Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Her Adam's Apple

I consider myself pretty observant. Running a classroom requires a certain amount of paying attention to detail, and I would like to believe that I am just a little better than most at watching and taking in my environment.  Fortunately, this belief was challenged recently as a friend and I returned from a day spent at a local, all-women’s writing retreat.

As we drive away at the end of a full day of meeting and greeting, and intensive writing workshops, my friend and I discuss the workshops and the other participants.

 My friend mentions Susan.  Susan sat next to me at breakfast that morning, and during open mic at the end of the day she read a great fictional piece about a girl who refused to wear a bra to school.  I say how much I liked her writing.  Then my friend says, “You know Susan is transgender.”

 “Really?” I say.  “You think she’s transgender?” 
“Yes!  You didn’t notice her huge Adam’s apple?"  

 “No, not at all.  Really?” I say again.

“Yes! You didn't notice that she was almost 7 feet tall, and that she had shaved the hair off her hands? Seriously, you didn’t notice?” she says.  She's turned to face me as I drive, and out of the corner of my eye I can tell she’s amused.

“Wow, no,” I say, wondering how I’d missed it, being the very observant person I know myself to be. I tell my friend that Susan was even in both my morning and afternoon breakout sessions. I confess that I spent all day with her in small group workshops talking and doing exercises to quiet our inner critics.  I admit that I sat right across from her.  I talked with her and listened to her read her writing, and had no idea.  It didn’t even occur to me. 
This provokes a good belly laugh from my friend, and she cracks some joke about me being from a small town.   

 We let it pass, and go on to talk about the quality of the workshops, how delicious the food was and how no time was wasted during the breakout sessions. We agree that overall it was a great experience for both of us.  But later I ponder the transgender conversation a bit more.  How could I not have noticed? 

There is such a huge to-do in the news lately about laws requiring transgender people to use the bathroom according to the gender they were assigned at birth; shouldn’t it be more obvious if someone is trying to be a different gender?  I think maybe it was Susan’s politeness that threw me off.

At breakfast that morning seven tables tightly filled the little meeting and greeting room, and with chairs around all sides of each table it was a snug fit, even for someone of average height and weight.  When I saw Susan approaching our table I pulled a chair out for her next to me.  She needed the end of a table like someone with extra long legs might require the aisle seat on an airplane. I recall being impressed by the way she said “thank you” when I offered her the chair, like she really meant “Thank You!”.  Her explicit expression of gratitude made sense later that day when we were asked to list two of our greatest pet peeves during a fictional writing activity.  She revealed that her two most egregious peeves are when people don’t say “thank you” and when people cut other people off in traffic.  She said she can’t stand it when people are rude to each other. 

I ponder this, and remember that she was also very kind to another participant during our morning small-group session. Maybe that was it. Our morning facilitator used news stories as writing prompts, and one woman chose to use a recent Orlando nightclub shooting article as a catalyst for a piece of narrative non-fiction.  After our fellow participant read her piece, Susan said she thought about using that one, but it was hitting a little too close to home for her. The other participant was crying and Susan was comforting her.  Susan told her she appreciated that she was brave enough to write about it. I was so impressed that she chose to put another person at ease, even though it was obviously a personal and difficult topic for her. 

           Or could it have been her sense of humor that distracted me from noticing her male gender indicators?  In our afternoon breakout session, I wrote a story about a woman who hated her couch so much that she prompted her dog to pee on it so her husband would have to let her buy a new one. I explained that I chose this topic based on a certain recliner my husband owns, and a disagreement we once had about buying a reclining sofa.  Susan was cracking up as I shared my story. It felt really good to have someone appreciate the humor in my writing, and at this point I was thinking that given the chance to get to know one another a little better, she and I could definitely be friends.

After witnessing Susan’s politeness, compassion and sense of humor, I do admit that I sit here and wonder what the controversial bathroom laws are all about.  It seems like much ado about nothing.  Susan has about as much in common with a pervert wearing a dress so he can stalk little girls in the women’s bathroom as Hitler had in common with Mother Teresa.

She and I did not use the bathroom at the same time that day, but based on my interactions with her all day in our writing sessions, here is the truth about what I imagine happening if Susan and I ended up in a public restroom together. I’m pretty sure it would go something like this:

I see her walking into the restroom since I am right behind her.  I don’t notice her Adam’s apple or shaved hands but I do notice she’s a very tall woman with short brown hair, cut in a modified “Dorothy Hamill” style, walking with the long, slow gait of someone approaching six-and-a-half feet tall.  When we reach the inner sanctuary, she turns to politely offer that I go ahead of her into the next available stall.   As she turns and smiles, I see her interesting face.  I notice she wears no makeup and I guess that she is someone who doesn’t plan to spruce up her appearance to be more feminine.  I judge that she is neither homely nor pretty, but somewhere in between, plain, like a Midwestern housewife who has risen with the sun to bake bread and muffins and can only think of all the work she’ll accomplish before the rest of the family is even out of bed.  I see her as common, everyday folk; no frills attached.  I take her up on her offer to use the stall first since I have waited too long, as usual, and really have to go bad.  When I get into the stall I hear her walk in beside me and lock the door on her side.  She goes, I go, we both go.  I reach for the toilet paper and there is nothing there.  It is Costco after all, on a Saturday, and it is BUSY!  I say, “Hey….um, would you mind passing me some toilet paper?” She will laugh at this because it is awkward and funny to get that far into the bathroom experience only to reach for an empty roll.   Because she understands, she gives me a lot of toilet paper.  She passes no judgment on what I might have done on the other side of the divider, but gives me enough to be prepared either way.  During this encounter I see that she is polite, has a sense of humor, and is kind.  Who knew you could learn so much about a person during a trip to the restroom?  The only thing I would not have learned about her is that she is transgender since we didn’t actually share the same bathroom stall.
In other words, having Susan with me in the restroom would be an absolute non-event for me.  It is likely that most people wouldn’t wonder for a minute if she was in the right restroom if found in the women’s room.  However, I assure you that eyebrows would rise dramatically if she were to walk into the men’s room. Having to use the men’s room would be embarrassing, and, in some circumstances, might even be dangerous for her. 

On this day I wonder if we need this law, or other laws like it. Could old-fashioned interpersonal politeness, humor and compassion really be all we need? Whether there is a law in place or not, one day it will simply come down to me and the person standing across from me.  What will I become in that moment?  That is the greatest question of my life really. 

All I know for sure is that I have decided if the person with me in the moment is Susan, or someone like her, and they are kindly passing me toilet paper, I will be sure to say “thank you” and truly mean it.

