Saturday, June 28, 2014

An Autobiography in 21 Pieces

1.  Winter is my favorite season.  Deep drifts of snow, runny noses, the Sanskrit of small animals’ tracks across the crust of a snowbank, crackling flames in a fireplace, marshmallows bobbing in cocoa.  And, of course, hibernating with a long, dusty novel.  I am winter at the core of my being.  This was solidified back in the 80s when my mother was going through a Color Me Beautiful phase and we determined, through a professional analysis, that I was a Winter palette.  Wardrobe was re-arranged accordingly.

2.  My first failed novel was called Mrs. Winter and the Pool of Teeth, a thinly-disguised rip-off of Agatha Christie’s Miss Jane Marple.  In my book, amateur sleuth Mrs. Winter investigates a suspicious death at a Hollywood mansion where a legendary film actor died after falling into a swimming pool stocked with piranha.  I was 13 when I attempted to write this novel.  I wrote two chapters and abandoned it.  At the time, I thought it was the greatest thing I’d ever do in my life.  I might have been right about that.

3.  In my eighteenth summer, while hiking in Grand Teton National Park, I slipped into a stream and went over a waterfall.  In those 2.5 seconds of air time between the top of the falls and the rocks below, I believed I was dead.

4.  I grew up a preacher’s kid, so I had weekly doses of heaven and hell, death and eternal life.  Though my father’s sermons were no doubt interesting, I remember sitting in the pew, a hymnal open on my lap, filling in all the close-looped letters—d, b, a, o, p, q, e, g—with a small pencil.  When I finished with the letters, I started in on the musical notes.

5.  The first music I ever purchased with my own money was Captain and Tennille’s debut album, Love Will Keep Us Together.  Play any song of theirs today (besides the execrable “Muskrat Love”) and my nose will start to sting from foolish, nostalgic tears.

6.  You can know all you need to know about me by the music artists I have loved—truly, madly, deeply—during particular eras of my life:
     Jr. High/High School: The Captain and Tennille, Barry Manilow, Wild Cherry, KC and the Sunshine Band, The Cars, Nazareth, and the soundtracks to Star Wars, Grease, and Somewhere in Time.
     College: Emmylou Harris, Lou Ann Barton, Nicolette Larson, Linda Ronstadt, Rickie Lee Jones, The Beatles, Billy Joel, The Alan Parsons Project, Willie Nelson.
     1983-2008: Electric Light Orchestra, Maxi Priest, Sinead O’Connor, The Who, John Prine, Alanis Morrisette, 10,000 Maniacs, Sheryl Crow.
     Today: Mumford and Son, Cowboy Mouth, The Airborne Toxic Event, Patty Griffin, Sia, M83, Lorde.

7.  When I was four years old, I wanted to become a writer.  When I was six, I thought I’d be an astronaut someday.  Between the ages of ten and fourteen, after reading books by James Herriot, I made plans to become a veterinarian.  At fifteen, I returned to the original idea of becoming a published writer.  At fifteen-and-a-half, I switched careers and became an actor.

Stuck in the middle: The Little Foxes, 1982
8.  I started acting in community theater in 1976 when I was cast in the Jackson Hole Fine Arts Guild's production of The Music Man (Chorus/River City Kid) and continued to lay the groundwork for a Hollywood career with roles in Hello, Dolly! (Waiter #3), A Christmas Carol (Dick Wilkins), Inherit the Wind (Tom Davenport), That Championship Season (Tom Daley), The Little Foxes (Leo Hubbard), Chekhov’s The Bear (Grigory Stepanovitch Smirnov), Brigadoon (Angus MacGuffie) and The Rivals (Captain Jack Absolute).  When I enrolled at The University of Wyoming in 1981, I picked Theatre as my major.  I thought I was God’s gift to acting.  “Lord, what fools these mortals be!”

9.  In the fall of 1982, my best friend Randy and I drove from Laramie to Denver to an open cattle-call audition for Francis Ford Coppola’s adaptation of The Outsiders.  I wore a white T-shirt (silkscreened with James Dean’s head), blue jeans, and a leather jacket I’d borrowed from a fellow Theatre student.  Uncharacteristically, I’d slicked back my hair with gel.  I was Ponyboy through and through to the core.  I don’t remember my 90 seconds in the dim room in front of the casting directors, but though I imagine I thought I was pretty good, I’m sure I was pretty awful.  I never got a call-back.   When the film opened a year later, starring Tom Cruise, Matt Dillon and Diane Lane, I cried.  They were all so good and I had no business dreaming about joining them on the big screen.

10.  From 1979-1995—starting with A Little Romance and ending with Judge Dredd—I had a mad crush on Diane Lane.  A mad, mad, mad crush.  This crush was diminished, by necessity, once I got married.  Before that, however, I used to fantasize “accidental” meetings between the two of us: she pulls up in a car while I’m pumping gas, she and I are in the same line at the grocery store, she’s in town visiting her mother’s cousin who just happens to be the mother of my best friend.  That sort of foolishness.

11.  In my seventh summer, while riding my bike at furious speeds through an alley in Kittanning, Pennsylvania, I narrowly avoided being hit by a car when I burst out onto the cross-street.  I slammed on my brakes, the teenage driver slammed on his brakes, and I slid sideways in the gravel, coming to rest unharmed between the car’s front and back wheels.  To cover my embarrassment, I yelled at the kid still sitting behind the wheel, pale and shaking, “Why don’t you watch where you’re going?!”  I got up, brushed the pebbles out of my knees, and pedaled my now-wobbly bike home.

