Tuesday, February 3, 2015

One Thousand Gratitudes, Part V: 900-876

As we crack the second set of hundreds it occurs to me that I'm not going to love each of these installments. This is one of those. Don't get me wrong: I love every one of them on an individual level; I just don't dig the chunk as a collective. Either that or this project has begun to loom overhead with intimidation.

I've realized the difficulty in laying all of this out and that's to sound (and be) genuine about each and every entry and carry some of the feeling behind each one into daily life.

Anyway, thanks for reading, and here's to the things in your life for which you might be grateful.

Nine Hundred: John D. Fitzgerald’s The Great Brain series

            If any collection struck me in the profound way that the adventures of John, Tom, and Sweyn did, then it must not have been that profound after all because I do not remember it. I don’t recall how I came across my first Fitzgerald read. Perhaps a stroke of coincidence led to me having one of those books in my hands. Maybe the cover struck me at the library. It’s possible that a recommendation steered me. Whatever the case, these installments whetted my appetite for series reading, priming my future novel interests. I’ve managed to get my hands on six of the eight titles, and the next time I come across a copy of the other two, my collection will be complete. The fond memories of devouring these unique treasures leave me thankful Fitzgerald wrote them, grateful that my mom was a library mom.

Eight Hundred Ninety-Nine: ZZ Top

            I make no apologies for this affinity. Zero, nada, and none. I remember (the brief spell when we had cable/MTV played music videos) when Eliminator came out, making “Legs” a regular feature on both radio and TV. I would’ve been about nine, so the music-video rendition of the number piqued my growing interest in females. In fact, that may’ve been my first what-I-want-to-be-when-I-grow-up: the dude in the “Legs” video.

            This gratitude has nothing to do with hits, though. It has everything to do with badassery, a feat the Texas trio achieved in the early 1970s. Staking Top to my list of favorites subjects me to ridicule, but three-member outfits -- especially successful ones with the same lineup for over 40 years -- deserve credit, and not just in the form of rattling off stats like 11 gold records (seven platinum), a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction, and award-winning videos.

            They deserve credit for being rooted in blues, morphing with the musical times, and for a remarkable shelf life that, evidenced by an upcoming five-month tour, shows no sign of expiration. So, here’s to you, tres barbas. You guys rock.

Eight Hundred Ninety-Eight: sibling #3

            I don’t think this sister of mine cannot find happiness. I believe she feels happy most of the time, but I wish I had the power to give her the gifts of clarity and fulfillment. I think some confusion hangs over her regarding her past, present, and future selves. I imagine these things qualify as normal, as human, as typical. I wish, though, that I could gift her the salience of recognition.

            I’m unsure if we all have a quote/unquote purpose in life, but I feel like sibling number three does, and I feel like some weight and some anxiety stand in her way. Many times I’ve considered taking from myself to give to her, but I myself lack the vision for seeing if this would heal any wounds she might have. I’m also hesitant because of what such a giving might deduct from the potential she has in her own self to find fulfillment.

            I don’t think she wants to be told how to live her life. She doesn’t need to be told, really. She’s doing a fine enough job on her own. For so long, now, though, I’ve felt as if she has stood upon a precipice, scared and unsure of how to get to the other side.

            It’s not even my burden to bear, but I want for her; I love her and await the day that she traverses the rift in her self. Whether she gets where I hope for her to be or not, sibling number three possesses so many wonderful qualities. Each of them isolated leaves me proud to be her brother. All of them combined finds me blessed.

Eight Hundred Ninety-Seven: Aunt Suzi

            My mom’s younger sister has a big heart. She has spent her adult life spreading her love and care around to whoever needed it the most. Aunt Suzi has loved her parents, her siblings, her nieces and nephews, and her spouses, sometimes putting her own life on hold in order to do so. Her infectious laughter makes everyone smile, and her knack for tackling projects never ceases to impress. Suzi has faced life’s challenges with unflappable courage; the source of her strength ever mysterious. I’m grateful for everything Aunt Suzi taught me in my youth and if I could, I would pinpoint for her the path to supreme happiness. If anybody deserves it, it’s her. It’d be a shame for Aunt Suzi to settle for anything less.

Eight Hundred Ninety-Six: unnamed friend #9

            Just by picturing his face, unnamed friend number nine blows me away. I’ve met some smart cats in my day, but this dude either tops the list or comes close. Never have I encountered such an immense vocabulary and a knack for the written word. Never have I met such a steely-faced, agro-apparent teddy bear with the randomest collection of miniature-encyclopedia entries saved inside his brain. Never have I heard tales told of a lost, then found, lost-again/found-again guy who milks humor out of the story’s every detail.

