How to Clean Your Conscience Chapter 3: It’s Not Ben Woodward. It’s Much Worse…

July 22nd, 2016. 1:45 PM

I made no effort to look either direction before stepping out into the road.  What’s the point?  My head sunk, unable to break its fixation from the asphalt.  Smooth surface, freshly paved. Ideal for jogging.  These yellow lines, bold and radiant. No wonder he ran so fast.  If anything, at least Boise’s on the up and up.

A stream of heat radiated against my arm.  I had felt this before, a system of gears, pistons and fans, turning, grinding, and working in unison to move an incredible mass with the strength of an ordinary man.  I turned my head and stared into a grille, the ugly snout of this mighty machine.  It stared back, snarling and blowing its putrid breath across my body, ready to devour me at a moment’s notice.

“HONK!” it shouted at me. I followed its turquoise frame up to the source.  It’s operator, just as livid, shot her mean mug through the windshield. The car remained stationary, barely contained by the laws against vehicular homicide.  “Get in,” it mouthed in a most violent manner, minus the sandwich of obscenities.  I obeyed.  The nightmare had just begun.

“Hey Gretch.” My greeting was far from enthusiastic.

“Hurry up and shut the door!  We don’t have all day!”

“Nice to see you too…”  I swung the door shut and Gretch hit the gas.

“God, you guys are so slow sometimes.  By the way, nice try, Zack.  I knew you were in town.”

“Gee, I wonder how that happened?”

“Yea, thanks a whole lot for the surprise, Bill.  I don’t think I could be any more thrilled.”  Bill didn’t say a word—didn’t even acknowledge the presence of dialogue; just hung his head in shame.  “Well, I mean, it’s probably a good thing you guys are here.  It just so happens I need a little help picking up some beer.”  I wasn’t sure if she meant that as a compliment or an insult, but the simple acknowledgment that I had some expertise with beer was flattering in itself.

“…Why sure Gretch, I’d be happy to help.  I’m sure I can get my hands on some good stuff.  By the way, in case you haven’t noticed, I just bought a new pair of running shoes, and I’m probably going to the Greenbelt tomorrow to try them out.  Now, I know you like to run and everything, so if you’d like to join me, you’re more than welcome to, and I’d be glad to have your—”

“No.”

“…But—”

“No.” Her answer was just as firm as the last.

“Noted. Just trying to be nice–“

“What was that?”

“…Nothing. Nothing at all.”

An awkward silence passed before Gretch threw us a bone. “I guess now that you’re here, how was lunch?”

Bill snapped out of it, ending his vow of silence.  “Oh, do we have a story to tell…”

***

Twenty minutes had passed.  The story of the Bermuda shorts man beating up the old lady had been told in full at least twice, Gretch had thrown several more insults our way, and we had gone from driving passed office buildings to strip malls, and then through neighborhoods, until now, where dried out shrubs and weeds lined a majority of the roadway.  Something wasn’t right.  “Hey Gretch, you realize we’ve just passed like, three grocery stores, right?”

“I guess I did see an Albertson’s a few blocks back…”

“…and a few liquor stores as well.”

“Um, yea… your point?”

“So… why are we driving all the way out into the boonies to get beer?”

“Oh, don’t worry.  I got a place in mind.  Special order.”

“Oh… special order.  I see…” I guess she didn’t need my expertise after all…

We pulled up to the back of a warehouse at the edge of town.  Nothing but dirt and brush surrounded this undisclosed location, not another soul in sight. In other words, a mobster’s dream. “Follow me,” said Gretch. I looked at Bill and he at me.  A stream of reluctance filled the air. “C’mon guys, we don’t have all day! Chop chop!”

We followed Gretch into a side room overlooked by a front man, sitting in his office as if he’d been expecting us.  Indeed, this was the place for beer.  The warehouse was full of it, stacked pallets of various brands lined towards the ceiling.  Gretch approached the man behind the counter.  “Well, good afternoon mam.  What can I help you with?”

“I’ve got a special pick up.  Should be under the name Gretch.”

“Gretch, of course!  I remember you from last time.”  Last time?  What kind of operation are they running here?  The man shuffled through his paperwork.  “Let’s see, what do we have here…”  Hold on, just what type of fancy stuff is she trying to get her hands on?  Sam Adams?  Rolling Rock? Don’t tell me she dragged us out here just so she could get a deal on some Steel Reserve…

“Alright, looks like we got a keg of Coors Light and a keg of Blue Moon.”  What in the—two kegs!?!?   “How would you like to pay for this?”

“Just, put in under Chase.”  Chase?  Who’s Chase?

“Oh, right. Chase.  Two kegs comin’ right up!”  The man went to the back to prepare the order.  Now was the time to take a stand.  Bill was with me.

“Gretch, what the heck is going on here?  Two kegs, really?”

“If you ever want to talk, you know, about struggles, addictions, or anything, I just want to let you know that I’m always here for you.  We’re family after all.”

Gretch tilted her head, dropped her jaw, and stared for a moment like she was dealing with a pair of incompetents.  “You guys… we’re having my work picnic today.”

“Wait, work picnic?” I asked.  “For your work?”  Gretch rolled her eyes.

“…Yes. A work picnic… for my work. Client Appreciation Day.  It’s the same thing you came to last year, Bill!”

“Oh… right. Client Appreciation Day, I remember.”

“There’s going to be burgers, and hotdogs, prizes and music, plus all this beer.”

“So, you’re telling me that all this beer is free?”  Once again, Gretch rolled her eyes.

“Yes… it’s free.”

“Well, hold on then.  Who’s this Chase guy footing the bill?” I fired back.

“That’s my boss for crying out loud!”

“Well, gee, why didn’t you say so?”  I brushed my fingers through my hair as a giant smile appeared on my face.  “Sounds like a good old time.”  For some reason, Gretch wasn’t at all impressed.

The front man and a helper returned, each rolling a keg.  “Ok miss, here are your two kegs.  Is there anything else you need?”

