Monday, May 11, 2015

One Thousand Gratitudes, Part XVIII: 575-551

This has become tough.

Making the time, channeling the motivation, trying to find a pace, doing my best to avoid repetition.

This series has also posed the challenge of finding the appropriate mix of sincerity and humor. I don't ever want to take any of life's gifts for granted, but I want the writing to remain entertaining. To that note, I can only hope it has been.

Alas, the midway point flirts with visibility. This -- along with life itself, of course -- should propel the thing's energy, but the choppy waves ahead loom with threats of feigned originality, the whole bit of progress to be created anew.

I won't fail for trying. That I know.


Five Hundred Seventy-Five: the Toccos

      Gayla and Sal lived in Rob Haas’ house before it was Rob Haas’ house. My sister and I babysat for Lenny and Janey, both cute kids and -- like Bo and Allison -- easy to watch. The Toccos were sweet neighbors. Sal was kind enough to pay me to cut his grass from time to time, and, well, I’m glad they lived there.

Five Hundred Seventy-Four: Trey Anastasio

      Phish’s frontman holds an idol status in my book. His talent, work ethic, creativity, sense of humor, and dedication have been the band’s glue for three decades. His accomplishments have provided me with an abundance of joy, countless smiles, and a source of inspiration to stick with my passion. For him I have immeasurable gratitude.

Five Hundred Seventy-Three: H.O.R.D.E. Festival

      Blues Traveler lead personality John Popper put the idea for the Horizons of Rock Developing Everywhere Festival in the early 1990s and the thing helped rebirth the jam genre. With the likes of Phish, Widespread Panic, Freddy Jones, God Street Wine, Big Head Todd, The Samples, the Aquarium Rescue Unit, and countless others, the summer concert scene exploded, fostering a new wave for music. I never attended one of these shows, but I became a fan of many of the outfits that participated in it or were begotten because of it. The H.O.R.D.E. festival shaped the music fan I am today, and for that I give thanks.

Five Hundred Seventy-Two: my 1995 stay in Hillsboro

      On a whim one morning I peaced out on the pewter-casting-studio job and hopped in a dude’s Volkswagen bus. Oregon, our destination, offered a change of scenery and employment on Pete’s farm. I didn’t know Pete. I didn’t know if I’d be welcome, but I took the proverbial leap of faith and loaded my dog and my backpack into Jason Dornbusch’s ride. I think I spent most of six weeks up there and the travels remain stories of their own, but the time in Pete’s house was epic. The two dudes -- Dan and Shane -- already staying in the unfinished home welcomed us with open arms. We cooked grilled-cheese sandwiches on camp stoves in the garage, played Super Mario Kart by night, and kicked a hacky sack by evening.

      During the day we’d plant and fertilize evergreen trees on Pete’s property. At the end of the week, Pete would call from Washington D.C., ask for our hours, and wire us cash. Pete piloted planes for a living, so the possibility of him popping in for a visit to inspect our progress always lingered. Often we’d hear Shane -- the contact -- tell us, “Pete’s coming tomorrow” and we’d tidy up the living area and Windex the Birkenstock smudges off of the walls from our hacky sack endeavors.

      Pete seldom came. In fact, I think he only visited once during my stay, but I learned that we were keeping my and Jason’s presence on the property mum at first until Pete’s brother John -- an old Navyman (with actual anchor tattoos on his forearms) who lived up the road -- stopped in to discover us. He saw my dog’s paw prints and alerted Pete, who agreed to allow us to stay, provided the dog and I slept outside. This proved an affable solution for the evening, but when morning came, I unzipped my tent on the porch and let McConnell out who beelined to John’s property, slinked underneath the three-quarters-closed garage door and killed one of John’s chickens.

      John was not happy.

      I made the same mistake again a couple of weeks later and woke to John screaming into my tent roof, another murdered fowl flailing in the grocery-store produce bag he clutched in his fist. This terminated our welcome on the property, and a week or so later the five of us took Dornbusch’s bus south to Eugene, then Ashland, where McConnell and I parted ways with the three boys.

      I left the Hillsboro/Beaverton area with an even greater love for Oregon than I’d had -- based only on map daydreaming -- prior to visiting, and had made two new friends I’d not soon forget. We had a blast on Pete’s property. The spontaneity of my choice to go had freed me from the depressing nature of the pewter studio and I came back to Colorado with a pile of cash. The trip home wasn’t what I’d call fun, but the entire experience was one of the best I ever had.

