Short Stories, Essays & Guest Blogs

Fiction, narrative nonfiction, opinion and creative musings


Stories

American Trinity

Winner of Best of Dialogue Award
Winner, Best Short Fiction, Association for Mormon Letters 

Dialogue Journal (2011)

“The other two are more patient than I am. They bide their time. What’s worse, Jonas is always telling me that I am shirking my duty. I haven’t talked to him in over a century. Hundred and fifty years the last time I talked to Kumen. Even though I have returned to my mission of wandering and ministering, both would insist I’ve lost the spirit of the assignment. I avoid them now. I was just coming out of the Empire Theatre in Old New York when I last talked to Jonas. Word must have gotten out. Like myself, Jonas was dressed as a patron in tuxedo and gloves. Courtly old Jonas. “I like the collapsible opera hat,” I told him. “Nice touch.” More

Listen to a reading of an earlier version of the story by professional actor/director Ron Frederickson at the Sunstone Symposium here

 

Airplane-interior-1

FLYING BISHOP

ellipsis…literature & art, 2013

 

“During a reprieve, he lay exhausted and sweating back on the bed, his T-shirt twisted at the bottom, sticking to his back. Outside the window is a single dogwood in full blossom, flooded by the high-crime outdoor lights of the hotel. When he got here earlier this afternoon for his layover, the tree caught his eye as he stood at the window and stepped out of his uniform. In the late-afternoon light, the 20-foot tree stood in effulgent, heart-rending white—like an empty wedding gown.

“Now, the tree still bathed in light at 1 a.m., Danny begins to suspect that it knows of nothing but this: it is on perpetual display, blooming alternately under sun and street lights outside the window.” MORE (under “David Pace” in the left menu)

Essays

THE DECAMEROUS SISTERS CLUB
A love letter to my ten sisters. 

Quarterly West (2006), winner of the Writers at Work Creative Nonfiction Prize
re-posted in Phone Fiction

 

MY ONLY BROTHER BRENT WAS PATIENT ZERO. It was he who first heard on National Public Radio about the musical group Pink Martini and in turn beganinfecting my sisters with the hysteria of the group’s hot Latin, jazz and classical mix. But it was my brother-in-law Scott who is responsible forbringing my sisters to near ruin. He was the one who, munching Cheerios one morning at the table with his children, read in the newspaper that theMartini was due to perform in our home state of Utah. Without thinking—I am sure he was not thinking he told his wife, my sister Stephenie, whoscreamed so loudly at the news that five-year-old Ben turned to his younger sister Gracie and said, “My Heck! What’s with mom?” MORE

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Grove Street Extension

Sunstone (2011, issue 165)

It lies on my desk at  home, an old copy of Shakespeare’s plays: its binding brittle, the pages yellowed with age. Frank gave it to me in the summer of 1981.

His old house stood atop a slight hill on Grove Street Extension in Peterborough, New Hampshire. He had spent his life as a carpenter, and many of his old tools rusted away in dark corners of his barn, attached to the house New England-style. Inside there were at least a hundred feet of shelved books; everything from Milton to Dreiser and from old Sears Catalogues to engineering manuals. I often stopped to admire the collection.

We had tracted into Frank one day while making our rounds in a town where Brigham Young had once converted an entire Baptist congregation to Mormonism, moving it in toto out West. But while I was there, the Massachusetts Boston Mission was the lowest-baptizing mission in the States. So when Frank let us in the door, we were grateful. Since Frank had suffered a stroke three years earlier, Elder Moore and I had to help him move up or down the stairs and around the house. He couldn’t speak or even hold a book.

We didn’t have anything else to do do, so we quickly fell into a habit of visiting Frank every morning for half an hour to read the Book of Mormon to him. We logged the visits as part of our study time. They were strange mornings, two twenty-year-olds reading to an old man who hadn’t spoken a single comprehensible word to us-emitting only coughs and wheezes.