Monday, February 15, 2016

Sign Language

I am scanning through my “Home” feed on Facebook and a friend has a picture posted of a man I recognize.  He is sitting alone at a slot machine, his back to the camera.  The homeless paparazzi have caught him in the act at the Swinomish Casino on a cold fall evening.  The caption reads: “Does this man look familiar?” 
I doubt there is anyone in our town of 20,000 who wouldn’t find him familiar.  Who here hasn’t seen him at one time or another waving his cardboard signs on the street corners between Safeway and Wal-Mart? 
Comments follow the photo.  Some are relatively mild, like, “I don’t give those people money”, but others are a little less tame.  As I read, I wonder what he has done to offend so many people.  I also wonder if all homeless people on corners are the same person.  The comments almost have me convinced.  I slowly read down the list:
Comment: “…I don’t give any of those sign holders my money or my damn food…None of my food goes to them f’ers ever and I love my food and hate sharing so that was big for me.”  3 likes
Comment:  “Gambling the money he suckers people into giving him.  Oh but he LOOOOVES ME!!” 1 like
Comment:  “He has a blue jeep I see him driving around all the time” 3 likes
Comment:  “I know about this guy.  Fired from the post office....A pathetic addict that doesn’t want to work for a living anymore…”  5 likes
Comment:  “Panhandling is panhandling…Everybody needs to stop being so bleeding heart and quit promoting it!!  I remember when there were no bums sitting on every street corner…and I miss that. “7 likes
Then, about 10 comments down, there is someone who speaks up for the man in the picture.  I think of him as the “Lorax”. 
Lorax:  “He doesn’t do it for the money.  I’ve actually talked to him.  He does it just to put a smile on people’s faces. ”  0 likes
As I read this I remember driving by the man in the picture.  It had been a really bad day.  As I went by, he made eye contact with me, put a huge smile on his face, and held up a sign that said, “Luv Ya!”  I remember thinking it was hilarious.  I was all in my own head about this or that, and getting more upset by the second, and then I see him and laugh out loud in my car.  It was really transforming.  That day I became curious about the man with the signs on the corner. 
            I read on.  More negative comments follow, but now they’re directed at the Lorax instead of the man in the picture.  The Lorax comments again to defend himself and the man. 
Lorax:  “He will accept money if you give it to him but he’ll also accept a simple smile as well.  Don’t be so quick to judge especially if you don’t know anything about the person.  It’s disappointing to see this.”  0 likes
The Lorax goes back and forth with the bandwagon a few more times, then finally gives up and leaves the conversation. 
The thread ends with: You can never trust any of them!”  3 likes
I shut down my computer and think that maybe the Lorax and I were friends in another lifetime.  Not that I am as brave as he is.  I can’t say with certainty that I would have put myself out there in the fray, but I do like that he is giving his FB friends something to disagree with, and as a result, think about.  In the dissonance, he is planting a few seeds. 
More than this though, I admire the fact that he actually stopped and talked with Ray.  I drove by for months and had to read this post before I could work up the bravery to actually approach him as he sat one sunny September Saturday on the corner by Safeway.  I introduced myself.  He offered me the curb to sit on.  I sat.  He shook my hand and we exchanged names.  I told him I was journal writing about “judgment”, and asked if he would be willing to talk to me for a bit about that.
“Sure” he says, “tell me your name again.” 
I tell him my name several times throughout this first conversation.  His thoughts seem to be a bit jumbled.  I remember the FB comment about him being an addict, and for a moment think that this could be a complete waste of my time.
I tell him I am examining “judgment”, mostly introspectively, and am planning to write about it.   
He appreciates the topic.  He tells me, “Most people don’t understand.  People have chased me with cameras.  They take pictures of me getting into my car and then say things like, “if you have a car, why do you ask for money?’”
I recall the comment about him having a Jeep. 
I tell him about the Facebook post that led me to him.  That I knew if I wanted to know more about judgment of others, and how it can affect judging oneself, he would be the person to ask.  I explain the post to him.  He just nods and tells me that he can tell things about people while he’s sitting there.  He can tell the people who haven’t had enough love.  "They are harder and colder.  The worst is when they yell things at me just as they are passing me in their cars."  “Drive-by yellings” he calls them.  He can’t see their faces; he can just hear their harsh words coming at him. 
I want to balance this a little for him.  I tell him that on difficult days, I have seen him smiling and waving a homemade sign that says “SMILE” with a big smiley face on it, and it has completely transformed my mood.  There is something to that.  Not everyone can evoke that response in another person. 
He says he's glad I told him that.  He confesses that he thinks he was meant to do this.  He tells me about some of his trials and pitfalls and how they have changed him.  He is talking a little too fast now for me to write everything down.  I have a hard time hearing above the roar of the traffic around us, coming in and out of the grocery store parking lot and whizzing by to Wal-Mart up the hill.  I see his expression and he is lost somewhere in his own thoughts as he speaks.  I am ready to get up and excuse myself when he turns back to me and tells me that it all started, this sign making business, when he lost his job at the Post Office.  He says he was employed there for 20 years.  “They tried to fire me fourteen times,” he says.  I think it would be interesting to know why they were so intent on firing him, but I decide to be careful with my questions and just accept what he is willing to tell me.  I remind myself I am here to understand, not interrogate. 
He was five years short of being eligible for retirement and his pension.   Money is an issue, and he often sleeps in his car.    “Some people are kind, like you,” he says.  “Some people give me money or food, but I don’t expect that.  I appreciate it, but I don’t think that they have to help me.”
I have to leave.  I only have 15 minutes to stop and talk.  I go to Safeway and buy him a bottle of water and some granola bars.   It is hot outside today.  I walk back to him and ask him if he will sell me one of his signs.  They are art I tell him.  I think it is cool that so many people have seen them, and that they are kind of controversial.   I want to put one up in my classroom.   I wonder if any of my colleagues or students will recognize it out of the context of Ray’s hand on the street corner.  My guess is that they would all pass it off as some funny “kid art” on cardboard, and think it is sweet that I’ve posted it in my classroom.  I also think it will be my Good Samaritan way of “helping” him earn some money.  Why not sell them I think.  I would if I were him.   I wait for his response. 
“They aren’t for sale” he tells me.   “I have spent too much time working on them and they are all unique.  I get kind of attached to them after a while.”  I look down at his open satchel and see that he has about 15 signs neatly lined up inside ready to be held up depending on who is driving by.  
I must look a little disappointed by his response, because next he says, “But, I will make you one.  Stop back in a week and I will have a new one for you.  What do you want it to say?” 
 “I am going to put it in my classroom,” I tell him.  I want it to be a message on the wall to the kids.  I am thinking about putting their pictures up around it.  I explain that I like the one that says, “Yur Awesome!!”, but I tell him he will have to spell it correctly since I am teaching homophones and “Yur” will really mess everything up!   He laughs and tells me to come back. 
A few weeks pass and I don’t see him around.  I look for him every time I drive by Safeway or Wal-Mart.  Finally, I see him slouching on the curb by Wal-Mart, shoulders drooping, head hung.  I pull over, park and walk over to him.  “Ray?” I say.  His head rolls up and he looks at me with one eye open, squinting into the sun.  “Is something wrong?  You don’t have your signs out today.”
“I don’t feel well,” he says.  “Please don’t care about me.  If people care about me they are always disappointed.”
I don’t know how to respond to this.  I do care about him, and hate to see him looking like this, but I don’t want the conversation to get weird, so I just say, “Well… I am wondering if you have that sign you said you would make for me.  I am still willing to pay you for it if you’ll accept the money.”
“Oh” he says.  “No.  I don’t have it yet.  I’m sorry.  I have been really sick.  I have a lung infection and have been laying low to get better.  Thought I could come out today, but I got out here and I am not sure I can stay.”  This explains his absence from the street for the past few weeks. 
I tell him I’ll come back when he’s feeling better.  I leave him with $3.00 and tell him that is all the cash I have on me.  He refuses the money at first, but I insist and tell him it isn’t very much but that he should take it in case he needs some cough drops or water.  He is grateful for this little bit.   
I stop back when I see him a week later and he still hasn’t made the sign.  He apologizes, and it finally sinks in that he isn't going to make a sign for me.  I won’t ask him again, and I admit that during the conversation I am a little irritated.  I was going to pay him well for that sign and now he’s choosing not to even try.  The old me would have would have held it against him, and perhaps not liked him very much for not following through.  But I am also learning to see that how I feel about him is really my choice.  Do I judge or not? 
I can view him as a homeless, dirty, car livin’, vagabond, no-good, no-sign-makin’ deadbeat.  Or, I can choose to see him as a street artist who is creating something beautiful in the world, humble as it may be with magic markers and cardboard boxes. 
I can see him as a weak addict without a job, or a strong person who continues to persevere with kindness in the face of others' fear of him.
 I can see him as poor and useless, or I can see him as someone with wealth in the form of art and stories who is willing to share them…not sell them, but share them. 
I can see him as a thief, or I can see him as friend that I want to share with too. 
I could spend the rest of the day judging and wondering what it is about me that caused him not to make the sign for me.  I could make up negative stories to tell myself, or I can just choose to accept that he didn’t do it. 
On this day I choose the later, because the former doesn’t serve me anymore.  If I judge Ray, I end up having to judge myself in relationship to him, and that diminishes both of us. 
On this day I have fewer negative thoughts, and a lot more wishes.  I wish that Ray gets better.  I wish that he gets cleaned up and sober and healthy.  I wish to judge myself less, and for others to judge themselves less too.  It is my wish (and to me that almost always means prayer) that people get kind and creative and share stories and wealth in whatever form they happen to have it.
 While I wish myself back to my car, Ray moves on, slowing shuffling down the street with his satchel full of signs and magic markers over his shoulder.  The sun is setting and I wonder if he is heading back to his Jeep for the evening. 
That was the last time I talked with him.  After that he kind of disappeared from town.  I ended up making my own sign.  Why not follow his lead?  If he’s not willing to give up the goods, he is going to have to put up with some imitation.   Maybe that was the point anyway. 
I ponder this.  What if more of us put out messages into the world that said “SMILE” or “Luv Ya” or “YUR Awesome” to the people around us? 

