Saturday, February 14, 2015

One Thousand Gratitudes, Part VIII: 825-801

I've been on a new writing schedule for a couple of weeks now and feel pleased to recognize the productivity potential it contains. I have to pat myself on the back for the concerted effort of getting in bed at a reasonable time and I of course have to thank my wife for her support. I can't accomplish much without her and all that she does.

Anyway, we'll be into the 700s with the next installment. I feel certain that my vast readership will have "700 Club" t-shirts printed and in distribution by Tuesday.

You people rock.

Jokes aside: Thank you for reading.

Eight Hundred Twenty-Five: Pitt State Spanish teacher

            Can’t recall the dude’s name, but he hailed from Bolivia, and used to bust my balls for being late to class. He dug Rumillajta a ton and I think he gave me a ‘C’. He set me up for appropriate studies in Durango, though, so thanks, dude.

Eight Hundred Twenty-Four: Reinaldo Alcazar, instructor of Intermediate Spanish Conversation

            Only remember what the dude looked like. Think he was tight, dug the girls in the class, but he did a good enough job to get me onto…

Eight Hundred Twenty-Three: Lourdes Carrasco, instructor of Intermediate Spanish I

            Sweet lady, great teacher. She dug me, which made her course a breeze. Glad I took her summer offering.

Eight Hundred Twenty-Two: Catalina Aguilar, instructor of Hispanic Culture & Civilization I: Spain

            I should’ve cut myself off in the Spanish classes before enrolling in this one as my other areas of study and responsibility demanded too much of my focus and energy. That said, Catalina rocked. She taught a hard course and demanded a ton out of us. I think at one point she got frustrated with us and told us we’d better figure our shit out if we were going to take courses higher than this one. By that point in the term I’d already peaced out on trying in there. I had way more to take care of than reading Don Quixote in Vosotros. My bad. Good experience, though.

Eight Hundred Twenty-One: potatoes

            Might just be the Irish in me, but man do I love me some spuds. Chips, mashers, hash, bakers, fries, tots, skins, all of it. Little nutritional value and high on the sensory-satisfaction scale. Right up my alley.

Eight Hundred Twenty: campfires

            I've only experienced a fraction of stuff that makes one feel human in that profound, spiritual way, positive or otherwise, but to my knowledge, not many things can touch that zoned-out mental chasm we enter when we sit around burning wood. I love the feel of its warmth, the limitless time spent gazing into it, the constant need to nudge and poke and rearrange it. I love the smell of campfire smoke, the sound of hissing heat, the pop of its molecular shifting. Campfires give us presence and safety, a reason for being.

Eight Hundred Nineteen: annual-cost analysis

            Discussing money sucks. Seldom does such a conversation flow unless its participants have come to silent conclusions that one another have similar financial backgrounds. I say this because I’ve always found it difficult to think about and discuss the economical background from which my sister and I came. The simplest analysis covers two components: a) our every need was met, and b) compared to those around us we were pretty poor. This meant that we worked -- at young ages -- for most everything we wanted, and in some cases that grew to include our needs.

            Somewhere along the way, I became obsessed with getting length and life out of everything I purchased, and when an item appeared near the end of its use, I would calculate the dollars spent versus the years in my possession, and from there determine the level of satisfaction gained from the buy. Now, as an old dude, I find this peculiar considering my lengthy history of impulse purchases. I still do it, though. I still do it, still find value in it, and because I’ve been doing it for so long, I like it.

Eight Hundred Eighteen: the Rodeo

            I bought this car from Shawn Weissenbach at Molle Toyota and did so when not there to shop. I never named this rig, but its forest-green handsomeness made me feel like an adult driving it, and I might’ve hung onto it for longer had the following three things not happened in a brief span:

1)      the six-disc changer crapped out and left the loaded music irretrievable
2)      the suspension seemed to die, making every pothole and pebble feel monstrous
3)      someone slashed my two front tires and carved “Not a Parking Space” in the hood while I slept one night

Good car, though. I enjoyed it while I had it, but to be honest, I never miss it. Probably ‘cause I never named it. Oh, well.

(Update: I wrote an entry about synchronicity in this series. Two weeks ago we wound up at Molle Toyota to look at a new car for my wife. Who greeted us? Shawn Weissenbach. We bought a vehicle that day, but not from him. I left feeling like I’d been unfaithful. Now I have a new Molle friend, though, and his name is Nathan Coker. His name is Nathan Coker. His name is Nathan Coker. That’s for all you Fight Club kids out there.)

