Saturday, April 11, 2015

One Thousand Gratitudes, Part XVI: 625-601

Kinda fell off the train of late as my laziness always zigs when life gets busier and seems to zag. I'm not giving up, though. I've just got to find a way to get my ass in bed early enough to rise early enough to do this thing. Only takes two or three mornings of getting my butt in the chair and I can start cranking these out again.

Hard to believe I'm almost halfway there and have been at this series for just shy of a quarter of a year.

If you're new to this gig, the idea stemmed from this gal's book that I have never even held in my hand, let alone read. It came up in the wife's book club -- which is code for excuse to drink wine on a week night in one another's dining rooms -- during the winter, and it occurred to me that exploring all of the things I'm grateful for might do me some good. This is that exploration.

If you've been around since the beginning, or have just popped in here and there, many thanks to you.

Readership will always be a key portion to the writer's-fuel recipe. So, thank you for reading. 

Six Hundred Twenty-Five: cigarettes for John Popper

      On July 5th, 1995 I saw Rusted Root open for The Allman Brothers Band at Red Rocks Amphitheater. My buddy rode down to Morrison from Estes Park in Lisa’s SUV. Her pal Lindsay rode shotgun. The girls got a hotel room in Denver and we partied in their room for a minute before leaving for the show. Afterwards, we followed them back to the room so my buddy could get his stuff, a vehicle following us for several minutes. It pulled into the hotel driveway right behind us, and when I got out to smoke two guys from the car behind us got out as well: Chan Kinchla and John Popper of Blues Traveler. Star struck, I tried to get them to burn some cheeba with us, but they declined, bumming two of my smokes instead. I had my Phish hat on at the time and as they got back into their car, Popper flashed me a peace sign and said, “I like that hat, man.”

Six Hundred Twenty-Four: cleaning Lisa Whelchel’s room

      This should about wrap up my brush with fame, but I mentioned all of the Facts of Life teasing I received in my youth, and I’ve talked plenty about my housekeeping gig(s) in Estes Park, Colorado.

      I’ll never forget the morning I knocked on a lodge-room door, however, and stood speechless as Lisa Whelchel herself stared back at me. In fairness, she didn’t stare. Instead she held a look of curiosity as to why I gave her the silent iron face.

      Once composed, I explained myself and she could not have cared less. Her body language expressed a sincere just-clean-my-room-and-then-clean-yourself-you-dirty-hippie message that she packaged with a tidy little and-try-not-to-steal-anything non-verbal note.

      And that was it. It’s a funny story to tell. To me, anyway. As for her I imagine she probably tired of TV-sitcom tales long before I interrupted one of her vacation mornings with my lame tale of low childhood self-confidence.

Six Hundred Twenty-Three: Father Steve Cook

      Our priest at St. Peter’s baptized both of our children and he gives the best homilies I’ve heard in all of my Catholic churchgoing days. Part of me wants to write about how much it sucked that Joe Sharbel held the position when we married and part of me wants to write about my anxiety regarding the day on which they announce Steve Cook’s services at our parish will cease. Another part of me still wants to pick up the selfish pen and write about how quote/unquote lame sharing him with another church sometimes feels. Stray from the theme I shan’t, though. Father Steve does a knockout job around our place of worship and I must challenge myself to remain mindful…so that I can remember my gratitude for the months and years of his service we’ve already had, for which we are, indeed, grateful.

Six Hundred Twenty-Two: South Park clip #3: Canadian Prime Minister apologizes for Bryan Adams

      South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut has a dozen scenes funnier than this one, but it’s always cracked me up:

      I don’t know how, when, or why making fun of Canada became so easy and so fun, but it pretty much rules.

Six Hundred Twenty-One: Aunt Grace

      I identify with all of my mom’s siblings in different ways, but perhaps I see eye to eye with Aunt Grace more than any of them. I’ll always love my Aunt Suzi for moving in with us and helping our mom raise me and my sister. I’ll always admire my Uncle Jack for his talents, spontaneity, and unique world view, and I’ll always respect my Uncle Franck for having his own opinions and following his heart. My Aunt Grace, however, might be a mix of her four siblings’ best qualities. Add to that her zeal for life, her pursuit of happiness, her balance of fun and responsibility, her sense of humor, and her compassion, and she might be one of God’s finest creations.

