The Sign Twirler


Flickr CC Britt Reints

Just past one of the high schools Elton the sign twirler—although he doesn’t usually twirl so much as sway back and forth as he holds an umbrella—is standing in his usual spot. I’m not sure how effective hiring someone to stand in front of your business holding a sign is because even though I say hello to Elton every week I can’t for the life of me remember what the sign he’s holding says.

“I’m Elton. Like Elton John, only without the fame or fortune,” he said in a strong Tennessean accent upon introduction.

“Or rhinestoned glasses,” I added.

“I could take care of that,” he said. “I have a glue gun at home.”

He seemed so delighted someone had actually stopped to visit with him that I’ve made a point of doing it every week since. I wonder how many people not only miss Elton’s sign but miss seeing Elton altogether.

I think Elton sees everyone.

“Howdy, neighbor!” Elton always says when he sees me coming down the street. I ask him if he’s managed to stay somewhat dry and warm lately, and he says he’s happy to have finally been able to pull out his sunglasses (which are still lacking in rhinestones). He told me once that he worked as an engineer at Boeing for years, but then developed problems with his right hand and was no longer able to work there. He says he goes to regular physical therapy and that it’s slowly getting better. But for now he holds his sign.

“Have you always lived in the Seattle area?” I asked last time I saw him. Washingtonians say you can spot non-locals by their umbrellas. After all, Real Washingtonians pull up their hoods and charge on through the rain unabated without the aid of umbrellas. But even locals would pull out an umbrella if they were standing in one spot holding a sign all day, so it’s the accent and not the umbrella that gives him away.

Elton tells me that he  grew up on a farm in Tennessee, said he wanted to see the world once he was done with high school. And he did. “I was a pig farmer in the Philippines,” he tells me.

“Oh, really? How did you end up doing that?”

He says it was his wife’s farm, so when they got married they ran it together.

“I don’t think I’ve don’t much else,” he says. “I mean I lived in Japan and Canada, but that’s not very interesting.” However, I imagine that the story of how a small-town farm boy from Tennessee traveled the world, met and married a pig farmer in the Philippines, eventually moved to the Seattle region to work for Boeing and is now holding a sign next to the high school where he tells me his son attends contains a lot of stories that are, regardless of what Elton thinks, interesting.

“Did I tell you ’bout how I hired someone to come split some of my wood?” he asks. I say that I don’t think he has, so he tells me about how the people who stop by to chat with him are usually homeless and one time one of the men asked him for money. “So I told him if he was willing to help me with some work I’d be happy to pay him ten dollars an hour. He came over and we split wood together for most of the day, and then I had him stay for dinner. He comes over regularly now to help with things around the yard and we have dinner together.”

I notice how it doesn’t sound like charity when Elton talks. He doesn’t say he now regularly feeds the poor homeless man because he’s such a great guy; he says they have dinner together. I can tell that to Elton the man isn’t “a homeless man” or a member of “the needy,” he’s a person.

Sometimes Elton will mention factually how he’s hoping to finally land himself a better job soon. I’d hire him in a second if I had the money and any reason to actually hire someone; partly because he’s so nice and friendly even when there isn’t a supervisor peering down their nose to check on his customer service, and partly because I’d love to get him out of the rain. But I can’t hire him. So I wish him luck. I really hope he finds a job he likes soon, but I’ll miss him when he’s gone. One of these weeks I’ll get to his usual spot on the street corner and he just won’t be there anymore, no one will say “Howdy, neighbor!” And I’ll hope it’s because he’s finally found himself a place out of the rain.

My acquaintanceship with Elton is a little imbalanced; it isn’t quite fair. You see, I know more about him than I’ll allow him to know about me. He stands there holding his sign every week, so I know what his job is. I know his life probably isn’t going according to plan right now. But he doesn’t know where I’m going.

He doesn’t know that when he sees me once a week it’s because I’m walking to counseling. He doesn’t know my life isn’t going according to plan, either. He doesn’t know that sometimes I bring my rhinestone-free sunglasses with me so that on my way home he won’t know I was just crying. He doesn’t know that even though the sun is out and we’re both sporting our sunglasses just how much darkness and cold has worked its way into my life.

He doesn’t know how much is hiding behind the smile I always put on, even when things are bad, with the hopes of adding a little sunshine to his day because I can see how much it means to him that I stop to say hello. And I might be the only person all day who does. Besides, he’s not being paid enough to play therapist for me.

“Where are you off to today, neighbor?” he says.

And I respond with my usual, “Oh, you know, just running some errands.”

He nods towards that fire ball in the sky we so rarely see around here and says, “A good day for errands.” I agree.

