Monthly Archives: September 2013

160,000 Gallons of Life

Last Tuesday, September 17 was, as far as the Roman calendar is concerned, my 31st birthday.  But, time being relative and limited and unlimited only by the things we measure it by, it’s hard to say how old I really am.  For example, yes, I’m 31 years old or 372 months old or roughly 11,160 days old but I could just as easily say that I’m 160,000 gallons of water old, if I were measuring time by the amount of water that dropped from a faucet since the day I was born.  The point is, age, as well as time, is relative, it’s just a number that is representative of a measure of time that we have created.  You can’t look at a chart and say, here I rest, just entering into the middle section of life because “middle section” implies that your specific life line will stretch until “The End”, presumably 90-something.

Which it probably won’t.
You, like most people, probably won’t live to a ripe old age.  You, like most people, will die earlier than you planned, leaving behind a lot of things unfinished and unsaid and unaccomplished because you, like me, like most people, never tried to do them all.
Age, like dreams, are only relative to what you do with them.  What are you spending your time with / on?  Are you bottling 31 “years” up inside of you with 31 years of “talent” and “hope” and “fear” because you’re afraid to show anyone anything or afraid to try because you’re afraid to fail or, worse yet, you’re afraid that everyone is going to sniff you out and know that you’re a fake.  He’s not a writer!  He’s not a director!  She’s not a musician!  She’s not a photographer / actor / artist/ restaurant owner / chef / Pie Eating Champion of the World!  I know him!  He worked at Subway!  She’s a mom!  She’s a barista!  You make coffee and that’s what you do
And I want to tell you that it’s bullshit.
Five years ago, on my 26th birthday, I was diagnosed with Stage 4 cancer; testicular, Lymphoma, heart and lungs.  I was looking down the barrel of a gun and pleading for my life and swearing that yes, when I came through the other end, things would be different and I wouldn’t be so complacent about my life and I wouldn’t be bored or boring and I would do all the things that needed to be done and say the things that needed to be said and if I died with a list of regrets when I was 90 or 80 or 70 or 35, that list would be incredibly short and pathetic and would contain things like, “Eat a pizza from the inside out.”
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ABOVE: CLOCK READS 12:02am.  MY BIRTHDAY HAS JUST BEGUN AND I HAVE NO IDEA WHAT’S HEADING TOWARDS ME.
I told myself that I would start a family… and I have; a set of twins with a third one on the way.  I told myself I would start directing; the entire reason I moved to this city… and I have.  I’ve worked on commercials both for the internet as well as broadcast and have gotten my personal work into several film festivals and have worked with musicians who’s work inspires me.  I told myself I would read Moby Dick… and I did and it was the worst thing ever but I finished it and can say with utter confidence that you should never pick it up.  I told myself I would read Grapes of Wrath… and I did and it’s one of the best things ever and I can say with utter confidence that you should pick it up.  I told myself that I would tell my father that I loved him on a semi-regular basis and even though, for some reason it’s very difficult for sons and fathers to say these things to one another for a variety of reasons… I have.  I told myself I would start camping… with my kids… and I have.  I’ve taken vacations and adventures with them.
I’ve written TV pilots and done podcasts and directed music videos and had 80s parties and made new friends have started a blog and am learning to play guitar and I play hide and seek at least once a week and, even though my kids don’t quite understand the concept of “Be quiet, we need to hide,” and they just scream instead it’s still so much fun!  I’ve started playing frisbee golf and hiking and I just got a membership to a gun range where I will learn the rules of steel.  I read.  Everyday.  Sometimes out loud with my wife.  I write.  Almost everyday.  I keep a journal but I almost never read it.  I go to live shows, both theatrical and band performances.  I started a financial budget with my wife and we’ve done pretty good at sticking to it.  I’ve loved those around me because I almost lost them all.
My point is just this; first off, don’t get cancer.  And I know there’s only so much you can do about that but do what you can.  Second off, just go.  Get out there.  Stop waiting because today, sadly, you and I and everyone, we are older and older and older and today I looked at a photo of myself when I graduated high school and I didn’t recognize that kid.  He doesn’t stare out of the mirror at me anymore.  Sure, some shade of him is still there but… we’re getting older and you can’t trade in your regrets for extra days.  They’re just baggage.
My last word here is this and it is a truly desperate plea…
Shut off your TVs.
That sounds righteous and high-and-mighty and maybe it is but television is killing our creativity.  It is sapping our time and melting our brains.  We say to each other, “I’d love to do this or that but I just don’t have any time,” but we still manage to watch 3 hours of TV in the evening after a full day of work.  Shut it off.  Pull the plug.  Throw it away.  Whatever you have to do.  Television is a crack in the dam by which all motivation drains out.  I would challenge anyone reading this to put their TV in a closet for a month and then examine how much they’ve accomplished.  Practice music, read a book, go to the gym, pray, meditate, play a board game and talk to your spouse but please, please, please, shut off your TV…*
Don’t wait to get sick.  Don’t wait until you’re lying in a hospital bed to have your personal revelation.  God made you a very particular way with very particular talents and you know what they are (and if you don’t, you need to start looking harder).  Stop building walls around your gold to try and keep everyone out.  Tear them down and let everyone see it regardless of your age because you are never too old.
Too old and too tired and too busy are excuses invented by lazy people with no personal ambition.  Age is relative.  Time is relative.  Even success is relative.  But what you do with your time and your 31 years or your 54,000 ocean waves or your 7 Summer Cycles – your every move, even your non-moves, are very, very relative.  Today, take your first steps; buy that used guitar, sign up for piano lessons, research small business loans, purchase a copy of Harry Potter.
Life is too short to be stagnant and The End already comes too swiftly; don’t be sitting back in a recliner with a TV dinner and a re-run of Pawn Stars on when it happens.  Don’t be caught off guard.
When Death finally comes to me, hopefully in 60 more years, I want to smile broadly and look at my To Do list and I want the last words I see to be, “Embrace Death.  You did everything.”
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ABOVE: ME LOOKING LIKE THE POSTER CHILD FOR THE MAKE-A-WISH FOUNDATION ON MY FINAL DAY IN THE HOSPITAL.
BELOW: ME AUDITIONING FOR CALVIN KLEIN’S NEW FALL LINE “CANCER CHIC”.
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*If you’re going to participate in this exercise, I would strongly suggest waiting until September, 29th when the finale of Breaking Bad airs.
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Dinner Table Stock Exchange

