Cardio Arrest

Let it be known that I am not a fat ass. I am on the treadmill for a half hour every night. I don’t mean just standing on it while I watch TV because the gym has cable. I mean walking on a moving treadmill while reading novels upward of 400 pages. I can feel my heart beating, not like a love song, like a psychological thriller, because if I don’t step lightly and balance the book, it will fall off the stand and I will trip over it, slamming my jaw on the hand bar, biting off my tongue and swallowing it as I gasp for breath, face planting on the treadmill and riding it like a backwards waterslide, until I splash into a pool of my own blood on the floor, surrounded by a gorgeous cloud of chiseled witnesses.

Disregarding my commitment to not dying prematurely – physically or socially – one of my friends, Beth, extended an invitation to a class at Diversity Fitness. I was afraid we would be the diversity. I was afraid that some black woman, like Isis in Bring it On, would say, “can’t even break a sweat without white people breakin’ it up.”

But upon entry, there were bodies of every shape and color – even shapeless and white. While I wasn’t inspired to give a scientific presentation defending white as a color, I wasn’t uncomfortable. Probably because we were joined by my subtly-but-definitely-Hispanic friend Brianna.

We found a spot near the back, by the vending machine stocked with vitamin water. I hadn’t brought any water with me. I wasn’t planning on sweating that much. The class was called Latin Cardio, and I thought it would be fun, exotic – not really exercise – exoticise. A little vacation from my normal workout.

Near the end of the first song, I began to understand there are benefits to a fat ass. When it’s kicked, it’s not as painful. And when it’s time to shake it, you got some salt in the shaker. And this was a class of Shakers – religiously bootylicious.

At one point we were ordered to engage in a dance-off, like West Side Story. That reference is perhaps not appropriate for Diversity Fitness. Or Latin Cardio. Nonetheless, we faced each other, Brianna and I, taking turns shaking our tukhuses. It was a bizarre sort of urban mating ritual, in which I was not the most flamboyant, and therefore not the man. This was a cause and effect to which I was totally unaccustomed.

The dictator – dominatrix – instructor – seemed to have no threshold. After a good threshing, I looked at the clock. “We’re not even halfway through,” I croaked. Seemingly in response to this, the instructor raised a finger to each cheek, coaching us to smile, like a stage mom. Scared, I smiled. Then there were more songs with a beat that my ass could not follow.

I’ve heard that many spouses share the bathroom during any of its myriad uses. A fitness class is a bit like that. You’re around these people during some rather compromising positions, and after awhile you really don’t care. Yeah, this is my ass. When’s the next movement?

Afterwards, as we all stood outside speculating whether we’d have to call in sick because our muscles would be hungover, the instructor walked by. “Thanks, guys,” she said. “Thank you,” I gushed, wondering if I was experiencing a kind of Stockholm syndrome. I had tried to move with her, tried to make myself work with her. She had almost killed me, but not quite, and – I remembered, as an October breeze cooled the sweat on my back – I was free.

House & Home

This post and its comments were originally published on Transformation City Church’s blog.


“I had this dream of showing my kids where I grew up,” my sister said. I never thought of showing my kids where I grew up; I never thought of having kids. “Yeah,” I said, as if I had this thought.

“It was such a magical place to be a kid, with the woods and the fort and everything,” She said, then sighed. “But why would my kids care? I hope mom and dad get a good price for it.”

Megan called. Megan doesn’t like the phone because you can’t read facial expressions, whereas I like it for the same reason. So when Megan calls, it’s because she has to. I said bye to my sister and switched over. “Hello?”

“Hi,” she blurted above background noise that was becoming foreground. “Some kids just came over and asked to stay awhile. Would you mind coming down? Ben’s not home yet.”

My eyebrows pressed together like WWE stars and a wrinkle refereed between them. “Yes,” I said, manipulating my inflection into that of a cheerful giver, “I’ll be right down.”

Megan greeted me as I walked in. “They just rang the doorbell and said the police are at their house,” she whispered, “so I said come in. What else could I do?”

At the table, two sisters had opened the older one’s birthday present: a princess crown-making kit, complete with tiny sequins and beads and glitter and other girlie debris. “Wow,” I said, “that’s pretty cool.” The older one looked up at me. “You want to play?” She asked. “No thanks,” I said.

Their 10-year-old brother was in front of the TV, watching Phineas and Ferb and holding Megan’s baby. “Look at you,” I said, “you hold a baby better than I do.” He shrugged and responded, “I always hold my baby sister.” I smiled and shook my head.

At the end of the episode a casual messenger came to the door and said, “the police are gone, ma said come back now,” and left before I could ask for their credentials. I scanned the street. The police were gone and the crowd was going too. “OK guys,” I said, “you can go home now.”

