Chapter 26 and the Epilogue: Wish You Were Here…

I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe… Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion… I watched C-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhäuser Gate. 

 …all those moments will be lost in time… like tears in the rain.

 -Blade Runner

 

At the edge of my parent’s porch I sat, watching the last remnants of a purified sky, once bright with light and unscathed from impurities now fading into darkness on the last night of my trip. Pink Floyd played through my headphones, the set of soft lyrics and mild chords leaving me with a myriad of thoughts circling around in my head, as was its intention. Thoughts of the past, thoughts of the present, and thoughts of the future…

 

***

 

It was in July of 2013 when the tradition began. The city of Spokane, Washington along with its neighboring towns had strangely become overrun by a massive yellow jacket infestation, Kanye West had just released his latest album, the highly acclaimed yet controversial “Yeezus,” and the one and only Bill O’Reilly was in town, quite possibly the biggest celebrity ever to step foot in Eastern Washington since Sarah Palin’s speaking engagement with Republic High School. And the best part, my mother had somehow managed to commandeer a few tickets for my dad and I to see him at the Spokane Arena! Thus, I made the venture home for the weekend, for there was no way I was passing this up, not with such high-demand items in our possession, especially when O’Reilly’s in town!

Apart from the weekend’s political punditry, all other affairs had been pushed aside for the time at the expense of a screenplay. Over the course of a year and a half, countless nights had been spent crafting my masterpiece, a well-entrenched story with twists and turns about an eclectic pair of police detectives on a quest to put an end to a cat burglar’s reign of terror—going from house to house around Brown County, Illinois and stealing his victims most treasured possessions… and then using their bathroom… and not flushing (I know what you’re thinking, how in the world did I ever conceive of such an idea?). Like many nights before it, “Turd Burglars” had once again sucked away the majority of my focus, deeming all other matters as insignificant.

My fingers typed ferociously across the keyboard, determined to meet my next self-imposed deadline, foolishly set to be the first of many postponements, a habit I fear I’ll never break as a writer. My mind ran on overdrive, fueled by the Pink Floyd kick I had developed a few months prior as my go-to choice for running music (there’s something about having the ability to explore the city and explore your mind all at the same time that creates stimulating effects…). Every part of me, heart, body and soul was set on it—this one goal, working overtime amidst an immanent bee assault, driven by the waning synthesizer rifts of “Have a Cigar,” and pushed by the answering guitar solos, a proclamation of war between me and my screenplay, that I shall continue to press forward into the late hours of the evening, that I would not stop until one of us was utterly and physically defeated.

It was a climactic and abrupt stop followed by a soft fade into nonsensical chatter. The song ended and my head shot forward, much like a diver would to catch his breath before sending himself back into the murky depths of treasure and discovery. In front of me was a bulge of orange light, the sun’s final stand against the overwhelming forces of night. “Hmm, that’s pretty,” I said with a shrug, ready to delve back into another writing surge.

I took a sip of beer and placed my fingertips back onto the keyboard—something was different this time. Goosebumps suddenly formed all over my body; my forearm hair stood straight like a thousand tiny needles pointed outward. I attempted to strike the keyboard, to input a series of legible keystrokes that would translate into prose; it was impossible. I was completely frozen, struck by the subtle and graceful guitar introduction to “Wish You Were Here,” and gazing into that same bulge of light I had tried to ignore a moment before, lowering itself against the scattered trees of the Dischmann-Mica valley. I sat back on the deck and succumbed to the power of the moment, any more attempts at writing would be useless from this point on.

There was no other sound but the soft melody of the song, no other soul around to break the concord, and no other movement but the slow fade of the red summer sun fighting against a pure sheet of darkness until its very last breath. I watched in peace and silence, and I remembered…

So… so you think you can tell
Heaven from Hell
Blue skies from pain,
Can you tell a green field,
From a cold steel rail
A smile from a veil
Do you think you can tell…

 

***

 

Cambray and Lauren watched from a stumped log as I waded knee deep in the water, the sun’s reflection sending an ever-changing fuchsia glaze over the lake’s surface. Soft ripples broke its plane, the last account of a flash rainstorm that had left Lauren’s side of the tent drenched and the raging winds that made paddling through Sawbill Lake nearly impossible, a small sample in a number of mishaps that nearly defined our rookie Boundary Waters trip, including a failed attempt to hang our Duluth Bags out of the reach from bears. But now, nearing the end of our journey, looking out across the lake of which I stood, saturated with an array of purple haze over a stilled marriage of wood and water, we were given a new definition.

Me in the boundary waters

The constant sound of breaking water drew louder with each push, a warm presence closing in on my position—Cambray and Lauren had joined me. Bantered words were exchanged amongst us after a few splashes and missteps had caused a squirm that wetted the tips of my cut-off shorts. I assessed the damage, scanning the areas of clothing I had failed to keep dry after so much care was given, then to the source of my failure. There was something different in the water, an evident aberration—a sudden diversion to my attention. Something had overcome; something had turned.

The water gave off a blood orange tint, a counter image of the sky. A heavy build of clouds moved across it, covering the girth of the setting sun. Not to be outdone, the sun sent out beams of light, pultruding beyond edges and piercing through at any point possible. We watched as the rays widened, bursting through the cloud cover and pushing them aside, revealing a message:

BW night shot

“Welcome to the End of the World.”

In an instant, blood orange turned blood red, and the clouds regrouped, darker, denser, and ready to charge, to eradicate all of the hate, evil, and destructive forces plaguing the world for so long—further proof that God was good on his word. We stood that evening in the middle of the Boundary Waters, amongst a most beautiful sunset placed at the edge of our world…

…And we welcomed it.

Me in Boundary Waters Canoe

***

 

“I wish they were here to see this,” I thought to myself as the song’s chorus progressed. It had been two years since that evening in the Boundary Waters, and it was certainly a travesty that they, or anybody else for that matter weren’t able to see the potential on display, possibly the reason why it was so personal. Fortunately, it would only be a matter of weeks until our next reunion, where we would once again be surrounded by the unspoiled beauty that had been so captivating two years prior. I smiled a simple smile, for we were on the eve of another Boundary Waters trip.

Nearly a year later I found myself in the same position, gazing out at a similar sunset. Nate, one of my best friends from my childhood had just gotten married, following a weekend that consisted of bibulous behavior during a bachelor party (at least on my behalf) and a wedding scenario of which I got suckered into becoming a Star Wars Jedi Knight. With “Wish You Were Here” playing through my headphones, thoughts of the past swirled through my head—our many sleepovers staying up to conquer games from the many iterations of Nintendo consoles, building and destroying our creations in SimCity 2000, devising plans to cheat our way into a win at Monopoly, feasting on Pizza Hut pizza and drowning ourselves in Mountain Dew while drawn to a perfect TGIF lineup, and what kind of sleepover would it be without sneaking in a quick viewing session of the nudey scene from Titanic?

