Saturday, December 20, 2014

One Thousand Gratitudes, Part I: 1,000-976

            I don’t know much about One Thousand Gifts beyond the glean of a quick Google search and that it was the recent feature in my wife’s book club, but I like the idea. Gratitude has been an idea in my brain for a number of weeks now, and it’s time to strain the wine-soaked onions, the bay leaves, and the peppercorns. It’s time to add some salt to the butter-mounted reduction, and if I’m lucky, squeeze some citrus into it. The plate has been a concept and life has reached the acme of service. I’ve weighed the starches, proteins, and yes -- the veggies -- entered them into the spreadsheet, and clicked ‘save’. Conceptual value determined, presentation awaits garnish, expedition, and delivery.

            So before I conjure any more food metaphors, it must be stated that, while possible to order such a list in some sense of ascending appraisal, I will probably not do so. I imagine this will take enough time on its own, so if I list two-ply toilet paper before the Rocky Mountains, don’t think that I consider comfortable defecation cleanup to be a more precious commodity than rushing runoff through a wildflower field. I’m just not disciplined enough to spend the necessary time to reorder these things once I’ve written them. That said…

One Thousand: heritage

            For at least 15 years I’ve wanted to trace my ancestry. I dabbled in it for a minute, oft hoping to find the Internet loophole to free research, but I’ve never bitten, so I’ll go on what I know. Or what I think I know. My father told me that my blood consists of Irish, German, and Cherokee lineages. In looking over a few documents I obtained, it appears there’s some British as well, which would explain the teeth, I guess. I don’t find the Irish portion of that mix to be superior, but it’s the one with which I’ve identified the most and for the longest time. It’s hard to sort out the emotional and mental pieces of why that’s true, but I think it has to do with finding pleasure in a people that have worked hard and struggled. I also imagine there’s a part of me that seeks family unity and finds a source of it there, buried beneath real and imagined rubble. I can’t really speak for the German (or the British) pieces, but I suppose they lend perspective on being the oppressors of the world. Be it true or not -- I mean, have you met my sister, Tiffany? -- the Cherokee embodies the spiritual me.

Nine Hundred Ninety-Nine: Neil Young

            From the raw power of “Cowgirl in the Sand” to the dark staccato of “Down by the River” to the bold, tear-inducing “Cortez the Killer” the 69-year-old Canadian icon has rocked. He’s rolled with gems like “Old Man,” “Cinnamon Girl,” and “Heart of Gold” and he’s waxed nostalgic with “Out on the Weekend,” “One of These Days,” and “Dreamin’ Man.” Young’s touched the world with “Natural Beauty,” “Alabama,” and “Words (Between the Lines of Ages).” This list, though, is but a scratch of the proverbial surface, as his 39-album studio discography holds more passion and adventure than the Harry Potter and Hunger Games collections combined. Neil Young is one of those artists whose fan base, while huge, remains a mystery in that it does not contain every human being (with access to music) born since the Baby Boomer generation. No sense in allowing the uncontrollable to mess with the obligatory honor associated with having had his music affect me, though. Thank you, Neil Young, for your countless gifts.

Nine Hundred Ninety-Eight: coffee

            In one of my post-college visits to Durango, I brought the wife into the KDUR 91.9 FM facilities so that she could see the spot from which I hosted a three-hour community radio show for three years. Auspicious coincidence afforded us the opportunity to run into then Station Manager Nancy Stoffer. We haven’t spoken since and we spoke little that day, but she remains, nonetheless, one of my favorite people. At the time she’d decided to quit drinking coffee, which astonished me. She didn’t want to have a relationship with it anymore and it had never occurred to me that one could have such a thought. I want to get to that spot. I want my life to exist without feeling as though it needs crutches like alcohol, tobacco, and coffee. I want to get there. I will get there. Until I do, I’m pleased that Joel and Steve Rathje taught me the ways of enjoying the morning mug: with cream and sugar.

