Wednesday, March 25, 2015

One Thousand Gratitudes, Part XV: 650-626

I wish it were easier to tie up categories without post overlap, but what're'ya' gonna do?

Things -- it would seem -- got a touch intimate in this installment, and I hope that when that happens my coveted army of three readers doesn't get squeamish or offended. I'm trying to keep things real both in here and anytime I write. That's always been the intention and until I learn otherwise it always will be.

After I posted the last installment, my wife asked me if I thought this series had changed me.

I think the answer is "yes," but I think it's also a work in progress. It's easy to be in one mindset, then slip into another.

Rest assured, though, I'm trying to view the world as a thankful dude.

There's a lot of awesome out there.

And all of you are certainly part of it.

Thanks for reading.





Six Hundred Fifty: Mrs. Snyder

      Mrs. Snyder’s eighth-grade foreign language class was -- as they say -- where it all began for me. I didn’t care for (or get) the French portion of the semester, but no fault of the instructor there. I remember Mrs. Snyder being enthusiastic about teaching, and encouraging us to focus, as we would need more foreign language in high school. She had a great sense of humor, and knew just where to draw the line in terms of her students being both pupils and people.

Six Hundred Forty-Nine: my lawn mower

      I’m embarrassed to admit that my dad -- for most of an entire summer -- hauled a mower over to my house and cut my grass for me when I moved back to Kansas City. By season’s end, he had traded a couple of service calls to a pawn shop in exchange for a mower for me. Though a bit of a beater, I’ll be damned if I didn’t get a decade’s use out of that Sears heap. Now I had it in the shop a healthy handful of times, but man -- talk about cost-per-year analysis.

      Several years ago a co-worker stumbled across this dude that lived with his mom and repaired and sold mowers out of her garage. Though skeptical, I paid him a visit, and he suggested I part ways with my Craftsman fossil and purchase one of his. I did, and have not lost a moment’s sleep over mower problems since. The thing’s a beast and I’m glad I gambled on Mower Guy Paul and his operation.

Six Hundred Forty-Eight: my weedeater

      About 10 years ago I bought my first weedeater, and that first summer with it in my possession, I couldn’t have been more Tim Allen-y had I tried. I wanted to weedeat bushes, trees, dirty dishes, the neighbor’s cat. It. Was awesome. A couple years in I started having problems with it, though, and by last summer I wanted nothing more than to Office Space the damn thing. This spring, after an hour or so of going all “Bumpuses!” in the garage, I approached my wife about buying a new one.

      “If buying a new weedeater means I never have to hear about the weedeater again then please go buy one now,” she said.

      Oh, and it’s a beaut’. Love that thing. Like to say I take better care of it then my children, but that would be a lie. Sort of.

Six Hundred Forty-Seven: South Park clip #2: Towelie plays Funky Town

      If you’ve seen this whole episode you know that the layering -- like they do in many of their plots -- gets pretty deep. Love me some Towelie.



Six Hundred Forty-Six: J.P. Rutherford’s book, 100 Things Blues Fans Should Know & Do Before They Die

      My copy came in the mail last month and I’ve only read about 35 of the chapters, but I love the shit out of this book. Hell, I might even encourage my wife to read it. Thankful he wrote it. Been needing a Blues bible for some time.

Six Hundred Forty-Five: the Yellow Pages

      Don’t get me wrong: I like Google. A lot. Having a copy of the Yellow Pages -- as one of two must-have phone books -- atop your fridge feels like an expired rite of passage. I mean, what a great means of advertising. What a great way to thumb through your business- and home-need source availability. I thought the Yellow Pages rocked, and feel a little sad that that publication became obsolete.

Six Hundred Forty-Four: the phone book

      Yeah. Another phone-book entry. Wanna fight about it?

      I liked the phone book, especially when they came out with the tabbed back section that also had businesses making the Yellow Pages a little less valuable, but still a necessity.

      Remember that process, though?

      You needed someone’s number and you went to the phone book. You thumbed through the last-name spelling of the person, and most every time -- boom -- there they were, and you called them.

      Remember, though, what it felt like to get to the spot in the phone book where your person should be and they just weren’t there? This gave you two options to ponder: a) The phone-book people erred, which…how embarrassing. Ya’ can’t hide that; or b) That person didn’t actually have a phone, which pretty much meant they were homeless.

      Horrible feeling. Hated to think of that person sleeping under a bridge, but of greater importance: I’m trying to call you, you asshole! Get a job!

Six Hundred Forty-Three: hammocks

      I feel like life has gotten too busy for anyone to enjoy a hammock anymore, but one of these days, I’m gonna get my old uncomfortable bastard out of my camp box. I’m’a string it up between two trees, and I’m gonna a) not be that comfortable once I’m in it, and b) think of three things I need to do once I get situated.