12.  Over the course of my 51 years, I’ve broken two bones in my body: my clavicle and my humerus.  However, a single organ—my heart—has been broken three times.  None of those has been at the hands of the woman who has been my wife for nearly 31 years.  The opposite, in fact.  We spent the first seven years mending each other’s heart from all the past relationships we survived.

13.  You can read about one of my broken-heart experiences on pages 197-201 of my novel Fobbit.  Pages 197-201 contain some of the most autobiographical fiction I’ve ever written.

14.  For a month during my eighteenth year of life, I thought I was in love with a married woman.  She’d been flirting with me and coming to my dorm room for extended (non-sexual) visits.  Her name was Cindy and, in looks, she reminded me of Sally Struthers (the All in the Family-era Sally Struthers, not the Feed the Children-era Sally Struthers).  Cindy flirted with me and I reciprocated.  I started to imagine myself as someone for whom a woman would ditch her marriage.  Cindy’s husband was a hockey player.  When I started to have nightmares of this man showing up at my dorm and beating me to death with a hockey stick, I stopped this foolishness.  I was not yet ready to die for the love of a woman.

15.  I am now ready to die for the woman I truly love, my wife.  I will step in front of the bullet, push her from the path of a speeding car, and stare down the sprinting grizzly bear if it means she will live another day.

16.  In truth, neither of us wants to die in place of the other.  Over the course of many discussions these past 31 years, we’ve agreed that, given the option, we will die together.  We will both remain in the car plunging over the 400-foot cliff, we will lock ourselves into our cabin as the ship goes down, we will politely ask the man pointing the gun to please kill us both at the same time.  Neither can bear the thought of living without the other.

17.  Though I fell in love with the girl who’d become my wife when I saw her for the first time singing in the choir loft at my father’s church, I think the moment our love really, truly solidified was on our honeymoon in Oregon when a seagull flew overhead and shat in her hair.

18.  When I was in my late 20s, I took up cross-stitching, joining my wife in the hobby.  We were already acting like the old married couple we’d later become.  After I got off work at the Army base and we had dinner and the kids were upstairs in their rooms playing with Legos or Star Wars action figures or Polly Pocket dolls or whatever it was they played with at the time, my wife and I each found a seat in our small living room, lamplight spilling across us and onto our stitcheries.  Some nights, it was so quiet, you could hear the poke of needle, the pull of thread and the snick of scissors.  Among other things, I embroidered a wedding sampler for my wife, a baby blanket for my daughter and a 5x7 landscape showing a church in the middle of a snowfield beneath a purple night sky.  I took unnatural, foolish pride in being a soldier who was an avid cross-stitcher.  On the nights when I pulled guard duty at our company headquarters, I made a big show about unpacking out my hoops, fabric, needle and thread box.  I didn’t care what my fellow soldiers thought.  I wanted to be different and I wanted them to notice.

19.  When I was 17, I wrote, produced, directed, and starred in a horror movie.  It was called Just a Scream Away and it was all about—spoiler alert!—a high school janitor who goes around killing the popular cheerleaders.  According to my high school French teacher who watched a rough cut of it one afternoon in her classroom, it was “the scariest movie ever made.”  Looking back, I think that either a) my French teacher was being patronizingly kind, or b) she had nerves as fragile as rice paper.

20.  While taking a class in ornithology at the University of Oregon, I ran over a killdeer nest with a tractor-mower.  My wife and I were managing a boat-and-trailer storage yard outside of Eugene and it was my responsibility to maintain the grassy strips between the storage sheds.  I was out one day, pulling the mower attachment behind a John Deere, when I felt a bump and a shriek.  I braked and looked behind me to see a mother killdeer trying to draw me in another direction using a “broken-wing ruse.”  I stopped the mower, climbed down from the tractor, and went back to investigate.  The ground was littered with feathers--small, downy feathers that drifted across the blood-smeared grass like snow.  I left the tractor where it was and walked back to the house on trembling legs, a bird screaming at me the whole way.  Though I soon recovered, at that one moment, I remember feeling like I should die for what I’d done.

"All I want for Christmas is a long and happy life.
Is that too much to ask?"
21.  In the winter of my eighteenth month of life, my mother took me out into the backyard of my father’s parsonage in Bloomsburg, Pennsylvania to let me play in the snow while she hung laundry out to dry.  I was bundled in thick layers of a snowsuit and toddled around the yard, heading in the direction of my father’s church next door.  My mother took her eyes off me, concentrating on sheets and clothespins.  The next time she saw me, I was inching my way along the ledge above a stairwell that led to the church basement.  The stairwell was 10 feet deep, a set of concrete steps leading down to a door below.  My mother’s widening eyes saw everything in slow motion.  I had my back to the stairwell as I walked along the 7-inch-wide ledge.  I stopped.  My mother started to scream my name, but knew it was too late.  She saw the next three seconds play out in a slow-motion movie.  I decided to sit down.  But I sat down on air.  I was sucked out of my mother’s sight.  Her scream cut the cold air, fluttered the sheets hanging on the line; she was certain I was dead.  I lay at the bottom of the stairwell, gasping to regain the breath knocked out of me.  When I opened my eyes, I saw snowflakes coming my way, cascading through the air.  I thought they were tiny angels garbed in white robes sent with a message for me: “Not yet, not yet.”


  1. David, I love your way with words and memories! I'm blessed to have you and your family in mine. Babbi (Wilson) Keener

  2. This was/is a great way to learn more about you---love your honesty and humor. Thanks