And in that day shall the deaf hear the words of the book, and the eyes of the blind shall see out of obscurity and out of darkness. And the meek also shall increase, and their joy shall be in the Lord, and the poor among men shall rejoice in the Holy One on Israel. (2 Nephi 27:18)

We often wondered if we were wasting our time-not to mention Frank’s. Did he even understand what we were reading? Read the entire essay in Sunstone.

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Frank’s Buick

 
Alligator Juniper (2013) Entire Essay below

I’m not sure when my late father-in-law’s town car became our car. It wasn’t when we wrested it from Mom, who we decided couldn’t safely operate it anymore. It wasn’t when we changed the title to my name. For even after that, I saw it as Frank’s Buick, a.k.a. the Batmobile, so named because of its dual automatic “ComforTemp” controls in the front seats (leather), its “Twilight Sentinel” feature that turns the headlights on and off depending on how light it is outside, the heated windshield, the cruise control with automatic reset, the illuminated entry system around door locks, the electric radio antennae that telescopes into hiding every time you turn off the radio.

The sexy stereo system.

Actually, the stereo is one I had installed, complete with a CD player. The old one, which came with the car in 1991, freakishly shut down with a pop while I was listening to the radio and approaching the Verrazano Bridge from the New Jersey side in 2001. It was at night, just days after the terrorist attacks on New York City and, of course, the first thing I thought was that there was another downed transformer on top of a burning skyscraper. Embedded as I was within those many pounds of Detroit excess, I still felt vulnerable.

When I replaced the stereo, I actually wondered what Frank Daley would think, what style he would prefer. I winced after it was installed when I realized it didn’t mesh too well with the dashboard, designed at a time when CD players were probably a thousand dollars each and Americans were still getting tangled in their cassette tapes.

I didn’t think of the Batmobile as ours even after we made arrangements for Mom to live in a rest home in Western Massachusetts and took the car home to Brooklyn, where we hobbled it with a newly bought “club” on its steering wheel. The maroon monster with the runners on top of the trunk sat parked on Prospect Park Southwest as a persistent reminder of the suburban car culture I had fled. My wife, Cheryl, and I talked about never using it except to visit Mom. That it was a gas-guzzler and the size of a small pachyderm and therefore couldn’t be trusted on the narrow, pocked streets of New York.  Its very presence suggested that we weren’t really New Yorkers who take the subway everywhere.

I wondered what my late father-in-law would think if he knew that his ten-year- old car, which cost more than his pre-fab in a Florida golf village, was sitting on the streets of New York and dodging yellow cabs on the monthly trip up to his boyhood home of Florence, Mass. to see his widow.

It was shortly after the Buick’s Brooklyn era started that I found Frank’s auto log.  It was in the glove compartment, and in it he had put the history of the car’s maintenance:  the lube in 1992 shortly after he bought it at a Ft. Pierce, Florida dealership; the wheel balance later that year; the replacement of this with that. It was detailed, fastidious, and very Frank— the type of man who labeled his Christmas storage boxes with reminders of which ornaments he’d hung each year. I found this log scoffable, coming as I did from a family whose patriarch was lucky to remember to put gas in the car, but months before the stereo got replaced, I found myself adding to the log as the car needed service:

Re-set RF wheel speed signal code (2/11/00)

Horn button replaced (9/21/00)

Inspection (10/03/00)

I would return the small pencil—expertly sharpened with the pocket knife I had inherited from him—to the wire rings of the notebook, and wedge it back into the glove box as if the car would fail to turn over unless its history were kept intact.

 

Frank Daley’s story was one largely written by the time I met him in 1992. The Buick was barely a year old, and I remember standing with him behind the trunk that automatically closed and locked itself, a cooler of drinks on the runners, watching Fourth of July fireworks over a saltwater river. He had a natural fascination for celebrations, which brokered easy conversation with me, someone I’m sure he thought was just his daughter’s summer boyfriend. She was twice divorced, and I was nearly twelve years her junior.

