Tuesday, June 16, 2015

One Thousand Gratitudes, Part XXIII: 450-426

Three June entries already. May be hope for this thing after all.

Thanks for reading.

Four Hundred Fifty: random encounter with a reader

      I don’t get out often and I almost never go to The Brooksider.

      Several Saturdays ago, though, and near evening’s end I chatted with one of my sister’s friends who, unbeknownst to me, had been reading this series. That made my week.

Four Hundred Forty-Nine: high-school lunch with Amy Crain

      We often went out for lunch in high school. Actually, if I think about it, I don’t have any memories of not going out for lunch in high school, and for reasons I can’t recall, I rode with Amy Crain a couple of times. And on more than one occasion, we listened to Too Short’s “Don’t Fight the Feeling” in her white convertible, and, uh, she knew all the words.

      I, to that point, had had little exposure to Too Short, and when Amy Crain started rapping along with him, my interest piqued. When she hit the line, “reach right over and rub ya’ leg” and she reached right over and rubbed my leg? That made my year.

      Amy was gorgeous, tan, energetic, and hilarious. Luck must’ve loved me as a freshman to put me shotgun in her ride.

Four Hundred Forty-Eight: dreams

      An entry with such a title should probably get five or 10 entries worth of description, but attempting to do so might get a little too convoluted for even me to understand, so I’ll try to keep it brief.

      Last night I dreamed of -- surprise! -- Amy Crain, and in this dream not much in the way of sexy time occurred, but hints of it -- much like our lunch outing -- sort of rained down on the setting and I couldn’t tell you one other detail about that section of the night’s mind movies.

      I do know, though, that after I got up to use the restroom and got back in bed I found myself back in that dream matrix and living in a matchbox dorm room with one of my old manager’s from Lew’s Bar & Grill. When we stepped out of our room and took the staircase down and walked outside, the setting resembled the Crown Center parking garage, but the structure had the height of a skyscraper.

      When I drove in that dream, I sometimes had my old brown Corolla; at others I maneuvered in the blue Subaru. West of Main Street the town looked like Durango; on the other end it was totally Kansas City, Kansas. And on the south end of the strip, it started to look like Pittsburg. I kept waking up in the middle of the night to go to the library and write, and when I’d leave our dorm room I’d run into this hybrid of a girl that would accept my flirtations, kind of lead me on, then leave me dejected. Over and over again. The dream, by the way, probably ran the course of four minutes real time, but inside the mental cinema it lasted around 16 months, I reckon.

      This girl, though. Part of her had to be Samantha Vigliaturo’s -- (Note: You might remember her from such gratitude entries as, Holy Shit: The bed is on fire!) -- twin, and the other part of her looked like Drew’s hot little brunette girlfriend from Parenthood. We’d run into each other, though, and I’d get all molest-y from months of pent-up frustration, and she’d allow it, until it came time to say, kiss or something, and then she’d go lame and act like her lip muscles got damaged in a freak blender accident as a kid.

      Or there was the time when I came out of my dorm room and saw her (for apparently the first time in months) and grabbed her and coaxed her into my room with actual, mutual kissing, only to have her stop me and show me the jewelry on her finger that signified her engagement to her dog, something she enacted to ensure that she would always remain a pure person.

      The point of all of this is that dreams can be awesome. Unless they’re nightmares (Note: I’m not sure under which category that one falls.). Then they suck.

Four Hundred Forty-Seven: Bev Frenzel’s Eighth Grade Communications class and Katie Weisenfels.

      This was one of the best classes I ever had, but more on that in a minute.

      Bev Frenzel gave us an invention assignment. We had to do a report on it, give a presentation with visual aids, etc. This might have been the first time I ever procrastinated in school. If it’s not, it’s the first time I recall.

      I’m pretty sure that the night before our presentations were due, I slapped a fake label on a tube of Crest and “invented” a toothpaste that would prevent and eliminate cavities, altogether making dentistry extinct. Now, citing personal experiences -- and I’m sure there are plenty of you out there that agree with me -- I struggle to think of much worse in childhood (or adulthood, for that matter) than sitting in that chair and having my face poked, drilled, scraped, plugged, and gelled. However, I felt shitty about my “invention” going in. I knew I’d slacked, and felt like a bozo walking in to the room with what felt like a dog with a wig on crammed into my binder.

      Then Katie Weisenfels got up and presented her Dream Recorder, which was a VCR you put on your night stand that connected to your forehead (or something) and recorded your dreams, so that -- duh -- you could watch them in the morning, better remember them and try to make sense of them.

      Thanks, Katie.

