Sunday, October 31, 2010


Every night before I fall asleep I say a little prayer and list all of those people important to my life. I hold the sound of their names long enough for their faces to materialize behind my closed lids. It’s a form of meditation, a way to slow down the adrenalin rush of the day, a rush that can make falling asleep weigh like a failure for the night.  As the minutes pile up on those nights when sleep keeps running away and leaving me with its angry sister, insomnia, I try to push away the intruding worries and focus on those things that transport me to a place of peace. Sometimes I focus on a trilogy of images that always make me smile: Emmy dancing down lower Broadway in the rain, Stephania, our Italian hostess’ smile, and Dorothy Lyman’s red velvet cupcakes, the ones with a single red hot jelly bean perched on top. I’m also not above using the simple mantra l learned from Elizabeth Gilbert in “Eat Pray Love”, Ham-sa, “I am that”. There are times I am that desperate to think as a part-time practitioner I can numb myself to sleep through spirituality. This hardly ever works. It’s like suddenly praying to God for a miracle when you’ve lived the majority of your life believing yourself to be an atheist.  And then there are times I return to the visions of those I love, the ones I started out with in my beginning prayer. When this happens it’s no longer about falling asleep. It’s about memory. It’s about engaging their assistance in fighting evil, the evil that comes from those nighttime battles where negativity and a sense a failure pound on your castle walls crumbling the ramparts of your self-confidence. It’s when I become a little kid and look to Mom and Dad to shield me from harm, now a mother in the midst of Alzheimer and a father dead almost twenty-five years.
Last night was one of those nights. The battle was raging out of my control. I couldn’t see the progress we were making. It was covered in a thick blanket of fog. My mind was my enemy catapulting thoughts of despair at my sleepless self. When the red velvet cupcakes and Ham-sa had lost their strength and succumbed to my angry mind I tried to pull up my dad and dress him in armor to defend my self-esteem and ward off the evil thoughts of self- destruction. I called him into battle. I heard my voice plead with him for protection. His visage stood there dressed in metal and chainmail but his response was barely a whisper. I couldn’t hear his voice, not with any clarity. Age and time where colliding. I realized that his memory was beginning to slip away. I was losing his sound. I could still see him, his thin-lipped smile and wire-rimmed glasses. I could see his flattop haircut saved from the military look his generation held onto even in old age. But the audio track I had been able to play of his laugh and his selective wisdom was playing like an old record all crackly and scratched. Modern technology had given me photos I could go back to, to reinforce his image. Memories of events could still play over and over again, but his ability to tell me what to do was fading away. I was slowly losing the baritone of his sound, the one thing I really wanted. How long do we get to hold onto that part of a person? Was twenty-five years the limit? How long will my daughter be able to hold on to me after I’m gone? Will it be long enough? Will she even want to ask? I hope so, and I hope I’ll be able to respond.

Sunday, October 24, 2010


We’ve been friends with Jaye for years and we’ve known her husband, Joe, for as long as Jaye has known him. We were kids together. Jaye and I went to the same college, passing each other in circles of friends we had in common but never finding the time to be introduced. It was only after we all found ourselves in New York working for an industrial showbiz production company that Jaye, Rick and I became friends. We all worked the twenty hour shifts of twenty-somethngs trying to climb our way to our fates.
After Rick had escaped the A/V production business and become a graduate of the interior design educational system and Jaye had found Joe, the love of her life, our lives collided again. Jaye needed design help and asked Rick to be her guide. Now two homes and a pied-a-terre later we are still meandering hand-in-hand through a never-ending design journey.
As happens with many long-term relationships the net of acquaintances brought in expands as new introductions multiply into a greater circle of new friends. Jaye has three nieces, her sister’s daughters, two of which live in Wisconsin. Tracy is here in Madison and Joy is in Milwaukee having just passed the bar she joined a law firm located there. Joy is also getting married in June 2011 and true to her generosity Jaye has involved herself in the wedding planning. Here’s where we come in. True to our inability to understand that maybe enough is enough and since the wedding is going to take place here in Madison, we have offered our services playing the role of flamboyant wedding planners. We thought we needed another line to add to our business cards along with interior designers, event planners, graphic designers, home and garden retailers, design bloggers and now wedding registrars. What the heck.
So if you get a chance please go to this site:

and register to vote for Joy so she can win the wedding contest sponsored by Madison Magazine. It would be great publicity for us and a real kick for Joy and Steve. Oh, by the way, Steve’s last name is Page and Miss Joy Schnackenbeck couldn’t be more pleased.