            I think unnamed friend number nine found happiness. Life’s basics have been checked off of his list, and whether or not he one day chooses to work toward sharing his gift with the world, I’m so lucky our paths crossed. I’m honored to call you a friend, friend.

Eight Hundred Ninety-Five: 6127 ½ Harrison Street

            When I moved back to Kansas City, I cohabitated, then moved in with a buddy when that relationship began to dissolve. Once accepted into graduate school, I rented the top half of a duplex from a quirky dude named Bald Matt. The four sets of tenants I lived above were each challenging in their own ways, but as people I dug them all. That little duplex half had so few setbacks, so few disadvantages, so much to love about it, that I didn’t realize what I was leaving when I married and moved in to my wife’s home. It might’ve been the greatest home I’ve ever had. It’s impossible to say how much of it was the residence and how much of it was living on my own (my lone experience).

            As is the case with all of my previous homes, I’m emotional when I drive past it, but with this one it’s almost to the point of wishing it had remained unoccupied since my departure.

            Whatever weirdness that’s about, I spent an amazing 28 months on Harrison. I’m thankful for the time there, for Bald Matt (and all of his quirks), and even for all of my co-tenants.

Eight Hundred Ninety-Four: Jim Beck

            I imagine countless grandsons have similar stories, but seeing that man’s first name in writing beckons the surreal. I heard his wife call him “Jimmy” a number of times, but seldom did I hear anybody refer to him as anything but Grandpa.

Life didn’t introduce me to Jim Beck any earlier than age eight or nine and I’m not sure I wanted it to; knowing him how I did was perfect. I can’t help but wonder, though, what it might have been like to know Jim Beck the man. He was Grandpa to me, Grandpa to my sisters and cousins, and Grandpa (for most of what I heard) to his children. His obituary listed him as James “Grandpa” Beck and mentioned that most folks knew him as and referred to him by his nickname. He left the world and is remembered as Grandpa, but for a huge chunk of years he was James and Jim, Jimmy, Dad, and probably Honey, Dear, etc.

Life didn’t introduce me to Jim Beck early enough to be held by him and by the time it did, I was all but too big to sit on his lap (even though he let me a few times). Now that I’m old enough, I see people at family gatherings. They’re people that have joined the family late. They’re people that are trying to fit in, like I once tried to do. They’re people with pasts, with history, with children from prior relationships. Writing this entry it occurs to me that I don’t look upon those children without judgment the way Jim Beck looked upon me and my sister. Of greater importance: It occurs to me that I need to try.

Life didn’t introduce me to Jim Beck in time to know him as Jim Beck, but I know that he was a good man, a man with ambition, heart, and pride. I know that Jim Beck influenced the way his children parented and how they now grandparent. I know that Jim Beck wasn’t just a good man. He was a great man and he is responsible for a portion of the love I have for my children. It would have been cool if life had introduced me to Jim Beck the man. It would have been cool to trace the steps his life took that led him to becoming Grandpa. It would have been cool to learn about the world from the eyes of Jim Beck, but that wasn’t in life’s cards.

Life introduced me to Grandpa and I’m thankful for that. I wouldn’t trade it for anything.

Eight Hundred Ninety-Three: Grandpa Bill

            I can only remember seeing my dad’s dad in person once. I know they traveled to Kansas City to see me when I was born, and I probably saw him a third time. Maybe it was four -- possibly five -- but I can only remember one.

            Truth be told, I’m not even sure I remember that one. My true memory of Grandpa Bill has blurred with my memory of seeing pictures of Grandpa Bill and to some degree hearing stories about him. Truth be told, I don’t think I’ve ever even seen more than a few pictures about him and the stories I can recall about him either have to do with him as a father, a husband, and a World War II pilot. They are -- by and large -- good stories. I think Grandpa Bill was a solid dude. I’m not sure if it was his parents or his generation, but I don’t think he was too in touch with his emotions.

            I don’t blame him for that, but I think it was a touch detrimental to my dad. Either way, Grandpa Bill was a source of pride for my father. I know he loved his dad and would have loved to have a few more years with him. I’m glad for what he meant to his son. I’m glad for the handful of stories and pictures. I’m glad for the blurred memories, and above all I’m glad I got to meet him.

