Saturday, December 27, 2014

One Thousand Gratitudes, Part II: 975-951

Here, then, is the second installment to this series. The idea of posting one per week might take me til May before this thing wraps, so who knows what things will look like this time next month. Again, no value in the order of appearance; these gratitudes appear as they came to me. The first installment is here; the original idea here.

Nine Hundred Seventy-Five: Mike Gordon

            The Phish bassist is one of the most unique human beings I’ve ever observed. Having studied interviews conducted with him, print pieces he’s written, songs he’s crafted, his onstage mannerisms, his tweets, and having met him and talked to him once, I think this guy is one of God’s finest works. I believe he is -- and has been for some time now -- the finest working bass player in rock, and if there’s only one more thing I can say about him it’s this: The way he bobs his head with most every note shows that he is in tune with the magic happening around him and his bandmates; he has, in fact, surrendered to the flow, and for that, the audience lives a richer life.

Nine Hundred Seventy-Four: tractors (John Deere, and otherwise, but mostly John Deere)

            I’ve only driven my late Grandpa Beck’s Craftsman, and that was probably 30 years ago. I know I’m not unique in this but I love John Deere shit. All of it, man. All of it. The small units, the big rigs, models, mugs, bibs, key chains, all of it. I love them, what they do, what these machines represent. I’ll probably never own one, never live on a farm, and never even have a riding mower, but I like the idea of all of those things. I’m not infatuated with the idea of humans conquering the earth, but the notion of the amount of fertile soil on this planet being so vast, so gigantic that we keep building bigger and bigger machines to help us harvest its fruits is pretty cool. The idea of a John Deere machine so big that my family could sit and eat dinner inside one of its tires both frightens and intrigues me, and as weird as that might sound, I’m grateful for it.


Nine Hundred Seventy-Three: Anthony Bourdain

            This guy isn’t one of my man crushes. He’s something else. I can’t put my finger on what it is, but I don’t care, either. A little over 10 years ago, during one of my learning-curve plateaus as a chef, I opted not to take a promotion from Sous to Executive, and my employer at the time commended me for it; I admitted that I could do the job, but preferred that someone with a greater knowledge and skill set come in and take me to the next level. Because of that decision, I got a raise and the gift of my own copy of Kitchen Confidential, signed by the restaurant’s owner. I had no idea who Anthony Bourdain was, but I blazed through that book like a hippie might a bag of crappy weed.



            Some years later I purchased a copy of A Cook’s Tour. It still sits on my shelf, unread. It’s moved up to next on the list, though, because of Bourdain’s recent work on CNN. Parts Unkown must be one of the best programs on television. I say “must be” because I don’t watch near enough TV to be adept with such an assertion. Either way, fantastic journalism, distinct videography, fascinating cuisine, history lessons, and cultural examination are just a few of the assets one gains by viewing this show. Trying to say anything more about it might be a disservice to Parts Unknown but since discovering it, I began mainlining episodes of No Reservations on NetFlix in between Sundays.

            Bourdain’s got an impressive collection of knowledge rolling around in that noodle of his. His wit is fresh, his palate beyond refined. He’s got courage, yet is grounded by his own limitations. I really can’t say enough about the author and television personality I’ve come to know well, if only through those two mediums. So, I’m thankful he exists. I’m eager to continue with old episodes of No Reservations and find a source for season one of Parts Unknown. If I don’t overdose on Bourdain, I’ll get to reading A Cook’s Tour soon, as well.

Thanks, Mark Kelpe, for both the gift you gave me, the faith in me as a chef, and for supporting my dream as a writer.

Nine Hundred Seventy-Two: Mark Kelpe

            To some degree I think I was encouraged to loathe working for the guy who was billed as a micro-manager, but Mark wound up being one of the greatest employers I’ve ever had. He’s also an incredible human being. Mark didn’t teach me much in the way of the culinary arts, but he always gave me the necessary encouragement to grow. He was consistent in expressing his expectations of me as a team leader and precise in terms of what his palate sought. Mark has a creative mind and a knack for seeing a vision unfold into a series of precise executions that become the way a kitchen is run. He’s always shown balance regarding praise and criticism and his honesty and genuineness remain infectious. Mark Kelpe is a guy you want to know and I’m thankful I’ve known him for 15 years.