Five Hundred Seventy-One: seeing Dan and Shane at Red Rocks that summer

      I almost wept watching Dornbusch’s bus pull away from me in Ashland. In fact, I tried to chase it down. Facing the claim -- of hitchhiking halfway across America -- I’d made since leaving Estes Park, I panicked.
      I could only watch, though, as the VW with Iowa plates grew smaller. McConnell and I accepted our fate and, by some miracle, we made it home. Prior to our departure, Dan and I had agreed to meet at the top of Red Rocks Amphitheater during the second evening’s set break of Phish’s two-night stand. When I heard Dan call my name, it was like something out of a movie, and when we embraced it felt surreal.

      “I can’t believe you fucking hitchhiked all the way back!”

      We only had a few moments to catch up, but that engagement still holds the top spot of all of my set-break rendezvous. I haven’t seen Shane and Dan since, but what a moment.

Five Hundred Seventy: The Green Eggs and Ham Festival

      While the H.O.R.D.E. Festival blew up the rock music scene across the country, musicians that called Lawrence, Kansas home needed a festival venue of their own, and Clinton Lake became that home. The whole thing’s a blur, really, but I remember camping and partying and the late Jason Parker doing an all-night, sunglasses-clad Ray Manzarek impression in the front row by the main stage.

      What I think is that Green Eggs and Ham became Omega, which became Wakarusa. I could be wrong, but if that’s the case I’m proud to say that I attended all three incarnations. I haven’t yet made the trip to Arkansas, but still.

      Green Eggs and Ham was where it all began, whatever “it” was, and my buddies and I had a blast there.

Five Hundred Sixty-Nine: Omega

      Omega was -- best us 17-year-olds could tell -- the party of all parties. Our first year in attendance we watched Pearl Jam perform on the hill at the University of Kansas campus, then made our way to the Clinton Lake site that had hosted Green Eggs and Ham the previous year. I seem to remember them calling the area Peetefish Farm, but who knows.

      Anyway, I think Omega was the successor to the unanticipated success of Green Eggs, and they made this the name of the annual event. All of the big Lawrence names were there: The Lonesome Hound Dogs, The Salty Iguanas, The L.A. Ramblers, and many more.

      We hit this gig hard all weekend long for both junior and senior year, and while there were countless memories, I consider myself lucky to be able to recall the following inside-joke highlights:

1)      “I eat beef!”
2)      “Oh, shit: I think my mom’s here.”
3)      “Mind you, a squirrel was telling me this story.”
4)      “Al Access.”
5)      “Dude. Weaver. Your face is seriously purple.”
6)      the short stack
7)      the tip table
8)      the dude that stole my car
9)      Cochran and Baker rolling in on our campsite
10)  Smith’s unlimited cigarette supply

      An amazing pair of weekends, missing out on Omega in subsequent years made it sad that high school had to end.

Five Hundred Sixty-Eight: South Park clip #5: “They took our jobs!”




      America, you did it to yourself.

Five Hundred Sixty-Seven: a pair of Dave Matthews Band albums, some Lilith Fair artists, unnamed friend #7, and the ’98-99 winter above Stonehouse Subs

      When I hooked up with unnamed friend number seven, I wound up spending most every evening of a six-month stretch in her studio apartment above Stonehouse Subs in Durango. The relationship I thought had been the one I’d been waiting for ended in a dumpster fire of sorts, but while it built -- while we gained honeymoon-period momentum -- we spent cozy nights, cuddled in her futon with her six-disc changer setting the audio mood.

      Unnamed friend number seven employed a time-release strategy in whittling our roles in the relationship, often leaving the emotional peaks and valleys resting with the non-traditional gender. That is, she wore the pants and called the shots; I spent significant time wallowing in uncertainty and emotional bankruptcy. While the sex was infrequent, when it was doled out it was pretty good, likely serving as a catalyst to restore balance to the universe of our sensitivities.

      No matter the state of the moment, we would retire, beneath the futon’s covers, cozy in the warmth of the diminutive residence, comforted by DMB albums Crash and Before These Crowded Streets, as well as Paula Cole’s This Fire, Shawn Colvin’s A Few Small Repairs, Laura Love’s Octoroon and Shum Ticky, as well as Sarah McLachlan’s Surfacing, awakened by the smells of baking bread, the sounds of clanging sheet trays and slamming oven doors.

      Reflections upon that winter always leave me feeling weird. I wouldn’t want to revisit any of it, but I’m glad it happened.

Five Hundred Sixty-Six: The Cleaver Family Y

      I touched on this place in my “Bitty Basketball” entry, but this place kicks ass. I’m thankful it’s in our neighborhood. I feel lucky that we have the financial stability to belong to it again. I’m grateful for all of the activities they provide, the cleanliness of the place, and the friendliness of the staff.

