Saturday, February 28, 2015

One Thousand Gratitudes, Part XI: 750-726

So it's taken two months to get one quarter of this project written, edited, and posted, which means it should be a wrap by late August.

I'm not gonna lie: That sounds awful.

I started this series because it felt like the right thing to do. It felt like we don't give thanks enough for all of the awesomeness we have. Once I got it off the ground, I saw its existence as a means for forcing myself to establish a consistent writing schedule, which started to happen a few weeks ago, but saw a setback this week.

When I got that schedule rolling, it occurred to me that training myself to have the necessary discipline to maintain such a schedule could give me the confidence to work on a larger, non-blog project, like a novel.

Now, though, as I prepare to click "Publish" on the 11th installment, and I think about having to do this through two additional entire seasons without working on anything else, I feel that nasty, this-is-threatening-to-become-a-chore rumble in my gut, which defeats so many purposes on so many levels.

My hope is that after getting this up, napping, showering, recharging with some friends and my wife this evening, and getting some sleep tonight, I'll feel refreshed about the whole thing again in the morning, or at least by the next time I sit down to work on it.

Anyway...As always: Thanks for reading.

Seven Hundred Fifty: The Muppets

            I didn’t get The Muppets television show as a kid. I think it confused me with its kid-friendly appearance and adult sense of humor. I checked in on it from time to time, though, knowing that I liked who they were and what they did on the big screen. I think I felt challenged to liken them to my friends over on Sesame Street and that never seemed a fair fight. As I grew older I began to appreciate them more, and now, I feel like the world’s indebtedness to Jim Henson and all of his creations seems immeasurable. Such a talent and such good use of it, too. I think feeling like I must have all of the Muppets glasses from McDonald’s might’ve been my first materialistic compulsion. Regardless, those early films and that groundbreaking program made the world a better place for kids. Gotta give props to Mr. Henson for that.

Seven Hundred Forty-Nine: Raena & Grant’s

            Do you have friends that have dedicated themselves as perpetual hosts? If not you should find some soon. Be they on West 70th Street or 70th Terrace, Raena and Grant have folks over all of the time. In fact it’d be interesting to keep tabs on how many days of the year there aren’t people besides Raena and Grant at their home. My guess: less than 150.

            I don’t know how they do it. The time, the money, the emotional tax.

            Perhaps they’re just wired to prefer folks in their home.

            Perhaps they just dislike going elsewhere that much.

            Either way, I’m thankful for their hospitality, their graciousness, their sweet acceptance of our children at their parties. I’m thankful for their porch, their deck, their TVs, their fireplace, their kitchen, their snacks, and their booze. And of course, I’m thankful for them, all that they do, and who they are.

Seven Hundred Forty-Eight: the neighbor boys

            Noah and Ethan Heinen -- along with their little brother Jacob and their mom and dad -- live two doors down from us. Those two boys were the apple of our daughter’s eye when we moved into our home and that hasn’t changed. I think my wife first dubbed the toehead siblings “the neighbor boys” and they’ve been just that for almost two and-a-half years. Once Jacob had joined the clan and developed a little bit of independence, Adeline made the distinction one morning that he was not a neighbor boy; it’s the neighbor boys and Jacob.

            The Heinens are ridiculously sweet, though. I’m thankful we moved onto their block and I hope our kids remain buddies with the neighbor boys for years to come.

Seven Hundred Forty-Seven: Advent dinner

            Two months into our residency on 65th Terrace, we got invited to the neighborhood Advent dinner, a round robin of hosting for soup, salad, and wine on the four Sundays leading up to Christmas. We felt honored to be included as the literal new kids on the block and we’ve been part of the mix for three Decembers now. I can’t really say much else about it. Advent dinner got the random assignment of 747, but it ranks up there in the top 20 as an invaluable gratitude. So thank you, Andersons, Pucketts, Bryans, and Heinens for including us in your tradition.

Seven Hundred Forty-Six: family dinner

            We try to host family dinner every Sunday. We want to spend time with our loved ones and we want our kids to identify with the value of having family present. Getting the groceries together and the food prepared seldom gets labeled as easy or punctual, but family dinner -- new tradition that it is -- is worth it. We’re grateful for having jobs that generate enough income for us to provide the food for it. We’re grateful for our spacious kitchen, cozy dining room, and for our family, whether they’re able to join us or not.