Nine Hundred Ninety-Seven: sports

            I can’t not write more about this topic in more specified selections, but for now, sports have taught me a lot about myself. They’ve learned me the ways of frustration, anger, pride, and accomplishment. They’ve been a good lesson in the way of practice, dedication, hard work, as well as embarrassment, shame, misfortune, and disappointment. The last two years have weighed heavy on my mind in all of these ways and more. I shouldn’t feel disdain (even if minimal) about that great Kansas City Royals post-season run (which I did). It’s foolish and shallow to ridicule the sport of soccer and its fans based on nothing more than direct comparison to ice hockey and its following. It’s unhealthy and unfair to let my week (and those in it) be affected by the lack of success achieved by the Kansas City Chiefs. I refuse to believe it, but the truth is that they may never win a Super Bowl in my lifetime. The same applies to the St. Louis Blues and their empty Stanley Cup showcase.

            Even bigger, though, comes the idea that I always assumed that -- if I had kids -- they would play sports, and if I had a boy, he’d play football. I don’t think I want him to anymore. Scholarships, wealth, fame, opportunity, success, and glory do not total a value larger than that of a healthy brain. We can still be fans together, though. I’d love the opportunity to share that passion with him. I might die happy knowing he might regale his son with stories of Chiefs and Blues championships.

Nine Hundred Ninety-Six: butter

            I’ve never milked a cow, let alone churned cream to separate out the fat. I don’t even know if I even want to, although it’d probably be pretty cool to make and eat your own.

            Butter doesn’t make any sense to me. Milk and sugar taste good by themselves, so it makes sense that adding them to other ingredients results in a product superior to the parts from which it was created. Same with chocolate and bacon: they’re delicious as standalones and they enhance the items to which you add them. There’s nothing all that satisfying, however, about knocking back a spoonful of butter. In fact, it borders on displeasure. I’ve yet to discover, though, another food-world staple as breathtaking and amazing as butter. Spread it on your toast? Fantastic. Crisp a tortilla with it? Hard to beat. Mount a sauce, sauté some Brussels sprouts, pulse into flour. Whatever you’re doing with butter should be commended. You’d be hard-pressed to finger another natural byproduct, that, with a little human elbow grease, transforms into a stick of magic. So, thanks, ovine friends and thousands-of-years-ago people. Ya’ done good.

Nine Hundred Ninety-Five: trees

            I’ve climbed them, built in them, used their products, admired their majesty, and yes, even hugged (figurative and literal senses) them. They creeped me out in The Wizard of Oz, took my breath in The Lord of the Rings, made me teary in the Shel Silverstein book, and embodied personification in the Rush song. Above all, they’ve symbolized, in my eyes, the world’s voice. They’re the storytellers of all ages, the shepherds of the wind, the sun, and the moon. We take them for granted a thousand times an hour, maybe more. It’s hard -- maybe even impossible -- to imagine life without them. These regal towers of the planet shower the landscape with perspective and limitless gratuity. The least we could do: be thankful for them.
Nine Hundred Ninety-Four: blankets

            What else is there to say? Blankets are the fucking shit. Especially wool Navajo blankets. And fleece blankets. Not sure I would’ve made it to 40 without them.

Nine Hundred Ninety-Three: my son, Elihu Joseph

            It’s impossible to know if things would’ve been the same had my children been born in reverse order. I imagine they wouldn’t have, but for the sake of this gratitude I’ll assume it to be true. This is a ridiculous sentence to type because I’m only a portion of the way through this journey, but my son has taught me so much about myself that my tongue becomes tied, my eyes swollen when I try to count the ways. He has tested my irritability, highlighted my anger, made my heart flutter, my throat tighten, introduced me to new laughter and fresh joy. All of this he has managed in a mere 14 months. He is the most amazing boy I have ever known. I have not known many human beings for less time than I have known him; he has shown me more about emotion than those I have known the longest have shown me in a lifetime. I don’t know what the reasons are. Maybe God; perhaps karma. Regardless, my wife and I were gifted with two healthy, beautiful children who also happen to be incredible people.

Nine Hundred Ninety-Two: eggs and bacon

            Is it “bacon and eggs” or “eggs and bacon”? Poor egg. Still hasn’t even made it out of the which-came-first debate. Either way, it’s pretty damn amazing that chickens birth eggs and, for whatever reason, we’ve figured out a way to harvest food out of that situation. And pigs? Well, just bless you, you wonderful animal. Think I’ll run to Hardee’s for a hot ham and cheese. Before I digress: As a kid it was eggs and bacon for breakfast, end of story. Not that we didn’t have other things for breakfast, but one of them was eggs and bacon. It would be years before I’d learn of custard or eggs as a part of cake batter. There was no fried-egg hamburger. Hell, people weren’t even putting bacon on their burgers (that I was aware of) when I was a kid. Bacon in soup? Huh? That it was it: the two were together, for breakfast, or sitting there alone in the grocery store. How versatile, these gifts. How vast the culinary possibilities of each. How wonderful they still are after all these years, together, for breakfast. Or otherwise.