Nine Hundred Seventy-One: Barack Obama

            As much as I (and most in my circles) thought George W. Bush was a shitty president, I’m constantly reminded that there are many, many people out there that are not only convinced Barack Obama is worse, but they actually hate the man. I didn’t hate Bush; I loathed our country for electing him once then having the sheer stupidity to do it a second time.

            Before you leap to a defense of your Obama repugnance, let me mention that I’m about as politically educated as a fallen leaf. So, please -- don’t bother. It doesn’t matter. You’re not going to change my mind. I don’t care about your details.

            What I do care about is a man made up of enough vigor to run for the office of the presidency in the way that Obama did in 2008. He addressed -- what I felt (and feel) -- were true concerns for our country: change. And change is what he delivered. He could have reformed one of the following -- student-loan debt, health care, the thought process associated with fatherhood, the presence of Osama bin Laden, pride in our nation’s leadership (Note: Not you, Congress.) -- and it would have been enough for me to call it a successful presidency. He did all of those things, though, and more. I don’t give a shit about the details. He promised change and change was what he delivered. I’m proud to have voted for him twice, and am grateful for having been a United States citizen under his watch.

Nine Hundred Seventy: Twitter

            I still retrieve The Kansas City Star from my driveway every morning even though I almost never have time to read it. I don’t watch the (local or national) news on television because I think it’s a joke. I can’t stand the sound of N.P.R. on the radio, so really, the only way I get news is from Twitter. What’s important to note is that this news is not the news that some media or broadcast company wants delivered to me; it’s the news I want delivered to me. Twitter exists as a platform for tailoring your own custom-made news feed and if you’re not using it, you’re doing yourself wrong. Plus, who doesn’t want the opportunity to broadcast smack talk between you and friends that used to exist in the privacy of a text-message thread? Added bonus: You get to show celebrities what a tool (or gusher) you are. No shame in that.

Nine Hundred Sixty-Nine: unnamed friend #1

            I have a friend. I think he’s still a friend. He’s a guy that I met in the fall of 1995. We hit it off immediately with an abundance of common interests and similar senses of humor. We became close and stayed in consistent contact for 10 years. We had a couple of borderline-serious arguments over the years and a third one caused our friendship to cease. A mutual friend reached out to me a number of months later and indicated that our buddy was in trouble. When I took his advice, I discovered he’d been arrested and was awaiting trial. As it stands right now, he’s more than halfway through an 11-year sentence. We made contact and had regular communication since he went to prison, but not in the last two years and change. Since entering the correctional system, he’s married for a second time (as has his father). He did not get to see his daughter graduate high school or become a mother.

            Right now I’m stuck in a bubble of unknown. I’m unsure of how to proceed with our relationship as I’m uncertain as to the state of his mental health. I want to remain friends with him, but what his world views look like now weigh heavily on whether or not that can happen.

            Regardless of how it ends (or doesn’t), I’m grateful I met and know unnamed friend #1. He has a good heart and I wish him happiness and healing as he prepares to reenter the free world.

Nine Hundred Sixty-Eight: unnamed friend #2

            Unnamed friend is a friend by proxy. That is, I married into friendship with her. She has always been a sweetheart to me and a close buddy to my wife. She’s intelligent, genuine, funny, and ambitious. She once chose an Mizzou guy for a spouse and has currently relocated to live with a Blackhawks fan, but for all of her wonderful qualities I’m willing to forgive her sports-teams oversights. More important than anything is this: Friend circles change with age and the ones that stay true to you tend to be the most valuable. So if you’ve been one of my wife’s friends in the past (or have never made a real effort to be one), the loss is your own. Also, this gal has always been one of my most loyal readers, so she must be awesome. Even though she left our city for love, I’m still thankful she’s a part of our life.

Nine Hundred Sixty-Seven: Chris Jones

            Like Chuck Klosterman, I’ve never met Mr. Jones (Note: Counting Crowsish thing not intended.), but I dig the person he appears to be. Even if he wound up being a prick (which I doubt), I admire his work ethic, his roles (though I know little about them) as a spouse and a father, and more than anything, his writing. On my end, it appears that he works hard at projects, allows himself a sense of accomplishment upon completion, and recognizes flaws whether they exist in draft phase or post-publication. What he has accomplished as a professional makes striving for success worth the effort.

