Wednesday, February 18, 2015

One Thousand Gratitudes, Part IX: 800-776

As I put the finishing touches on this installment two things occur to me: 1) I still have some 30 posts to go; 2) I'm going to need to Google Roman numerals soon.

Anyway, thanks for reading.

Eight Hundred: Pandify?

            I log on to Spotify about once a year. I don’t get Spotify. I can’t find anything I want to listen to, and it takes me like 10 minutes to make any of the stuff offered play. With Pandora, I create a station and, as the songs play, I say whether I think they suck or not, and Pandora adapts. Pandora and I get each other. Easy peas-y, library fees-y.

            Right now my Pandora’s broken, though, so thanks for being around Spotify. I totally wanted to wake up this morning and listen to a whole album by The Decemberists. What is this, The Glee Club?

Seven Hundred Ninety-Nine: Parenthood

            If you have kids, or want to have kids, or like kids, or hell -- even if you just know some kids, you should watch Parenthood. I’ll leave it future tense there because it ends tomorrow night. Yep. The final episode of the final season will have aired and be talked about on Facebook, Twitter, and in the blogs and on the Web sites before I publish this.

            I’m not sure that I can say with certainty that no show has ever affected me as much as Parenthood, but I do know that no television program has ever made me cry with such regu-freaking-larity as this one.

            I’ll say this about Parenthood: They have tried to tackle diversity and explore topics. I think that a few times they have not been able to do a few topics justice because they’ve run out of time, so it’s almost as if they do them a disservice by addressing them with such brevity. They also have had -- over the course of six seasons -- the occasional tendency to wrap everything up with a nice pretty bow and I’m not sure how I feel about that. Don’t get me wrong: I love all of the cast-member roles and want them to be happy, but life doesn’t always work that way, so it can feel a little off at times.

            I mean, I dunno. I guess Christina didn’t become the mayor, and Amber and Ryan didn’t work out, and Max didn’t get his girl, and so forth, but the big stuff they seem to iron out with baby-butt smoothness.
            It doesn’t matter, though. It’s a television show. A television show I have enjoyed with tremendous emotion, anxiety, smiles, and yes -- tears. I’m sad to see it go. Thank you to the cast, producers, writers, and network. I’d like to say the six years have been a fun ride, but I binge watched four seasons in like a week and-a-half to get caught up, so thank you, too, Netflix.

            (Update: Killer series finale.)

Seven Hundred Ninety-Eight: country roads

            This doesn’t have anything to do with John Denver. Well, maybe it does in some subconscious sense, but it probably only has to do with what John Denver felt when he wrote the tune, which probably mimics what I felt yesterday -- and have felt before -- which inspired me to write this.


            I drive a fair bit for work. This last month I averaged just over 600 miles a week. As my mechanic says: “That’s the upper, upper echelon.” The crazy piece -- like so much of the modern world -- centers on how I’ve trained myself to be so dependent upon global-positioning systems to get me around, and how -- just a few clicks of life ago -- that didn’t exist. People just figured it out on their own.


            Yesterday I rolled in an out of Holden, Blairstown, Garden City, and probably a few other Missouri towns I’d maybe only seen exit signs for prior.  The route from Holden to Garden City -- at least the one I took -- typified rural. For stretches my blue Subaru had miles of road all to itself. And along the same lines as my feelings for tractors, I found myself romanticizing about living a non-urban life. These subterranean feelings grasped small pockets of air from above the massive worry that my head gasket would choose today to blow, but still: they were there. I enjoyed the lack of traffic, the urge to flip the bird to asshole drivers, the potholes, the stoplights.

            So I’m not sure if I need to give thanks to country roads for being themselves or to the human race for having not yet populated every square inch of the planet. I’ll go with roads. People don’t deserve credit for something they haven’t ruined yet.

Seven Hundred Ninety-Seven: Rush

            I’ve always had admiration for smaller musical outfits that shred and the three-piece units still blow my mind. Rush gets knocks because of Geddy Lee’s voice, and because a lot of their fans qualify -- to someone -- as nerds.