Seven Hundred Forty-Five: Billy Joel

            I knew a bunch of Billy Joel cuts before middle school, but not until I owned my first album -- 1983’s An Innocent Man -- did I begin to grasp the depth of the man’s discography. Mark Patterson dubbed me a copy of Greatest Hits Vol. I & II in sixth grade, but that only got me 26 tracks on a Maxell, labeled in his handwriting. I say “only” tongue in cheek there; I played the shit out of that cassette and learned every one of those songs that I didn’t already know back and forth.

            I knew the Joel cuts I knew from radio play, but my first true experience with him came in my stepdad’s Chrysler LeBaron as he rocked out to “Pressure,” then listened to “Goodnight Saigon” in silence. And by “rocked out” I mean he went clinically insane for four minutes and 37 seconds.

            Being gifted that dubbed copy of the compilation may have been the birth of my antic-compilation stance. I loved that album so much I hated it. I wanted the tracks packaged with the other cuts from the studio session. I wanted the year of release, and the cover art. Good God! Is having the cover art too much to ask?

            I remember shopping for tapes the day that I bought Innocent Man. I also selected Led Zeppelin IV and Van Halen 1984 and rode my bike back to my dad’s, pissed I didn’t have enough for two Joel tapes. I remember Turnstiles, Glass Houses, 52nd Street, and The Stranger being on the shelf, too, each of them compelling, but losing out to the appeal of putting on my Walkman headphones and trying to hit the high notes of Innocent Man’s title track.

            As my appetite for music ran wild, my affinity for Joel albums faded, probably ending with my purchase of Houses and Kohuept, which may as well have been Russian for “huge disappointment.” I didn’t know it at the time, but my dad had been a bigger Joel fan than I’d given him credit for, and in time, two of my sisters would catch him live.

            Lot of early-music memories associated with Billy Joel. I’m grateful for that day in the mall, that gift from Mark Patterson, and for all of the good times we’ve had listening to his tunes.

Seven Hundred Forty-Four: unnamed friend # 18

            This guy…

            This guy slaved away with me and our passel of roommates at chain restaurant in small-town Colorado. When I met him he held the luxurious title of shift manager, but made quick work of assuming a type of assistant-general-manager role. He worked a ton, drank heavier than most of us, and could seldom quiet his restless mind. In a flash our California landlord evicted us and we went separate ways.

            Unnamed friend number 18 wound up heaving luggage for Southwest Airlines until he jacked up his back. Now he lives somewhere in Texas with his wife, their dogs, and her mom, I think. We had good times when we lived and worked together, but I grew to value our friendship after that stretch, when we exchanged handwritten letters for some five, six years.

            I don’t know what part of unnamed friend number 18’s motivation got tickled by such an engagement, but his gift really shined in this period. I suspect-- Rather, I know he wrote elsewhere in other fashions at other times. I imagine he once dreamt of trying to make it and maybe he felt like letters resembled the proverbial closest he’d ever get. I also think he struggled a touch with depression for a spell. Maybe he was hittin’ the sauce pretty heavy. Maybe both.

            It doesn’t matter either way. It afforded me the opportunity to explore a new means for friendship and considering how many hours and weeks and months we spent in such close proximity it made the thing cool and real.

            We text every now and again, and having written this I’m tempted to relight the letter-writing fire with the guy. Great talent. Great mind. Great guy. Very thankful to have called him a coworker, a roommate, a pen pal, and a friend.

Seven Hundred Forty-Three: Steamworks Brewing Company

            When I left the slave dungeon from whence I collected my bi-monthly pile of coins with unnamed friend number 18, I gained employment at the other end of the alley. I mean this in the literal sense; I went from two years at 862 Main Avenue to three years at 822 E. 2nd Ave. If you stood at the dumpster of one restaurant’s location, you could see the other joint’s dumpster.

            A buddy put in a good word for me and in my 30-second interview with Executive Chef Patrick McNamara -- who said, “Holy shit; you stuck it out.” -- I got the job.