Eight Hundred Ninety-Two: Captain

            Don Barnard had five children and 12 grandkids. I should say 15 grandkids, but I’m not certain what kind of relationship he had with his daughter Suzi’s three stepchildren. My guess is that he treated them the same way Grandpa Beck treated me and my sister, Tiffany, so we’ll go with 15. As for his nickname, I’m even less certain what percentage of us grandkids called him Captain, but that’s what he was to us.. As the story goes, Grandpa Bill was the youngest pilot to achieve captaincy for Trans World Airlines until Don Barnard beat his record. Suffice to say that my grandfathers knew one another before my parents married.

            Don Barnard -- for the years I knew him -- was a religious man. Attending Mass might have been the most important thing in the world to him, if only because it fueled him with the love of life he could then share with his family. Captain was a sweet man, a warm grandfather, and a loving dad. I wish I could have spent more time with him, but I’m thankful for his sense of humor, his passion for sports, and his hugs. I know his children miss him and hope they know that his grandkids do, too.

Eight Hundred Ninety-One: The Grateful Dead

            I missed the opportunity to see The Grateful Dead live. That is, I had the chance to see them, but I didn’t act upon it, and I’m glad I didn’t, as I’ve always felt like the last time to really see The Grateful Dead happened about eight to 10 years before I got into them. I imagine those final shows in Chicago and St. Louis were fun, but via hindsight, I didn’t want my sole live Dead experience to be contain the alleged sloppy, forgetting-lyrics Jerry Garcia.

            Before I subscribed to the anti-compilation stance, my relationship with The Grateful Dead started with Skeletons from the Closet: The Best of The Grateful Dead, and to this day I cannot stand that record. It didn’t do anything for me before I knew The Dead, and once I knew their stuff well, I disliked it even more. I grew to know and love the true Dead gems via studio albums and bootlegs, which shone a light on my misguided opinion of the band.

            The longevity of The Grateful Dead contains beautiful music, breathtaking lyrics, and a magical energy never before composed by any band in American music history. Their stuff stands the test of time and will remain unmatched for as long as scores continue to be created in the modern-world fashion. That the true spirit of what they accomplished graced my ears left me a person forever changed. It left me grateful for The Dead.

Eight Hundred Ninety:  The Harbinger

            I logged a few semesters as a staff writer for the Shawnee Mission East High School student newspaper. Few rules were employed by faculty advisor Robert Dillon. Submit a story idea, a photo assignment, meet your deadline, submit corrections. Writing stories for The Harbinger taught me -- in a sense -- how to write stories. To write them you had to take Dillon’s journalism classes (and pass, I suppose). You had to follow the inverted-pyramid approach, and you had to have sources. That was about it, though.

            An editorial staff oversaw submissions, layout, and what would make the paper, but we put out a fair amount of pages in each edition, so if you followed the rules, your stuff usually made the cut. The experience blended guidelines and freedoms; I could write about topics of my choice, use my friends as sources (Note: Not recommended; never a good idea.), and learn about composition and editing. I loved the experience. It was a perfect setup for…

Eight Hundred Eighty-Nine: The Independent

            Early in my first semester at Fort Lewis College, I visited with some classmates one afternoon and the subject of student newspaper arose. One kind-hearted gal told me about FLC’s rag, where it was, and how she knew someone on staff. After class that day she walked me over to the building and introduced me to someone who introduced me to Editor-in-Chief Clara Woodmansee. The rest, as they say, is history.

            Clara welcomed me with open arms and gave me my first assignment, which was to write about homecoming weekend.

            “Get in touch with Bill Bolden,” she said. “He’s the director of student housing.”

            Nervous as I was, I did just that, nabbed some other unlucky source, and by the following Friday, my first story in The Independent ran. I wrote a bunch of mediocre stories for the rest of the year, and Clara signed my compilation of column inches with kind words, acknowledgment of improvement, and encouragement to rejoin the following year, which I did. At some point, the acting Arts & Entertainment Editor started mailing in his page assignments, and I unofficially began to oversee them, which landed me the successor role by both merit and default.

            Being in charge of entire pages for each week’s issue was a remarkable experience. I learned so much from my peers, my superiors, our staff writers, designers, photographers, ad-layout folks, etc. We were, as they say, like family.

            My experience with the Fort Lewis College Independent remains invaluable to this day. It often distracted me (necessary or otherwise) from my classwork, but it gave me a sense of responsibility and introduced me to an amazing group of individuals that worked hard (Note: This team cared more about a quality paper --and showed it -- than many staffs prior, and perhaps all of them since.), worked together, and had a ton of fun along the way. Amazing time.

