Sunday, October 17, 2010

What love looks like

Those of you who read my last post may be wondering how things are moving along. Well . . . so am I frankly. I haven't made any hard and fast decisions about anything but, WOW, was I surprised by kindness this week. In the picture on the left are two real world angels, Arlina and Brianna. They not caught wind of my sorrow, but decided to take action.

I was called out of a meeting Saturday, told that there were two young ladies who wanted to see me. I honestly had no idea who they might be but as I walked down the stairs I saw them . . . huge smiles on their faces . . . bearing the most wonderful basket of gifts.

I couldn't believe my eyes as they presented the gift to me, homemade bread, cookies, hot cider and a lovely long-eared rabbit. They had created this masterpiece with their own hands, carefully debating on what it should contain and put it together with pure love.

Turns out that they had collaborated with my lovely bride who told them of my peanut allergy - they didn't want to kill me - :) They also found out what my hours at work were so they could deliver it in person.

They told me that the basket was quite a miracle, they said that their baking normally wasn't what you would call "successful", it had much room for improvement. But these baked goods came out perfectly. They also said that the perfection could in part be credited to Brianna's mom who prayed over the bread before it went into the oven. I have to say, it's mighty good.

They also said the most wonderful and moving things about me, how they appreciated me and our friendship. They made me feel 10 feet tall. I am forever grateful for these two angels in my life. I am humbled that they are so kind to one such as me.

For whatever reason, I have made an impact on these two lives who have in turn showered joy on me a hundred fold. I am so incredibly fortunate to have friends of such character.

Thank you Arlina and Brianna. You have given me the gift of hope, I shall never be able to repay your kindness.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Loss . . .

So, I'm not very good at processing loss. Especially when it comes to people in my life. I'm not talking solely about death, I'm also including friends moving away or leaving. I realize that it's a natural part of the river we call life. Rule 1: Things change. I certainly don't have to like it.

I am fortunate to have many hobbies I enjoy: music, bike riding, swimming, water polo, birdwatching and - if I may - Facebook. Each pursuit has with it its own cast of characters, each person bringing to the table a unique and special quality. A necessary strand in a larger rope, a connecting link in a chain so to speak. When someone moves along, the chain is broken. A part is missing, it will never be the same again.

After someone is gone for whatever reason and the activity continues it's hard for me not to see an empty chair in the room. A chair that cannot and will not be filled. The magic is gone. It leaves me feeling deep sorrow. It matters little whether or not the change was a healthy one, my grief remains strong. I wait and watch the door, hoping that the missing person will walk through and all will be right, but it will never happen.

I heal very slowly from such things. Processing them minute by minute. I hate it, I wish I wasn't as deeply affected as I am. But I suppose that is who I am now. Someone easily injured. Perhaps it comes with the territory of being involved with people, building bonds and learning to love. Perhaps life would be simpler and less painful if I were to stop building friendships. I wonder though how fulfilling a life without love and friendship would be.

Maybe the pain is worth the effort.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

My trip to the DMV

It happens to the best of us. Once in a while we lose/have stolen/misplace our wallet. My latest incident involved my wallet being stolen from the Rec Center locker room as I swam. I was a little irritated, I had to cancel my credit card and I was out twenty bucks . . . could have been worse.

The worst part of something like that for me is getting a new driver's license. Nothing good ever happens at the DMV.

I looked online at the fees, so I could plan my trip. I found twenty dollars cash in my truck, I was hoping to get it done on my lunch hour and for time's sake, avoid a trip to the ATM.

No Problemo!! To replace my driver's license was only gonna cost $7.50. What Luck! I would have plenty of time and wouldn't have to get any extra cash.

I bomb over to the DMV at lunch and establish my place in line, fortunately it was short. When it was my turn, I explained my situation and told her that I needed a replacement copy of my lisence. She said that it would be no problem, I had brought my passport for ID purposes. She gave me some paperwork to fill out and sign . . . then an eye test . . . then a question or two about organ donation . . .