Nine Hundred Sixty-Six: Bill Watterson

            The human experience is a fascinating one. In 2014 plenty of people want me to recognize my “privilege” of growing up white in a temperature-controlled home with clothes, food, access to good public education, and to proclaim each morning that the last four things occurred because of the first. I recognize those things, but I’m not going to apologize for them. Recognition of those things doesn’t change my past experiences, be they good, bad, or neutral. In particular, the feeling of sadness and the confusion that the world sometimes casts upon a young person’s mind can make growth and development tricky. I don’t know that I was ever clinically depressed as a kid, but trying moments found me from time to time.

            Looking back I can say one thing for certain: Calvin & Hobbes served a medicinal role in my young life and I will remember that for the rest of my days. Bill Watterson’s strip affected my outlook. It made me feel warm when I was chilly. It made me smile when I felt blue. It served as an emblem for good and purity in the universe. It made me feel loved and let me know I had love to give. That I grew up precisely when I did, that Calvin & Hobbes became accessible at the perfect age for me, that my mother gifted me with so many Watterson books continues to generate a sense of fulfillment inside of me. So I’m thankful that the cartoonist was born with the talents and the imagination he was, and for the resources available to him that made the pursuit of his dream a reality.

Nine Hundred Sixty-Five: Jimmy Carter

            At any number of points in the past three decades, it has been determined that the 39th president of the United States of America did a shitty job. Polls, public opinion, and the mouth of most any right-wing conservative you come across will all tell you that the statistics support such a claim.

            Fuck those stats. Jimmy Carter is a badass motherfucker.

            Jimmy Carter is the first president I remember seeing on television, which means absolutely nothing. I’ve always had a fondness for the dude, though. I think a lot of why he gets a bad rap for his Oval Office tenure has to do with timing. The world was headed in a fucked-up direction in the late 1970s, and Jimmy got a heap of shit for it. I’m not saying he was without faults. He -- probably better than anyone -- would be the first to identify things he could have done better while collecting a White House paycheck. Overall, I think he did a fine job and has demonstrated tremendous humanitarian values since, um, not being reelected. Hindsight is what hindsight is, but it’d be cool to see how different the world might be had he defeated Reagan, which would probably have prevented any turkey named Bush taking a January oath.

Nine Hundred Sixty-Four: “Doc” Emrick

            Ice hockey is the best game on the planet, and anyone that argues otherwise is insane. No sport requires the lungs, legs, hands, eyes, and smarts to the same capacity that ice hockey does. Football is a close second, but not that close. Ice hockey will never surpass football, basketball, baseball, or soccer in popularity, and I’m okay with that. Sort of. Ice hockey gets a consolation prize, though: having “Doc” Emrick call its biggest games. This is key because there is not another broadcaster on the planet that delivers play-by-play like Emrick. He is an endless well of knowledge, wit, speed, and emotion that could make your local frozen-pond contest feel like game seven of the Stanley Cup final. Regardless of the fact that the National Hockey League has suffered two lockouts in the last 10 years, its popularity has continued to rise, causing the proverbial chips to fall where they have: Emrick in the hockey-broadcast limelight. And that, my friends, is a blessing.

Nine Hundred Sixty-Three: Ray Manzarek

            I’m not certain how to categorize stonerness. I mean, I know that I used to be a stoner. I know that at some point my body and brain decided that getting baked five times a day wasn’t going to work anymore, but I miss getting high, so I don’t know if that makes me a lifetime stoner or a retired stoner or a Stoner U. alumnus or a reformed stoner, or what, but I do know this: The keyboard abilities of the late Raymond Daniel Manzarek, Jr. contributed notable significance to the euphoria of being crispy while listening to music. Now, I don’t mean to imply that The Doors had this massive body of work worth poring over, but let’s face it: They had some jazzy riffs and your average spliff made them even jazzier. So, move over, Jim Morrison. You may be a legend, but without Ray Ray, you’d just be some dead dude named Jim.

Nine Hundred Sixty-Two: unnamed friend #3

            This friend is an ex. She was the first person I dated after moving away from home. She was sweet and pretty and smart and is probably better off with the guy she married than she would have been with me. We met in a little tourist mountain town. We were both taking time off from school to experience the world and grow as people. She was pretty into the outdoors. So was I, but not as much as I was into The Doors, if you catch my drift.

            Things between us didn’t end with a bunch of grace, but they ended, nonetheless. There was an age gap between us and I think we both gambled on some rain cloud’s chance of me just acting like a grown up, when, truth be told: I was 19, without a care, impulsive; she was ready to settle. I think my immaturity and choices that led to our dissolution were unfortunate. I also think I hurt her, which I regret, but that doesn’t make me any less thankful than I am for having known her, grown with her, struggled with her, and learned from her. She was a wonderful human being and I hope that she has found happiness in life.

