It was a packed house. Every seat full, a sea of expectant and exuberant faces in the courtyard of the Korphe mosque in the mountains of the Himalayas, eagerly awaiting the evening’s main event. Greg Mortenson, famous the world over for his work bringing the opportunity of a better life to the children of the world and best-selling author of the book “Three Cups of Tea and Some Salted Nuts” was about to take the podium. An affable, easygoing man, possessing a quiet grace, a stoic charisma grown from his years of naming, claiming, and shaming the world’s great mountain summits.

Mortenson takes the stage, with a little skip and an endearing oafish clumsiness. There’s an aura of sincerity emanating off him like cheap after-shave. He’s a mountain climber, a special breed. He begins to speak.

“I was halfway through my descent” he intoned, “when I became separated from my sherpa. The seatbelt light had turned on and he had to return to business class, far down the narrow, serpentine trail. I was alone in first class. I didn’t see him again for a long time. There I was, in seating group A, walking alone down the boarding tunnel of gate K2 in the northern terminal of the O’Hare region, without any of the amenities we take for granted in our daily lives. I hadn’t showered since the Istanbul Marriott, what seemed like an entire world and a lifetime away.”

The audience was listening with rapt attention. Women in their aquamarine burkhas twisted in their seats from the tension. Men nervously fingered the stocks and sights of their Kalashnikovs as the tale unfolded. It was a tale of personal courage. A tale of adversity overcome. It was the story of how one man reached a personal epiphany about his life mission, deep in the middle of a strange land. A land where the value system we take for granted scarcely exists, a place with strange, consonant-poor tribal names: Illinois; Narragansett; Dallas/Ft. Worth; Puerta Vallarta; Acapulco; Hilton Head; Cheyenne; Bozeman. Logan, LaGuardia and LAX. Taking a sip of water from the gourd in front of him on the podium, Mortenson continued.

“I wandered down from Gate K2, alone. As I passed through the ceremonial entrance gates, into ‘The Lobby,’ I found myself in the center of the village. There were children everywhere. They followed me, all 47.33 of them. The people of the village welcomed me, they nursed me back to health with Au Bon Pain and Starbucks. The indigenous food agreed with me: Simple, honest peasant fare, unchanged for hundreds of years. I slept a fitful, deep sleep, occasionally waking to find that there were 13.75 children leaning over the backs of their chairs, peering into my sleeping face. I approached one of the elders of the village, an aged, wise black man wearing the ceremonial rainbow colored robes of leadership. ‘Where are your schools?’ I asked. He replied, ‘man, we is OLD-SKOOL round these parts.’ He took me over to see the children scratching their lessons into etch-a-sketches and Gameboys. I felt my heart fill with a sudden flood of emotion, as I suddenly knew my calling. I would come back, I promised. I would come back and establish a NEW school here, with iPads and mp3 players, so that the 87.33 children would have someplace to learn, someplace to grow, some sense of hope and opportunity to illuminate their empty lives of poverty.”

Mortenson made good on his promise. Returning the next year to O’Hare Lobby, he built that school, between the American Airlines Executive Club and the baby changing station. But that isn’t all. He’s made it his life work, and founded an organization, the Canadian American Institute (CAI) to help. He’s built more schools within the North American Airlines Duty Free region than any other organization, breaking down bureaucratic walls and political barriers to do so. To date, he’s visited over 170 international airports, bringing funds and resources to the children there, creating hope.

The talk concludes, and the crowd pushes toward the front of the dusty apricot orchard in the side yard of the mosque, hoping for an opportunity to buy one of Mortenson’s books and get it signed by the author. Mortenson stays late, until the last person in line had come through. The mosque then sends all the women home so that the nightly prayers to Allah could commence. All who attended were inspired by the will and perseverance of Mortenson, who has over the years built CAI into a multi-million rupee organization.

But depending on who you talk to, all is not well in this inspired story of charity and hope. Another climber, who was present for Mortenson’s Jet Stream ascent from LAX to BOS, says that there’s more than a handful of falsehoods, and even outright lies in Mortenson’s story. Richard Branson, a mountaineer with more than a little experience in the areas that Mortenson claims to have worked in, tells a tale of lies, prevarication, and embellishment that paints Mortenson in an entirely different light.