I thought about the present, how much fun it was to reunite with old friends, and wondering how in the world I got snookered into the whole Jedi Knight routine. And then there were thoughts of the future, where I was, where I was headed, and how I was going to get there. “How is my story going to play out?” I sat and wondered, watching the sun dim like a candle on its last cord of wax while listening to the simple, yet elegant progression of chords fade out, attempting to piece together another part of my life. I sat and watched, smiling a simple smile.

And now, here I was, another year passed, sitting in the same place with the same tune in my head after a long journey, with much to ponder…

 

***

 

Upon my arrival to my parent’s house two days prior, I learned that a memorial service was being held for an old friend I had met in college. It had been a while since I had seen Jon; moving away occasionally causes that sort of thing happen. However, you could always expect a hug and a smile from the man, no matter the amount of time spent apart, and as an accomplished, raspy-voiced blues guitarist with a skill set that always left you in awe (and with a hint of jealousy I must admit from time to time), there was a good chance that I, as well as many others would be graced with an original song or two whenever there was a get-together of sorts. Knowing the kind-natured spirit that Jon was, coupled with the fact that I was in the area, attendance to his memorial was mandatory if there was any shred of honor left in me after such a notorious trip.

A man with a heart of gold trapped in the body of a brute, there were very few people in the world that could say they didn’t like Jon at first sight, and those who did (if any) were most likely of the bro-type, envious of his striking resemblance to a Nordic Viking. Much was the case with our first meeting.

In a small apartment in Moscow, Idaho, where an eclectic group of skateboarders and University of Idaho students were gathered, in walked Jon to the spectacle of a strange boy singing the Red Hot Chili Peppers song, “Can’t Stop.” For some reason or another, choosing to heed to the song’s advice instead of affording our newly arrived guest the proper etiquette he deserved, I continued with my obnoxious singing (something that never happens. I mean, c’mon!). Any normal person would’ve countered walking in on such odd behavior with a look of disturbed perplexity, but not Jon. With a stroke of brevity, he immediately stepped up next to me and began beatboxing the bass rhythm of the song. From there and for the next couple of minutes, we performed a near perfect, and well-received number for everyone in attendance, neither one of us skipping a beat, as if we had spent years in preparation for this moment. Within a matter of minutes, we had become friends.

At the young age of 28, Jon had been diagnosed with a rare form of cancer, one that despite a fierce battle and multiple efforts to fight on, ultimately took his life a few months later. So on that Saturday in mid-July, I traveled to Princeton, Idaho and joined an already large gathering in honor of our late friend.

While some expressed excitement upon my somewhat surprise arrival at the Teeter Manor located on the outskirts of the small Idaho town, Mike Gibson brandished a look of disappointment as I drove passed and motioned his foot as if he were about to perform a curb stomp on my car’s frame with the intention of causing permanent deformation. The violent gesture put a smile on my face like no other person was capable of doing.

Arthur, an old skateboarding friend (and quite possibly the closest living reincarnation to David Bowie) started the memorial alongside Jon’s father with a procession of songs. About a hundred of us, friends and family listened as they played their guitars and sang with passion, songs about life, friends, and memories that emphasized Jon’s influence. The crowd favorite was a song about how you can “drink the beers to make it all go away,” an original written by Jon himself.

After the songs were over, a group of his closest friends, Jaired, Henry, and Destry joined Arthur to share a couple stories and their thoughts about the type of man Jon was—somebody who would never betray your trust; a man who took a promise to heart, who understood the sacred conviction of “your word.” He was quick to forgive, yet not to forget, as to ensure you were held accountable for your actions, for the better of your soul. And most of all, as elegantly reaffirmed by his mother, he was a man who always put others before himself, who would make your wellbeing his number one priority, even as he neared death.

As the evening came to an end, we made our way to the edge of the manor that overlooked the west, home to hundreds of acres of forest, rolling hills, and colorful farmland spread across an area of the Washington/Idaho border called “The Palouse.” Jon’s father led us in one last song, “Que Sera Sera,” a song that Jon would end each set with whenever he performed a show as we watched the sun set over the Palouse, bringing an even more vibrant string of colors to the already unique plot of country.

“To a life… lived without compromise!” They were the last words spoken during the sun’s final descent, a mighty and powerful toast given by Jon’s brother Mike, of which everybody accepted and drank to.

It was a celebration of life, and celebrate we did, well into the wee hours of the morning. As it had become widely known over the years in the Moscow area, there was a certain set of individuals who had developed a somewhat “infamous” reputation for partying during their tenure at the University of Idaho. Although some would view that behavior as nefarious, I contend that it simply amounted to a group of friends who enjoyed each other’s company, and expressed their sincere adulation for each other with an elevated sense of generosity whenever they were in the presence of alcohol. Many of those people happened to be in attendance, and being that Jon was a calm and collected individual, he wasn’t exactly one to participate in such outlandish behavior after a couple drinks. However, he was a friend to all and could tolerate the antics with love, no matter how unorthodox the night’s festivities would get. So the tradition continued on Jon’s behalf. As instructed by the words of his most popular song, “we drank the beers to make it all go away…”

But perhaps the thing that stood out to me that evening after all the haziness had settled were a few thoughts Jaired had shared about his late friend.

“…Jon was such an amazing person; somebody who wasn’t content with just settling. He was somebody who wasn’t afraid to follow his dreams… There were many nights that we spent out here at the manor. Jon would come sit outside for hours with his guitar, and he’d… he’d create some of the most beautiful music I’d ever heard. Music about life… his friends… and about living. We’d sit out with him, and we would just listen…”

 

***

Those words went through my mind as I sat on the edge of the porch that next evening after the memorial. To Create… It’s an integral part of living, almost a duty for being human. The very essence of nature demands that we create in order to survive, the most basic of these being sustenance, shelter, and tools to progress our lives.

But beyond that is a drive; an ambition to go beyond, to do things the world has never seen or even dreamed of, to prove the impossible as possible. It’s a drive that inspires revolution and ideas, ideas that turn into invention and art, the fundamental parts of us that make us human—that separates us from the rest of the animals. It’s a drive that allows us to create life… and a drive that above all, creates memories.