Saturday, October 9, 2010


The mystic number for luck, both good and bad, is supposed to be three. As much as I hate to admit it, in a tough situation I’ll let superstition guide my thinking. If I missed the six a.m. alarm, then burnt Emmy’s breakfast toast, I could be as sure as Joan River’s next plastic surgery I’d be slicing my face when I went to shave. It just comes in threes for me. Now I’m not the only one who sees luck coming in threes, we all see the world in three dimensions, Christians have their holy trinity: the father, son and holy ghost. Our entire life cycle is based on a form of three: birth, life and death. Three is a prime, magical, metaphysical, spiritual and for some of us emotional number. That’s why when things start to turn either bad or good for me I’ll start counting the happenings until I can gather together the destined three.
The latest round of numerological coincidences began on last Monday. I managed to make it through the morning routine without burning the toast or shaving off my chin but soon after that, things started to get a little weird. We had a huge meeting scheduled for mid-morning with a potential Madison client that could potentially put us on the Madison design map. I squeezed myself into my best go-see costume and then began the rush to get out the door so I could get Emmy to school, pick up my mom, get her to the studio and then high-tail it back to pick up Rick and get to our downtown meeting. I had gotten Emmy into the car and the ignition started when I remembered it was junk day. I cranked off the ignition, bolted out of the car and ran to the garage to make sure I had pulled out the recyclables and trash before the garbage trucks made their rounds. All of this got done except for a very large box that our friend, Susan Johann, had used to ship us one of her extraordinary photographs we were going to be hanging in our store. I had debated throwing the box out or keeping it in case I needed to send the piece back. I was too flustered to figure it out on that fateful Monday morning so I left it in the garage thinking I’d deal with it later.
All my fires seemed to have been extinguished until I tried to locate my cell phone so I could double check with Rick about the meeting time. We were in the school parking lot dropping Emmy off when I reached for the phone I thought I had dumped into my suit jacket breast pocket. Emmy’s a stickler about not using the cell phone while driving and rightly so. I’m absolutely incompetent when it comes to doing two things simultaneously so I’m really an accident in the making when I try to drive and dial at the same time. The problem was my phone wasn’t in breast pocket. I searched all my other pockets and came up 21st century technologically deprived. I couldn’t worry about it now. I had a mission and a meeting to get to. I had probably inadvertently left the phone at home.
After all of the human deliveries had been made I was still able to make it back home in time to do a once around in search of my phone before we had to leave for the meeting with destiny. I searched all of the logical places: the crack between the cushion and the arm of the sofa, under the unfiled papers next to my side of the bed, and in the frig next to the Greek goat’s milk yogurt I had wolfed down before I bolted on my weekday morning chauffeuring rounds. Time ran out without having located the little voice, picture and video transmitter.  I had to give up the search and live the rest of the day like a communication leper untouchable be the ring tones of the world.
