Friday, February 13, 2015

One Thousand Gratitudes, Part VII: 850-826

If you're just tuning in, I've taken on this monster, the inspiration of which stemmed from this gal's efforts (minus all the Jesus-y stuff). The idea -- or my interpretation of it -- has to do with recognizing that life is pretty good, even when it's not. I get that that's a loaded statement. I have food, health, a wonderful family, and zero worries regarding the source of my next fill in the blank. Keeping the mind clear, however, can -- at times -- feel like a full-time job. I don't want that. I don't want that for my friends and loved ones. So I'm doing this to try and better myself. If reading it doesn't bear direct embetterment upon you, perhaps it will do so in a roundabout fashion by giving you smaller doses of a less shitty me.

Don't bother looking up "embetterment," either. Totes just made it up.

Thanks for reading.

Eight Hundred Fifty: the National Basketball Association

            I’m thankful this league exists. Something has to remind us how not to play fundamental basketball. It’s like the National Football League’s Oakland Raiders. Someone has to be out there reminding of us how not to do things. So thanks, N.B.A. You took a team game, inserted a seamless transition, and now we have 10 individuals on the court at a time. They’re all out there, trying to win three individual categories: a) who can dunk more; b) who can travel the most; and c) who can run the slowest back down the court to avoid even giving the illusion of playing defense.

            If the N.B.A. were a report card, it would read ‘A’ for result and an ‘F’ for effort, which would leave the teacher to call a conference and accuse the child of cheating.

            Guess what: They are! They’re cheating the game of basketball to the tune of millions of dollars in revenue. Yay, American sports!

Eight Hundred Forty-Nine: unnamed friend #12

            Unnamed friend number 12 made a choice: to leave this world almost nine years ago.

            Some have admitted they were mad at him. I won’t swear on it, but I don’t think I ever felt that way. More than anything, I criticize myself for a lack of effort in the friendship department. I have no way of knowing if it would have made a difference, save perhaps feeling a little bit better about myself.

            I met unnamed friend number 12 in high school. For a few years a closeness hovered between us. Neither of us would probably ever call our relationship tight, but that hovering loomed then drifted. It returned for a brief moment when struggles gave a subdued illusion, and then my friend -- our friend -- ended his life.

            To begin an entry on him in such a fashion gives the appearance that’s that how I remember him. In truth, I can’t not remember him without the presence of that element. Of course my memory of him includes all of the amazing pieces of his life that everyone loved. Unnamed friend number 12 graced us all with his infectious smile and laughter, his enormous generosity, his warmth, and his want for love.

            A fear hangs with me, though, that my memories of him -- the time we spent together -- will fade as years continue to pass, leaving me with less of the unnamed friend number 12 tangibles, more with his decision. Were I charged with the task of listing my areas of expertise, this issue would not make the cut.

            I didn’t walk a mile in his shoes.

            I didn’t even try them on.

            I can’t sit here and say I’d’ve done it different.

            I can only sit here and say I wish things had been different. I wish our friend still woke in the mornings and tackled the day. I wish our friend still blessed our ears with the sound of his voice. I wish our friend still treated us to that unique experience of being sussed by his eyes while he listened to you speak.

            Unnamed friend number 12 possessed remarkable intelligence and a fever for treating himself to life’s joys. I’m thankful for the time we had with him. I wouldn’t trade it, but if I could, I’d wish for it to be just a little bit longer.

Eight Hundred Forty-Eight: my late stepfather

            One summer afternoon a few summers ago I should not have wasted time Googling things in the public library. I should not have gone down the rabbit hole I did, but -- at the time -- it beat the idea of doing the work for which I collected a paycheck. I went down that hole, though, and discovered that the man that married my mother after she and my father divorced, died a couple months before unnamed friend number 12 did.

             I can only describe that discernment as eerie. As Bodhi proclaimed of Tyler in Point Break, “We shared time!”