Nine Hundred Sixty-One: Uncle Jack

            Had things gone as planned, I would have seen my mom’s older brother last month, but some health concerns kept him in The Golden State. It’s unfortunate, because he’s a family member about whom I care a great deal. Uncle Jack has a charisma comprised of wit, charm, humor, tenderness, and creativity that, at worst, is envious. Uncle Jack has led a life some may call curious. Perhaps adventurous is a better choice. Nonetheless, he has pursued his interests and followed his heart for as long as I’ve known him, and you have to give it to him for that. Much love to you, Uncle. Hope to see you soon.

Nine Hundred Sixty: Jerry Garcia

            Now that I think about it, my uncle Jack is kind of like our family’s Jerry Garcia, which -- make no mistake -- is a compliment. His energy and kindness could create a decades-long following, and in some sense, it has. I don’t want to give Garcia an overwhelming share of all things Grateful Dead, but you have to acknowledge the largeness that was his part in it. I’m not interested in breaking down everything that Garcia was or the Dead is. I, instead, would like to comment on the energy; it’s a feel-good thing. That sound, that voice, those notes. Without Garcia, it would be, well, different. So, thank you, Jerry Garcia, for doing that thing you did so many years ago, and for so many amazing years since.

Nine Hundred Fifty-Nine: the hardware store

            I’m no beefcake. Seldom am I described as manly and it goes without saying that I’m not, in the traditional sense, handy. I shovel the driveway, cut the grass, and help move heavy stuff. I own some tools and can fix a broken window or replace toilet parts, but I’m not going to be remodeling any bathrooms or hanging drywall anytime soon. It just ain’t happenin’. I’m confident that I possess enough intelligence and manpower to accomplish most of the ordinary-guy household projects, but the truth is that I just don’t want to. It’s not a matter of laziness, rather: I have no interest in carving out the time for these types of things. Enough hours the day hath not. That said, when I do make the irregular treks to peddlers of all wares hard, I enjoy it. I like picking out new drill bits and grass seed. I like choosing lumber from the racks and running landscaping equipment. My masculinity tank fuels a two-stroke engine; it doesn’t take much to fill it and, at capacity, it can go many a mile.

Nine Hundred Fifty-Eight: raking leaves

            I already expressed gratitude for trees, so it would be incongruous of me to waste an entry outlining just how much I fucking hate raking leaves. Therefore, I won’t. Let it be said, then, that certain graces come with age, such as teaching yourself to accept the fact that it’s okay to pay someone for physical labor that you, yourself, are of sound body to accomplish. So, yes, I love trees, and no, I do not love leaf removal. I do, however, love looking out at my fresh-raked yard, knowing that I parted with a few hard-earned dollars and zero minutes to have that task checked off of the list. Thanks, semi-disposable income!

Nine Hundred Fifty-Seven: Colorado

            Beautiful state. Ass-hair-encrusted football team, but beautiful state. Lucky to have lived there for six years. Honored to have met some wonderful people in my residency and visits. Graced to have spent a ton of time in its majestic nature. Probably the best experience of my life followed my choice to leave Kansas City for the mountains. Colorado is so beautiful that trying to assign words to it feels futile, but since that’s the precise point of this exercise: I’m thankful for almost everything Colorado. I say almost because it’s crucial that I identify the National Football League club there as the exception. The Denver Broncos. It’s like someone thought Albuquerque belonged in the Centennial State. Awkward.

Nine Hundred Fifty-Six: Priest Holmes

            The running back who just saw his number 31 enshrined at Arrowhead Stadium last month restored my faith in the Kansas City Chiefs Football Club. The 1980s were all but a disaster for this franchise, and Carl Peterson, along with Marty Schottenheimer, reversed that trend. The duo never won Chiefs fans a championship, but they put us in position to contend for one for a nice stretch of seasons. Don’t misinterpret that last sentence: Kansas City did not reach a Super Bowl in the Schottenheimer era; a three-score deficit kept them one game removed in 1994 and they possessed the talent and ability to do something in several other Januarys, but managed nothing but losses.