      You weren’t already beautiful, funny, and a straight-A student, but now -- with your awesome invention -- you’ve made me want to I Dream of Jeanie my way out of the room.

      Geez was middle school awkward.

Four Hundred Forty-Six: Bev Frenzel’s Eighth Grade Communication class and Pat McGee

      I pride myself on having a good sense of humor. When shit’s funny I laugh; when it’s not I don’t. Like most folks, certain things can push me over the edge and I plunge into that pool of uncontrollable laughter.

      I’ve watched a ton of stand-up comedy in the last 30 years. I’ve had some magical moments floating on hallucinogenic clouds with my pals, and I’ve giggled in slap-happy hysterics due to lack of sleep, but nothing has ever made me laugh as hard as Pat McGee did in Bev Frenzel’s Eighth Grade Communications class.

      I think Pat joined Indian Hills as a new student that year, or perhaps he arrived in the latter stages of seventh grade, but I knew little of him prior to that semester. It didn’t take but 10 minutes of our first day in that room to figure him out, and it’s a miracle that I didn’t fail that course because I spent the majority of it with my face buried in my folded arms across my desktop trying to disguise my laughter.

      I’m pretty sure I left that room with a t-shirt sleeve wet from tear wiping on half a dozen occasions, and just when it seemed Pat could come up with nothing more, he’d surprise you. Pat McGee gave me the gift of sore cheeks and that exhausted delirium from laughing fits that year, and he made the awfulness of middle school so much better.

Four Hundred Forty-Five: Bev Frenzel’s Eighth Grade Communications class and Billy Chambers

      I’ve known Billy Chambers since sixth grade and I’ve never been able to figure him -- or his never-ending quest for attention -- out. In sixth grade the entire school knew he loved Top Gun.

      The entire school.

      In ninth-grade English he made it his year's mission to try and be funnier than Ian Gordy. Not possible.

      In Mollie Caldwell’s seventh-grade communications class he was an awkward cutup that never generated any laughs, but instead made himself look like a dork. Once he was walking up the aisle and I stuck my leg out and tripped him. After he regained his balance, he grabbed my wrist with his left hand and punched my arm with his clenched right. Billy was always one of the tallest kids in school and he wasn’t a waif by any stretch. So, when he wound up and put every ounce of his weight into the blow, he got me pretty good.

      I imagine it hurt, but I don’t really remember. All I know is that I was embarrassed that he got away with such a move with zero repercussion, and the smack of his fist hitting my arm was so loud that it disrupted the class in a major way. I think Mollie Caldwell made him sit in the hall or something, but I didn’t really expect much more from her than that since she had already been a corpse for four years.

      What did happen is that that arm shot left a bruise (luckily covered by my shirt sleeve) the size of a flippin’ mango, and Billy would point it out whenever we were in one another’s vicinity. He did so (at least) daily, and for the weeks and months to come. He even brought it up a time or two the following year in Bev Frenzel’s (Note: Weird that I had him in Communications both years.) Communications class just to make it known to any that might not have.

      Billy sat in front of me the whole year, I think.

      “’Member that time I hit you?”


      “Yes you do. Don’t be stupid (Note: Billy would always say “stupid” with extra emphasis and a scrunched-up face, as if the word’s definition wasn’t powerful enough by itself.).”

      “Doesn’t ring a bell.”

      “You don’t remember (voice volume elevated) that time I hit you and gave you that huge bruise?”

      “Oh, yeah. That kinda seems familiar.”

      At this point Bev Frenzel would scold him for talking during class and he would turn to the class and do a silent-film re-enactment of what punching my arm looked like and then he would hold his hands up, forming an oval with the fingers and thumb of his left hand touching those of his right to show the class the size of the mark. Then he’d do something like mouth the word “huge” just before he turned around.

      Billy would often turn around and inspect the items I’d drawn on my binder or in the margins of my sheets of notebook paper.

      “Dude Def Leppard sucks,” he’d say. “Don’t draw that. That’s stupid.”

      Or, “Dude, that’s not how the Led Zeppelin symbols look,” he’d say. You suck.”

      Or, “Dude, that’s the worst Fighting Irish mascot I’ve ever seen. You gotta fix that.”

      He treated me this way in front of others, but always acted friendly in private.

      I guess maybe his dad treated him with condescension or he got bullied as a little kid. Who knows.
      Regardless, I’m glad that Billy Chambers treated me that way in middle school because it taught me that some of the quote/unquote cool kids were just as confused as the rest of us. It also taught me that Billy Chambers wasn’t a cool kid. He just got to hang out with some of them because played sports and the guitar.

