The unedited version (SO MUCH BETTER) of my feature article on local romance

A Different Kind of Love

Who says love is dead?

I used to.

I used to live downtown.

Facebook, Text, Twitter.

People out to dinner never speaking one word to each other. They talk briefly to the waiter, which might be the conversational highlight of the evening, and then out comes the smartphone.

 That’s why I went out on a mission to prove that love and romance still exists.

While on assignment I got to meet a lot of interesting people, revisit favorite spots in our community, and, on the sound advice of some of our interviewees, take in some of their favorites as well.

The best thing about the interview process, for me, was being able to pick the brains of a variety of people, hear a new love story or two, and learn about their particulars when it comes to love and romance in the 85086.

I am what you might call a semi-newlywed. My wife and I joined in holy matrimony on April 16, 2011. We’re still figuring a bunch of stuff out. It has been refreshing to learn from seasoned veterans in the marriage game, like Jon and Heather Gardikis, husband and wife real estate team from Desert Hills. Their romance is the American dream: high school sweethearts who have been married for 19 years and have 3.5 children together (number four is still in the oven).  Hearing how they met and fell in love gives me a fresh perspective on my own marriage, and hearing them discuss their resolve to continue dating no matter how many kids or years pile up, gives me a great deal of insight for the future.

“What’s your idea of the perfect date?” I asked them over breakfast at the Taramonto Denny’s.

“Last night,” Jon said, “we went out to Olive Garden without the kids and then had a cup of coffee. It was great to do normal stuff, just the two of us.” Aside from having one on the way, they also have a ten-month-old, so traveling the French countryside is not really an option.

Vanessa and I have a one- and two-year old, so I also think that is pretty much the perfect date. In premarital counselling, and again in parenting classes we took, the pastor drummed it into our head: the importance of constantly dating your spouse. “A healthy marriage,” he said, “is the most important part of being healthy parents.”

Obviously, there are exceptions: my parents were never in the same room, and I turned out super awesome. At least I think is what my therapist means when every time I sit down with him he says, “This is going to be awesome!”

“What about a date idea that is unique to our area?”

“They run hot-air balloons from the Deer Valley Airport over to Desert Hills. Now talk about a cool idea for a date!”

He’s right. I can’t think of anything more serene and beautiful than to pop a cork on some Cold Duck and toast your date from the height of the clouds. I have not done a balloon ride as of the yet, but it’s now on my short list along with a trip to Italy from which I may never return, and attending an Empire Strikes Back themed wedding where I get to dress like Han Solo.

“How is dating and romance different in this neck of the woods, Heather?”

“More laid back, for sure. The people in the city get all dressed up and go to crowded places, and that’s fine sometimes, but here, and for us, it’s more about spending time with the person. We don’t necessarily need to be in a busy, loud place to have a date.”

More than anything, Jon and Heather touched on the theme of why I moved here, from Downtown Phoenix… peaceful, serene, calm, and relaxed.

“We live in a place where you can actually see the stars at night.” Heather added.

I also got to talk to Couple B, who have been dating for some time. They asked to be referred to as Will and Donna (fake names) because they live by me in Taramonto, and are no doubt concerned that I will say something stupid, as I am known to do.

“Hey, I’m doing an article on dating and romance in our area, and I wanted to get some perspective from someone who’s lived here longer.”

“The Buffalo Chip on Friday night. That’s where you should go. All the girls are decked out in boots and tight jeans, trying to catch a cowboy.” said Will.

“That sounds promising.”

“Then Harold’s on Saturday. That’s where you’ll find your older couples and middle aged singles.” Donna added.

“Define older.”

“Our age.”


“I know.”

I didn’t have a lot of success finding people to talk to at Buffalo Chip, because I wore Nike Shoes and a grey pullover—I had left my belt buckle and boots on my other horse. Instead of talking to people there, I watched. The guys all pouring out the machismo, the girls done up like caricatures of Sadie Hawkins, everyone dancing and drinking and having a blast, it’s all very interesting to me. Not to mention, it’s not every day you get to show off your strength and virility to a young woman by riding a live bull. Even if I had brought a hat, and buckle, I surely would’ve failed this test.

I think that guy in Nike’s is paralyzed, they’d say.

All in all, the experience was fun, but didn’t really tell me anything I didn’t already know: being single can be rough and sometimes you land on your head.