            That time spanned about three years, and because of his employment, my sister and I spent it 810 miles away from our father. Our late stepfather seemed like a good dude. Like any human being, faults did not evade him, but he did a pretty good job of playing the father-figure role for us. He never sought patriarchal replacement; he respected our dad and what he meant to us. He encouraged us to mind our mother and supported our long-distance relationship with our father. As best as an eight- and a five-year-old could tell, we labeled him a pretty good guy.

            Things didn’t work out between him and our mom, and that worked out in our favor it would seem. I’m thankful that he came into our lives, though. I’m glad we met him and I’m glad he treated us -- if only for a while -- like family.

Eight Hundred Forty-Seven: my clippers

            About 17 or 18 Christmases ago, I asked my dad for a set of clippers, which is to say three things: 1) I asked my stepmom for a set of clippers; 2) I was between long-hair phases; and 3) I should have expected to get a bag of cotton candy.

            See, Christmas on my dad’s side meant this weird thing for a number of years: You must submit a list; you will not receive anything on said list. Ask for a movie; get a wallet. Ask for a wallet; get a basketball. Now it means the opposite: Submit list; receive everything on list. It’s whatever, but on this particular Christmas I asked for clippers and I freaking got clippers. The unwrapping of the present felt, for a moment, like a cruel joke, as the gift inside the box was never what was on the actual box. I tore the paper from the box, though, and saw an image and lettering depicting clippers.

            Dude, I probably thought. Somebody else got clippers a few years back and now I’m getting socks in the recycled clippers box? The fuck?

            But, no. The box was what it said: not just clippers; a whole set with attachments, instructions, scissors, an apron, a brush, a comb, and a flippin’ how-to video.

            I couldn’t believe it.

            My buddy and I buzzed each other’s heads for a couple of years after that, and then I entered long-hair phase three. After some time, I started going back to my barber. When I got the job I have now and had to abandon all of my hat-wearing years, it dawned on my just how thin my hair had gotten, so I said screw it and started buzzing my own hair.

            Now I do it once a week and have been for over a year.

            The clippers might have been the best Christmas gift I’ve ever been given. I guess that’s what you get for being a judgy brat about the giving season. Either way, I’m thankful for my clippers. They almost make baldness look like a choice, not a condition.

Eight Hundred Forty-Six: gastronomy

            In my waning years as a chef, an employer of mine introduced a concept/benefit known as Competitive Taste. This meant that we could dine out, produce a write-up and get reimbursed for up to $100. The two-fold idea: Get us out of our concept and out in the field; inspire us to grow, branch out, be better.

            It did all of those things and more: it enhanced my palate.

            My wife and I go out for a nice meal two or three times a year and when we do we splurge. We get the eats, the drinks, the service, and we pretend to ignore price tags. For us, the worth flirts with invaluable.

            Being a diner, a guest, and on the other side of service makes one feel special. It starts with the greet, but a quick transition into soaking up menu verbiage resembles culinary foreplay. Desire then ignites and you want the consumption to never cease, reflecting for days and weeks about the experience.

            My gratitude, here, however centers on humility.

            I always appreciated -- and still do -- being the recipient of the craft of one skilled on a level much higher than mine. When I first popped my New American cherry, insecurity danced around me, illustrating -- in my mind -- that which I could not do. I felt challenged and intimidated, embarrassed and pressed by the need to take a sabbatical so I could catch up, even the playing field.

            I lost myself in those thoughts for months, forgetting the professional basics of everything that had gotten me to where I was. And then I realized: It’s okay to be where I am and who I am. I don’t need all of those badass chefs to come and eat my food to feel good about myself. I have a customer base that does that. It’s okay to enjoy on a high level that which they do without the compellation to mimic it. Or worse: best it.

            Above all it made me realize that that industry shelf life existed for me. It was time to get out. I didn’t want months and months of Saturdays and holidays and occasions to be lost on me, never able to find the time to enjoy the complex simplicities with which these talented chefs create. For that realization and for the huge thrill I continue to get out of upscale-dining experiences, my gratitude swells.