      Funny thing: About 15 years after Bev Frenzel’s Communications class, Facebook exploded and Billy Chambers denied my friend request. Then, about five years later, at our 20-year reunion, he paused from talking to a group of people to say -- with enthusiasm -- hello as though we were pals from back in the day.

      Guess he’s still confused.

Four Hundred Forty-Four: my emergency-room visit over a farm weekend

      One weekend at Uncle Dale and Aunt Mary Ann’s farm, I had some kind of pulmonary allergic reaction and just -- for the life of me -- could not breathe. My dad thought maybe it was the walls of the farmhouse and suggested I sleep in the van. After continuing to struggle, he took me to the hospital in Springfield where I received an adrenaline shot, a mist breathing treatment, and had a series of x-rays taken of my lungs.

      The drugs got my airway opened again, but it scared the shit out of me.

      I’m glad my dad was there with me for that.

Four Hundred Forty-Three: the boy and his sister and their after-school “movies”

      Often, when we get home from work and school and get unloaded, my daughter will ask me if she can watch a “movie,” which means an episode of one of her favorite NetFlix television programs. I will fire one up for her so that I can get dinner ready, and until recent weeks, my son would get to work destroying the family room while she watched.

      One day a couple of weeks ago, though, he climbed up in the chair and sat with her for a moment, which perplexed me because I have never seen him sit still unless he has food in front of him, and even then he’s moving around a lot.

      Seeing them sit together -- even if it’s only for a moment -- has to be one of the sweetest things I’ve ever experienced.

Four Hundred Forty-Two: sports-team hatred

      Humbling. Verrrry humbling.

Four Hundred Forty-One: Doc Emrick

      I’ve (maybe) written enough about hockey here in these pages. So lemme ask you the favor of reading one of the greats writing about one of the greatest figures to ever grace the sport: 

Four Hundred Forty: Joe Posnanski

      Kansas City newspaper subscribers from 1996-2009 could -- if they wanted to -- call themselves spoiled. I say this assuming they read the sports section. I mean, who subscribes to a newspaper and skips the sports section?

      The Kansas City Star -- as I’ve mentioned -- continues to put out an excellent product, and its sports department has often been the show’s star. This excellence remains anchored in their consistency with hiring great writing talent. Even today, the duo of Vahe Gregorian and Sam Mellinger delivers. Before Gregorian, we had Kent Babb. We’ve seen Adam Teicher move on. Liz Merrill took a new gig. Jason King moved, as did Jeff Passan.

      I won’t say it all began with the Posnanski/Jason Whitlock combo, but that pair generated and sustained readership, whether subscribers loved or hated them.

      This gratitude, though, transcends good columnist work. It celebrates good writing, hard work, dedication, and that special gift of striking the human nerve.

      Posnanski has done this in his columns, in his books, in his blog posts, and in his articles. He’s made a style his own, and for the work he has produced, I give thanks.

Four Hundred Thirty-Nine: Al Michaels

      Since I’m on a sports roll here, little used to soothe a long winter’s back-to-work day more than hearing the voice of Al Michaels call Monday Night Football. I say “little used to” because this fall will mark the 10th National Football League season of Michaels doing Sunday Night Football, so I guess now his voices helps ease the woe of the morrow’s return to the work week.

      Michaels might one day (if he doesn’t already) hold the title of the best to ever call the game. Whether you couldn’t care less about the teams on the field or if you hate the way the man pronounces the word “huge,” (Note: He always makes it like three syllables long and says it as though the word doesn’t define itself: Yooooooooooooj!) you’ve gotta love the man’s work. Great stuff.

Four Hundred Thirty-Eight: Denny Matthews

      Might as well keep a good thing rolling here.

      Denny Matthews has called Kansas City Royals games for each of the 29 seasons between their last two World Series appearances. He called Royals games for each season between their first and second World Series appearances. He has called Royals games for every season I’ve been alive, and he has called Royals games for every season the franchise has existed.

      So, yes, I write this gratitude with bias, and yes, I feel certain I’ve never heard a better baseball-on-the-radio voice.

      Love me some Denny.

Four Hundred Thirty-Seven: Dan Kelly

      I never got to hear Dan Kelly call a Blues game, but I’ve heard people deliver their renditions of his famous “He shoots. He scores!” tagline since about the age of 10. Never knew to what it referred as a kid, but I’m glad I learned.

Four Hundred Thirty-Six: John Kelly

      Dan’s son John calls a heck of a broadcast for the Blues and I dig his style. I find something eerie and intriguing about having a fondness of the way Kelly calls a game considering I never heard his old man do it.