Five Hundred Sixty-Five: my wife’s patience and enthusiasm regarding my push to rejoin

      It took several reminders and delicate questions to get my wife to go up to the Y and fork over the money for us to reinstate our memberships. Instead of holding it against me for not going even once for several months after she’d re-registered us, she began going herself and taking the kids with her.

Five Hundred Sixty-Four: my first lift in over four years

      We went to the Y as a family one morning last month. My wife did some class while the kids played at Y Care. I planned to dive head-first into my old workout routine, but the pool was occupied by Water Fitness with Dianne. I could not, then, swim laps, my source of cardio at the gym.

      Four years ago, before our first child was born, I hit the gym after work every Monday Wednesday, and Friday. Each workout was split into 30 minutes of lap swimming and 30 minutes of lifting. One week I’d have the dreaded leg day flanked by two upper-body days; the next week would be the opposite. And yes, I hated the weeks with two leg days in them. Very much. I went with consistency, though, and then our daughter was born and I resumed my easily winded, pudgy state of existence in no time.

      Before our son was born last fall, I started hitting the pool again, swimming in the wee hours of the morning before work. This mostly served the purpose of knowing I would get restless legs sitting in a training room eight hours a day for five weeks and trying to combat it before it happened, but I also did want to get back into a regular-workout routine. Not only did that not happen, but I didn’t even keep up with the swimming, and there I was, back at the gym for my first swim in 18 months and the first lift in over four years.

      As I mentioned, though, lap swimming was not an option, so I lifted the entire time. I would have been sore the following day either way, but now I was really sore, and I was thankful for that.

      Sort of.

Five Hundred Sixty-Three: driving past 9:00 a.m. soccer practice on our way home from the gym

      “That’s real parenting right there,” my wife said. “I’m glad we don’t have to do that yet.”

      Me, too, I thought.

Five Hundred Sixty-Two: my 105-minute phone conversation with unnamed friend #5

      A couple of months ago I called my buddy. It’d been too long. I had to know: Were we still friends or was our relationship now -- like so many others -- a thing of the past.

      We caught up. We addressed the issue. We discussed future plans. I felt my throat get dry, my heart rate rise, and -- at least once -- my tear ducts well. It felt good to hear his voice. I’m glad I called. I’m even gladder he answered, and I’m grateful we spoke.

      I have no idea what our relationship will look like moving forward, but my heart felt a little mended when we hung up.

Five Hundred Sixty-One: unnamed friend #25

      This dude moved from his hometown when many of us graduated high school and left ours. He came to Kansas City with an Art Institute scholarship and brought his eccentric, lovable personality with him. I’ve yet to meet someone quite as unique as unnamed friend number 25 and I doubt I ever will. He’s made a home for himself and his children in Olathe. He’s taught and principled, and he remains the most talented visual artist I’ve ever known.

      He discovered diabetes would forever be a part of his life at the Thanksgiving dinner table at age 10. A newspaper once featured him at a young age as a Deadhead, and the spread depicted photographs of his cartoon-riddled road car. I attended my first Phish show with him and stood in front of him at the last Kansas City Phish show.

      “I don’t like this,” he said. “So I think I’m going to take off.”

      And he did.

      I haven’t seen him since.

      He grew up in a home with numerous exotic pets, including a pot-bellied pig. I’ve seen women fist-fight in late-night parking lots over who would take him home. He was once banned from a number of neighborhood bars for unfounded allegations associating him with cocaine distribution. He once lived a life he swore he knew would end before age 40 and justified his lifestyle with a why-bother attitude. He has had ins and outs with his brother, which I think have improved now. He once drew significant neighborhood attention for his second-job tip jar, the proceeds for which went toward an engagement ring for the mother of two of his girls.

      Unnamed friend number 25 loves Abraham Lincoln, unique music, and his family. He once made me a mix tape called “B Sloppy Pants” and played the lead role in a band called Freeball. He’s been on the news for his daughter saving his life by calling 9-1-1 when he’s had an insulin reaction that rendered him all but unresponsive. He’s been robbed at gun point, arrested for fake I.D. possession and wrongfully terminated from a long-time position. He’s kicked more habits than I ever started and has lived more life than I could have ever imagined to even try and live.

      I feel blessed that I got introduced to unnamed friend number 25 over 20 years ago. He’s great people that I wish I saw more often.

