How to Clean Your Conscience Chapter 2: At Least it Wasn’t Gretch After All…

July 22nd, 2016.  12:00 PM

Her voice was gentle; her tone soothing to the ears, a nice compliment to the pint of local brew we had just been served.  Bill and I had found ourselves a table near the edge of the patio, one side a prolific view of the entire street with its opposing shops, the other a front row seat to the musician’s performance—our personal enchantress.  And lucky for Bill, her innate ability to take a range of classic rock songs and transpose them into the soft style of Jewel had strayed my anger away from the cardinal error committed several minutes’ prior.  Add in a waitress flirting her way to an exorbitant tip and the Solid Café was on its way to an 5-Star Yelp review.

Photo by Nick Karvounis on Unsplash

“How do you like it?” asked Bill.

“Not bad,” I said with a slight shrug, followed by a gulp of beer. “We’ll see how my chimichanga is.”  In reality, the ice-cold taste of Belgian Ale provided an amiable balance to the 90-degree heatwave beating down on us, but there was no way I was letting my guard down.

“Yea, I guess we’ll see,” Bill’s response suggested disappointment.  We sat for a moment, sipping our beer and taking the time to appreciate the patio décor; the flowered planters lining the windows of the restaurant and the wood-stained decking, a sound balance between modern and rustic.

Boise Restaurant Row

Bill’s ears perked and his eyes sprang open like a brightly flicked lightbulb at the combination of notes coming from the enchantress’s guitar. “Hey… hey, I know this song!”  I turned my head to a prime position to feed my curiosity.  The progression of chords drew familiarity.  Then, a rapid rhythm.

“I’ve just seen a face I can’t forget
the time or place where we just met…”

“I know this song too!”  Bill and I drew quiet once again, attentive to each graceful note played, hoping to be the one to uncover the name of the song.

“And she is just the girl for me,
and I want all the world to see,
we’ve met.  Hmm hmm hmm hmm hmm hmm.”

She continued, slowing her beats per minute and taking her time between lyrical phrases to showcase her smooth and elegant plucking style.  If I didn’t know better, I’d swear she were teasing us, driving our anticipation in a subtle way—a most enjoyable and subtle way.

“Falling… yes I am falling,
And she keeps calling… me back again.”

“It’s the Beatles!” I yelled, my face beaming with satisfaction.

“Yea! I love this song!”  Bill sprang from his seat, moved by the choice of music and added a few well-deserved dollars to the enchantress’s tip jar.

“Thank you,” she said, continuing with the song without missing a single beat, an in-song response that had been practiced several times before.  The conclusion was met with a round of soft, yet eager applause.

“Are you still mad?” asked Bill.

“Mad? Why would I be mad?”

“Well, about earlier.”

“What do you mean earlier?”

“When I accidently… never mind.”

“No, what did you do?”

“It’s nothing, I…”

“Wait a minute…” I paused.  A familiar topic, disturbing in nature nearly edged itself back into my frontal lobe. “Wait a minute…”  It hit me.  “Wait a minute, is she playing Johnny Cash?”  It was an unnecessary question.  Of course she’s playing Johnny Cash! I jumped up and added a couple dollars of my own to the tip jar.

“Why thank you,” she responded, again taking a short second to acknowledge her fan’s appreciation before settling back into an imitation of the iconic voice; not quite as low, but just as pleasing.

“What were you saying again?” I asked.

“Oh, I uh… um, actually, I don’t remember.”

“Oh well.” I shrugged my shoulders and took another sip of beer, which was near empty.  I waved the waitress over as she made a pass.

“Did you like it?” she asked.

“It was perfect!”

“Told ya.” Her smile was a bit suggestive. “How about another one?”

“I’d like that.”

“I got ya covered.  Your sandwich and chimichanga are coming right up.”  She leaned in close to me and added a wink.  “You’re going to love your chimichanga.”  Bill rolled his eyes and downed the last of his beer.

“In that case, I’m gonna need another one myself,” he said with a reply that hinted towards sarcasm.

“Same kind?”

“Uh… sure.”

“Coming right up.”  She turned, maintaining a steady grin during the entire process, then strutted back to the kitchen, moving her hips side to side in a sensual manner.

“Dude, I think this babe kinda likes me,” I whispered to Bill.

“That’s what you said about the running babe 20 minutes ago!”

“But I think this one’s for real!”

“I guess I’ll take your word for it…”  A heavy sigh left his body.  “Surely she’s not flirting to get a bigger tip,” he mumbled.

“What was that?”

“Oh, nothing,” he said as he tipped his glass, a reminder that we were without beer for the moment.  He stared into the empty abyss, depression taking over, though with the aid of our enchantress’s sweet melodies, he patiently waited for our waitress’s return, as did I.

And return she did, keeping true to her word with a fresh round of beers, even adding in a new set of flirtatious quips.  Then came the grand finale—two plates, one with a sandwich, the other with a giant log occupying the length of the plate, smothered with red, green, and white sauces and deep fried to perfection.  “Alright.  Here’s your sandwich, and here is your BBQ’d chimi-changa.” The presentation of our food drew a nod of approval.  A dash of hope had resurfaced.

“So… what’s in the box?” she asked, lifting her chin with a “what up” gesture, her eyes fixated beyond me.

I glanced across the table, honing in on the only object that could fit the description. “Oh you mean this?” I asked, grabbing for the running shoes.

“Yea.  What’s in the box!?” she said again, channeling her inner Brad Pitt and forcing a quick chuckle out of Bill.

“Well, check these bad boys out.”  I opened the box, revealing the newly purchased pair of shoes.  Not yet adulterated by the fouls of feet, its flashes of florescent orange shined and synthetic aroma filled our nostrils.

“Oh my God…” she replied.

“Yea, I know. I thought they were pretty sweet too the first time I saw them.”

“…Oh my God!” she repeated, staring out into the distance.  Geez, even I don’t like those shoes that much. This babe must really be head over heels—

“Oh my God!” The voice was much deeper this time. I whipped my head back to the waitress, then to Bill.  Both had contorted their bodies to face the street, gearing their attention towards the perpetual sound of pounded pavement.  The rest of the lunch patrons took notice and followed suit.

“Hey!” A scream, long and forceful, echoed through the streets.  I shot my head towards the source, barely catching a glimpse of a silhouette blasting down the middle of the road.  I turned my head again in unison with Bill, the waitress, and the rest of the patio members as if directed by a drill sergeant and zeroed in on the action.  What in the world…

His speed was impressive, especially given Birkenstock sandals as his choice of footwear.  The way he stayed on top of the double yellow lines at his current velocity through oncoming traffic suggested a heightened level of athleticism.  No doubt he had achieved success in the hundred-meter dash in high-school. It was the Bermuda shorts however that instituted his lack of care while in pursuit of the blue SUV in front of him, of which he was gaining ground at a significant rate.

“Hey Bill, isn’t that Gretch’s car?”

Bill sat for a moment in deep thought, then chuckled.  “…Now that you mention it, it could be.”

“I mean, it makes perfect sense.”

“Wait, who’s Gretch?” asked the waitress.

“Believe me, you don’t want to—oh Jesus!”

Whap! The sound of lethal contact reverberated down the street, the trigger for a chain reaction of subconscious events.  Tables shifted.  Chairs scooted backward.  Senseless chatter rang from each table, quickly converging to the edge of the patio.  All the while, a softly plucked rift of a Jewel song played in the background, unaffected by the erupting chaos.

If I could tell the world just one thing it would be
That we’re all ok…

“What in the hell was that—“

Whap, whap whap!  Three additional blows cut the waitress’s comments short. The man had sent his fist through the open window several times, delivering four unexpected punches to the head of the driver.  Bill sat back aghast, having the perfect view of the carnage.  

And not to worry, cause worry is wasteful
And useless at times like theses…

“Jesus Christ!” our waitress shouted, mixing in a colorful string of expletives between the phrase.  Due to the circumstances, her lack of professionalism was excused for the moment. An urge to conform, to join the waitress with her release of curses rose within me.  Yet, another force, built upon the siren call of a young enchantress, worked to suppress any desire to overreact.

My hands are small I know
But they’re not yours, they are my own

And they’re not yours, they are my own, and…
We are never broken…

“Looks like Gretch alright…”  I took a sip of beer and remained in my seat, clarity beaming.

A line of pedestrians stood on the sidewalk, leaning into the street as if they were barricaded by an invisible fence.  The man had positioned himself in the front of the car, obstructing any attempts of progress from the driver.  The car sat idle, its driver dazed and petrified, their identity still a mystery.

Rumors flew over the next several minutes.  Tensions rose and patrons colluded with one another, each of them bestowed with the task to gather clues as to what happened—a task that brought about many interruptions between me and my chimichanga.  

“I heard he almost got run over,” one said.

“Him and the driver got in an argument,” said another.

“No, my manager said he got in an argument with his wife,” our waitress added.

“Wait, his wife was driving?” asked Bill, trying to conceal his disappointment.

