Thursday, April 30, 2009


If there was ever any doubt we adopted the perfect dog...

I guess she's a bookworm like me.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Steven vs. the Birds

As a rule, Steven usually leaves the house in the morning an hour before I do. Sometimes he will text me throughout the day, to revel about a project he completed, or to share random insights that he deems too important to wait until we get home—theories about the latest episode of LOST, updates on Nebraska football recruiting, how some crazy lady cut in front of him and then flipped him off when he stopped at the 7-11 to get a Slurpee during his lunch hour. One of the things I love the most about our relationship is the fact that we never run out of things to talk about, and we always seem to be able to find a way to make each other laugh.

Generally, I don’t hear from Steven for several hours after he leaves in the morning, but every once in awhile, he will call me if there is something urgent, like the times he has had to have me search for his wallet after he arrived at work and realized it wasn’t in his pocket. This morning, I was in the middle of making my coffee when my phone started to ring. I answered, already preparing myself to be sent on a scavenger hunt for something he mistakenly left behind.

“Hel—” I said, but Steven cut me off before I had the chance to finish my greeting.

“Oh my God, I am going to hell!” he gushed, breathlessly. “I mean it. I am going straight to hell!”

“Wait. What?” I asked. “What are you talking about? Are you okay? What happened?”

“Oh man,” Steven continued. “Feathers and guts! That’s all I saw, just feathers and guts!”

What the hell is he talking about? I wondered. I could almost hear the squealing of the gears in my brain as they began to turn. I’d barely been out of bed for twenty minutes, and had no caffeine in my system yet. It was taking me a few extra moments to catch on.

“Honey, slow down,” I said. “What are you talking about?”

“Okay,” Steve said. I could hear him taking the deep breath that always preceded his stories. “So, I’m driving past the dairy. You know, the one I pass before I get to the college?”

“Uh huh,” I said, visualizing his maroon Lumina cruising by the McClintock Dairy, Steven behind the wheel, drumming along to whatever song happened to be playing on the radio.

“Okay, so you know how there are always a lot of birds by the dairy? And there are always birds in the road, but they get scared and fly away?”

“Yeah,” I said. I was finally beginning to realize where the story was going.

“Yeah, so one didn’t fly away like it was supposed to. All I hear is this THUD, and then feathers and guts are flying everywhere!”

“Aw, Stevie, that sucks! I’m sorry!” I said, trying to be supportive, but I could feel the giggles beginning to build. I felt bad for the poor bird, and felt bad for Steve hitting it. Yet, imagining Steven’s reaction in my head was enough to make me choke with laughter. Steven’s passionate intensity, his tendency to make seemingly simple situations transform into grandiose, larger than life events, has always been one of the things that I love most about him. The ability to make even the most mundane situations exciting is a rare talent, and I have to say that Steven has damn near perfected his craft.

In my mind, I could see the events as they unfolded. Steven would be driving along drumming on the steering wheel to some AC/DC or Rolling Stones song on the radio, singing along in a loud falsetto, as he drove the long stretch of empty highway. Rounding the corner by the dairy, he would see the birds on the road in the distance. He would keep on cruising, trusting that the birds would fly away in time, as they had a thousand times before. He would be so certain of it, that he wouldn’t even notice the one still sitting there, until the bumper of the car was closing in. But, by then, it would be too late. As the car struck the bird and obliterated it, Steven’s eyes would grow to roughly the size of golf balls, and he would begin to yell.

“Aaahhhh! Jesus! Bird! WHAT THE HELL? Out of the road! You’re supposed to get out of the road! WHY DIDN’T YOU GET OUT OF THE ROAD!?”

Steven’s voice on the phone brought me back to reality.

“I mean he’s just sitting there in the road with his little friend—” he continued.

“Oh no, there were two little birds!” I cried, unable to hold the laughter in any longer.

“Yeah, there were two. And they were both sitting in the road, just minding their own business. His little friend flew away, but the poor sucker I hit just exploded. Seriously babe, I don’t even think there is enough of him left for his little friend to come back and identify him. All I saw was feathers and guts. Just feathers and guts, everywhere! I don’t even want to look at the front of my car!”