Though I didn’t date my wife long before I popped the question (I was sure she would realize she could do better if I didn’t act fast, and then throw me on my head), I do remember the single life (somewhat) and all the joy and pain involved. I was humbled and reminded that, though it feels like a lifetime ago, it hasn’t been all that long since I was blogging about rejection, or horrible dates with women who should’ve been medicated, or perhaps were overly so. And even one woman, who longtime friends and readers will recall as “Salad Girl”, that tossed a giant serving of Caesar salad I had just prepared, all over my windshield and drove away in a huff.

You see, it was her salad bowl, and when I made her mad enough to leave, I told her to take the salad so she had no excuse to revisit my home.

She declined. I persisted.

Anchovy Honda.

Ahh, the good old days.

We do it anyways, because  the juice is worth the squeeze.

I started to remember that electrified feeling when you see her from across the room and decide—I am going to go talk to a total stranger who could be a nutcase, but sure is pretty.

Then the miracle happens. Sometimes, not often, but sometimes they aren’t nutcases, and sometimes they have more than just sparkling eyes. And sometimes they don’t already have a boyfriend and are currently interviewing for the position.

Trifecta—now what do you do?

Our species depends on us taking risks and successfully dating, but I have forgotten what it’s all about.

Do I open her door, or is that passé?

I didn’t open the door, is she mad about that?

Is it wrong to assume she will take my name in the marriage?

Should I take hers?

What is her last name anyway?

“Hi, I’m Michael, nice to meet you.”

Why am I so sweaty?


That was the case with Vanessa and me.

I saw her from across the dance floor at a rock and roll show. I made my buddy go stand close to her so that when I said something cute or funny, or loud enough, she would look over and I could say something memorable.

It just so happened that she was my trifecta.

I didn’t offer to make her a Caesar salad until the third date.

That’s what I had forgotten: How do you date a stranger? Luckily, I did find a few single folks to sit down and remind me what it’s like to be out on the prowl, honing your romance skills on a regular basis. While I consider myself extremely romantic for the three-day period surrounding Valentine’s Day and my Anniversary, I thought I should probably talk less than normal and take it all in from some more experienced romancers.

Brooke Lawrence, of Cave Creek, is a driven and successful businessperson working in sales with a background in finance. She gave me the best advice out of all the singles with whom I spoke.

 “Find out what you like to do, do things you enjoy, find success, and capitalize on that. For example, I like to travel and I’ll travel whether I have someone to travel with or not. I’ll go by myself, because I am not going to sacrifice the things I love to do just because I don’t have a partner to do them with.”

“Any thoughts on romance in general?”

“Be vulnerable,”

One profound word summed our interview.

So, in this sense, her vulnerability is that she is willing to be single longer, and risk rejection, rather than mask who she is and what she loves. This is a valuable lesson. I can’t tell you how many times I have found someone to be a totally different person, after a few dates have gone by.

“Do you want to go hiking today?”

“Listen, I went hiking with you before because I like you and wanted to show interest in things you liked, but I hate hiking.”

That happened to me. She might as well have told me she hated writers who watched Sci-fi in their pajamas.

Just be honest upfront and I won’t bother inviting you to a Star Wars sleepover birthday. OK?


I asked Brooke what she is looking for in a future partner. Nerdy writer wasn’t on her list. Neither was paralyzed bull-rider.

“He needs to be educated, funny, and a good conversationalist. We need at least a few common interests, but he needs to be independent, as well. I don’t want to spend all of my time with, and do all of the same things as, my boyfriend.”

“How about a perfect date?

“There is a little place called The Village Coffee Shop. It’s perfect for talking and hanging out on the patio at breakfast.”

“Breakfast date?”

“A first date should have good lighting,” she noted.

“Well, you’re not going to meet a guy at a coffee shop. Where do you go when you want to search for a guy, or just have a good time?”

“Harold’s or Buffalo Chip. They have loud music (sometimes live), cheap drinks, and the guys in the area are more down to earth, easier to talk to.”

Next, I spoke with Joe Wisniewski, divorcee and personal-trainer, from Anthem.

“We’re above the smog-line up here; there is a ton of great hiking. I belong to a hiking club at the community center, a great place to meet people.”

“Your idea of a perfect date?”