“Gosh, I hope it wasn’t,” said a random patron.

“Neither do I,” I added, shaking my head.  “…Neither do I…”

“No, it wasn’t the wife,” our waitress interjected.  “I’m pretty sure it was a…”  A sighting from inside the restaurant stalled her train of thought. Bill and I took a peak of what looked to be a flash of the manager.  “…It was a… …hold on just a second.”  She disappeared into the restaurant with the hope of uncovering new details.  Bill and I took notice of a crowd that had grown twice as large within a matter of minutes.  Cars continued to pile up, filling the length of the street.

“Ok, the police are on their way,” announced the waitress bursting back onto the scene, having found her calling in life.  Serving us longer no longer seemed to be her occupation.

“So what happened?” asked the enchantress during a break in lyrics, plucking away at her guitar as if it were the natural order of her existence.  She looked over to our waitress leaning over the railing, her attention elsewhere.  She continued plucking away, waiting for an answer.

“So, the guy got into an argument with his wife and kids across the street,” finally said the waitress, her focus undeterred.  “They were yelling at each other back and forth, and he was acting like he was going to cross the street.  But he never would, and these drivers are all getting pissed, cause he keeps giving them the wrong impression!” Her ability to speak without taking a breath was nothing short of astonishing.  “So, one of them says ‘screw it’ and turns.  Well then, this guy finally decides to step out right into the street while the driver’s turning, and then he goes ballistic—” A blip of a police siren sounded down the street, directing us to simultaneously turn to the source.  “Well, look what we have here…” she said.  There was no shame, not even an attempt to hold back the grin she had ripped at the reveal of her foretold prophecy.

Two more police cars rolled up to the front of the SUV.  An ambulance followed, maneuvering through the a completely surrounded crime scene.  Officers and paramedics exited their vehicles and began their line of questioning, starting with the man in the Bermuda shorts and trickling down to the line of observers.  Two others tended to the driver, who’s identity was still a mystery.

“So you’re saying the guy got hit?” asked Bill.

“No, he was like 5 feet away!  Not even close!”  Gee, looks like the police are questioning the wrong people.

“So who called the police?” I asked.

“He did.”

“Wait… on himself???”

“Oh yea!” she replied with the enchantress’s sweet ambience backing her up.  “He was so angry, he jumped right in front of the car and called them right up!  Man, this keeps on getting more bizarre by the minute.  “Look, the driver’s getting out!”

The phrase set off another stampede to the railing, much like the announcement of a schoolyard brawl.  Police officers worked to convince the driver to exit the vehicle, activity far from our waitress’s claim; a blunder that resulted in zero repercussions. Anticipation lingered amongst the crowd and strengthened with each passing minute as the negotiations between the police and the driver continued.

“They’re opening the door!”  A random claim brought the hundreds crowding the sidewalk and patio to whispers.  Not one among us had the gall to speak while the driver’s identity was being disclosed, nobody except for one—our enchantress, the only one worthy, still plucking away at her guitar, her source of life.  Who is this person?

An officer opened the door and outstretched his arm.  I stared and waited, my heart pounding like a jackhammer, unable to break from the moment.  Slowly, a fragile hand reached out, shaking until it met the stability of the officer’s hand.  A wave of “WTF’s,” spoken fully and without filter sparked throughout the crowd as the driver was guided into sight, a phrase that neither Bill, the waitress, nor myself could skip when it was our turn to participate.  An elderly woman, easily passed as a member of the Golden Girls emerged, her left ear the size of a grapefruit and spots of blood soaked in her curly, white hair.

The man, the young track star donning Bermuda shorts and Birkenstocks, had beaten up a little old lady.

“What the F—!” The last one came from a beautiful voice.  A clatter of dropped silverware and a series of gasps followed. Bill and I turned to our enchantress, the only logical source of the foul phrase.  Our faces grew wide and petrified.  And then there was silence—an awful cacophony of silence.  The sweet, siren melodies had come to an end.

…I guess even the best among us have our flaws.

Mr. Bermuda was arrested immediately, his wife and kids nowhere to be seen.  Officers did their best to restore order to downtown Boise as he was placed under police custody, a fruitless effort in the end.  Yes, their professionalism helped calm the situation, and most of us would find a way to reintegrate back into society for the sake of our loved ones—somehow.  But to anybody near the vicinity of the Solid Café on that sunny afternoon, there was no denying that a piece of our souls had be sucked away, forever lost in the ether floating above downtown Boise.

 “Well, at least it wasn’t Gretch,” said Bill, having found the will to speak once again.  I barely knew how to respond.

“I… I suppose it’s time to grab the check,” I responded with a frozen face. I took one last swig of beer and waited for our waitress to cross our line of sight.  It had been several minutes since her last sighting.  Her presence now seemed pointless, as did my reason for my existence. Yea… at least it wasn’t Gretch after all…

How to Clean Your Conscience, Chapter 1: Ya Blew It. Kapeesh?

July 22nd, 2016. 11:15 AM

It had been a year since the road trip, that infamous trek across the heartland of the United States and into Wisconsin, aka the motherland, straight out of the vein and back.  Punch cards for derogatory language had been spent, bodies had been possessed, babes had been met and courted, and copious amounts of beer had been consumed with close encounters of the Third Eye Blind.  The purpose seemed obvious from the beginning, for attendance to Beth and Blake’s wedding was mandatory.  But the further we traveled, the more evident it became that the wedding wasn’t the only reason for our journey.  A new path had been revealed, one much darker and ulterior, directed from a higher power perhaps.  A new goal… a drive that consumed… that took over… that became our immediate life’s purpose—the absolute destruction of one’s faith in humanity.

The results, you ask?  They could not be any more pleasing; bigger and better than anything beyond our wildest imagination.

Eye witness accounts confirmed that her soul was left beaten and battered after my departure from Pony, Montana; her brain distorted, much like the physical deformations of the Elephant Man.  A week’s worth and persistence from Bill and I—one week of hell—had managed to take its toll.  And now, after a solid year of psychiatric treatment and mind-altering prescriptions, she had somehow, barely managed to make the transition back as a functional member of society.

And here I stood on a spotless, sunny day in Boise, Idaho, at the helm of a beautiful weekend, unannounced in her town, moments from taking it all away

I salivated at the opportunity, the moment those unexpected eyes crossed my sight; the shrivel of her skin, the coarse and uncontrollable expletives, the drastic aging process that would commence as soon as I walked into frame!  Yes, I’d see to it that those thousands of dollars spent on therapy sessions would be wasted, that any progress made during the course of a year was to be reversed.

And as Bill, Megan Mills, and the city of Boise as my witness, I would do everything in my power to ensure that Gretch’s weekend was completely, and utterly… ruined.

***

“Ok, you know the plan, right?” I asked Bill as we exited the Bandanna Running Store with a fresh pair of running shoes in my hand.

“We lure her down here to pick me up, and then you pop out of nowhere and walk across the street, right as she’s driving by.”

“She won’t even be paying attention!  She won’t even know what hit her!”

“And knowing her, she probably won’t even stop.”

“She’ll run me right over I bet ya!”

“It’s terrible!”

“A travesty! …It really makes you wonder, her being a danger to society with all of that reckless driving going on…”

“…It goes through my mind each and every day.  Even keeps me up at night…”  Bill paused for a moment, realizing for the first time how dangerous a world we live in. I joined him.

“Ok, snap out of it.  It’s go time.”

“No more screwing around.  This is Hollywood.”

“This is the big time.”

“Ready?”

“Ready. Make the call.”

Bill punched a few buttons on his phone and put it up to his ear.  I waited patiently, as I had ever since my unannounced arrival into town the night before.  Seconds went by, the silence between faint dial tones driving my anticipation.  Then, a break.  Bill’s head propped up, followed by a quick inhale—preparation to speak.  His posture was straight, his eyes focused.  He was alert, he was on his A-game; everything was going according to plan.

“…Hey Gretch, what’s up?”  Both of us shared a smile and a silent snicker.  “…Oh, you know, just hanging out and stuff…”  Oh man, this is going to be great! “…About to get lunch… Yea, downtown…”

My heart raced harder with each syllable, a Shakespearean sonnet spoken by the master himself.  Bill continued.  “Why don’t you come on down and meet us for lunch?” God he’s good.  A natural! “Yea, we’re by the running store.” …Oh baby, here we go!  Here we—wait, did he just say ‘we?’  Bill looked passed me with a giant grin and a solid look of confidence… perhaps a little too much confidence.  “…Yea, Zack wanted to get some new running shoes—“

“What?!”  My faced turned to stone; my body jerked and my arms swung wildly, nearly slamming the box of shoes to the ground had it not been for my Kung Fu grip.  Bill stood as if it were no big deal.  His shifty eyes said otherwise. “Bill! Are you crazy?” I mouthed.  “Quick, come up with something!  A misspeak, a lie—ANYTHING!”