“Oh honey,” I choked, but I was laughing so hard that I couldn’t offer any more support. I collapsed on the couch and giggled madly. Electra planted herself at my feet and stared at me quizzically, her head cocked to the side in confusion.

On the other end of the phone, Steven was still talking, but I only caught every few words between my guffaws.

“Damn bird...stupid...feel so bad...freakin’ of feathers...”

I took several deep breaths, and finally managed to get myself under control.

“Oh, Stevie. I’m sorry,” I said. “That must have freaked you out. Was that the first animal you ever hit?”

“Yeah! The rest of ‘em always got out of the way!” Steve yelled. “I mean, seriously! What was going on in his little bird brain? He just sat there! He had no chance. I mean, I annihilated him, babe!”

“Aw, Stevie!” I giggled. “At least he didn’t feel anything. It was a quick, painless death.”

“How would you know?” Steve asked? “Have you ever exploded on impact?”

“Well, no,” I admitted. “But I’m pretty sure that exploding guarantees a minimal amount of suffering. I mean, you blew the little guy apart. I think his pain receptors were probably destroyed on impact.”

“Oh, God! I am seriously going to hell,” Steven moaned. “What a way to start a day!”

“I’m sorry, babe.”

“Yeah, it’s okay. I just hope his little friends don’t come after me,” Steven said, beginning to laugh himself.

“Oh man, no way!” I squealed. “I want no part of that Alfred Hitchcock craziness! You better hit the car wash today and get rid of the evidence. If it gets hot, your car is gonna stink.”

“Damn! I didn’t even think of that! Alright, I gotta go. I’ll see you tonight.”

“Okay, Stevie. I love you. And drive safely!”

“I’ll try. Love you too.”

Still chuckling, I hung up the phone. The aroma of freshly brewed coffee began to fill the air, as I headed to the bathroom to shower and get ready for work. Steven was right. It was quite a way to start a day—Steven Romano 1, Birds 0.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Sometimes people just really suck

I’ve always fancied myself an easygoing person. Most everyone who knows me agrees that I am one of those people who just sort of rolls with the punches and doesn’t let trivial matters get under my skin. I learned a long time ago that life is too short to spend your time feeling angry or frustrated by things you cannot change. Life is a series of circumstances, and our success is determined, not my always being triumphant in the face of adversity, but by learning the lessons that life teaches and becoming more compassionate and humble human beings in the process.

But if there is one thing that truly sticks like a thorn in my side, it is the way people can treat each other so badly. As humans, we have an endless capacity for both incredible kindness and unimaginable cruelty. Sometimes it’s as if we suffer from temporary amnesia, forgetting that we are all made of the same stuff beneath our myriad exteriors.

It’s no surprise to me that our world is in a state of crisis these days. More than any other time in history, we are living a self-centered, egocentric existence. We are all so worried about ourselves, our lives, our possessions, our own goals and desires that we are willing to annihilate anyone who gets in the way of our own personal happiness. We have stopped caring about each other, stopped recognizing each other as human beings. What many of us don’t realize is that, in the end, all of us will suffer.

Two weeks ago, my friend Erin invited me to go to the movies to celebrate her daughters’ birthdays. Milan had turned three, Brooklyn six, and instead of trying to plan the traditional cake-and-ice-cream-at-home party on Easter weekend, Erin gave in to the girls’ request to invite friends to the new Hannah Montana movie.

When Erin stopped by my house to pick me up after work, she confided that Brooklyn and thrown up earlier that afternoon when Erin picked her up from school. Like many children on their birthdays, Brooklyn had fallen victim to too much excitement and too many sweets. In the back of the car, she was dozing, her head resting back against the seat. She still looked a little pale, but she had assured Erin that she felt better and was looking forward to watching the movie with her friends.

Erin, her husband Ervin, a friend and fellow co-worker Coleen, and I ushered the children through the doors, stopping briefly at the snack bar before making our way into the theater. We walked up the stairs and settled into our seats, about halfway to the top. There were about two dozen other families scattered throughout the theater.

