didn’t involve a needle at all. Like in church, which isn’t nearly as embarrassing as having to stop someone from giving me oral sex as the swirling clouds of gray clouded my brain halfway through the act (or, in an hot tub on my honeymoon in an even more involved act).

Though passing out has been far and few between in recent years, whenever my doctor prescribes a blood test, I still cringe. When (if) I finally summon the courage to go, I make sure that I have juice and a granola bar ready to go the very second the needle leaves my vein – especially when fasting is involved.

I have also found another strategy that works during the act of blood renewal. I simply ask the nurse to talk to me the entire time to keep me distracted (though, I learned to always clarify that this does not mean talking about drawing blood. Talking about it only makes it worse!)

As I mentioned, I don’t always need blood drawn to pass out. The only surefire to avoid this is to 1.) eat breakfast first thing in the morning and 2.) always have a mid-morning snack within reach at all times. Though I try to keep my glove box stocked with back-ups, I usually forget to refill my backup supply when it runs out. Fortunately, my wife is pretty consistent at bringing along snacks for both the kids…and for me whenever we leave the house – especially in the morning.

Though I have only passed out a small handful of times after breakfast, there have been countless times that I entered what I call the “grey zone” within an hour or two after I eat. And even though I usually don’t pass out, getting lightheaded is a common occurrence and usually accompanied by a massive headache, which often leads to a migraine, which often leads to vomiting).

The peak of these experiences occurred around the ages of 12-17. On numerous occasions, I hopped into the shower before breakfast, only to be visited by shades of gray, at which point I would scramble out of the shower, just barely managing to put a towel on, mustering whatever energy I had left to yell out: “I NEED JUICE!”, at which point I would crawl toward my bedroom, with my junk exposed through my loosely wrapped towel and lie in bed, waiting for my mom to bring me a glass of orange juice. By the time she entered my room with juice in hand, I was too close to the brink of passing out to care that my junk was fully exposed. With barely enough strength to sit up, I would gulp my juice until I would break into a cold sweat and color filled my world once again.

And leave it to my family to immediately begin making fun of me for my distress mantra: “I NEED JUICE!” (because I had no shortage of people making fun of me at school). In fact, not only was my family making fun of me, they thought I was only doing it for attention, like my incessant sleep talking, or the time I woke up in the middle of the night with all of the lights on in my room and my bed positioned perfectly in the center of my room (moved from against the wall). For what it’s worth, I solemnly swear in this NON-FICTION essay that this is all truth.

The strangest incident occurred when I collapsed on the bathroom floor during one of my pre-breakfast showers. Upon seeing me passed out on the floor, she passed out, too, resulting in a minor neck injury that took months to recover from. Of course, nobody believed me that I passed out for real. They thought I was only faking it and that my mom, on the other hand, had passed out from fright, and that I was too driven by guilt to admit it.

And then there was that dreadful Easter Sunday in middle school in church. Though I had eaten breakfast, it consisted of nothing but Easter candy. During the sermon, I began to feel woozy and thought I was going to vomit. En route to the restroom, I was overcome by a wave of darkening gray and then collapsed in the vestibule. Next thing I knew, I was being held in the arms of a large bald man, who happened to be the father of a classmate.

On the heels of this holy encounter, my doctor sent me for a four-hour glucose tolerance test to determine my blood sugar level. This test consisted of not only fasting the night before, but consuming mass amounts of an orange-flavored glucose-syrup each hour of the test. I passed out during the first round, thus ending the test. The needle wasn’t even out of my arm yet. I woke up to the pungent smell or ammonia in my nostrils. At least I had a diagnosis: I was hyperglycemic.

So despite a medical reason for crying out: “I need juice!”, it still (till this day even) hasn’t stopped my family from making fun of me. Fortunately, despite a few close calls, it’s been several years since the last time I passed out.

But as long as there is no shortage of granola bars and juice on this planet, I know that in the end, I’m always going to be okay.




Lovable Loser

R.J. Fox

I am not an athlete. I never was and never will be. Don’t get me wrong: I love sports and it’s certainly not for a lack of trying that stunted my athletic prowess. “Natural” athletes are born with two balls between their legs and one ball in hand the moment they climb out of the womb. However, having a father with absolutely no interest in sports doesn’t bode well for one’s athletic development. My mother at least watched sports from time to time (despite not being an athlete herself), but she certainly didn’t teach me how to play sports. Then again, nobody taught my two younger sisters and that didn’t stop them. Being short for my age certainly didn’t help. Nor was being the last in my class to reach puberty.

I never stood a chance.

Like most kids, my sports “career” began in elementary school gym class. It didn’t…

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