I couldn’t help but look back on the time I had just spent on the road, even if it were in some God forsaken place such as a Motel 6 in Rock Springs, Wyoming. What I would give to be sitting next to Shaun with a 40 in my hand, no matter how disgusting the beer was, or to be taking Saki Bombs with Eric in a new-age sushi bar in Denver. How awesome would it be to sing just one more song at the 1029, or completely drench another dress shirt in sweat by means of dance. It was barely two weeks ago that I had left for my trip, and I was already missing the very moment we had said goodbye to Megan Mills in Boise.

I missed it all; the sharp, snow-capped tips of the Gran Tetons, the comforting feeling of contentment nestled in the cornfields of Kansas, the slew of hotel antics intentionally and unintentionally pulled, the beautiful sights, the glowing stars on the crystal clear nights, and all of the magical places of which we made a solemn vow to someday make our return. Even more so, I missed the people that made those times even more special; Beth, Blake, all of the gatherings of friends and family in America’s dairy land, Cambray and Lauren, aka the Boundary Babes and everything they embody (Oh how I miss the Boundary Babes!), and especially Bill, my partner in crime through the whole thing. I wished they all were here, sitting next to me and sharing the same complication of thoughts rummaging through my head.

But I guess in a funny way, they were. And they always would be…

And only because it wouldn’t have been the same without her, and not to make a big deal out of it or anything but I, uh, I… Oh God, I can’t believe I’m actually going to say this… I kind of, sort of… miss Gretch… I mean, not like a lot or anything, don’t get me wrong! She dragged us through hell and back, almost killed us a few times, said naughty things—look, all I’m saying is that there was a lot we went through, and maybe we grew a little because of the experience. Besides, I don’t think you necessarily have to like somebody to miss them—in fact, you can probably hate em’ and still miss em’ at the same time! I’m sure it happens with people all of the time! And it doesn’t have to mean a lot either, just a thought that you keep in the back of your head every now and then to keep you on your feet, so I wouldn’t say that I exactly miss Gretch, but it’s just—

Ah, who am I kiddin’? I really miss Gretch… big time.

And while we’re at it, I might as well go out and say it. I even miss Ben Wood—

Screw that. Nobody misses that kid.

 

***

 

I think it’s natural to feel a little sad and emotional at the end of a trip, to look back at all you’ve done and created along the way. But it’s memories that remind us why life is worth living, especially through the dark times. Though they can never be recreated, they hold potential, they encourage us to move forward when the opportunity presents itself. Within weeks, I was to return to Wisconsin with the rest of my extended family to celebrate my grandpa living 90 years on the Earth, and a few months later, I would be back again, this time to Green Bay with my mother to watch the Packers finally beat the Shi—I mean, Seahawks (I swear, one of these days I’ll get it right) after years of unjust torment!

Mom and I before and after the game.

There was even another wedding on the books in Bend Oregon, another chance/excuse to drink, dance, hang out with babes, reunite with old friends, and meet new ones, all in the name of celebrating the love between our friends AJ and Lauren, and the years of memories in the making because of it.

“Wish You Were Here” had faded, and the sky was black now, with only the glittering of stars shining through as light, millions of them a million miles away, fragments of a large puzzle that would take an entire lifetime and beyond to solve. I sat and watched, smiling a simple smile, feeling as though I had just solved another piece.

 

***

 

Epilogue:

 

A number of text messages were waiting for me the moment I entered the lodge at Schweitzer Mountain Resort in Northern Idaho, each one setting a more frantic tone than the one before it. I had only a few minutes to check them and make a failed attempt at a call before my phone died, the cold weather preventing the battery from staying charged properly. In walked my friend Brian, having made the unanimous decision to end our day of snowboarding with a mix of beer and college football, giving me time to recharge my phone and wonder what it was that was so important. An hour passed before I was able to make the call.

“Hey Cambray, what’s going on?” I asked.

“Where are you?”

“At a ski resort, what’s wrong?”

“…Call me when you get home. It’s better if you hear this when you’re alone…”

“…I understand. I’ll call as soon as I can…” I didn’t understand, and my imagination further intensified the severity of the situation, a fleeting thought that ran through my head during the 2-hour drive back to Spokane. I kept my composure, playing the urgency off as if everything was all right, hoping for the best, yet furtively planning for the worst.

The thought went through my head as a worst-case scenario—multiple times in fact. However, such a thing just didn’t seem plausible, and surely it wouldn’t be as bad as my mind had built it up to be.

My heart pounded a little faster than normal the moment I shut the door to my room and dialed Cambray’s number, the ongoing dial tone feeding my anticipation. Then, she spoke and my heart stopped. I took the news in shock, barely able to express any emotion whatsoever; nothing could’ve prepared me for what I had just heard. Like millions of others across the world, I too would find myself spending New Year’s Eve in an over-indulgence of alcohol, but not in celebration…

That evening, I learned that Lauren had suffered from a cardiac aneurysm. She had passed away that morning.

 

***

 

It wasn’t until the next day when the reality of her passing fully sunk in. My mind had run itself into an inextricable knot, unable to interpret—even process what had just happened. None of it seemed real—It wasn’t real… So I did the only thing I knew how to do. With Pink Floyd playing in my iPod, I ran, escaped into the forest, away from everybody and everything, looking for answers.

My feet sank with each step through the deep layers of snow, the heavy exertion of force used to trudge through quickly alleviating the chilled effects of a 14-degree New Year’s Day. The eerie introductory tone of “Shine On You Crazy Diamond” converted the convolution of thoughts and frustration into propulsion, pushing me deeper and deeper into the forest. I worked on pure, animal instinct, up and over fallen trees and debris, slipping up and down slopes, breathing, sweating, moving my arms and legs back and forth, furiously and repeatedly; not thinking—just acting… moving, farther and farther away from reality, farther away from sanity.

The music progressed, as did my body, now a robotic being, its purpose pre-programmed, working with mechanical movements that could outlast any and all elements. I ran, inching closer to some unknown destination without an operator to stop the machine, running and waiting for a major breakdown or an expended fuel source, the only two logical events that could stop the madness.

The final hill was a grueling affair, one ignored by the limitations of my legs. Somehow, they kept pushing, finding ways to move passed each obstacle and gather traction through the dense and snow-packed areas of forest. I moved, faster and harder, until I reached the top where a clear opening was exposed.

I stopped and looked out across an immense valley as though the changing of songs on the album had simultaneously flicked my body’s “off” switch. Above me was a bright, cloudless sky of pure blue. In front the air sparkled, thousands of water vapor molecules frozen by the stagnant chill of a winter day, and beyond it laid a fresh blanket of snow covering the Dischmann-Mica valley of Spokane. I let the cold penetrate my skin, bringing about a strange sense of comfort as I gazed out in amazement at a sight filled with pines, firs, spruces and junipers, all buried under the white powder and lining the edges of a valley that spanned for miles, all of it untainted by any human existence except for a set of tracks I had made behind me… and I imagined she was there.