Thank you Ray. 



Monday, August 31, 2015

Fighting Darkness

                 I am telling him about my first blog entry.  The one I wrote about Brian Doyle and how storytellers are given the job of “fighting darkness” in the world.  Stories are beacons I say; they shed light in dark places.  They illuminate, they’re important.  Storytellers have a big and uneasy job to do.  I am telling Blaine about this.  He is visiting us from Seattle where he is currently undergoing treatment for multiple myeloma.  He wants to get out of the city and visit us on Whidbey Island before he starts his stem cell transplant next week.  It is starting to remind him of cancer, and he doesn't want Seattle to be all about cancer for him.  He likes everything else about the city too much for it to be just that.   Please come up and visit I tell him.  We’d love to have you. 

                So here we are in my minivan and I am showing him around Anacortes.  We hit my favorite coffee place and chat for over an hour before heading over to Washington Park to do the loop and get some views that can basically be seen from the vehicle since he is currently using a cane and isn’t able to walk up or down many stairs or go long distances.  The car is a compromise, but both of us will take it.   It is what we can do today.  We went to Mt. Erie earlier, but couldn’t manage the steps leading down to the lookout, so we decided for plan B and head to Washington Park.  As we are driving I get serious for a moment.  We have been telling jokes and carrying on just like old times the entire weekend.  We were roommates in Alaska for a summer and most of the time he had me in stitches.  Then and now.  He’s an actor with a wicked sense of humor, and I love it.  Potty jokes have been on the menu all weekend, even at the dinner table, which is usually a no-no at our house, but because he is Blaine and there’s really no stopping him, we let it slide and laugh our heads off.  But here in the car I get serious.  I am thinking about my previous blog post, about Brian Doyle, and how there is something about the cancer epidemic affecting all of us that is dark and scary.  I wonder if Blaine will let me write about it.  I get serious for a moment and ask him.  “Blaine, what story from your life would you tell to fight fartness?”  He looks at me and we both start to crack up.  Apparently the potty humor is becoming ingrained and I really did ask him how he would “fight fartness”.  I can’t even be serious around him when I’m trying to be. 

I correct myself immediately and say “darkness, what story from your life would you tell to fight darkness?”  And he tells me this one.  This one right now.  The one that I’m in the middle of; the cancer one.  I ask him if he has a desire to write about it, or to blog about it and he says not really.  I think that even though he’s a good writer, maybe he’s not feeling well enough most of the time to write about it.  I see him grimace when he moves; when he goes to stand up it takes all of his effort and will.  The pain, even with a handful of painkillers every day must be really difficult to bear.  They inserted a slew of hardware into his back last spring when tumors were found on his spine, and he claims his body is still adjusting.  Then he had chemo, and stem cell harvesting, and now the stem cell transplant looms on the horizon.  I wonder how much a body can handle.  He’s been given advice just to do it.  To listen to his doctors and follow the protocol.  He will get through it.  But it certainly isn’t easy to witness, even with his humor and the gift of laughter and love he has brought to our home this weekend.  I wish I could put my hands on him and make it go away. 

