Saturday, May 30, 2015

One Thousand Gratitudes, Part XX: 525-501

With this installment I ring the halfway-there bell and life appears to have no plans of slowing its pace.

Or maybe age has narrowed the gap between how things used to seem to move and how my subconscious mind anticipates they will move in the future.

My daughter's mind churns with every waking moment, absorbing the world, learning, observing, questioning.

My son has entered the speech phase, and the longer my tenure at work grows, the fewer the day's hours seem.

To get to this point in this series has taken a ton of work and the challenge of doubling the piece's size intimidates.

In the midst of it all lies the theme, the intention, the desired mindset.

For those have you that have read since the beginning, for those of you that have checked in from time to time, and for those of you that have just discovered the project, please share in the comments a gratitude (or gratitudes) of your own.

Five Hundred Twenty-Five: “Five Hundred Miles” from the Inside Llewyn Davis soundtrack

      Three minutes, 28 seconds. Pure beauty. Justin Timberlake, Carey Mulligan, Stark Stands. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

Five Hundred Twenty-Four: Emmylou Harris

      I cannot tell a lie: I know very little about this fine, fine woman’s career, but what I’ve heard I love. I’m thankful for having heard her voice and excited about the day in which I dive in to her discography. Way into the music she recorded with Bob Dylan and the album she cut with Mark Knopfler. She’s got a ton more out there. Just gotta make the effort to deepen my appreciation of her voice and talent.

Five Hundred Twenty-Three: Mark Knopfler

      I have always dug me some Dire Straits, but the original sultan of swing put out my favorite tunes once he went solo. I pretty much dig every track on every album. Talented dude. Grateful I discovered his stuff.

Five Hundred Twenty-Two: the Stanley Cup Playoffs

      I won’t bore you with more hockey talk (now), but the post-season got underway the evening I wrote this. Might be my favorite time of year. I’m grateful I discovered hockey when I did. Let’s go, Blues! (Update: Wow.)

Five Hundred Twenty-One: South Park clip #7: Mr. Mackey goes gluten-free

Five Hundred Twenty: swimming with my daughter

      Adeline started her second round of swim lessons a number of weeks ago and now she’s mostly terrified of the water. She spent the first two classes crying while clutching the side of the pool, not even wanting to get her hair wet.

      We thought it’d be a good idea to take her to the pool one week and just play around, to show her that fun can be had in the water. The hope: that it translates to this Saturday’s lesson.

      Even if it doesn’t, we spent a solid 40 minutes goofing around in the pool just like we did in the past. We had a great time together and I seldom have one-on-one moments with her anymore. I’m grateful for that and want to make an effort to have more of them.

      (Update: It worked. She did great with all of her remaining lessons.)

Five Hundred Nineteen: unnamed friend #26

      Made friends with this cat in college. Had an English class with him. Looking back he seemed a touch vulnerable, or maybe lost and confused. I dunno. Smart kid, though. He wound up wanting to hang around with me, and once we’d gotten high a time or two, he seemed to want to do it all of the time, even if it meant skipping class to do so.

      On the occasions in which we did, he had this anxious energy afterward. He’d wanna go outside for a smoke and back in the second he finished. He’d get all philosophical and wax emotion, too. I think he struggled with the strain between his parents, and he carried with him an understandable amount of self-consciousness regarding his appearance.

      Such a smart guy, though, and big heart, too. We lost touch after school, and I once reached out to him on LinkedIn or something. He responded and said to call him but that’s as far as it ever went. Grateful for the times we shared, especially our snow-flurry-laden trip to the Grand Canyon.

Five Hundred Eighteen: another take on “that” humbleness

      For a short while as a kid I got into models. I had maybe three or four cars and perhaps a plane. Suffering from the perpetual need to fulfill instant gratification, I tended to suck at constructing models. I never had the patience to read the directions all the way through first, my glue work always turned out gloppy, I’d always have leftover parts, and if anything required painting, forget about it.