“That’ll be it.  Thank you very much for all the help, sir.  We’ll take it from here.”  Gretch turned to me and Bill.  “Alright boys.  Load em’ up!”

Bill and I took a long hard look at each other.  Load em’ up?  “Hey Gretch, what’s the big idea here?” I asked.

“You just brought us along so we could do your dirty work for you,” added Bill.

“Are you seriously just going to watch us while—“

“Will you guys quit being a bunch of sissies and take the kegs to the car?”

“I resent that remark—“

“Look, I don’t have time for whining.  There’s a lot of work to do, and these kegs need to get to the park ASAP.  Let’s go, chop chop!”  She turned for the door.

“But Gretch, how do we—”

“We can’t—“

“Figure it out,” she yelled as she popped the door open.

“Wait!”

“How do we—“

“GRETCH!”  Too late. The door slammed shut.

***

The park was empty when we arrived.  Bill and I stood under a large, metal canopy that covered several rows of picnic tables, imagining the aggregate of individuals that were to settle onto the site in less than an hour.  The band would play a collection of hard rock hits while the grill master would churn out steady servings of burgers and dogs to keep the clients happy and well-fed. Parents would watch their children run up and down the endless plains of grass, sipping away their nerves at every bounce on the inflatable castle.  It was peaceful now, the sun merely beginning its long decent behind this quiet piece of Earth.

“I think this is going to be a good.  You know, after everything that’s happened today,” said Bill.  I nodded my head in agreement.

“It’ll be exactly what we need.”

“I’m just glad we have the chance to finally relax—“

Bill!  Zack!” We swung around, assaulted by such a shrill voice.  “These kegs aren’t going to move themselves! Bill, let’s go!”  Bill and I gave each other a look.  “C’mon, move!  Zack, You, here, NOW!”  We moved.

We carried each of the kegs over to a spot under the canopy, its cement ground providing stability and where easy access could be achieved.  “Steady… steady…”  The second keg touched down with a modest thud, our strength having been dilapidated from previous hauls.

“Not great,” said Gretch, shaking her head and brandishing a heavy frown.  “Not… great.”  Gretch froze.  From afar, another vehicle drove through the much too long and winding path that lead to the park.

“What’s up?” asked Bill.

“My boss is coming.  Alright, it’s show time.  Whatever you do, do not screw this up!  That means no obnoxious behavior, no keg stands, no beer darts—”

“C’mon Gretch, who do you think we are—”

“Just take it easy on the kegs, will ya?”  My words seemed to be ineffective.  “Also, no swearing…”

“Coming from you?“

“Excuse me?”

“Nothing.” I dropped my head.

“No gay jokes, no Tim and Eric Jokes…”

“Whoa whoa whoa, Tim and Eric?  That’s a tad excessive,” Bill interjected.

“…In fact, how about no jokes altogether.”

“From me or—“

“From either of you!”  Shot down once again.  “Oh yea, one more thing.  No politics.” A long and awkward pause followed.

“Gotcha, no politics,” said Bill.

“And don’t even think about bringing up Ted Cruz, Zack.”

“Oh Gretch, give me a break!  You can’t expect me to—“

I SAID NO TED CRUZ!!!”

The old Roman gladiators used to say that death smiles at all of us.  Her fists shook, her face turned bright red, and once again, I found myself in a slouch.  We had been played, all for a little bit of beer.  I hadn’t felt so small in my entire life.

“Ok, here he comes,” said Gretch with a vicious whisper.  “Keep your head up.  Best behavior.  And don’t embarrass me!  Did you hear me?  Bill?  Zack—Oh hi Chase, how are you?”

Gretch’s boss stood with his hands on his hips, a tall stature that forced him to look down upon us.  His eyes were concealed by a pair of sporty sunglasses, as if the string of tension needed to be any tighter.  Bill and I met his gaze, anxiously waiting for the next move.  “So, you two brought the kegs, huh?”

There was a slight moment of hesitation among us.  “Well, um… I mean, we’d thought we’d help out a little, with the party and all, so uh, yea, I mean, sure, that was us…”  His answer was terrible, but thank God Bill spoke, for I could not.

“Oh man, that’s great!  I was worried Gretch wasn’t going to pull it off.  Awesome, thank you so much!“  He outstretched his hand.  “My name’s Chase.” 

“Nice to meet ya.  Zack.” I met his hand halfway for a shake.

“Bill, right? Good to see you again.”  Bill nodded and the two shared a hearty handshake of their own.  “I’m glad you guys are here.”

“So are we.”

“Well, I’ll tell you what, I have some stuff in the truck; coolers, condiments, the such. After we unload everything, would you guys be willing to get the kegs going?  You know, tap em’, taste the beer, make sure all the foam’s out?  That wouldn’t be a problem for you, right?”

“Why not at all,” said Bill.

“Chase, I don’t think that’s such a good idea—“

“Don’t worry Mr. Chase, we can take care of the kegs, make sure they’re to everybody’s liking,” I quickly injected.

“Zack, do you even know how to tap a keg?”  An insult of such gravity was way out of line and deserved a harsh response.  However, I refused to take the bait.  Such behavior was beneath me, especially in front of Gretch’s boss.

“Gretch, this isn’t our first rodeo.  Mr. Chase, don’t you worry about the kegs.  They’ll be tapped, tasted, and ready to go… for the clients, of course.”

“Alright, I like your attitude!  C’mon Gretch, get with the program. Clients will be here any minute.  Let’s go, chop chop!”  Gretch shot us a dirty look.  

Yes indeed, death smiles at us all.  All we can do is smile back.

***

“How’s your Blue Moon,” asked Bill, having just taken a good swig of his Coors Light.

“Blue Moon’s good.”  It was our second taste test so far.  We took pride in our preparation, as did Gretch’s coworker who was assigned to man the grill and the band with their repetition of sound checks.

“Good! Coors Light meets my standards. A bit foamy, but not bad for a fresh tap.”

“My experience was similar.  Better try again.”  We pounded our beers, refilled our keg cups and repeated the taste test.  Bill and I nodded with approval.  “That’s good quality beer!”

