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Monday, May 18, 2020

In between Motel 6 and the cottage I felt in control -- and then I lost it.

I was listening to an NPR interview with Janelle Monae as she talked about identity.

Luckily, although I loved my job, I don't identify myself as anything less than me without it. I thought about how we tend to label ourselves in order to define ourselves -- a lifelong tendency. I've worked for years to shed identity, with the except of forever referring to myself as a son of the Wisconsin Northwoods. People use religion, region, statehood, education, sports team, gender identity, politics, sports fandom, the list goes on and on, in order to tell themselves and others who they are. My goal ultimately is to be nothing -- and that's how I'll become everything.

Then I learned my hometown newspaper was reprinting the story about my being a homeless editor


I hadn't told my mom yet.

I had lost control of my story, my narrative.

She's hard to reach at the Rutledge Home in Chippewa Falls and I had not yet formulated the language I would use to explain my odd story. But I knew she would pick up the newspaper and see I've become homeless, even though it's much more complicated than that.

In order to reach her, I have to call the main number, ask for the second floor. If someone's staffing the desk, I ask to speak to her and if the attendant has time, they'll bring her to the phone.

I practiced as a drove to the cottage -- no easy feat, mind you. This place is as hidden as can be on a lakeshore teaming with homes.

Mom, I've been laid off. Mom, you're going to see a story that says I'm homeless. Mom, it's not that bad. As I've written before, there are nuances to this whole homeless thing. Mom, it's going to be OK. Mom, I always land on my feet.

Phone conversations never go quite so smoothly as the planning, mostly because mom and I cuss a bit. When she swears, it is with great erudition. The last time I misquoted Aristotle to her, she corrected me -- in Latin.

It also had occurred to me that she'd be inundated by old biddies wallowing in my troubles. Everyone likes a slice of tragedy pie.

"Oh, this is so terrible for you," they'll say. They will try to rouse her to tears.

I said this to mom, "When someone tries to upset you about this temporary issues, please repeat the following phrase:

"Calm the F down."

It except neither of us used just the letter of the word.

She said it into the phone and we repeated three times, surely the attendant listening to this classy old lady sounding like a sailor

We laughed and she said, "I'm going to pray like hell for you."

Thanks, mom. I could use it.

And I love you all.


  1. Hi Rich. I have been reading your blog since I saw the article on you in the Eau Claire Leader Telegram the other night. Did you, by chance work at McDonalds when you were in college? I think we may have taken a ride in my brand new Camaro to Bloomington MN to attend a BOC class. If it wasn't you, I am sorry to have bothered you with this but will continue to read your very entertaining blog either way.

    1. Holy shit! That's me. How are you?

    2. I thought it might be you. I am doing very well. I tell many stories about those weeks at BOC and IOC. I had never driven in the big city before and we were both confused as to where to go. You brought your briefcase full of booze (very impressive) and my new car was broken into at the hotel.
      Take care my friend. I hope you find the job of your dreams!

  2. Thanks for writing your blog. It gives me hope!

  3. Love that line, "Everyone likes a slice of tragedy pie."
    Your mother sounds like quite a character. Like you. Keep on keeping on!

  4. Hi Rich, I don't know if you are a member of ASJA, but I just got this notice about their COVID-19 awards and thought you might want to apply.
    Oh, and I mentioned my blog a few posts back but didn't include the URL link:
    The cottage on Lemon Lake looks sublime!