I could imagine her standing right next to me, looking out at a sight of natural beauty that no eyes had ever seen, able to realize the extraordinary view in front of us that so few had that ability to appreciate, just like we did those many years ago when we set foot in the Boundary Waters for the first time. I imagined her beside me with a radiant smile spread across her face, a reflection of a perfect sky shining over an untouched indent of the Earth. I imagined she was there, seeing exactly what I was seeing…

The well-recognized guitar introduction from “Wish You Were Here” started to play through my headphones. Suddenly, I was swallowed by reality…

…I would never have the chance to show her this.

Tears filled my eyes as my neck and face tightened. I let out a whimpered burst, followed by a string of choppy breaths that battled against my body’s natural reaction to weep. The shallow tears accumulated, turning into a steady stream that fell down onto my rosy cheeks, and I cried. Deep in the forest, miles away from the nearest form of civilization, I cried out a series of embarrassing cries—cries of desperation, cries of hopelessness… cries out to God in an attempt to find any sort of reasoning, that maybe I could find him, somewhere in the depths of the valley. “How can a world so beautiful be so unjust?” It was the first of many unanswered questions. “Why?” I simply put. “God, what must her family be thinking?” I couldn’t even begin to imagine.

“…What do I do now God…?” I asked, feeling as though my life had lost all purpose, that every piece of the puzzle had been blown apart, unsure of where to start again… unsure if I wanted to start again. “What do I do now…?”

I stayed out in that open area of the forest for several minutes, staring out at the sunny, snow-covered valley, and letting the music repeat itself, waiting patiently for an answer. I remained outside, waiting until the combination of sweat and tears had formed frozen chunks onto my head and beard; my sweat-drenched shirt was only a few minutes behind. I returned home that day, having received no answers; unsure if I ever would…

 

***

 

The night of her passing I stepped out onto the porch as I had done many times before with an old fashioned in hand. It was the third one I’d had that night, and it certainly wouldn’t be the last. I stood out in the cold, alone, staring out into a black, lifeless night, letting the crystallized air molecules pierce my lungs like a thousand tiny needles, attacking my body with each breath—jeopardizing my survival in the bleak and frozen world. Every now and then, it takes the threat of mortality to remind us we’re alive.

There was no other sound except the occasional rattle of ice from my alcoholic beverage, no movement anywhere within the spread of the forest but for the precipitation of breath, and absolutely no soul to disturb me in my silent remonstration of justice, the still air doing nothing to untangle the web of thoughts muddling about in my head. In acquiescence to the freezing temperature, my hands dropped into my coat pockets where they clasped around a thin, metal frame. It was my iPod, a possible catalyst for clarity; at that moment, I was desperate for anything.

I pressed the home button and swiped the screen with a potential album in mind, but a song was already playing. I’ll never know quite for sure why that particular song happened to be playing at that time, whether it was by miracle or a malfunction caused by a pair of sports headphones that had been the root of frustration during my most recent runs. I contend that it was a little bit of both.

I placed the headphones in my ear and heard the soft stroke of guitar chords playing behind a familiar, raspy voice, each plucked string from the guitar cutting into my heart unlike it had ever done before. For a brief moment, I was brought back to a simpler time, a time of warmth and love; two friends singing their hearts out, an ode for a fallen friend unto an audience filled with fans, strangers, lovers, and most importantly, Boundary Babes; a complete antipodal from which I stood… a time where two friends unknowingly embraced the true meaning of life and what it meant to live…

…Two friends, simply living in the moment without fear, without apprehension… without compromise. For a brief moment, I stood and stared into the cold night. I listened, and I remembered…

Ain’t it funny how the night moves,
When you just don’t seem to have as much to lose.
Strange how the night moves…

 With autumn closin’ in…

For a brief moment, I stood and stared into the cold night. I listened, and I remembered…

How lucky we are to be alive. How blessed are we to know the people we know in the places we’ve been…?

…What an opportunity we have…


 

Chapter 16: Come Away With Me… To a Packers Game… A Wisco Wedding Part 3

Stephen Jenkin’s angelic voice faded as the cycling of a V6 engine came to a stop.  We climbed out of the Benz at the edge of the mansion’s estate, receiving more sets of impressive looks from arriving guests doing the same. Bill and I gave our suits a few straightening tugs and Gretch did the same with her dress, and with our heads up, posture straight, and each stride hit with perfect poise, we made our way up to the mansion.

A drink accompanied the hands of each of our friends, prompting a visit to the wet bar as to be in conformance with the rest of the party guests. “If you want, I can make you guys an old fashioned to go with your Keystone Light—Oh… hey, Billy…” He stood behind the counter fixing a drink of his own, his presence a surprise to us all.

“Hey what’s up guys?” he said to us. “Man, last night got a little wild. I wasn’t mean to you guys or say anything stupid did I?”

“Well, we kind of got into it over Kanye West…” I reluctantly replied. The reminder was likely to bring up contention, something I was hoping to avoid before the wedding’s festivities began, but nothing less than an honest answer was what he deserved, even if we were fighting the day before. He was a groomsmen after all.

“Oh man, I’m sorry. You know what I say: to each his own. That’s my motto. I’m not a big Kanye fan by any stretch, but if you are, I have nothing against that. You know me, I would never say a mean thing to anybody.” His apology was sincere, and in my book, fully acceptable.

“You know, there was a little drinking going on, and people say things they don’t mean, and it just got a little out of hand I think, that’s all. I tell you what, after the ceremony is over, I’ll make you an old fashioned.” We shook hands and added a smile to console our differences.

“Alright you guys, we’re going to start any minute now,” said Maggie having just ran down the basement stairs. That was our cue, for nobody was allowed to see the bride in her wedding dress before the start of the ceremony, and for good reason too. With drinks in hand and sunglasses over our head, we joined the rest of the guests on the lawn and took our seats for the ceremony.

***

Blake stood at the alter waiting for Billy and Coti to make their way past the rows seated guests and accompany him. The unforgiving humidity set by the red summer sun resulted in large patches of sweat left under the armpits of the wedding party’s dress shirts, a common theme that was to be shared by the rest of the male party guests, including yours truly.

Next came Maggie, the Maid of Honor, escorted by Jordan, Blake’s son. At 9 years old, he performed the important, yet demanding role of best man, and an appropriate title it was, for his manners and maturity were far above and beyond that of the rest of us, and only he was capable and deserving enough to walk a babe like Maggie down the aisle. Thus, he truly was, the best man.