Four Hundred Thirty-Five: unnamed friend #29

      Another old high-school buddy, I’ve known this guy for over 20 years, and though we seldom see one another anymore, I cherish our past experiences together. We never had a ton of one-on-one time prior to graduation, but among our group we earned the duo nickname of Gearhead and Dishdog, probably because of our goofy storytelling tendencies.

      A year out of high school, we left our home town together and settled into a dorm-room situation in Estes Park, Colorado. We worked our jobs, partied with our new friends, saw shows, and got involved with a pair of southern girls.

      When summer ended he went back home and I stayed. After another nine months I split for Durango and some time after, he returned to Estes Park.

      Unnamed friend number 29 found himself a wonderful person and beautiful lady from Tahlequah, Oklahoma, whom he married on the same weekend I moved back to Kansas City. They have two kids now and have made Estes Park their permanent home.

      I’ve always admired this friend for the way in which he has remained true to his personality and his hobbies. I continue to love the adventure we shared in moving to Estes and the people with whom we hung. I thank him for broaching the subject of the summer gig in the mountains. I appreciate that he considered me someone he could a) persuade to join him, and b) someone whose company he could tolerate and even enjoy.

      That summer of 1994 and the adventures within it helped shape the adult I became. Joy remains in my heart for having that experience and for sharing it with him.

Four Hundred Thirty-Four: unnamed friend #30

      I got to know this guy early in high school at about the same time I did all of my other buddies from Mission Valley. A unit of us Warriors and Mustangs forged a group of about 13 dudes, and we stayed tight through high school and beyond.

      Unnamed friend number 30 might be the smartest of us all and I still enjoy -- on the rare occasions I get to see him -- observing him as his mind works.

      Unnamed friend number 30 has always had a uniqueness about him in that he a) joined our group as the only siblingless cat in the crowd, b) brought an early-life appreciation for the arts to our group, and c) seldom -- if ever -- did the “in” thing.

      Some of our pals took the direct, traditional approach to college by staying local and staying at the same school. The rest of us either switched school, or moved, or both, or just gave up on the whole notion of it. Unnamed friend number 30 chose a fascinating path by beginning at the Kansas City Arts Institute, then moving to Chicago where he attended Columbia College.

      After a few years there he came back to the area and took up some kind of quasi-residency in Lawrence. For the longest time I thought he’d get into photography. Then for a minute I imagined he’d become a painter. For a short spell he had a DVD-making business plan and almost got the thing off the ground. He wound up joining the ranks of the restaurant industry before getting into sales and perhaps settling there.

      He married an awesome lady some 10-plus years ago and they have an adorable daughter. I love how he’s taken the clarity of life to a new level, focusing on family, health, home, music, and happiness. Much like the case with many of my long-time buddies, I don’t get to see this guy often enough, but when I do I consider myself lucky.

Four Hundred Thirty-Three: unnamed friend #31

      When you talk about unique characters, the conversation starts with unnamed friend number 31. This guy has always exuded an almost-enviable level of happiness. He has led his life -- for as long as I’ve known him -- with a clear sense of self, an interest in philanthropy, and a dedication to doing things that support his belief in how the world should operate.

      In high school, unnamed friend number 31 carried himself with confidence, selected an obscure spot for college study, spent time in Africa, and now calls the east coast home -- with his awesome wife and two kids -- working for environmental causes.

      I’ve laughed with this guy. I’ve partied with him, seen shows with him, and exchanged intercontinental letters with him.

      I’ve always believed my friend has had a huge heart and a mind destined for greatness. I couldn’t be happier we became friends back when we did.

Four Hundred Thirty-Two: South Park clip #10: “Change.”

      This clip doesn’t ring with the sharp humor of the others, but I’ve always enjoyed the episode. Can’t remember if it stemmed from Obama hype or zombie hype. Maybe both.


Four Hundred Thirty-One: my kids’ love for the outdoors

      My son, though pronunciation of the word remains a work in progress, asks to go outside all the time. And my daughter loves to play in the back yard and take a walk out front before bedtime. That’s it. I love that.

Four Hundred Thirty: that feeling you get when loved ones inform you they have returned home safe from air travel

Four Hundred Twenty-Nine: finding -- in whatever way necessary -- relief from the peak of allergy season

Four Hundred Twenty-Eight: the feeling of finishing reading a book

Four Hundred Twenty-Seven: when someone makes you breakfast

Four Hundred Twenty-Six: when you surprise yourself by coming up with six gratitudes in a row in under five minutes

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