      One or two of my cars had that jazzy, sportster feel to them, but, for whatever reason it was with the Chevy Citation -- yellow body, brown interior -- that I had really dedicated myself to finishing with precision. I remember feeling proud of the finished product even though -- just like my other models -- the occasional glop of glue could be spotted. I’m pretty sure I broke one of the mirrors, smeared some paint on a seat, and wound up with five unidentifiable pieces I just chucked in the trash, but a Chevy Citation wound up my masterpiece. Gotta be a major life metaphor.

      I just lacked the patience, the attention to detail, the confidence to do these things right, even though I sought that after-the-fact feel of satisfaction. Then one Christmas my Aunt Suzi got me like a USS Destroyer or something, and I just remember opening it and being like, Aww, hell no. I can’t remember for sure, but I don’t think the thing ever made it out of the box, maybe not even the shrink wrap.

      I knew that morning that my model phase had expired. I don’t know if recognizing that you’re not an expert at something like that represents strength and wisdom or if admitting it makes you weak and foolish for not trying to improve. Either way, I look back on it with fondness and am thankful that I know now that such details land outside whatever you might call my forte.

Five Hundred Seventeen: addendum to unnamed friend# 26

      After I wrote entry number 520, I Googled that friend and the writing for the morning came to a screeching halt when one of the search results presented itself in the form of an obituary.
      The only word I can use to describe that feeling: paralysis.

      I felt it then. I felt it the rest of the day. I Googled his wife (whom I’ve never met) and phoned her place of employment, following the prompts until, having reached her voice-mail box, I froze again. Sitting here now, trying to think of something honorable about my friend, I feel it again.

      I met David in a Larry Hartsfield literature course at Fort Lewis College. I think he struck up a conversation with me over a cigarette outside of Hesperus Hall, a building that, like David, now only exists in memories.

      We wound up in one or two other Hartsfield classes and David frequented my down-the-hill house during his down time. I used to hitch up and down to class, so when we’d hit my crib in the afternoon, David would drive us in his white Jeep with New Mexico plates where we’d smoke and drink coffee and talk about writing, women, and life.

      David carried significant anxiety with him. I think part of it had to do with his mixed heritage. Some I associated with his estranged father, and a good bit of it I attributed to the birth defect that left him with only half of his left arm. Still another part -- general nervousness over how to live life and pursue dreams -- weighed on him, just as it does a good number of us.

      David never let these things stand in the way of productivity. He read with incessant fervor, often understanding much more than I. He played guitar, developing calluses on the miniature digits at the end of the stump near his elbow. He wrote. He aspired. He longed and he dreamed. His anxiety, though, loomed, and when he added tetrahydrocannabinol to his blood stream, it rose, causing him to opine, to vent, to pace, and to sometimes perspire.

      I seem to recall that David went home to Aztec most weekends, where he’d stay with his mom. At times I thought this helped him recharge. At others I wondered if it inhibited him.

      Sometimes David would employ a silence-breaking, “Tsch, tsch, tsch,” as though he needed to hear external noise to dissipate the reverberations of his mind. More than once I addressed it.

      “Really? I didn’t even know I’d done it,” he’d say.

      I wish I’d reached out to David more than once since leaving Durango. I wish I could hear his intelligence verbalized again. I wish I could see his smile and tell him that I enjoy his company. I wish I could let David know that he will achieve his dreams and love and be loved and that all of those things will cure his uneasiness.

      All I can do now, though, is remember him, and be thankful for our friendship.

Five Hundred Sixteen: our time here, that which we have, and, well, this exercise

      Discovering that now-named friend number 26 has been dead for almost three years reminded me of our numbered days, of our blessing-filled lives, and of the nature of this series. It reminded me that -- even when I’m done with this thing -- the challenge to live in gratitude will remain.

Five Hundred Fifteen: driving in the rain

      As we approached the heart of spring, the rains began to fall. I’m embarrassed to think about how often I’ve let rain piss me off. The couple dozen drops that hit my shoulder as I run to the car, the interruption of my plans to mow, the effect it has on temperature. I drove my country route the other day, though, and it rained the entire time. It made me appreciate the tranquility of rain and how it can -- in certain circumstances -- alleviate the stress of stretches on the road. It made me remember how magical rain can be when you sleep, how nice it makes a dry, dry world. It made me appreciate having a vehicle, and a home, and towels and clothes for when we get there.