Brooklyn took a seat between her mom and Coleen. I settled in between Coleen and the seat Milan vacated to sit in her daddy’s lap. Erin realized that the girl from the snack bar had forgotten a few of the items on the order, so she excused herself and made her way back to collect them.

We still had about ten minutes to wait before the previews would begin. Coleen and I were chatting about work, and our realistic expectations for the upcoming movie. At first, I hardly noticed Brooklyn getting up from her seat and shuffling slowly in front of Coleen and me, her hands clamped tightly over her mouth.

“Daddy,” she whimpered.

“What’s the matter, baby?” Ervin asked, leaning forward to get a better look at her. “You gonna be sick?”

Brooklyn nodded.

“Here Milan,” Ervin said, gathering her up from his lap. “You stay with Lori, okay?”

Before I could reach for Milan, Coleen stood and took Brooklyn by the shoulders.

“It’s okay,” she said. “I’ll take her. C’mon Brooklyn.”

Coleen gently turned Brooklyn and tried to guide her around us and out of the aisle. Suddenly, Brooklyn’s stomach heaved. I heard the splatter of liquid on the floor, and felt a sudden warmth on my leg. Brooklyn stared at me, her eyes wide and full of tears.

I smiled at her. “It’s okay, Brooklyn,” I said. “Go on with Coleen.”

“Here,” Ervin said. “I’ve got a bag.”

Brooklyn continued slowly through the row as Coleen turned to grab the bag from Ervin. I stood to follow, taking a moment to gather my jacket and Coleen’s purse together on my seat and away from the mess on the floor. By the time I made my way to the stairs, Coleen and Brooklyn were already gone.

I exited the theater just as Erin was leaving the snack bar. I waved to get her attention.

“Hey, what’s up?” she said.

“Brooklyn got sick,” I replied. “She and Coleen are in the bathroom.”

Erin glanced down at the wet spot above my knee. “She got you?”

“Yeah, just a little though. Most of it went on the floor.”

I pulled the bathroom door open and held it so Erin could go in and assess the damage.

Just around the corner, Coleen and Brooklyn were standing in front of the sink, Coleen busy wiping Brooklyn’s shirt with damp paper towels while Brooklyn stood in a daze. Erin knelt by her daughter and asked her what happened, if she still felt sick, if she wanted to stay for the movie.

I turned on the faucet a few feet away and cleaned myself the best I could, while Erin and Coleen finished with Brooklyn. Coleen explained to Erin what happened after she left for the snack bar.

I didn’t even notice anyone else enter the bathroom, but as the four of us finally turned to go, a voice echoed angrily behind us.

“The least you could do is say you’re sorry!”

Brooklyn and I had already rounded the corner by the door, so we weren’t able to see the woman. I watched Coleen and Erin both turn around to face her.

“What?” Coleen said, her face twisting in disbelief. “Is she talking to us?”

“Excuse me?” Erin asked, looking genuinely perplexed by the sudden outburst. “Are you talking to us?”

“Yes, I’m talking to you!” the woman spat, her voice harsh and unforgiving, amplified by the hollow echo of the bathroom. “The least you could do is say you’re sorry after that girl puked all over us!”

Like a knife, her words pierced my heart, and I felt the knife twist as I watched Brooklyn’s cheeks flush with shame. She bowed her head and stared at the floor.

I leaned down and took her tiny hand in mine.

“Come on, sweetie,” I said softly. “Why don’t you come help me get some napkins?”

Brooklyn didn’t speak. We walked out the door and into the lobby. As the door swung shut behind us, I heard Erin’s voice growing loud with anger.

“We’re sorry, but it’s not like this is something you can plan! You’re a mother! You should know!”

Brooklyn and I busied ourselves gathering napkins at the counter. I pulled a stack and handed them to her, then grabbed some more.

“How’s your stomach, Brooklyn?” I asked, kneeling down in front of her. “Are you feeling better?”