Jordan took his spot next to his father and Maggie stood opposite of him while a classical tune continue to play and spill out over the glistening lake, a most perfect backdrop for a wedding, minus the few passing pontoon boats unaware that such a special occasion was taking place. With Blake standing amongst the company of friends, family, and the most important people in his life, the stage was set. All the required members were present, all except for one, whose grand entrance was only a few, long seconds away.

A jazzy brush drum roll sounded followed by a few strokes of a piano, a rhythm and melody that was instantly recognized, as it was the introduction to one of the most beautiful songs ever written (second only to Jewel’s “You Were Meant For Me, and possibly a couple of Kanye West beats), a song I had listened to every day for months while delving into the literature of Ayn Rand (quite an excellent pairing)—a song of which you can’t help but think about holding close the most lovely of babes among babes. Norah Jones led in with her signature soft and graceful voice, “Come away with me, in the night…” and a procession of guests rose to their feet. “Come away with me, and I will write… you… a song…”

All eyes turned to the bride clad in a stunning white dress, her elegance on full display. Walking side by side with her father, Beth made her way down the aisle and joined Blake. Standing together, hand in hand at the alter, they looked into each others eyes, millions of thoughts rummaging through their heads, a million thoughts that by some miracle of life, may just happen be congruent within the short distance between them, a lifetime of knowledge, memories, and love shared between two individuals. Thoughts of which neither me, Bill, Gretch or anybody else in attendance could possibly know or would ever know… all we could do is sit back and wonder with thoughts of our own…

***

The Palouse was in its typical Fall transitioning period, unsure of whether it was suppose to be warm or cool that early October Tuesday in 2006, much like the young emo kids struggling to find their identity. The day’s events were exceptionally vivid, for The Killers had just released their new album “Sam’s Town,” the much-anticipated follow-up to their debut album “Hot Fuss.” After my purchase from Hastings in Moscow, ID, I immediately rushed over to Connie and Bill’s apartment, for my house in Pullman was far too long of a drive for me to listen to a CD I had been waiting months to get my hands on.

Emily Dokken answered the door and informed me of three important issues. 1: Bill and Connie were still in class. 2: she had to take a massive dump. And 3: I could hang out with her friend Beth until Connie and Bill came back. Little did I know at the time that Emily’s half-hour outing with the toilet would mark the beginning of a friendship, sort of a blessing in disguise if you ask me.

From that forced encounter on that early Autumn day in Idaho, and with the help of a few Chach Chugs, multiple Moscow outings, and a road trip or two, our friendship grew and blossomed, to the point where we eventually discovered a coveted admiration evolving from our family upbringing—The Green Bay Packers.

Fast forward to 2010; a time where Lady Gaga ruled the airwaves, half the country was going nuts over a terrible film called Avatar, the Shi— uh, I mean Seahawks’ (for some reason I mess that up, every time…) fan base was still limited in size, and I was about to take a temporary position working for the Navy in Washington, DC. Before I was to embark across the country however, there was one last important matter to tend to: the Packers were scheduled to come to Seattle to play the Shi—er, Seahawks (there I go again), and being that game tickets were still decently priced at that point in history, Beth and I made it a point to go to the game, even if it was only preseason.

“By the way Beth, I’m going to bring my friend Cambray. I hope you’re not mad, she’s kind of a boundary babe,” I told her through text.

“That’s fine. I’m going to bring my friend Blake.”

“What the… Who the heck is Blake?!?! He better be a cool guy or else!” I threatened. And soon enough, I would meet this Blake fellow and find out just how much of a cool guy he actually was…

Readers note: in an effort to remain factual, upon my writing of this, I just remembered that the Packer game was actually the second time I had met Blake, but the first time I met him involved him running out of the shower in nothing but a towel, and that story’s not as good. Besides, the Packer game is where we actually got to know each other, so if it’s no difference to you, I’d like to talk about that time instead.

Beth brought Blake to the rendezvous point to meet Cambray and I before the game. In my Belltown apartment across the street from the Space Needle, we made our preparations for the evening’s festivities, for it was dangerous territory we were walking into, making it rather imperative that we gather the appropriate supplies for the mission ahead. I made everybody take a few rounds of shots before leaving, but it was Blake who stepped up the game up by convincing Beth to hide a Ziploc bag full of rum in her shirt, a move that encouraged Cambray to follow suit. Although a bit jealous over the fact that he came up with the idea, it was still a strategy I was most impressed with, and from that point on, I had a feeling that Blake and I were going to get along just fine.

The walk to Qwest Field (now Century Link) was filled with dirty looks and heckles. Apparently, not only was having a giant wedge of cheese on my head considered terrible camouflage, but it also wasn’t much of a popular look on that particular day. Lucky for us we were equipped with a sufficient amount of booze and good conversation to keep the two-mile trek fresh.

“Beth tells me you went to Asotin High School. Did you know Danny P?” asked Blake.

“Yea I know Danny P! Me and him go way back!”

“Nice! We went to the Gorge together for Sasquatch a few years back.”

“What?! I love the Gorge, and I go to Sasquatch every year! It’s probably my favorite place to go actually. You probably know Moody too if you know Danny.”

“Oh yea, I know Moody. That guy shreds on guitar.”

“Dude, Moody’s been my best friend since the third grade! That’s awesome!”

Our conversation got a little carried away, for we seemingly forgot about Beth and Cambray who were several strides behind us. For what it was worth though, it looked as though our acquaintance was quickly turning into a friendship. That friendship however, and the respect it garnered came under jeopardy when we heard the singing of the national anthem beyond the stadium walls, a signal that our arrival had been a late one. To add to the dire circumstance, I had to go to the bathroom… really bad.

“Hey, why can’t I relieve myself and show my patriotic support all at the same time?” I asked myself. The question was a valid one, and I couldn’t find any objection within me that told me not to, even though I only took a few seconds to think about it. So in total support of America and all of the blessings she has given me, I entered the porta-potty and belted out the lyrics to the Star Spangle Banner, a song that has always filled me with pride and jubilance every time it’s been played, while all at the same time taking a whiz, a move that further rendered our presence as suspect.

Unfortunately for Beth, Blake and Cambray, that was only the beginning of my obnoxious behavior, as I couldn’t help but notice every passing Packer fan through the halls of the stadium and acknowledging their presence with at least a high-five and a favorable comment. And I do have to say, the Packers had a rather plentiful showing, even though they were in foreign territory. The excitement held deep inside all of us to see Aaron Rodgers and company play in person was evident. With me though, it was just too great to keep bound, and I let it show in the most impudent of ways.