            I didn’t know what to make of life as a pro-football fan when MartyBall went away in Kansas City. It’s not that I thought Schottenheimer should have stayed, but I did not think Gunther Cunningham was the answer, and, at the time, all signs pointed to lifetime general-manager tenure for Peterson. So when he dispatched of Cunningham and went right down Good Ol’ Boy Avenue to nab Dick Vermeil, I was stunned. I figured Vermeil for a great coach, but with Peterson at the helm, it didn’t seem possible to get the new coach any talent. I was pleased to admit my erroneous judgment, however, when Holmes set fire to the Kansas City backfield record book. Holmes may have been the most interesting individual I’ve ever witnessed in a Chiefs uniform. He was a different sort of dude that did things his own way. And, man, could he tote that rock.

            We still haven’t won a playoff game since that loss in Buffalo and every season that’s added to the drought makes me all the more jaded. Priest Holmes was the first player to reignite my hope after a lifetime of disappointment and that, my friends, was an awesome feeling.

Nine Hundred Fifty-Five: socks

            I once worked with a chef who kept a trunk at the foot of his bed. It was loaded -- Loaded, I tell you. Loaded. -- with packages of brand-new, white crew socks. Every morning, he would rise (and shower, I assume), and put a never-before-worn, fresh pair of brand-spankin’-new socks on his feet and go (with shoes on, I assume) to work. At day’s end, the then-tainted pair of footwear would be deposited into the nearby trash receptacle. The next day would be a repeat, as would the day after that and the day after that.

            I love socks. I’m particular about my socks. I want them folded a certain way and I choose each pair based on the intended pant/shoe combo for the day. I will hang on to a pair that has a hole in the heel (but not the toes) for a while. I will only wear a pair once, and then they must be washed. Sometimes in winter, if my feet have sweated more than I prefer and my feet are cold from the dampness of perspiration, I will change pairs in the evening. I’m particular about foot temperature and the minute it’s too cold for flip flops, I’m on the sock train until spring. I have an awareness of my sock inventory at all times; I usually know what’s clean, what’s not. I love socks, but not that much.

Nine Hundred Fifty-Four: Star Wars

            I freaking love Star Wars. I coveted the original trilogy as a kid. Seen them more times than I could count. I dug the prequels, too. I’m really excited for the next installments. I got good and geeked out over the The Force Awakens trailer. I’m not a huge nerd about it. I don’t have a collection of toys still in the packages or any books or anything, but I do love me some Star Wars. Next December can’t get here soon enough, and I, for one, feel sorry for generations younger than I that grew up Star Wars-less children. Shit’s like heroin.

Nine Hundred Fifty-Three: this past season of fantasy sports

            I do not love fantasy sports. At one time in my life, I loved fantasy sports. I hate fantasy sports. At one time in my life I was in four or five leagues. I got it down to two, then one. Somehow, I wound up in two again this past season. I knew I’d regret it, but felt compelled to participate, nonetheless. It took one week for said regret to register. I suck at fantasy sports. Playing fantasy sports might as well look like this: Make list of deadlines I will miss every week; deposit money in nearby trash receptacle. I do not have time for fantasy sports. I do not do well at fantasy sports. I cannot stand hearing people talk about their fantasy-sports teams. I therefore loved this season of fantasy sports and could not wait for it to end, as I did not qualify for any of my fantasy-sports post-seasons. This was my final season playing fantasy sports. Fifteen years is a respectable sample size for gauging how bad you suck at something. So I will no longer engage. Adieu, fantasy sports. I shed my skin of your ugliness. Hooray.

Nine Hundred Fifty-Two: naps

            I mean, we covered this topic in entry number 990, but…come on: Naps are the shit. Unless you’re my wife, and you can function on minimalistic amounts of sleep and like to view naps as an agency for loathing your spouse when he takes them, naps rule. I don’t have a ton of opportunities to take them, but when I do -- even if they’re 15 minutes -- rejuvenation never felt so good.

Nine Hundred Fifty-One: office supplies

            Whee, right?

            For real, though. Is there a better collection of material items for making you feel like a grown-up? Sure. You’ve got your profession, your home (maybe some offspring or pets living in it), and a pile of bills each month and maybe you make do. Perhaps, though, your life is still kind of a train wreck. Perhaps you procrastinate like you’re still in college. Perhaps you run late to 90 percent of your appointments. Perhaps you’re “always the last to know” stuff. Nothing smooths all of that out like a fresh ream of paper, a functioning stapler, and a box of paperclips, though. Right? Right? Hmmm. Maybe all of that is just me.


            Well…piss off, then. I don’t need you, anyway. Uniball 10-packs are on sale!