      I’ll never forget her visiting us on Russell. We shared the living-room hide-a-bed one night and laughed way past my bedtime as she read Wee Willie Winkie and Diddle Diddle Dumpling, My Son John, and kicked with me under the covers so that the blankets made visible static in the dark and we said, “Odd.” over and over again. I don’t remember meeting her before that and I don’t recall seeing her for some time after, but what a great first impression.

      After leaving California with her kids and settling in Florida we visited once and before long, an annual Thanksgiving-in-Kansas-City tradition began. I get to see her every year now, and she seems so happy. I’m proud of the job she’s done with Shane and Tiana, impressed by her career successes and longevity, and glad she found someone that loves her as much as she deserves.

Six Hundred Twenty: my University of Chicago Spanish Dictionary

      My mom bought me my first fifth-edition copy and some asshat stole it from me at McCoy’s. I replaced it, have abused it, and took pleasure in the fact that it came up in conversation with a customer last month. If you read any claims that the university puts out the best Spanish dictionary on the market, believe them. Tis true, my friends. Tis true.

Six Hundred Nineteen: Marta from Hen House

      One of our tendencies as utility clerks concerned bagging for our favorite checkers and avoiding those for whom we did not care. Tiffany Tiffany almost always had someone bagging for her because she had a nice rack and a pretty face. Lee Page bought all of my buddies and I booze after work and once took us to Lawrence to rage with him, plus he had a great sense of humor. One or two of the older ladies could eke out niceness when they felt like it, but my favorite Hen House checker bore the name of Marta. She hailed from El Salvador.

      Man, she was hot. She totally knew I wanted to bang her but could only giggle about it. I doubt the feeling ever held a shred of reciprocity, but I worked that angle for months, only to remain viewed as a dude who bagged groceries and made her laugh. She probably had a husband -- and (Note: stereotype alert!) four kids before age 20 -- but ya’ can’t blame a knuckleheaded kid for trying.

      In all seriousness, I really liked her as a person. She fucked with me a lot, but dug that I took Spanish and used it. I’d probably never met anyone from -- (Note: white-bred alert!) -- a different country before that had come to the States at a young age to make a life. I liked Marta a lot and -- from time to time -- I wonder where she lives today, what she does, how things are in her world.

Six Hundred Eighteen: camping

      Writing about a consumerist idea like purchasing and owning the appropriate gear to make oneself comfortable enough for a weekend-long return to nature seems foolish, but here I sit typing the words for gratitude number 618, nonetheless.

      I don’t dislike the world the way it looks today. I don’t appreciate some elements about the way in which the world operates, but I accept that much of the modern world claims pieces of land via funds exchanges and putting cursive versions of our names in ink on pre-printed documents. It’s totally weird, but I accept it. We decided -- long before me or my parents or their folks -- that shelter from the elements trumps not having it, that sometimes those elements can include other animals, and that way more often than any of us would like to admit, those elements also include other people.

      So we need homes, but we need money to buy them, and jobs that give us said money in exchange for performed tasks. We get into this cycle and from time to time -- someone decided -- the jobs providers accept the practice of his or her employees removing themselves from said cycle for a break. Some of us choose to camp during said break, or as Jim Gaffigan says, pay money to not sleep in comfortable beds but rather on the cold ground where bears could eat us.

      I find camping humbling, relaxing, and peaceful. I enjoy having the hardest part of camping come in the form of doing things we take for granted. I dig working hard to have a heat source to prepare a meal. I appreciate my toilet more after I’ve pooped in the woods and the water from my kitchen sink tastes like liquid euphoria after I’ve had to lug it around -- or boil it -- for three days. I get that camping’s not for everyone, but I think everyone should camp at least once. And if you have kids it should almost be a law that at least once a year you pitch a tent and sleep in it.

Six Hundred Seventeen: my boy’s arm

      My son might hate sports. Hell, he might even hate me by the time he’s fluent in English, but here, today, in the early goings, it looks like the kid’s got a rocket, and that makes me happy.

Six Hundred Sixteen: my daughter’s intelligence

      What may today be a gratitude might tomorrow be a condemnation, but dang that girl’s got some smarts.

Six Hundred Fifteen: my saying-Grace man painting

      I’m embarrassed to admit that not every piece of art I own bears a frame. Even worse: a big portion of it remains unhung. I got this one painting as a gift, however, and I need to find a piece of wall for it soon. The way in which I obtained this painting came by way of gesture, which added so much more value to an already-precious relic, especially since its previous owner knew I cherished it.