“You know, the University of Washington did a study and showed that those cheeseheads cause brain damage,” the man next to me said as we took our seat. It was the first of many jabs we were to receive from Shi—Sea… Seahawk fans (c’mon man, get a grip on yourself) in the form of curses, raised middle fingers, and a pointed finger slowly sliding perpendicularly across a tensed net, all by gnarly looking dudes who could easily play convincing roles as homicidal maniacs in one of those crime dramas on TV.

“Well, that’s because UW did the study. You have to go to WSU if you want it done right,” I replied, a surprisingly quick and witty response.

“Wait, you went to WSU too?” asked a woman in front of me. She was 38 years old (probably around 43 or 45 now), a Seahawks fan, and she had already fallen in love with me. So naturally I talked to her. I can’t help it! I kind of get a kick out of older babes hitting on me (although she looked babe enough to me, Cambray insisted that she wasn’t, but for all intents and purposes, and for the fact she was flirting with me, we’ll refer to her as a babe anyway). “…I dare ya to stand up, point your arm and yell ‘First Down,’ the next time the Packers get a first down.” Easy. 

“FIRST DOWN!” I yelled, pointing my hand in the direction the Packers were marching after the next play was over, a notion that made my new 38-year-old love laugh hysterically. The move wasn’t exactly well received with the other fans, as two black girls (only calling them black to provide an accurate description that will help differentiate them between the other characters in the story, and that’s it. I know some of you out there get all worked up about that crap, so I figure I’ll add this disclaimer. Gosh, the things you have to do to cover your buns against the PC police these days…) whipped around and shot me dirty looks. “What?” I said, shrugging my shoulders and sending a sheepish look back their direction. “I love my team, what can I say?”

As what happens with every outing where alcohol is consumed, the trips to the bathroom became very frequent, and each trip back included a bunch of high-fives to Packer fans and a beverage in hand that would cause me to repeat the vicious cycle. “I’m getting a beer, what do you want Cambray?”

“I’ll do a Roman Coke.”

“Uh… I don’t think they have those. Are you ok with a regular one? I can’t imagine that they’d be that much better imported.”

“No, you see, you get a Coke, and I’ll make it a Roman Coke when you come back.”

“I don’t get it? You’re not even Italian, let alone Roman. How can you make a Roman Coke?”

“Just… get me a regular coke please.”

“That’s all you had to say! Coming right up!”

A few minutes passed and I returned with a beer for me and a Coke for Cambray. “Here you go,” I said to her while handing her the bottle. Immediately she began taking sips then adding her secret stash of alcohol to it. “Oh, you’re mixing Rum and Coke, why didn’t you say so? Wait, it’s Rodgers, and he’s rolling out. He’s passing and… TOUCHDOWN!” We ripped and roared, but the celebration was short lived. The two black girls whipped around once more to deliver another set of dirty looks. Oh great.

“Zack, those girls really like you,” said Blake. “They’re just acting tough, that’s all.”

“I don’t know man, they look like they’re pretty mad every time they turn around.”

“But that’s the key. They keep on turning around, just for you! Trust me…”

A few series later, the Seahawks scored a touchdown. My 38-year-old lover made me give her a high five and the rest of the Seahawk fans cheered on… all except for two. In an unprecedented move, the two black girls whipped around once again, and with them came the same pair of dirty looks that had disturbed us several times over.

“What? You guys did a good job and I’m clapping for you! I like you guys, and I want to like you! We can be friends, I know we can!” My radiant smile and exuberant personality was just too powerful for them to repel, and a smile began creeping up on their face, growing larger until it turned into a couple of laughs. “See, I knew we would be friends!”

A few seats down Blake nodded his head in approval with a big smile on his face to give me a message. “Told Ya!”

The 4th quarter was nearing an end with the Packers ahead and in total command of the game, drawing an exodus of fans from the stadium in order to beat the traffic rush. The two black girls gave me one more set of dirty looks that quickly turned friendly, each of us sharing a hug before parting ways. And sadly, it was time for my 38-year-old lover and I to say our goodbyes. We were never to see each other again, for the future tension between our two teams would never allow it, but she forever sealed our fate that day with a kiss on the cheek, a kiss I will hold dear to my heart for the rest of my life. I guess not all Seahawks fans are bad after all…

When it was all said and done, it was just Beth, Blake, Cambray and I left to watch our team march onto victory. They stuck with me through my vociferous outbursts, unruly behavior, and took the brunt of dirty language, inappropriate gestures, and heckles delivered on my behalf, all with a smiles on their faces the whole time. Eventually we made an exodus of our own up to Capitol Hill to celebrate with friends, not all of who were Packer fans, but who would certainly recognize and rejoice in the accomplishment nonetheless.

During that walk up the hill, I couldn’t help but look at Beth and Blake and reflect on the day’s events, having just learned a great number of things that night. 1: The Packers were going to win the Super Bowl that year (which they did, beating Pittsburgh 31-25). 2: I had made a new friend, one who had easily earned my respect. And 3: Beth and Blake were the real deal, and I had a feeling that this was going to be one that lasted a long, long time.

Packers Game 2010

My 38-Year-Old Lover even took a picture of us at the game!

***

A great man (but not a particularly wise man) by the name of Forrest Gump once said, “I may not be a smart man, but I do know what love is…”

Love is a funny thing. We see it all around us, written in books, shown to us in movies and TV shows, and sung through beautiful renditions created by the likes of Norah Jones and Jewel. The word itself gets thrown around freely between friends and family all the time!

Yet, I don’t think we truly understand it, or even how to spot it, even if it’s staring us right in the face. Ask a thousand people what love is and you’d get a thousand different answers. But somehow, in that moment where you’re standing next to somebody, that one person out of a million that somehow can read your exact mood as if they have access to your mind, the one who can erase every pernicious thought built inside your head with a simple gesture of a smile, that one person who you would unequivocally travel to the darkest reaches of the Earth for, your body musters up a single feeling that blots out all other possible feelings; a feeling that grinds the brain into a pile of mush, leaving the heart to do the talking, an organ void of rational thought. You’re stuck with a feeling of complete submission, the equivalent to a giant black hole that within a moment’s notice sucks you in and doesn’t allow you to escape, an unconditional emotion that will never falter, no matter what hardship or tragedy arises. It’s an emotion stronger than the rest, one that conquers and endures till the end and whose simple essence by itself nearly proves the existence of God.

You’re left with the feeling of love, a love that’s impossible to understand, but perfectly known. You know, because the person standing next to you is feeling the same exact thing.