The brother stared at me like he didn’t understand.

“Come on,” I said to the sisters, picking up the princess paraphernalia. “Do you want to keep the box?” I asked. “Yes,” the older one clutched it. On the front there was a picture of a beautiful castle. It looked as though it were built of sand and clouds and glass.


This post and its comments were originally published on Transformation City Church’s blog.


“Does Milwaukee recycle in winter?” I snapped at Kevin, who was about to throw a wrapper in the trash. He paused.

“Yeah?” He murmured, still holding the wrapper.

“Then why,” I tromped over to the window and jerked a finger downward at the driveway, “Have they not emptied our recycling bins? It’s been weeks. No, months. The bins are overflowing. They’re foaming at the mouth. Haven’t you noticed?”

“Um, I guess I didn’t notice,” he blushed, “But then, you always take out the recycling.” He lowered the wrapper into the trash, set it there, and stared at it.

“Not always,” I smiled.

But almost always. He hangs out with kids, I take out the recycling. If we reversed roles, I would probably end up putting the kids in the recycling bin and he would let the cardboard and cans accumulate around him until he couldn’t move anything except his tongue.

“I’m calling the city,” I declared, drawing my phone and spinning through contacts.

A representative at the Department of Public Works had several interesting theories for the lapse in recycling pickup, one of which was holidays. This was compellingly plausible until I remembered that the only holidays in the last two months were New Year’s, Martin Luther King Jr. and George Washington’s Birthday, none of which were 8-week jubilee celebrations necessitating the shutdown of all local government.

Finally, I had to contribute: “I don’t mean this to be pretentious…” We always say we don’t mean before we say what we mean, so we can be mean without being seen as mean.

“I don’t mean this to be pretentious, but we do tend to recycle more than most people in our neighborhood,” I paused. “We recycle more than we throw away,” I laughed. Yes, I’m good-humored about my goodness. Really, I don’t even think of it as goodness, it’s just a little habit I have, being good.

“Oh yes,” the representative laughed. “You know what? I’ll put a note here to have them do a pick up a week before they were going to. Also,” she said, “once it’s warmer the schedule will be more regular.”

“Thank you,” I said, thinking. “Good bye.”

Once it’s warmer. Last spring and summer, the neighborhood kids had a favorite game, which confused me for a while. Standing about 15 feet from one another, they threw the ball back and forth, but didn’t catch it; they tried to hit some flat shiny objects on the walk. I couldn’t figure out what they were, so I got closer. They were crushed empty soda cans.

Anything Good

This post and its comments were originally published on Transformation City Church’s blog.


Right after Ben and Megan had been robbed for the third time, we all sequestered in the kitchen, like hostages. We watched as two police officers poked through their personal belongings – the violation following the violation.

“My guess is it’s somebody you know,” one officer said, freeing a notepad from the oppression of his belly-tight belt.

“We know that,” Megan said, making them feel stupid while making it seem like she was making nice.

“Well, we can dust everything they might have touched, but that probably won’t prove anything,” he said, then smiled, “It’s not like on CSI.”

How do we hire them? I thought, glancing out the window. Recently, our neighbors had the eco-friendly idea of hanging tinsel on their outside bushes; within minutes the wind had strewn it over the street and our yard. Soon the squirrels would be pooping silver. Still, it sparkled pretty, provided you knew it was tinsel, and not sharpened razor blades, which, in this neighborhood, was a more reasonable conclusion.

The other officer walked by a desk and stopped. “They didn’t take the computer,” he puzzled, peering into the dark monitor, as though it were a Magic 8 ball that would give him an answer. Just then the screensaver started, a slideshow of community house pictures: us smiling, neighborhood kids smiling, staff smiling, volunteers smiling; everyone smiling as though they had discovered a really good secret.

“Thanks for being here,” Megan said to Kevin and I. We shrugged and shuffled our feet, unsure of where else we should be but here.

Ben braced Megan from the back, his arms resting against her ribs, hands cradling their unborn baby. Last Christmas they played Mary and Joseph. This Christmas they are not playing. Their baby will be born in the ‘hood, in our stable of bachelors, in the awe of little wise kids. And her name shall be called Cadence Grace.

When one of the disciples, Philip, told his friend, Nathanael, that Jesus was from Nazareth, Nathanael exclaimed, “Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?” Philip smiled and responded, “Come and see.”

All For One

This post and its comments were originally published on Transformation City Church’s blog.


That afternoon, the intersection of North and Fond Du Lac Avenues was busy being the busiest intersection in Milwaukee. Everyone was Pooh with their head in the bee hive, selfish selfish selfish and stupid stupid stupid.