“He’s a complete fake.” says Branson. “He says he was coming off gate K2 that day. Well, K terminal is at O’Hare airport. If you check the flight manifests that day, you find that Mortenson flew into Midway on Virgin Airlines. He was never even in O’Hare Lobby, because Virgin doesn’t even fly into O’Hare.”

And all those schools he says he built? In a recent expose aired by Al Jazeera, investigative reporters went to those airline terminals to find those schools. The O’Hare Lobby school which Mortenson uses in his inspiring story? It’s a broom closet between the American Airlines Executive Lounge and the Baby Changing Station. Al Jazeera asked the locals if they had seen any school activities, and they all just shook their heads. Branson doesn’t mince words.

“He’s a liar and a cheat.” Branson says. “His charity, CAI? Go look at it’s books sometime. They’re a sham. He doesn’t spend money in those airports. He blows it all on his tours here in the middle east. He uses that charity as his personal ATM.”

The muslim faithful in Afghanistan and Pakistan find these allegations troubling. Abdulla Nabal Chandra, a businessman in Kirkut and a large contributor to CAI, is cautious in his assessment.

“He is doing great works, I am sure of it. But the reports coming out in the media cast a cloud on his operations,” Abdulla says in measured tones. “I do find it extremely disturbing that CAI spends almost 60 percent of it’s revenue here at home, in Afghanistan and Pakistan, apparently on promotional activities, with only 40 percent of it’s operational budget going toward it’s stated purpose, the airline terminals in the impoverished western world.”

That sentiment was echoed everywhere we spoke with people. Recent revelations haven’t helped Mortenson’s cause. A photo in his second book, “turning gravel into taxiways” showed him surrounded by armed men, apparently kidnapped by the group, in the traditional garb of the terrorist group, TSA.

“Nothing could be further from the truth,” said Leon Hearst, one of the men in the photo. “He was our honored guest.” Hearst produced a photo of his own, showing the group presenting Mortenson with a tray containing his wallet, keys, laptop computer, and iPhone. “It’s not only a lie, it’s slander.” said Hearst.

Mortenson has recently installed a new executive director for CAI, in an attempt to manage the adverse publicity. Upon taking up the Directorship, she released this statement:

“We don’t dispute that only 40 percent of our operating budget went to North American Airports, and that a full 60 percent was spent here in the mountains of Pakistan and Afghanistan. There is not a shred of impropriety in the spending, we are a completely transparent organization and welcome an external audit.”

Mortenson was steadfast in his own defense.

“We have always, and will continue as an organization, to work tirelessly to bring education and enlightenment to the hotspots of terrorism in Canada and America, to build bridges with books; to break the deadly cycle of hate using stones, mortar, chalkboards and the multiplication tables.”

This was about five years ago, back when my book was just coming out and people still used Myspace.  I kept a daily blog called ‘The A.D.D. Blog,’ and it wound up having a pretty good readership.

Somewhere along the line, I decided to conduct a letter writing experiment.  I told my readers that if they wrote me a letter — an old-fashioned letter, with a stamp, in the mail — I would respond in kind. I got myself a post office box, posted the address online, and waited.  And then the letters started coming in, dozens of them, all from strangers.  I answered each one over a period of about three months.   And then, when that was done, I canceled the PO Box and boxed up all the letters and put them away in storage.



It rained in LA this past weekend, a huge spring downpour that fell so heavy, and for so long, that there were flash-flood warnings and car accidents and a giant jacaranda on my block got uprooted and toppled across the asphalt, crushing two parked cars.  (Nobody, thankfully, was injured.)

I was stuck inside and fidgety and wound up going into my closet, unearthing an old box on a whim, and within that box were the “experiment letters,” sitting there on top in a giant stack.  For the better part of the afternoon, I sat there re-reading them — staggered, in a way, by how good they were — or, at the least, how interesting.  And often moving.  And sometimes pretty disturbing.

I figured I’d share a little bit, in the form of anonymous excerpts from some of the better offerings.  Individually, each snippet here struck me somehow.  And collectively, they paint a pretty striking composite picture of humanity in the digital age (or any age?).



WASHINGTON, D.C.:

When I’m really stressed, I sometimes have sex dreams about Ted Koppel.  I’m scared this is a sign of mental illness and that stresses me out even more.



CABOT, AR:

Last Wednesday Jenny went out for girls’ night.  I called the few friends I have that are still in town and it was to no avail.  I decided to drown my sorrows/boredom in a bottle of rum while listening to my iTunes five-star playlist over and over.  After hearing the live version of ‘Copperhead Road’ for what was close to the fifth time, the uncontrollable urge to get my rock on overtook me and, debit card in hand, I headed down to the local Wal-Mart and snagged a copy of Guitar Hero II.