Eight Hundred Eighty-Eight: House of Georges

            Some 10 years after I graduated from Fort Lewis College, some Independent friends and I started a sports blog. The rough focus of that blog was the rivalry between the Kansas City Chiefs and the Denver Broncos football teams. In the early going that focus didn’t vary much, but let’s face it: There’s only so much you can write about two football teams that play each other two times a year in a four-month span. Needless to say, the rough focus began to vary, and by the time the project had run its course, we were writing about most anything but our two favorite squads.

            Like any topic, opinions on what blogging is and what bloggers do are all over the board. I gotta say, though: It’s a ton of work to do one and do it well. This is not to say that we did ours well, but we worked hard to create fresh, new material each week, and we did it for over four years. We were never cutting edge. We were never going to quit our jobs and do this thing 40 hours a week, but for most of those four years we gave a lot of our lives to making that thing happen. And it was so much fun.

            I say “fresh, new material” with a caveat. We poached ideas from other bloggers, and we almost never didn’t use a photo stolen from Google images, but the writing was always ours and it was always good (Note: Admitted bias.). I’ll never forget the excitement over cutting checks for generated ad revenue, the obsession with monitoring traffic, the occasional decent comment thread, the self-teaching of (among other things) HTML, and the sense of shared accomplishment that such a project lends. My gratitude for being a part of that run spans a far and wide distance, and I’m so happy we ran with the idea and gave it our everything.

Eight Hundred Eighty-Seven: the clouds

            Of all of the world’s natural wonders it seems silly to select a simple few, but those pillows in the sky mesmerize. I probably don’t notice them as much during the daytime, but every once in a while, when I step outside at night and the moonlight looms ominous, I’m reminded of how small we are, how short our time. I suppose the belief that Heaven lies above lends a lot to this, but the movement of the clouds always makes me think of my dad. It makes me wonder if he’s watching, sad for all of the life he’s missed, and most of all it reminds me of the fragility of my own life.

            So in a way, the clouds encourage me to try and live a better life for my family and for myself, and for that I am thankful.

Eight Hundred Eighty-Six: pizza

            Even when it’s shitty, pizza’s pretty hard to beat. Got to give thanks for the great Italian pie, how enjoyable it is to eat, how it can bring folks together, how it can make you smile.

Eight Hundred Eighty-Five: healthy babies

            My next-door neighbors underwent an emergency Caesarean-section delivery on December 23rd. The baby’s mom had developed Preeclampsia and as a result they welcomed their daughter into the world five weeks early. They came home on the 26th and remained pinned to January 31st -- the original due date -- as when their daughter Ada Josephine would be released. Unless being held by her mother, she remained in the Neo-Natal Intensive Care Unit, under a light and hooked up to monitors and a feeding tube for over a week.

            I never wanted anything more than a healthy baby both times we were pregnant. I didn’t root for a gender and I don’t hope for my children to be anything other than their happy selves. I can’t imagine the difficulty they experienced but I’m glad they got to bring their daughter home.

            I’ve always been thankful that our babies were born healthy, especially given that my wife was Preeclamptic late in both pregnancies. It’s tough to remain present with that gratitude since they’ve been alive and well since their respective births, but it doesn’t take much to rekindle those hopes and fears. For my healthy babies, I will always be grateful.

Eight Hundred Eighty-Four: Medeski

            In October of 2008 I took our dog and cat to the vet for checkups. Once my transaction was complete, I saw a flyer for a puppy in need of a home.

            I snapped a picture of it and texted it to my wife.

            She responded: “Who is that?”

            I replied with something of a hint as to a possible future housemate.

            We talked, considered, inquired, scheduled a meeting, and before long, we adopted Bingo. He’d been found on a Kansas City, Kansas road by a guy looking for land. He sat, sad and unhealthy, on the side of the highway, and the guy couldn’t not stop. He took the ferocious fella home and with the help of his wife’s friend (a practicing doctor at our veterinary clinic) began the process of getting him healthy.

            We chose a new name for him and welcomed him into our home, where he quickly acclimated to the presence of our other animals. He reinvigorated our aging shepherd and showed us endless love, even after everything he’d been through in his young life. The folks that found him already had a large dog, though, and a baby on the way; they couldn’t imagine making it work.

            So they advertised and we responded.

            He has been part of our family for almost six years, and he has seen our shepherd die. He has witnessed as we added children to our family, and he -- like us -- experienced a move. He has been the new guy, the star of the show, and the forgotten. If I were him, I would feel as though my owners view him as an annoyance more than a family member, and sometimes it may very well seem like that, but it isn’t true. He’s one of us. We love him for who he is and are thankful he came into our lives.

Eight Hundred Eighty-Three: air travel

Last month, before I boarded a plane, I theorized that my fear and anxiety of flying would only worsen with age.