We drive into the park.  There is a driving trail that takes us to the uppermost part where there are sweeping views of the islands and ocean surrounding Anacortes.  I back in and out and in and out again.  I want his view to be perfect from the car in case he doesn’t feel like walking.   After about five minutes he gets frustrated with my doodling around.  “Just park here.” He says.  “I can walk.”  And he can and he does.  And the first thing he sees is this tree.  It is a cool looking tree and we walk over and practically hug it and he is taking a picture of me by the tree, and then we are going to do a selfie, more like a twofie, with the tree, and this lady says she will take a picture of us by the tree together.  She tells us that she only takes pictures of herself from the waist up and then she looks at them and the longer her vacation goes on the higher up she requests photos of her be taken.  We laugh and Blaine says she can probably tell how long the vacation lasted by how high up the pictures went on her body.  He thinks by the end of a long vacation all she has is pictures of her nose up.  We all laugh because it’s true.  We want to look our best.  That is our reality.  Blaine wants his hair back.  He lost it after his last round of chemotherapy.  I want to be 20 pounds thinner and not have stretch marks from carrying two babies.  We all have our vanities and physical desires.  But just as we are, we stand by the beautiful dead tree, so pretty there on the bluff overlooking the blue water of the inlets below.  Inside I am happy to just to be here with him.  Outside I wonder if I will look 20 lbs too fat in the picture. 

                Our weekend goes on and we laugh and talk and watch Jimmy Fallon, Will Ferrell, and Kevin Hart’s lip sync contest.  We like Will Ferrell better than Jimmy, and Kevin Hart better than both of them.  We watch episode after episode of “An Idiot Abroad” and feel sorry for Carl.  Steven Merchant and Ricky Gervais are so awful to Carl we think.  But Carl is making his living off of being tortured by Steven and Ricky, so in the end we don’t feel that sorry for him.   We watch a bunch of TV. 
Our favorite part of our Saturday viewing marathon is Will Ferrell dressed up as Little Debbie on The Tonight Show, but I digress. 

                The day I have to take him back to Seattle I show him the picture of us by the tree and the one of the tree by itself.  I notice that the branch on the far left is full of green needles.  I tell Blaine that one branch of the tree is very much alive.  He tells me no way and I tell him yes way and show him the picture on my phone.  He is kind of amazed too.  We didn’t notice it at all while we were standing next to it.  It is almost like that one branch of the tree is alive and well to make sure the rest of the tree survives there on the bluff.  Strange.  He says it is still a cool looking tree and I agree.  We’ll appreciate it just the way it is even if it is different than we first thought it was.  What else is there to do?

Today I am nursing an emotional hangover.  I dropped Blaine off at his condo in Kent, south of Seattle, yesterday and I miss him.  In his absence I decide to write in my journal.  I see the package of Para-grams sitting there on the couch where he left them.   While he was here he found them on my bookshelf.  He brought them into the kitchen and said, “I used to have some just like these!”  I know I said.  You gave those to me.  He gave them to me 20 years ago when we were roommates.  Every time he wrote in his journal he would randomly pull out one of his Para-grams, which are little cards with a topic printed along the top and underneath a bit of corresponding wisdom written by spiritual guru Paramahansa Yogananda.  He would copy the quote off the card, then write his own journal reflection on the topic under the quote.  I liked the idea so much that I started following him to the coffee shop and started journaling too.  He eventually gifted me with my own set of cards.

  I decided to pull a card and write in my journal by myself today.  It felt a little lonely, but I decided I would quote it and reflect on it for old time’s sake and because I couldn’t shake the intense emotions that were surfacing for me after spending time with Blaine this weekend.  I reached in and pulled one entitled “Banish Fear of Death”.  I know that sounds almost too perfect for this post, like maybe I grabbed a few cards and sifted through for one that fit the situation.  I didn’t.  I pulled this one.  I will quote it here for old time’s sake, for myself and everyone else out there “fighting fartness”. 

Banish Fear of Death

A “Para-Gram” By Paramahansa Yogananda

“You can begin your march toward freedom from the fear of death by ceasing to be attached to the duties of the body: eating, sleeping, exercising, and so on.  Perform your duty to the body with joy but with nonattachment.  More and more you will realize this truth, that man is a soul, but has a body; you will no longer dread parting with the fleshly garment.  Attachment to the body is a self-inflicted torture brought on by ignorance.  Death gives new roles to actor-souls so that they may play in new dramas on the stage of life.  The sage who has developed his inner spiritual sight knows that the cessation of earthly life gives man a new beginning in another, supernal life. “

Blaine (center) playing "J.D." in Skagway's "Days of '98 Show" - 1991

I pulled another card when I got done reading the first one, this time for Blaine.  We each need our own to reflect on.  His said “Hope”.   