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My wife, being 4 weeks away from dropping calf on our third child, has, surprisingly, not had any pregnancy cravings, strange or otherwise.  No pickled pig snouts.  No watermelon sushi.  No salmon au gratin.  Nothing.  She enjoys one small bowl of Honey Nut Cheerios every evening before bed, but, I believe, this is only to curb her cravings for red wine and hard liquor.

My sister, who recently had a baby, hates bacon… or rather, hated bacon… until she got pregnant.  In her entire life, she claims to have eaten only four or five slices, a statistic that, frankly, baffles me.  As a constant purveyor of turkey bacon, which is supposed to be healthier, even I enjoy some thick slices of pork candy from time to time.

During her second trimester she called to tell me that she couldn’t stop eating it.  She told me she was eating bacon every day, sometimes more than once a day.  She and her husband (but mostly just She) were going through packages and packages and packages of this product that, three months prior, she detested and couldn’t even stand the smell of.

Nevertheless, it was somewhere during this phone call wherein she told me that she’d just read an article about pregnancy cravings and that, truly, I should be properly warned.  “Cigarette butts,” she says, “Soap,” she says, “Dirt,” she says.  “Women are eating these things.”

In my mind I try to imagine being pregnant and sitting alone at some kitchen table, an ashtray in front of me with a few stale cigarettes resting inside of it.  I try to imagine what it would take to eat one.  Not just the taste.  Not just the texture.  What would it TAKE for you to overcome every human nature and instinct and pick up an old cigarette butt and eat it?  I imagine glancing suspiciously over my shoulders just to make sure no one is home.  I mean, I know no one is home but still… I’m feeling a little guilty about getting ready to eat this ashy wand.

I pick it up in my hand and smell it, running it under my nose like a fine cigar or piece of garlic bread.  Yum.  I lift the cigarette to my lips and bite down on it.  It doesn’t crunch but rather just goes limp in the middle where my teeth hit.  I have to tear it in half like a piece of over cooked beef jerky.  The filter is in my mouth and I’m chewing like a yak and the door opens and my husband (because in my imagination, in this specific scenario, I am a woman) says to me, “What are you doing?” and I say, “I don’t know,” and then I weep and fall into his arms and he holds me and strokes my hair and caresses my cheek and — never mind.

The point is, we all have things we love to eat that may appear strange to others.  Personally, I like to take chocolate cake, put it in a bowl, pour milk over it, mash it up and eat it like a freaking gruel.  However, conversely, I can’t stand peas.  Overcooked, undercooked, raw, fresh, canned.  My wife asks what I don’t like about them and I say, “Taste and texture,” which pretty much covers every quality there is about a pea, what with them lacking proper personalities and all.

But, being the dad that I am, when my wife prepares dinners and she uses peas, I choke them down my tightened gullet, fighting every gag reflex inside of me just to be a good example to my children.  I figure that they’ll develop their own complexes soon enough and they don’t need me to help them along.  But today, at this lunch, something is different.  I just… can’t do it.  I’m staring at the macaroni and cheese with peas mixed in on my plate and it seems like the ratio is all screwed up.  It’s not a fair 80/20 split of noodles to peas, instead it seems closer to a 50/50 mix and… I close my eyes and take a bite.  I try to smile but imagine I look more like a rapist trying to pass as a human in Christmas photos.  My wife says, “What’s wrong?” And I open my eyes and she’s just staring at me.  She puts her fork down and says, “Why do you look like a rapist?” and I say, “Uh… the peas.  There’s just… so many,” and she says, “Well, I just want you to know that I wasn’t even going to make you lunch.  You… were an afterthought.”

Well!

I mumble something to myself about “…afterthought you and pillow over your face while you sleep,” and she says, “What?” and I say, “I shall try my best to feast upon these peas.  Long live the pea.  God Bless You!”  I ask my son if I can have a drink of his water and he says, “Nope.  This is my water,” and, while I don’t agree with that statement or his decision, I do respect it.  I encourage the children to share but don’t force them to.  I say, “But I’m really thirsty,” and Rory says, “That’s your coffee,” and he points and he’s correct.  Coffee with peas.  Gross.  I sound like a pregnant lady.

I take a bite and cringe again.  Bugs are popping in my mouth, little beetles exploding.  I gag and swallow and then begin to mechanically separate my food, peas from noodles, into two separate piles.  “Are you… are you kidding me?” my wife asks, like I would think this is a very clever joke.  I say, “No.”  She says, “You’re setting a bad example,” and I say, “I know… I know… but I just… I just can’t.  This,” and I wave my hand over my plate, “Is not happening.”

Jade turns to the kids and says, “You’re eating so good.  You’re eating your peas so good!” and I echo her and the kids echo both of us and then, like lightning, an evil plot hatches in my tiny brain.

I turn to Rory and I say, “Rory… Rory, would you like to have some of daddies peas?!” and his eyes get really big because he loves eating anything that comes from my plate.  “Do you want Daddy’s peas!?” and he says, “Yeah!  Peas!” and I start shoveling them into his bowl, ladle after ladle, load after load.  Jade raises her eyebrow to me, questioning my motives.