      I love the simplicity of it. I love the idea of giving thanks for what you have, and I love the concept of recognizing an entity -- be it spiritual, religious, or otherwise -- larger than the self. I love that bread and some broth grace his table and that knowledge, along with a tool for receiving it, provide the elements of his meal some company. I love that the man sits adorned in laundered clothes with combed hair and clean cuticles. I love the stark presence of his knife and the audible silence that followed preparation’s clatter.

      My wife has never liked it. The piece’s condition has a dingy element to it, and I imagine she finds its contents basic. In a twisted way, this makes me appreciate it more. I find it one of the most valuable gifts I’ve received and will one day do it justice.

Six Hundred Fourteen: “Dondante” by My Morning Jacket

      Until about 90 seconds before I wrote this, I’d felt -- for about eight years -- like I didn’t like this band. Lots of my friends did, though. Some of them went to their shows, and some of them gave me copies of their albums. I kept trying and it kept not working. These people -- these friends of mine -- tend to share almost-identical tastes with me and it started to bug me that I just couldn’t find anything to like about them. Well, now I have a reason. The reason may grow into something larger than a single track, but that’s my start and for it I am grateful.

Six Hundred Thirteen: Sheik Yerbouti

      I wouldn’t go so far as to call myself a Frank Zappa scholar, but in a sense I’ve studied his music for about 20 years. I know professors have offered and do offer actual, university-credit-hour courses on the man/musician, and you’d just about have to teach one or take one to get an idea of how much about Zappa learning we’ve all not done.

      Let me put it this way: I have about 40 Frank Zappa records and I know about half of them inside and out. So I know about half of what I have and what I know isn’t even half of what he released.

      Let me say another thing, too: No one -- in the history of human beings -- will ever be able to write, say, or use the phrase, The thing about Frank Zappa is…and finish the thought with intelligence, confidence, or accuracy.

      For the purposes of this entry, however, I’m going to say this: The thing about Frank Zappa and what comes to mind when I think about Sheik Yerbouti -- the second of four albums he put out in 1979 -- has everything to do with how ahead of his time he was. I hate using that phrase, too, because I feel like it gets abused. In this case, though, I have done my best to set aside the amazing musical displays and technical wizardry on this 18-track record just so that I can focus on it on a conceptual level.

      When one opens a record, the brain first observes its cover art and lettering, and right away Zappa’s gotten the beholder curious: Middle-eastern-themed Zappa, Arabic “font” assembled in a way that mocks the disco movement’s theme song. Then one starts the record and almost squirms out of his/her headphones because of the direct-and-specific sexual imagery the lyrics deliver. The words -- and herein lies the ingenuity -- will drown -- if you let them -- the masterful composition they accompany.

      Track two disses some group of people and how they do (or don’t do) a job, and does so while zinging Bob Dylan (Note: Sacred cows, Frank. Sacred. Cows.). Then, in the fourth verse, Zappa illustrates the domesticated idiocy of capitalist America in a way that will make every United States listener cringe -- just a little -- with shame every time he or she hears it. And we’ve got 16 tracks left to go on this record.

      “Dancin’ Fool” and “Jewish Princess” are big stars, but “Bobby Brown” picks up where “Flakes” -- that second track -- left off and really highlights some of the awfulness of western society, American in particular. I never imagined Zappa did this because he didn’t like America. Rather, I think he felt like many of its citizens needed a reality check.

      I don’t know where to put Sheik Yerbouti. I know the record real well and love it, but like a lot of Zappa albums, you kind of have to put it away for a while after a few listens. I gotta believe that were I to rank all of his pre-1993 “studio” releases, it’d make the top 10. For now, my mind can’t make heads or tails of either a) such a project, or b) in what sort of slot I might put it. For now, I’m just thankful the man wrote the record, that I’ve had it in my possession long enough to recognize its value.

Six Hundred Twelve: Mumford & Sons’ Sigh No More

      Yes. Ever since their Grammys appearance a few years back they’ve blown up, been overplayed, commercialized, etc. All of that.

      I’m with you.

      That first record of theirs, though. All the love, man. All the love.

Six Hundred Eleven: college hockey

      Though it will never take the place of the NHL product, I love National Collegiate Athletic Association men’s hockey. If I understand how it works, most of these kids won’t make it to the pro level. If I have a decent grasp on how things go, these student athletes will probably have to get a job out of college. And if I comprehend the nature of the college-hockey business, this element gives the NCAA game a unique appeal because these kids play not only for the love of the game, but also in the name of teamwork and for university pride.