Eight Hundred Forty-Five: old-school video games

            Pac-Man, Donkey Kong, Dragon’s Lair, Punch-Out!!, Pitfall, Moon Patrol, Frogger, Space Invaders, Ice Hockey, Super Mario Bros., R.B.I. Baseball, Tecmo Bowl, NHL ’94, The Legend of Zelda, Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out!!, Street Fighter II, Mortal Kombat

            The hours, the skill, the joy and frustration, the bloodshot eyes, and the sleepless nights. What fun. What an era. What glory.

            I don’t surmise that -- Ahem -- kids these days don’t achieve equal levels of euphoria from their World of Warcraft and their Grand Theft Auto and their Call of Duty and their Halo…Who am I kidding…That’s precisely what I surmise. Those old games of ours, though…Lots of damn good times, I tell ya’. Lots of damn good times.

Eight Hundred Forty-Four: Phish

            Each of these installments has thus far come with the no-value-associated-with-order disclaimer, but I can’t not disclaim my disclaimer and say that it doesn’t feel a little strange to be writing about one of my life’s greatest joys with 756 gratitudes left to write. The organic roots of the project’s nature must remain intact, though, and writing about Phish feels right at this moment.

            As I wrote this, I listened to night two of the new-year’s run the wife and I attended in Miami. The recording of course comes free with ticket purchase and this element of this band stands as one of hundreds why I cherish them so.

            I’ve been listening to the Vermont quartet for about 22 years and seeing them live for almost as long. As diving into such an extensive project as this might suggest, I have a lot to be happy about, but nothing -- in all of my adulthood -- has brought me such powerful, consistent joy as the Phishhead portion of my life. My jobs have just been. My sports teams have -- more or less -- disappointed. My family has only been my family for just under eight years; the previous version I associate with youth.

            In essence the gratefulness has two tiers: 1) The musicianship doesn’t get any better; 2) The compositions come from existentialism and, when performed live, capture improvisation’s true meaning with a sense of audience connectedness. The fans have relationships with the songs and the songs bring their roots to the venue but sprout new wings with each rendition, forging fresh elements out of said relationships.

            No matter how much I ponder, no matter how many words I type and sentences I edit, thoughts on paper will never do the experience justice. The band brings heart, humor, and energy to every city. They vibe off of their fans’ expectations and fans form natural bonds with one another before, after, and during the show because everyone attends their concerts for the root of the shared desire.

            It pleases me beyond words that all members of my family know how much I love Phish. I dig that my friends know. I adore that my daughter loves Phish for the sole reason that her Daddy does. That I got turned on to this outfit in 1992 in Chris Fickel’s Volkswagen Jetta while we skipped class ranks pretty high up there on the list of awesome things in my life.

Eight Hundred Forty-Three: Samuel Taylor Coleridge

            I don’t know much about the dude, save for Kubla Khan and The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, but I gotta give him thanks for those two pieces. Knowing their titles and having a vague sense of what they’re about makes me feel like I learned something in high school and college. It also gives me a strange form of satisfaction knowing that someone can write about the mystical and the creepy and be deemed great. So, thanks, Ess Tee See. I may have a future.

Eight Hundred Forty-Two: Parmita Kapadia

            When the 1997 fall trimester neared and I got my hands on a printout for what my the first chunk of my final year at Fort Lewis College would look like, the truth -- in a course listing -- stared back at me: I could no longer avoid British Literature. Not if I wanted that English-Literature minor. I’d dilly-dallied in the English department long enough to know all of the faculty, more than any other psychology major did anyway. This, though, was senior year. I’d taken two summer sessions and would take two more in an effort to graduate in four years. I had to hunker down with some serious major-associated courses and the dreaded British Literature that stood in the way of my recently selected major.

            I’d grown a touch entitled getting familiar with two departments. I wanted someone who knew me -- someone who maybe even liked me -- to lead us into the miser of a full term of British Literature. In the moment that I clutched that handout I just wanted to know which teacher I’d gotten, and when I saw the last name Kapadia next to British Literature, I was, as the wankers say, pissed.