I kept my distance from this short, stocky man. At the pool earlier that day, Frank, white and hairless, was nearly luminescent next to the blue tile, his body a network of scars that crackled from the notch in his throat through his sternum and to his left leg, where they had stripped away a vein. I knew that Frank had developed a seizure disorder late in life and had suffered more than one heart attack, the first when he was just fifty-three-years old, which forced him into early retirement from his work as wonder-boy salesman for Rustcraft Greeting Cards.

 

In Brooklyn, I got a lot of respect driving around in the Batmobile, even though for the first month I had to reassure myself vocally that I had the right to drive this car that wasn’t mine and that my mother-in-law sorely missed. The Buick was sleek, its nose tapered from its grill to the center of gravity over a muscled chassis. Its maroon color was all sheen except for a couple of nicks that Frank had judiciously touched up with a tube of car paint he kept boxed in the trunk along with every imaginable car care and travel item, including a chamois, hub cab cleaning foam, flares, and an impressive first-aid kit.  The car’s trunk was big enough to hide not one, but two bodies.

Only twice did I wheel my luggage past the Batmobile to the subway for the two-hour commute to JFK International where I was based as a flight attendant. After that, the siren call of convenience lured me to its side, all sheen. As I shot down Caton Avenue and Linden Boulevard, I actually had people flagging me down, thinking that with a town car, I was operating a car service.

Other vehicles moved the hell out of the way when they saw me angling into a lane or chasing a yellow light through a busy intersection with Flatbush Avenue. That is, until one day about a year after I started taking the car to work. I was on North Conduit, the final feeder of my trip before hitting the straight shot to the airport, and I was late. The chaos of late afternoon bore down on three lanes becoming one, and the world narrowed to this stream of fenders, a mass migration of diverse species nosing into one another’s paths. A man in a Celica was performing the infamous New York Ace:  entering the flow of traffic by assuming that if you ignore eye contact with the driver you’re cutting off, he will have to brake for you.

I’m not sure if my aggression stemmed from my anxiety over being late, or if I resented that this four-wheeled gazelle would so easily ignore me, a far superior animal bearing down on it—and with the right-of-way no less. The game ended with the gazelle’s left hoof implanted just behind the right shoulder blade of my leopard, the Buick. There was much honking and yelling while the rest of the herd instantly re-directed itself around the new obstacle.

“What happened to the Batmobile?” asked Cheryl, who often claimed that when she wanted to lose weight she sat in the passenger seat of Frank’s Buick while I drove.

“Bummer, huh? Somebody hit me in the parking lot at work. Didn’t even leave a note. Gotta love New Yorkers.”

Frank would have been disappointed, but not because I lied. One of his many maxims to my wife was, she reported, “Lie to others if you must; just don’t lie to yourself.” He would have been disappointed that first, I was driving his Buick on the streets of an uncivilized city (after meeting his wife in New York City on leave during World War II, he never bothered to visit the city again), and second, that I had been so stupid as to crash a car. That was something his wife did, or a man of lesser character, a man who would never be driving a Park Avenue Buick in the first place.

Repairs to right quarter panel (6/04/02) $250.00 deductible.

 

Frank and Mabel had lived well, even after Frank was disabled in the late seventies. One could fairly say that in their salad, G.I. Bill days, Frank made “more money than God.”  That they could summer on an island every year even while maintaining their home in Rhode Island was a testament to just how much money there was. That after selling both homes they moved into a Florida don’t-call-it-a-trailer trailer was a testament to the price of his disability. The new Batmobile was the final imprint of the life they once had. When Cheryl and I married, we would visit the folks in sodden Florida, where we seemed to hydroplane in the Buick to go marvel at the manatees, to visit the water locks, to lunch at the crab houses before cruising back to the gated village’s swimming pool in which, at the time, I was technically too young to swim (under thirty-five).

“If he’s a writer, why is he still working for the airline?” Frank once asked Cheryl who, by sheer dint of character, would always defend me. For me, the question, even second hand, lodged in my cranium like a foul ball pounded into the metal fence behind home plate. And by sheer dint of character, I defended myself to myself: “Why did he hang onto a town car when he lived in a golf village with a five-mile-per-hour speed limit and refused even to pick us up at the airport?”