Our cool tree at Washington Park - Anacortes

Sunday, August 23, 2015

A Little Tail

I posted this picture on my Facebook page after spending a few days at a writing conference. 

A friend saw my FB post, and challenged me to write to this nonsense prompt:  So this guy walks into a bar with a salami under one arm and a poodle under the other ....... there is your writing prompt....go!!.” 

 Why not? I thought.  I haven’t written much fiction.  I entered a 100-word story contest a few years ago, and I wondered if this could be another 100-word short story.  It turned out very differently than I anticipated.  It happens.  It happens almost every time I write, but I am grateful for the surprise that always accompanies full engagement in any project, even a project as silly, or maybe as serious as this.   

I ran into my friend later that week at my son’s baseball game, and told him I took him up on his salami prompt.  After all, it’s a good taste of my own medicine.  As an intermediate elementary and former middle school language arts teacher, I assign homework for a living. 

 He said it came from the movie “The Breakfast Club”.  I was curious, so I did a little internet research when I got home and learned that actor Judd Nelson, John Bender in the movie, improvised the joke.   It goes like this:  

“A naked blonde walks into a bar with a poodle under one arm and a 2 foot salami under the other.  She lays the poodle on the table.  The bartender says, “I suppose you won’t be needing a drink.” 

“Naked lady says…….”

     Bender crashes through the ceiling before he finishes the joke.  People have been speculating on the punch line ever since.

 I have no idea what the punch line is, but I do know that in another version of the attached story, Frank undoubtedly is…a naked blonde.   