            Who the fuck is Kapadia?, I thought. What are they doing? Sticking me with a student teacher? I consulted a faculty member.

            “That’s one of our new hires,” she said. “You’re going to like her.”

            Shit, I thought. “Like her”? It’s already British fucking literature. There’s no “like” happening in that classroom.

            I can’t tell you too much about that class. I know we read some Coleridge and some Chaucer. We spent some time on Shakespeare and read Beowulf and probably some drab by some blokes with “Lord” in their names. A funny thing happened, though: I wound up being motivated to work hard in there because I didn’t know Kapadia. Turns out I liked her, too.

In fact, I took her summer offering of 20th-Century Asian/African Literature, and aside from stabbing my eyes out over Joseph Conrad and watching Apocalypse Now, I liked that class, too. I gained an introduction to Chinua Achebe, which topped the highlight reel. That and that Kapadia character, whose first name turned out to be Parmita. And they were right: I did like her. She had spunk. She professed her expertise with passion. She bore a small sense of humor and an expectation of seriousness, especially with the -- ahem -- non-freshmen students in her classroom.

            Anyway, here’s to hoping I didn’t doze much or smell like last night’s craft beer or look more baked than one should be for morning classes. I dug her. She made me get serious about my minor, and kind of, sort of enjoy British Literature.

            A quick jog down Google Lane tells me she’s in year 12 at Northern Kentucky University and apparently had a PhD since the year before I met her. Well played, Dr. Kapadia. Well played. I hope you’re enlightening your students in a fashion similar to the one you utilized in southwest Colorado. Thank you for choosing education. Thank you for caring about it, and thank you for letting us call you Parmita.

Eight Hundred Forty-One: Reba the brown Corolla

            Before the spot at 5900 Troost became known as Ride-Away Credit, it bore a different name. I loathed our presence on its lot in October 1992, but I knew even then that fate had brought my father and I there. I’d dreamed of something more than the dingy, battered collection sprawled before us. I hadn’t driven my mom’s car to Dad’s evening job all of those weeks for him to stash away my money for this. I didn’t know what I wanted; only what I did not felt clear. My money wasn’t meant to be spent on Troost, not in the office of that lot, anyway.

            I imagine most who have experienced car shopping and/or a vehicle purchase can attest to this: things can escalate in a hurry. And there we sat, in folding chairs on the other side of a card table in that dump of an office. I remember watching as the dude that sat on the official side of things fed the title into a typewriter.

            This is bullshit, I thought. What kind of rinky-dink outfit are we patronizing?

            I hated everything about it.

            I hated the guy that sold us the car. I hated that a mere cat’s hair separated the odometer from rolling 93,000 miles. I hated the card table, the typewriter, the ratty Christmas lights strung around the place. I hated that I could tell that they swung fence gates closed and locked them at the end of each day’s business, that such a sorry display of vehicles might be subject to theft. I hated that the sun visors showed -- via stains and reluctance to stay in place -- the car’s wear. I hated the stock am/fm stereo that stared at me from the dash. I hated that, like my mattresses of old, I could feel springs poking my buns through the bench cushion of the back-seat upholstery. I hated my father’s haste to complete the transaction, and I hated the turd-brown color of the car. More than anything, I hated the shoddy job the lot’s lackey did at “removing” the yellow-orange shoe polish that adorned the Corolla’s windshield-displayed price; I think it took 17 rainstorms and six car washes before I could no longer see the reverse outline of $1095.95 in the sun’s rays as I drove, reminding me of the smell of cigarettes in that office, the typewriter, the Christmas lights, the yellow-orange shoe polish.

            When we pulled out, of the lot, I followed my father -- who of course went west on 59th instead of south on Troost -- for a few blocks. I felt a lack of tension in the clutch pedal, a murmur of exhaust beneath the chassis. I cursed that stock Toyota stereo, jamming the thick, black preset-station buttons in search of a quality tune with which I might christen my new ride. I shook my head at the image of my father’s blue Buick moving in front of me, the numeric representation of those five final pennies laughing in my face.