Then she says, "That'll be $21.00".

I said, "Excuse me?" My hearing is pretty poor, I was sure she didn't say $21.00.

She said again more directly, "That'll be twenty one dollars."

She had renewed my license since it was so close to the expiration, instead of just issuing me a copy. Hence the added cost.

I looked at the twenty in my hand and put it down on the counter. I said to her with my biggest puppy dog eyes, "This is all I have". She didn't respond verbally, she only looked at me with raised eyebrows as if to say . . . "So? That's not enough."

I was screwed, I didn't want to lose my place in line and I was running out of time. I turned around to the people in line and said, "Does anyone have a dollar I can borrow?" To my complete surprise NO ONE was willing to give me a dollar. NO ONE!!!

I stood there in silence for a minute and then said to the woman at the counter, "I'll be right back." I went outside to my truck and looked all over, under the floormats, in the ashtray, the glove box, the console, behind the seat and was only able to come up with 60 freaking cents! I spent the next several minutes skulking around the Trading Post parking lot behind the DMV, combing the asphalt for spare change. People watching probably thought I was trying to put together enough money to buy a 40 oz. Ol' English.

Finally I put together enough pennies and nickels to make a dollar. I went back in to the DMV and couldn't believe my eyes. No one had moved . . . the entire line of people waited for me to "bag lady" together enough change to make $21.00. I thought it served them RIGHT for not letting me have a dollar!!!!

I placed the sweaty, dirty handful of mismatched coins on the counter in front of the lady and said with a smile, "There you go, twenty one dollars". She counted it and carefully put it all away and said, "alright, let's take your picture".

I wanted to remember the happenings of the day, I stepped in front of the lovely backdrop placing the toes of my shoes on the blue masking tape mark, I messed my hair up with my hands as best I could, making it look like I'd woke up underneath a freeway bridge, gave her my biggest smile and she captured our "moment" for all eternity.

I handed my driver's license to a young lady this evening as I was buying some clothing, she got a huge chuckle out of the picture. She even passed it around to her co workers who in turn smiled and laughed. I'd say my new licence is a HUGE hit!!

I may never have it redone.

Try it . . . you'll like it.

I've never been big on change. I take great comfort in a certain amount of sameness and routine in my life. New stuff worries me and makes me feel uncomfortable.

Like any typical man I like certain things: Levi's 501 jeans, boxers, a nice cotton t-shirt, eggs over-medium, cowboy movies, the World Series . . . etc. Life seems so simple when at the clothing store I can pick up my old favorites, throw them in the washer and KNOW that everything is gonna be fine.

This "ailment" also infects my culinary choices.

I don't dine out all that often but when I do, I have a plan. When I dine at Nero's, I like to get the lasagna. I've never tried anything else; why should I? The lasagna is delicious. Burger Boy: The Bacon Cheeseburger. Fargo's: Chicken Fried Steak. Pippo's: The Monte Cristo. Dolores Brewery: The Philly Steak. Denny's: The Club. I could go on and on. As often as I eat at those places, my choices never waver. Strangely, those menu choices were the first thing that I tried, I figure: Why Take a Chance and Not Like Something??

I have a favorite coffee haunt where, in the mornings after my swim, I like to stop in and get coffee. Mondays, Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays I have the same thing. A medium dark roast cup of hot coffee. I am comforted in knowing what to expect, consistent caffeinated goodness in a paper cup. Pure Joy!

Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays . . . my predictable, stagnant routine is completely turned inside out.

A certain barista who we'll call - for the sake of my story - Madge

Madge is quite an interesting person. Charming, witty, quick with a smile, great taste in fashion and, among other things . . . honest. Very honest. Not afraid to say things like, "You look tired today" or "Ew . . . you're wearing a tie" or "You look like a manager today" . . . whatever that means? I have always left the coffee shop in much better shape than when I came in, due in no small part to my friend, Madge.

It is nice to have someone willing to be honest, that's for sure.

