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I found myself in a lockbox at the bottom of an old trunk that my wife and I keep at the foot of our bed.  We don’t really need it there, and it actually cuts into the walking space in the room enough that I’d rather have it gone.  But our dog’s little, and he’s old, and he can’t get off the bed in the night to go outside unless that trunk’s there to help ladder him to the ground.  So the trunk stays. 

Apparently, the black box at the bottom of that trunk–under my wife’s wedding dress, made by her mother and finished the night before the ceremony, and a pile of yearbooks–is where my fake IDs all ended up.  Them…and one ID from my high school, which looks just about as fake as the actual fakes, honestly.

When the drinking age in Montana went to 21, I was in a relatively good space.  I didn’t have to lie enough to make myself 21:  Montana grandfathered in everyone who was 19 before the law was altered.  I only had to appear to be someone who was 19 before then…not someone who could, legitimately (?) claim to be 21.

All of these IDs were ordered from the ads that appeared in the back of heavy metal magazines.  My friends and I stood in my bedroom in Opportunity–the whitest walls we could possibly find–and took a pile of pictures of each other, all not smiling and looking as “old” as we could manage.  We looked like fools.  But the real tragedy is that these cards, all of them (not counting the high school ID, which probably existed only to get me a discount on tickets to games I never went to or something like that), worked.  I bought beer at every store in Anaconda, drank in every bar from the Haufbrau to Fairmont. 

The fact that any of these worked baffles me, even keeping in mind that this was all done on 1980s-era technology.  Some of the pictures aren’t even cut straight, for God’s sake.  And I can’t decide which is more sad, the mullet or the nearly-invisible mustache.

But they worked.  They got me into the bars in Anaconda and Butte, including one afternoon that a friend and I spent drinking pitcher after pitcher at a Pizza Hut just off Harrison Ave.  They got me into the bar out by Warm Springs, closed now.  They got me served in every bar in Cheney, Washington, when I started college, and they established my “legal” age for a blonde checkout girl at the grocery store on the edge of town.  She really seemed to like me, and I always felt bad that my fake ID, which allowed me to trick her into selling me beer by the case and wine by the box, kept me from being able to ask her out.

I’d forgotten all about her, in fact, until I found this pile of fiction in that box in that trunk, under those yearbooks and a two-decades-old wedding dress.


My latest collection, Mistakes Were Made: Reflections on Being a Mediocre Father is now available!

Mistakes Were Made 2000 x 1333


I never know how to start something when the rhetorical situation is unclear in some way.  It’s weird.  I teach six new classes every year, and that’s likely the average for more than twenty years.  In those 180 first-day-of-class situations, I always knew what to say.  There was no ambiguity; I knew who I was talking to and why.

Same thing with most writing.  When I know the story I’m telling, in fact, the beginning is my favorite place:

“I was relieved when my great grandfather died.”  That’s how I started “Icky Papa Died” (published in Brevity, the coolest source for short nonfiction).  I write a lot about my great grandfather, mostly because his criminal history fascinates me.  He gave me a lot of awesome gifts when I was a kid–a new stereo, Avon cologne in bottles shaped like cars, a camera.  I had no idea they were stolen, even though all the pencils he once gave me had US Census printed on them.  Hundreds of pencils.  And a slide projector…which also was emblazoned with the US Census logo.  I loved the guy, an early indicator of what a poor judge of character I am sometimes, but he had some seriously sticky fingers.  But that opening line from “Icky Papa Died” was easy to write.  No trouble starting.

“When I visit the dead, I take a lawn chair.”  That’s how I start one of my current projects, an essay about my great uncle Ted, whose suicide should haunt me but doesn’t.  It was a long time coming and shouldn’t have surprised anyone.  Not after what happened to his father.  That first line wasn’t hard to write, either.

But I never know how to start some things, not when my sense of audience is muddled.  A website’s homepage, for example…

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