It was love that was on display in the heart of the motherland, and it was their love that was shared with us that afternoon through a set of heartfelt vows delivered emotionally. A love expressed not only between them, but also towards Jordan. His presence strengthened their love for one another, created an inseparable bond that would not be broken, a special type of bond called family. And on that day, they would officially become one.

And though that love was shared and celebrated amongst us, it was only a glimpse of what was actually between them. And how could it be anything more with such a complex subject? It’s no wonder that love is the one feeling that’s celebrated with such a grandiloquent occasion like a wedding. But even the most spectacular, Kanye West and Kim Kardashian types of weddings can even come close to providing the justice love deserves. It’s just simply not possible! So as humans, we do the best we can, and celebrate and rejoice at the phenomenon, that for a moment, we are part of something bigger and more powerful than any material object or selfish desire; something bigger than our good looks, Mercedes-Benz, the Gran Tetons, Steel Reserve, punch cards, Bar Tender Babes, Seahawks Babes, Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers, Packer Babes, Farm Babes, Boundary—uh, I won’t go that far, but the list goes on! And in the end, we get to be a part of love, something well worth traveling 2500 miles for, something we can either look back and remember a time years ago where we were up with the same exact feeling, or something that we can someday look forward to with a wedding of our own.

We watched in delight as Beth and Blake were pronounced husband and wife. Their love was sealed with a kiss, and Bill, Gretch and I joined the rest of the guests with a set of raucous cheers. Each one of us in attendance had a reason for being there, had the honor of being a part of their lives in some special way, to help guide them to this moment. Some were friends who had gained trust and respect from years of sticking together through the best and worst of what life has to offer, never turning their back when terrible decisions have been made, and having the ability to say the difficult things that nobody is willing to say or make the tough decisions that nobody else is willing to make. Others were family, integral people in their lives that spent years helping to mold them into the people they have become, no matter how hard it could be at times.

For me, I was just glad to be that person who could put a smile on their face and consistently make their lives better simply by being the person I was meant to be. That maybe, through the help of a Packer game 5 years prior, I played a part in making love come to life, whether it was love at first sight, or love that was always there, waiting to be discovered.

And who knew that 5 years later, what started with the Green Bay Packers would come full circle and end in Wisconsin, the motherland and rightful home to the greatest football team ever to grace the Earth. That alone was enough to celebrate.

And celebrate we would, for it wasn’t the end, but merely the beginning. It was the beginning of a life of full of adventure, wonderful people, and everlasting memories for each of them. And what better way to start such a celebration than with a reception filled with best friends and family indulging in an overabundance of boisterous dancing, fireworks and alcohol? I don’t know about Bill and Gretch, but that was a plan that I couldn’t wait for; a plan that I was definitely onboard with…

Chapter 7: This is a Long Drive For Someone with Nothing to Think About…

I’m on a road shaped like a figure 8.  I’m going nowhere but I’m guaranteed to be late.

Isaac Brock

It was a late start getting out of Denver that Monday. We were paralyzed, lying in a state of comatose and unable to register any type of action within our immediate vicinity, no matter how severe the disturbance. Upon our eventual rise from our deep slumber well past noon, our bodies further rejected the substance abuse thrust upon them the night before, some of ours harsher than others, requiring more than one trip to a bathroom. They were on one setting, one mode of existence—survival. It was the price we knew we had to pay; tooling out certainly takes its toll on the body.

And come to find out (much to our surprise), being hungover doesn’t make an 8-hour drive across the state of Kansas any easier either. And while wheat and corn are important staples crops for the American farmer (I mean, what would we do without all of that high-fructose corn syrup?), they get pretty monotonous after the first 100 miles. I wish I could say otherwise, but doing so would be lying.

At least the folks in Kansas have a good sense of humor about things. We got a kick out of the bug-eyed cutouts of Jesus peaking over the corn stalks, a solid reminder that he’s always watching us. There were also signs celebrating the birthplace of former Senators Arlen Specter and Bob Dole, of which I really hope that one was a joke; Bob Dole lost to Bill Clinton in the 1996 presidential election—big whoop! And Arlen Specter’s giant claim to fame was just saying, “Wait a Minute” 20 times in a row at a town hall meeting. What a turkey!

Aside from dull geography that makes up flyover country however, it was actually not a bad drive at all, and to be honest, quite far from it; then again, no drive is bad whenever you have a solid playlist consisting entirely of Modest Mouse, perfect road trip music for reminiscing, each album bringing a new dynamic of thought during our drive across the everlasting prairies of Kansas.

“The Lonesome Crowded West” gave face to the genre of indie music, its sound and associated themes serving as a great critique on the culture of the Pacific Northwest, of which I would go as far to say its definition is quite acute. I think all of us in one point in our lives can relate to the character created from the frightening, yet intriguing and driving beat of “Cowboy Dan,” and I can still hear Thor’s voice and see his lovely long locks in front of the snow covered wheat fields surrounding Grangeville, Idaho whenever “Polar Opposites” plays, as the CD ended up getting stuck in my dad’s Nissan Xterra on the way back from a snowboarding trip to McCall, Idaho, leaving us no choice but to listen to the album 5 times in a row (not exactly the worst thing that could ever happen).

“The Moon and Antarctica” honed in on the unique sound produced in The Lonesome Crowded West by further sharpening their skill set and broadening the scope of their musical capacity, creating a thought provoking album that delved into the topics of life, death, and mental instability while masterfully conjoining them in an eerie sentiment that explored the wonder and mysteries of the universe; all doing so in a way where the music speaks for itself and the lyrics themselves become seamless and brilliant compliments to the sound, creating a touching masterpiece that still leaves me in awe more than a decade after its release.  Soothing and pensive tracks like “3rd Planet” and “Life Like Weeds” easily stand out as ideal road trip songs, bringing much relief and wonderment to any situation, much like my father and I felt as we passed Keechelus Lake on the eastern slope of Snowqualmie Pass during Christmas vacation, 2004. The treacherous route through the Cascade Mountain Range, although quite beautiful, is one dreadful experience that every Northwesterner becomes accustomed to at some point in their life.

Even “Good News for People who Love Bad News,” their appeal to the mainstream had its own identity, which surprisingly became the most meaningful for us growing up as skate rats in the Lewis-Clark Valley. It showed listeners that the band could be original and continue to espouse their creativity and still reach out and relate to the masses, exposing many new faces to their brand of music while at the same time keeping their longtime fans engaged and satisfied with the band’s direction. And all the while, they remained successful at increasing the range of their musical variety, mixing ballads like “The World at Large” and the intense and heavy blasts of hard rock in “Bury me with it” with a unique blend of banjo, horn, and guitar throughout the album. Each song flows smoothly into the next, leaving you with the sensation of leaving the CD in the player after it plays through and returns to the title track, gleefully willing to listen to it again.