Madge has decided that I need my coffee drinking horizons expanded, I think she became weary of my getting the same thing day after day. One day she did something completely crazy . . . she made me a Latte'. I was pretty freaked out, it didn't look or smell or act like my ol' standby. It was different, different texture, different smell and different taste. I tried to work up a smile as I sipped it KNOWING I was going to hate it and that I had forfeited the perfect pleasure of dark roast coffee and instead opted for a trip to HippieGrossCoffeeVille. It felt SO, SO wrong.

As much as I tried to hate it, I couldn't. It was actually . . . dare I say it . . . very good. I liked pretty much everything about it. I don't recall what the first trip into the unknown was called, but it opened me up for trying new coffee. Thanks to Madge.

Madge has since made me a great many varieties of Lattes, So many flavor choices, I don't think a person would ever have to drink the same latte twice, as terrifying as that sounds to a hater of change like me.

However . . .

Something went terribly wrong this morning, I may not recover for quite some time. Nothing went as planned. The word "disaster" doesn't fully describe what transpired: I arrived at the coffee shop and made my way to the counter to be greeted by Madge. She said, "Have I got a surprise for you today, Steve".

She had obviously put a lot of thought into this morning's selection.

She continued, "First tell me; are you allergic to anything?"

Knowing what I know now my answer would have been 180 degrees different.

I said, "Yes, I have a peanut allergy".

I don't recall the exact phraseology that followed, but it went a lot like this:

"YOU HAVE GOT TO BE KIDDING ME?? I had this great idea and worked ALL morning on getting it JUST right and now you tell me you have a peanut allergy?? That really makes me angry Steve. I'm a little upset."

Dang . . . I knew there was trouble brewing.

She huffed around a minute and then said, "You're not allergic to bananas; ARE YOU??"

I said, "Um . . . no"

"Good, let me make you something else" she said through her slightly gritted teeth.

Well let me tell you . . . she made something so wrong, so vile, so ghetto . . . it almost triggered my gag reflex. It was coffee, with caramel and a mashed up banana in it. I took the first sip - complete with large floating bits of banana that had to be chewed thoroughly before being swallowed - and turned away, hoping that Madge wouldn't be able to see the look of horror on my face as I tried to swallow my banana coffee. It went down kicking and screaming. I took another sip to be polite with the same result. I then looked inside the cup and what looked like a great big booger was clinging to the cup near the top. I'm sure it was a piece of the road killed banana trying to crawl its way out of the yellowish ointment back to safety.

I put the cup down and dejectedly said, "Sorry, Madge. I can't drink this".

I felt like one of the sad people on that TV show "Fear Factor" who had been sent home, unable to force themselves to swallow some crazy bug that they'd been challenged with.

Madge and I looked at one another briefly . . . then we shared a big belly laugh about the whole thing. She made me something else and it was delicious. I was laughing all the way to thinking about what had happened.

I'm very thankful for Madge. She always gets my day started with a smile. I wonder what next week will have in store for me.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Bad Choices . . . I've made a few

I thoroughly enjoy live music and am so crazy fortunate that, not only do I get to watch and listen to it, I get to make it once in a while too.

Who would have ever thought that an aging sheepherder would get to masquerade as a Rock Star?? I LOVE America!

I have a few rock & roll regrets however.

One of the worst choices I've ever made happened in Vegas round about 1975. I was with my parents and they saddled me with the burden of a horrific no-win choice one evening. There were two performers that I really loved, both of whom captivated my young soul albeit in wholly different ways. One song in particular fascinated me, it boomed forth from the 8 track in the pickup and quite simply towered over any other song I'd heard up to that point. It was Tennessee Ernie Ford's rendition of, "16 Tons". I loved that song. I loved the deep baritone voice, the bassoon or whatever it was that lead into the melody, the finger snapping and lastly, the incredible story it told. Tennessee sang some other songs that I liked but 16 Tons gave me goosebumps. Especially the ending.