I say, “Good job, eat all those peas!” and he’s so excited to be getting all these little green gifts showered down upon him.  His lunch goes from a fair 50/50 split to mostly just a mound of peas with a few scattered noodles…  And then, like a snake in the grass, I slither in for the kill, “Daddy loves you so much!  Daddy loves you so much that he wants to share his delicious peas with you!  Daddy loves to share!  Sharing is so nice!” and Rory says, “Sharing is nice!  Daddy’s being a good boy!” and I say, “That’s right!” and my wife says, “Hmmmm….”

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I finish emptying all of the peas into his bowl and I gently say, “Rory… Daddy has given you all of his delicious peas,” and he says, “Thank you, Daddy,” and I say, “You’re welcome… And all I ask in return, all I ask, is for a drink of your water.”  And this boy that just moments before covetously gripped his cup to his chest in blatant refusal to commune with me, now eagerly grabs his chalice of life giving drink and thrusts it at me.

“I will share, Daddy!  Rory a good boy!”

“That’s right,” I say, “You are a good boy.”  And then I turn to Jade and I say, “And you were right as well.  I am setting an example for the children.”

She raises another eyebrow and sort of half smiles while I wash the disgusting taste from my mouth and finish my noodles.

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Fantastic Things: Band of the Day

I’m the kind of guy that, when I find something I like, enjoys talking it to death.  “Have you seen this app?  Have you read this book?  Have you heard this band?  Have you watched this show / movie / youtube video??”  So, in an effort to promote the things I love, be it big or small, popular or unknown, I’m going to… well, it’s not really a “review” per se because “review” insinuates that it could go either way.

This is only stuff that I think is fantastic and stuff that I hope you’ll think is fantastic as well.  And that’s why this segment is called FANTASTIC THINGS!

SO!!  First up on FANTASTIC THINGS is a free app called Band of the Day, available for both iPhone and Android.  If you love to discover new music and find that iTunes isn’t really cutting it by telling you to check out The Biebs newest cut or by Spotify informing you of the obvious, “Love Pearl Jam?  Then you may enjoy Soundgarden, Nirvana and The Smashing Pumpkins“, then this little fella might be just what your phone and ears have been craving.

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BotD basically spoon feeds you one underground / independent / insert-buzz-word-here band every day all month, ranging in a variety of genres from bluegrass to hip-hop.  You open the app and right off the bat you’re given a calendar wherein you can select any date up to the current date.  On each box of the calendar, a specific artist has been assigned with a brief blurb at the bottom regarding what type of music they produce.  You then have the option to preview one of their tracks or listen directly to the entire album.  A swipe of your finger allows you to read a quick biography, related buzz and even watch any music videos they may have available as well as a “Similar Artists” tab that most likely won’t include Miley Cyrus.

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The only two downsides of the app are, in my opinion, that the actual operation and navigation seems to be a little clunky and that, if you’re a fan of metal / hardcore, you’re probably going to be left wanting.

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Now, if you’re reading this review on your smart phone, close out of this poorly written blog, open up that App Store and download it now!  Like I said, it’s absolutely free so even if you hate it, you’re not out anything!

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I’d love to hear about your experiences with this monster and if you find any bands that you love; discover, listen, share!  Also, please feel free to shoot me over any strong recommendations for things I should check out, whether it be apps, books, movies, music, etc!  If I love it as much as you do, I’ll write about it on an upcoming episode of FANTASTIC THINGS!

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Kaidance: Epilogue

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Three days after burying Kaidance we’re driving out of town on I-90, pointed for somewhere in Montana.  The van is quieter, cleaner and smells better but neither of us can shake the feeling that we’re abandoning our pet.  Logically, we know we’re not.  We understand life and we understand death but I think it’s the mourning that confuses everyone.  Driving away feels so… permanent.  Real life.

We hit a tourist attraction called 1880s town in South Dakota and stop for lunch.  I let Clementine out of the car and walk around the property with her, unleashed.  I sigh at the simplicity of the process.  Clementine runs up and jumps on a couple of strangers who immediately bend down and begin petting her.  Clementine, always the conversation starter.  She disappears under a dead train to chase a cat while I talk to this older couple about their adventures.  In case you’re wondering, they’re in their 60s, from Wyoming, headed to Washington and then back to Texas.  They have children all along the route.  They have a small camper they’re towing with them.  They’re living in it for the next three months.  I am jealous of their lives and secretly wish to be old.  To be retired.  To have the ability and freedom to run for three months without permission or consequence.

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We order a round of bacon cheeseburgers to go and hit the road.  I turn around and see Clementine staring out the window and suspect that she suspects that something is up.  I shout her name and pat my lap and she jumps into the driver’s seat and I quietly pet her for the next five hours until we arrive in Montana.  I’m fairly certain she’s depressed.

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A week later she’s eaten nothing more than a few scraps here and there.  She won’t touch her food and I’m not even certain she’s drinking water.  I hope it just has something to do with homesickness or carsickness or vacation overload; being around so many strangers and strange houses and strange dogs.  I shout her name and she doesn’t come.  I shout again.  Nothing.  Eventually I find her sleeping under a table in the dark.

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A week later we arrive back home just before midnight after an incredibly long eleven hour day on the road.  We drove from a campsite somewhere in Idaho back to The Valley.  Normally we wouldn’t do this but it just felt like everyone needed some space; cabin fever beginning to set in.

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I open the front door and am greeted with a blast of heat that my thermometer claims peaks around 105 degrees.  My house is not what one would call “insulated properly” so in the summer it’s an oven and in the winter it’s a freezer.  With no one around to open doors, turn on fans or, at the very least, try to battle the heat with the pathetic AC window unit, my home has turned into an Easy Bake Oven / Human Incinerator.  I gasp and fall to the floor, dragging myself, clawing myself over the hardwood and tile until I reach the backdoor and rip it open.  Cross breeze.  It’s incredible how wonderful 92 degrees feels after coming down from the triple digits.