“Oh, it’s Josh’s friend, Zack…”  Josh?  Of all people!  “…Yea, I met him like 20 minutes ago…”  20 minutes ago?  C’mon man! Bill bent his knees and shot me a look, his eyes wide and gritted teeth exposed.  You’ve screwed it up this time—royally!  “Josh?  He had to go to work… well, yea, he works from home, so he was out with us, but now he… he had to go back home, where he works… to do more work.

Good gravy, somebody call a doctor!  This guy’s gone mad!

My body contorted into different positions like a man trying to fight off a possessing demon, exploring the line between stomping and tiptoeing.  Stubs of shaved hair were pulled involuntarily—at least the attempt was made in all the madness.  How could he be so careless?

“Look, it’s no big deal,” Bill said, in an attempt to recover.  “Just, come and pick us up—me up.  Come pick me up! Nobody else.  Gretch, sorry, I gotta go. I’ll text you.”  He hung up, thank God.

“Are you kidding me,” I said.  “Are you freaking kidding me!” I repeated, this time screaming, the over-pressurized kettle finally getting its much-needed release.  “I love you buddy, but… ya blew it!”

“Wha—“

“What do you mean what?!  A week’s worth of planning, and you out and out completely blow it!”

“Don’t even sweat it.  It’ll be fine.  She didn’t suspect a thing.”  There was no sense of wrongdoing in his voice—not even a sense of panic.  Oh, the nerve!

“Didn’t suspect a thing?  Didn’t suspect a thing???  Your mind’s in the gutter, I know it!”

“It is not!”

“Bull crap! You got cocky, then got sloppy, and then you blew my cover!  You’ve lost your vision!”

“That’s not true…”  Bill grew quiet for a moment, guilt finally setting in, though he would shy away from publicly admit it.  “…That’s not it at all…”

“…I know what it is…”  It was a calm response, much like the response I give Mike Gibson every time I beat him in a political debate.  “It’s the babe in the running store, isn’t it?  Your mind’s been set on her ever since we left.”

“What?  Whatever. I… I don’t even know what you’re talking about—“

“I saw the way you were looking at her.  It totally makes sense!”

“Are you kidding me?”

“Absolutely not.  It’s ok, she was a cutie, I’ll admit, but you should also admit that you blew it.”

“I didn’t blow anything!  You’re the one that did all the talking in there!”

“Me? Talk—I barely spoke!”

“‘Oh, I just love running, it’s the only thing that makes me feel free.’”

“Hey!” His mocking tone was a little too sarcastic for my taste.

“’Which are your favorite trails around here?’”

“Knock it off!”

“’Maybe I’ll just see you on the Greenbelt this weekend!’”

“I’m warning you.”

“Oh, and you can show me your stride.  I bet it’s graceful, just like you.’”

“That’s it! You’re dead.  You’re dead!”

“Oh, give me a break, will ya!” he screamed and shifted backwards in a defensive position to avoid a potential sock in the face; smart move on his part.  “Like she was going to do any smooching with you anyway.”

“Sounds like somebody’s a little jealous cause they didn’t have anything to say!”

“Jealous? All that talking did was almost con into buying that stupid tank top.”

“That tank top wasn’t stupid!” I paused, realizing the need to calm myself before a bigger scene was made.  “…Well, it wasn’t the best-looking tank top… ok?  But, what’s wrong with being nice every once in a while?  It doesn’t hurt anybody, could even make their day better! And I’ll tell you what.  You’re pretty lucky I’m a nice guy, or else you would’ve been pounded by now.”  Bill threw up his hands, acting like he couldn’t believe the words coming out of my mouth.  “And I don’t even know why you had to bring the babe up in the first place.”  He turned and glared, for some silly reason. “You’re just trying to divert from the fact that you still dorked up, big time!”

“Oh, not this again.”

“Well, what are we going to do then?”

“Listen, we’re good.  You’re just overreacting, that’s all.”

“Overreacting?  More like I just wasted hundreds of dollars on a meaningless trip…”  The last sentence was muttered under my breath.

“What?”

“It’s just… ya blew it.  Kapeesh?”

“Zack… trust me.  We’re going to be ok.”

Trust me…  The phrase failed to ease my concerns, no matter how many times it circulated through my head.  Not much else was said on our search for a restaurant—not much else could be said with a mind so clouded with rage. So, for blocks, we walked in silence, no eye-contact afforded, or deserved for that matter.

Ya Blew It!

“What about this place,” asked Bill.  He pointed to a café that shared a space in a freshly constructed town square with the name “Solid.”  Solid… looks like an overpriced Applebee’s if you ask me, but with all that organic bull crap instead.  “It has a patio…”

“Whatever,” I replied and followed him into the restaurant.  It was the only respectable response I was able to utter.  As long as it has beer.

So, I Wrote Another Book…

Four years ago, I wrote a story about a road trip my friend Bill and I made to Wisconsin for our friend’s wedding (posted on the left-hand column of this site).  I never intended it to be a major project, just a way to capture some of the adventures we encountered along the way.  9 months and nearly 300 pages later, I had finished what had become, “Out of the Vein,” a blog/book partly inspired by the Third Eye Blind album of the same name (we were listening to a lot of them during that trip).

By reading it, you’d think that I had as much fun writing it as I did on the actual road trip itself. Though I did (and still do) enjoy writing and telling stories, that wasn’t exactly the case. Not by a long shot. Anybody who’s ever dabbled in any form of writing knows that it can be extremely difficult, stressful, and terrifying, especially when it comes time to share it with others.

In fact, it was quite a struggle at times, devoting countless hours and long weekends to writing, all the while beating myself up whenever I got writers block or felt like I wasn’t writing fast enough.  “What was the point of it all,” I’d ask myself. “How many people have written about going on a road trip, and why was mine any more special than theirs’?”  After all, I wouldn’t say there was exactly anything profound about my words. Essentially, it was just a collection of silly stories about two friends getting into antics across the United States.

But there was something inside that kept pushing me, to go forth and finish out what I started, even if people, including myself, didn’t quite understand.  It’s like there’s some spiritual essence within all of us driving our passions, to do that one thing we’re great at; that one thing we were meant to do.  If I had to guess, I’d say it’s something that comes from the big man upstairs, aka, the great bambino, the Holy Ghost, the one and only G-O-D.

And so, I did just that.  I wrote, and I didn’t stop.

That New Year’s Eve following the trip, I received some somber news.  One of my good friends from Minnesota tragically passed away.  I remember that night vividly–me, standing outside my parent’s deck, cold and devastated with an old fashioned in hand, thinking about one of the last times we had hung out with her.  It was during our road trip, a moment that was taken for granted, yet one that was lived to the fullest, and one that I had fully captured in writing.

In that moment of despair, if only for a brief moment, I realized how powerful friendship can be.  For the first time, I realized how those small and insignificant moments you spend with your friends can become the most memorable ones of your life, and how important it is to captures those memories.  I realized that maybe there’s a bigger reason to it all, something that I may not ever fully understand, but could appreciate.  That maybe, my call to writing was a part of that.

***

One year later, Bill, now living in Texas, convinced me to meet him in Idaho for an impromptu trip to “surprise” all our Boise friends.  In a way, you could say that we’d find out what happens when the “Z” is in “Boise!”

Turns out, there wasn’t much of a surprise (thanks to Bill ruining the “plan”) and it ended up being your typical weekend in South-central Idaho.  Nothing special, just a few episodes of foolhardy fun, including winning a highly competitive cornhole tournament, watching a full-grown man punch out an old lady, listening to another grown man cry over fried pickles (believe me, it was awful), stopping Gretch from beating a kid up at the bar, chasing after a girl (I’m afraid to admit), riding a mechanical bull, floating the Boise River while running into diabolical characters along the way, putting up with Josh Ulrich’s crap, and even a strange obsession with running shoes…

And it’s hard to believe, but we even managed to schedule a face to face meeting with the legendary… Megan Mills…

Every time we turned around, some crazy event was about to unfold, a new conflict had to be resolved, and another beer had to be drunk.  But coupled with the eclectic group of personalities, it turned out to be a weekend I’d never forget.  So, I decided to write about it.

…And I ended up writing a lot.

I’m not exactly sure how I became so invested with writing.  I’m sure it’s a combination of things, but a lot of it probably stems from the fact that I have so much going on in the old noggin, and writing is one of the ways to get it out and express myself.  So much so, that it took me a few years to juggle it with other life events that include moving to DC, getting married, starting a new job, and keeping up with the blog every once and a while.

But low and behold, after three years, my second blog-book “How to Clean your Conscience,” is officially complete.  I guess you could say it’s a sequel to “Out of the Vein,” and it’s a true story too! Well, mostly true… roughly 80–we’ll say 85%… I’ll say this. The meat and potatoes are all there, and of course I had to fill in some of the details… I mean, I don’t remember every detail from every conversation, and there’s this thing called artistic liberty…

Ok, 87.5%. Final answer.