The other choice on the ballot that night was a man from Tupelo Mississippi, a man who rose up through the ranks of early day rockers and was Christened with the title, "The King of Rock & Roll". That's right . . . none other than Elvis Presley. He was playing a little extended gig at the Las Vegas Hilton. Now of course, I knew every Elvis song by heart, loved his stage presence, envied his ability to cast a spell over women of all ages and was captivated by his totally over-the-top flamboyance. Those suits were way too cool.

There I am. My parents watching me, waiting to see who I'd pick.

I thought I'd make the most logical choice, carefully weigh the information and come to a decision with reasoned clarity. A decision that would stand correct many years down the road. A decision that would stand the test of time.

I figured that Tennessee Ernie was getting up there in years, he was looking pretty old, common sense seemed to dictate that I would have very few chances to catch him "live". If you know what I mean. Elvis - The King - was in his prime and would be around many, many years. I'd have countless chances to see him, maybe even take MY children to see him. So I chose . . .

Tennessee Rocked. He burned the house down. The hair stood up on the back of my neck when he sang 16 Tons. I left that show smiling ear to ear. To this day I think that show still ranks in my top ten of all time. I wasn't disappointed . . . until. I heard the dreadful news. Elvis was dead. I was playing basketball at my friend Kent's house when it was broadcast over the radio. I ran home, laid down on my bed . . . and cried.

I would have liked to have seen The King.

My second questionable choice came a few years later.

My hormones had kicked in and my judgement wasn't as crystal clear as it had been as a younger teen. See . . . there was this girl. As a young man, many of us have weighed decisions in the balance using the special "I-Wonder-How-Far-I-Will-Get-If-I-Make-Such-And-Such-A-Choice?" rubric. Come on men, you know you've done it. Don't be embarrassed, just admit it.

I thought I'd make the most logical choice, carefully weigh the information and come to a decision with reasoned clarity. A decision that would stand correct many years down the road. A decision that would stand the test of time.

I was standing on the precipice of Saturday night, paycheck in hand, wondering where the best place to take my date might be. (Using my rubric) There was a stadium type show that I was sure would endear me to this young lady, this band was HUGELY popular back in the day, probably the hottest ticket of the year. They weren't a favorite of mine, but that was secondary at the time. She'd be enraptured by the music and be left as easy prey, putty in my hands.

So we went to see a couple of sisters, Ann and Nancy Wilson, better known as "Heart". They - as I expected - put up a predictable, lack-luster performance which left me wondering if I should ask for the admission price back. They were OK, I guess, in an early 80's kind of way. The girl and I didn't hit it off and I ended up taking her home, shaking her hand and thanking her for a lovely evening. All in all a total bust. Bad choice, really bad choice.

But I figured I'd have a thousand chances to hear the up and coming rock star in the years ahead. His light was just beginning to burn bright and I'd catch him when it was white hot. I mean The Utah State Fair wasn't the best acoustic venue, although the 5 dollar admission fee was attractive, it didn't seem that he would be the man to wow my date into submission. After all he was just getting started. And he wasn't focusing his musical energy into the most popular of genres at the time.

I wonder how in the world something so dreadful could happen to one person not once but TWICE?

My other choice that night was none other than Stevie Ray Vaughn.

I wonder if my life would have been different had I chose to go see Stevie that night or Elvis in Vegas?

I guess I'll never know.

Kids . . . don't make musical choices you'll live to regret.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

What were we thinking?

Meet Kevin. Kevin - like me - is old. But as the sign says . . . we are men.

Kevin has been my swim coach for about 3 years now, he has the patience of Job. Without Kevin I'd be a clueless, fitness swimmer, thrashing back and forth across the pool like a badly choreographed fall down a flight of stairs. With Kevin's help, I'm slowly starting to resemble a swimmer.

I swam competitively as a kid until I got totally burned out. I swam a bit when I was 20 so, to get in shape for some triathlons. Then I took 25 years off to do some other stuff.

Kevin swam all the way through high school and college. He quit swimming and started coaching. But hadn't swam a workout since 1983. He started getting back in shape a couple months ago.