Kaidance’s bed lies abandoned on the kitchen floor, a 2 x 3 ft genuine Orthopedic mattress.  She may have died of cancer / overdose of fatal poison but her back was in perfect condition.  The children still haven’t asked about her, which surprises me.  It surprises me that, even after seeing my brother-in-law’s Rhodesian Ridgeback, they didn’t at least inquire as to the whereabouts of their own dog.  With the proof of the empty mattress I’m certain the pieces are going to click… but they don’t.  Their lack of observation shocks me.

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I pull out Clementine’s dish to feed her for the evening, a task that Rory typically helps me with.  I fill it with salmon tasting nuggets that look like Peanut Butter Crunch and set it on the ground, feeling as though the chore is only half completed.  Rory looks at me and says, “Kadie wants to eat too,” and I say, “What’s that?”  I don’t know why I answer this way.  I heard him.  I heard his statement.  It’s just that, now that it’s here, I’m trying to figure out the best thing to say.  How honest should I be with a 2 year old?

He repeats himself.  “Kadie wants to eat too,” and I squat down and say, hesitantly, “Kadie doesn’t live with us anymore.  Kadie lives with Jesus,” and then, not certain if I should say it or not, I blurt out, “Kadie died.”  Rory repeats it, “Kadie died?” and I say, “Yes,” and he sits down and plays with his trains while I keep crying.  Stupid tears!

I pull out a broom and mop bucket and clean the floor of the last tracks of mud Kaidance will ever make.  With every swipe, I erase a little of her presence from the Earth until… she’s gone.

Six days later we’re still trying to get accustomed to life without a big dog; the baby gate has come down, Clementine roams the house and sleeps with us at night.  Our house and floors are eternally cleaner but there are more leftovers around.  After dinner, Jade jumps in the shower with Quinn, who asks to be picked up.  Jade complies.  Quinn asks for the bathroom window to be opened.  She says she wants to watch Kadie.  Jade sets her down and says, “Kadie is with Jesus,” and Quinn, without missing a beat, says, “I don’t want to live with Jesus.”

Jade strolls into the living room in her dead great-uncle’s housecoat that still smells like cigars, even after 45 years.  Quinn has a towel wrapped around her head and nothing else.  The towel is so heavy, her head tilts largely forward, forced to watch her feet as she walks.  We all lie on the couch together and feel The-Baby-In-Mommy’s-Tummy.  Rory places his hand ever so gently on her stomach and says, “Baby,” and it’s so sweet until he starts pushing so violently that I have to quickly restrain him and wonder if he didn’t purposefully lull us into a false sense of security.

Quinn turns to me and says, “Daddy, Kadie dead.”  I take two breaths and then nod.  This is the empire that I have built, the hole that I have dug.  “Yes, dear.  Kadie is dead.  She’s with Jesus now.”  The following conversation plays out like so…

Quinn: I don’t want to live with Jesus.
Jade: Well, you do… but not right now.
Quinn: I don’t want to live with Jesus right now.  I don’t want to die.
Jade: You don’t have to worry about dying, honey.  Not for a very, very long time.
Rory: I can’t die!
Jade: Uh…….well, honey… You can die…
Rory: I don’t want to die!!!!
Jade: Don’t worry, you probably won’t, not for a long time.
Rory: I can die.
Me: It’s okay, Rory.  You don’t have to worry.
Rory: I can die……but I don’t want to!
Me: Neither do I.
Quinn: I want to live with Jesus!
Jade: Well, yes… but not right now.  Right now… let’s just play with Baby.  Remember the baby in–
Rory: I DON’T WANT TO DIE!!!

Then, my daughter, who I legitimately suspect of being able to see into the spirit realm says, “Kadie does not want to go.  Kadie does not want to leave home,” and Jade says, “This conversation is over.”  We ultimately distract them with Skittles and beef jerky.

It’s been nearly a week since we’ve been home and Kaidance’s dog dish is still sitting on the counter and her bed is still sitting on the floor.  I know that it all has to go but I’m finding it difficult to corner a good chunk of time to walk it all out to the garbage can.

I still suspect Clementine of being depressed, although I think she might be coming out of it.  The Effexor I’ve been crushing up and placing in her food certainly seems to help, although I wish she wouldn’t drink so much.  She has escaped our yard twice from parts unknown since we’ve returned, has rolled in mud / poop once and has taken on a propensity for farting.  I believe there may be a strong possibility that Kaidance, in her last dying breath, expelled the Black Smoke Monster that had been living inside of her for so long and passed the torch to her smaller canine companion.

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This letter is to you Clementine.  I’m watching you.  I have my eyes on you.  I know your games.  I learned the rules from The Master.  Behave… because I know a guy that knows a guy… that knows a vet.

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Talking to Strangers: Dale

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I’m standing on a dirt road holding a rifle somewhere in Montana.  There are no bullets in the gun so, as of right now, it’s really nothing more than a fancy club.  I look around and, as far as the eye can see, there is nothing but pasture.  It’s not even farm land.  It’s just… grass and weeds and rocks.  I suspect that people call it “God’s Country” because it looks just like it did on the day He created it.

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I’m at a shooting range just outside Billing’s city limits with my two brother-in-laws, each of them flanking either side of me, all of us trying to gather in the dwindling shade of the SUV’s popped hatch.  The first, to my left, is Jarod.  He’s just entered his mid-30s and has the body of a guy that used to be a wrestler (because he was) and dark wavy hair that covers his earlobes.  When he heard we were going to go shoot guns, he rolled out of bed and hopped in the car, sweatpants still on from the night before.  He holds a coffee and rubs sleep from his eyes.

On my right is Jarod’s younger brother and my other brother-in-law, a red-haired man named Jordan who is one of these people that, once you meet him, you won’t forget him.

Ever.