The meeting went well, very well. Here’s where you all have to cross your fingers. I’ve meddled with karma enough here to not expose any more about this meeting until we know for sure that it’s a done deal. Anyway it was back home with enough time to do one more check of the house for the missing phone before it was back out on the road to retrieve Emmy from school. This time I enlisted Rick in the hunt for my precious two inch by four inch verbal communicating devise. I had him call my number to see if I could hear the dulcet tones of Vivaldi and locate the little sucker. No dice, back in the car, past the grunting noises of the garbage collectors on the other side of the complex, barreling down Stoughton Road and into the Monona Grove High School parking lot where Emmy stood waiting behind a pillar doing the teenage dance of embarrassment at having her parents pick her up in the oh-so uncool Sorency mobile. When she finally hunkered on down into the car we began our ceremonial repetitious verbal exchange.
“How was your day?”
“Fine.” And then it was back to the complex.
As we turned into the complex driveway I broached the subject of my lost phone with Emmy to see if she remembered anything I had done in the morning that might prove a clue to the whereabouts of my missing phone. Her response as we pulled in past our unemptied trashcans was,  “I don’t know Papa. Did you check the trash?” The odd thing about this was that trash collection at Prentice Park had an kept to an iron tight schedule with the regular trash truck picking up at eleven and the recyclable truck making its pass at one. It was now four in the afternoon and the trash was still there. On this now holy Monday it seems karma had cut me a break. For some unknown reason the trash collectors had left our trash smoldering in an unusually warm October afternoon sun. I held my breath and began fishing through some slimy soup cans and there hidden under an organic egg container and next to a plastic gallon jug of Arnold Palmer iced tea was my phone, unclaimed by the mechanical iron arms of the recycling truck. Coincidence or karma…you be the judge.
Now with the first good luck notch carved into my triad of good fortune I went back upstairs and fell onto the couch, laptop in hand, to check my email. Email has become my compulsion. My addiction has become an hourly obsession. I even open offers for reduced rate “Depends” or how to get a degree in cosmetology. Now here’s where the karma thing starts to get a little freaky. Susan Johann had sent me an email with a time arrival indicator of earlier in the day giving me some pricing information on her photography and then very tactfully asking if I had received the framed gift she had sent with the large photography. She wanted to make sure the glass hadn’t arrived broken. The subtext of this was, "Did you get the photo and if you did etiquette would prescribe an acknowledgement". I ran down to the garage and began throwing cardboard corners and scrapes of bubble wrap out of the big beautiful box that fate had told subconsciously told me not to discard and there in amongst all the packing debris was this gorgeous silver framed magnolia print wrapped in several protective layers of cardboard and tissue. Susan, if you read this do so with all my apologies and love. Step two in my trilogy complete I wait for part three to occur. Fingers crossed, it has something to do with our downtown meeting but I now know karma will figure it out. All I have to do is sit back and let it happen.