BALTIMORE, MD:

I hate it when a good pen goes dry.  It beats dry pussy, though.



CASSELBERRY, FL:

Is it weird that my boyfriend is the one rushing into marriage?  Is it weirder that I’m not in any rush?  I guess I don’t want to be married when I’m in a dead end job and live in an apartment.  I’d rather have a career, one I can stand, maybe even one I look forward to…at least one that pays better, and with that be able to purchase a home.



SAN DIEGO, CA:

The culture of Navy people is incredibly odd.  They live their careers in a hierarchy.  The higher in rank they get, the less work they have to do and the more they show off to the lesser ranks.  They leave the military and find they have absolutely no people skills.



CLAYTON, CA:

You see, I’ve never had an exciting mailman.  No matter where I move, the mailman always seems like a typical white, middle-aged man with a growing balding spot.  I’ve always felt left out of those “your dad is really the mailman LOL” jokes, because it’s hard to imagine housewives, no matter how suburban and sexually desperate, copulating with a man who bears a striking resemblance to their actual husband.



WALDPORT, OR:

I dated my husband at 15, married at 19, and had a child at 21.  And now at 33 I have a 12-year-old daughter and a very unhappy marriage.  Where do I go from here?  Do I grow some balls and do something about my marriage and verbally abusive husband?  Most everything I’ve ever done has been for someone, but never myself.



NEW CASTLE, PA:

I’m a senior now, majoring in music education with a concentration in voice.  So pretty much I’m singing all the time and I’m also in the bands.  I play the tuba.  You should be laughing because that’s the general consensus of people.  I’m 5’6″ and have a thinner build, so it’s funny to see me dragging a sousaphone around.



DENVER, CO:

Today, I interviewed for Teach for America.  It went well, I think.  I was scared.  When it was over, I was hot and shaking.  I picked up the phone again and started dialing.  And my home phone started ringing.  The number used to be my mother’s.  I adopted it when she died.  I forgot she wasn’t there to pick up.  Just for a minute.



BOSTON, MA:

Sometimes I like to masturbate at work.  I’ll be sitting at my desk and my clit will just start throbbing and I will be unbearably horny.  Overwhelmed with my sexuality, I will retreat into the bathroom.  Lying on the floor, I will fantasize, usually picking a favorite sexual memory.  I focus on the look on his/her face and rub myself until I cum, not making a sound.  I am especially horny when I am bleeding, and days before I bleed.  Sometimes I get blood on my fingers when I masturbate.  And I lick it off.  Do you like that?



KIRKSVILLE, MO:

I worked at a funeral home.  When you work at a funeral home, you become part of the background; people forget that you’re watching and that they’re not alone.  It made me uncomfortable to witness their grief, their family quarrels…I guess it made me uncomfortable to see them without their masks on (like that Twilight Zone episode).  But put me in front of a computer screen and I will read a person’s deepest secrets for hours on end.



SAN LUIS OBISPO, CA:

My husband and I met online.  I placed an ad on Yahoo personals, and he was one of the people who answered.  We sent emails, then longer emails, then more frequent emails.  We spent hours talking over the phone, and then finally met in person in a nice, safe, public place (a mall close to where I was living).  We have been married a little over two years now.



LONG BEACH, CA:

Did I mention I have OCD?  No?  Well, now you have that little tidbit.  I wash my hands countless times per day, only write with certain types of pens, my car’s interior is spotless, I arrange the bills in my wallet in descending order facing the same way, and probably a plethora of other idiosyncracies that have yet to be pinpointed and identified, usually by my girlfriend.



LAKE HAVASU, AZ:

Do you have any children that you know of?



DUNDAS, ONTARIO – CANADA:

You do realize that many people (just like me) will use these letters as a form of therapy.



SPRINGFIELD, OR:

I just had a dumb argument with my wife about cold medicine and why I don’t take it.  I got defensive — I take it, by the way.  I just resist.