A Little Tail
Shock, horror, disbelief.  Frank stumbled over the threshold of Tiny's Taproom with Roxy, his prized teacup poodle under his left arm, and what moments earlier had been his baby, his beloved Chihuahua Gaucho, under his right.  
 "Hey Frank...good to see ya back, long time no see!”  bellowed Tiny, the big-hearted-soul of a man Frank knew better than his own brother, as he hustled from behind the bar as fast as his hefty frame could humpf over to where Frank stood frozen, blankly staring into the taproom. 
 "Hey...ya got this one with ya!” Tiny said patting the curls on Roxy’s head, “but WHAT the HELL is that?" he blurted, pointing quizzically at the inert object held fast under Frank's right forearm.
                Frank’s eyes rolled between Tiny and the salami.  "I'm...I'm not sure," Frank stammered.  "I…I…think it''s a salami."  He could barely speak.  He only knew he held a sausage instead of Gaucho, his favorite companion and best friend during the long evenings and weekends he passed alone, especially now that he had quit coming in here every day.  Desperately, he searched his mind for some rational explanation, but finding none, settled on something he could believe.  This, he told himself, was a hallucination. 
At his last AA meeting they had talked about hallucinations and how they sometimes accompany quitting a terrible addiction to drugs, or in Frank's case, alcohol.  Of course, he was hallucinating.  He stood there in the doorway for the next few moments wrestling his mind to recount his evening, desperate to tether himself to a familiar reality. 
It had been a day like any other.  Frank left work a little early, took Roxy and Gaucho to their grooming appointment, then leashed them up for a leisurely walk home where he anticipated having his frozen fish dinner, chocolate chip cookies and a full night of drinking O'Doul’s while watching “Dancing with the Stars” on television.   Frank looked forward to this plan, and all had gone according to plan until the encounter with ‘Her’. 
He was just six blocks from home when a sinewy hand reached out to him from the edge of the sidewalk.  She stepped in front of him.  He tried to circumvent her, but even with her small stature she somehow blocked the entire sidewalk.  A mass of unkempt, matted hair and layers of worn out clothing gave her the look of a common homeless vagabond, but her eyes elevated her to some unidentifiable status.  The look of them both entranced and terrified him.   And her voice.  Was it real?  It stopped him and he stood momentarily paralyzed in front of her.   She asked if she could pet Gaucho; said she'd had a pup just like him as a little girl, but couldn't afford one now.  Wondered if he'd be so kind as to let her hold him for a moment.  Gaucho, curious about her too, pulled and stretched out on his leash to more closely inspect the hem of her ankle-length skirt.  
 "No way.” Frank grumbled, yanking back too hard on the leash.   "We just left the groomer and you’re not gonna dirty him up!" he snapped.   Something about the encounter set him off, and he reeled up the leashes, gripped a dog under each arm, and stormed past her.  With a taste for good bourbon on his tongue that hadn't been there for weeks, he charged down the sidewalk.  It was all too much.  He was trying to improve his life, but everywhere he went there was someone or something at him, forcing him to defend himself, and giving him a reason to drink again.
                The open sign hanging in the window made a welcome glow on the steps leading into the dank little establishment that had sufficed as his second home and family for the better part of the last decade.  This would be fine.  Just one more drink to calm his nerves.  He could handle it.  Just one and he’d head home.  But on the final step up into the bar, he’d looked down to adjust Roxy who was wriggling under his left arm, and what he saw next caused his stomach to lurch so hard he nearly vomited all over the entryway.  Gaucho’s head and legs were gone and in his place Frank held a long, red sausage.  Catching his balance, he resisted the urge to throw up, but couldn’t move his feet.  Thank God Tiny came to greet him and stayed beside him, blocking the “family” sitting at the bar from seeing him like this.   
     " OK?"  Tiny softened.  He took Roxy and lightly caressed Frank’s shoulder with his big round hand-paw.  "Hey, maybe drinkin' ain't what you're supposed to be doin', " he whispered so the rest of the regulars couldn't hear them.  "Maybe you should go on home and get some rest."  
Home sounded like a good place to finish hallucinating.  Frank shook head.  He must look ridiculous standing there.    
                 "'re right Tiny.  I shouldn’t be drinking.” Frank reached and took Roxy back, adjusted the salami under his other arm trying to act like nothing was wrong, and tripped-staggered out into the crisp, cool night air.   Inhaling deeply, he took all the oxygen he could into his lungs in an attempt to find the courage to look back down at himself.  When he did, he saw that he was still holding the sausage.  He wanted to put it down and run, but he couldn’t let go of it.  It was Gaucho.  Wasn’t it?
 Panicking, he was determined to get home, but the farther he went, the more desperate he felt.   Fear weighed him down, weighed down his steps and his breathing.  Just six blocks to go, he could make it, but he needed to lean and clutch to the familiar streetlamp to steady his steps and his breath.  He needed to breathe and calm himself and hang onto everything, including the salami.  
     Resting there, he heard a whisper.  What was that?  Surely it wasn’t a human voice.  Startled by the sound, he looked around frantically, fearful that his hallucinations were now auditory. 
      When he turned back to clutch the lamppost, she was in front of him again in her ragged, layered dress, with her disheveled hair and empty outstretched hands.
     "Sir, if I may ask one more time.  Do you have anything I can eat?  I haven't always been like this.  But I'm hungry and alone and I see that you still have something I could eat.  Will you share it with me?"  She paused, and Frank looked straight into her questioning eyes.  Her voice was like a bell, and he felt it vibrate through his ears and down into his chest.  Hummingbird wings fluttered inside of him where he thought his heart should be.  "I promise to return what I can if you trust me to repay you.”
Why was she asking “one more time” for something to eat?  Had he been carrying the salami all along?  He left the groomers with both dogs...he knew that much, or thought he knew that much.  Had she asked him for food the last time he saw her?  He was sure she had only asked to pet and hold Gaucho.  It was all so confusing.  He put Roxy down and dropped to his knees as his resolve cracked open like the broken up sidewalk in front of him.   
                "You can’t repay me”, Frank screamed at her.  “You have no idea what you are asking of me!”  He was hysterical now.  She continued looking at him, but did not move or speak.  She simply asked again if he would share with her, then looked at him patiently, waiting for a reply.  Her quiet demeanor ruffled him and he screamed at her again. 
                “Here!" He slammed the salami in her outstretched palm, “take all of it!  I don't have anything else." he quavered in a voice so shrill and high-pitched he barely recognized the sound as his own.  
     She examined the salami and put it up to her mouth.  "Thank you sir" was all she said, then consumed the meat immediately and with such hunger that it made Frank cry to watch her.