“Would you like to give the Coors Light a taste test?”

“Pass it on over—on second thought, let’s finish these, then do a refill.  You know, with germs going around and stuff. No need to take any chances.”

“Good call.” We sucked down the rest of our beers’, switched places, and recommenced testing with a new variable.

“We’re good to go!”

“Make sure the Blue Moon’s still to your liking.”  I liked his suggestion, so I took it.  We traded places and refilled our cups.

“All good! And look, here some clients. Better greet em’, let em’ know the beer’s nice and cold!”

“Yea, let’s party—“

“Let’s not.” Bill and I were shaken at such an interruption, one that seemed to come out of nowhere.  We turned our heads left to right, eyeing for the source.

“Gretch… you snuck up on us,” said Bill.

“How many beers have you guys had?” asked Gretch, her inner Spanish inquisition emerging.

“Oh, I don’t know, I guess I… I sort of lost count,” I said.

“Bill?” Bill lifted his shoulders, sunk his head ever so slightly, and squeezed his lips together to make the “I dunno” face.  

“Well, no more!  I won’t have any of your antics, and I won’t have you ruin my party.”

“Oh Gretch, just try to relax a little bit.  Forget about work for a little bit and just enjoy this beautiful afternoon in the city of Boise.”  She didn’t look at all receptive to my suggestion.

“Just look at the inflatable castle over there.  Pretty soon, kids are gonna be jumping all around it, having way too much fun.”

“And the band’s about to play their first song.”

“And you know they’re gonna play the classics, just like they did last year.”

“And look at all these families showing up.  They must be stoked for all this free food!”

“And beer too,” Bill added.

“…Well, it is customer appreciation day.”  It seemed that for the moment, Gretch had let her guard down.  Now was the time to attack.

“And the customer appreciates the agent.  That means you!”  A slight smile was seen forming across her face.  Keep it up Bill.  We’re on a role!  “After all, you are my favorite real estate agent…”

“And don’t forget that—“  A terrible aberration exposed itself near the edge of the parking lot.  Evil was present, I could sense it.  “Wait a minute, who the hell is this guy?”

Out in the distance, the silhouette of a sculpted figure grew larger.  It’s shape recognizable as a man in torment, incapable of ever reaching the enlightenment of tonal divine he so much desired, no matter the number of hours spent at the gym.  It walked into the park, pigeon-toe style, careful with each step as to prevent cracks in the pavement.

“Kind of looks like a dingus if you ask me,” said Bill.  I followed up with a chuckle.

“Yea, no kidding!”

“I don’t know, he looks kind of hot if you ask me.”  God, of course she’d say that.

“How much you wanna bet its Ben Woodward?” I asked Bill before sharing a lengthy laugh.  “What do you say Bill, wanna make a bet?” I added, letting my laughter gradually settle like a logarithmic function.

“No…”  Bill’s laughter came to an abrupt end.  “It’s not Ben Woodward.  It’s much worse…”  He stared out in front of him.  I joined in his stare, the horror now in clear view.

“Oh.  My.  God.  It’s Josh Ulrich.”

“Oh no, he’s heading this way.  Quick no eye contact,” said Bill, words that were too little, too late.  Josh approached us, pecks puffed and a sense of pride beaming as if he had just accomplished some miraculous feat, like climbing a mountain or something.  I refilled my beer cup.  I had a feeling I was going to need it, and then some.

“What’s up guys,” started Josh.  “Pff, you call this a party?” Great, here we go.  Looks pretty lame so far.  It’s like I’m surrounded by a bunch of wusses.  Good thing I showed up…  Hey Bill, Fancy seeing you here.  What are you up to these days?  Me, I just got done climbing a mountain, so I’m a little beat.”  Climbed a mountain, I would’ve never guessed!  “12 hours total in the car to the Gran Tetons and back.  8 on the mountain, no sleep.  Didn’t even stop to take a piss.  Got pulled over once going 20 over, but no big deal.  I talked myself out of it, only got a ticket for 10 over; the officer didn’t want to put up a fight, not with me or anything.  I couldn’t blame him.  But how are you?  Figured you’d be too cool for Idaho, now that you’re living the high life in Austin and all.  Not me though.  I mean, I haven’t forgotten where I came from, just sayin’.  Don’t feel bad, at least you’re not one of those hipsters in Seattle, like somebody we know.”  Good, he hasn’t detected me yet.  Just keep talking Josh, as I casually… slip away…  “They suck, so bad!  But yea, how are you holding up in Austin?  Do you have a girlfriend yet?  Oh man, let me tell you, I go to the climbing gym every day—babes everywhere! Literally surrounded.  I have like, five girlfriends right now, no joke. I mean, I’m not sure exactly, I sort of lost count.  Even had to dump a couple.  I felt bad, but you just can’t please everyone, you know?”  Ok, in the clear.  Just turn and walk away.  Turn… and walk… and walk…  “Wait a minute…  No way! Zack, is that you?”  …Ahhhhhhhh crap.  “Man, what a surprise!  I haven’t seen you in ages…  You got uglier!”

“Gee, good one Josh.”  My words were barely audible over his forced chuckle.

“I don’t want to sound judgmental or anything,” whispered Josh into Bill’s ear, “but it looks like somebody’s been letting themselves go lately.”  I rolled my eyes and took a swig.

“Hi Josh,” said Gretch, losing herself in his eyes.

“Sorry I was late, I had an extended session at the climbing gym today.”  He turned to me, his chin lifted high with an extra pompous push.  “Giving some girls a couple of pointers, you know…  Yep, they’re always coming to me for help.”  Oh, give me a break.

“I’m just glad you came.”  Wait, you invited him?

“No problem, Gretch.  But seriously though, look at those flabby arms on Zack; those love handles coming out of his shirt.  He wouldn’t survive a day out on the mountain.  And honestly, not to sound pretentious or anything, but I think it may be time for someone to lay off the booze for a little bit.  Actually, I’d say it’s about time for a refill if we’re gonna put up with this crap!