Five Hundred Fourteen: train horns in the night

      Writing about rain sleep made me remember how much I love hearing the sound of the train when I’m in bed. I’m not sure if it invokes something primitive within, or if it makes me appreciate the modernity and the hustle of the world, even while others rest. Maybe it’s both. I love it, though. It makes me feel safe.

Five Hundred Thirteen: Anderson Island

      While working for Pete and squatting in his new-construction Hillsboro project, we -- as I mentioned -- planted and fertilized evergreen trees on his land. One day he threw us a curve ball and Shane delivered the news:

      “Guys,” he said. “Pete wants us to take the ferry to his land on Anderson Island tomorrow and work up there for the day.”

      I almost didn’t believe him. He has more land?, I thought, and we have to take a ferry to get to it? Who *is* this guy?

      I don’t even remember the drive to Tacoma, which probably took three hours. I don’t remember much about the ferry ride. I feel like we ferried Dornbusch’s VW to the island, which made the thing even more surreal. I have a vague recollection of getting to Pete’s property, but mostly I remember hiking around in awe of the rain-forest feel of the place. I felt -- there on some chunk of land in the middle of the Puget Sound -- very far from home. The trees grew to heights and widths unimaginable, their leaves painted the sky with hues I’d never known. These trees grew at whatever angle they pleased, taking twists and shapes of the awkward and the bizarre.

      Every piece of vegetation had multiple layers of vegetation growing atop it, creating an ecosystem one might expect to read about in science books or see in the movies. The earth we walked upon had a firmness to it that felt unhard, as if -- beneath the damp soil’s softness -- its back muscles tensed, creating new life.

      The place left me awestruck. It took my breath away. It made me feel small, and even frightened me a touch.

      And then we ate mushrooms, an unnecessary ripple of weird.

      Twenty years later, I reflect upon our stay on Anderson Island and sometimes wonder if I dreamt it. I feel compelled to revisit it now, with my family. I can almost hear the nerdy father in me talking to my uninterested children about the vegetation, their minds honed on the next snack.

      I’d like to think we’ll get there, though. I’m grateful for having been once, but it feels like an unfinished chapter and probably will until my return.

Five Hundred Twelve: classic-rock radio during kitchen shifts

      In some weird way, classic-rock radio raised me. I grew up, though, and had to move out of its house. Now I like to visit, but not stay too long.

      If I hear too much of it today -- which can be as brief as seconds, depending on the track (Note: I’m looking at you, Meatloaf.) -- I go crazy. I can’t stand it. It must cease.

      It, however, remains my kitchen-shift go to. I find it the white noise of the 10-15-hour bundle of joyous time that goes with every kitchen shift. You hear song repeats, the same ads over and over, and the voices of different DJs as they start, then finish, their shifts.

      Classic rock can ground you in the kitchen. It can get you out of your mind and away from the anxiety of the endless prep list. I give thanks I don’t do those shifts anymore. I’m grateful for having had the experience of doing them and the crutch that classic-rock radio often was for many of my 20 years in kitchens.

Five Hundred Eleven: our trip to Ireland

      A little over 10 years ago, my girlfriend (who became my fiancĂ©e, and later my wife) wanted to travel to Ireland to visit her studying-abroad sister. She wanted me to come, too, which meant I had to formulate a financial plan that involved saving and not spending, which meant she’d be going by herself.

      Such was the beauty of salaried kitchen work: so many hours on the clock, so much living paycheck to paycheck, so many crises -- car repairs, ill-pet emergencies, etc. -- that arise and interrupt your night-owl, drinking-problem young life.