Monday, October 4, 2010


I didn’t want to mess with karma. I thought 1227 was a done deal. I could post it without fear. It was safe to tell the world. It’s Sunday, October third, almost four months into the process and we still haven’t got the C of O. On Friday our real estate agent was required to show our space, OUR SPACE, to a group of boys interested in purchasing the little bungalow, the shed and the big garage out back. The worst of it was I was the only one with a key. I had to be the one to come and unlock the doors to let them in. It’s a lesson I thought I had learned, the part about not messing with karma. 
It was1995.
            Our ad read:
            ADVANTAGE, love & opportunity
            complete with bedtime stories & hikes
            in the woods are what we can offer.
            We want to be dads
            Call Rick or Lee 800 555-2323

We had brought the phone into our bedroom in Andes. Snow was pounding on the ground outside in sync to the pounding of our hearts. The ads had appeared that day in a couple of local shoppers we had selected and some college newspapers we also thought we might have some success with. Suzanne, our adoption attorney, had prepared us. We were ready for the crank calls. We could handle them.
The calls began fairly quickly. There seemed to be three kinds of calls: the hateful calls, the crank calls and the ones that made our two pulses burn with anticipation. There were very few of the first but they were brutal. They came laced with bible quotes and threats.
“God never meant for two men to make a baby. You stay away from them kids and may you bun in hell for eternity.”
“I’d watch my back if I were you. I’ve got your number. Sin is sin and you are the dirt on the devil’s boots.”
The crank calls usually came around the same time of day. Suzanne told us to expect this. It coincided with the phone time provided to prisoners.
“So you’re looking for a baby.”
“Yes we are.”
“Well I got two of them. Are you willing to take two?”
“Yes we would. We want a family”
“Well here’s the story. You’re two guys right? If that don’t beat all. Well I got two kids on the way. Ya gonna haveta pay for em now.”
“You’ll need to call our lawyer for that. We would just like to speak to the birth mother. We can then give her the information on how to get in touch with our lawyer.”
“Well now that’s the problem. Ya see I got two ladies. One here’s my sister and the other is my mama. Ya still wantem?”
The last kind of call on our list was not as frequent. It might come during the afternoon or late at night. These were the calls that stole our hearts.
“I saw your ad in the Price Shopper. I’m pregnant and I’m looking for someone who can raise my child. I just can’t do it.”
“We would show this baby every bit of love we have.”
“I just don’t know. What religion are you?” Most of the callers were well informed and had lists of questions. The sound of remorse touched their voices. We became aware if the dread and fear weren’t there the caller probably wasn’t serious.
“My heart goes out to you. We know that this isn’t an easy choice for you. The next thing you need to do is give our lawyer, Susanne, a call. She can answer a lot of your questions. You need to make the right decision for you. We would love this child with all our soul.”
Rick always phoned after one of these calls to let me know what had gone on and then he would call Susanne to let her know what had happened. Some called Suzanne, most did not.
We were warned from the beginning it might take several blasts before we found a real connection. This first blast left us empty handed. There was a certain amount of defeat connected to this but Suzanne assured us this was not unusual. The average time it took a couple to find a child was about eighteen months. Suzanne never said this, but we knew we were not a typical family, so we had accepted the fact it might take us more time to connect.
We waited a while before we decided to try again. We had decided to focus on a different part of the country for our second blitz. We went through the same burrowing in at our country retreat and once again waited for the phone to ring. The calls were similar, fitting into the same categories as before. The hate calls were still chilling. The crank calls were disappointing. The real calls still brought the butterflies to our stomachs, and then one stuck. It was the middle of the day when the phone rang. I answered the call. Jamie Lynn was slightly older than most of the callers.
“I saw your adoption ad. I’m pregnant. I’m in my fifth month.”
“I’m glad you saw the ad. You know who we are. We’re two men. We really want to be parents.” I tried to put as much meaning into each word. I spoke slowly selecting what I said as carefully as I could.
“I’m twenty-three. I already have two boys. I want to go back to school. I can’t take care of another baby.”
“I know how hard this decision must be. It has to be right for you. You did the right thing to call.” I wanted her to feel comfortable talking to me. I didn’t want to ask too much. I definitely didn’t want to be judgmental. I just needed to connect. At that point I just wanted her to like me, to like me enough to take the first step and call Suzanne. I gave Jamie Lynn Susanne’s number and asked her to call. Suzanne would take care of the data gathering.
“Jamie, I’m really glad you called. Thanks”
“I’ll give Suzanne a call.” “Oh Lee, it’s a boy.”