“Just hold on a second, Josh.  Didn’t I beat you last time we had a push-up contest?”

“Pff, I let you win.  Besides, no way you’d beat me now, not with those puny arms.  Then again, I wouldn’t be at full strength, since I just climbed a mountain yesterday with only 4 hours of sleep.”  Oh, shut up about the mountain already!

“I’m just saying, I’m not sure you’re one to talk about arms and muscles.”

“Oh, no way,” blasted Josh, his body language providing a textbook definition of the word “offended.”  He stood next to me and flexed his chest.  “Bill, straight answer, who has the bigger pecks?”  Bill hesitated in his response, even with a thorough examination of each of our chests.  “C’mon, you don’t have to be nice.  Just tell the truth.  I need to know, right here, right now.”

“Just calm down and drink a beer, Josh, will ya? Besides, you have some catching up to do.”

“Ha!  That’s what I thought.  Don’t want to compare muscles—typical.  And now look at you, trying to be Mr. ‘I can drink beer.’  Remember those parties at my house?  Dude, I’d go through a 12 pack of Key Light, take 5 shots of vodka, 10 shots of rum, and then pound 2 glasses of whiskey; wouldn’t even get drunk.  Then, go to work on three hours of sleep, no questions asked.”

“Really?  I thought it was 10 shots of vodka and 15 shots of rum at your parents’ house?”

“I mean, I lost count after a couple, but it was over 10 shots each for sure.  Doesn’t matter, because I had a couple beers before I got here.”

“Weren’t you just at the climbing gym?” asked Bill. Josh threw up his hands in disbelief, acting as if we’d just asked the world’s stupidest question.

“Dude… they have a bar there!  What can I say?  I climb better when I’m drunk.”

“You would certainly know best.”  His fabrication required another swig of beer.

“Well, I believe you Josh.”

“Thanks, Gretch.”  The two shared a smile, and a moment.  God, this is just too much!

Josh glanced over his shoulder, waves of excitement rushing through his body.  His head perked, the scalp on his ginger head straightened, and the size of his pecks suddenly doubled in size.  He’d caught sight of several rows of slanted boards set up along the lawn, each with a hole near the top.  “Whoa… is that corn hole?”

“Well, I think the appropriate name is ‘bean bag toss,’” corrected Bill.

“I like calling it corn hole.”

“I’m sure you do,” I said.”

“Because get it?  Corn hole, like your butt?”  A pompous laugh left his mouth.

“I get it, Josh,” added Gretch, also releasing a laugh any other decent person would be ashamed of.

“There’s actually going to be a tournament a little later,” said Bill.

“Yea, Bill and I are going to be on a team,” I added.

“Well, that sucks for Bill, haha!  50 bucks says you two lose, first round!”

“Not if we play you,” I replied.

“Pff, please.  I’d crush you, easy.  If I can climb the highest Mountain in Wyoming in under 8 hours, then I hate to say it Zack, but you’re going down in corn hole.”  Josh lifted his chin and looked about the crowd as if he were giving a speech to his inferiors, Obama style.  “Yep… doesn’t seem to be any stiff competition.”

“Well Josh, I was thinking.  Since you don’t have a partner, and I don’t have a partner, then maybe we could team up?”  Ughz Gretch, now that’s pathetic.

“Oh yea, don’t worry.  We’ll win, no doubt.  Bill, Zack, we’ll talk to you losers later.  We’re going to practice.  I suggest you do the same—wait, on second thought, don’t. It’d just be a waste of time.”

Bill and I stood for a long moment, watching the repulsion of a Gretch/Josh corn hole collaboration.  Just when things were going so well…  “Wanna get a burger?  I think the band’s about to play,” said Bill.

“Sounds good…  Let me get a refill on my beer first.”

“Good call, I ran out myself.  It’s kind of weird, but it’s like Josh shows up, I take a drink or two, and the next thing I know, I’m all out of beer!”

“Yea…  I think it’s safe to say we’re in for a long weekend…”

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.

Discount Holiday Candy – The Only Good Thing About New Year’s.

New Year’s… what a drag.  Sorry, but somebody had to say it.

Think about it from the very beginning.  Fall comes around, and it’s all “Oh cool, at least we got football to keep our minds off the end of summer,” something I can definitely live with.  It’s also the emergence of sweater weather, and maybe it’s just me, but there’s something sexy about a woman bundled up in warm clothes.

And around the corner we got Halloween, the beginning of the great string of holidays, and the one time of year where you’re allowed to dress inappropriately and where kids get away with demanding candy from adults.  I love Halloween.

But wait, it gets better. Thanksgiving shows up, and it’s good vibes all around, which makes complete sense.  Hardly anybody’s upset when they’re surrounded by a plethora of food and family—quite the opposite, actually.  And everybody’s grateful for what we have, taking the time to thank the good lord for the blessings all around us.

Then there’s the granddaddy of them all.  Christmas. The minute Thanksgiving is over, it’s like Mariah Carey emerges, crying out “All I want for Christmas, is yooooouuuu”, demanding everybody get in the Christmas spirit that very second.

And we do as we are told.  It becomes a solid month of Christmas Parties, Christmas Movies, Christmas Candy, Christmas Cookies, Christmas Miracles, Christmas Trees, Christmas Presents, Christmas, Christmas, CHRISTMAS!!!  It truly is the most wonderful time of the year.

Ah, Christmas is over? No need to fret, cause there’s one last holiday.  Oh boy, here it comes!  New Year’s.  And get this.  We’re going to stay up really late, drink a lot of alcohol, say Happy New Year, then celebrate… we celebrate…

Three months of darkness, crappy weather, and a killer hangover.  Ughz…

And let’s face it, this year was worse than others.  The Times Square coverage was atrocious, from washed up celebrities trying to reclaim a hint of the spotlight, to news anchors sinking to new lows with beer bongs on live TV.