In the crosswalk, there was a man wearing a Packers jersey, a floral scarf on his head and carrying a single plastic white hanger. Each footstep seemed a philosophical statement: No one cares, therefore I do not care. No one honked, no one looked, no one pointed. To us he was a human construction barrel, to be avoided.

As I turned, there was a woman standing by the bus stop, not waiting for the bus. The combination of her clothes – or what was left of them – suggested a costume. I wanted to give her a ride, but I realized that might be misinterpreted by her, and the police.

Further down the street, a young couple waited to cross. She held the child like a bag of groceries and he stood five feet away like he didn’t know them. The smoke from his cigarette slipped into my cracked window.

I looked into the rear view mirror and a pair of narrowed eyes looked back. I rubbed the gunk from the corners. I looked away. I looked ahead.

When I arrived at the community house, it was time for Bible Club. A boy gripped my arm like it was a branch hanging over a rushing river. “What do you think God looks like?” Asked Kevin. “He’s a yellow spirit,” Shouted one kid. “I bet He’s got big sandals,” Shouted a second. The third was so quiet Kevin had to repeat it for us: “Maybe He looks like all of us put together.”

Domestic Dispute

This post and its comments were originally published on Transformation City Church’s blog.


Some weeks we have Bible Club. Some weeks we have Bible Fight Club. This week was definitely BFC, hot and crispy.

In our meeting beforehand Kevin outlined the lesson plan, which was about Joseph. (Not the one who got to be Jesus’ father, but the one who got a multi-colored coat from his father.) Kevin was concerned that the story was too long and its moral too vague for the children.

He needn’t have been concerned, because he never got to tell Joseph’s story. Instead, the children acted it out. They boasted to, argued with, and betrayed one another. Kevin preached about forgiveness and forgave them all. And somehow it was all right. We all walked away from it like the survivors of a plane crash, giddy, grateful.

That night, above the groaning of my air conditioner and the heartbeat of my stereo, I heard shouting. A limited vocabulary of expletives conveying a broad diversity of hatred. I was sure it was right outside my window, in the backyard, some spontaneous angry cookout, assault with a spatula. But when I opened the blinds no one was there. Walking out of my room I found Kevin, who was darting between watching the basketball game on TV and watching out the front windows.

“What’s going on out there?” I barked, as if the question had the power to restore sanity.

On the balcony, our opera box, we peered at the drama below. Shadows of men and women grappled and shoved. One streetlight respected their privacy and refrained from illuminating.

“I’m going to call the alderman and get him to fix that streetlight,” Kevin scolded, “and I did call the police, but they take forever to get here.”

A siren responded to his accusation. 12 cop cars raced in and cops bounced out of them. They surrounded the scene, dedicated extras awaiting a director’s cue. Then something gave – they engaged – grabbing and separating, commanding and escorting.

Kevin shook his head and sighed, “None of this would happen if people just watched the game.”

Some nights later, as I was driving down our alley that the city calls a street, two cats rolled in front of my car, clawing at one another. Swearing, I slammed on the brake.

They leaped apart and glared at me, eyes glowing green. They were going to kill each other. I was getting in the way.

Kids on the Block

This post and its comments were originally published on Transformation City Church’s blog.


People are looking at us. Not us. Me. I look suspicious. A white man driving a car full of black kids. In the most segregated city in the country. But statistics are made by people; statistics do not make people.

The girl in the front seat? A few nights ago she was crying on our front steps. I wondered how long she’d been sitting there. Kevin asked her what was wrong. Megan sat down and the girl pressed into her, eyes squeezed shut, as if wanting to be absorbed. Someone else’s mother called out. The girl walked over to her. “She just can’t find her mama,” the mother said.

The boy in the back seat? The other night he was holding his baby sister. “’Sup Ben?” He nodded, implying that holding a baby was now cool, because he was doing it. This is the same boy who recently rode his bike right in front of my car without looking. I imagined hitting him, holding his little body in the road, saying, No. No. No.

The boy sitting next to him? A couple days ago he asked, “Could you bring out the hoop?” I followed him to the garage, unlocked it, reached for the handle to lift up the door and stopped. “I’ve got to get a glove to lift it up,” I said, remembering how thin and sharp the handle is. “It’s fine, I’ve got it,” he said, gripping the handle and yanking upward. “You’ve got thick skin.” I told him. He smiled and held up his hand. It was bleeding.

“Does everyone have on their seatbelts?” I ask, checking the rear view mirror. I don’t see any kids. I lower the mirror and three little faces look back. While they are in my car I will keep them safe.