Frank and I had little, if anything in common. I was almost young enough to be his grandson. I was from the West and Mormon, while he was a Yankee, originally from Massachusetts and Episcopalian. I was a romantic with ambitions to write while Frank was all business—in more ways than one. But a writer is a good listener and a former salesman is a talker. True, at times I had to struggle to decipher his “dole-house” from “doll house,” his “khakis” from “car keys,” but I could listen to my father-in-law, and we could watch TV and I could help him paint the garage door at the island house.

It was early January 1997, two weeks after Cheryl had returned from a marathon session of changing her parents’ pre-fab into a hospital-away-from-hospital, that the phone rang. It was Mabel. She told us Frank had died in the night. Congestive heart failure. There was no money, only a few investments, insurance, a double-wide fast losing its value in a golf village.

The $35,000 Batmobile.

We moved Mabel to the rest home near Northampton, Massachusetts, where Cheryl could visit her. Meanwhile, we invested what was left of the money to keep Mom off Medicaid.

Except for a fender bender in Florence, Mass. and my secret one in Queens, the Batmobile remained unscathed. After nearly ten years, it was approaching only 60,000 miles, less than half of what most cars had at that age. Still, even after a full year of driving it, I had to remind myself whenever I drove that I had a right to Frank’s Buick.

 

Perhaps I felt that I deserved Frank’s Buick only when I started getting mail from credit card companies addressed to “Frank Pace,” a creepy confusion in the system resulting from the transfer of funds from Frank’s name to mine. If I had to take his name, then certainly I was welcome to take his car, even if it was one that I would have never selected myself.  I couldn’t sell it. For one thing, we needed a car to get to Mom, and this one was paid for. Finally—surprise, surprise—it got over thirty freeway miles to the gallon.

The Batmobile sat street-side, braving vandals and snowplows in equal measure until Mom died and we decided to return to the West.  It was a year after 9/11; the market had been good to us, including the real estate market for our Brooklyn co-op, and the Batmobile was growing on me. I liked the big engine, the big trunk, and the way it plowed through the snow. I liked how Adam from the writers’ group was clearly impressed with its digital temperature control that beeped like a microwave whenever you adjusted it. I guess I liked it because, for me, it was contact with luxury, even as I rolled my eyes at it as “the clunker we inherited from my mother-in-law.”

 

The trip to Utah was not kind to Frank’s Buick. The moving company lifted it right into the semi behind all of our other stuff, then placed a “protective” false ceiling over it so that boxes wouldn’t fall on the car’s roof. Instead, the Batmobile bounced over 1,800 miles, its top rubbing against the unpadded wood ceiling and grinding it raw. Frank would have been appalled. The moving company dodged any and all compensation, so the roof still sports the bands of paintless metal suffered from the car’s prairie crossing.

Despite the Buick’s mounting bruises, my relationship to Frank, now deceased for five years, was improving. Though he made over twenty Atlantic crossings during WWII as a cook on the USS Wakefield—we have a picture of him in the galley with Jack Dempsey—Frank was otherwise not a traveler and would have found it inconceivable that his wonder machine, bought in the twilight of his life, would have survived not only the Big Dirty Apple, but also the 4,500 plus-foot elevation of Salt Lake City. Just the ski rack on top of his beloved Park Avenue would have enraged him.

So in my mind, I explained all of this to my postal namesake. How the Buick was now Frank’s vicarious time machine, taking his spirit to places he had read about but for whatever reason, found impossible to visit.  How he and I were having an extended conversation with each other as father and son, a conversation that motored beyond time zones and dimensions, beyond my life and his death. I realize now that I’d been conversing with him all along, ever since I took over the Batmobile: those harried rides to work through the heart of Brooklyn; that time in Manhattan when he and I sped up the West Side highway and ogled the runners and RollerBladers along the Hudson River, the hard-bodied men cavorting with bikini-topped women—or more shocking, with other hard-bodied men. I imagined that he sat in the back seat on our way up to Niagara Falls and Mormon Country, when I tried alternately to detail and defend my background to him. I could hear him chiding me on my reckless driving, more than once, through Times Square, as if there were any other way to move through that crossroads of the world without at least appearing reckless. He even wept with me right out of the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel when we were detoured away from Ground Zero, but saw Buddhists on the wooden, West Side Highway platform conducting a purifying smoke ritual for the three thousand dead.