He has bright red hair that wafts out into tight curls, creating the illusion of sun-fire surrounding his head.  Underneath that, a scraggly red beard encompasses his face, ending somewhere around his collar bone.  His skin is pale and covered in freckles.  He’s one part Ronald McDonald and one part Unibomber.  He also has, what one may consider, an encyclopedic knowledge of guns and gun history and gun production and the mechanisms of guns and gun safety and what, in his opinion, is best and why and why you’re probably wrong.

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As I set the rifle down on the table, Jordan begins walking over the gun with me; Wikipedia giving me my own private lesson.  “This gun is called a such-and-such,”  Frankly, I can’t remember all / any of the details that were being thrown at me in rapid sucession so you’ll just have to bare with me, “This is the safety.  Red means fire.  You’ll see how the ergonomics of this gun works.  Your left hand goes here, your right hand goes here,” and he moves my hands so I know.  “Hug the gun, rest your cheek against the side of the stock and look through the scope.  Let me tell you about parallax,” and he does, “Here is the magazine, it’s loaded, insert it here; pull this back,” click-click, “Okay, you’ve got one in the chamber.  Once you take this gun off of safety, it’s ready to fire.  Keep your finger off the trigger until–”

“HOWDY FOLKS!”

I turn sideways and see a heavy set man approaching our car.  He’s got a shaved head and a mustache that resembles Monterrey Jack from the old Chip n’ Dale cartoon; shaved right down the middle but dangling in waxed shoestrings on either side of his mouth.  He looks like a Mongolian Warlord……. a white Mongolian Warlord.  His cream colored vest has a million pockets and a name-tag attached to it that reads, “DALE”.  He’s got, what appears to me, in my extremely limited knowledge of video game firearms, to be a shotgun slung over his shoulder which he carries around like an electric guitar.

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“WHATCHYOO FELLAS UP TO OVER HERE?!”  He talks like this, in all caps, his eyes enormous white orbs.  He laughs after almost everything he says and his jolly belly jiggles; Santa with a gun.  Jordan steps forward and tells the man that he’s just out here teaching me how to shoot a gun.  The subtext of this statement is, of course, “Leave us alone, we’re in the middle of some stuff.”

“TEACHIN’ SOME GUNPLAY, HUH?,”  Then, noticing the rifle, “OH!  SHE’S A PURTY ONE!  JUST A BEAUTIFUL STOCK!  BEAUTIFUL STOCK!  SCOPE TOO?!  I HAD A BROTHER-IN-LAW THAT WAS A CRYPTOLOGIST IN THE MILITARY BUT THEN HE QUIT AND BECAME A SNIPER AND NOW I HUNT WITH HIM!  THE MAN CAN HIT A GOPHER AT 1/2 A MILE AWAY WITH A HANDGUN……..NO SCOPE!  NO SCOPE!”

Having no idea if this is possible or not, I look over at Jordan, who slowly crosses his arms and says, “Sounds like a real sharp shooter.”  Subtext, “No, he can’t.”

Monterrey Jack continues, “I WAS WATCHIN’ IN MY BINOCULARS!  SAW THE LITTLE CRITTER FLIP INTO THE AIR ON THE FIRST BLAST AND THEN, GET THIS, BEFORE HE EVEN HIT THE GROUND, MY OL’ BROTHER-IN-LAW SHOT HIM AGAIN, POPPED HIM RIGHT UP IN THE AIR AGAIN!  AND SIX BLOCKS AIN’T EVEN AN EXAGGERATION!  BELIEVE IT OR NOT, WE GOT BACK IN THAT CAR AND WATCHED THE ODOMETER AS WE DROVE OVER TO THIS LITTLE FELLA.  1/2 MILE, THERE IT IS!”

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Jordan says, “Impressive,” and then turns around and begins organizing his truck, hoping to shun the man out of existence.  Dale continues, “I WAS IN VIETNAM, ONE OF THOSE TINY BOATS; 1000 ROUNDS PER EVERY HIT OVER THERE!  HAR-HAR-HAR!  TODAY I MAKE MY OWN DYNAMITE!  MAKE MY OWN FUSES AND ALL!” at which point he goes into very long-winded detail about the best way to make a fuse.  Jordan, being a man that re-shells his own bullets and a perfectionist of the art, speaks up and says, “Okay, so you make this fuse.  Certainly we’re talking about human error in the process; how are you able to gauge how long the burn is?  How can you KNOW?” and Dale looks at him and says, “I JUST LIGHT THE SUNNABITCH AND THROW IT!”

Jordan walks away, back to organizing his truck.  His nature won’t allow him to entertain such idiocy.  Meanwhile, Jarod keeps throwing out the casual, “Wow, sounds like you’ve got a great thing – anyway – we’re just trying to–” “I JUST SOLD ALL MY GUNS!  HAD TO MOVE INTO A DIFFERENT APARTMENT!  BOUGHT THIS ONE INSTEAD!  FRONT LOADED, BLACK POWDER, SOMETHING-SOMETHING!”  Me, I can’t help it.  I find the man fascinating, like Daffy Duck with a shotgun, and just keep asking him questions.  “How long were you in the military?  What branch?  How many guns did you sell?  What is this one here?  What is black powder?  You make your own DYNAMITE?!  You make your own FUSES?!  Why do you need to make your own dynamite?  What are you using it for?”

No pause, “BLOW SHIT UP!  HAR-HAR-HAR!”

I give a laugh but it’s sort of nervous.

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“WELL, BOYS!”…. and just like that, he wanders back to his Jeep, presumably to leave.  Jordan shouts at me, “Let’s go, Cocheese!” (side note, I have no idea where this nickname came from but it has become a staple, along with Buford.)  I straddle up along the rifle again and find all the grips.  I shut my left eye against the sun and gaze through the scope.  I find the bright yellow gopher target we’ve placed at the end of the path, roughly 70 yards away, line up my sights and slowly exhale.  I’ve never sighted anything on a scope before and I could count the number of guns I’ve fired on two fingers and everything is silent and the wind is blowing and I’m trying to figure out how much the wind would effect my trajectory and mostly, I just want to nail that fake gopher to the ground and show my brothers (by law) that I can.