She nodded.

“You wanna go sit back down?”

“Yeah,” she said. “Is the movie starting soon?”

The bathroom door swung open, and Erin and Coleen emerged. Coleen’s brow was still furrowed in disbelief, as if she couldn’t quite comprehend what had just occurred. Erin’s face was flushed, and for a moment I swear I could see the steam rise off her just like in the cartoons, her rage a visible cloud around her.

“Yeah, it’s gonna start in a couple minutes,” I replied. “There’s Coleen and your mommy. Should we go catch them?”

Brooklyn nodded and grabbed my hand. We hurried after them, catching up just outside the theater door. Brooklyn took her place at her mother’s side, and I hung back with Coleen to find out what happened after I left the bathroom.

“I don’t know. It’s crazy!” whispered Coleen. “The lady kept saying that we should apologize because Brooklyn puked all over them, but how could she? I didn’t see her puke anywhere but on the floor and on you. Did you see anything?”

I shook my head. “Where was that lady sitting anyway?” I asked. “I didn’t even notice her.”

“In front of us somewhere, I guess. I don’t know,” Coleen replied. “She’s just crazy though. Erin said she was sorry, but the lady just kept being all nasty and rude, and Erin finally snapped and told her that we couldn’t help it and the lady should understand because she has kids. I mean, her little daughter was standing right there with her! How messed up is that?”

By the time we returned and cleaned up the floor beneath our seats, the lights dimmed and the previews began. Though the movie was a welcome distraction, I couldn’t help but play the scene over and over in my mind—the woman’s piercing voice, the way Brooklyn hung her head in embarrassment before I could usher her out of the bathroom.

I glanced over at her from time to time during the movie. She seemed fully engaged in the film, even bobbing her head along with the music. I wondered if there was any chance that she would simply forget the ugly scene in the bathroom, if it would get lost in that dark void where so many of our childhood memories go, never to return to the surface as we get older and leave them behind. Yet, with a heavy heart, I knew that it was a memory that had been burned into her young brain.

That day, Brooklyn turned six, and had to learn that sometimes people just really suck.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Letter to the Editor in the Coolidge Examiner 4/22/09

Dear Editor,

We are at a point in this country where our educational system is, quite frankly, a joke. American students are lagging far behind other industrialized nations in math and science, and a large percentage of our high school graduates are earning diplomas without even being able to write cohesive essays that are grammatically correct. Yet, instead of coming together and trying to find ways to fix our broken system, we are wasting our time pointing fingers and trying to pass the blame.

The saddest part about the recent upheaval of the Coolidge School Board is that, in the end, it is only the children who are being hurt. It is their education that is suffering, while the adults who are supposed to be in charge of it are too busy squabbling with each other over trivial matters. While some may try to blame it on the faltering economy or gross administrative mismanagement, it seems more likely that the real problems lie not in the system itself, but in the people who are too busy fighting with each other to do their jobs and make things work.
The main purpose, the only purpose, of a school board should be to make sure that the children in a community are being served and educated.

Last week, Superintendent Darlene White was “reassigned” to her home until further notice, and several administrators were left in limbo, wondering if their contracts were even going to be renewed. This week, positions were eliminated and a few resignations were even submitted. What should have been a meeting to discuss issues and try to come to rational resolutions became more of a childish quarrel. Watching the proceedings was like watching a bunch of third graders trying to figure out how to uninvite the unpopular kids from a birthday party, after everyone has already RSVP’d.

As a community member, I am sickened by these events, and saddened by the irresponsibility of the people whom other community members have entrusted to educate their children. How are we going to be able to hire faithful and hardworking administrators after this? How are we going to attract quality teachers? How are we going to fix any of the real problems in our educational system, when we can’t even learn to get along with each other? I do not have any children yet, and I must admit that I am glad, for I do not think that I could send my children to the Coolidge schools with a clear conscience, knowing that their education and well-being is not the number one priority.