            My employment at Steamworks ruled.

            In my previous gig I’d fumbled through salads and apps, became the Mexi-line expert, mastered the fry station, and dabbled in sandwich/grill back before moving to grill/lead line cook for over a year. At Steamworks I learned how to run a wood-fire oven, broke my sauté cherry, then moved to grill, where I stayed for over two years. The owner promoted me to Assistant Kitchen Manager, and after I graduated from college, I dropped back to part-time, which freed me up to expedite and run the wheel, plus bartend Friday lunch and Saturday night.

            At this gig I grew as a server sasser. I learned how to balance hot plates while running food, greet folks at the door, make drinks, utilize a point-of-sales software system (Note: Aloha’s still the best.), overserve myself more times than I care to admit, and above all: run a kitchen. This job put me in a place of future opportunity. I had countless great times, met a ton of awesome people, and had the luxury of sleeping with a total of zero hot, sexy coworkers. Yay, self-esteem!

            I gotta give thanks to my buddy for the recommendation, McNamara for being crazy enough to hire me, and Kris Oyler for maybe being the best owner to ever sign my paycheck. I’ll never visit Durango and not stop in to Steamworks. I hope it’s around for generations of Fort Lewis College students to enjoy.

Seven Hundred Forty-Two: J.D. at The Rabbit Hutch

            So far in this series I’ve mentioned Scott at Sinclair and Mark Trokey. Scott serviced my Corolla and Mark has worked on both of my Subarus, our RAV4, my wife’s old Honda, and an array of her family’s vehicles both before my time and still today.

            Having a mechanic you trust might register as one of the most valuable assets a person can claim, and the importance of such a thing has even greater value at a young age with no nearby family. J.D. owned a joint on Highway 160 in Durango and he called it The Rabbit Hutch, as he did a ton of work on Volkswagens, but welcomed import owners of other varieties as well. Pale Face, my Toyota pickup, needed frequent service, and after terrible experiences at Affordable Alignment over on Highway 250, I needed someone trustworthy.

            J.D. didn’t hook me up, but he didn’t need to; I didn’t ask that of him. He taught me, though. He didn’t just take my money and give me back my keys. He brought me into his garage -- each and every time -- and showed me what was happening. He shared his parts pricing and always quoted accurate labor assessments. He gave me rides home and once picked me up at home when he’d completed work on my truck. In the anxious world of used-vehicle ownership -- at an age when every quarter mattered -- I needed a guy like J.D. I’m thankful for him, his business, and that I found it.

Seven Hundred Forty-One: Danger Mouse

            “Crumbs, Chief!”

            “Crikey, D.M.!”

            When our mother remarried and her new husband’s gig took us to Atlanta, we wound up with a ton of new perks, i.e. cable. By 1983 Nickelodeon had erupted. My sister and I couldn’t/wouldn’t miss an episode of Danger Mouse. How we found it -- I surmise -- occurred via channel surfing, and the network had hooked two viewers in an instant. It had action, comedy, conflict, humor, cuteness, and appeal. We loved it, laughed at it, and today it serves as a source of nostalgia. Kudos, Nickelodeon, for landing that program from the Brits. At a time when life changed faster than we could tabulate, Danger Mouse appeased us.

Seven Hundred Forty: You Can’t Do That on Television

            This show was stupid. We sat there and watched it, though. We didn’t laugh when they said, “I don’t know” and got slimed or “water” and got wet. We didn’t chuckle at the opposites segment, and -- to me -- all of the sketches with the lone adult (the dad, cook, coach, etc.) creeped me out a touch. I guess staring at the screen while it aired made us American, or bored, or lazy, or all of the above. I’m glad we tuned in, though. It made for a good bonding experience between siblings.

Seven Hundred Thirty-Nine: Aunt Tracy

            Strange how some people come in pairs your whole life. For as long as I can remember, Aunt Tracy has gone with Uncle Mike. They’ve always been Uncle Mike and Aunt Tracy. They were there, without kids, the young couple, funny, and energetic. Then they started a family and remained the young couple, funny, and energetic, but they’ve always been Uncle Mike and Aunt Tracy.

            I can only use one word to describe Aunt Tracy: sweetheart.