I push my thumb against the safety and hear it click.  To my right, Jordan says, very quietly, “That’s a live gun.  Just pull the trigger.”  I pull my index finger off the trigger guard and place it on the trigger proper.  “Lightly,” Jordan whispers.  I raise the cross-hairs from the gopher’s guts to his head.  We’re gonna make this one count.  I squeeze the gun to my body, brace myself, everything goes quiet and BANG!!!  It’s the loudest recoil I’ve ever heard… and I didn’t even have to pull the trigger.

I pull my face away from the sight, push my thumb onto the safety again and look over the gun stock.  Fifteen feet to my right, Dale has just fired his front loading shotgun into the wild.  He’s not aiming at anything, he’s just… firing huge bullets at dirt.

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“YEE-HAW!  SONNABITCH!  WUNNA YOU BOYS WANNA FIRE THIS BABY?  HAR-HAR-HAR!”  We all smile and turn back to our target.  I line it up again, test the wind again, pretend I’m a sniper again, exhale my breath, hold it, kick the safety off, touch the trigger and behind me Dale is yammering on about a magnum and blowing up gophers and the proper boar butter to use on a crossbow and world records and his old gun collection and statistics and how things have changed in the last 30 years and I am silent, trying to aim and Jordan is silent, standing in blatant refusal to partake in conversation with this man and Jarod just drinks his coffee, occasionally spitting and giving heavy sighs that are indicative of him being exhausted with your presence.

There is a blessed lull in the conversation and I take full advantage of it.  Pull the trigger and PHHTT!  The gun pops and barely kicks at all.  70 yards away the gopher spins on it’s stand; a direct hit.  “YEE-HAW!  NAILED HER!  HAR-HAR-HAR!”  Jordan cracks his neck without using his hands and says, “There ya go, Cocheese.  You’ve killed the mama gopher.  Now, while all her youngins are moping around, mourning her death, you need to peg each of them,” and he points at the shattered remains of various clay pigeons.  “Make every shot count.  Clean house.”

I miss all of the imaginary fake gopher babies.

I kill a lot of dirt.

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ABOVE: How I feel when I hold a gun.

BELOW: How I look when I hold a gun.

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I look up and Dale is packing things up.  He says, “I GIVE YOU BOYS MY CARD?” and Jordan says, “Nope,” and Dale says, “WELL, HELL!  WHERE’S MY MANNERS!?” and he snaps a card out of his vest pocket.  Jordan stares at it for a moment before he says, “I knew I knew you!  You used to come into (insert famous Montana Sporting Goods Store here) a couple years ago!  I knew you looked familiar!” and Dale says, “OH, YEAH!  OH, YEAH!  I USED TO COME IN THERE BUT THEY SCREWED ME OVER,” and Jordan says, “I worked there for a couple years.  I knew I knew your face,” and the way Jordan says this makes me think something is up.

“SURE!  SURE!  SUPPOSE YOU DID!  I APPLIED TWICE BUT THE IDIOT MANAGER NEVER HIRED ME!  WHOEVER WAS RUNNING THAT GUN DEPARTMENT SURE AS SHIT DIDN’T KNOW WHAT THEY WAS DOING!” and Jordan says, “Well… Corporate America.”

Dale gets into his Jeep and shouts, “HAVE FUN!” and then he’s driving away, gone forever, plumes of dirt chasing him down the road.

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ABOVE: Guns don’t kill people.  Richard kills people.

Jordan turns around and says, “That man would come into (insert famous Montana Sporting Goods store here) for hours and hours and ramble endlessly to anyone that would listen to his “knowledge” of guns.  He applied twice and the idiot manager who worked in the gun department that refused to hire him was ME.”

Har.  Har.  Har.

As I watched Dale’s car shrink into the distance, I couldn’t help but wonder if all of his puffery were just a subtle F-You to the unforgettable face that wouldn’t hire him.  “LOOK HOW MUCH I KNOW!  LOOK WHAT YOU MISSED OUT ON!  HAR-HAR-HAR!”

I fire the rifle again and the fake mother gopher spins on her stand, leaving another round of imaginary gopher children orphaned.

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Talking to Strangers: Jake

I like to set daily challenges for myself; something that betters me, in my opinion, as a person.  Sometimes that means trying to be extra kind to that co-worker that I’m not a fan of.  I force myself to go into work and, although my blood curdles when I’m in his or her vicinity, I smile and ask how their day is and hold the door open and they say, “Thank you,” but I can tell that they despise me as well because we’ve had several run-ins and we’re both being totally fake but it builds good character, I guess…

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Sometimes I’ll say, “Today I’m buying dinner for the car behind me in the drive-thru”.  This is one of those good deeds that is a gamble because you’re either going to get $4.16 worth of good karma or you’re going to get $62.34 worth of good karma.  You just kind of spin that wheel and cross your fingers.  And yes, I’ll admit that when I’m feeling generous, I will often glance into my rear view mirror and try to gage just how much generosity the car behind me could eat…

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Lately, however, I’ve been trying something a little different.  It started while I was standing inside of a Jimmy John’s sub sandwich shop and was staring at this sweaty teenager that was making my sandwich.  This specific incident happened just over a week ago so my dog was still alive but I knew that I had to dig a grave for her in the morning.  While I stood in this semi-empty restaurant, I stared at this scrawny little geek and I thought about myself when I used to work at Subway in high school.  I thought about how I had to dig this grave and put my dog to sleep and how I was pretty sad and about how I used to have cancer and boy, oh, boy, aren’t I just down on my luck and I bet every single person standing here has absolutely zero problems going on in their lives and then……… I realized how completely arrogant I was being.  Disgustingly, grotesquely, self-centered.