And then we were in Utah, and I could hear him berating me for thirty minutes for having pushed the car so hard up from Las Vegas and into the high desert that the right front tire gave out and tore a hole in the front panel to the tune of a thousand dollars. But he was also the one prompting me to give twenty bucks to the two penniless sixteen-year- olds halfway home from Las Vegas in a broken-down Monte Carlo they forgot to put oil in. “By the time their Mom makes it down from Brigham City to pick them up,” I remember him whispering to me, “they will have learned their lesson. Meanwhile, they have to eat.” And in the Wasatch Mountains, he forgave me for installing the ski rack when we rounded a corner to Sundance and he saw, for the first time, the mighty scalloped backside of Mt. Timpanogos, cyanic and terrible in the frigid February air.

At Arches National Park, I left him at the aptly named, free-standing Delicate Arch, where he insisted on taking pictures of all the hikers and finding out where they were from, and marveling with them: “There isn’t anything like this in the East!”

“I’ll catch up with you later,” he said.

 

In the end, we parted company for good out in the desert two hours west of Salt Lake, where the world’s fastest cars shoot across the salt flats at, literally, rocket speeds. It was hard to know what would have appealed to Frank more, the awesome vastness of the desert, or the fact that man had scored it with his fast, rocket-propelled cars. The flats, white and carrying the form of tiny waves in their crystals, extend for miles to the dusty range of mountains below ribbons of high clouds trailing east. The wind is all around in a place like this, solitary tumbleweeds bumping across the hardened surface of an inland sea that in its horizontality must have reminded Frank of the sea off Peaks Island where he summered, or the sea beyond the bulwarks of the Wakefield as it plowed through the Atlantic before it was eventually torpedoed and sunk. In a place like this, even a New Englander—perhaps especially a New Englander—can let go and leave this world, can imagine that unlike the sea, this is the real end of the world, of the hard-baked rock that we call home.

From the edge of Interstate 80, I honked the car horn for several long minutes. I motioned him back to me. But he wouldn’t return. I saw Frank Daley standing out there in his flak jacket and cowboy hat he’d taken to wearing since his removal to the West.  Finally, he motioned for me to leave. To take his Buick and return to civilization where it belonged. Where it belonged, and where he no longer lived. So I did. The engine turned over, and the Twilight Sentinel flipped on the headlights automatically like it does. A bit of a clunking noise was coming from the back near the gas tank. The muffler maybe?  I’d have to get that checked. And get to the paint shop before the roof started to rust. That’s what I was thinking as I babied my Buick up to seventy-five miles per hour, hit the Dynaride cruise control, and settled in.

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Guest Blogs
RDT’s Embark
“The Best Math Ever”: Designer Pilar Davis & The Art of RDT Dance”
(2017)

Pilar Davis admits to being an adrenaline junkie. She loves art and she loves live art, and you can tell. In a planning meeting late last year for RDT’s annual choreographer competition and fundraiser, she talked fast, expressively, and yet somehow maintained a gracious coherency as she factored in the needs and opinions of others.

Still, sometimes when you’re working with Pilar you feel like you need to wear a helmet.

Pilar Davis, RDT’s Production Manager and Lighting Designer … with cat “Nips”
Dont get me wrong: it’s not that RDT’s production manager and lighting designer is irratic or unreliable, but it does remind one that, for Pilar, the back-story to being a designer and theater “techie” was often fraught with adversity and even danger that shaped her into what she is today. MORE.

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RDT’s Embark

America’s National Dance
What is the national dance of America, and what makes it distinctly American?