      On my birthday in 2004, however, my girlfriend took me out to dinner and showered me with gifts, one of which came in the form of a little monkey, who sits -- with his two friends -- on my nightstand today. Gift number two proved to be the first of three sets of tickets, this one a pair to go ice-skating together. The second set -- a pair to see Lord of the Rings: Return of the King on the night of its American debut -- trumped the first, but became overshadowed as soon as I opened the third: airfare taking the two of us from Kansas City to Chicago, to Shannon, then home again in 10 days.

      I’d never left the country. I’d only ever wanted to go one place, and there it was, presented to me in a gift-wrapped box.

      It feels pretty silly to think about trying to express my gratitude for this gift, that trip, those experiences and memories in one lone entry, but I’m doing it anyway. We landed in Shannon and got in our little European Ford hatchback. We drove -- frantic from the opposite-side-of-the-car, opposite-lane-of-traffic navigation (and tired from jetlag) -- to our first stop: Limerick. We went a lot of places after Limerick, and in every one of those places people said, “You stayed in Limerick? Don’t go to Limerick. People get stabbed in Limerick.”

     So odd. Onward we went, though, to Galway, Kilkenny, Killarney, Waterford, Dublin, Cork, Dingle, and back to Shannon again. We put 1,000 miles on that car in 10 days, seeing everything we could, taking too few pictures, and sleeping in a bunch of damp-and-chilly hostels and bed-and-breakfasts. It was a whirlwind visit, but a great one I won’t soon forget.

Five Hundred Ten: Ireland’s castles

      We saw and photographed and toured many of these ancient structures during our stay on the emerald isle, and I still get goose flesh thinking about the feeling of the need to construct these massive buildings, the honor that must’ve been associated with wanting to defend them, the fear one must’ve lived in while taking refuge behind their walls, and the deserved efforts to preserve them today. The stories these things tell. Seeing them and walking in them only gives you a glimmer.

Five Hundred Nine: John Madden

      John Madden remains the lone person we met in Ireland whose name I recall (not that an American sports-fan could forget that name).

(Madden's name before (right) and after (left) the English "bastardized it")

     He was one of the best human beings I’ve ever known and I only knew him for an evening. We spoke on the phone once or twice after we returned home, and he was just as delightful then. I’ll always remember his warmth, his smile, his fiddle-playing talents, and his stories. A wonderful man.

Five Hundred Eight: Peanuts

      Although I didn’t always understand every strip, Charles Schulz’s comic brought me warmth, smiles, and maturity as a boy. This collection of children acting like adults showed me more about the world than I could realize at the time. They taught me about hardship, humor, sass, and security. They showed me laughter, frustration, love, and the pursuit of dreams. They warned me about disappointment and sadness, about loneliness and the strangeness of people. I forged a bond with Charlie Brown and Linus, Snoopy and Woodstock, Peppermint Patty and Marcy, Schroeder and Pigpen that I will carry with me for life.

      To this day, when I hear the warbled-piano version of O, Christmas Tree, a nerve is struck. I look forward to seeing and hearing A Charlie Brown Christmas every December. I love hearing “Christmas Time is Here.” I love hearing Linus give his speech about the meaning of Christmas.

      I love -- in regular Peanuts strips -- when Linus and Charlie Brown stand at the wall and reflect. I love hearing Woodstock talk and Snoopy laugh. I love all of the crushes -- Lucy on Schroeder, Charlie Brown on the little red-headed girl, Snoopy on Sally. I love the seriousness of Peppermint Patty, the bossy deceit of Lucy, the simplicity of Linus, the frustration of Charlie Brown and the adventurous ambition of Snoopy.

      Charles Schulz did a splendid job for 50 years. For his creation, devotion, emotion, and for his messages, I am grateful.

Five Hundred Seven: Garfield

      I can’t go on a comic-strip rant and not talk about Jon Davis’ fat lazy cat. Spent many an hour with those books. I didn’t get some of Garfield’s humor. I didn’t think he ought to be so rough on Odie, and I really didn’t understand Lymon, but I did enjoy that strip for years.