            And then a strange thing happened.

            Dad turned onto Brookside Boulevard, slowed the Buick for the briefest of moments and changed lanes. He lowered the driver-side window and extended his arm out with a token, statuesque wave. His gesture sparked an intuition to depress the accelerator, and as the rust-brown Corolla sailed past my father’s hoopty, all of my feelings of animosity rushed out the window, substituted for exhilaration over the sheer joy that, while the condition of this 1982 Toyota warranted all of my animosities, it was also something else: It was mine.

            I drove the shit out of that thing for three years, adding some 30,000 miles of my own to its life. I took it to and from Lawrence, to and from Pittsburg, and most everywhere else in the metro-KC area. I took it to Colorado, where it became something of a community vehicle in the Estes Park/Glen Haven region. I took it up to Summit County a few times, and parted ways with it en route to my new home in Durango, only to find that the on-faith sale of the vehicle to a family friend would never generate any cash flow for my pocket. A number of months later, I got a notice that it had been repossessed by the city of Denver, and later heard tales of it sitting on milk crates prior to being towed.

            This infuriated me and hurt my heart. I’d abandoned my first, the thing I had invested more character in than anything ever. I’d deserted the most dependable life element I’d ever known, the source that fed Scott at Sinclair on Mission Road for two whole years. I’d left my rumbly brown steed, my work horse, my Reba. I’d forsaken a hate that blossomed into love and necessity, allowed her to be stripped of her pride in the Mile High City, and there wasn’t a thing I could do about it.

            I’d moved on to Pale Face, as Audra Snow would dub my ’85 Toyota pickup, but Reba -- who I’d named for track two from Phish’s Lawn Boy (a staple for the KC-to-Pittsburg, blaze-riddled drive) -- had treated me well. We had a relationship. I’d adorned her with a nice JVC deck, some handsome rearview-mirror-dangling baby Jordans, seat covers, and more repairs than an electrician sees in a career. I loved her when her door handles collapsed, her horn failed, and her windows displayed moodiness. I’m so grateful for having owned that car and experienced so much with it. I’m still sad over how our relationship ended and embarrassed to admit that I acted -- if only for the first five minutes of our inaugural ride -- like a spoiled piece of shit.

Eight Hundred Forty: Pale Face the white pickup

            Sometimes with these installments it feels like the right thing to do is to separate similar entries, and at other times that seems impossible.

            So I’m going straight from my first vehicle to my second.

            I bought this rig with a camper shell in the summer of 1995 off of a dude named Tim Cisneros from Louisville, Colorado. He seemed alright. I think he and his dad took a major wrong turn in either acquiring or installing a rebuilt engine for the thing, but whatever. Or maybe both. Or maybe they rebuilt it themselves. I have no idea. That it had said rebuilt was the selling point, the Neosporin on the 120,000-mile skin burn. That and it looked super fucking cool.

            Regardless, I bought it and not long after, lived in it. With my dog.

            I carpeted the bed, loaded my every possession in the back, and parked -- every night -- in a patch of gravel adjacent to Mary’s Lake in Estes Park. Near summer’s end, I moved to Durango and my girlfriend moved in with us. We found a home after a few weeks, but that thing wasted no time in becoming my second love. In addition to being my college ride, I took that thing to and from the Front Range and to and from Kansas City more times than I ever imagined possible.

            I put most of 80,000 miles on it in five years and took it to probably 13 Phish shows. McConnell and I loved that truck. We took it off road. We once crossed a closed Wolf Creek Pass at 2:00 a.m. in it. We collected mail at six different addresses while we owned it, but we always knew Pale Face as our one true home.

            I’ll never forget Audra approaching me with the hope of borrowing the then-unnamed pickup. She didn’t want to use it for a move, or take it to the grocery store. She wanted to go to Fort Collins. Thinking such an act of generosity might get me in her pants, I agreed. Eight hundred miles later she pulled back in to town and got out.