It’s time to stop pointing fingers and assigning blame. It’s time to get off our high horses and admit that we have all made mistakes. It’s time to stop assuming that someone else is going to pick up the slack if we don’t do our jobs. It’s time to stop being so selfish.

We are at a point in the history of our country where we have the opportunity to make a great change, and really begin to turn things around for the better. In just a few short years, we have watched our economy tank, gas prices skyrocket, hundreds of thousands of people lose their jobs and their homes. We all sit and watch the news and wonder how it’s ever going to get any better. We think that we are helpless, and we wait for some superhero to come along and save us. But no one is going to save us. It’s up to us to save ourselves. It’s up to us to change. And the only way we have a chance to do that is by coming together, communicating, and keeping our focus on our goals and on the well-being of our children.


Lori L. Romano

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Wake Up Call

When 47-year-old Susan Boyle first strutted on to the Britain’s Got Talent stage, one hand on her hip and the other clutching in the microphone, she was greeted by an incredulous panel of judges and an intolerant audience. She fumbled awkwardly through the small talk with the judges and joked about her age, which elicited a wide-eyed “what have we gotten ourselves into?” glance amongst the panel. When Ms. Boyle admitted that she dreamed of one day being as famous as Elaine Paige, audience members groaned and snickered and rolled their eyes at this frumpy, unemployed spinster standing center stage in her matronly dress and matching shoes. Simon Cowell (known here in the United States as the Patron Saint of Sarcastic Criticism on American Idol) stretched his face into a tolerant smile, folded his hands, and waited for the impending disaster.

I felt a pang of fury watching the icy reception, and I was overwhelmed by compassion for this poor woman who was about to put her heart and soul on the line in front of millions of viewers, only to be publicly ridiculed, first by Simon and the other judges, and then by the malicious media. When Ms. Boyle smiled cheerfully and gave the thumbs up to cue the music, my heart stopped for a moment in my chest.

Beautiful music has always affected me profoundly, resonating somewhere deep inside, as if somehow directly connected to my soul. There have been numerous occasions throughout my life when I have been so captivated by a piece of music that I have had only what I can describe as an out of body experience, floating somewhere above my body, enraptured by the natural progression of the notes and the enchanting lilt of the vocals. There have been moments when I am absolutely certain that I have gotten a glimpse of Heaven right here on earth—playing in high school concerts in front of my hometown audience, standing next to Katie Luekens singing hymns during chapel services at Concordia College, sitting in the darkness of the Broadway theaters and concert halls. Whenever, wherever I happen to be, I get lost in the music.

“I Dreamed a Dream” has always been one of my favorite songs from Les Miserables, yet all of the other performances I have ever seen appear amateurish and pale in comparison. A choir of angels could not have sung with more passionate intensity or with greater joy than Susan Boyle. My heart ached as I watched the audience members’ skeptical frowns melt into rapturous awe.

From the time we were young, we are told to never judge a book by its cover, yet we do time and time and time again. We are living today in such an egocentric culture that it is difficult for many of us to even bring the world around us into focus. It’s all about me, me, me, what I think, what I want, what I like or dislike. There are so few genuinely pure and humble souls left that when we do encounter them—souls like Susan Boyle—it is hard not to sit up and listen.

Humans are amazingly complex creatures, capable of extraordinary kindness and compassion, or devastating ugliness and brutality. Sadly, in today’s world, we have all been subjected to more than our fair share of evil and greed. Even those of us with the best of intentions are finding it difficult to let our lights shine in the midst of so much darkness. I am a believer though, that energy is contagious. So it is no surprise to me that Susan Boyle has become such a sensation, that she has had several million hits on websites like YouTube, that her story and her video is spreading across the globe. In the darkness, even the tiniest pinpoint of light is enough to draw us in, to make us anticipate the dawn. In today’s world, where there is so much misery and despair, one short glimpse of a pure and beautiful soul—like Susan Boyle—just might be enough to restore our appreciation of, and our faith in, each other.

And if you’d like another uplifting story and musical performance, check out Paul Potts, who also shocked the Britain’s Got Talent judges and audience. If you ever had any doubt that there were angels among us…