It’s so easy to picture the entire world revolving around your life story when you live inside your own head; everyone else just an extra in your movie.

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I took another look around and tried to imagine what was really happening in their lives.  Sick parents.  Dying siblings.  Welfare.  Ulcers.  Migraines.  Depression.  Most the kids behind the counter looked like they were about ready to graduate from high school.  I wondered what they were all planning to do now that “life” was starting.

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I suddenly, desperately (and weirdly) wanted to know what everyone was experiencing.  I knew all these people were just like me and I wanted to connect with them and tell them about my cancer and my children and here’s some advice and I wanted them to tell me something about my dog and help me put things into perspective.

Everyone has a story.  Not only that, everyone has a good story.  They’ve done something, they’ve been somewhere, they’ve seen something, they’ve been involved in some way.  There is something dynamic and interesting and fascinating and incredible about everyone but these things just float right under the radar and are forgotten because nobody asks.

So I’ve started asking.

Engaging.

This is my new challenge.

If I meet someone on the street, I push against every instinct that is inside of me to push the conversation past the standard, “Hello / how are you / thank you / that will be seven-twenty-five-please-pull-ahead-have-a-good-day-sir” into the meatier stuff… and it’s this stuff, these bizarre small stories that I’d like to share here in a scattered series.  Talking to Strangers.

I don’t always have all the details and the stories aren’t always long but the bits and pieces I hear are so rich, I think they’re worth passing along.

This first one is about a man named Jake from Montana.

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Jake is early 30s, white.  Tall.  Very tall.  The type of guy that sets his water on top of a refrigerator because it’s closer to his range than the kitchen table.  He’s got a red baseball cap on, a Miller High Life t-shirt and a Foster’s beer clutched in his hand; one of those enormous cans that really contain three “American” beers itself.  It might be his second one.  It might be his third.  His eyes are the same color as his cap.

We’re at a barbecue and I’ve just met this man a few hours previous but haven’t really spoken to him.  We’re sitting across from one another in a sloppy circle consisting of five people.

A dog slowly saunters through our group and Jake says, “How much does that dog weigh?” and my brother-in-law says, “80 pounds” and Jake says, “80 pounds?  Last time I weighed Bud, he was 120.”

I ask who Bud is and he says it’s his dog.  Something called a Chesapeake.  After a quick Google search I find that it’s not dissimilar to a variety of Retrievers.

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Then Jake says, mostly reminiscent to himself, “Getting that dog over the fence was not easy,” and I say, “Why were you lifting a dog over a fence?” and he says, “Because I stole him,” and I say, “What do you mean?” and he says, “The dog didn’t belong to me and I stole him.  I crawled over a fence, picked up the dog, and stole him.  My dog is a stolen dog.  Stole,” and me, still confused by standard definitions say, “This dog belonged to somebody and you took him?” and he says, “Yes.”

And then he goes on.

Bud was living in the country, on a farm, in someone’s backyard.  They had tied him to a tree with a small piece of rope, so short that he wasn’t able to move more than three or four feet away from the tree he’d spent his life at.  The rope was so tight around his neck that all of the fur from his shoulder blades to the backs of his ears had worn away, making him look like some kind of reverse mane-less lion.

His “owners” had set a piece of plywood up at a 45 degree angle so he had shade from the sun and Bud had taken it upon himself to dig a hole into the ground as far as he could, presumably because the Earth is cooler the deeper you go.

Well, some dogs get all the luck and one Fourth of July someone shot a firework at Bud and he panicked and ran down into his hole and got his leg tangled in his short length of rope and nobody ever noticed or cared and finally the leg sort of just fell off and it truly is a wonder that it didn’t become infected.

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ABOVE: A Chesapeake Retriever missing a leg carrying a duck missing a life.

So it’s at this point in time that Jake is working at a very popular sporting goods store in Montana and he gets wind about this three-legged dog from a friend of a friend and he decides to go out and investigate the situation.  Well, low and behold, there actually is a three legged dog in the middle of nowhere stuck to a tree.  He says, “It’s being fed, I guess, and it’s being watered, I guess, and it has shelter, I guess but………..” He takes a long drink from his Foster’s and grimaces.

Jake says he goes out there just to see the dog.  It sounded mostly like he was trying to size up the situation… could it be as bad as this girl was saying?  Could this be like one of those Animal Planet rescue shows?  He tells me that he didn’t plan to take the dog and he didn’t plan to keep the dog but rarely does life care about our plans.

He hops the fence, slowly approaches the growling yellow eyes coming from this earthy hole and befriends the lonely / angry / neglected canine with a few kind words.  In my mind he lures him out with beef jerky but he never actual said that so rest assured that it is me taking creative liberty.

Jake cuts the rope with his pocket knife, takes the nameless three-legged dog back to the fence and somehow (I never asked) hoisted him up and over.  He gets back to his car and calls his wife, telling her that he’s headed straight to the vet.

I asked if the vet had questions and he says, “Yes.”  I say, “Did you tell him the dog was stolen?” and he says, “Yes” and I ask, “What did the vet say?” and he just shrugs and instead of answering the question simply says, “$45 bucks for shots.  Dog loves my kids.”

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The Revolution Won’t be Televised

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I hate it when people tell me that they don’t own a TV.

There is, in fact, a very specific brand of person out there who doesn’t have a TV and probably they think it’s very cool or whatever but it seems to me that they just sort of lie in wait all day for the conversation to turn to something pop culture so they can say something to the effect of, “Oh, I don’t have a TV so…” or “I haven’t watched TV in ten years but…” and it just makes me crazy.  It’s like, “Here’s your little Scout Badge for being OH-SO out of the loop.  Go sell some cookies.  Oh, you don’t watch the news or reality TV and you don’t know what American Ninja Warrior is?  Did you even SEE what Miley Cyrus did at the VMAs?  WHO is ROBIN THICKE?  HAVE YOU SEEN HIS VIDEO!???  HAVE YOU SEEN HIS #THICKE VIDEO!!???”