            Aunt Tracy has been the sweetest lady for as long as I’ve known her. She’s been a great aunt, a loving wife, and a caring mom to her three kids. Life hasn’t always been easy for her, but her personality has never appeared to alter. She has maintained a sense of humor, continued to smile, and remained a sweetheart.

            I’ve known Aunt Tracy for over 30 years now, and I’m just as proud today as I was then to call her family.

Seven Hundred Thirty-Eight: Aunt Mary Anne

            I’m not sure how Uncle Dale and his little brother Mike landed such incredible ladies for wives, but they should both feel lucky. Not that they aren’t awesome, deserving dudes. They are for sure those things and more, but for both of them to land beautiful, caring, sweet women is remarkable, and perhaps evident of their parents having done a fantastic job raising their kids.

            It’s funny how Uncle Mike and Aunt Tracy have -- to me -- always been young, funny, and energetic. Uncle Dale and Aunt Mary Anne have -- to me -- always been older, wiser, and reserved. Not that they didn’t engage. Heck, they might now more than ever. Regardless, Aunt Mary Anne -- like all of the Beck clan -- has always treated me like family. I can’t say I’ve ever seen her raise her voice, make a mean face, or appear cross. Aunt Mary Anne has always exuded wisdom and shared insight. She’s been someone to look up to for almost every year I’ve been alive.

Seven Hundred Thirty-Seven: my tape collection

            This seems silly since I seldom get any use out of my cassettes anymore. For the most part they’ve taken up space and been a chore to move for about 10 years. I may some day get rid of them but I wouldn’t trade my experience with them for anything. I’ve been toting this pile of tapes around for a long time now. I wouldn’t know what I know musically without building that collection from scratch, and for having had the ability to do so, I am grateful.

Seven Hundred Thirty-Six: having a home birth

            The births of both of our children were phenomenal, but being there -- in our bedroom -- as my wife gave birth to our son is an experience I will never forget. It was weird having a blow-up, Jacuzzi-sized pool in our room. It was really weird filling that thing with water, and even weirder to get in it, then sit in it with my wife with a woman standing on its either side. 

          It didn’t feel that weird to meet our son in it, though. It did, however, feel weird to realize that we were home in our bed -- just the three of us -- just two hours after he was born. There was no waiting, no napping in awkward beds, no dozen different people knocking and coming in with things and information. It was just us, at home, in peace and quiet. A few hours later our daughter joined us and just like that we were a new family in our home.

Seven Hundred Thirty-Five: Jon Fishman

            I’ve never been able to appreciate the drummer’s role in Phish. I’ve always appreciated the dude, the guy he seems to be, his sense of humor. I’ve always known him to be a great accompanist and I know he’s got talent, but his role in that outfit (Note: The band, not the dress.) is so different from that of the rock bands I listened to growing up. I’m not sure that my opinion will ever shift, but I do know that this scenario embodies the sum-of-the-parts-is-greater-than-the-whole mantra. You can’t swap any of the dudes in Phish. You just can’t, and because I know that, I’m grateful for Jon Fishman.

Seven Hundred Thirty-Four: physical capacity

            I give thanks for the fact that I entered the world with four functioning limbs, healthy organs, and a sound mind. I feel like -- had I been born with some kind of deformity -- I would have figured out a way to make things work, or maybe I’d still be working on it now. Or maybe I’d just be a huge mess, never functioning with independence. Regardless, I carry an overwhelming sense of gratitude for the health with which I was given, and I need to enhance my presence with that feeling. I need to acknowledge it more often than I do.

Seven Hundred Thirty-Three: the Kansas City Royals

            So many memories of growing up a Royals fan. So many smiles, cheers, moments with families. I give thanks to the city of Kansas City and the Kauffman family for allowing us to have the Royals in our lives.

Seven Hundred Thirty-Two: Aunt Maureen

            Aside from being married to my Uncle Frank for a number of years and having four amazing children, Aunt Maureen has shown me love and respect every time I’ve been around her. Unconditional love from someone that doesn’t owe it to you goes a long, long way and it means even more as a preteen. I hope she has found happiness in her new life.