      I should probably just buy one of those suburban, pole-mounted backyard jobs and look at it out my kitchen window, getting weathered and going unused.

      Seriously, though.

      I feel like if your neighbor saw you laying in a hammock on a comfy summer day in 2015, the first thing they’d do is make a mental list of the things you’re not working on around your house.

      Look at that lazy bastard, what with his gutter falling off that corner for the last 19 months.

      I do like hammocks, though. If I didn’t have grass to cut and kids to entertain and dog shit to scoop, I’d totally pass out and spill a beer all over myself in one and not even care.

Six Hundred Forty-Two: the late Bill Spink

      We found out last month that a long-time friend of my dad’s died. I don’t know much about Bill’s life over the course of the second half of mine, but I know that in their youth he and my father considered one another close pals. I always thought -- as a kid -- of the Spinks as a cool family. In addition to their fly last name, I thought of Mary Lou as a sweetheart, their son Jeff as a pretty rad dude, their daughter Christine beautiful and witty, and Bill as the ringleader. He always seemed to have a keen eye for a party’s life. Their house felt like it had that place-to-be atmosphere, and our sets of parents had that inseparable-for-life vibe between them.

      So many things changed not long after those impressions formed, but I still dug Bill. By 2000 I’d all but lost track of him, save for knowing he’d had some health issues. I think he attended my father’s services and presume he had a pallbearer role. Bill sought us out on our wedding night and made it a point to offer his blessing and say a kind word about my dad’s absence. I know his ex-wife never forgave him for the troubles they had in their married life together, and have often heard of her claims to hate him. I hope with his passing that Mary Lou finds a way to forgive, and I’m grateful that I knew Bill as both a dude that seemed pretty cool, and a guy that always considered my dad his friend.

Six Hundred Forty-One: Dr. Jeff Waters

      This dude graduated high school with my dad and Bill Spink and has practiced at Pediatric Associates for longer than I’ve been alive. Tiffany and I saw his partner, while Megan and Jessica had their files in Dr. Waters’ office. Elaine worked as a nurse for him for most of a decade, and my wife and her sister also grew up under his medical care. We find it neat that he sees our children now, and his tableside manner never ceases to amaze. As anyone in his profession should, he exudes a genuine care for children. He appears as up to date as a professional could be, and he gives great advice. We call ourselves lucky to have him as a practitioner, regardless of the level of understatement.

Six Hundred Forty: T.J. “Sochi”

      If you don’t remember February 15, 2014, you should look online and find yourself a way to watch the United States/Russia Olympic hockey game that went to overtime and featured T.J. Oshie’s shootout magic. It. Was. Glorious.

Six Hundred Thirty-Nine: unnamed friend #23

      This guy.

      Legend in his own mind, I tell ya’.

     We met in the service industry and he still makes his keep in it.

     Because this is the case -- and for a variety of other reasons -- he can come across as a tender-hearted know-it-all, and to his credit he does know a lot.

     He has a gift of description, a way of painting summarized pictures with pinpoint analogies and snippets of editorialization.

     This big lug has managed to grace countless establishments with his presence. Every time a clock lucky enough to have him punch in on it blushes when he enters the room. Guests abuse and adore him. Co-workers chide and cherish him. His wife loves him and his kids respect him.

     I have no idea how -- at his age -- he still manages to function in the lifestyle he lives. I wish I had more time to spend next to him, bellied up for a couple of cold ones. Unnamed friend number 23 possesses an admirable collection of well-rounded intelligence, a sense of humor to make most envious, and a day-to-day gusto like few I’ve encountered.

     I’m glad I met unnamed friend number 23 and am lucky to have befriended him.

Six Hundred Thirty-Eight: Last of the Mohicans

      Disclaimer: I’ve never read the book. I imagine it a fine read, but my interest here refers to Michael Mann’s directorship and production talents.

      I have always loved this film. It will always rank high on my favorites list. Since the first time I viewed it, I found myself infatuated with the history, politics, romance, struggle, and culture in it. I doubt I will ever tire of watching it. Incredible acting. Gorgeous score. Epic Native-American lore. This movie touched my spirituality and colored my soul.

Six Hundred Thirty-Seven: Medeski Martin & Wood

      I fell in deep with these guys for a minute in college. They predated Benevento/Russo Duo and pushed music off of the map as we knew it in the 1990s. I discovered It’s a Jungle in Here first and I still find the occasional piece of my exploded mind on the sidewalk. Friday Afternoon in the Universe didn’t touch its predecessor, but they still put some damn fine music on it. I had to backstep next and get familiar with Notes from the Underground, their debut. I loved it less than the other two, but deemed it prolific, myself enlightened for getting to know it.

