I am exhausted, and
He was a bit of an eccentric.
During the month of September, I will have been in Minneapolis, Boulder, Boston, Brattleboro, Mystic, Boston, Boulder, New York City, Boulder, and Santa Clara. But this is a story about Minneapolis, and in spite of being exhausted, finding myself in the presence of meat-and-cheese-wrapped pickles and a man who — for a moment and yet still — makes all of this exhausting travel, meeting, and greeting worthwhile.
On September 13, I walked into the room in Minneapolis for a book-related speaking event on cloud nine. Not only was I finally getting the chance to meet two people with whom I’ve had amazing digital relationships (Mykl Roventine and Amber Carter), but I was walking into a room filled with people.
People are an odd thing, aren’t they? They can turn out to be assholes or the greatest treasure, but I’m a fucking glutton for the journey. Regardless of how exhausted I might be, they’re the treasure — every conversation, nuance, diverted glance because they’re too uncomfortable to look you in the eye, and weird-ass conversation that starts with talking about someone’s schnauzer and ends up drunk at a stoplight in Nowhereville, Maine when someone’s 22 (and inevitably, there’s a moose involved).
And there he was — Steve. He walked in and shone like a lamp post tasked with keeping everything in the room illuminated, towering well over six feet tall with a black hat (which I imagined to be protecting the lamp’s “bulb”). He wore his name tag for the event tucked into his hatband all evening, making me think that at any moment, he’d be thrusting a pad and pencil in my face accompanied by a magnesium-powered flash — asking me where I’d been on the night of the 27th. He offered to give me a tour of the men’s room (no fucking way was I passing this up, even if it turned out to be a euphemism for something) and shared a story on “faith-based loans” email spam which still has me laughing. For a picture of a urinal that makes me wish I had a penis, click here.
I’ll admit it — I thought he was an odd duck.
When the evening event ended, my hosts brought me over to Psycho Suzi’s, a Minneapolis mainstay in the late evening culinary and cocktail scene (with its own contribution to Exceptional Bathrooms in Minneapolis). A handful of people joined us for dinner, drinks served in tiki glasses, and food that a cardiologist would approve, if only out of selfish interest in his own career stability. In walked Steve — and he sat across from me.
We got to talking, and I’d already found out he was a life-long musician (a sax player). He’d even given me a CD to have a go at (and I will — it’s already in my stack of things to take to NYC next week). It’s funny — I’m sure quite a few people in this world think I’m a fucking nut job and maybe they change their opinion of that for the better when they meet me. But here I was, sitting in front of Steve — the guy I’d thought was a delightful bit of oddball — and having the time of my life. We talked about jazz, SXSW, drummer jokes, and Kevin Costner.
And Kevin’s where it got interesting.
Steve’s wife was a raging Kevin Costner fan, and Costner had come through Minneapolis on tour with his band. Having been a fixture in the Minneapolis music scene, Steve pulled some strings and got his wife, Shirlee, one of only twenty slots in an exclusive meet-and-greet with Kevin. As a red-blooded woman, I’ll just interject here and say KEVIN FUCKING COSTNER (right?).
It was a surprise.
On the day of the concert, Steve’s phone rang. “I can’t breathe,” said Shirlee on the other end of the line.
“You know what to do,” he replied. “You call 911, you get in the ambulance, and I’ll meet you at the hospital.” Shirlee had a heart condition — they knew this routine like the notes of a song they’d danced to their entire marriage. Upon arriving at the hospital, one thing became clear to Steve: Shirlee wasn’t going to make the meet-and-greet that evening…and now, he couldn’t even tell her what he’d arranged because she’d simply be heartbroken. So once Shirlee stabilized, Steve got in the car and headed down to the meet-and-greet himself. Dammit if he wasn’t going to be Shirlee for an evening. He had a plan.
He arrived at the meet-and-greet and finessed his way into Shirlee’s spot (in spite of clearly being a Steve) and there he was, in line to meet Kevin Fucking Costner*.