            “Blair,” she said. “I named your truck.”

            “You what?”

            “I couldn’t help it,” she said. There were times when I thought we weren’t going to make it, and it just came to me. I’d say, ‘C’mon, Pale Face. You can do it.’”

            I had to replace two head gaskets in that rig, and at the time I traded it in, I think it had blown a third time. For this I blame Tim Cisneros, or the Portland company that provided the rebuild, or both of them, but really -- it’s neither here nor there. That ’85 four-by-four was a beyond-amazing second vehicle. I’m thankful to my late grandmother whose generosity made the loan possible, and I’m thankful that Mr. Cisneros wanted to sell it when he did. I’m thankful for the availability of Truck Trader magazine, and I’m thankful for all of the experiences I had in its cab, and for the home its bed/shell provided me and my loved ones.

Eight Hundred Thirty-Nine: unnamed friend #13

            Time for another ex and this one’s another live-in. Our place of residence would be my last with Pale Face, but enough about vehicles. This relationship, this bit of cohabitation had -- at one time -- no limit. It had extended families hoping, praying, and working together. It had two people trying to make two lives one. It had an array of jobs, foggy dream clarity, a vision that looked too many steps into the future, and as a result, oversaw the present.

            This relationship had love, passion, and healthy doses of a good kind of insecurity from both parties. The insecurities dealt not in faith or trust in one another, rather in life and in our individual selves. Our life together resembled a big experiment, an investment with emotional foundations, an unofficial matrimony.

            The only thing I can say about where we were when things shifted centers on my falling out of love. At least I think that’s what it was. It might have been an infatuation that diminished like helium seeps from a balloon. It could have been a major crush that wasn’t meant to be more than a quasi-serious fling. It ended with layered pain, though, and for that I carry regret. The biggest layer involves how the changing of my feelings hurt unnamed friend number 13. I don’t mean -- on any level -- to compare our anguishes, but the way I felt about our future seemed clear and needed repetition, which -- unless you’re an asshole -- can only wind up as a miserable delivery.

            That hurt more than anything because I cared for unnamed friend number 13. I loved her, and a part of me still does. I love her for having loved me, for taking on life with me, for loving my people, and wanting me to love hers. I know she ached for a while and I couldn’t do anything about it. I couldn’t comfort her; I couldn’t displace her pain. For a while, I wanted to be in love with her again, just to take away her sorrow, but I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t make myself. I couldn’t talk myself into it. And then -- when a small dose of time had healed her wounds -- I kind of forgot about her for a little while.

            Then she started dating one of my friends and the two of them tried to hide from me. I didn’t care; it made me happy that they were into each other. When my father died she was there for me. She loved my father and my father loved her. I will never forget that.

            Then she met the man she would marry. I’ve met him two or three times and his gentle nature carries with it a mild flavor of deception in that -- with swiftness -- it became clear that we were not allowed to be friends she and I. This is where my hurt is rooted, as I -- for more reasons than this -- could not be there for her when she lost her father. Believe me: That’s a favor you want to return, especially when it pertains to an ex. It would seem, though, that we were banned from communication as phone calls and texts shifted, with permanence, into an unreturned mode. She unfriended me on Facebook and though we share a number of mutual friends, has attended precisely zero social functions to which we were both invited.

            We once ran into each other at a bar. The group of our friends with whom they’d spent the evening had just left the evening’s function for a nightcap. The whole lot of us gathered just inside the door of the bar as first rounds were bought. When she spotted me, she grabbed her spouse.

            “(Husband),” she said. “Look who it is. You remember Blair, don’t you?”

            After the awkward hand shake, I ordered a drink, and upon my return discovered that they had departed, leaving their still-coated group curious if something had happened with their babysitter.

            That was probably eight years ago.

            I haven’t seen her since.