Eight Hundred Seventeen: Festival 8

            Six years ago the wife and I flew out to California for a Halloween weekend of Phish. Things become blurry as time passes, but not too many details of this trip have yet. From the guys at KCI carrying the loose, unrolled sleeping bags to the shuttle, to the nightmare bus ride from LAX to the Empire Polo Grounds, to all of the Halloween costumes, to the “eye surgery” booth, to the insane amount of life-size artwork on display at the grounds’ center to the acoustic set with free coffee and doughnuts. The last-night pyrotechnics, the glowing mini spaceship, our festival camping company, the night nap while waiting for the departing bus, the going separate ways home, the request of an airport employee to watch my stuff so I could brush my teeth. Such an experience. I’ll never forget it. Forever thankful.

Eight Hundred Sixteen: Mary Fran Barnard

            We always called my mom’s mom Nana. I think back on my youth and recall what sweetness she had inside of her. She smiled often, laughed with heartiness, engaged in conversation, hugged and kissed. I’m thankful that I still have those memories of her because for some time I’d only recalled her as grumpy, thankless, and needy. In reality I saw her twice in three years almost a decade before she died and prior to those visits another decade had passed. For me to opine on her mindstate that late in life would reek of unfairness. I don’t know what kind of woman, wife, or mom Nana was, but I’m going to try and remember her for how I first knew her: warm and loving.

Eight Hundred Fifteen: Marggie Johnson

            I can’t say anything half as nice about my dad’s mom. Oft-touted as cold and heartless, I saw Grandma Marggie maybe five times my whole life, and I’ll choose to remember her in the excited, almost-warm fashion in which I saw her for the final time. Somewhere inside of her I think she meant well. I don’t believe she carried malice in her heart or ill will in her soul, but I don’t think anyone taught her how to be. I’m thankful that I knew her, though. If nothing else, she taught me how to be frank.

Eight Hundred Fourteen: Genny Beck

            As I wrote with James Beck, I knew my stepmom’s parents better than either of my biological grandparents and suffice to say blessings rained down on me and my sister Tiffany in that Jim and Genny embraced us -- from the beginning -- as family. I never got to spend significant adult time around Grandma Beck and I wish that I could have. By the time I had a fraction of a head on my shoulder she had lost her vision, become wheelchair-bound with such frailty and fatigue that I think intimidation prevented me from excessive engagement with her at family functions. The Genny I remember from my youth seemed a curious lady. No doubt a tremendous woman, wife, mother, and grandmother, I can’t quite determine what level of closeness one could obtain with her. Sometimes it seemed as though she a permanent guard up, that she didn’t want anyone too close. It didn’t matter, though. She loved, nonetheless, and I’m gracious to call myself one of her grandkids.

Eight Hundred Thirteen: unnamed friend #14

            I’ve only spent time with this dude in select settings; we share the same two recreational passions. We’ve known one another for over 10 years and have seldom strayed from engagements of our primary sorts. This guy, though, has the biggest heart of anyone I’ve ever known. Through no obligation he has tolerated the massive annoyingness that I imagine comes with hanging out with me for extended periods of time. I know he’s come through some tough family situations to get to the space in which he lives today, so perhaps he’s someone I should model. Leisure caused our paths to cross, and I couldn’t be thankful enough for that.

Eight Hundred Twelve: Uncle Dale

            I don’t remember how many years I’d known him when I discovered that James Beck had adopted Genny’s son Dale, but I remember having to scoop my jaw up off of the ground. It still kind of blows my mind. I remember questioning Uncle Dale about it as we visited his folks’ grave sites. I wish I would’ve had a tape recorder going for that conversation because Uncle Dale tends to be a man of few words. Don’t get me wrong: He engages and displays warmth and affection, but you wouldn’t be too far off if you labeled him as a quiet cat. In that moment, though, he spoke without restriction for several minutes, and hearing him articulate the thoughts in his head soothed me.

            I have always had a tremendous amount of respect for Uncle Dale and when someone you admire displays a rare openness the moment can have a medicinal feel and this was true that day.