            If that’s true then get me some white tape for my eyeglass frames and a pocket protector. Neil Peart, Alex Lifeson, and yes, Mr. Lee, have been killing it for 47 years. Forty-seven years!

            For the sake of clarity, they had some band-member shuffling in the early going, and they’ve taken a hiatus (or two), but what band that’s been around for 25-plus years hasn’t?

            I won’t say anything more about them, save for this: If nerds ruled the universe, the world might be a better place in which to live. At least we’d have a solid soundtrack.

Seven Hundred Ninety-Six: KC Hopps

            I once left a Sous Chef position for an Executive Chef gig. I did so against the advice of many, and became an employee of the local restaurant group known as KC Hopps. I lasted six months. In short, I worked for a dickbag of a general manager, who did as told by a power-hungry director of restaurant operations, who allowed -- for some time -- the company president to puppet her. It doesn’t take much Kansas City hospitality-industry digging for Hopps stories to surface; they’re out there in huge numbers. The only thing you need to know about the organization centers on the idea that it will attempt to eat your soul if you become an employee of it. For having only lost a half of a year to discover that, I consider myself lucky.

            So, thank you, KC Hopps. I appreciate you drawing the blueprint for what kind of job to avoid.

Seven Hundred Ninety-Five: Grandma Elaine

            Like Led Zeppelin, I’ve written a fair amount about my stepmom, so I’m anxious about repetition. That said, I’m pretty amazed by how converse one’s feelings can reside at opposite ends of a 30-year spectrum.

            I’d like to think that it doesn’t take a lifetime for the wounds from a divorce to heal. I’d like to think that. In fact, I feel pretty confident that mine have. At least I’m aware of what the wounds looked like, that they anchored me to a lot of particular emotions, behaviors, decisions. I didn’t have it bad, by any stretch, but I think it splintered my mind and my heart to have my folks split up then replace one another with new spouses.

            Because of gender and perhaps because the peculiar feeling that his initial presence in our lives felt even more temporary than our stepmom’s, my stepdad probably got early preferential treatment. Although I didn’t understand why, a clarity regarding my dad’s love for Elaine resonated in my mind; she represented mysterious permanence and instilled in me a sense of disdain.

            Early visits proved difficult. My dad’s new wife assumed a parenting role with me and my sister and before long new children entered the world. I didn’t agree with a number of my stepmom’s views (i.e. 11-year-olds are not quote/unquote old enough to watch Death Wish), but my negative feelings for her diminished as I grew to love my new sisters and accept reality, with reluctance or otherwise. As I aged, Elaine’s causal role in the way things were gained fluidity until I relinquished her of it. When her marriage to my father approached the 20-year mark I discovered our bond: love and admiration for the same person. We forged strength in our relationship and from that we grew a friendship.

            Across 30 years we’ve faced challenges, overcome adversities, shared holidays, and watched each other laugh and cry. Now I see her gush with joy over her first-born’s marriage, exude glee at the opportunity to welcome another family into her own. I watch as she beams with pride at everything her youngest takes on and accomplishes. I feel at ease as I see her care for and protect my sister. I marvel at the way in which she engages with my daughter and experience astonishment at the notion that I -- at one time -- carried such contempt for her.

            I think of the many hats that Elaine Marie Beck has worn along the path to becoming Grandma Elaine, and for having her in my life, I am grateful.

Seven Hundred Ninety-Four: The Shawshank Redemption

            When I first sat down in front of this project, I had no idea that Stephen King would stick his name into it as much as he has. I love this story. The idea of the wronged gaining righteousness, the level of character layering, the four-star one-liners, the acting, and its regular television airing all provide me with some sense of American-entertainment warmth. The Shawshank Redemption serves as some kind of security blanket, and for the creation of it I am grateful.

Seven Hundred Ninety-Three: Mark Trokey

            For Mark Trokey’s warmth, his honesty, his dedication, his intelligence, his sense of humor, his perseverance, and his business I give thanks. I never imagined having those feelings about a mechanic, but there they are. Thank you, Mark, for all that you are and do.