Bottom line, you can argue over the facts all day long, but what I can say with absolute sincerity is that I’m definitely I’m excited to share it with the world.

***

It’s funny looking back; one of my last summers as a bachelor, just having turned thirty, and still working on that whole “growing up” routine.  There are definitely times I cringe thinking about the things we did (the mechanical bull and girl chasing scenario among them).  At the same time, I wouldn’t trade it for the world.  It was a special weekend, a time where we weren’t thinking about trying to force a memory, but simply living in the moment and enjoying the company around us, even if we acted miserable.

So, over the next several weeks, I’ll be releasing it on the blog one chapter at a time.  My hope is that you read it, have a few laughs, and remember to go out with those that are closest to you and make a memory or two this summer.

Stay tuned for more, and happy reading!

Boise Skyline

Head Over Heels About the Ocean: A Tale of a Broken Neck

By Ike Andrews

Hello, fans of Grizzly Chadams.  My name is Ike, and I’m Zack’s dad, guest posting on his notorious blog.  I’m 40 years and 20 years and 4 years old.  That adds up to 64 years in terms of the number of orbits I’ve made around the fat, old sun (H/T:  Pink Floyd), but it means something a little more than that. Within me is the wisdom one achieves at the age of 40, the youthful spirit of adventure that develops in your 20’s, and the wide-eyed wonder of a child of 4.  The significance of this, you ask?  These three parts of my personality are what got me falling head over heels in the ocean, the titular offender for this month’s C6 lamina fracture, plus the misery to follow.

Translation: I broke my freaking neck!

Or, if you want the original (and naughty) version, truer to the rugby player in me: I think I broke his F*#%!@%# Neck!

It all started at a little place called Topsail Beach, located on a 26-mile long barrier island just off the coast of southern North Carolina.  But first, a little background on how I got there.

***

During grad school, I met a chemist named Phil from Ohio and a rugby player named Jerome from Fond du Lac, Wisconsin.  We got to be friends, as did our wives, and managed to keep up to varying degrees after we graduated.  The wives were good about meeting up about every five years, but the men, being busy with careers in the paper industry, not so much.  But now that we’ve all finally reached retirement, we got our opportunity to join in these roughly quinquennial reunions. 

If you’re married, and your spouse has friends who are also married, you’ll notice that they often plan events for the women folk requiring the men to accompany them.  Of course, the women have already hit it off, but the men are relegated to sitting around drinking beer or whatnot, trying to act like friends when no common interests or experiences have yet to be established. I’m not being critical of these situations, it’s just the way they are.  Sometimes friendships do form, but often it’s just something you politely endure until it’s over.

A fitting artifact from the trip

But with Phil, Jerome, and myself with our wives LeAnn, Corrine, and Debbie, respectfully, it was as if no time had passed between us.  So, it was with much excitement and anticipation to reunite with the gang at Phil and LeeAnn’s house in New Bern, NC, during a long weekend in May.  Phil had planned a lot of activities for the men, and the same for LeeAnn and the women, but we all united each evening around the dinner table, enjoying the five home-brews that Phil crafted in his spare time (what a way to leverage a knowledge of chemistry!).

Naturally Gifted!

Friday’s activity for the men involved kayaking on the Trent River, a short tributary of the Neuse River, which empties into Pamlico Sound where it finally becomes one with the Atlantic Ocean (you know the place!).  If I had any sense of reading signs, I should have figured out that this expedition was a harbinger of more water troubles to come.  Phil already had a kayak and had borrowed two more from his neighbor.  While most of the kayaks I’d ever used had broad, flat hulls and were very stable in the water, these were narrow-bodied and felt tipsy, like I was trying to ride a bicycle for the first time.

My legs, built up over the years of doing squats, felt packed into the kayak like two large sardines. I began to rehearse how I would escape from these tight confines in the event I tipped over, as I wasn’t skilled enough to upright the kayak by using a hip motion, let alone deal with the trouble of getting my legs to slide out.  But after 5 minutes of paddling, a steady ache building in my lower back eclipsed my safety planning.

“Something’s not right,” I said to Phil.  “My lower back is hurting.”

“Are you pushing against the foot pegs?”  he asked.

There was just the slightest pressure against the foam of my flip-flops.  “The tips of my toes are barely touching them.”

“Ummm.  We should have adjusted them before you got in.  Let’s paddle over there to the shore and fix them.”

I went as far as I could before the front of the hull bottomed out, and as I tried to raise myself from the seat, I lost my balance.  Phil outstretched his oar to me, but couldn’t prevent the inevitable. I flipped upside down, nearly pulling him in with me.

To my surprise, my legs came out smoothly and I surfaced without being submerged too long, but as I climbed onto shore, my right flip-flop got caught in the mud and came off my foot.  Jerome eventually retrieved it, but not before I stepped on a rough rock that took off a quarter-sized flap of skin.  Then, stumbling from the step, I scraped my left shin against another rock, resulting in an ooze of bright red blood.

The geese that were on the shore flashed away in a noisy gaggle, but their clumps of poo were everywhere.  While I pulled the kayak on shore, all I could think about was getting some kind of bacteria in my wound, so I kept a close watch on where I was stepping. With careful maneuvering, we managed to navigate through the minefield with little casualties, and after about ten minutes of peg adjustments, I managed to get back into the kayak free of any back pain.

We kayaked for another hour and a half before we could get back to Phil’s house to tend to the wounds. I used hot, soapy water and a brush to scrub them both, then liberally applied antibiotic ointment.  Secretly, I wished I could have gotten a tetanus shot, but hoped the scrub and daub treatment would be good enough.

More water adventures followed, this time for everybody.  LeeAnn had a friend she’d met through her career as a nurse named Joanie, who had a beach house about an hour away from New Bern, and I couldn’t have been more excited.  I’ve always been in love with the beach, ever since I was a kid, and I couldn’t wait to hit the surf that Saturday.  By the time we got there, the surf roiling and inviting, with only a slight overcast. I wasted no time in taking a plunge, letting the waves wash over until I could dive beneath the first big breaker. The water wasn’t so bad once you got thoroughly submersed, and I spent the next 20 minutes playing with the waves, trying to catch one perfectly so I could body surf to the shore.  It felt so good to be out in the ocean again!

As I was about to head back to shore, it occurred to me that the salt water was good for my kayaking wounds, so I stayed knee deep in the water for an additional 10 minutes, walking up and down the beach.  At last, I got out and lathered up with some Banana Boat SPF 15 so I could relax in the sun. When lunch came around LeeAnn and I went to a New York style deli to pick up sandwiches for everyone, then stopped at a convenience store for drinks and chips.  Joanie showed up and Jerome and I lazed around her hammock and swinging chairs and chit-chatted while the rest of the party went back to the beach.

When the three of us retuned to the beach, everybody was snoozing, but our appearance caused them to stir awake.  Debbie and I went for a walk, and when we got back I got the sense that folks were tiring of being in the sun and would want to be heading back soon.  Since going to the beach is a rare occurrence for someone living in Spokane, Washington, the four-year old within me said I just had to take one more tip to take advantage of the glorious combination of wind, sand, sun and surf.   

The day so far had been filled with an overabundance of normalcy.  That was all about to change.  The surf hadn’t settled at all since the morning, still rough and roiling, but not intimidating, at least not to the 4 year old in me, with the 20 year old telling me I had to conquer those waves and body surf one all the way to the shore.  I went out just past the breakers and bobbed around a bit, then swam swiftly toward the shore trying to catch the first swell I saw, rising like it would soon spill over. I missed it, so I regained my bearings and went out again.  The second wave came and the crests were breaking on either side of me.  I started swimming forward and caught the middle part just as it was breaking, and the next thing I knew I was planed-out and soaring. A sense of exhilaration settled in, but only for about 2 seconds.

In the blackest darkness I could imagine, the wave hydraulics changed viciously and slammed the front part of my head against the seabed.  I was aware of what happened—too aware—and instantly realized that I had never, ever been hit in the head so hard in my life.  My body still swirling in the cataclysm of violent water, my second thought was just as clear as the first:  Why am I still conscious?

Fortunately, I was. Otherwise, the undertow might have swept me back out to sea, never to be found. I felt around for something solid to stand on, and my feet landed on the sand. As the wave receded, I felt a tingling up and down my left arm. “This isn’t right,” said the 40 year old in me. No way was I going to try to brush this off with bravado and act like nothing happened. Immediately, I staggered over to LeeAnn and Joanie, two nurses who would know exactly what to do in a situation like this.

“What happened to your head?” LeeAnn asked before I could ever say what happened.  I felt around at the top of my head until I found the answer. A silver-dollar sized chunk of my hair was missing, replaced by a bright red spot dotted with blood specks. “You’ve been scalped!”

“That wave slammed me into the ocean floor,” I explained.  “My left arm is tingling.” 

“That’s not good,” she replied.  “Let’s get you to urgent care right away.”