            Uncle Dale has always shown his family what a loving husband looks like. He taught his boys how to be intelligent, responsible, loving people. I have known Uncle Dale for 30 years now, and I cannot recall him ever losing his cool. For three decades I have admired the talent in his hands, his way infrequent way with words, and his resiliency. I’m proud to call myself his nephew.

Eight Hundred Eleven: Uncle Mike

            Where do you even start with Mike Beck?

            I’ll tell you where: Not that you need a reason in our family, but if you ever found yourself dreading a family gathering and sought one piece of motivation to get yourself there, it would be Uncle Mike.

            Uncle Mike has held the cool/funny-uncle role since 1985 and probably even longer than that. He used to be the wild uncle that rode motorcycles and ATVs and let his eight-year-old nephew drink some of his beer. In time he became the father of three beautiful children that worked long hours and faced health issues in his family. He added the grandfather feather to his cap a little over a year ago, and has maybe become more obsessed with music than at any other point in his life. I wouldn’t call Mike Beck graceful, but I will say that he has weathered time in an admirable fashion. He’d probably still get on an ATV and he’d probably still let his nephew sample his barley beverage.

            Uncle Mike brings happiness and laughter to our family in a way that only he can. We should all be grateful for him. I know I am.

Eight Hundred Ten: that fall-’95-tour weekend run

            Twenty years ago this October McConnell and I hopped into Pale Face and made the Durango-to-Kansas City haul on a Wednesday. The level of irresponsibility I executed here by missing three days of classes remains remarkable, but nonetheless we arrived at night. By 4:00 Thursday afternoon a caravan of four vehicles and 20 people gathered outside my mom’s house and when we made our way to Municipal Auditorium, our group doubled. During the first set of that weekend’s Phish shows, my sister and her crew almost didn’t find me, Nate Wolz almost lost his freaking mind, and at setbreak, big Emily blacked out, seized, and vomited white foam. We were off to a good start.

            In Cedar Rapids the next night, Tiffany and I sat in seats, stage left. Afterwards we hung out on the roof of a parking garage with the Quad Cities portion of the crew that had met us in Kansas City. I have no idea where we slept.

            In Lincoln on Saturday the entire general-admission floor leapt in unison to “Sparkle.” Ryan Mattes drew directions to his Omaha apartment on his arm with a Sharpie, and somehow we found it. En route we could only do three things: 1) discuss how terribly lost we were, 2) ask one another if it smelled like McConnell had pooped in the truck’s bed, and 3) laugh.

            On Sunday I dropped Tiffany in Kansas City and listened to a Steve Bono-led Chiefs handle the Denver Broncos at Mile High Stadium as I drove across Kansas. The weather, however, turned after dusk, and before long a Colorado state trooper ushered me off of I-70 as he closed the highway’s gate. I slept in the back of my truck in the parking lot of Rip Griffin’s Truck Stop in Limon and they didn’t reopen the road until after noon the next day. So make that four days of classes I missed.

            Right around the time we hit the 55-mph mark in the truck, I hit a dry-ice patch and spun out of control, coming to a stop in the ditch of a median some 300 feet from the freeway. I didn’t sit there too long, though, as some do-gooder in a Hummer traversed that stretch of I-70 pulling people -- and there were many of us -- out with his chain and push bar. Unreal.

            Quite the weekend, though. All for some Phish shows with my kid sister. Such a blast. So grateful.

Eight Hundred Nine: Titan

            My wife likes to tell people I hate our cat.

            I do not hate our cat.

            I do not care for cats and our cat drives me insane, but I do not hate him.

            Our cat has made it his late-life’s mission to purge my soul of peace via his incessant wailing and his disgusting catness, but I do not hate him. He came to us by way of adoption after unnamed friend number 12 took his own life, and for that I will always love him as he exists as a reminder of life’s challenges and brevity.

            I’m glad we have him.

            I wish that poop did not cling to his fur and wind up on my basement floor. I think Maine Coons are cool, but I wish that their grooming did not result in puked hair turds scattered about our home. Titan means no ill will; he can be called a good boy and we will miss him when he leaves us. He has never missed a meal yet refuses to not remind us that feeding time will arrive in an hour. I wish cats could be let outside to relieve themselves as managing the litter box disgusts me more than most any other task, but contrary to what my wife would have you believe, I do not hate Titan. I love him and include him here for good reason.