RICHMOND, KY:

They poisoned the stray cats on the street.  Evil people.  I hated my living situation.  And just when I couldn’t take any more of Jim and Edna’s shit, my upstairs neighbor got a new girlfriend.  I could overhear their boring, giggling, getting-to-know-you conversations (which they held on the “porch” right outside my bedroom window), as well as the getting-to-know-you sex they had above my head.  Her orgasms sounded like what can only be described as a dying cow.  Whatever he did to her to inspire those noises inspired me to take a broom and bang on the ceiling to to the same rhythm as their humping.



BALTIMORE, MD:

I’ve been on Weight Watchers since May.  I’ve gone from being overweight to average to almost underweight.  And this week marks my last week of maintenance and today is my last weigh-in before I become a lifetime member and don’t have to pay anymore.  That is, unless I’ve gained a huge amount of weight this week.  It’s been worrying me.  I got nervous.  And ate candy.  And that got me more nervous, so I drank magnesium citrate.  And now I’m just stressing out more until I weigh in tonight at five.

I grew up overseas.  Asia and Europe.  More specifically, Turkey and the UAE.  My parents were teachers at American schools.  Living there got me to be pretty open-minded about stuff.  Including my sexuality.  I used to think I was straight.  Then bi.  Then a lesbian.  Now I’m leaning towards bi again.  I don’t think I can really test that theory, though.  The thought of a relationship scares me.  I got my heart broken once, when I was 17.  By a girl.  So I don’t want a relationship with another girl yet.  Tried that — I wasn’t ready.  But boys scare me.  So I’ll never know who I am. At least until I’m out of adolescence.



MENOMINEE, MI:

I’m at a point in my life where I’m coming to terms with my own mediocrity.  I hesitate to say I’ve given up — because that’s even more pathetic than mediocrity.  I would rather live a black comedy than a foreign drama.  I still feel like an impostor and totally unqualified to be an adult.  I think about my parents and wonder if they dealt with this sort of identity crisis.



MT. SHASTA, CA:

I watched such a disturbing video on Myspace recently.  A hundred “money shots” from men with other men.  The men who were on the receiving end were gagging, literally.  And the looks on their faces…I just hope they got paid well.  And that it didn’t all go up their noses.



CANYON, TX:

It seems that the only emotion I can express is anger.  Which makes sense, because anger is the most real emotion you have.  But so is joy, and I can’t seem to get a grip on that one.  If I go by astrology, I should start to have good luck and happiness by the time I’m thirty.

Wow, less than nine years of torture and darkness.

Well, at least I have a goal in life.



JONESBOROUGH, TN:

To pay the bills, I work at a local grocery store in the bakery/deli department.  (Yes, I do have a degree, but it didn’t take long to learn that it’s fairly useless.)  It’s not bad — I make OK money, can do the job in my sleep (I’m a virtuoso on the meat slicer), and I like the people (particularly the assistant store manager — but that’s a whole other story, heh).  I hate the uniform — they make us dress up as chefs (oh yeah — hats, too!).  They seem to be under the delusion that we work in a 5-star restaurant serving haute cuisine instead of boil-in-a-bag/fried crap on a hot bar in a grocery store.



LEXINGTON, SC:

I never cry and it kind of scares me a bit.  I used to cry for no reason at all.  Now when I try — nothing, absolutely zilch.  Until just recently (actually this morning).  I was in the shower and became intimate with my shower head.  I had the most intense orgasm, but afterwards I just sobbed and sobbed.  Strange, huh?



ISSAQUAH, WA:

My daughter’s conditions make her more vulnerable than the average teen for pregnancy, running away, drug use, and health should she ever become pregnant or try to have a family.  Hell, just having a LIFE will be a challenge.  At times, I’m simply overwhelmed by the enormity of my daughter’s problems.  I try, very fervently, to focus on the positives — the high intelligence, the vivid imagination, the amazing creativity, the advanced artistic ability.  Sometimes, though, all I can see is the struggle of the hour.  And a lot of the time, I find myself wishing the day away, so that night will come — so that she’ll be in bed, asleep, and I can breathe again, relax, remove my drawn-up shoulders from around my ears.



LONG BEACH, CA:

For some reason, I really like lobsters — whimsical pictures of lobsters, live ones scuttling in tanks, lobster/crab imagery, claw harmonicas, etc., though I don’t know why.  The only thing I don’t want to do is eat them.  I’d never kill one, much less crack it open in some barbaric fashion and scoop out the meat from its very bug-like body.  In San Francisco, I used to pinch my ex with my hand claws — it was a strange form of PG-rated foreplay.  Worked every time, but maybe that’s because I was often nude.