“Try to stay dry this week,” I say, turning to give Elton one last wave as I continue my walk to counseling.

Reflections on a Month of Marriage

If my life were a romantic comedy, the Mr. Man and I would now be exactly one month past when the credits would’ve begun to roll, indicating that the goal, marriage, had been reached and that there just wasn’t much more to tell.  After all, how much real excitement could happen if everything else can be summed up in “happily ever after?”

The Mr. Man and I just a few hours before our wedding.

The Mr. Man and I just a few hours before our wedding.

Because real life often isn’t like the movies though — well, maybe some dark indie comedy but not really the they-rode-off-into-the-sunset blockbuster variety — I’ve made a habit out of asking newlyweds whether married life is what they expected. Now, because I obviously have a lot of insightful things to say given my four whole weeks of experience, I thought I’d write a blog post answering my own question: Is marriage what you expected?

Marriage is Hard

The most common thing that friends have said surprised them about marriage is how hard it is, which always surprised me because it seemed that since they could still count the number of days they’d been married it shouldn’t really be hard yet.  After all, they should still honestly be in the mists of believing that the sun shines out their spouse’s butt, right?

Well, I feel like I get it now.  Or at least I’m starting to.

Marriage, even only the first four weeks, really is hard. There are so many changes, especially for couple’s like the Mr. Man and I who also moved in together for the first time after the wedding. I love the fact that we waited to move in together but it did make for a lot of changes. New apartment — I’d never lived in an apartment before. New name — or at least I’ll have a new one once the paperwork is finally all figured out.  New immediate family — a husband is so much more than a roommate because, unlike with a roommate, I don’t even have my own closet or bed or anything, really.  We share everything (okay, well, not everything because my toothbrush will always be off limits).

In addition to all the changes, there’s also a lot to figure out together.  How much money will we budget towards food?  Do potato chips count as “food” or does that come out of the piggy bank dedicated to random crap? What time should we eat dinner? If we eat soup every other night would that be “too often” or simply fantastic? Which way are mugs stored in the cupboard — up or down? How many evenings a week do we watch TV or a movie together? How many evenings should be screen-free? How much time do we dedicate to our introverted need to recharge individually? What time do we go to bed?  Do we go to bed at the same time? What temperature should the thermostat be set at? Are we eating enough veggies? What are we doing for Christmas? And so on.

So many changes, so much to figure out.  And in the midst of it all, life still happens.

Life’s Still Messy 

As we drove away after the wedding, family waving and hugging and wishing us well, I felt elated. Despite anxiety and grief leading up to the wedding for a variety of reasons, things had gone smoothly. I’d enjoyed myself and, while it might not have been perfect, the wedding was beautiful and I loved it. As he drove to our apartment, I sent out a mass text I’d written earlier that day announcing to friends (our wedding only consisted of immediate family) that we were now, officially, hitched. So happy.

When we got to our apartment, we carried my last couple of bags and a few wedding presents upstairs. I waited on the porch, shivering but happier than a kid on Christmas morning, as he brought everything inside. “Your wife is getting cold!” I called in after him. At that, he came out and carried me in fireman style.

The day was lovely. But, to no real surprise, I also ended up crying later that evening because my daddy hadn’t been there. While the grief certainly didn’t ruin the day, I was aware of the hole where my dad should be — especially during family pictures — and I still cried once I arrived at my new home. Life’s messy; sometimes it’s happy and sad all at the same moment.

The Messiness of Adjusting 

Things have continued to be messy in their own right as we’ve gotten more adjusted. I was sick most of the first week and had to go to the doctor.  You know, going to the doctor for bladder infection medication less than a week into married life is one of those things they seem to leave out of the films. We both had the stomach flu over Thanksgiving. And my anxiety disorder made things interesting for the first two weeks as I began to relax from all the pre-wedding stress and get used to the apartment. I’d wake up in the middle of a panic attack almost every night because the neighbors upstairs were vacuuming at 2 am again or sometimes because I wasn’t sure where I was, which meant that neither one of us got a decent night’s sleep until I’d gotten at least a little used to sleeping in the apartment.

And, when I finally thought everyone was well and things were going a bit smoother, I knocked myself unconscious by running into the side of the bathroom door. Yup. So, currently, I’m home from work with a concussion (please note, if there is an abnormal number of typos in this post, that’s probably why).