Seven Hundred Thirty-One: Bob Hackett

            I’ve never met the dude, but my Aunt Grace once loved him and fathered her two children, who I’m proud to call cousins. Also, he seems like a dude that’s figuring stuff out, and I’m down with that, so for him I give thanks.

Seven Hundred Thirty: Wayne Williams

            Love this guy. My Aunt Grace loved him for a bit, and he took her and her kids in, so I gots to include the Wayner. Much love to ya’, brother.

Seven Hundred Twenty-Nine: cousin Shane

            My Aunt Grace’s first born bears the honor of first house guest in our home. Cousin Shane has a huge heart and has accomplished some pretty impressive things in his young life. He gained, I imagine, remarkable insight after a California sojourn with Uncle Jack. He logged some time in the armed forces, and developed an unhealthy relationship with CrossFit. He may have settled again in Florida, and if he has, may he find fulfillment there.

Seven Hundred Twenty-Nine: Terry

            My Aunt Suzi married this cat at a young age. It didn’t work out, but he seemed alright. If he loved my Aunt Suzi for a minute, I’ll throw some thanks his way.

Seven Hundred Twenty-Eight: Terry (#2)

            One evening in high school we discovered an 800 number on the side of every can of Milwaukee’s Best Light. If memory serves, we punched in a Prairie Village prefix and the last four digits of that 800 number and it rang.


            “Hi,” Matt Smith said. “Who’s this?”

            “It’s Terry,” the man said.

            “Guys.” Matt put the receiver to his chest. “It’s Terry,” he said, extending it.

            “Ter-ry! Ter-ry! Ter-ry!”

            We chanted out of spontaneity. We chanted out of joy. We chanted out of inebriation.

            I have no idea how many times we called Terry prior to graduation, but I’ll be God damned if the man didn’t answer every time. We called from each other’s parent’s homes, house parties, and probably even a pay phone or two. We sometimes rang him in the evening, and again later that night. If the conversation ever varied, it varied little, i.e. “Hi. May I please speak with Terry?”; “This is Terry.”; “Guys, it’s Terry!”; “Ter-ry! Ter-ry!”

            This literally went on for years. One night we called and a guy named Brent answered and we chanted his name, too. We only got Brent on the horn three or four times, which -- let’s be honest -- was a good thing; one-syllable names just don’t have the same ring. People grew to recognize our Terry calls. People outside our friend group. Our siblings. Hell, even a few people from other schools knew the drill. The fact that Terry would almost always a) be home, b) answer and identify himself, and c) never hang up on us became a limitless source for uncontrollable howling.

The connection with Terry embodied randomness, hilarity, and the absurd. For Terry alone, I give thanks, but also for his patience, resilience, willingness -- and for my friends, and our laughter, too -- I am grateful.

            (Note: I realize that Matt Smith and maybe Sean Kirkwood may take issue with who called first and what the telephone number was, but this -- right, wrong, or otherwise -- is how I remember it.)

Seven Hundred Twenty-Eight: Mike Owens

            Getting back to dudes my aunts wed, I probably knew Mike Owens better than any. My mom always griped that he smelled. Suzi always said he had garlic breath. I just remember his greasy-black mechanic hands and his glasses-and-beard, Unabomberish look. Well, that and that I caught him rolling a joint in the basement in fifth grade. You made me make Nancy Reagan proud, Mike. Well, for a couple years anyway. Thanks for letting us live with you on Windsor, though. That was huge.

Seven Hundred Twenty-Seven: cousin Tiana

            Aunt Grace’s second born has experienced as much as her brother has. She’s travelled a bit, experienced plenty in the relationship department, and wields -- I’m told -- a pretty mean billiards cue. Cousin T has always had some sweetheart in her. Even when she didn’t want anyone to see it, we knew it still existed. My aunt’s daughter might have been the first baby I spent substantial time around. Loved her then, just as I do now.

Seven Hundred Twenty-Six: Mary Ann Schiro

            I never met the lady, but she loved -- if only in youth -- my Uncle Jack and bore him four awesome kids. Okay, I can only vouch for the awesomeness of one of them, but whatever. I give thanks to the idea of a young Jack in love, caravanning in the world, trying to make sense of it.

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