The three of us hastily left the beach, and at least the tingling in my arm stopped before we could cross the road back to the beach house.  We got into Joanie’s car and took off toward the nearest urgent care facility, but a quick phone call revealed it was closed for the weekend (an aside: the benefit of being with two nurses is that they both knew the medical landscape of the area very well).  After a brief debate, we shot towards New Hannover Regional Urgent Care Center in Wilmington, North Carolina.

LeeAnn plugged the destination into her phone and Joanie took off—well, sort of.  We got stuck behind a pickup moving slow and erratically. Not only did we suspect that he was texting, or drunk, or both, but they didn’t even know how to get out into the intersection to make a left turn!  Joanie, having lived in Chicago where she put up a lot with that traffic, suddenly lost her patience due the untimely impedance of our makeshift ambulance excursion.  I have to admit, it was reassuring to see her acquired southern charm evaporate in the face of a slow-ass driver.  After all, she was doing it because she was acting in the best interests of her patient, me.

Fortunately, the slow-ass driver turned into a nearby WalMart, giving us unobstructed access to the road from thereon out.  At one point Joanie got on the phone and called a nurse who specialized in neuro injuries and asked her what symptoms we should be looking out for.  She relayed a bunch of questions and had me do a few head movements before concluding I wasn’t too badly off, although in retrospect some of the head movements ended up becoming verboten after the doctor reviewed my x-rays.  At any rate, she quickly got me to an emergency room, that was to our luck empty, allowing me to reach the admittance desk right away.  “Good afternoon.  I would like an x-ray, a tetanus shot, and this scalp wound cleaned up, please,” I said.

“Would you like fries with that?” you think she would have responded.  Instead, she asked all the normal prerequisites—insurance, driver’s license, social security number, etc., and soon I was escorted into a private room in the main examination area.  A nurse came in and introduced herself, believing she was there to immediately treat my scalp. Instead she took blood pressure, temperature and pulse readings and said the examining doctor would be there shortly. Yeah, but my scalp… I wanted to say, but she left… too quickly.

Next, a thirty-something year old man in scrubs showed up and extended his hand.  “Hi, I’m Steven Crawford.  I’m the attending physician this afternoon.”

Right away I was impressed that he didn’t flaunt his credentials by insisting I call him, “Dr. Crawford.”  I explained what happened as he looked me over.  He checked me out for a concussion and then said he was going to order x-rays and we’d go from there. 

But what about my scalp wound…, I started to stay, but he left before I could utter the first word.

The x-rays showed I had a fractured C6 lamina, a serious place to get injured, as that region of the spinal cord controls the mobility functions from the neck down.  In other words, I was lucky I wasn’t paralyzed, as several nurses told me over the course of the next 24 hours.  Still, there was concern that the soft tissue inside the vertebrae might have been compromised, and the only way to find out was through an MRI.  Next stop, New Hannover Central Hospital in downtown, Wilmington, transportation curtesy of the ambulance. In the meantime, I got to wear what felt like a series of concentric Ubangi neck rings.

Well, That Escalated Quickly…

I’ve never felt so uncomfortable in my life.

Finally, just before the ambulance came to whisk me away, the attending nurse showed up to treat my scalp wound.  It must not have been too bad, I thought to myself, since it took them so long to attend to it.  You can judge for yourself.

Not a good look…

The ambulance ride was interesting.  One of the paramedics used to work for the movie studio in Wilmington as a location manager, but got tired of the travel and long days associated with film making. I remembered living in Wilmington at the time the studio came in, which led to extra work in “The Year of the Dragon” and an encounter with Arnold Schwarzenegger in a Gold’s Gym, a story for another time.  As I exchanged stories with the paramedic, I told her about how my son was born in Wilmington and that I was now going to be admitted into the same hospital that he was born in.  Come to find out, that wasn’t exactly true.   Zack was born in Cape Fear Memorial Hospital, not New Hannover Regional Medical Center, but it’s not the first time one of the Andrews men had gotten confused about birth stories regarding the city of Wilmington (see So it turns out, Michael Jordan Wasn’t Born in North Carolina…).

What can be said about spending a night in a hospital room that doesn’t evoke misery and dolefulness? At least the nurses were top notch and gave me a more comfortable fitting neck brace (plus the tetanus booster shot I’d been wanting since the kayak mishap), but the quality of sleep left a lot to be desired, especially given the hallway noise and the number of interruptions to take your vital signs, plus emptying waste containers (which maybe had one piece of trash in them, making me wonder what was the sense of doing it).  I didn’t get cleared to move out of bed until morning, but that didn’t stop me from getting up in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom, which involved a bit of advanced planning considering I was hooked up to an IV whose power cords were tangled into a giant ball that didn’t quite reach to the toilet on the first go around. 

A staff neuro surgeon stopped by early the next morning and did all kinds of tests involving pushing and pulling with my hands and feet, plus answering a series of rapid fired questions about basic personal knowledge and current events.  He then gave me the ok to move about the room and have some food, which was great, since I hadn’t had anything since lunch the day before. And I have to hand it to the hospital, the food actually wasn’t that bad, although the coffee tasted like somebody had dipped a stool sample in a cup of tepid water (I drank it nevertheless, indicative of how badly I needed caffeine).

So, the remainder of the morning and most of the afternoon was spent in waiting my turn for an MRI. I mostly watch back to back episodes of Animal Planet’s North Woods Law, astonished at how seriously fish and wildlife statute enforcement is taken.  Once Debbie and LeeAnn showed up, I turned off the TV and chatted with them. Turns out, they were more impatient about the MRI than I was.  When they slipped away to get a late lunch at the Au Bon Pain, I pinged the nurse to see what she could find out. Consequently, she fussed at the MRI scheduler to get his ass in gear to get me in.

Eventually, it happened, but not without a little Valium and a towel over my eyes, as the little bit of anxiety I got when getting encased for just a few minutes for a CT scan the day before was only going to worsen given the 25 minute procedure of the MRI. The results seemed good, but the neuro surgeon didn’t get to them until 7 pm and was afraid he couldn’t get all the diagnostic reports together in time for me to take home.  Therefore, he asked that I stay another night in the hospital.

That didn’t make sense—to incur an additional cost on account of their tardiness.  Fortunately, the nurses must have been on to the ploy, because they kept telling me they were compiling all the reports at the nurses’ station so they would be ready in the event I got released that evening. So, with the info the nurses had provided, I pushed back on the neuro surgeon.  Honestly, I think he was tired of being at the hospital all day and wanted to go home and relax over a beer with his family.  Anyway, he said he would try, but couldn’t make any promises. An hour later, he called back and said I was good to go.

It’s hard being injured in a strange place, but Phil and LeeAnn intuitively understood and made the best of it for me.  I slept on their couch the first night, propped up, and in their recliner the second night (part of an on-going experiment that continued when I got back to Spokane to find the ideal sleeping environment).   The plane ride back was painful, even though I’d paid the additional fare to fly first class.  I hate to think what flying in coach would’ve felt like.

Luckily, there’s a neuro-surgeon who lives in our neighborhood and my neighbor Todd, a physical therapist, had already spoken to him about the accident, clearing the way for an appointment two days after I got back.  He looked at the images and declared the fracture stable, and said I could forego the neck brace so long as I was at home, except for when I slept. Driving was optional, if I felt comfortable doing it.  So far, I’ve ventured out a couple of times, but am purposely avoiding the freeway until I feel like I can better turn my head.

The neuro surgeon, a former competitive power lifter (now in his 70’s—he blew out a disc trying to squat 600 pound when he was in his 60’s) cleared me to start lifting again, so long as it was light weight, high reps, and no squats or deadlifts.  While I’m eager to get back into the gym, I’m sticking to cardio for now and giving it another week before I lift again.

The worst part now is the pain, which is unnoticeable during the day, but creeps up as bedtime rolls around and goes full board once I lay down to sleep. I held off as long as I could, but finally broke down and started taking 5 mg of Oxycodone before bedtime (prescribed, of course), which ensures a good 5 hours of solid sleep. Getting up and applying a heating pad to the sore areas gets me through the 2-3 remaining hours. The upside of this is I get to spend more time now reading and writing (something I’ve been meaning to do), and once I get more active, I can find a good balance between all the activities.

So, while I’ve always been head over heels about the ocean, I’m really down on being heels over head there. Sure, it could have been a lot worse, and I am thankful to God for not letting it be, but it indicates to me that His work for me is not finished.  So, I’m also spending a lot of time in His Word and in prayer trying to discern what that work is.  

If I were to give any advice as a result of this accident, I would encourage everyone to keep themselves fit and strong.  I’ve been doing a lot of powerlifting over the past year, and the week before Zack got married, I set an all-time 1-rep PR in the deadlift at 505 pounds.  I had two doctors and three nurses comment that the musculature in my back and neck helped absorb the blow and likely saved me from getting my neck broken in two, with death or permanent paralysis being the consequence.  So, take care of yourself, both spiritually and physically, so that if and when life hits you with a tumultuous wave, you are well-prepared to take it on.