I couldn’t take it anymore!  Even Steve Harvey’s coverage, a man I admire, and respect, was lackluster at best.  It was like he had a permanent “Good God, just kill me now,” face, like the one he makes whenever someone gives a stupid answer on Family Feud.

screen shot 2019-01-12 at 8.56.33 pm

You can’t blame him, though.  Nothing could’ve saved the country from the disaster marked as New Year’s 2019.

I mean, what the heck’s so sanctimonious about New Year’s anyway?  Absolutely nothing if you ask me; just an excuse to take the day off because you got too hammered the night before.  “Hey guys, check out this hangover!  What a great way to start the New Year!”

Thankfully, I learned my lesson years ago.  I skipped most of that crap and took advantage of all the slackers that decided to sleep in. My plan was simple.  Go to bed early.  Get to Costco, first thing.  Next, the thrift store to pick out an outfit for my bachelor party.  Then, to the coffee shop to do some writing.  And after it’s all said and done, maybe I’ll even get a run in.

Well, guess what.  Costco: closed.  Goodwill: “Sorry guys, we’re too lazy to come into work.  Coffee Shop?  Closing early for the holidayI mean, what they hell?  Why is the coffee shop closing early?  If anything, people will be rolling in late to quench their hangovers.  It makes no sense, whatsoever!

Turns out, everything is closed on New Year’s.  And to add insult to injury, I was constantly reminded that the Chicago Bears are making playoffs and not the Packers.  Apparently, all the Bears fans remembered they liked football and are showing up all over the place.

The Bears winning the NFC North… What a travesty.

Screw New Years.

***

I stumbled into work the next day barely motivated, not sure how I’d make it through the day, let alone 2019.  Something had to give.  I needed a boost.  I snuck out of the office to the local convenient store, looking for coffee, a second Rockstar energy drink—anything to get me through the day.

A wall of candy stood at the entrance.  My eyes gravitated towards it, if only for a moment to temper my natural instincts.  “Hmm… Trying to get rid of all their excess holiday candy, I see.  Fat chance they’re dumping any of that on me.  It’s probably all old and crusty and—wait a minute, what’s this?  75% off?”

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Enticed, but not yet committed, I gave the candy stand another gander.  “75 cents for a king size candy bar?”  From the looks of it, management had gotten a bit paranoid over their excess stock of holiday candy. “Must be worried about cutting their losses.  Sounds like a couple ofsuckers if you ask me.”  I took immediate action.

Now, it wasn’t my intention to load up on all the sugar.  All those Christmas cookies added a few unnecessary pounds to my body, but you never pass up a good deal—that’s my motto.  So, I took my handful of items to the cashier and checked out.

Mountain Dew: $1.79.  Man, back in the day those used to be 75 cents.  What’s going on with this country?  And here we go, Hershey’s white chocolate peppermint bar, 37 cents.  Wait a minute… 37 CENTS?!

img_4787

Yep, this baby was only 37 cents!  (Sorry for the open package, but I just couldn’t wait to eat it!)

I couldn’t believe my eyes!  Half-off from what was displayed—practically asteal!  But wait, I wasn’t finished.

Full size bag of Reece’s peanut butter trees: 95 cents.  Again, half-off thedisplay price, and discounted by at least 2 or 3 bucks just for the factthat it’s a Reece’s peanut butter cup in the shape of a Christmas tree.  Heck, I don’tcare what they look like.  It all looks the same once it’s in my belly.  Tastes the same too!

Bag of Dove chocolate holiday nuggets: $1.00.  You’re lucky if you find those at the CVS for 3 bucks a bag, and you usually have to buy two of them! I eat those all the time, and believe me, they’re delicious.

The best part was, most of this candy wasn’t even expired yet!  Too good to be true?  I got the receipt to prove it.

I headed back to the office, already devising a plan for my return.  Gotta keep this under wraps. Sure, there may be certain individuals with a need to know, but with an office full of chocolate lovers, once the cat’s out of the bag, it’ll be Black Friday all over again!

I made it back to the office in a conspicuous manner to finish out the day, aided by the lack of employees still out on Christmas vacation.  Some would call it luck.  I’d say my New Year’s sacrifice was starting to pay off…

***

“Hey, babe, how was your day,” asked my fiancé as I walked into the door after work.

“You’ll never guess what happened,” I started.  Today, while at work, and I went to the store, and then I…”  I stalled.  Keep your mouth shut, stupid.  You can’t tell anybody, not even your future wife… It’s too risky.  “I… learned how to play craps.”

“…craps,” she shot back, her face cringing with perplexity.  “At work?”

“Sure… It was a slow day, after all, with everybody still gone…  Besides, me and Mike Masters have to learn.  You know, for my bachelor party!  Gotta win big in Vegas!”

“Umm, ok…”  She replied, turning towards the kitchen, still befuddled.

Phew!  Close call,” I thought to myself.  “Survived that one… barely.”

***

The next day, I got into the office early—no time to waste.  However, my nerves jolted, my muscles fought the urge to run as I turned into the store.  The candy shelf had been ransacked, with less than half the supply remaining in less than a day.

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Looks like the word got out.  The good news, there was still time, but this was certainly no time to panic.  “Remember the plan.”

I took a deep breath and started loading up.  Those King Size Hershey’s peppermint bars were good. I’ll take another one of those. Better yet, make that three.  A handful of Christmas Tree Snickers bars?  Don’t mind if I do!  And what do we have here?  Twix Santas?  Quite alright with me.

My hands were getting full—only enough room for one last item.  Near the bottom was a green tin container in the shape of a Christmas tree with a bow tied around it and a name tag—the ultimate Christmas present.  My mind began working overtime.

“Get this.  I come home with a surprise Christmas present.  She sees it and goes nuts, thinking it cost like 20 bucks!  I act like it’s no big deal, when in reality, I only spent $2.25 on the thing.  The best part is, I bet she’ll even share!  It’s a win-win if you ask me!

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I brought my handful of goodies to the counter and plopped them in front of the cashier as if I were splattering a pile of gruel onto Oliver Twist’s plate.  The cashier shot me a look of annoyance.  I stood, undeterred.  What?  No shame on this side of the counter…

“That will be 6 dollars and 87 cents,” she said to me after ringing me up.  $6.87 for 20 pieces of candy, is that all, heheh?