Many countries have a national dance. The Polish have the polka, the Catalans have the Sardana, the Greeks have the Kalamatianos dance. Jordan and much of the Arab world refer to their ritual line dance as the dabke, while the Chinese are perhaps best known for the dragon and lion dances which stem from the Han Dynasty.

But what is the national dance of America, and what makes it distinctly American?

There is a “new world” dance and that dance was created by indigenous peoples of America. Today Native American tribes throughout the country continue to preserve their cuisine, their stories, their language, and their dances. There is a continuous cultural thread that extends back hundreds of years, and that thread is dance, inextricably connected to and animated by the land, or Mother Earth.

Here in the arid Southwest, Native American lands and their life-giving waters have recently captured the imaginations and the hopes of many of us with the recent proclamation by President Barack Obama last year of the Bears Ears National Monument in southeastern Utah. A new book Edge of Morning (Torrey House Press, 2017) is both the back story of this remarkable region of 1.3 million square miles as well as a meditation on why Bears Ears should be preserved in perpetuity.

In one word, the reason why is this: the land is sacred. MORE

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Utah’s Artrepreneurs: Dancing the Bears ‘To Learn, Connect, and Serve’


Silicon Slopes (2017)

Startups and tech companies tend to be oriented more to STEM than STEAM (Science, Technology, Art, & Math), but everyone agrees that building community through service should engage all of us. Both entrepreneurship and art are about innovation and intersecting with the community, and business folk and artists regularly partner to bring to light not only how we go to work everyday, pitch our ideas to investors, and take chances … but why. MORE

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US Constitution and Flag

The Manifesto of Trump Supporters

(Medium, 2017)
“Dear Democrats and Liberals, I’m noticing that a lot of you aren’t graciously accepting the fact that your candidate lost. In fact you seem to be posting even more hateful things about those of us who voted for Trump.”

My response.

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Fred George, Ash Wednesday, Dusk, 9/12/01, New-York Historical Society, Gift of Here is New York

First Things First: Letter from New York

(September 2001)
with Cheryl C. Pace

On September 11, when a catastrophic event rocked our New York, we little survivors in our little lives seemed to set our course in curious unison. Our destination? Quite simply, that perspective that might give us a sense of intelligent understanding. That understanding that might give us a sense of solid reassurance. That reassurance that might give us realistic hope. That hope that might tell us what to do, or at the very least, what not to do. MORE 

 

What is An Ethnic Mormon?

Many ways to Mormon . . . let us count the ways.
Interview of David G. Pace by author Mette Ivie Harrison
(Huffington Post, Dec. 1, 2015)

Today, a conversation with author David Pace about the growing numbers of “ethnic Mormons,” those who grow up Mormon, but for various reasons leave the church, and how Mormons may need to mage a bigger tent to include them.

1. When I first started to articulate some of my doubts about Mormonism with non-Mormon friends, they asked me why I didn’t create my own church. Take what I loved about Mormonism and move on. Or find a splinter group that matched my own ideas better. It’s a very Protestant view of religion, and I struggled to explain to them that the choices in terms of splinter groups were slim and grim pickings. As for creating my own church, growing up as Mormon meant that I had an abhorrence of “priestcraft,” quite apart from my introverism and general disinterest in organizing large groups in any form.

David, what are your thoughts on this?

Protestants, God love ‘em, would’ve recommended you jump spokes (or create your own). Seems like easy jumping from Methodism to Presbyterianism. Mormons would not be telling you this, however, because to date we as a people have lived in a closed and totalizing system. This is a good thing in that you have an instant community wherever you go—a group where assumptions are held tacitly and comfortingly. But it’s bad when you finally figure out that you don’t fit in, that you disagree with something. Where do you go then? As with political refugees, something that’s very much on everyone’s mind right now, you don’t volunteer to leave your country because you can’t imagine life apart from what you hold to be reality in your bones. There is no life outside the Mormon’s observable universe, except a life that is compromised by not living in the light of Truth, with a capital Mormon “T.” MORE