Chorizo Mac and Cheese: A Secret to Everybody!

***Warning, apparently, there’s a “spoiler” in this blog. So if you just want the recipe, just scroll down until you see “Chorizo Mac and Cheese.” However, I’m going to go out on a limb and say I didn’t spoil anything that bad***

Ok, so I messed up.  Pretty bad. I mean, I don’t think it’s a big deal, but apparently some people are pretty butt hurt about it.

So, there’s this movie that’s out, called “The Avenger’s End Game” or something dumb like that. Personally, I don’t even like those movies, but everybody can’t shut up about it. It’s pretty much the same crap they saw last time, just take the next superhero in line and cut and paste a new bad guy with some lame end of the world scenario.  Gee, how original!

More like Avengers: Turd Game. Who Cares???

Then, I have this friend named Shaun Walters, one of those among the obsessed. Don’t get me wrong, I like the dude fine and all, at least most days.  After all, he can be known to throw a good meme on Facebook every now and then.

I hate to admit it, but that’s funny.

But the guy can be a real ball breaker sometimes.  I mean, he’s totally ruined Game of Thrones for everybody on multiple occasions.  Just because he’s read the stupid books, he thinks he has the right to spoil everything for me.  Forget that!  Go ahead, waste your own time with all that sucky reading, but don’t drag the rest of us along!

The worst part is, he thinks he can out drink me (Chapter 2: I Call it a Brass Monkey).  No respect.

His last spoiler, though… that was the final straw.

And look, he’s just rubbing it in!

Something had to be done, for these nefarious deeds had gone on for much too long.  I had to get him…  I just had to.  And I had the perfect plan…

I was going to ruin the new Avenger’s movie for him… but not really.

Right before the movie was to come out in theatres, I’d casually make a Facebook post and get him all psyched out, acting like I had just revealed a major spoiler.  It would come off as innocent, without any warning whatsoever, and he wouldn’t expect it, not from me.  Oh man, I was going to get him good!

Haha, he has the nerve to call me a jerk?? Spare me the righteous indignation.

The thing is, I hadn’t even seen the stupid movie!  I just made the whole thing up just to punk him!  I could see it, him getting all worked up, like I had ruined his entire summer.  Then, when he finds out the truth, he’d be all, “Gosh darn it Grizzly Chadams, you scared me!  Heheh.”   Nothing major, just something to make him think twice about posting Game of Thrones spoilers in the future.…Well, turns out, the Iron Dude actually does die.  Everything I posted ended up happening.  …Whoops!

Suddenly, I had become most hated man on the internet, and the threats started rolling in, one after another.

Even my best friend since the third grade was sending them direct!

That certainly wasn’t a fun text string to wake up too…

I mean, how the heck was I supposed to know that actually happened? The good guys never die!  And now, everybody’s out for blood!

The backlash was totally unjust.  No man should ever receive this type of punishment for such a simple mistake. Yet, I’m willing to take the fall.  To make things right, I’m going above and beyond the call of duty, as long as it brings peace of mind to those troubled souls going after my livelihood.

I’m giving away my million-dollar discovery.  I call it, Chorizo Mac and Cheese:

I remember the exact moment it hit me, like Doc Brown when he came up with the idea of the flux capacitor.

“Oh, look, they have mac and cheese on sale,” said my wife during a casual stroll through the grocery store a Sunday or two ago.  Having just departed the meat and dairy sections to appease our penchant for chorizo and eggs, the next sequence of thoughts could only be described as natural. “…What if I mix chorizo with… mac and cheese…” To be honest, a revelation of this magnitude is quite frightening.  We’re talking about a world changing event right here!  And what if I fail?  I had dabbled with the concept of macaroni bologna years before, which ended up being a 4-dollar disaster.

Ughz, what a travesty!

And now, the stakes were even higher.  If I screw this up, how could I ever be trusted? What about my future kids—the future of our country!?!?

But then again… think of the possibilities…

My mind was set.  There was no turning back now.

***

I took a deep breath as I stared at my creation, a fully cooked tube of chorizo fully mixed into a bowl of Safeway select white cheddar macaroni and cheese.  Might heart pounded as I lifted a spoon full to my mouth for a taste test.  “Well, here goes nothing…”

Trust me, it’s way better than it looks!

My mouth collapsed over the savory mixture: pure ecstasy.  The rave of the tongue only escalated as it further seeped through my taste buds.  It was like Disneyland and Coachella had combined forces to bring forth the ultimate pleasure experience.  No joke, I had literally stumbled upon the greatest merger since Peanut Butter and Jelly.  Chorizo and Mac and Cheese…  I’ll never have to work another day in my life.

The recipe is simple.  Cook one box of store bought macaroni and cheese.  It doesn’t matter if it’s Kraft, the fancy stuff, or whatever.  Heck, you could probably even get something from that used food store, the “Grocery Outlet” I think they call it.  Any ol’ box of mac and cheese will do.

Personally, I prefer the white cheddar, but do as you please!

And I don’t remember the exact details, but usually, you put the dried macaroni into a pot of boiling water for about 10 minutes, then drain.  A little milk and butter is usually involved, plus that weird cheesy powder, but I mean, it’s mac and cheese.  If you’re a grown adult and don’t know how to cook that, then there’s essentially no hope for you.  Sorry!

Next, slap a tube of chorizo on the skillet and cook on medium to medium high heat for about 7 to 10 minutes, and make sure you stir it around every minute or so.  Just an FYI though, chorizo is sort of hard to know when it’s fully cooked.  When it’s done, you sort of… know?

Also, don’t bother getting the Jimmy Dean chorizo or any other type that’s 4 or 5 bucks at the grocery store.  Total waste of money.  The “Cacique” stuff will do, of which you can get for no more than 2 bucks at the grocery store ($1.50 on a good day).  Not only is it the cheapest, but it’s the best.

The last type of chorizo you’ll ever have to buy.

Now for the most important part.  After you’ve cooked both, mix the chorizo in with the macaroni.  Stir, then viola!  A most excellent party in your mouth for under 3 dollars!

And for your health, it also pairs well with one of these!

The moment I tasted this contraption, I knew I could’ve retired off it. However, as Kanye gave us “My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy” after ruining Taylor Swift’s night at the 2009 MTV Video Music Awards, consider this my gift to the world.  A most generous gift indeed, yet, one too important to keep to myself.

So, for all y’all that are still pissed off over the Avengers, quit your crying.  I just gave up early retirement for you!  And trust me, you’ll be thanking me once you taste my chorizo mac and cheese.

And Moody, I’d say this makes us even from here on out.

The Jiu Jitsu Blues

Some do martial arts to build confidence.  Others are in the business to make sure their love ones are protected, in case the situation arises.  All are noble reasons, of course.  For me, there’s only been one goal since I joined the Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Club at work…

I see it in his countenance.  The arrogant look he throws around, that stupid grin.  It’s been stuck on his face, ever since he pounded on that poor kid in that MMA match.  Now, he walks around like he can beat anybody up.  The worst part is, it’s true.

His older brothers have trouble sleeping at night, fearing they’ll wake up in the middle of the night to a severe beating after years of torture and teasing from his childhood. You think Ulrich will go toe-to-toe with him?  Ha, fat chance.  Heck, even Gibson’s scared of him!

Ben Woodward had the gall to talk crap to him once over the phone.  I pray to God their paths never cross.

Something has to be done.  Somebody has to stand up to him, this… this bully.  It’s been on my mind every day for the past 10 years, and I’m going to do it.  It may not be this week.  It may not be this month.  Heck, it may not even be this year.  But someday, somehow, I’m going to do it.

I’m going to kick Danny Dahl’s ass.

angry-jiu-jitsu-face-1-e1555457156845.jpg

***

April 2nd, 2019.  It was a solid class, drilling the variations of the Kamara and Americana submissions, followed by nearly 45 minutes of intense rolling.  Before we knew it, 6:00 was right around the corner, the end of class for the day.  It’s been like this every week for the past 6 months, and slowly but surely, my skills have improved.

“It’s your time,” our instructor Noam told us, as he usually does.  “Anybody up for another roll?”  Honestly, if someone had asked me, I would’ve gone one last time.  But let’s face it, we were wiped, and by all the nods of approval floating about, it was safe to say that we were satisfied with the progress made during this week’s session.

I conceded to the groups wishes, unable to conceal the smirk growing across my face.  “Man, I think I’m starting to get the hang of this Brazilian Jiu Jitsu stuff…”

Noam caught on.  “Zack?” he asked, peering into me with a growing smirk of his own.

Suddenly, mine disappeared.  The hairs on my arms rose, my face snarled, and I won’t lie, I even felt a spike of anger rise within me.  Something didn’t sit right.  I could see him through Noam’s stare, laughing, egging me on, cracking one of his stupid jokes, and getting away with it.  …Danny…

“Hey,” I said, pointing to Noam, my eyes beaming—my face stern.  Time was precious, and like it or not, I made a vow to the world.  I would train, I would study, I would do everything in my power, day and night to defeat him.  “Noam, we’re rollin’.  Right here, right now.”