“Not formal. Someplace where your eyes can meet and you can hear each other; no big crowds.”

“How are the women different here?”

“More approachable.”

He and I spoke for a long while about the do’s and don’ts of dating. He reinforced much of which has already been mentioned in this article: Be vulnerable, be honest upfront, and stay away from the busy scene if you are trying to find someone.

The type of folk wholive here are the more down to earth people. We chose to live in a place where we can feel comfortable and we like the serenity and romance of a more secluded setting. This part of Arizona is romance. I moved here because I wanted to find a place I could fall in love with Arizona, again. I went as far north as I could go and still get cell phone service, and found a place I think is pretty special.


The unedited (better) verison of my Valentine’s Day column

North Valley Survival Tips for Valentine’s Day.


As a married guy, and someone who’s romantic skills are questionable to say the least, I had to dig deep to find the right sort of things to put in a survival guide for V-Day. I mean, gosh, it sounds like D-Day and conjures up images of husbands and boyfriends storming a beachhead amid mortar bombs and grenades and rushing through barbwire and metal blockades to get a good table at your favorite restaurant, and so on.

If this is what comes to mind when you start planning a romantic evening for your significant other, then perhaps a few tips couldn’t hurt.

–          Survival Tip #1. –You’re not Tony Soprano. Nor the queen of England. Make a reservation. Don’t be overconfident or think that you’re connected like some goon from Goodfella’s. I get it, some people don’t want to be beholden to a schedule and think spontaneity is the only way to be romantic, but if you were truly spontaneous, you wouldn’t be out on V-Day trying to make up ground in the trenches… call ahead.

–          Survival Tip #2. – Always prepare a Plan-B. Restaurant owners and managers are going to hate me for this one, but you should have a second reservation, at a different restaurant, and at a later time. What happens when you get to his or her house and they are still trying on dresses, or doing curls in front of a mirror, or in the middle of a bad hair nightmare? You’re late… that’s what happens. Plan ahead. While being completely unburdened by time, as mentioned in Tip #1, is ill advised, it’s best not to have to watch the clock in agony. Besides, it will give you last minute choices on the type of food or restaurant.

–          Survival Tip #3. – Limit your consumption (Part 1).  Drinking too much is not romantic. You aren’t funnier or a better dancer and are statistically 10 times more likely to get caught leering at your server’s physique… just stop it. It’s okay to have a drink to loosen up and get a little groove going on, but you have a long battle ahead and you will need your faculties to carry you through the night. Remember, we’re in it for the long haul and no one wants to go home early, or alone. Pace yourself. P.S. I made that statistic up, but it’s still true.

–          Survival Tip #4 – Cab it.  Many of the other V-Day warriors will ignore tips 1-3 and therefore be a danger to you and your date. Aside from that, traffic is frustrating and will kill your mood if you get stuck behind a grandmother for 15 blocks. Your date will be 44% less likely to discard his or her clothing if they see and hear you berating an elderly couple on the 101. Again, my statistics are a total fabrication and still, somehow, accurate.

–          Survival Tip #5 – Have dessert prepared and ready at home. It might be presumptuous or bold, but I like to have a plate of chocolate covered strawberries in the fridge and a bottle of white wine or champagne chilling at home, next to some candles and rose petals. If the date goes south then it will be nice to move all that to the bath and polish off the drink and dessert by yourself while you reflect on what went wrong.

–          Survival Tip #6 – Limit your consumption (part 2). No buffets, all you can eat, or family style restaurants. Unless you are taking an escaped circus bear out for dinner, you don’t need to pack away three pounds of meat and cheese. Just stop it. Do you want to invite your date home to watch you sleep it off, or do something that will be fun for both of you? If you are taking a bear out for dinner, I recommend completely ignoring Survival Tip #3 as well, because everyone knows it’s way more fun to watch a bear ride a unicycle, after you’ve had a few.

–          Survival Tip #7 – Discuss allergies ahead of time. This comes from personal experience. You don’t want to take someone to a place that has wall-to-wall shellfish if they might go into anaphylactic shock. One time I cooked dinner for a woman who has peanut allergies. I unwittingly ate a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup to curb my appetite while the food was on the grill. One little kiss later and we were in the ER while she transformed from a smoky brunette co-ed, into Louis Armstrong. Needless to say, ole Satchmo never called me back, and that date cost me a ton in medical bills. P.S. Never call a dying girl Satchmo.