Nine Hundred Ninety-One: the sun

            Thank you for your proximity to our planet, for helping grass be green, the ocean reflect, and people be warm.

Nine Hundred Ninety: sleep

            If there’s anybody that’s not with me on this one, my guess is that you have mental-health issues that will affect your life span. I mean, where do I start? Is there anything greater in human existence than sleep? I’ll allow a minute here, for you to make your private case for the sausage biscuit or sex or your cat or your favorite television program, or for the really zany: sex while you eat a sausage biscuit with your program on and your cat watching you watch it. Sorry, though: sleep trumps all.

            Think about it: There’s sleep, a thing that is beautiful and necessary for survival. What else -- in all of existence -- can stake that claim?

            Sleep. Nine hundred ninety on this list. Number one in so many ways.

Nine Hundred Eighty-Nine: boobs

            If putting boobs on this list makes me a creep, then…label accepted. I love boobs and you can’t tell me not to.

Nine Hundred Eighty-Eight: hot water

            I don’t list this item in vain; I’m aware that many people in the world don’t have clean drinking water at their disposal. I also know that some people are homeless, and that others are poor. These things don’t affect my gratitude; they enhance them. Doing dishes, taking a shower, shaving, doing laundry. All of these things (and more) are made easier with hot water, and for it, I am grateful.

Nine Hundred Eighty-Seven: YouTube

            It might be easy for some to make a list of 1,000 things for which they are grateful, and have each of them be Internet-related. That seems a little excessive, but I’m not ignorant enough to think that this will be the only World Wide Web inclusion of mine. For now, let’s hear it for one of the greatest inventions in recent generations. YouTube: because we just didn’t watch enough television without it.

Nine Hundred Eighty-Six: my mother-in-law

            The antithesis of cliché, mother of a guy’s wife, Mary Jo Saviano has told me and shown me that she accepts me as one of her own and loves me for who I am. She has never pressured me to do something (except propose to her daughter sooner than I was ready to) I do not want to do or be someone I do not want to be. She does not judge me (at least to my face). She includes me in her prayers and respects the way in which my wife and I are trying to raise our kids. Mary Jo’s wit and warmth are irreplaceable assets I have in my corner, and even though she once told her daughters (in front of me) that I eat like a ranch hand, I could have wished for a better mother-in-law, were I wont to do such a thing. It would have been a waste of a wish though; there wasn’t a better one to be had.

Nine Hundred Eighty-Five: the banjo

            I’m not a perpetual failure with musical instruments. I took guitar lessons for a while. I practiced a little and improved upon the things I was instructed to practice. I branched out a teense and taught myself a few riffs. Later, I took up piano. Again I took lessons, practiced less than I was supposed to, and -- more or less -- clung to a dream of being a keyboardist. After that I bought a bass. I never did anything with it, but I have a basic understanding of how to lay down a groove. Later still, I bought dual-turntable set. I never obtained a speaker for it, or the needle for it, and I never bought any vinyl upon which I could scratch. That said, I haven’t sold it yet, so…you never know. I’m far from a bluegrass expert, but I do dig it a bunch. The banjo: the closest thing to the sound-producing version of a soul. I’ll probably never buy one which means I will never own one and practice it with insufficient frequency, but I love the sound that it makes. It speaks to me, and for that, I am thankful.

Nine Hundred Eighty-Four: stand-up comedy

            Whos and whens are not important. Taking a stage in any form requires courage. Doing so in a form that will be direct and doing so in a form that is intended to generate laughter requires a special kind of bravery. Laughter, as we all know, is medicine. It’s the kind for which no prescription is required. You do have to be alive, however, for the process to take place and as long as I am alive I will be a consumer of this craft. Cheers to every comic who has succeeded. Hurrah to those who have bombed. Above all, thank you to those who have bombed then succeeded.