Now, to this day, I swear, the moment I said those words, a strong strain of fear filled the room.  I could smell it, permeating off each person’s gi.  But he accepted, begrudgingly, knowing full well as the master, he couldn’t back down.  The rest of the class gathered in anticipation, wondering if they were about to witness the biggest upset since Brock Lesner over The Undertaker in Wrestlemania XXX.  We slapped hands and got down to business.

He sat back, looking to break me with his spider guard. The Zack of old would’ve fallen for his Jedi mind tricks.  But not now.  I had come too far in my training, and I evaded every one of his attempts to pull me into his guard.  And now, it was my time.  I made my move.

I swiped past his leg, in prime position to take control of the match.  “Man, think of the possibilities,” I thought to myself.  “I can go from side control, to mount, set him up for an arm bar, the world is literally at my fingertips!”

I broke his spider guard and posted up, one swift maneuver away from side control.  “Alright, just a quick juke, then a bit of a psych out, break the legs away, twist, and—“

“POP!”

“Ahh!!!” I screamed as I dropped to the ground, flopping about like Hogan in the clutches of Ric Flair’s Figure Four, circa 1991.

“Are you ok,” asked Noam, staring at a useless specimen lying on the mat, no better than dead.

“…I think I just dislocated my knee!”

And that was it.  It was all over.

***

The anxiety only grew as the paramedics arrived.  Not a single one of them were thrilled about carrying my fat ass down 3 flights of stairs.  At least the rest of the class stuck around to see me out ok, providing the necessary resolve for the journey down.

***NOTE: My butt may be big, but I happened think it’s shaped nicely, just like a Kardashian (just to set the record straight)***

“Did you have to get hurt on the 3rd floor?” the paramedics complained.  They can take that up with the Moral, Welfare and Recreation department at the Navy Yard as far as I’m concerned.  It’s a travesty—the lack of respect us Jiu Jitsu enthusiasts receive.  Besides, it’s not my fault they have poor cardio.  Derrick Lewis can tell you all about that!

The sweat poured off their brows, and by the time we made it to the bottom, two of the paramedics had curled over in a constant pant for oxygen, but after a couple of rough patches and a near drop or two, they managed to get me onto the stretcher.  Noam, to his credit, grabbed my gym bag and sought me to the ambulance, ensuring I was in good hands before leaving the scene.

With limited mobility and the roof as my only source of scenery for the entire ride, I had much to ponder.

“Man, he knew all along that was going to happen, didn’t he?  Doing all that trash talking and setting me up for defeat, that cheeky bastard.  But, I’m gonna get him.  Ohh, just you wait, Danny.  I’m gonna come back, stronger than before.  I’m going to train harder than before.  Then before you know it, I’m gonna sneak up on you and whoop the living—“

“CLUNK!”

“AHH!  MOTHER F—“

…Damn those DC potholes.

A few more bumps and several swears later and we were at the hospital, waiting for admittance.  It was the strangest thing, but every nurse that passed me seemed to give me a thorough inspection.  “Well, they seem to really care for their customers.  That’s a good sign, I suppose.”  But things started to get weird—real quick.  They were eying me hard now, really taking the time to check me out.  “What’s so intriguing?  Sure, I’m a hunk and all, but I’m no John Stamos…”

Lying next to me was my gym bag.  I had removed my gi top and stuffed inside moments before, leaving nothing but my super sleek rash guard exposed.  I always admired the way it conformed to my Adonis like figure.  And now, it seemed that the rest of the world admired it as well.  “No wonder Noam encouraged me to get one of these, heheh.”

One of the docs came over to examine my condition, also taking a short moment to take notice of my rash guard.  “Ok Mr. Andrews, I’m just going to get a feel of where the pain is,” he said to me in a sinister voice.  Something wasn’t right about this situation.  My fears were further exacerbated by the excessive touching of the leg and thigh areas.  “Does this hurt,” he asked.  “What about this… And this?”

“YES!  YES, IT ALL HURTS FOR CHRIST SAKE!  FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, CAN YOU PLEASE STOP FINGER BLASTING MY LEG?!?!”

“Ok, ok, hold your horses,” he responded with a wink.  “I’ll be back in a little bit to check on you.”  Not if I have anything to do with it!

I had to get out of there.  In an attempt to remove myself from the situation, I lifted my leg. “AHH C—!”  Whoops, a little loud, hehe.  “…Crap…”  I resettled into a comfortable position as best I could.  Damn my busted knee…

But wait, I had an ace up my sleeve.  Realizing I had taken it off prior to class, I rummaged through my gym bag and pulled out a gold, shiny ring.  “Time to put an end to this nonsense, once and for all!”

He came back for more fun, only to find disappointment. I’m no mind reader, but if I had to guess, it was the wedding ring that delivered the final blow. “Send him to get x-rays,” he scoffed, walking away in disgust.  Sorry guys, this one’s officially off the market.

The x-rays were a pain in the butt—or leg if you want to get technical.  And it didn’t help that the x-ray tech didn’t understand the concept of April Fools—damn the cultural barrier.  Not impressed by the funny meme I had just shown him with a man crying because it was April 2ndand he realized his girl was still pregnant, he wheeled me out to a subpar location at the end of the hallway, all by my lonesome. Judging by my surroundings, they were having a pretty busy night.

Maybe it was a little too close to home, heheh.

Luckily, the wife showed up shortly after and waited it out with me, fending off the rest of the nurses on the prowl.  In the room to my right sat—or perhaps “paced” is a more fitting verb, an elderly woman, insistent on cruisin’ around in a hospital gown with her undies fully exposed, no matter how many times the nurses pleaded with her to stay in her bed.  In front of me was another elder, this one a man diagnosed with pneumonia, and apparently a bad case of flatulence on top of it.  Between the dusty old bird ripping bombs and the granny in the panties, there was little shame amongst us—shame that further diminishing as we waited… and waited… then waited a little more.

“Alright, the results are in,” said the nurse after about an hour and a half of waiting.  “The good news is there are no broken bones.”  Gee, I could’ve told you that one.  “So, we’re going to discharge you with a pair of crutches and get you out of here.”  Hold the front phone just a minute here.  Discharge me? I can’t even move my stinkin’ leg!  What do you mean discharge me?  I prepared myself, ready to express my deepest concerns.

“Excuse me, mam?  I’d like to consult with the doctor about my inability to move my—“

“Are you kidding me!” the wife busted in.  “You’re just going to discharge him, in this state?  He can’t get in the car, he can’t go to the bathroom, he can’t move, period!”

“Now that’s what I’m talkin’ about!  Man, the benefits of marriage just keep comin’!”

You could tell she meant business, and she was not to be messed with—not on this day.

The nurse turned pail, her breaths deep and heavy. All she could do was look back, unable to shake the petrified look from her face.

Then, a deluge of brooding thoughts poured into my head. Look at the intensity in her eyes.  Her menacing stature, the integrity to take action.  She knows what she’s doing, has the intelligence to read her opponents every move… intensity, integrity, intelligence—holy crap, she already has the 3 I’s stressed by Olympic gold medalist Kurt Angle!  Oh no…  What if she starts to take Brazilian Jiu Jitsu?  Oh, my God, she’ll destroy us all!  Me, Danny, Joe Rogan—everyone!

I took a deep breath, my final plea to the nurse.  “Listen, you gotta do something.  My knee won’t budge, no matter how hard I try—“

It was a miracle.  My knee lifted from off the bed, no pain.  Then, I bent it, slowly kicking it back in forth in motion.  “I… I don’t believe it.”

Turns out, the old knee settled itself back into place, no butt kicking necessary.  The nurse shot me a look like she had just dodged the draft.  “Man oh man, did you guys dodge a bullet there!”

Who CARES?!?!

In the end, I received a hefty ambulance bill, 8-weeks of physical therapy, and a pair of crutches upon my release.  Just a small price to pay for the ultimate prize though. I’ll get there, and I’ll be back, better than ever.  And you know what, say I don’t quite make it.  Maybe I don’t get strong enough to beat him up.  At the end of the day, I’m not sure I need to.

I got a wife.  And she’s got my back.

Take that Danny Dahl!

 

How to Plan a Wedding, Part 3: Beware of the Pervy Ghosts!

News flash: Getting married is pretty awesome.

Take it from me.  I’ve married for two weeks now, so I know what I’m talking about. 

Think about it.  I get to wear this cool ring, I don’t have to work out as much or impress babes with funny jokes anymore, and I get to play video games all I want.  And get this, she still has to love me afterwards!

Seriously though, my Final Fantasy game has been on point lately.

The best part of it all though?  The wedding, hands down.  And not to brag or anything, but my wedding was pretty much the best one I’d ever been to, and you know how much I love weddings (That Time I became Jedi Knight for a Wedding…)!