* Note: This is not actually his middle name.
Steve’s plan? He had Shirlee’s hospital room on speed dial and he simply wanted to ask Kevin if he’d speak to Shirlee for a moment.
He inched up in line and finally, his turn came. “Mr. Costner, my wife is a huge fan, but she couldn’t be here tonight because she’s in the hospital. Could I ask if you’d just speak to her for a moment and say hello?”
Now, at this point, a douchebag blowhard tour manager comes in, expressing how this is a meet-and-greet and Kevin doesn’t have time to start dialing phones and whatnot. Yet in the middle of Mr. Blowhard’s ranting, a hand comes up. It’s Kevin’s. “Hand me the phone,” he says. Steve hits send — he’s connected to Shirlee’s room.
“Shirlee, girl — it’s Kevin. I thought we had a date tonight!” says Costner.
And they talked for a good five minutes.
Now, that alone was enough to make me smile and keep me smiling until now and writing this blog post. But let’s wrap the evening at Psycho Suzi’s up, shall we?
I was running on fumes, having been up since 4:30am that day. 11pm and I was ready to hang it up. Checks were being delivered, people start paying up, and Steve stands up to leave.
“I’m sorry I missed meeting Shirlee, Steve. Will you tell her I said hello and I’m sorry she couldn’t join us?” I said.
He paused. A soft smile crept over his face. What seemed like an eternity later, he turned to me and said, “I’m sorry she couldn’t join us, too. We lost her in April.”
My gut. Breathless…and all I could find the power to say was, “I’m sorry, Steve.” Because I know how this feels. And I felt completely fucking stupid for not knowing.
“I’m sorry — I guess I still talk about her a lot,” he said.
He was apologizing. For talking about his wife. For telling stories that made me feel as if she were sitting right there next to him. Apologizing.
And the only thing I could think to say was, “As well you should.” Not “should” as in apologize, but “should” as in talk about her.
Steve left, we left. But the story stays — and always will.
On Making Believers Out of Skeptics
There are some days where I wonder if I’m full of shit with this message about unpopular that I’m peddling. I believe it, I hear others who say they believe it. And on an evening where I had the opportunity to stand in a room and speak to around seventy people about the inherent power of unpopular, there’s one man who made a believer out of this sometimes skeptic.
The only reason we ever want to live an unpopular life or build an unpopular brand is so that we can become the Steve and Shirlee. So we can enjoy a lifetime of living on our own terms and living a life designed to honor the people who will love us for who we are and all we’re not…a life so vibrant that we will always stay alive in their eyes and hearts long after we’re gone. We can’t do that if we’re living for everyone but ourselves, can we? Being the crier that I am, I’ve thought about Steve and Shirlee countless times since Thursday, September 13 and how in a lifetime together, he never asked her to stop eating bacon and she never asked him to stop being a vegetarian.
And mind you — I have absolutely no permission to tell the story of Steve and Shirlee and can only hope that I got the details mostly right. But today, I ask you: is the life you’re living and the brand you’re building more Steve and Shirlee or is it something you don’t quite recognize? Something you’ll struggle to share one day because it’s not a part of your heart and soul and a two-dimensional thing that requires buzzwords and assorted and sundry other bullshit to describe.
I doubt that most of us will have the gift of the Kevin (fucking) Costner treatment, but what we can have is the simple understanding of the power of living an unpopular life. We waste our time — and everyone else’s — by building for universal acceptance. The win that lasts beyond one’s lifetime can only come from building a life that’s honest and unapologetic. Those are the only lives that can reach across the table over a Goliath plate of tater tots and leave you with the knowledge that you believe when you might have once been skeptical.
So Steve — thanks for trusting me with your Shirlee — and for reminding me that there’s a reason I adore being, living, and spreading the beauty that is the unpopular life. And perhaps most importantly, thanks for reminding me that no matter how exhausted I might be, that the people I have the gift of meeting and who share their stories with me are the greatest gift I’ll ever have in this journey of getting to live what I love every goddamn day.