            From what I can gather, their life contains a tremendous amount of happiness, and I wouldn’t wish anything else for them. I’m thankful that -- the night after 15 Thanksgivings ago -- we came in to one another’s lives. We learned a lot from one another, or at least from our experience together.

Eight Hundred Thirty-Eight: Bittersweet Motel

            In case you don’t know, this documentary follows Phish around for a handful of months. It might be my favorite movie of all time. I own it on VHS and I drag it out several times a year, loving it perhaps more than the previous viewing each and every time. I don’t need to tell Phish fans to see it; it’s the non-fans. Check it out.

Eight Hundred Thirty-Seven: Old Milwaukee N.A.

            These gorgeous red cans became my house beer almost three years ago. Their deliciousness quenches and their contents help me keep my edge.

Eight Hundred Thirty-Six: Fireball

            For when I say, Edge? I don’t need no stinkin’ edge. (Note: I never say that.) (Post-note note: Three cheers for addiction!)

Eight Hundred Thirty-Five: Bitty Basketball

            The program for peewee hoops put on by the Cleaver Family YMCA showed me another way in which the one parenthood adage that holds true will always put on the full-court pressure: It all goes so fast.

            Through four weeks of practice and a week of games we’ve watched our daughter go from teary abandonment to parent-present participation to sideline encouragement. Adeline’s only been four for two months, but watching her out there felt like only weeks remained prior to her fifth birthday. I can’t believe my baby girl has shown us her ability to practice defense, dribble a ball, and pretend to shoot baskets. Ever thankful first and foremost for being a parent, I’m thankful for being a parent to a healthy child, and being a parent in an awesome community.

Eight Hundred Thirty-Four: my griddle

            How I obtained a griddle can only be defined by one word: ridiculous. The most absurd aspect centered on my years-long commentary regarding wanting one, that I never just went out and bought it. Instead, I put it on my Christmas list for two -- maybe three -- years, and got about a half a dozen incorrect items. The highlights: my sister got me a square, non-stick pancake skillet; my mom got me an entire set of cast-iron skillets; my stepmom and my in-laws came close, but in the end (and from the beginning) this purchase should have been made by me. Once I came to that realization, I never looked back, and have not used any appliance or gadget even half as much as I have the griddle. Fish, chicken, steak, burgers, sandwiches, quesadillas, pancakes, hash, and more; nothing tops it. I wouldn’t trade it for anything and I’m happy to have had it for over a decade now.

Eight Hundred Thirty-Three: Uncle Jim

            The charm came true in my Aunt Grace’s third attempt and finding a husband and you’d have to look pretty hard to find any faults in her score of Jim Hemore. Well, I mean besides the fact that he puts on a cop uniform when he goes to work and wears a Tom Brady jersey on Sundays. Other than those two warts, my aunt’s got a solid dude for a spouse. Jim’s got a good handle on balance. He juggles handiness, a heavy work load, support for Grace’s two kids, his wife’s happiness, and her family, too. I dig Jim. I’ll take him and his mock turtlenecks any day, and I’m grateful to call him family.

Eight Hundred Thirty-Two: Uncle Bob

            Marriage challenged Grace’s big sister Suzi as well, but she hit the nail on the proverbial head in her third attempt, and I’m happy she found Bob Rosenbaum. I mean, dude’s a goof, but in the best way. Bob can tear it up on the golf course, he’s done a fine job with three children of his own, and I think he logs some pretty significant work hours. Bob’s figured out how to navigate his wife’s family as well, and if nothing else, you have to credit him for managing Suzi’s 12-acre inventory of Christmas decorations. I think the Rosenbaums acknowledge two annual seasons: 1) putting out ornaments, and 2) putting them away. Bob’s been around for over two decades now, maybe even longer. Good people.