–          Survival Tip #8 – Keep the natives happy. Line up two, nay, three babysitters and a doctor who does house calls, don’t leave anything to chance. If you have no children, this rule applies to your roommates. Find some way to keep them out of the house, even if it means changing the locks, better that than you find them in the bath eating your strawberries and crying into a glass of your bubbly while listening to Fiona Apple.

–          Survival Tip #9 – Keep it simple. Don’t go too far overboard with extravagant multilayered event planning, No one wants to go on a scavenger hunt for hours or be out in public until their feet blister. As a general rule, when someone asks what you did for Valentine’s Day, you should be able to say: “Dinner and _ __,” or “_ __ and dinner.” Everything else exciting, like what happens when the chocolate strawberries and champagne are done, should be omitted from proper conversation. P.S. It should be stated that neither of those “__ _’s” ought to be “a movie,” unless it is at a drive-in-theatre and you don’t care about actually watching the film, or potentially getting arrested. P.S.S. If you are adhering to Tip #4, this might also cost you a lot of money and embarrassment with the Taxi Company.

–          Survival Tip #10 – Think about what you’re doing to your body. This should be common sense, but chose your food wisely. You don’t want to be fighting a fart all night, or afraid to breathe, in the close confines of the cab. Mexican food is never a good choice if you hope to see someone naked any time soon. The chicken Caesar salad at Hillstone is the best thing I have ever put in my face, but it will murder your breath for no less than three days. I don’t know what they put in it, but it should be illegal, for a multitude of reasons. Most Italian food, as well, has enough garlic to ward off insects and vampires, as well as a good night kiss. Incidentally, do not use the word fart on your date or your breath won’t matter.


I hope this helps as you all go out to do battle with other couples and your own reckless impulses on V-Day. Please be sure to message me via my website and let me know how it goes.


M.D. Thalmann


Below is a blog from 2007. I am up late tonight, having had an eventful day and being that I am a writer and writers never sleep.

It is what it is.

I do not intend on posting a bunch of old stuff about the early days when I got sober, what seems like so very long ago, but being as I was baptized this evening, and that I am up at 2:14 am and came across this, I think God may be telling me something. Who knows? It could just be the insomnia eating away the more important bits of my brain, and causing a slight case of insanity.

Very slight.

What fun!

It is what it is.


Aug 3, 2007
This blog entry refers to insomnia
Current mood: awake

I am up late again. This has got to stop.

My insomnia has gotten me into shit before. I fell into the bottle. I made a home in that bottle. The slick glass walls of it shielded me from the responsibilities I was prepared to abandon. This was to be an arduous journey, and what’s more, I have to set out on it alone, with only God at my side.

For some reason we never see the faults in ourselves as much as in others. On some level, we probably know, and are judging people for sharing characteristics with ourselves.

Allow myself to introduce myself:

I am a liar, a cheat, I am very selfish, and I unintentionally or inadvertently cause wreckage in the lives of the people surrounding me. The premise being: it’s never my fault, because I said so; and I was right.

I am great at making up excuses and reasoning with myself to justify my actions, before and after the fact.

This was my thought process while I was stationed in that bottle. I say stationed, because, over time, that bottle and I had gotten into a few jams; handcuffs hurt.

Over time…Over time, I became aware that I was living in a war zone and did nothing to improve it. The bottle deflected most of the shrapnel and it kept me sleeping… Most nights I would come home to screaming and demands that needed to be met, so I would turn to the solitude I had created for myself.

I became bitter and resentful. I was irritable, restless, and discontent. Life did not matter to me and I took everything for granted.

It is hard to repair the damage that we do to other people and relationships. Sometimes we can never mend the break and it leaves a permanent scar. This is life, live it on life’s terms.

When you finally hit rock bottom, I hope you find the serenity that I have found.

I don’t live in the same place I used to. I moved out and left all my garbage and the wreckage of my past behind, for the next tenant.

Nobody ever talks about falling out of the bottle. That is when you fall back into life. If you are like me, anyway, you will know who you are.