I left that day with two grocery bags full of candy.  “Mission accomplished,” I said to myself, George W. Bush style.

***

“Hey Babe, how was your day?” I asked as I walked through the door.

“Oh, it was ok. Nothing too exciting,” she replied.

“Just ok?”  I asked as I reached inside my bag.  “Well, I was just thinking about you today and how much I love you, and wanted to get you a little something.”  I pulled out the Christmas Tree tin of Dove chocolates, bow wrapped and everything and handed it to her.

“Oh my gosh babe, you are so sweet,” she said, her face becoming the light the tin Christmas Tree was missing.  “But you know I can’t eat all of those chocolates.  How about you have a couple.”

“Wow!  I mean, they’re yours, but if you insist, I guess I’ll have a couple.”  I kept my composure throughout, but man, I couldn’t believe the luck I was having.  “Premium candy for the low low price of $2.25, and it turns out I get to eat it all and still reap the benefits of being a good fiancé.  Not bad for a day’s work!”

Maybe 2019 won’t be so bad after all.

2019.  Let’s think about that for a second.I get to go to Las Vegas in a week with some of the best buds in the world!  I’m talkin’ Moody, Bill, Mike Masters, heck, the Notorious Ben Woodward might even make an appearance.  I know what you’re thinking, “what about Mike Gibson?”  Well, let’s just say the Fantasy Football season was a little stressful on all of us.  See for yourself.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Don’t worry, we’ll get over it, eventually.  Besides, I’ve got it all figured out.  I’m going to take my 2nd place earnings from the Fantasy Football championship, bet it all on double 0’s on the Roulette Table and make a killing, just like they do in the movies!  Totally worth it in the end, and it’ll pay for the wedding!

Holy crimeny, I’m almost forgot.  I’m going to get married in February!  How cool is that?  All my friends and family will be there and everything!  And trust me, even Gibson will show up for that party!

And I’ll save the best for last.  The last Season of Game of thrones is coming out!  Who will rule the Iron Throne after it’s all said and done?  Hopefully not Cersei.  We’ll find out soon, but I’m rooting for my boy John Snow!  And the best part is that none of those turds who think they’re all cooler than everybody else cause they read the books can spoil the season for me (I’m talking about you Shaun Walters!).  Man, imagine having to read through all that crap for nothing?  Suckers!

And that’s all before the summer!  Maybe Kanye West will surprise us with another album like he did last year.  And since I’m getting married, maybe there’ll be a little Zack on the way!  Ah dude, think about that, an army of Zack’s raisin’ hell all over our nation’s capital. Trump would be proud!

So maybe between the months of crappy weather shrouded in darkness, there’s a little something to look forward to after all…  Just remember to load up on your months supply of discount holiday candy.  You’re gonna need it.

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Happy New Year, from Grizzly Chadams!

Top 5 skate video parts of all time

There are things that are good.  A movie that made you laugh or action-packed, or maybe a song that has a good solid beat to jam to; something that keeps you entertained for a solid period of time.

Then, there are things that are great.  Something that has an impact on your life.  A song that instantaneously triggers the senses captured in a particular memory.  That scene in a movie that leaves you with goosebumps, provokes a heavy emotion, and challenges your normal process of thinking.  It’s the urge to escape, trying to navigate life in your mid-twenties, staring at a beautiful spring sunset across the Cascade Mountains in Seattle’s Central District as the piano riff of Kanye West’s “Runaway,” plays in the background, or how I subconsciously throw out Forrest Gump quotes years after the movie was released, something I imagine I’ll be doing for the rest of my life.

And as any avid skateboarder will tell you, nothing gets you stoked for a day of skating like a good skate video.  A respectable video part gets the juices flowing, warms you up before you even get to the skate park, and makes you nod your head in approval.  But there are a few parts out there of which I can tell you the exact time and place I was when I first saw it, where not just the skating was great, but the music, style and personality of the skater/video all meshed to create something special.  A part that would inspire me to go bigger, harder and faster than I did the day before.  A part that made you and your friends jump up and down uncontrollably, screaming “Ohhhhhhhh” when the final hammer was stuck.

Something I would watch over and over again, each time with the thought, “someday, that could be me.”

So, in honor of Go Skateboarding Day, I’ve compiled a list of what I consider to be the top 5 video parts of all time.  Understanding that this list is very subjective, and that the reasons for including these parts are very personal to me, there may be some debate as to which parts are actually the best.  However, putting that aside, and keeping the time periods and skill levels in perspective, low and behold, are my top 5 skateboarding video parts of all time.

5. Heath Kirchart and Jeremy Klein, The End. Birdhouse Skateboards, circa 1997.

“Oh man, I popped the fattest ollie going down that hill, I was going so fast…” said Austin Moody as he described his mad dash back to his house.  It was the first day we had hung out since his return from a summer in Louisiana, and already we were finding ourselves in a heap of trouble.

Austin and I had spent a considerable amount of time at Mary Carter’s house that afternoon, chatting away and trying to impress her with our terrible jokes and foolish, teenage ways.  Mary Carter was, in all respects, a huge babe, stealing the hearts of nearly every teenage boy in Asotin High School’s Freshman class, and while we were busy drooling over Mary, I had totally spaced the fact that I was supposed to attend Jim Stuck’s Eagle Scout Ceremony.  Having received the message from my sister, Moody immediately skipped town to avoid an unpleasant confrontation with my parents.

On and on he went, telling me how I was going to be in “So much trouble,”and how sorry he was.  The sympathy only lasted a day, blaming me for the whole thing afterwards.  However, as a consolation for my potential grounding, or maybe the fact that he simply forgot to take it with him in his flurry, he lent me his VHS copy of, “The End,” my very first skate video experience.

And what an eye-opening experience it was!  There were goofs, pranks, and most importantly, skateboarding—lots of it.  Monumental for its time and filmed entirely on 16mm film when most skateboarders barely had the funds for Sony Handycam quality, it was my first real exposure to skateboard culture.