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Television.  The word rolls right off the tongue.  Televised to your eyes.

It’s not all fantastic programming, though.  No.  There’s this really, really terrible TV mini-series from the late 90s called Merlin that my wife is in love with.  It’s disgusting.  It’s so terrible.  Sadly, somebody at some horrible little company decided it would be a good idea to take this tragic excuse for entertainment, transfer it to a VHS tape and then sell one of those tapes to my wife.  Needless to say (a phrase I hate) I’ve seen this movie more than enough times.  In the movie there’s the main character, this wizard named Merlin and then there’s this evil witch named Queen Mab and yes, I had to search IMDB for that information because I am not naturally privy to this knowledge and my wife is in bed so I couldn’t holler at her.  So, this evil witch goes about doing her evil things and causing chaos every which way and Merlin spends his life trying to stop her and blah, blah, blah.

At the end of this “film” (180 minutes, by the way, which is only 14 minutes short of Titanic, gag) the entire magical world gathers together and *spoiler alert* decides to stop the witch by not paying attention to her anymore.  They take her power away by turning their backs and pretending she doesn’t exist.  It’s a very happy ending because the witch goes away and Merlin is reunited with his beloved and Martin Short is in there somewhere but I can’t exactly recall what his purpose is.  Comedy relief, I suppose.  Remember him in Father of the Bride?  I love that movie… but unfortunately I can’t watch it anymore because I don’t have a TV.

In fact, I haven’t had a TV for over two years.  First, my wife and I cut our cable but saved the actual television to play our Wii on.  Then we threw away the Wii and put the TV on the curb.  Six months later we cancelled our Netflix subscription.  Now we read books.  I watched my first episode of American Ninja Warrior three days ago while I was at my sister’s house (The Salmon Ladder, are you KIDDING ME??!) and I thought Robin Thicke was a woman until roughly two weeks ago when I got on Facebook and saw The World At Large was throwing a fit over his music video which has naked women in it.  Could I believe it?  Well, click, click, play, and yes, there are boobs in his music video.  It’s sort of like that time Trent Reznor put boobs in his Closer music video almost 20 years ago and they made a censored version.  It’s like that time boobs were in any horror movie ever made.  It’s like that time boobs were on the entire internet and you could see as many as you ever wanted just by typing the word “boob” into your Google search bar.  Robin Thicke and his entire publicity team are, obviously, very cutting edge.  “Progressive Creatives” is the word they probably put on their resumes.

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ABOVE: Trent Reznor eats an apple.

Now, the internet is pretty much this web of incestuous knowledge, so it doesn’t take very many clicks to lead you to Miley Cyrus’s “new” music video wherein a man is eating a money sandwich.  Side note, everyone is talking about a young female adult doing a provocative dance that is popular with that age group but no one is talking about the man eating a MONEY SANDWICH!

Money.  Sandwich.

Dolla’, dolla’ bills, y’all.

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Both of these videos clearly set out to do one thing; start a dialogue.  They were meant to get people talking about them and writing about them and being angry about them and demanding blood for the innocence of the generation who is being forced to watch them like that guy from A Clockwork Orange, weird little toothpicks in the eyes and all.

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ABOVE: Alex desperately wanted to catch up on 28 years of Days of Our Lives.

Do I, personally, have a problem with Robin Thicke rubbing his smelly on a young girl who’s groping her vagina with a giant, scary ass foam hand like a realistic Frankenstein recreation of an artist’s rendering of a Minnie Mouse from my nightmares?  No.  These are small fish.  They mean nothing.  I don’t want to devote my time towards trying to stop Miley Cyrus.  I don’t want to create M.A.M. (Mother’s Against Miley) or Mother’s Against Robin or Dad’s Against New Dancing Youth (D.A.N.D.Y.).

If we want to solve something, let’s turn our attention towards big fish; human sex trafficking.  Let’s turn our attention towards the fact that real live women are being chained up in warehouses and raped everyday.  Let’s talk about our government passing one set of laws that apply to the layman and a second set of laws that apply to everyone in Congress.  Let’s talk about the homeless in our city.  Let’s talk about big fish because there are true and terrible problems out there that will dwarf Miley What’s-Her-Name and Robin “You-Know-That-Guy-With-The-Boobs-In-His-Video-I-Heard-His-Wife-Was-Cool-With-It-They-Must-Have-A-Really-Great-Marriage” Thicke.

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ABOVE: The only thing sweeter than their three-tier wedding cake was Gary “The Glare” Gorman’s ceremonial wedding mullet.

If you want to get rid of Miley Cyrus and Robin Thicke or (Fill in Famous Person Here), all you have to do is treat them like Queen Mab.  You just…. turn around… and pretend they don’t exist.  You don’t have to talk about how horrible and immoral and untalented they are.  Just like there is power in talking about something (positively or negatively) there is even more power in simply imagining it out of existence.

I’m not saying you should get rid of your TV or kill your Facebook account or lock yourself in a cave but you should have personal accountability – to yourself, each and every one of us – about the things that come out of our mouths.  POP Culture – POPULAR Culture – is only made popular by you, by me, by us.

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Just turn around.  Point your back at the issue and guard your tongue.  Queen Mab only has the magic if we all believe she does.  Let’s not be Merlin and spend our entire lives talking about various witches and their bad influence on our culture.  Let’s just take a cue from a really horrible TV movie and make a difference.  Let’s kill all those small fish so we can focus our attention on the big ones.

*AUTHOR’S NOTE:  I fully acknowledge that by writing about the subject of not writing about this, that I’ve written about this.

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