      Shack-man came out right around the time I began to consider myself an MMW expert, and for a spell, all four studio albums could be heard -- on shuffle -- from the living room I shared with unnamed friend number 11.

      These guys are *it*, I thought. They’ve got a blossoming scene and we’ll be fans for life.

      I couldn’t wrap my head around Farmer’s Reserve when it dropped in 1997 and I still can’t now. When they followed it up with Combustication, however, I thought the world might rupture. That album kicks so much ass they should have an anti-bullying campaign devoted to its existence. I still can’t believe we didn’t ruin our copy via overplay.

      I’ve gotten ahead of myself because I skipped A Go Go, an incredible record they put out featuring John Scofield. It had such good grooves that I couldn’t decide if I’d support or protest the trio if they made the guitarist a permanent member.

      Two things happened next: I moved and I fell out of touch with their production. I’ve got a number of the records they’ve put out in the last 15 years, but they -- as an outfit -- swam to the deep end of the experimentation pool and I can’t seem to tread water for that long. The shake I’ve given their stuff hasn’t been fair, but I have a pretty good feel for most of what they’ve done, and it’s not like I expected them to not evolve, but I anticipated the ability to comprehend the language(s) they’d learn to speak.

      Last year they put out their third record with John Scofield and I bought it a few weeks back. I dig it. I may one day dig everything they’ve done. For now, though, I give thanks for the amazing music they wrote in the ‘90s. They had the contagious fire. I consider myself lucky to have been burnt.

Six Hundred Thirty-Six: Sebastian Hartley

      This guy managed at Steamworks and he rocked. I’ve worked with some great front-of-the-house managers in my day, but he might have had the best balance of game face and comedy I’ve ever seen a manger display. I didn’t have the honor of opening Steamworks but I did get to work with “Seb,’” and I did get lucky enough to work a buttload of weekend nights with him for a couple of years before he left to give Animas City Rock a whirl.

“Jesus, Poopsie,” he’d say when he saw my face. “You been installing insulation all day?”

Great dude. Always made me laugh when I needed it, and back then I needed it often.

Six Hundred Thirty-Five: jamming

      I went to San Diego to attend a Chiefs/Chargers game with unnamed friend number one. The game fell on one of the first Sundays after 9/11, so airport security that weekend could be called nothing shy of bananas. At the time, my buddy had an in-home studio and recorded music on the reg’. He played in a band and wanted to make a career of the whole thing, but…another story for another time.

      That Saturday, he talked me in to trying to record something. I played guitar and he manned the base. He forced me to invent a riff. With reluctance I came up with one; he wrote his own that created a melody. He pushed me to continue playing my riff, regardless of monotony, then urged me to begin tweaking it on the fly.

     I conceded.

     We extended this exercise for upwards of half an hour -- maybe 45 minutes -- and he recorded the whole thing, later adding effects and a loop. I hadn’t done that before and I haven’t done it since, but I can say that I have jammed. I have engaged in jamming. I felt good. It felt cool. And I really dug it.

Six Hundred Thirty-Four: Blue Note Records

      While in college and doing the radio-show thing, I discovered this label and fell in love with it.

      Actually, I’m not so sure that’s accurate. Maybe I developed an instant admiration for it.

      Yeah. That’s more like it. Admiration with a dash of intimidation.

      Without looking it up or being told, I realized that the Blue Note label must have put out hundreds of records, all of the finest quality, and neither the time nor the due diligence existed in my life to dive into it in the fashion I desired.

      Now that I have looked, I know that the label’s archives run deep, an unfamiliar forest in the night. I’m intrigued, too. I want to wander in it, discover strangeness and beauty, embrace the fog and the moon without fear.

      I’m not interested in being a jazz head. I don’t wanna be one of those guys that only listens to jazz and forces his uninterested friends to listen to the peculiar time signatures of an Art Blakey riff. I just wanna dig it, man, and know it, its sounds all up in my dome like Dean Moriarty and Sal Paradise.

      I own a few. Maybe four or five records. I’ll add to it one day. Maybe in retirement.

Six Hundred Thirty-Three: my stolen “Y” mirror

      So much happened in my three-month stay at the YMCA of the Rockies in Estes Park that those June-August events reside as somewhat of a blur in my memory’s archives. The stimulation of new people -- many of them attractive -- living all around you, the mountains, the being away from home, the fresh air, the partying all rang out like a summer-long chorus. I loved our room, which bunk I had, our music, our bathroom, our closets and window. I loved everything about it, especially the mirror above our sink.