Andrew Reynolds’ part blew my mind with his frontside flip over a 13-stair handrail (more on him later).  Tony Hawk, arguably the most famous/influential skateboarder of all time rounded the video off with an epic vert ramp session in the middle of a bull ring that included “The Loop.”  But to me, the stand out part in that video was Heath Kirchart and Jeremy Klein’s skate excursion through the streets of LA in Gucci suits.

Starting with them living out the many negative stereotype associated with skateboarders and bearing no apologies, the two drive a van from spot to spot like a couple of hooligans, crashing into things along the way with total disregard to the law (my favorite is when they drive the van down the El Toro stair set), until the van blows up and they “die.”  From there, it takes them into a heavenly dream sequence, living the high life surrounded by babes in a giant mansion and playing Goldeneye until they decide to go an epic skate adventure.  With David Bowie and Queen’s “Under Pressure” as their song of choice, they take to the streets, dressed to impress and using a giant ramp to skate over obstacles that would normally seem unfathomable.

The two meet their untimely end however when they negligently light themselves on fire with a cigar and a bottle of booze and are forced to skate off a long dock into the ocean to relieve themselves.

Though the part can be seen as promoting anarchy, I see it as a blend of wit, creativity, and gnarly skating, and will always be one of those parts I remember from my early days of skateboarding.

4. Daewon Song, Round 3. Almost Skateboards, circa 2005.

As far as influential skateboarders go, Rodney Mullen is among the top of the list.  He is credited with inventing almost every flip trick seen in street skating.  During his prime (and arguably to this day), his abilities on a board were on whole other level when compared to the rest of the field.  Nobody could touch him, but Daewon Song was always around to give it the ol’ college try.

In the late 90’s and early 2000’s, Mullen and Song came up with a string of videos, cleverly titled “Rodney Mullen vs. Daewon Song,” rounds 1 through 3.  Although Daewon Song was an accomplished skater with a creative style, it seemed as though he could never quite keep up with Rodney.  His tricks were quality, and his effort was well and good, but each time they’d face off, the consensus among the skate community (at least among me and my friends) was that Rodney Mullen would always be the greater skater.

In Round 3, that all changed.  Daewon beat Rodney, hands down.

In Round 3, Daewon solidified himself as one of the most creative, technically adept skaters of all time.  His combination of flip to grinds to manuals and his willingness to huck himself between roofs and other dangerous gaps put him on top once and for all.  And using one of the best songs from the 2000’s, the spirit of the times really shines as the music pushes the intensity of each trick combination up into the song’s climax.  At the very end, you’re left wondering what else can be accomplished on a skateboard.

Today at over 40 years old, Daewon continues to discover new ways to advance skateboarding with new trick combinations and ways of interpreting the sport.  Every time I watch this part, I’m reminded of the potential skateboarding has, and that there’s always some other aspect that nobody has looked at, waiting to be unlocked.

I’m reminded that the possibilities are endless.

3. Mike Mo Capaldi, Fully Flared. Lakai Shoes, circa 2007.

It blows my mind to think how fast time has passed, that 10 years ago, I was finishing up my final semester of college, ready to face a world full of opportunity, a place ready to be explored and conquered.  Some might say it was the cliché indoctrination thrust upon college graduates skewing my optimism.  But if I had to make an educated guess, I’d say it had more to do with Mike Mo’s part from Fully Flared.

From what I consider as possibly the best skate video of all time (although it would have to duke it out with Chomp on This), it’s hard to actually pick a single part from Fully Flared that stands out above the rest. Having been instrumental in the evolution of the modern skate videos by combining the highest quality of skateboarding and video production, Fully Flared was Spike Jonze’s masterpiece, starting with the most epic intro to a skate video that will ever be made (as in, nothing will top it… ever).

Each part seems to complement each other with its unique perspective on the sport, making it that much harder to declare a part as truly the best. Though my personal favorite may be Brandon Beibel’s part with his gangsta steez and huge muscles (starting around the 47:40 mark), looking at the video from an overall standpoint, Mike Mo skating behind the Arcade Fire’s “No Cars Go” ultimately takes the cake.  His style and skill level backed behind the energetic beat really captured the attitude of the skate scene in the late 2000’s—representing a changing of the guard you might say.  It set the tone for a new era of skateboarding, with Mike Mo at the forefront.

At a minimum, I encourage you to watch the intro that transitions into Mike Mo’s part, right after he does a switch flip over an exploding set of stairs (no joke, you need to watch if you’ve never seen it).  But if you have a chance, take the time to sit down watch the video in its entirety.  At over 10 years old, it is still the standard of how great skate video are made.

Andrew Reynolds, Stay Gold. Emerica Shoes, Circa 2010.

Andrew Reynolds—one of the legends of the sport.  Known as “The Boss” and the king of the frontside flip, his style is distinct, incorporating flips and technical tricks down large gaps and stair sets, all the while making them look basic.  Tricks simply become twice as incredible when he’s performing them.

I’ll never forget the first time I saw him skate, pulling a cabilariel over a rail and down a 12 stair drop in “The End,” and continuing his onslaught of flip tricks down stair sets and in and out of slides.  Instantaneously, he became my favorite skater.

For these reasons, he has enjoyed a long and storied career in an industry where success is often fleeting.  After a breakout video part, the pressure is on for amateurs and pros alike to step up their game.  The audience, for better or worse, expects harder tricks down bigger gaps and rails—a tall order for any skater new to the industry.  Reynolds had no problem delivering for most of his career, but like any athlete, the window of success can be short, and age quickly becomes a factor in your ability to perform, especially north of 30.

Thus, even with his proven track record, questions inevitably began to surface with Reynold’s skill level and whether he could maintain it or not. It’s not uncommon for a popular skater to get the coveted final part in a video, regardless of whether he deserves it or not.  Even I asked myself a similar question when his name flashed across the screen the first time I watch Emerica’s “Stay Gold.”  New talent was emerging, and the trends suggested they were quickly surpassing the veterans.