Seven Hundred Ninety-Two: Bobby Orr

            Even though his famous airborne goal resulted in a Stanley Cup final victory for the Boston Bruins over the St. Louis Blues, I give thanks to Bobby Orr for his contributions to the game of hockey and for the image of a lifetime.

Seven Hundred Ninety-One: the National Hockey League’s “History Will Be Made” series

            A few years back, as the Stanley Cup playoffs approached, the National Hockey League released a series of commercials with historic clips played in reverse slow-motion. Each clip -- played to an emotional piano riff -- featured an epilogue question, then the statement of the series’ title. They gave me goose bumps then and still do today on YouTube. For the raw merriment they provide, I am grateful.

Seven Hundred Ninety: my sister-in-law

            If I’ve ever met someone as unique as Eva Saviano, whoever they are escapes me. I’ve known my sister-in-law for almost 12 years now and considering that we have lived in separate states for just shy of the entirety of that time I appreciate that our relationship has developed into today’s form. Eva possesses enviable wit, charisma, and smarts. She has had -- for as long as I’ve known her -- a solid grasp on what the world looks like, how it operates, and the way things are supposed to be. I love who she is. I wish for her to achieve all that she wants in the way of happiness, her career, and in love. Every time I know I’m going to see her I hope that she accepts me as a brother and a friend. For our relationship, I give thanks.

Seven Hundred Eighty-Nine: unnamed friend #15

            Haven’t seen this dude since college. Cool cat, though. We shared majors, and a love for Phish, Tom Waits, and Frank Zappa. He seems happy in life, which I glean from the Facebookage. I’m glad I had a class or two with him and then -- in Senior Seminar -- I spent a semester sitting next to him where we got to know one another well. I wish I would’ve stuck with my piano lessons long enough to see what sitting in with his band might’ve looked like. Oh, well. Not a bad dude for a Broncos fan.

Seven Hundred Eighty-Eight: Joe’s Garage

            As I chisel my way into the 700s I’ve realized that I must begin to include sub-entries of entries that I thought might stand for themselves. We’ll call Joe’s Garage one record, and since we’re doing that, we’ll call it album 27 of the 61 Frank Zappa released prior to his death in December of 1993. The Zappa Family Trust has released upwards of 40 records since then, all of which registers as nothing shy of an astonishing amount of musical production.

            A challenge: Write down your five favorite bands on a piece of paper. List each band’s albums. Note how many of your favorite bands cranked out 13 full-length records of original studio material. To be fair, 10 or so of Zappa’s 61 featured live material, but I picked 13 as the halfway point to Joe’s Garage.

            I’m sure documentaries that chronicle the life of a rock star exist in significant numbers, but we’re talking 1979 here. Pre-Netflix, pre-VH1, pre-VHS-units in American households. With intricate storytelling, crisp delivery, and the token Zappa humor, Joe’s Garage spans the birth of a rock band, its demise, and beyond. It bears mentioning that the three-part Garage and all of its 19 tracks served as Zappa’s fourth release of the calendar year.

            Go back to your list of favorite bands and check each album that you love. For how many bands did you award four checkmarks? Zappa’s output in one 12-month stretch.

            You get the idea. Well, at least I think you do: They “jammed in Joe’s garage,” and for that I am so very grateful.

Seven Hundred Eighty-Seven: The Avett Brothers

            Unnamed friend number four first told me about these guys a few years back and I did nothing to look into them until my recent renewed relationship with Pandora. On a whim I created an Avett Brothers station and didn’t really dig what I was hearin’ at first. It didn’t take long, though. I’ve only scratched the surface of their discography, but I pretty much love every track the station plays, both by them and by the other artists featured on it. Uncovering new music doesn’t change with age; the euphoria of finding someone you across-the-board dig still generates a charged level of enthusiasm that rivals the exploratory music journeys in which we engage in our youth and adolescence. So, I’m grateful for the Avett Brothers and hope they keep making music for many years to come.