      I loved it so much that I stole it and spent 10 years adorning it with stickers. I have felt guilty looking at it for two decades now. While not as often as I saw it that summer, I still see it every day, and it haunts me a touch, but I still love it.



      How does one reconcile a gratitude born from a crime?

      I’ll let you know if I come up with an answer.

Six Hundred Thirty-Two: our next-door neighbors

      Weird story here.

      A young couple lived to our west. They’re sweet and nice and funny and at first we hoped that we’d all become friends. Dave and I hit it off right away because we both love hockey. I mean, he’s a Blackhawks fan, so I also have to hate him, but we also both play. We chatted here and there about it, but for the most part they kept to themselves.

      About a year went by and we still knew them about as well as we did when we moved in, and I began encouraging Dave to consider playing with my team. He came out and skated with us a few times, making verbal commitments to join, but life kept getting in the way. He traveled a ton and we kept accidental tabs on one another in passing, but for the most part they kept to themselves.

      I left my house pushing my infant son in the stroller last March, the neighborhood St. Patrick’s Day parade my destination. They stepped out at the same time, so we made the 15-minute stroll together. We visited upon arrival and they met a few of my family members. We talked a touch more about hockey, but for the most part, even after that afternoon, Dave and Anna kept to themselves.

      At some point I learned that Dave and Anna never wanted children. It was a thing, a check on the list of compared commonalities, a strengthening steel in their love for one another. Dave also shared with me that they are “probably the least religious people you’ll ever meet,” a phrase I have twice heard him repeat. I knew that his job sucked and caused household strife because of his extensive travel. I offered to help make connections but drug my feet in doing so. I gifted them some reward steaks one evening and we began keeping a casual eye on one another’s home. We talked about grilling out and drinking a beer, but by and by Dave and Anna kept to themselves.

      Last summer Dave joined my hockey team and we have carpooled to almost every game since. We got to know one another, learned about each other’s families and spouse’s families. We talked about work and friends and vacations and vented to one another when we’d bickered with our wives. We talked hockey (both NHL and our rec’-league squad) and music and even enjoyed a cold beer in the locker room after each game. Each week I reported to my wife, and the fact that they didn’t want kids seemed to be a reason why we would never become friends. That and the fact that they kept -- be it summer, spring, winter, or fall -- to themselves.

      Dave landed a new gig and it seemed promising. Great compensation, next to no travel, their household stress dissipated. Not long after we loaded gear into the back of my Subaru and he dropped the bomb on me: They’d gotten pregnant while vacationing in Mexico, and I knew -- months before they did -- that they were goners. We offered them baby gear, clothes, and invited them to hang out, but keeping to their tendencies, Dave and Anna kept to themselves.

      Dave stayed with the team for the winter session, and our hockey drives helped develop our relationship now more than ever. We talked about fatherhood and home life and work. We almost, one might surmise, became friends.

     Like my wife Anna, Dave’s wife Anna went in for a late-pregnancy checkup to discover she’d developed Preeclampsia. The solution identical -- get that baby out -- they had an emergency Caesarian delivery, their daughter born on the same day of the year as ours. They came home after a week or so of having their preemie in the Neo-Natal Intensive Care Unit and tried -- as most new parents do -- to settle back in to their home life. We touched base via text, offered to run errands for them, and in the end took them a meal, but now, with a tiny baby at home, Dave and Anna morphed into male and female Boo Radleys, keeping now more than ever to themselves.

      Five weeks ago on the way to our game, Dave told me that they’d been house shopping the previous weekend and found three properties they liked. All three would make them north-of-the-river residents, put them closer to her parents, and alleviate their future school woes. By and large, if you live in the Kansas City metro, you send your kids to private school or you move. It’s not the quote/unquote right thing, but with the Kansas City, Missouri public school district in the shape it’s been in for years now, it’s the done thing.

      Dave and Anna loved at least one of the three properties and prepared themselves for the next step, only to hear of the sale of each of them in less than 24 hours from listing time. A week later, on the way to hockey, Dave told me about this real-estate company they’d hired. They’d worked like maniacs to ready their home and planned to list it “ridiculously high.”

      “We don’t need to move,” he said, “so we’re not going to budge. We’ll get our asking price or we won’t sell.”

      Their agent advised them not to look. He suggested their hopes would only be dashed as a purchase would be contingent upon the sale of their home. On our way to hockey three weeks ago Dave told me it would list first thing Thursday morning. I gathered my work belongings the next morning and saw Anna drive away, assuming -- since she had seldom left the house since their daughter was born -- she must be headed north to her parents, an effort to vacate the house for a showing.

      As I left for work, the potential buyers arrived. In my rearview I could tell they were a couple, and she seemed elated. I had a funny feeling about the whole thing.

      A few hours later, Dave texted me: That couple had agreed to their asking price in cash.