Five Hundred Sixty: tour notification

      Phish announced summer tour dates in March. I get those on my phone now, via Twitter. At one point the message came via e-mail, and prior to that -- back in the day -- The Doniac Schvice delivered the news. I get just as giddy now as I did 21 years ago. Call me the candy-store kid.

Five Hundred Fifty-Nine: The Doniac Schvice

      Phish used to mail out a newsletter. It happened quarterly, and sometimes less often than that.



          Those days made for the greatest pieces of mail delivery I have ever experienced. Nothing stopped me and put me in a chair like getting the latest edition of the ol’ Schvice.

Five Hundred Fifty-Eight: the push for the playoffs

      Little percolates my excitement like the late-March push for the NHL post-season. The significance of every night, every shift, and every puck gets magnified as April approaches and it makes an already-amazing product even better.

Five Hundred Fifty-Seven: Hunter S. Thompson

      The man said, Fuck it. I’m doing things my way. And he wrote the heck out of some manuscripts, too.
      I love the way in which the late Thompson appeared to never pull any punches. He acted and wrote from the gut, using wit and intelligence to back up his choices. While we’ll never replicate the godfather of gonzo journalism, broadcasting his ideas and beliefs might produce a larger number of awesome people.

Five Hundred Fifty-Six: hot chicks in sports broadcasting

      The decision to invent positions in sports broadcasting in order to put attractive females on the television teeters on the best/worst-decision fence posts. I do not mean that women journalists should not work in sports broadcasting. In some cases, network decisions to begin hiring females for jobs that were always held by men made the end product less stale, that line of work fairer. In other cases, however, miscellany gigs seemed to manifest themselves, and in doing so, gave the illusion that unattractive females and males need not apply.

      The belief, of course, centers on the idea of the majority-male viewership being given an additional intriguing element within a program they already planned to watch. Ya’ get nice-looking broads at the desk, sexy sideline ladies, and random female employees that appear in commercials, in and around the venues, and on the fields of play. So dumb, yet so smart.

      I’m glad they did it. Well, some of it.

Five Hundred Fifty-Five: random quote #1

      I love American-born hockey players, and Pat LaFontaine has always landed high on my favorites list. In 1981 the Colorado Rockies Hockey Club received a pair of players from the New York Islanders in exchange for Colorado’s first-round pick in the 1983 draft, and on selection day, the Islanders took LaFontaine third overall. Eight years later New York dealt him to Buffalo, where he logged six seasons as a Sabre. LaFontaine wore a New York Ranger sweater in his final NHL season, ending a 15-year Empire State career. He once quipped:

I think I'm the only player in history who has been traded twice and hasn't had to change his license plate.”

Five Hundred Fifty-Four: impromptu acoustic Cornmeal set outside of Wakarusa

      One Saturday evening Anna and I strolled out of the festival grounds for the hike back to our campsite and walked past the (original) members of Cornmeal who stood jamming, against a fence. We stood there watching them for most of 30 minutes as the circle around them (and us) grew. Fans passed the members cold cans of beers and they shredded on bass, fiddle, guitar, washboard, and some kind of drum that was played with a paintbrush-looking sort of thing. I remember feeling blessed and lucky to have come out when we did and catch that entire “set.” Amazing memory.

Five Hundred Fifty-Three: high-school-buddy dinner at the Smiths

      A couple of months ago our friends Sean and Susan got the proverbial band back together and had about a dozen of us over for a coursed meal and an evening of awesomeness, just because it’d been too long since the guys and their wives all gathered. Wonderful evening. Very thankful for it.

Five Hundred Fifty-Two: getting unblocked by John Buccigross on Twitter

      I have opened my social-media mouth when I shouldn’t have more times than I can tally, and once -- because I dissed Ben Folds -- I got blocked by my all-time favorite ESPN correspondent. I accepted the punishment for a year, then e-mailed him, apologizing and asking for forgiveness in the message. He accepted, and for that I am grateful.

Five Hundred Fifty-One: my wife’s friends

      Anna has struggled over the years with the feeling of not having enough friends. This is because people grow apart, because life gets busy, because marriage and kids change everything, because her sister doesn’t live here/because mine that do -- for one reason or another -- seldom attempt to include her in things -- and because a group of once-thought-to-be-tight college buddies turned out to kind of not be.

      In the past couple of years she has developed a couple of networks through both church and family channels and regular outings have stemmed from both. Social functions, book club, Bunko, play dates, etc. have provided her with avenues to obtain a needed recharge, and escape from work and parenting, and as far as I can tell many awesome people exist in these groups. For them, I am thankful. For the opportunity for her to fulfill such a need, I am grateful. And for her to have found something that makes her happy, I, myself, am happy.