Things Are Beautiful, Too 

Mr. & Mr. Munger

The new Mr. & Mrs. Munger

In addition to the messiness, we’ve had a lot of fun too. He took me to the Seattle Symphony for my Christmas present, introduced me to the BBC show Sherlock (and, next, I’ll introduce him to Doctor Who), and we started reading The Princess Bride and Jesus Feminist before bed. We’ve gone grocery shopping, unpacked a few more boxes, practiced saying my two new favorite words — husband and wife — and bought Christmas presents for our families. We’ve listened to Christmas music while doing the dishes, discussed feminism while cuddled up on the couch, and talked abut theology and modern American Christendom as we drove home from a Christmas-y date in Seattle.

He’s also reminded me again and again of exactly why I married him as he’s had plenty of opportunities this month to live out the “in sickness” part of our vows. He’s brought me breakfast in bed when I was sick and continues to now that I have a concession, cleaned the entire apartment when my to-do list was longer than my stamina, and held me tight when I needed it.

It’s been quite a month. We’ve planned and dreamed. Cried and giggled. Kissed and apologized. We’ve learned new things about each other as our own insecurities and fragility and, sometimes, brokenness becomes more evident. And we’ve learned new things — or at least I’ve learned new things — about ourselves, too.

Yes, marriage is messy and it’s hard work. And life seriously doesn’t go according to plan sometimes (concussions, for example). But, nonetheless, for whatever my few weeks of experience is worth, I think being married is beautiful.

Copyright 2014 Kelsey Munger. All rights reserved. For reprint permission, email me at KelseyMunger1[a] Stay up to date by following me on Facebook or Twitter

An open letter to my Mr. Man

Punk'n huntin' with the Mr. Man.

Punpk’n huntin’ with the Mr. Man.

I’m not very good at expressing how much I care about someone — always afraid it’ll sound trite or just really annoyingly mushy — but since we’re getting married in exactly 9 days, I thought I’d try my hand at an I-like-you-so-gosh-darn-much letter.

To My Love:

New lovers talk about how the world now feels brand new, as if bright, shining rainbows shoot out of all the formerly dark nooks and crannies of their lives and the entire world has been drenched in rose peddles and glitter. They make declarations of love based on the feeling that they can’t live or breathe or think or even put on their deodorant without their love by their side. Declarations that sound like symptoms of a bizarre medical condition: butterflies in the stomach, inability to eat, sleeplessness, and a newfound urge to compose torch songs.

Sure, infatuation is a pretty enjoyable high. I remember how after we started dating we stayed up texting until 2am comparing notes on our awkward “Does she/he like me too?” dance. Like the time you were getting together with a girl from school and I was jealous — really jealous — but wasn’t willing to admit it, not even to myself, so I tried to casually ask how your “hot date” had gone. You responded that if you were to go on a date with anyone, it’d be me.

Then, when I didn’t respond to your text message for half an hour, you thought it meant I wasn’t interested or that the idea of us dating made me uncomfortable. But, in reality, I’d burst into tears because I thought we were incompatible due to ideological differences, that it wasn’t going to work or maybe even shouldn’t work, and it’d taken thirty long minutes before I could take another stab at pretending to be calm and collected again.

Putting in Some Work 

You know, it really is amazing that we managed to work things out despite a decent amount of social awkwardness on both sides. Not to mention a decent amount of ideological differences that we spent literally months discussing on a weekly basis — we read books and watched lectures, had disagreements and discussions, and finally decided that we were compatible — prior to me being willing to finally decide that, yes, we could date.  People thought we were being slow or in denial about making it official, but we were wading our way through some pretty sticky stuff. And we really weren’t sure how it was going to turn out.

Sorting through all of that was enjoyable — you’re so thoughtful and brought a fresh prospective to ideas and beliefs that I hold dear — but also terrifying because I didn’t know if we’d be able to figure it out.  I remember crying in the car that Christmas Eve as I told my mom how I thought that if we could figure out that ideological stuff, I wanted to marry you.  But I was scared we might not be able to and that maybe it’d be a deal breaker, after all.

Just a few days later we finally worked it out. Everything wasn’t completely starched and ironed but we’d decided we were compatible on the major issues and were willing to be gracious on the minor ones. It’d been a year since we’d met, six months since you’d first made noises about wanting to date, and we were finally there. I cared about you so much that I even gave you my first kiss — something that was extremely precious to me — and told you that I loved you.  Once you got home, you texted me and said you felt like you were walking on air.  And so did I.

Then, Love Grows Up 

It was fun texting until way after midnight, setting all those messy stories straight and being grateful we’d actually managed to figure things out enough to begin a relationship. Infatuation is fun. But there’s something almost childlike, perhaps even a little self-absorbed, about new lovers. “I love you because you make me happy” or “I love you because we’re completely perfect together and everything comes so easily, naturally” seem to be the main gist of the declarations. And I know we did it, too. I honestly thought we already had the whole communication thing down pat by the time I finally started introducing you as my boyfriend that December—but we had oh so much left to learn! In fact, here we are, going on three years later, we’ve even started reading books together about communication and relationships, and we’re still slowly but surely figuring it out.