WORCESTER, MA:

One of my students is a boy in 5th grade.  One day, in the middle of a quiet writing assignment, he decided to share his desire to be dunked in a pool of chocolate so that he could lick it off his body, because then he would taste really good.  He’s autistic and has a very loud voice naturally, but he tends to be louder when he is more excited.  He was very excited by the idea of being dipped in chocolate.  I got some comments from the teacher across the hall.  It’s often very amusing what children will say in general, but when a child has no verbal filter, well, I tend to hear some strange things.  I love my job.



NAYLOR, MO:

My favorite subject is sex.  I find that people are not open enough about it; most people find that I’m too open about it.  I’m single and have been most of my adult life.  I don’t mind most of the time.  I’d rather be single than be with someone that I am not passionate about.  I know that it’s what’s on the inside that counts, right?  Says who?  I mean, it’s important, nobody likes an asshole all the time, but people are lying if they say it doesn’t matter what someone looks like.  Likewise, sexual attraction is very important.  I keep hearing, “but he’s so sweet,” “he’s very responsible,” he’s good looking.”  All that is great and fine but if the sparks aren’t flying then a relationship is relegated to friends.



UNION, ME:

I work in a group home for children in state custody due to abuse and/or neglect.  Basically, kids are removed from abusive homes and come to us.  We work with them and try to help break the cycle of abuse, and to prepare them for foster care.  Emotionally, it can get tough — it’s not uncommon for me to cry the whole ride home after work.  Despite that, I love the job.  I’m one of the lucky ones.  I love what I do, I’m proud of it, and I’m good at it.  I’m also broke, because it doesn’t pay for shit.  Can’t have everything, I guess.



EVANSTON, IL:

I’m 33.  I have a six-and-a-half-year-old son.  Going through a divorce.  The usual:  husband cheats and has two kids with another woman.  I make light of it now but unfortunately it’s true.  Enough about that.  I’m sure you’d rather hear about my son who wants to be a girl.  That’s true, too.  He’s a great kid.  I just think of him as being very creative, right?  Just say yes.



PORTAGE, IN:

My son, Billy, just got married last year.  I am truly happy for him and Tammy.  I would like to find a companion for myself.  At age 48, my love life has led me onto a path of cynicism and cautiousness.  I remember when I used to fall so easily for someone.  Now, my immediate reaction is to find, as quickly as possible, all the reasons why a potential relationship might fail.  In my attempt to save time and prevent pain, I have painted myself into a lonely corner.  Somehow, being aware of my self-sabotage has not altered my pattern.



BAJA, MEXICO:

At age 26, I can tell you I haven’t been endowed with favor for interpersonal relationships.  I haven’t been lucky with the guys I like.  They just don’t like me.  It is maybe because I’m very shy when it comes to a guy I like.  I think this has to do with the thing that I was sexually abused when I was a child.  I’ve changed many things in the last six years:  I’ve read; I went to a psychologist….Anyhow, I’m still alone.  It’s weird and sad (sometimes) being 26 and not knowing what it is to have a person beside you that you could call your boyfriend.  (I have have never had one.)  Sometimes I think that maybe I’m destined to be alone — who knows?



HOBOKEN, NJ:

Most multi-millionaires are happiest when they’re interacting with strangers.  In real life they are the most miserable bastards you’ll ever meet.  I’m not a millionaire, I just dress like one.  I’m an eBay-aholic.  If you’re ever bored, go to this site, www.evalueville.com.  Just don’t get hooked like I did.



BROOKLINE, MA:

There’s an aspiring actress who lives somewhere in Hollywood.  We’ve been friends since age six.  I see her every six months or so — whenever I’m in town.  She mentioned she would like to have a temporary life parnter.  I told her I might move into my family’s vacant house in LA while I’m in law school.  She says she’ll live with me.  I told her it will cost her a lot.  She said she’d cook.  You get the picture.



LA MESA, CA:

I haven’t much of a sex life.  Although I think about it in the mornings when I wake up only.  I’m dreaming of a nice man, as I’m a woman.  I want to experience life as well as love.  I work as an artist.  I draw temporary tattoos on people yet I so want to do the REAL TATTOOS!

So I’m drinking Bass ale tonight after a very long abstinence.  I guess I’m buzzed, but it’s good because at least I’m writing….

It’s all good.