      According to Dave, “Anna freaked out and went to stay with her parents.” Dave had to leave town on a work trip, and asked me to look after the place. I brought in their recycling bin, got the spare key, turned off most of the lights, set the alarm and locked up Thursday night. The following morning I disarmed the alarm so the buyers could complete a Radon test.

      Dave has expressed extensive gratitude and apology over the course of those 36 hours, saying in one message, “I’m sorry we’re terrible neighbors.”

      I don’t think he really thinks that and certainly hope he doesn’t think we do.

      We’re guilty of getting excited about the idea of being friends with our next-door neighbors, but such a thing cannot be forced. I’m grateful for having them for two and-a-half years. We’ll miss them once they’re gone and we wish them happiness in the northland. I hope that they share in all the amazing joys of and recognize the value within the challenges of raising a child. I hope the school system up north reveals to hold more value than even their online research suggests it does. I hope they find their new neighborhood as warm and welcoming (occasional crime sprees, notwithstanding) as their old, and I hope they choose a home between good neighbors, even if, in the end, they prefer to keep to themselves.

      (Update: Dave and Anna have been gone for 10 days and it still feels weird.)

Six Hundred Thirty-One: our possible new neighbors

      At some point last summer construction started on this vacant neighborhood gas station. Being in the business of selling groceries and products to operators, I snooped around and got a name off of the coming-soon sign then looked it up online. The owners -- a wife and husband -- plan to open a bakery. All of their scratch items will be produced from locally sourced goods. They projected an early-fall open date, but suggested that in the meantime you see them at the neighborhood farmer’s market on Saturdays.

      I hit them with an e-mail message, feeling confident I’d been the first annoying salesman to reach out. If nothing else, I had the early-bird cap feather, even if I didn’t. I never got a response, so -- at my awesome wife’s suggestion -- we loaded up the kids in a stroller one Saturday and walked up there. As we approached their booth, Anna peeled off with the kids and went in a different direction. I introduced myself, mentioned I’d e-mailed, and bought a scone and a muffin. The husband seemed friendly and welcoming; his wife tended to other customers.

      I waited another month or so and shot them another e-mail message and still got no response. As early fall bled into winter, I could tell their opening date remained in the distance, so I left them alone.

      One recent Friday I ventured in to a shop across the street from the soon-to-be bakery. This shop had reached out to my company and I got put in touch with them. We met and looked at several options. I did some research and in the end they were better off going the independent-sourcing route, but I developed a relationship with the husband-and-wife team. We’d attended their grand opening, purchased a membership, and from time to time, I pop in and visit with her at the store. While there, I noticed that the bakery husband-and-wife team had developed a relationship with the shop husband-and-wife team and, until their doors opened, some of the baked goods would be peddled in the store.

      I mentioned my lack of success to the store wife and asked her to put in a good word for me. She said she would and invited Anna and I to their holiday party at the store. When we went, I inquired about the good word.

      “He doesn’t want one of your trucks parked in front of his bakery,” she said.

      Even though I got it, I still found myself befuddled. You can’t advertise with pride about your operation sourced with 100 percent local products and have a broadline-distributor’s rig “seen” in your parking lot.
      “I don’t know what he thinks he’s going to do for paper goods,” she said.

      I waited for a week or two and when their December opening became January I observed some real progress on the property and decided to send them one final e-mail message.

      In it I mentioned that I’d heard about the truck thing and that I understood. I indicated that I -- upon the conclusion of this message -- would cease further outreach, but offered -- were they interested -- my assistance in a marketing endeavor. I shared my excitement about the operation and indicated I would frequent as a customer. A couple of days later I got a response.

      The husband indicated that my company didn’t fit the business model of his. He wished me and my family a happy holiday and said he’d consider taking me up on the marketing endeavor (a post on this very blog).

      In my text exchange with neighbor Dave on the Thursday they’d received a cash offer on their home, he indicated that the buyers that matched their asking price were a couple.

      “I think they own that bakery that is opening on (the corner),” he said.

      I don’t know what to call that stuff. I’ve talked about synchronicity a bunch in this series and it could be that it’s more of that. This feels a little different, though. Maybe it’s irony. I’m not sure. Either way, it’s a human-experience element for which I am thankful. Like Forrest Gump said, “Life is like a box of chocolates; you never know what you’re gonna get.”

      (Update: The bakery husband and wife in fact purchased the house next to ours and, as one might expect, they have kept to themselves, busy with the activity of new home ownership and a pending grand-opening date for their business.)

Six Hundred Thirty: unnamed friend #24

      I met this cat in Estes Park. I’m not sure if he associated himself with the pack of Iowa drifters that floated in and out of town, but he hung with them, operating at his own pace and with his own interests, and kinda/sorta because of them I got to know him.