Five Hundred Six: breakfast cereal

      A childhood staple, I still enjoy a good bowl of cereal as much as I did as a kid. There’s something special about watching your own kids enjoy it, too. Whether it’s Golden Grahams, Honey Nut Cheerios, Frosted Flakes, or the Flax-y Fiber and Wheatberry Oat Crisps with Quinoa that my wife buys, I do love a good bowl.

Five Hundred Five: Zen & the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance

      I tried to read this book in the winter of ’94, but it seemed slow. Probably because I was high all the time, but I gave up a few chapters in, and should reconsider picking it up once more. This book has a message, though, and I think I get it. You’re not supposed to fear physics and technology, but embrace them. Learn them and move through life’s hurdles with them.

      That ain’t me, though. At least not yet. I’m the guy that gets pissed when his bike breaks down, the guy that depends on the mechanic and expresses frustration with said mechanic’s schedule.

      More apropos, I’m the guy that -- every spring -- carries such high anxiety about whether or not that lawn mower will fire up at first try that I all but will the thing not to. And each year that angst reaches a new level.

      I had a first one April Saturday and the whole thing became clear to me. I primed the fuel, raised the wheels, filled the tank, and gave so much energy to pulling that starter cord that, on the fourth yank, the thing snapped clean off in my hand. I don’t mean at the end near the handle or somewhere in the middle, either. It broke off beneath the engine cover, which may as well be -- as terrible-horrible-no-good-very-bad-day Alexander might say -- in Australia.

      Happens every year and has happened every year since I was 11: spring arrives, first mow-day of the year rolls around, mower won’t start. Or mower will but weed-eater won’t. Or I get out all of the gear and don’t even have a drop of fuel in them. Or I need lawn bags. Or it starts to rain. Or I wind up late for something or wind up dizzy and heat exhausted.

      It’s like God has been trying to tell me for 30 years not to cut “his” grass on “my” property. Sometimes, when I’ve had challenges, and am nearing those final few strips of uncut grass, I feel an urge to go all Truman Burbank and drop an, “Is that the best you can do?!”

      Anyway, I’d like to try that book again. I’d like to teach myself to work on engines. For now, though, I’m happy knowing my place and my role.

      (Update: As I mowed last week, one of my mower’s wheels snapped right off of the housing. I’d say I found the situation humorous, but then you’d be allowed to call me a liar.)

Five Hundred Four: The Truman Show

      This gratitude about this film could be its own collection of five pages. In an effort to keep it brief, I’ll summarize:

      The possibility of that being someone’s reality intimidates the viewer, enhancing his or her appreciation for some of the things we take for granted in life, like freedom and love.

      I have cherished this film since the first time I saw it. I still cry at least three times at every viewing. Great cast. Amazing soundtrack. Epic storyline. Doubt I’ll ever stop loving it.

Five Hundred Three: humility in sports

      My St. Louis Blues took another first-round exit several Sundays ago and once I waded through the hatred and frustration, I surprised myself by feeling alright about it. I mean, I’m still pissed, but I guess I have the Kansas City Chiefs to thank. They’ve given me a full decade more of heartbreak and disappointment than the Blues have so I guess I can never stay mad at my hockey club.

      Like I said in entry 785, “the always-possible reality in which disappointment lives and breathes” seems to surf the same waves as my team. Guess I’m supposed to keep riding with them.

Five Hundred Two: Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum

      The New York Islanders’ season ended last month, which means the final game ever played at “The Vet” took place Saturday afternoon, April 25, 2015. This club has called that building home since their inception 42 years ago. Their upcoming relocation makes their relationship with NVMC a true end of an era, a sad thing in many ways. In an age where new stadiums and venues are being built (oftentimes after being demanded) often, this barn housed over four decades of memories, many awful, more than just a few spectacular. The wise claim it will be a good thing for the club to have a Brooklyn rebirth. Who knows. I’ve always been particular to Nassau. I’ve never been there, but it sure feels like I have.

Five Hundred One: halfway

      It’s all downhill from here, right? I can still crank out another half a thousand of these things, no?

      We’ll see.

      April was not a productive month for me. Maybe May will be better.

      (Update: It wasn’t.)

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