ANAHEIM, CA:

I’m a happily married woman with 2 kids, 1 dog, and 3 hermit crabs.  Until 3 weeks ago I thought I had it all until I met a gentleman I’ll call Sam.  Sam came on to me pretty hard at a party and I was very flattered, but not interested.  The next day, two of my best friends called to tell me how Sam wanted to meet me again and how beautiful I was and how I was the woman for him.  I was suddenly interested, because I felt like a goddess and I was finally getting the attention I feel I need.  My husband is very quiet and non-complimentary and basically refuses to fawn over me.  My friend asked if Sam could have my number and I said yes.  We began speaking to each other every other day or so for 2 weeks and we finally met in person.  The electricity between us was phenomenal and we haven’t even kissed.  We just talked that night for about 20 minutes and left.  We haven’t spoken since.  My friend says I said something that night that scared him, but I don’t remember anything I might have said to scare him off.  He still talks about me all the time, but won’t call me.  I know I’m just responding to his attention since I don’t get that need fulfilled within my marriage, but why, oh why won’t he call!  I’m pissed.  I’ve never in my adult life had a guy blow me off.  Asshole.  I’ve tried to get over it, but my girlfriend and her husband are roommates with him and I would feel like a bitch if I ask her to not talk about him.  That would be selfish, but I can’t seem to get past this.  I totally feel like I’m back in high school and I don’t know what to do.



HOUSTON, TX:

It seems that being a 21-year-old female artist who is straight-forward is threatening to a lot of men.  I refuse to be submissive to anyone.  Except of course Jon (the cocaine addict).  I’ve only been with him twice.  Now that I think about it he probably thinks I’m some girl he made up in his mind while he was blowed.  I haven’t heard from him in a week.  I don’t understand — the sex was mind-blowing — I know it was more so for him, too.  I don’t even get the pleasure of being a fucking booty call.  I never told him how I felt because I didn’t want to scare him off.  I’d rather be a “friend with benefits” than be nothing at all to him.  Now I see that I achieved that anyway.  I’m hoping he’s so fucked up that he hasn’t remembered me.



NORTHUMBERLAND, PA:

I am scared.  I write….A LOT!  Especially poetry.  I collect stamps and baseball cards.  I think Johnny Depp is gorgeous!  Every year, I have three different calendars on the wall in my room.  It is tradition.  This year I have a Beatles one, Scenes from Paris, and a Disney Princess one.  I hate bugs.  I wear contacts.  One of my best friends is a whore.  I have two dogs.  I got a stuffed hippopotamus for Christmas.  My brother and sister actually have A.D.D. and Tourette’s.  I don’t.  I’m the youngest.  Last year, I broke my wrist falling off the computer chair.  I’m addicted to Facebook and Myspace.



EL PASO, TX:

I once fell in love with a very apathetic boy named David, and I cried and eventually he cried and we loved each other, but he’s in Missouri and I’m in Texas, and though he repeatedly promised me that “true love waits” and “one day we’ll be together,” he lied and found himself a shallow girl there who fell in love with him and so that was that.  He settled for something “okay” instead of waiting and working for something “great.”  I think, since this falling out with my dearest David, I have become a more apathetic person.  I’ve found someone else now, though.  And honestly, I love him wholeheartedly.  His name is Miguel.  I’m beginning to fear, though, that maybe we are too different.  He’s into video games and heavy metal, and I’m a writer and into a lot of different music — not including heavy metal.  But, I’m making an effort to involve myself in the things he enjoys — such as Warhammer 40k.



EGLIN AFB, FL:

I am seeing a therapist for the deeper issues.  Being teased growing up, bickering mother, environmental changes, surviving chronic mastoiditis, losing my life during delivery (almost), gall bladder surgery, and hubby’s deployment….The house got fleas.  They are gone now.  The car’s starter went out.  Billy and I got the flu.  Why does things go wrong when you least expect it?



SEWICKLEY, PA:

You said to write to you about anything, so I’m going to include in this letter a confession.  I have a cousin on death row in San Quentin for the murder of of a police officer.



GREENCASTLE, IN:

One blustery fall day as the cats played outside, I told my parents I was going to the city to grab a sandwich, to sit and meditate at the park.  My dad told me I could not go.  Dad said, “Do I have to hold you down?  Do I have to call the cops?”  I was not acting strange or remotely violent.  If you knew me, you would understand how subtle and shy I am.