      Actually, that’s not true. It started because of this place called Polly’s Pizza.

      When my summer at the Y approached its end I lived in my truck at Mary’s Lake until it got too cold. I then learned that if you asked for the manager at McDonald’s, he could rent you a room by the week at Mary’s Lake Lodge, which I did. I then learned that this cabin in Glen Haven needed a roommate, which it did. This New Jersey girl named Liane told me about it. She planned to spend a month in Hawaii so somebody could rent her room. Turned out they needed to fill two vacant rooms; I took one and my buddy from K.C. took the other. After a month my buddy from K.C. went back home for the winter and, after a while, Liane returned from Hawaii.

      When my buddy from K.C. went back to K.C. we needed to fill that room as Liane’s return date lingered in the air of the uncertain, so we rented it to another buddy of mine from K.C. He got all of his stuff arranged in there and slept for a night. The following evening, around 8:30, Liane came through the front door. Generous guy that I was, I offered to share my bed with her. I mean, I’m generous, but not sleep-on-the-floor-and-eliminate-the-possibility-of-getting-some-action generous. Her response astonished me.

      “Okay,” she said. Liane never did much in the way of masking her feelings and her annoyance became clear the minute she discovered we’d rented her room. She got it, she said. Nobody had the cash to front her portion of the rent, and she didn’t return by the indicated date. There had been, I believe, jokes to the degree of her not returning if she found some boy on the beach, and she had altered her return date for the purposes of extending her stay, but she returned home to find her space occupied.

      I retired just after her that evening and rolled the dice with a spoon, a gamble she accepted.

      “Don’t get excited inside of me,” she said.

      A month of sex and hiking and adventure ensued. One Saturday afternoon she drove us to Boulder in her Camry. We shopped and ate Indian food.

      “I can’t believe you’ve never had Indian food,” she said. “I’m going to teach you about ethnic cuisine.”

      When I returned to Glen Haven after Christmas in Kansas City, I walked through the front door to discover her sitting on the couch next to some dude with green hair. My other K.C. buddy had -- by then -- also moved home and Liane had regained her original room. Like her return from Hawaii, I came home to discover something I’d called my own now occupied by someone else. I couldn’t believe it. I couldn’t believe I’d been replaced with such simplicity, by some green-haired idiot.

      Upon her return from Hawaii Liane had gotten her old job back delivering pizzas for Polly, a curious lesbian-seeming gal that let me fill in on occasions in which her operation wound up short a driver. While in Kansas City, Liane had engaged with the green-haired moron, and when I retreated to my room confused and hurt, she offered a quiet knock then closed the door behind her.

      “I’m sorry,” she said. “I don’t know what else to say. It wasn’t going anywhere and I was lonely.”

      I felt foolish, filthy, and used, and in a matter of two weeks the green-haired boob vanished and Liane began appearing around the house with unnamed friend number 24. I liked this guy. A hippie like myself, he owned a gorgeous Volkswagen bus and, of little surprise, used it to deliver pies for Polly. Liane moved out and in with unnamed friend number 24. We once had a conversation about the Jersey girl and in not so many words he told me that it was what it was, that it was his turn, that things were going well. I liked them together. They worked. For a spell. In time Liane returned to New Jersey and I never again saw either one of them.

      We’re Facebook friends now, though, he and I. His love for VW buses has become an obsession and he operates some kind of massage business in Arizona. Unnamed friend number 24 is the kind of dude I consider genuine; he’s a friendship that got away before it could be. I’m grateful I met him, regardless of circumstances. He’s got a kind personality, an old soul, and big heart. It’s too bad our lives took us in different directions because we’d probably be pretty tight today. Unless he had green hair, of course.

Six Hundred Twenty-Nine: Laurie from Florida

      One day while flipping burgers at Penelope’s, this woman came in and asked if I knew where one could rent a room.

     “I’m Laurie,” she said. She looked at me in this way that intrigued me. I found her attractive. She was older, but attractive. “I just moved here from Florida,” she said.

     I mentioned my deal at Mary’s Lake Lodge and a few days later I stood outside my room smoking a cigarette. An interesting old car -- I think it was a ’72 Karmann Ghia -- pulled into the parking lot. A woman got out and began unloading her belongings from it. I recognized her from above and walked down to the lot to discover it was Laurie. She’d obviously seen the manager at McDonald’s. I asked if she needed any help. She looked at me in that intriguing way she’d done at the Penelope’s counter.

     “Maybe later you can show me where the laundry room is,” she said.

     I ran some errands in town and later I showered and took my pipe and some weed down to her room. I showed her the laundry room, which was totally not code for anything. I sat on her bed while she folded her clothes and we got high.