“Will he get the last part in the video just because of his name recognition?”  The answer—a resounding “no.”  He deserved it, and then some.

The calming musical selection in his intro nearly tells the entire story. It was known that Reynolds’ career would begin to wind down.  Sure, he’d still be a pro, and he could sell plenty of boards, but you can only keep up with the fresh legs for so long.  After a career full of fame, partying, drugs, and turmoil, here was a man, clean, mature, and wise, giving it his all one last time before passing the torch.

Nearly half of the tricks performed could be considered enders for any ordinary part.  He revisits the legendary spots of his past video parts and takes it a step further. Each trick is crisp and carefully selected, taking thought, time and care to ensure that not only the trick was landed, but that it was well thought out and performed cleanly.  It was as if he knew the significance of this part and how important it was not only for him, but to the entire skateboard community.

What we were left with was exactly everything we needed, and absolutely nothing we didn’t—truly a memorable experience from start to finish. This was Andrew Reynold’s Magnum Opus, a showcase of his gift to the world.

It’s quite possibly the closest thing we’ll ever get to a perfect part.

Honorable Mentions:

A couple more parts that didn’t quite make the list, but are still worth mentioning and checking out if you have the chance.

Rodney Mullen – Second Hand Smoke

PJ Ladd – PJ Ladd’s Wonderful Horrible Life

Xeno Miller – Enrolling in the Middle Class

Arto Saari – Sorry or Menikmati… or Minefield (or pretty much anything Arto Saari)

 

 

1. Jamie Thomas, Misled Youth. Zero Skateboards, Circa 1998.

“Jess… Jess!  Mute Grab!” It was the last thing I remember saying. A day later, I awoke, laying in a hospital bed with no knowledge of the events that had succeeded the infamous line…

I had tried my hardest to convince him, but the prospect of a killer mute grab into the Snake River up past Buffalo Eddy just wasn’t enough to break his attention from his girlfriend (of which to this day I still can’t understand, but oh well).  So, I tried harder, and harder, and… apparently, I tried too hard, for as Shaun Walters described it, I slipped and fell head first, landing on a pile of rocks 15 feet below before sliding into the river.

What ensued were lots of tears, lots of payers, and a two-week hospital stay. After it was all said and done, Thor had jumped in after me to pull me out, an off-duty nurse, who just happened to be at the same beach as us, took care of me until the ambulance came, and Jon Shaw was forced to drive my squirrely, 85 Buick Regal back to my house.

Oh, and the whole thing could be blamed on Jess.

The good news was, I recovered with only minor long-term effects (I mean, there’s probably a little memory loss or brain damage here or there, but I’m not sure which memories they are, so I’m not going to ever worry about it!). The bad news, I couldn’t skateboard, for over a month.  And for an avid 18-year-old skater, it was absolute torture.

So, every night, I’d sit in my basement and watch Jamie Thomas’s part from Misled Youth.

Hearing the opening keyboard loop of Baba O’Riley fade in still gives me chills to this day.  It was the sound of hope; the sound of inspiration.  My heart would pound as I’d watch Thomas walk up the Hollywood High stair set holding his busted head with the greatest rock song of all time playing in the background.  In a way, it was like he was subtly telling me, “Don’t worry, we’re going to make it through this.  It’s going to be good.  Real good…”

What ensued was an onslaught hammers, trick after trick down the biggest stair sets and baddest rails of the day.  Not only did he go big, but he had the technical variety to back up his style. The lipslide down the blue Rincon rails that led to a six-foot drop, the benihana down the long double set, kickflip down the Macba 4 block… tricks nobody in their right mind would consider even attempting at the time.  In under 5 minutes, Jamie Thomas opened our eyes to a new style of skating.

And then came the slow-mo section.  Just when we thought our minds couldn’t be any more blown, The Doors “The End” fades in and Thomas proceeds to execute another round of bangers, bigger and crazier than the one’s before.  The nosegrind down the 14-stair that he bailed on earlier with a raised fist to the giant backside 180 over the rail and down the Rincon drop, the smith down the 18-stair, backside lipslide down Hollywood High… my jaw would lock in the open position as I’d watch him perform each feat, my body completely frozen as if I had peered into the eyes of Medusa.  And the perfect 5-0 down the huge white rail, only for Thomas to shake his head in disappointment and lift his finger so he could go back and do it, “one more time?” Classic.  A textbook example of how to put together a bangers section.

Nowadays, there are plethora of skaters who “go big,” but 20 years ago, that number was slim.  Nobody went big, at least not like Jamie Thomas.  He was the pioneer, starting with the infamous Leap of Faith and taking it a step further in Misled Youth.  When others had only a handful of tricks they could do down big gaps and rails, Jamie had all the bases covered, and for years, his part in Misled Youth was the standard for final video parts.

To this day, his part has stood the test of time, cementing Jamie Thomas as one of the GOAT’s of the sport.  It’s a part I will never forget… a part that inspired a battered and broken teenager to get back on his board; one that gave him so much hope 15 years ago.

***

Maybe I’m becoming a bit of a curmudgeon in my older years, but I can’t help but think of the rise the digital age and how a skater’s newest part can be viewed with a few clicks at your computer.  Though beneficial beyond a doubt, I often wonder if young skaters these days understand the significance of the skate video, if they’ll ever have the same appreciation me and my friends did when videos were harder to come by.

At the same time, I occasionally go back to watch these old videos online, recalling the days when my life revolved around a board.  “I’ll be a skater for the rest of my life,” I’d say in total confidence, back when the world was a much simpler place.  Now, I admittedly find myself scoffing when I see a group of skaters at a spot, even going as far as to sympathize with those kicking them out. “Am I this out of touch with the scene?” I ask myself.  Perhaps it’s just a part of growing up.

However, with all that has changed in the nearly 20 years since I picked up a board, the memories I have while skating, some of the best of my entire life, will forever remain, even if I don’t get out and skate like I used to. The youthful spirit captured in skateboarding has always been constant.

Whenever I revisit these old videos, I’m reminded of that.