Nine Hundred Eighty-Three: painters

            I’ve been blessed to know a few folks that have the gift of arranging colors on a canvas with brushes. Of the three that come to mind, they couldn’t be any different from one another, nor could their art be. I’m thankful for their gift for this reason: I could probably do what they’ve done, but I’d have to work 100 times harder at it and I a) don’t have the discipline to do so, and b) would’ve gotten pissed in a destruction kind of sense early and often. Moreover, I couldn’t do what they’ve done without seeing how they did it; I wouldn’t be able to produce what they produced without seeing some examples of their finished works. That is, I could never, in this body and with this mind, do what they have done, so I’m privileged to have met them, lucky to have seen their work, and in a few cases, proud to own a few of their pieces.

Nine Hundred Eighty-Two: clarity

            The DNA I inherited and the experiences I’ve encountered with it have, on more occasions than I’d care to admit, led me down a path, in a direction away from clarity. I give thanks to the source of spirituality in the universe that has allowed me to recognize that. I give thanks for the loved ones I have that have been bright in my mind in a few dark moments. I give energy to the idea of hope that I may never lose sight of those thoughts and their interconnectedness. To help me do so, I will give.

Nine Hundred Eighty-One: the calculator

            I’ve said it before but I suppose it’s worth repeating: I’ve got the basic-math thing down, and have had since childhood, but there’s zero chance of figuring out all of the equations I need to on a daily basis without the help of that handy-dandy device. No, I’m not talking about the one on my phone. I’m talking about the real deal, the handsome Staples SPL-230 my job handed out during training. So, thank you, Homo Sapien predecessors, for counting rocks and shit. Thank you, Egyptians, or whoever it was that invented an abacus. And thank you, Wilhelm Shickard, Blaise Pascal, Gottfried Liebniz, James L. Dalton, smart Japanese people, and all of the other people I’m too lazy to read about in the Wikipedia article, for the groundwork you laid for this device coming out of my laptop bag some 10 times a day. Without you all, I’d be frozen in a museum exhibit somewhere with either a dull pencil or a slew of curse words for my cell phone.

Nine Hundred Eighty: Sugar-Free Red Bull

            There’s probably some Zen behavior or some meditation practice that will unleash all of this organic energy trapped within, but until I find the secret for tapping into that shit, keep doing what you’re doing, people in Santa Monica that make the Austrian energy drink. You do fine, fine work, and without you, I’d probably be asleep on a floor somewhere. Healthier, yes, but not awake.

Nine Hundred Seventy-Nine: the fryer

            Yep. I’m an asshole because I morph the material and the unhealthy into gratitudes. And since it’s been established that I’m an asshole, you don’t need to call it a deep-fat fryer, or even a deep fryer. It’s either a fryer or a skillet. Quit making shit complicated, people.

            But, yeah. Nothing says delicious quite like submerging something into a vat of piping-hot oil. Don’t tell me you want to live life without nachos. Don’t tell me you only eat baked chicken. And don’t tell me you like your potatoes boiled. Clogged arteries or not, fried food is awesome.

Nine Hundred Seventy-Eight: Doug Armstrong

            The Kansas City Royals were two runs away from winning the World Series for the second time in my life. I’ve seen two Kansas Jayhawk men’s basketball championships, but my Kansas City Chiefs and St. Louis Blues continue to fall short of the big dance. Chiefs General Manager John Dorsey driving the brass wheel for the Chiefs could one day get us there. Blues G.M. Doug Armstrong will probably beat him to it. His work has impressed me every step of the way and I have felt his conviction, his determination for greatness all 250 miles from my home for the last four years.

Nine Hundred Seventy-Seven: trash night

            Just kidding. I fucking hate trash night.

Nine Hundred Seventy-Six: Chuck Klosterman

            I don’t know that I wish I could consume books with the same voracity my wife does, but I wish I made time to read more. In the last three or four years, though, if I’ve read 10 books, three of them were Klostermans, and they were probably the best three books I read. Stephen King is probably at the four spot, perhaps the three if I thought about it for a minute. Point being: Klosterman’s my favorite book author at the moment and I have no idea who could possibly be in second place. Point being: If it weren’t for Klosterman I probably wouldn’t read books at all, which is pretty sad. So, thanks, Chuck!