     “I have two kids,” she said. “I had them young and gave them up for adoption and they reached out to me a few months ago. We’re getting to know one another,” she said. She wiped a tear from her cheek and told me how amazing her children were, what a trip it was to meet them just before she turned 37.

     After a while I went in for a kiss. She let me kiss for a second then pushed me down on her bed and climbed on top of me. She undid my pants first then hers. Every time I tried to kiss her she turned away. I tried to put my hands under her sweater to feel her breasts. She clutched my wrists and threw my arms back. She directed every detail to engage coitus and once achieved Laurie began what I can only call Kegel exercises.

     Every aspect of this interaction had confused my 19-year-old self, but when she started this I knew that it would bring me to instant orgasm. I placed my hands on her hips to slow her. She batted them off and used her hands to pin my arms to the bed. She leaned over me, now with a look of intention on her face. I didn’t time the encounter, but if it lasted longer than 30 seconds I’d be surprised. Once evident that the extent of my role had been exhausted, she climbed off of me, fastened her pants and resumed folding laundry. Embarrassed, I tried to make conversation.

     “I’m pretty tired,” she said. “I’ll probably turn in soon.

     I had the following day off as well and when I returned to Penelope’s, my coworkers teased me.

     “Someone came in to see you, dude,” they said. “A lady. You been hanging out with that lady that was looking for a room?”

     “No,” I said, any feeling of an older-woman conquest silenced by the awkwardness of my quote/unquote performance. “Don’t be ridiculous.”

     “Really?” One of them pushed the issue. “You haven’t been hanging out with her?”

      "What’s up with the 20 questions?”

     “’Cause she came in yesterday,” the other said. “She wanted to give this back to you.” One of the guys produced my pipe while the other one snickered. “She said you left it at her place.” Blushing, I snatched the thing.

     “Jesus,” I said.

     I saw Laurie’s car in the lodge lot from time to time but I moved to Glen Haven the next month, thinking of her from time to time. Then one day she rolled in to Penelope’s again and the conversation amongst the three of us halted, leaving the bubbling of the fryer and sizzle of patties on the flattop the only things audible.

     “Hey,” she said.

     “Hi,” I said.

     “I got a job cooking at the Stanley and they gave me a room.”

     “Nice,” I said.

     “It’s room 34. Can you come over tonight?”

     “Yeah,” I said as my reddening face heated.

     “Great,” she said. “Just come over when you get off.” I watched her walk toward the door and as it shut behind her my two comrades erupted.

     “Ohhh!” They howled and approached me with shoulder nudges and high-five invites. I begrudged acceptance.

     That night in her room, we smoked a little and talked about her new job. After several moments, she advanced, beginning to disrobe the both of us in the same fashion as before, my efforts to kiss and touch boobs met with Mr. Miyagi-like reflexes. Seconds before she again engaged in coitus, she placed her face in front of mine and planted a brief kiss on my lips then moved her mouth toward my ear. As my brain identified the smell of coffee on her breath, she whispered.

     “I want you to be inside of me for longer tonight,” she said. In that instant she commenced the same exercises. I tried to free myself from her grasp, to prevent the flexing of those muscles, to wrangle for any kind of positioning, but I could do nothing. The same results were produced and a few moments after a still silence she looked at me.

     “I have to work early and I’d probably get in trouble if they caught you sleeping here,” she said.

     I drove to Glen Haven in silence, more confused than the first time, and never saw Laurie from Florida again.

     I don’t know why she came to Estes Park, Colorado, and I don’t know why or when she left. I never learned her last name and I’m not even certain I’m correct in the spelling of her first. Right or wrong I imagine she had some sort of intention or maybe she just needed to get away. I’ve never grasped the meaning of my role in her stay, or if there ever was one. Maybe she needed the smallest doses of companionship or intimacy or both. I hope she didn’t want a second chance at parenthood but if I served a purpose in getting her to the next stage of her life then I’m grateful I helped.

     I do, however, have to remind my wife every now and again of the possibility of someone reaching out to me and claiming me as their father.

     Jinkies.

Six Hundred Twenty-Eight: white-Jeep Sarah from Boulder and my Baked in Telluride shirt

      In my summer-session Spanish class with Lourdes Carrasco, I met a bunch of cool people. One was this dude named Allan. A second was this cute brunette whose name escapes me, and a third was Sarah from Boulder, who for some reason we called Sylvia. Sylvia was always chewing gum. Near the end of the five-week session a small group of them started getting together and drinking wine; they invited me but I always had to work.

      “Can’t you get off early?” The cute brunette asked one day after class.