Takeoff validated that theory.

I’m not ashamed to admit this. I think there’s probably something queer about you if you don’t get a touch uncomfortable during the ascent/descent of an aircraft. It’s akin to the feel-a-slight-pinch warning the dentist and doctor gives you. It’s seldom just a pinch, and it’s never slight. As we prepared to taxi, they told us there’d be turbulence from the jet stream, that beverage service would be delayed because they wanted to keep the flight attendants buckled in for a few extra minutes.

Didn’t matter. Still almost shit myself.

All of that said, air travel is nothing shy of amazing. I don’t fly often -- at this moment I think it’s been over four years since I last boarded a plane -- but I’ve been doing it since before I could walk and talk. An amazing invention. Grateful I’ve been privy to it for my entire life.

Eight Hundred Seventy-Nine: technology

            Know what I haven’t been doing my entire life? Typing into a Word document while listening to music courtesy of the airline’s wireless signal. Half a dozen instruments of technology sat nestled in my carry-on for that flight and I used every one of them before boarding a plane for our return trip home. I give thanks for the absurd amounts of technology to which we have access, and I hope that -- for as long as I need them -- they don’t one day overwhelm me to the point of giving up.

Eight Hundred Seventy-Eight: salty snacks

            They gave us peanuts and Chex Mix. Double score.

            Enough air-travel talk, though.

            My favorite food group: shit that’s bad for you.

            I’ll  stuff 12 bucks worth of Taco Bell into my hole and contemplate how much more I could’ve eaten. Whole bag of Doritos in one sitting? No problem.

            Never really had a sweet tooth. This is not to confused with not liking sweets because I do. I’ll eat the shit out of some gummy candy. My favorite part of Christmas stockings is the jellybeans and gum drops. And don’t think I’m biased against chocolate. I’ll kill a pack of Rolo in a single mouthful and wash it down with a half-pound of M&M’s.

            Left to choose, though, you can keep all of your sweets. I like the salty stuff.

            This was never a challenge or an issue when I did the grocery shopping. Now that my wife does it, however, the “Daddy Snacks” inventory in the man cave has shifted from the likes of Dorito’s, Chex Mix, and Pringle’s to the less desirable. I’d list a few of them, but I don’t even know what they are. Baked kale crisps and roasted acorns and dehydrated fruit and shit.

            I know, I know. “Salty snacks” is another way of saying junk food, but I don’t care. Bring on the love handles and the cavities and the clogged arteries. I is, a junk-food junkie.

Eight Hundred Seventy-Seven: sibling #1

            It surprises me how much I value my relationship with this sibling because for the longest time our closeness has been associated with distance. That is, I didn’t think we were as close to one another as I was with my other two siblings. Part of me probably assumed that a lot of the fault in that rested on my shoulders, too, which would explain how much I value her today.

            Sibling number one exudes a certain level of comfort in who she is, a self-confidence that allows her to be happy with pursuing that which she wants to pursue. I love how in tune she is with her skills and limitations. I love that her level of intelligence never interferes with her ability to display a touch of self-deprecation, even if only for humor.

            In small ways I think we’ve bonded a touch over the past couple years, and that makes me happy. I’m grateful for whatever our relationship has been. I’m happy for what I think it’s become, and I’m excited for all that it might be.

Eight Hundred Seventy-Six: Aunt Marcia

            En route to see my dad’s sister I reflected upon a couple of years ago when my sister Megan got married, and when we all saw Aunt Marcia two years before that in San Diego. Before that, though, it had been three years (my wedding), and five years before that (my dad’s funeral). She has now lost two husbands, both parents, and both brothers. She gained a couple of stepchildren and some grandkids along the way, but Aunt Marcia has managed to bulldoze adversity whenever it has seemed most likely that the opposite would be true.

            Her strength transparent, she has also always been sweet, caring, and understanding: undervalued qualities in a person. I was excited to see her.

            She and Uncle Peter were gracious hosts. They were generous, flexible, and wonderful to be around, even though we kind of, sort of forgot to remind them that we were coming, and failed -- all together -- to mention that we’d be attending Phish shows for four consecutive nights.

            Aunt Marcia has figured out how to live life. She would be hard pressed to find a more benevolent, accommodating spouse than she has in Peter. Their life appears to be free of stress and worry, as one would hope retirement might be. I’m thankful to have had Aunt Marcia (Auntie Em) in my life for as long as I have. While geography has always separated us, we always pick up where we left off, and I give thanks that she has bucked the trend of early death on the Johnson side.

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