Seven Hundred Eighty-Six: doing shit that makes you feel like a grown-up

            My wife and I bought a car a couple of weeks ago. We had dozens of conversations regarding the need to replace mine, then about 12 more regarding what kind of car she would get. Then we found one, did our homework, and knew what we wanted before we contacted the dealership. When we did that last bit, we set an appointment and rolled in there with the title to my car in hand and a backpack in tow. Our transaction began and finished free of stress, haggling, and bullshit. We signed an aggressive note that would minimize our cash flow toward the purchase and left feeling pleasant. In comparison to that awful sensation of leaving a car lot like you’ve just been had by a complete tool, the whole process felt mature and well-handled. So we’ve got that goin’ for us, which is nice.

Seven Hundred Eighty-Five: the dangerous hope of your team winning a championship

            At the time I wrote this the St. Louis Blues haven’t lost in 10 straight contests, a streak that all but guaranteed to exit the All-Star Weekend on a bad note. Somehow, they scrapped a couple of shootout victories together instead. One morning in the shower a couple of weeks ago I reflected upon the stress associated with watching the third period, overtime, and shootouts of both games unwind, certain that losses would be the beginning of their inevitable spiral into an early post-season exit.

            For a moment, I allowed myself to get caught up in it, but pulled myself out of those clouds with the swiftness of a Vladimir Tarasenko wrister. The feeling of watching the Blues hoist the Cup overtook me -- as it does several times a year -- for a second, but I shook it off, happy for the imagination of the highest highs, cautious for the always-possible reality in which disappointment lives and breathes. The insanity of sports carries a charged emotional weight, the very pulse behind why we root. I’m grateful -- in a twisted way -- that I have an abundance of letdowns to keep me grounded.

Seven Hundred Eighty-Four: Wakarusa

            When the festival called Lawrence home, the wife and I attended for four straight years, which -- aside from that one year when we camped a mile away and my crotch got chafed worse than third-degree rope burn -- always wound up a circled date on our calendar. We saw a ton of good music and partied with a slew of good friends. We lamented the festival’s move to Arkansas, but enjoyed it a ton while we had it.

Seven Hundred Eighty-Three: Larry Hartsfield

            When I matriculated at Fort Lewis College in 1995, I took Studies in American Literature with Marc Coburn, who blew my mind. Dude wrapped enthusiasm, sloppiness, tough grading, spewing saliva, and an affinity for Walt Whitman into a burrito big enough to embarrass the average Chipotle line cook. I didn’t think it could get much better. Then I took my first class with Larry Hartsfield, who I believe held the department chair at the time.

            Larry might have been the first and only professor I ever had that treated me like a human being. I worked full-time, so I always showed up tired. I like(d) sleep, so I missed the occasional class. The mid-‘90s found me knee deep in self-exploration, hippiedom, and, well, college, so if I didn’t roll in high I probably had a hangover rolling around in my head, and the chances of both being the case made for good Vegas odds. I did, however, do my shit, and that carried some weight with Larry.

            He acted like a person and treated his students as such, too. Above all, he appreciated his area of expertise and always carried with him the hope that those that wound up in his classroom did, too. My first Editor-in-Chief of The Independent encouraged me to take a Larry Hartsfield class and warned that once I did I’d be hooked. She hit the nail on the head and I’m thankful I followed her lead, because Larry Hartsfield taught me a significant chunk of what I learned in college. For that, for him, and for his teaching style, I am grateful.

Seven Hundred Eighty-Two: Tom Skurky

            I should’ve spent more time, more passion, more energy in the F.L.C. Psychology Department, but I didn’t. I got sucked in to the English realms, and I don’t regret it. When I did loiter around the area of my declared major, I dug hanging out with Tom Skurky, and by that I mean I enjoyed his classroom persona so much that it made me want to hang out with him outside of school, a desire we did not share. Tom Skurky made for a pretty righteous professor in a lot of senses. In others he appeared detached from the whole notion of education, like the concept held importance but the practice still meant you had a gig for which you had to show.