Kevin and I are doing something pretty silly . . . we're entering a swim meet. In a pool. With other swimmers. LOTS of other swimmers. And people watching. I have raced a few open water events over the last few years where you run into a lake like a crazed lunatic and swim as fast as you can around a course dotted with buoys, surrounded by hundreds of other swimmers all vying for the same space in the water. But no "official" pool races.

I'm pretty nervous, and pretty excited as well.

Kevin isn't nervous. He's way too cool for that nonsense.

The meet is in Loveland next week. It's the first of a few I have planned IF I manage not to make a complete @$$ of myself.

Wish us luck, we're gonna need it.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

From Folgers to Macchiato: One brave man's journey.

I had my first cup of coffee in Elko Nevada at a casino called, "The Stockmans". It was late at night, I was with my big brother Mel and my dad. We were working at a cattle ranch, building a riding arena. It was pretty exciting being away from home with my two heroes in a casino, WAY past my bed time. We came into town one night to eat dinner.

We were sitting at a table in the cafe looking at the menu, getting ready to order. The waitress came over and asked the usual ice-breaker question, "Can I get you folks something to drink?" My dad said, "I'll have coffee". It was my brother's turn, he asked for Dr. Pepper. I KNEW that there was zero chance that I'd ever be allowed to order pop that late at night, so I made a crazy request. When the waitress waited for my answer, I bravely said - in the deepest 8 year old voice I could muster - "I'd like a cup of coffee, please." The waitress immediately smiled and looked at my dad, to my utter surprise, he nodded a firm, "YES" in her direction.

She brought my coffee and I put my hands on the thick ceramic mug. I looked as steam rose off of the deep brown liquid, I remember trying to take a sip and burning my lip. I recall how terrible it tasted too. But I was determined to be like my dad and learn to drink black coffee. It was the manly thing to do.

At that moment I became a lover of coffee, especially black coffee. I have enjoyed coffee every day of my life ever since.

I recall being at band camp in a place called "Clear Creek" while attending Jr. High School. I woke up the first morning there and to my horror . . . NO COFFEE. I was well into my teens and waking up without coffee was just not a happening thing. I decided to hoof it to the road and hitch hike a few miles down the road to a place called, "Goose's" where I knew I could score some nice hot coffee. I never quite understood why I got in so much trouble from the band teachers. It was their negligence that drove my behavior, I felt that their lack of preparation had ultimately "sealed my fate". Who in their right mind would dream of "camp" sans "coffee"?? Obviously not someone that could possibly merit any respect from little ol' moi.

I recall my first trip to an espresso bar. I was in Park City, Utah. I was working as a superintendent for a construction company remodeling a fire damaged Main Street building. A couple doors down was a coffee shop. I went to get a cup of joe one morning and waited in a line of people slowly making their way to place their orders. I looked at the menu and NOWHERE did it say the word I was looking for . . . "coffee" . . . It mentioned a whole bunch of offerings that I'd NEVER heard of like, Latte and Macchiato and Cappucino and Americano. What in the world were those things?? I felt like leaving rather than exposing my raw ignorance to the barista and everyone else in earshot but decided against it. I neared the counter and was asked the dreaded question, "What can I get for you?" I had NO earthly idea what to order. I leaned in close to the man and said in a whisper, "Give me a cup of the closest thing you have to Folgers, please". He smiled and handed me my first, "Americano". Good stuff.

I like every kind of coffee: instant coffee, sheepherder coffee, drip coffee, percolated coffee, ice coffee and any other kind of coffee. I'm really not a snob at all when it comes to coffee, I'll drink anything.

Lately I have gained new respect for the barista, the coffee gurus who bring their ingenious creations to the vast hoards of the unappreciative. There really is NO limit to the number of taste and flavor sensations the creative coffee maven can put in play. It's a great thing to be able to enjoy coffee in ever expanding catalogs of selections:

The Cheeto
The Bumblebee
Spicy Night in Mexico
The Stalker
Willie Wonka
The Racist

One can only wonder what morning will bring.