For a little while, I felt like maybe we needed to get everything all neat and polished before finally tying the long anticipated nuptial knot. I felt like we should’ve read more marriage books by this point and had who would handle what chore all ironed out. But I realized that’s what’s so wonderful about marriage: it’s a commitment to see this complex relationship business through, to keep on learning, growing, and messing up together.

‘Til Death Do Us Part 

That’s what you were saying that sunny spring day in Seattle as we strolled through the cemetery on the hill. As I nerded out about the evolution of death-related practices in America and admired the urban view, you looked at a gravestone of a married couple—his and her headstones—and said that’d be us someday. The level of commitment in the comment caught me up short. You weren’t being morbid or sad. You were saying that you wanted it to be only me. Forever. Until death do us part. You were saying that you loved me enough to give your entire life to me alone.

When I think about the future, I can echo your hope of being together until the grave.  In fact, what scares me most when I think about the future is the harsh reality that some couples aren’t given the luxury of growing old together due to frail bodies and a beautiful, frightful thing called mortality. And I hope and pray — like most, if not all, almost-married couples do — that we are lucky in that regard because I could spend every day of the rest of my life with you.  And even then, I feel like it still wouldn’t be enough.

When Broken People Say “I Do” 

Things won’t be easy once we’re finally pronounced husband and wife; they already haven’t been easy, you know that.  You’ve held me as I’ve cried as if my heart was going to die when the grief and loss from yet another Father’s Day slammed into my chest like a supersonic jet. You know how broken and scary I am. You know when I’m wearing my brave face in order to just get through the day. You know my insecurities—like hidden landmines, you’ve accidentally stepped on a few—and you try to make them better.  And very slowly, with lots time, it helps.

You see me as braver, smarter, more beautiful, stronger, and kinder than I see myself. But you know I’m not perfect either and that I’m no fairy princess offering to grant you a life of ease. You know how well I can choose exactly the right word that’ll hurt and shock like jamming your finger in an electric socket when I’m feeling angry and especially when I’m hurt. You know my deepest heartaches that leave me shaking like a lost, scared little girl. You know there are scars on my heart of hearts—you’ve touched them, kissed them, cried over them. Even when I’ve felt like maybe you’ll give up on me now, maybe I’m too screwed up or too broken, you’re there. Steadfast. Loving. Unmoving. As you’e told me before, you’re not going anywhere.

When I was afraid the I-miss-my-daddy-so-gosh-darn-much-it-hurts feeling was going to intrude on the wedding day, you told me that you wanted me to be able to be open, honest about how I was feeling, especially with you. And that you were glad that soon we’d finally be married, so you could be there for me even better by holding me, if necessary, while I balled my eyes out on our wedding night. Sexy? Not in the least. Romantic? Absolutely, because it showed how much you care for me.

And I want to show you, m’dear, how I see you, too. Help the insecurities to fade a little — even though I can’t ever erase them just like you can’t erase mine — and be there to ease the worry lines. I want to act like your mirror by showing you what I see: you’re intelligent, compassionate, and loving. And I’m lucky to have met you.  And even luckier to call you mine.

It’s Going to Take Work and Guts 

I know that sharing a life together isn’t going to be easy, m’dear.  Some horrible day in the future, one or maybe even both of us might even want out and we’ll have to hang on for dear life to each other. I know we’re both hardheaded and opinionated, so we’ll have our share of arguments (the silly and the not-so-silly kind). I know we both have hurts that are hidden so far inside of us that most people never even know they’re there, so sometimes we’ll accidentally hurt each other. We both have insecurities, so sometimes we’ll need reassuring. And, sometimes, we won’t be gentle or kind and we’ll need to forgive and learn to handle each other with more care.

We’re not airbrushed Hollywood actors staring in an epic romance—we’re real, we’re broken, we’re committed, and we’re in love. It’s not perfect but it’s beautiful in all its complex messiness. And we’re willing to put in the work. Lots of work. And that doesn’t mean that our love is less romantic than the new lovers. Sure, there’s still some glitter left over from the puppy stage but love — real love — a love that’s willing to work and willing to sacrifice has replaced the infatuation.

Marriage is the biggest adventure I’ve ever embarked on and it’s exciting and overwhelming all at the same time. But there’s no one else, m’dear, whom I’d rather share it with.

I only have one life to live, and it’s yours.

All my love,