I can sleep now…

An excerpt from my new book. The anti-war book… so it goes

My new novel, titled The Thirteen Lives of a Television Repairman, will be out soon, and I wanted to get a bit of it out into the public, in order that it might marinate a bit.
Here are some things which you will not know without reading the earlier chapters of the book, as this scene comes late in the book, but is not impacting to the storyline in any major way.
ARG stands for Alternate Reality Generator. It shows you all possibilities throughout time.
The narrator is the man who created the ARG.
The entire story is told from the perspective of this man who sits in an underground nuclear fallout shelter after his ARG device has caused the nuclear holocaust. When it comes to use in his bunker after the bombs go off, it shows the protagonist all of the possibilities that can no longer be, because the world has been destroyed, and the one fate that the world shall have in a million and a half years.
This is the only scene in the book which touches upon the giant nosed people and is only in there for satire and anti-war sentiment.
Cover sketch 1Now the machine doesn’t show me the future The future doesn’t exist any longer, not for humans. Instead, the ARG shows me two things: futures that could’ve been, futures from the past, and sometimes it shows show me a future that will happen in a million and a half years, after a new life has evolved.


This future is filled with strange creatures that have no money, nor any need for it, they have no bills, because they get what they need from the planet. There is no such thing as rent, or a mortgage, because no one owns anything. Why would they? They didn’t create the earth with divine purpose or mastery of the universe. There is also no need for money because these creatures, which have replaced us as the dominant form of life on planet Earth, have no eyes. They evolved this way because of the radiation, maybe, but also because they thought it best when evolving, to refrain from looking at things covetously, so they killed their eyes. That’s one way to do it.

They also have no ears, so they cannot argue over music, or politics, or improper language.

They do have an exquisite sense of touch, which, incidentally, is exquisite only because it doesn’t tell them if something feels bad or good, but only that it’s there. Much like they themselves, the deaf dumb and blind creatures… they are neither good nor bad, they simply are. They eat and shit, and reproduce asexually, so there is no jealousy or infidelity and so on. They do not understand religion, because they haven’t any need for it.

Their main sense, where ours is vision, is smell. They have tremendously big noses. They conduct nearly all of their business by smell. The part of their brain that interprets olfactory is very large indeed, and is directly linked to the part of the brain that deals in pleasure. There is no part of their brain that deals in pain. If one dies, they simply die, and are happy up until the point when the do. And why not? After all, they are perfectly fine as far as they can tell. And the part which deals in memory is very limited. So where a smell might remind you and I of a person, place, or a thing, a smell simply reminds them of the last time the smelled that smell.  They never get sad or lonely, because they need nothing they don’t have.

The only eat one thing: gardenias. And they have no natural predators, because they and the gardenias are the only remaining life forms on Earth. They eat the gardenias, and secrete the seeds and manure two days later. They use their fantastic sense of smell to guide them to fresh gardenias to eat, and then to depleted areas to void their waste. They never spread manure where they eat, or sleep. They circle and circle year after year, but they aren’t aware of this. The simply smell food, and go eat it, then smell where food should be, but isn’t, and go shit there.

They sleep somewhere in the middle.

They’re quite perfect.

Incidentally, though, they do make a great deal of noise, braying like a pack of old women at a bingo hall, and are absurdly gassy, which could also be represented at bingo. They don’t notice any of this and aren’t offended, because they haven’t the faculties to notice, other than the obscene smell. But they don’t think its obscene at all, in fact, in their brains doesn’t exist anything to represent negativity at all, and all smells are pleasant and bring them exquisite joy, and the only indication of how pleasant something is, is how strong or pungent a particular aroma is. They can tell the difference in one odor or the next one—or else how could they find the gardenias?—but have no preference, unless its meal time or time to void. Other than that, they fill their lives sucking the odors of farts and seawater and dirt and gardenias and lack of gardenias and so on into their enormous bulbous noses.

You and I would think this world to be perfect and beautiful, with all the gardenias and with the giant walking noses on small furry feet, and we would like very much to live there in peace. But inevitably, we will become offended by all the noise and the smells and the carelessness with which the giant noses rubbed up against us blindly, and sneezed gardenia pollen all over our legs and feet, and we would become so offended that we would insist on carving out a patch just for us.

Eventually, That patch would become somehow smaller and no longer suitable to our needs, and we would need more land, where we would trample and kill more gardenias and more of the little big-nose people. And then it would all go to pot.

That’s what we do. We covet something, then we take offense to it, and we steal and kill and take and take and take. That’s certainly one way to do it.