Eight Hundred Eight: Otis the Vespa

            When my father died, his wife gifted me her late husband’s scooter. The 150-cc Italian motor bike’s relic status rests both a) in my garage and b) on my list of prized possessions. I did -- for a spell -- ride it with regularity, but have not -- at all -- for several years now. One day I will ride it again, but life with children has pushed it down the priority list. It will always remind me of my father, and although it has served as the source of occasional headache, I’m happy to call it mine.

Eight Hundred Seven: Boy Scouts

            Participating in scouting taught me more than I could express here. I’m grateful my mother enrolled me in it at a young age. I learned so many invaluable skills from so many great peers and leaders and look forward to the opportunity to scout with my son.

Eight Hundred Six: Camp Bartle

            I imagine Camp Bartle reigns as scout-function supreme for most of my scouting peers. Nothing says figure yourself out like 10 days in Osceola.

Eight Hundred Five: the tribe of Mic-O-Say

            Witnessing the activities and ceremonies associated with the tribe of Mic-O-Say signifies why Camp Bartle resides as the supreme scouting experience. The only thing better than witnessing them: participating in them. For two years I longed for inclusion in what I’d seen (and more so what I had not) the older scouts engage in as members and inductee members of Mic-O-Say, and I’ll never forget that third summer when I heard my name called for Foxman. In my fourth year I became a Brave; in my fifth I earned Warrior.

            Had I not deemed partying and work more important, I might have returned to Bartle for a sixth summer, but my cards held other contents. I have once been back to Bartle and took great pride in walking beyond the painted white rocks. I anticipate the day that I get back there again as Warrior Distant Stalking Eagle. Bartle and Mic-O-Say enhanced my idea of spirituality. They showed me what responsibility meant and they introduced me to the idea of meditation. I carry tremendous honor as a member and eternal gratitude for my experiences.

Eight Hundred Four: Lamar Hunt

            I can’t imagine growing up without the Kansas City Chiefs as a huge part of my life. That Lamar Hunt founded the American Football League and selected Kansas City as the spot his franchise would call home helped define who I am. The late Mr. Hunt never had the trophy named for him placed in his hands, but I can picture the day in which his son receives his father’s namesake prize and a colorful glory will rain. Thank you, Mr. Hunt, for the many gifts you gave our city, but above all, thank you for making us Chiefs.

Eight Hundred Three: Ewing Kauffman

            At some point in the 1950s, the sporting gods decided that Kansas City would soon receive the blessing of great sports-team ownership. Just as I cannot imagine life without the Chiefs, my childhood as a Royals fan taught me how to dream and served as a vehicle for father-son bonding. Like the Hunts, the Kauffmans have done so much for our city, but above all they gave us the Royals. Last October served as a great reminder for when an outing to the ballpark meant so much. It hadn’t been that way for a long time, but through no fault of Ewing and Muriel Kauffman. Thanks, Mr. K., for who you were and what you gave us.

Eight Hundred Two: David Glass

            Somebody had to buy the team and it could have been worse. It could have been Marge Schott or something. The procurer could’ve moved the club to another city or appeared to have less inspiration and motivation than David Glass (Note: Seems impossible, I know.) does. So, thanks for buying the Royals, Mr. Glass. We’re glad you kept them around, even if you don’t seem to get what passion for sports means.

Eight Hundred One: the YMCA of the Rockies

            When I opened the mailed correspondence stating I’d been accepted for employment at the famous resort, it would come to signify the holding of my own St. Louis Arch in my hands; the United States Postal Service delivered me a personal gateway to the west. I worked my ass off that summer in exchange for room, board, three squares and two dollars an hour. It was worth every penny and more.

            The food didn’t register as four-star and we didn’t sleep on comfy new kings. We waited for available shower stalls and shared one rotary phone amongst an entire floor. If you were a parent calling your kid and were lucky enough to get through, you had to know your child’s room number, because whoever answered probably didn’t know your son or daughter. Not in the early summer, anyway. I scrubbed shit stains from toilet bowls and wiped pubes out of bathtubs all day for an entire summer. What I earned I spent on music, weed, and beer. All my needs were met; my days off: pure play.

            Working at the YMCA of the Rockies -- even as a housekeeper -- served as a phenomenal first step to figuring out who I was, what I wanted to do, and where I wanted to be. Incredible experience. Forever grateful.

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