All the heavy hitters were there.  We’re talkin’ Moody, Masters, Gibson, Bill, Alex, Walker—an all-star cast in itself, not to mention the superstars on the bride’s side.  And I’m not going to lie, there may have been a disparity of looks between the bridesmaids and the groomsmen, but you can be the judge on that.

Bridesmaids. Classy.
Groomsmen. Woof!
That’s better.

First, we had Moody, the best man.  I’ll never forget the first time I ever saw him.  I was a recent 1st Grade transfer student from Northeast Grade School in Meridian Mississippi trying to feel out the waters of Area 1 playground life, when there he was, waddling around the swing set atop the gravel with his arms bent at 90 degrees, legs pointed outward and his sweatshirt tied around his waist.  “Yep!  I just found my new best friend!”

Right then and there, I knew he was the man for the job.

Then there was Alex, another OG from Asotin Grade/Junior/High School (yes, they were all in the same building).  We’ve been through thick and thin, but I almost had to kick him out of the wedding party for bringing his Super Nintendo.  Who does he think he is, beating me in Ken Griffey Jr. on my wedding day?  Dick move if you ask me.

Screw that Ken Griffey Jr. game.

But, he made up for it by providing the pre-wedding beverages, so I let the whole Ken Griffey Jr. thing slide… this time.

#truly’s

You already know about Bill, provided I wrote about a book about him and I, going to a wedding of all things (See the links for Out of the Vein to the left)!  And here’s a little secret between you and me.  Maybe… just maybe, there’s another book in the works.  Stay tuned folks!

And of course, I couldn’t leave Masters out, since he helped me find the venue in the first place (How to Plan a Wedding, Part 1).  Besides, we had to have somebody with an awesome hair cut on my side to balance out the looks a little bit.

Then my buddy Walker was walkin’ around (as he’s been known to do) with this particular beverage called “brown wine.”  Apparently, it’s a delicacy in Canada—fancy stuff, something from the Crown that only the Royals drink, or something like that.  Who knows how he got his hands on it, but holy crap did it make everybody loopy!

Actually, it looks sort of like this stuff…

And sweet Jesus, you should’ve heard Gibson speak.  I was a little worried what he would say after the Fantasy Football Fiasco of 2015, but man, did he deliver like a Billy Graham reincarnate.  The charisma in his voice, the personable tone, the stirring words that came out of his mouth—I was blown away!

Even Gretch and Josh Ulrich were on their best behavior!  I wish I could say the same for Gretch’s mom and KCM, but since they’re my number one fans, I let them knock back the Coors Lights without reservation.

Heck, I was in such a good mood that I even invited Ben Woodward!  And of course he got all foolish on the dance floor with the Stanky Legg, probably the best wedding gift a guy could ever receive!

But wait, save the best for last.  Now, I’m going to be straight with ya, my wife is smokin’ hot!  And when I saw her walk down the aisle for the first time, my heart stopped, my jaw dropped, and I was like, “…whoa.”

And yes, I may have choked up a little bit when I said my vows, which kinda sucks, because I did it in front of Ulrich, and you know he’s not going to let that one go!  I couldn’t help it though.  It was in the name of love.

You could say that it was almost a perfect wedding.  Except for one problem…

There was a stupid ghost creepin’ in our room.

My wife had warned me of such a haunting a day before the wedding, recalling how the room turned mysteriously cold at night, and how she even felt a few taps on the shoulder when she was in the bathroom.  Admittedly, I dismissed the claims, for I had other things on my mind. What did I care?  I was getting married for heaven’s sake!  I wasn’t about to let some silly ghost get in the way of that!

Then came the big day.  Boy, was I excited!

Then anxious, then pissed off (Queue Alex and the Super Nintendo.  Thanks a lot buddy!) but in the end, I settled my nerves, and pulled it off.  We said our I do’s, smooched in front of everybody, and began celebration shortly after!

Wait, who’s Mary Swanson and the Aspen Preservation Society??

The night was full.  We ate cake, danced, drank brown wine and photoboothed (quite a dangerous combination), and smiled and conversed with old friends and family, just the way I had imagined it.  Nearly the perfect end to a perfect day.

And just like that, it was over. So we did what any logical couple would do and went back to the honeymoon suite.

So there we were, alone for the first time as husband and wife.  My mind ran with a deluge of emotions as I gazed into her eyes.  I sensed a strange presence among us, but once again, I dismissed the warning signs.  “It’s probably love, right?

“I love you,” I told her, believing it was the right thing to say as she stood in her wedding dress, looking absolutely stunning.  She said the same and held me close.  I couldn’t believe how lucky I was, here with the woman of my dreams.  Just her and I—

*Click.*

“Wait… What the hell was that?” I turned to the bed.  The bed lamp had turned on by itself.  “Are you freaking kidding me???”

It was the damn ghost.  I know it was.

I mean, honestly, who pulls this type of crap?  Here I am with my newly wedded wife, about to have the most special moment of our lives, and this jerk comes in and flicks on the light! Like seriously pal, buzz off!

And I don’t buy the “oh, I didn’t know you were married” excuse. Bull crap.  He saw the wedding dress, not to mention everybody getting ready that entire day in the room.  Oh yea, you were in there while the bridesmaids are getting ready?  Now I’m double pissed off, you creep!

And sure, you’re probably a little butt hurt over the fact that something terrible happened to you that turned you into a ghost, I get that.  But hell, it was like 100 years ago!  Get over it for Christ’s sake!  And on top of that, it’s our wedding night!  Is a little privacy too much to ask?  How about you show some respect!

But no, this perv decides to hang out, uninvited like it’s no big deal and get his creep on.  It’s too bad I couldn’t see him, or I would’ve popped him right in the kisser, right then and there!

Now, this clown is lucky I’m good with the lord and that there’s a good chance I’m going to heaven.  But granted the slight possibility I slip up down the line and don’t quite make it right away, this guy better watch his back, cause this is what’s going to happen.  Right before I croak, I’m buying my ass a one-way ticket to Victoria, Canada and booking myself in room 811 at the Delta Victoria to live out the rest of my days, Tesla style, Pigeons and everything.

I’m going to walk back into that room, old and frail, look that piece of crap right in the eye and face down the little pansy.  “Hey, remember me A-hole?”

And mark my words.  The minute I die, I’m going to go up to that ghost and beat the living crap out of him…

For the rest of eternity.

Now, I understand that forgiveness is a big part of the Christian tenants, and that you should learn to let go.  But I’m also a believer in justice for all, and this guy committed a serious offense in the name of common decency that need not go unpunished. And if I don’t do anything about it, nobody ever will!

And trust me, this isn’t just for me.  This is for my wife, this is for the bridesmaids, and this is all the other couples who had to deal with his crap.  I say, “no more!”  It’s up to me to set things right, to make legends of this day, so at night, when the guests hear screaming and crying, they’ll say, “oh, there’s Old Grizzly Chadams putting that perv in a head lock and wailing on him again,” and be able to rest in peace.

But you know what?  I’m not about to let some celestial bastard ruin my party.  Sure, having a ghost watching us in the room put a damper on things, and don’t worry, I still plan on whooping his ass in the afterlife, but when it’s all said and done, that wedding was one of the best weekends of my life!  All my boys were there, there was a little partying, a little barfing, I mean, what else could a guy want?  And on top of that, I bagged one of the best babes ever!

And to be honest, I wouldn’t mind doing it all over again someday, except for the fact I know better.  It’s like in college when you tried to recreate the awesome rager you had the week before, only to have it fall flat on its face.  Sorry guys, this type of stuff just has to happen organically.  Besides, I think I’m gonna keep this one for good!

But guess what?  I do know plenty of others in serious marriage contention!  Just think about the parties we have in store!  I’m talking about you Moody!  I’ve met your babe, and if you don’t put a ring on that finger, then you’re crazy.

That’s right, I’m calling you people out, Ric Flair style!  Josh Ulrich, I know you’re in love with your girl, so it’s only a matter of time.  Might as well make it sooner rather than later.  And Bill, let me tell ya something.  Nothing would make me happier than to see you say the words to PL Dubman. I know, I’m putting the pressure on, but trust me, like I said earlier, I know a thing or two about getting married!

And once you do, you know I’ll be there front row center, kit stealin’ and wheelin’ dealin’ like a jet ridin’, limousine ridin’ son of a gun!  And as soon as I see you guys walk down the aisle, you know I’m gonna have a hard time holdin’ my alligators down!

Look, I get it, it’s a big step and all, committing to somebody for the rest of your life.  And I’m fully aware of all the stress that’s involved with planning a wedding.  And don’t get me started with the amount of money I blew on this thing, sheesh!

But the moment I saw everybody gathered around for the first time, friends celebrating with new friends, all the joy in the room from fresh faces to people who have been in my life since I was peein’ in my pants, I knew it was worth it.  Every hour and penny spent.  It’s a moment nobody can ever take from you, not even some stupid-ass creep of a ghost.

It’s a moment I wouldn’t trade for the world.