Eight Hundred Thirty-One: my tertiary education

            How I got to the point of applying to University of Missouri-Kansas City’s creative-writing program still seems bizarre. As a Pitt State freshman, I chose communications for a major, but only did so because they make you pick something. When I transferred to Fort Lewis, I’d enjoyed Introduction to Psychology the most in Pittsburg, so I declared that there. A short while in, I found myself spending about double the time in the English department over that which I spent in the building associated with my major. Nearing senior year, I realized that I could either major in Spanish, English literature, or English-communications. I knew lit. the best, and to be frank, that appeared to be the easiest road to take for my toughest major-associated academic year.

            Somewhere in my college years I started writing, too, so by the time I graduated I knew two things: I wanted to go to graduate school, but had to face the conundrum of what to study. It only took seven years and an 850-mile move to choose English, and the whole thing just kind of fell into my lap.

            I think it started with Anna’s interest in a program at K.U., and before long I’d discovered the program at U.M.K.C. In a flash I discovered myself at a semester-kickoff function talking with J.J. Cantrell and Whitney Terrell in somebody’s backyard. Little did I know how much work it would require to get through graduate school, and the things that I learned, the professors and students I met, and the overall life experience of those two years remain something I cherish and value. For it and all it encompassed, for what it taught me, I give thanks. I don’t dig on the student loans, but everything -- as they say -- comes with a price.

Eight Hundred Thirty: student loans

            Speaking of, I’m not thankful for the $60,000 debt I brought to our marriage, but I’m thankful for the fact that student loans exist in our country. If they didn’t, high school would have been the end of my educational road. So, shitty bill to face each month, but I am -- in a sense -- glad I have it.

Eight Hundred Twenty-Nine: Colleen Webster

            In eighth grade we had to take a semester-long class called “Foreign Language.” One half covered Spanish; the other French. Spanish came easy; French felt -- how do I say this -- a little faggy. This made for an easy freshman-year decision to choose Spanish. I’d stick with something for which I felt I had a knack and get that requirement out of the way early in my high-school career. Doing Colleen Webster’s teaching style justice in an entry like this seems silly, so I’ll keep it simple: Mrs. Webster brought comedy, energy, and joy to the classroom experience. In 1989 she appeared young and new to the profession and spending a year in her class encouraged me to tackle another two semesters of Spanish as a sophomore. If I’ve been working for 25 years, I’ll bet that I’ve used Spanish for 22 of them. So, thanks, Mrs. Webster, for being awesome (and cute) and giving me a useful tool.

Eight Hundred Twenty-Eight: Maralin Noble

            I landed Mrs. Noble for Spanish II and while we managed to have a pretty good time in her class, she struck me as a mean, old bitch. She did fine at her profession and she geared me up well for Spanish III, but she seemed so cranky. She also ratted me out for skipping once, which led to dickbag Associate Principal Art Newcomer threatening to “throw” my “ass out onto Mission Road.” I don’t blame Mrs. Noble. She did her job, did it well, and I’m grateful for having learned from her, but fuck you, Art Newcomer. I shoulda thrown a right cross and knocked your ol’ ass out. You cost me valuable boner time next to Angela Kircher by suspending me.

Eight Hundred Twenty-Seven: Nora Pinkston

            The memory fuzziness began somewhere in between Maralin Noble and Nora Pinkston. Mrs. Pinkston came from Peru and I welcomed her soft-spoken style after a year in Mrs. Noble’s room. That’s about all I can remember, though. I know I passed, and I remember her being a sweet lady, so thanks for that, Mrs. Pinkston.

Eight Hundred Twenty-Six: Larry Dearing

            This piece of work deserves a whole page to himself. The story on Señor Dearing centered on his crass humor and his one-lunged delivery. He used to pick on folks for sleeping in class and call them out for smoking weed in the parking lot (true or otherwise). Spanish IV confused the shit out of me with all of the tenses that get introduced at that stage, but by senior year I had two priorities: working and partying.

            It showed, too, as I got a big fat ‘F’ in Señor Dearing’s class. Not for lack of learning or trying, though; rather, attendance. I skipped his class a bunch and he seldom badgered me for a pass, but he let me have it in the grade book. A fair lesson, I suppose. Thanks, anyway, Larry.

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