So it was going to be a boy. Jamie called Suzanne and went over all of the necessary steps. The father was known but she wasn’t able to locate him. Her two older children had different fathers. She was seeing a doctor. She needed financial help. Her mother lived nearby and was aware of the situation. Now the courtship would begin. We would call each other several times a week and talk about life. We slid into a very comfortable dialogue. The three of us were all involved but Jamie and I seemed to have the stronger bond. We talked about the weather. We talked about what the boys were doing. We talked about how she was feeling. Doctor’s reports and monetary concerns were never part of our conversations. That was always given off to Suzanne. We all seemed to enjoy the road we were going down. Several months into the relationship Jamie asked if we would like to come down to meet her and her family. We had already exchanged photos so we knew what each of us looked like. We talked it over with Suzanne and she decided it would be okay for us to make the trip.
We decided to meet at a Cracker Barrel restaurant just outside of town. The irony of meeting in a restaurant with a long history of homophobia didn’t escape our amusement. We drove up in a rental car. We were aware of doing everything we possible could to protect our privacy. Suzanne had suggested the anonymity of using a car that didn’t belong to us or anyone else in our family. Jamie and her mother were waiting outside. The two boys were running back and forth across the front porch. Jamie immediately recognized us. She greeted us with a weary smile tinged with shyness. She was shorter than I expected. The boys were completely uninterested. Her mother was a big booming woman with a ruddy complexion and a pair of open arms. She did not wear her daughter’s shyness. Actually meeting this family seemed to make the whole process more real. We could see the baby bump. We could talk to Jamie and see how her responses registered on her face. It gave us reassurance. It turned out that Jamie’s mother had also been adopted. She understood the life of an adoptee. She could allay some of the pain Jamie was going through. Slowly we relaxed into a comfortable rhythm of conversation as the boys wrestled with their food and spilled their drinks. Lunch was over in less than an hour. We all walked out to our cars having succeeded in surviving without anyone from the Cracker Barrel coming up and asking us two gay boys to leave. Jamie gave each of us a soft kiss before we headed back into our cars.
I drove back elated. Rick was more cautious. I felt so positive I was willing to tempt fate. I went out and bought an aviator snowsuit size eighteen months. Rick held his breath.
            Then all of a sudden the phone stopped ringing. We were only weeks away from Jamie’s due date and we hadn’t heard anything for over a week. Something had happened. You worry about miscarriage, or some accident. That first time it happens you worry about all sorts of things but not rejection. She loved us. It couldn’t be that.
            We finally called Suzanne to see if she had heard anything or if she could try to figure out what was going on. A day went by and then another. Then the call came in. Suzanne’s voice was calm but we immediately recognized the somberness of bad news.
            “Jamie has decided not to go through with the adoption.” My heart had plummeted into the soles of my feet.
            “What happened? She was fine when we went to see her even her mom seemed on board.”
            “Apparently she has a brother living in Alabama who she hasn’t seen for awhile. When he found out she was putting the baby up for adoption with two men, he had issues.”
            “This was a brother who she hadn’t seen for several years, a brother who had no interest in her until he found out she was given the baby to a gay couple?” My anger was exploding like fireworks throughout my body. “Can’t you talk to her and tell her how ridiculous this is?”
            “This happens.  She asked that you not call. She doesn’t want to speak to you.”
            “There’s got to be something we can do. I can’t believe this.”
            “Lee, you have to let it go and you have to move on. You need to remember the only families that don’t end up with a child are the ones that give up. You can grieve but you have to get through it and get back up on the horse.”
            I dropped the phone. This was my child. She had no right to take it back. Rick was the comforting one. He had fortified himself against this happening. There was something intuitive in him that forewarned him of this. I was the devastated one. Something became very clear to me. I saw now it wasn’t only a birth mother we were courting but a huge outer ring of relatives and friends. Everyone was going to have an opinion on this. Everything about adoption turned into an insurmountable mountain. The air had been sucked out of me. I couldn’t face going through this pain again. I felt I had leapt before I looked. I had been so positive, so cocky, so sure this was a done deal. I bought that snowsuit without waiting for permission from whoever it is that doles out karma.
            The possibility of losing 1227 now looms large. The international fire code states a commercial building built within ten feet of another structure must have a window to wall ratio of no more than twenty-five percent. We’re at sixty. The fire marshal has given Mark four possible solutions. One: fill all of the windows on the adjoining side with glass block and destroy the historic nature of the building. Two: move the building six feet to the west. This was not a joke but a listed alternative. Three: replace all four windows with fire rated new windows at a cost of $1000 per window plus labor. Mark’s pockets are not nearly that deep. Four: install a sprinkler system, the only viable solution from our point of view. We are waiting for bids and waiting to see if we pissed off the gods and bought that aviator snow suit before the adoption papers had been signed or maybe the gods have something else in store for us. I have to remember that our first karma misfire resulted in the path that led us to Emmy.