Six Hundred Ten: De La Soul

      Posdnuos, Plug II, and Maseo the Third might comprise the best hip-hop trio of all time. I never could get my head around De La Soul is Dead, but 3 Feet High and Rising, Buhloone Mindstate, and Stakes is High kicked all the 1990s ass. I remember feeling anxious when the Art Official releases came as I didn’t think they could top their previous decade’s work, but boy did they surprise me. Mosaic Thump and Bionix amazed me so much that I still have a bitter feeling in my mouth that they never released that third album. I guess they’ve put out a couple things since then, but I’ve yet to get my hands on ‘em. Thankful these guys decided to make music.

Six Hundred Nine: A Tribe Called Quest

      You can’t write about De La Soul and ‘90s hip hop without a shout-out to A Tribe Called Quest. Q-Tip, Phife, and Ali made five nice records and then kind of vanished. I enjoyed them, though. Awesome outfit.

Six Hundred Eight: Om Records

      Next time I’m in San Francisco and in my 20s, I gotta get a handful of drugs and a ticket to an Om Records party. Or maybe I’ll just take my old ass to their office, act like a nerd, and ask for a tour. Lotta music history at Om. Dig what they’ve done.

Six Hundred Seven: my typical lunch

      I eat out about once a week. The other four days my lunch consists of the same items: a cheese stick, a beef stick, a fruit leather, some breakfast cookies, a piece of fruit, and sometimes a half of a wrap. My wife packs this collection for me because she knows that I would either a) not eat all day, b) eat out every day, or c) eat garbage. She also packs this collection knowing that I have to pretty much eat behind the wheel if I want to pretend to get the day’s work done. While this collection can trick my mind into thinking I’m, on occasion, still hungry, its contents tend to wind up perfect. I’m not eating the world’s healthiest lunch, but I could do much worse. I’m thankful she goes to the trouble to assemble it every morning.

Six Hundred Six: an attached garage

      Not many folks on our block (or in our neighborhood (or in Kansas City, Missouri)) have an attached garage. I sometimes feel like that development trend makes the area seem hickish. It’s as though when people built homes 65 years ago they thought it fit to build a shed behind your home in which you would park your car (or your tractor), like your vehicle was just another horse, your garage a stable extension. It’s as if thousands of homes got designed and erected by a bunch of people that never once spent a winter in the Midwest. Oh, well. I’m thankful we have an attached garage. I’m glad we don’t have an easement driveway, and if we ever don’t own 700 strollers, wagons, and tricycles, maybe one day I’ll be able to park in it.

Six Hundred Five: basement-window sunlight

      I don’t enjoy fireside chats, long walks on the beach, and watching sunsets, but from my man-cave chair I can see a sliver of the outside world. Every now and again, if I remember to look in time, I can see the day’s last moments of brightness fade between the window’s frame and its well. And sometimes, if I keep an eye on it, I can watch the dark of night evaporate into luster fractals. This simple thing reminds me that another day has gone, and if I’m lucky, I’ll wake to another one.

Six Hundred Four: should’ve #1 about O’Malley’s in Weston

      I know very little about this pub, but enjoy it and its town. I’m 40 years old and I should’ve spent more time in Weston than I have to date.

Six Hundred Three: should’ve #2 about O’Malley’s in Weston

      Instead of working 15 of the 15 St. Patrick’s Days since returning to Kansas City, I should’ve taken one -- just one -- of them off and gone to Weston to get hammered in O’Malley’s and impregnate someone in the corner. I’m so disappointed in myself.

Six Hundred Two: should’ve #3 about O’Malley’s in Weston

      If nothing else, it’s okay that I’ve only been in this fine, fine pub once, and I’ve no problem that that day didn’t fall on the 17th of March. For God sakes, though, my lone visit to O’Malley’s in Weston should’ve included the following: a) a $150 tab that I argued with someone about, b) me vomiting somewhere (in a pint glass at the bar would be preferred), and c) me getting thrown out while cursing, grabbing my crotch, and then going elsewhere in town to make a couple more bad decisions just before getting arrested.

      I feel like I’ve done my people a disservice by inventing that last paragraph instead of recalling it from a woozy, blackout, pounding-head, jail-cell morning.

Sorry, people.

Six Hundred One: the can at Harpo’s

      Even though I didn’t do any of those things and will have to die and be reincarnated before I can consider doing them, I did once get the twig polished in a Westport men’s room. That counts for something, right? I thought it did, anyway. Thanks, lady. ‘Preciate that.

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