      By choice, I never got off early. That was always Andy Pease’s gig, as he wanted to start drinking early. I always needed the hours. This night, I leveled with Andy. He was pissed and laid heavy guilt on me. Sweeping and mopping were above him.

      I got out of there, though, and booked it up to the house. They’d been drinking wine and were ready to go out. Allan was there as was Sylvia (chewing gum) and the cute brunette. The night wound up in drunken debauchery and instead of hooking up with the cute brunette, I had sex with Sylvia on some out-of-town roommate’s bed. I’d never considered her because she was out-of-my-league hot. In my mind, even the cute brunette would’ve been a reach. During our encounter, Sylvia seemed detached, like some unwritten, unspoken pressure within her suggested that she had to get naked with me.

      In the morning, I lifted the covers, amazed that this gorgeous, rockin’-body girl laid next to me, our clothes in a pile on the floor. Such a sight encouraged me to attempt a morning round, which she quickly denied with a giggle. I’m pretty sure she was still chewing her gum from the night before.

      A week or so later I asked Sarah -- I’d had enough with the silly, fake-name stuff -- out on a date. We went out for a nice dinner I could totally not afford. Conversation was a struggle. She just seemed disengaged, not in tune with herself, all of her energy committed to the piece of gum in her mouth. When it came time to order, Sarah selected the rinkiest, dinkiest option on the menu. When it came, she discarded her gum and pushed most of her meal around with her fork, ate a few bites, then went to the restroom. When she returned she was chewing gum again.

      We went to a movie, and back at my place engaged in intimacy. By “engaged in intimacy,” I mean Pepe Le Pew here tried to work his magic with a lifeless Sylvia who laid there naked in the dark showing no signs of arousal. I’m pretty sure I had to ask her to spit out her gum so we could kiss. As we went to sleep I loaned her my gray, long-sleeved Baked in Telluride shirt, and suffice it to say that I was (and still sort of am) particular about my long-sleeved shirts. I bought only the coolest, had very few, and nobody was going to steal them from me. Except my sister Tiffany, who stole them like it was her job.

      After that I’d call her and she would be “busy.” After three or four shutdowns, she told me she was going to Boulder for the weekend. I didn’t understand her family. They lived in Durango but they lived in Boulder, too. I think her folks were in the midst of a divorce.

      “Listen,” I said. “I see where this is not headed, and I don’t understand why, but you’ve made up your mind. You don’t want to talk about it? Fine. You’ve made that clear, Sarah, but I must have my Baked in Telluride shirt back.”

      “Okay,” she said.

      I was outside when she pulled up in her white Jeep, a vehicle so nice it all but screamed My parents have tons of money and provide me with everything I have. She got out and acted friendly. She smiled and chewed her gum, handed me my shirt, hugged me and gave me a little kiss on the cheek. I asked if she had time for a quick romp. She giggled, ran her hands threw her hair and blew one of those tiny chewing-gum bubbles.

      “Well,” she said. “I gotta hit the road.”

      “Okay,” I said. “See ya’ around.”

      She smiled and hopped off my porch. From inside her white Jeep she waved, put on her sunglasses, and drove away. I never saw her again.

      I’m grateful for three things from that fling: 1) Hooking up with Sarah/Sylvia gave me a confidence boost that hot girls could be into me, too, but it also served as a lesson from the book of skin-deep beauty; 2) I once broached the subject of eating disorders with Sarah and it made her uncomfortable, but she didn’t ignore it and we didn’t argue. Maybe it helped her; 3) I got that shirt back and wore it -- like the rest of my longed-sleeve t-shirts -- until it had so many holes that I could no longer put it on without ripping it. I loved that shirt. It may have been my all-time fave. On a side note: The Telluride bakery burned down in 2009, but I understand it’s up and running again, which means I’ll have to get another shirt next time I’m in town.

Six Hundred Twenty-Seven: nachos with Charlie Liebrandt and Joe Beckwith

      For a stretch of the 1980s, my dad lived behind Johnson County Community College. He had three jobs, and at one of them he tended bar at a nearby pub. He called his wife one Saturday morning and told her to have me get up there on my skateboard. When I arrived he introduced me to Royals pitchers Charlie Liebrandt and Joe Beckwith who sat at the bar. They autographed some photos, ordered nachos and shared them with me. End of story.

Six Hundred Twenty-Six: jumpstarting a car with Tommy Lee Jones

      One Saturday afternoon I walked out of the Safeway in Estes Park, Colorado and the woman parked next to me had a dead battery in her car. A guy stood there talking to her and as we began to work together to help her get her car started, it occurred to me that the guy was Tommy Lee Jones. I had the cables (Note: Thanks, Dad.), and he knew what to do with them. So that was pretty cool.