Dad took apart my car engine and hid my car keys.  He called the cops from his hospital (he’s a doctor) and the ambulance drove up with the cop cars.  The cops said they could make my dad give the keys back, or since the ambulance was there I could go in it.  Who knows why — worst mistake I have made — I went in the ambulance, and after a day of failing to explain to physicians why I was in a hospital, I signed myself into a mental institution and had to stay there for a week.



DUNDEE, SCOTLAND:

When I was little, about 8 years old, my life was great, or I thought it was.  And then it went all wrong when I found out my parents had been keeping secrets, which meant none of my childhood was as great as I thought it was.  I’ve slowly learnt to deal with the fact that everyone lies and keeps secrets.  Not really sure who I am anymore, but I’ve finally gotten to a point in my life where I don’t care if people don’t like me.



CORNING, NY:

I’m married to a wonderful man and we have been together for 15 years.  We have a beautiful daughter.  We have great jobs and a “good life.”  The conflict comes from me feeling like I’ve come to a boring place inside.  My life has always been filled with hard times, abandonment and different kinds of abuse.  I understand that it became my security blanket over time and without it life seems plain.  Recently, I have been chatting with other writers online and one in particular has set a fire in me, not only with my writing but personally.  I feel kind of obsessed with him.  He is very interesting and we have so much in common.  I flipped out the other night and professed all of these things and luckily our friendship didn’t disintegrate.  I felt like an ass the next morning for saying it out loud and for feeling like I slighted my husband in some way.  My friend is also married and neither of us is willing to ruin our relationships — not to mention we geographically are separated.  But I wonder if my enjoyment of his company is wrong.  We both feel like we fill a void in each other that our spouses could never fill because they don’t enjoy the things that truly fill our hearts.



HARRISBURG, PA:

Picking lint
from my belly
Texas rain
Stinky wet dog
Something’s growing on my neck
like a zit, maybe cancer or
an eyeball or a second penis
the cat’s all twitchy
laying on a chair
dreaming cat things.



BERLIN, GERMANY:

I’m in Berlin today.  I’m working on a book with a friend.  I’m also wondering whether to dump my new boyfriend.  He’s excellent, but the sex is crap.  His penis has a large head and a small shaft, like a slender-stemmed mushroom.  Do you get a lot of those — random, intimate confessions brought about by the anonymity of the letter exchange project?



NEW YORK, NY:

It doesn’t make sense why I should die.  I just look at things simply and I don’t try and complicate them by learning through other people’s delusions.  I don’t like their logic so I make my own.  I don’t make shit up like professors and shit do.  I just look at something as basically as I can and I take it for that.  I don’t go to school and pollute my mind with someone else’s fantasy about how the world fucking works.  I don’t want to be a psychologist or sociologist or priest.  I don’t try to explain things in that sort of way.  The simpler one lives, the easier it is to become the master of one’s self and surroundings.  Doesn’t that sound fucking nice and fluffy?  That way you stop living in the fantasy world and live in reality.

When something occurs in the universe, it should stay that way.  Maybe because I don’t believe I can die, that makes me unable to die.  I believe other things can die because they’re idiots and believe in the same logic that everyone else believes in.  But I won’t.



MINNEAPOLIS, MN:

We moved into a small apartment in Anaheim, California and lived simply.  A couple of memories that stick from that time are watching the fireworks and getting some kind of vaccination shot.  It’s funny because we never went to Disneyland, yet right from our apartment we could clearly see the fireworks from Space Mountain.  We would watch them whenever they went off.



EASTPOINTE, MI:

Mostly I think people as a whole suck.  One of my daughter’s first phrases she uttered was ‘I hate people.’  Now she wears a shirt that says, ‘Drop knowledge, not bombs.’  At any rate, I think the word entitlement says it all with a lot of people today, especially the upcoming generations.  On the other hand, just so you don’t think I’m a complete anarchist, I’m totally fascinated by people, and their lives.



OAK ISLAND, NC:

I had an awesome conversation last week with someone in line at the grocery store.  It was pretty one-sided, but I enjoyed it.  I asked her if she knew if an avocado was a fruit or vegetable.  She shook her head no and I told her it was a fruit.  She turned away but I continued by stating that they have a large, stony seed.  She scoffed when I told her that they can be eaten raw in salads or as dips.  The cashier laughed at that line.  I got her phone number, and we had sex two days later.  Needless to say, I won’t be returning to that grocery store anytime soon.