     He wailed there on his knees, cupping the back of his head with his hands; forcing his face into the ground.  He let go, shaking and sobbing; clinging to the sidewalk as if to keep from falling off of it.  Frank gasped, but did not turn to face her as she touched him and whispered into his ear, “Do not be afraid of what you don’t understand.”  
                Frank felt her hands on him now, and could only assume that she was feeling for his wallet.  He didn’t care.  The pain of losing Gaucho in this weird and horrifying way was too much.  Too much, and he was sure that he would be going away soon too.  Maybe he would turn into a salami, or be taken to the place where they take people who hallucinate, and have nervous breakdowns in the middle of dimly lit sidewalks in silent little towns. 
       He cried for what seemed like hours.  So long that the woman had gone.  She had eaten and left quietly as not to disturb her benefactor.  For whatever it was that had shaken him so badly was no concern of hers.  She knew.  Years of encounters with men of questionable character and emotional status had taught her that much, and she ate, touched him, and silently wished him well as he broke himself down into all of his pieces there on the sidewalk just beyond the neon window light of Tiny's Taproom.   As suddenly as she appeared, she vanished between the rundown buildings behind the familiar streetlamp into the middle of the night.
     Time passed.  Frank wasn't sure how long he'd been there.  He felt empty and exhausted.  He exhaled one long last agonizing wail that echoed off the quiet storefronts, and as he did, embarrassment slithered over him and humiliation turned to fury.  He thought perhaps she was still behind him.   Was she mocking him?  He lifted his face slowly off the sidewalk.  She was the one who should be ashamed, not him.  He knew how to hurt her.  He would ridicule her for her nasty clothes, ugly hair, and begging on the street.  He would put her in her place, and then leave her where he’d found her. 
He pushed up, spun around to face her and readied to fire.   No one.  The first consonant fell from his mouth into the empty air in front of him, and he stood in stunned in the silence.  He surveyed the emptiness up and down the street.  No one in any direction.  Just Frank.  Just Frank and Roxy.  Roxy, who by now had sniffed her way down the sidewalk and over to the garbage can attached to the streetlight on the other side of the road.  She was happily eating garbage that had fallen from the can, and he could see her there sniffing and licking in the lamplight.  Thank God he thought.  She was safe and still with him, and he felt every muscle in his body release.  
Frank walked the few blocks to her, bent over and reached out for her.  As he stooped down to touch her, a quick flash of light reflected back at him and seemed to bounce up off the pavement into his face.  Frank looked for the source of the light.  His eyes followed the refractive glow to the silver side of what appeared to be an aluminum wrapper from a discarded hotdog.  Keeping his hand firm on Roxy, he moved the wrapper around so he could see how the light had bounced from it so boldly into his face.  Again it flashed and Frank could see that the streetlamp and the moon together were illuminating this patch of sidewalk.  The light flicked back towards the sky and upon closer examination he could see that the white underside of the wrapper was covered with little red bloody-looking, ketchupy paw prints leading off the wrapper and on down the sidewalk, into the grass beyond.  
Roxy was spotless when they’d left the groomers, and the prospect of having a ketchup-covered pooch on top of everything else pissed Frank off.  He cursed as he lifted her up and away from his chest in order to clean the inevitable red goop off her paws.  Searching his jacket pocket for the tissues he always kept there, he felt something foreign.  He squeezed his hand tight around whatever it was and tried to identify it within his grasp.  Not able to do so, he pulled out the object and found he held not tissues, but Gaucho’s leash, complete with the little metal bone engraved with his name.  For the second time today Frank was speechless.  He remembered searching himself there in the doorway of the Taproom hours earlier when he realized he was holding a salami instead of Gaucho.  He’d checked his coat, and pants pockets for Gaucho, a leash, anything to explain the unexplainable.  He found nothing then except his wallet and his tissues. 
                He thought of her touch.  Certain that she’d been searching for his wallet; he reached back now and found it undisturbed in his back pants pocket.   Why had she touched him?  Confused, he continued with the task of wiping Roxy’s little feet.  Turning one, then two, then a third and a fourth he discovered she was completely clean.  How is this possible? He thought.  Surely she made the prints there on the sidewalk.  Didn’t she?    
What is going on? He wondered, feeling slightly afraid again that he was losing his grasp on reality.  He looked around, over each shoulder, then back at Roxy.  He didn’t want to allow himself to feel the strange lingering hope that was seeping into the corners of his mind.  He leaned hard on the lamppost.  He closed his eyes and a loud sound escaped from his throat.  He didn’t know what else to do besides yell.  None of it made sense.  Absolutely none of it, and Frank wanted the dark void of night surrounding him to know he didn’t know what else to do.  He yelled, and yelled and yelled into the night, at the moon, and at all the things he couldn’t explain. 
He paused to catch his breath, and before he started yelling again he heard it.  His voice echoing back at him in the form of the faint and familiar howl he loved so much.  Was it?  Could it really be?  
He yelled louder this time, and again a howl came back, this time familiar and unmistakable.  Joy wriggled into Frank’s chest and his eyes came open as he popped up from the lamppost.  He listened now, both ears intent on hearing what he thought he heard.  He couldn't reconcile what he knew, and what he felt.  He knew Gaucho turned into the salami earlier that evening.  He knew the street woman ate the salami under the streetlight.  So how could this be?  Was not one thing transferrable into just one other thing?   His mind held fast to the linear progression of things: a dog into a salami, a salami into dinner, a dinner into a woman who walks away from a man who is broken on the sidewalk over the loss of a dog.  Yet, here was evidence he could hear.  Gaucho’s call.  But could he believe it; could he trust that it was true?  
      The questions were big and unanswerable.  All he knew is that Gaucho was out there somewhere beckoning.  He heard.  He held the leash.  It was enough.  Frank dropped to his knees and looked up at the moon and stars beyond the streetlamp.  He’d never looked that far out into the sky before, and doing so made him feel different.  Bigger and open somehow.  He wondered if he really was hallucinating.  Perhaps this was something else. 
                There he paused.  In this wonderful, awful, half-way world; on this familiar street surrounded by glittering garbage, Frank understood he had been given two choices, each with their own special consequences. 
      He could go back to Tiny's, order that bourbon, bury the salami, and the events of this entire evening forever.
     Or, he could step off the sidewalk, out into this wild and illuminated night, and follow the call.  
He gently swooped up Roxy and started to go.  

Just for fun check out the link to the clip from The Breakfast Club (1985)