            Whether he meant to or not, Skurky helped me realize that I needed to get myself in check. I could never quite get him, though. Once he gave me Echinacea when on the brink of becoming ill, and I’m pretty sure he called me a pussy (for being a smoker) in the same breath. Everything culminated in an epic student internship at a California state hospital, though. I wound up getting a ton of accolades and he liked it because it made him look good. It gave him the energy to encourage me to stay in the field after graduation, but he also urged me to figure out what I wanted to do. I can’t rain all of this praise on Fort Lewis College without a Tom Skurky callout. Pretty solid dude.

Seven Hundred Eighty-One: Labor Day Weekend at Dick’s

            I’ve spent the last four Labor Day Weekends inside a soccer complex with Phishheads. We camp on the community fields, eating and vending, playing and napping, reading and partying. In the evening we mozy over to the venue the Colorado Rapids Soccer Club calls home and we enjoy two sets of Phish. We do this Friday, Saturday, Sunday, and head home Monday. It has become my favorite weekend of the year, and as long as Phish continues to do it, I’ll be there. I’m grateful the band still puts on fun functions like this. I’m grateful that venues host them. I’m grateful for the opportunity to attend, and I’m grateful for the experience that Labor Day Weekend has become.

Seven Hundred Eighty: Whitney Terrell

            I first saw Whitney Terrell on KMBC channel 9’s After Hours with host Joel Nichol. The anchor interviewed the author about his novel The Huntsman. I found it intriguing enough to purchase a copy and -- like most of my books -- not read it right away. By the time I attended that University of Missouri-Kansas City English department introductory semester kickoff party I had made my way through the book and had an unexpected opportunity to meet Terrell. There I learned that he had a professor-emeritus position with the department, and wound up in his writing-workshop course that fall. I took his offering almost every semester in the program, and found his workshops my favorite element of the program. I’m grateful for it, that I got to be a part of it, that I got to be a student to several great professors, and for all that Terrell taught me.

Seven Hundred Seventy-Nine: my blue Subaru

            A couple of Mondays ago I cleared the contents out of my 2008 Outback and a few hours after, my wife traded it in for her new Toyota Highlander. My relationship with that vehicle began with negative energy; an uninsured motorist totaled my green Subaru, a car I really dug. I didn’t want to not have that car and I didn’t want to have to car shop so soon again. My wife and her pal sleuthed up to the northland and scoped it. I then went solo so as to throw off the scent of bloodthirsty salesmen. I felt a tiny bit torn between it and the one parked next to it, but knew I’d choose the one I did. As we did the paperwork thing, the finance guy disclosed to us that it had been a rental.

            I was too deep into the process to turn back and assumed that most renters treated these vehicles like I did: with caution, concern, and zero interest in paying more for it than the daily agreement. During my ownership of the blue Subaru, I asked often: most people admit that they beat the shit out of rentals, so lesson learned.

            I bought the blue Subaru on December 8, 2008, seven days after starting a new job. The social-work position involved plenty of driving and I held it for three years. After that I had two year-long chef gigs, which meant I drove to and from work and almost never anywhere else. I’ve held my sales position for about 18 months now and the blue Subaru sat in my driveway with 111,000-plus miles on it, so I came in at just under 20,000 miles per year in that thing. It needed its share of attention, but for the most part I’ve enjoyed it. As we sat in the dealership office that Saturday, it occurred to me that I would miss the blue Subaru. It’s funny how we develop relationships with vehicles and like each one I’ve owned, I’m grateful for having had it.

Seven Hundred Seventy-Eight: the green Subaru

            In 2004 I bought an Impreza Outback Sport, car-manufacturer speak for small Outback. The handsome hunter-green paint, the generous tint in the windows, and the manual transmission made this a slick ride. I only had it for a short time, and it feels like an even shorter window because 10 freaking years have zipped past. Dug that car, though. Grateful for our short time together.

Seven Hundred Seventy-Six: my anthologies

            Be they of the music, sports, or Norton variety, I’ve always taken a strange pleasure in owning the print anthologies that I do. It goes against the anti-greatest-hits belief I hold with music, but I dig them, nonetheless, probably because I’m aware I’d never read all of those things in their entirety before I kick the bucket. So, yeah: glad I have ‘em.

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