And repeat itself it did over and over again, not only in our cars and in our rooms, but also in our hearts every night as we worked on passing out after a long day at the skatepark, of which you could count on somebody blasting it through their crappy car speakers during a typical evening in the Summer of 2004. Listening to it through the cornfields of Kansas that day provoked a plethora of memories from the original (and best) Lewiston Skatepark. Whether it be sticking a frontside flip off the back of the hip and onto the crusty asphalt (or in Bill’s case, a kickflip nose manual across the box), watching an unfortunate soul try to prove himself by boardsliding Big Red (a foolish endeavor all of us suffered through at least once), watching Collin Morlock go full throttle and crash a motorcycle into the wall, or the simple pleasure of sharing a good conversation with a friend (which usually led to a dirty joke or an immature prank), we’ll always be grateful for that little sanctuary shoved off into the sketchiest corner of downtown Lewiston, the ugly duckling of the city, somebody’s cruel joke turned to blessing for us societal outcasts, a place where each of us could escape day after day and release our inner Holden Caulifield.

As the albums progressed, we remembered our friends that had shared the coming of age journey with us; friends, old, present, and some who had departed this world long before it seemed they were supposed to, decisions from a higher power that we may never understand as mortal beings. “We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank” brought about many laughs over our adventures in Moscow and the amount of trouble college kids manage to get away with. I even made Bill tell the story of how Mike barreled through the automatic sliding doors at Winco more than a few times over, the result being a constant chuckle that lasted through two towns. The way he described Mike busting into the doors like a cannonball (the doors apparently didn’t open fast enough for him while his inertia proved to be too powerful for him to overcome) made it impossible not to laugh, for I could perfectly envision the deafening boom that sounded throughout the grocery store, the permanent deformation to the door’s frames, and Jay abruptly turning his head upon impact, quickly separating himself from the rest of the group, utterly embarrassed and disgusted to have any affiliation with the culprits until he made it out of the store unrecognized. When it comes to calling shotgun, some people will do what it takes, no matter the consequence.

Perhaps the best part, every story and every album led some way or another to us ripping on Ben Woodward! It came so natural, and there was so much material to work with! And the jokes we were coming up with were so fresh and original that you would’ve thought you were listening to a Dane Cook and Larry the Cable Guy brainstorming session! This was certainly becoming the best leg of the trip by far, and Ben Woodward was single handedly making this once dreaded Kansas leg go by extremely fast, and before we knew it, 4 hours had already passed!

“Oh man, remember when Ben used to look like an alien?” I asked.

“Haha, he still does look like an alien!”

“I know right!? What was that name we used to call him, Asteroid something or another?”

“Yea, it was… let me remember… oh yea it was—wait, hold on.”

“What is it?”

“A text—oh great… it’s from Gretch.”

“God, what does she want?”

“Let’s see… wait, what!?

“What is it… What is it!?”

“…um, you better read this for yourself…”

I know texting while driving is bad, but this seemed really important. I read each word out loud, nice and slow as to make sure I understood the underlying themes of such an important message. What could it possibly be that is so prudent that Gretch had to interrupt such a thoughtful drive? Let’s see here…

 

“Lol, now that gay marriage is legal in every state, you guys shouldn’t have a problem being accept— WHAT!? ARE YOU KIDDING ME!? ARE YOU FREAKING KIDDING ME!?”

“NO! I’m not kidding you! That’s what she said!”

“NO! THAT’S A BUNCH OF FREAKING BULLCRAP!”

“I know! I KNOW! I’M JUST AS APPALLED AS YOU ARE!”

“That pisses me off. That pisses me RIGHT OFF!”

“Believe me, it pisses me off too!”

“I MEAN, WHO THE HELL DOES SHE THINK SHE IS? THIS ISN’T THE 20TH CENTURY ANYMORE! WHO SAYS CRAP LIKE THAT STILL?”

“NOT ME!”

“Me neither! And I hate to say it, but to be perfectly honest; she’s acting like a grade schooler. A juvenile delinquent!”

She’s acting like Kevin James in the King of Queens!”

“SHE’S ACTING LIKE AN ANIMAL, THAT’S WHAT SHE’S DOING!”

“IT’S NOT FUNNY! IT’S AWFUL!”

IT’S AN EPIDEMIC!”

Our teeth grit, our mouths tightened, and our anger intensified so severely, that the only audible sound that could be forced was the intermittent honking of my horn down I-70, my mind so worked up that the simultaneous act of driving and screaming could not be accomplished together.

“…It’s really just disappointing. Embarrassing really!” Thankfully, Bill broke the cursed silence brought forth by such a blatant display of inconsideration.

“Well, I mean, I would certainly never say anything like that. You just don’t kid around with that stuff anymore!

“Not if you consider yourself a civilized person.”

“She’s gonna get it. I mean, She’s gonna get it… BAD!”

“…You know, I hear they’ll have a blob at the wedding…”

“You mean one of those giant air tubes on the lake that people jump on to launch other people up in the air at summer camp?”

“Exactly. So what we do, we get her to go on the blob. We both sneak up to the top, and when she’s not looking, get this… we both jump down at the same time!”

“Ah dude, she’ll go 50 feet in the air! she’s gonna lose it!”

“I know!”

“It’ll make her poop in her pants!”

“Mid-flight too! It’ll fly right out of her swimsuit! And everyone’s going to see it!”

“And when she rides on the waverunners, I’m going to whip around so fast and make her fly off!”

“And after that, you can go back around to act like you’re picking her up, and but actually splash her with water!”

“Oh, get this. When we get to the hotel and walk up the stairs, I’ll be like ‘Oh gee, I forgot my bag.’ I’ll walk down and trip over your bag and fall down the steps! Then I’ll get up, and you trip over me and fall down the steps. And when Gretch tries to get up the stairs, we both fall and knock over her suitcase, so she can’t get up!”

“That’s gonna drive her bonkers. We have to do it!”

“We’re going to do it!”

“And then, we’ll prank call her from the next room and tell her that she has a $200 of room charges on her credit card.”

“Holy crap, that’s gonna get her going with the vulgarities. Her potty mouth’s bad enough as it is!”

“But first… the moment she steps into this car from the airport, I’m going to yell at her so bad… So bad! She has no idea what she’s done.”

“This is war. This is the big time… This is show business… We’re gonna get her…”

“We’re gonna get her alright, just you wait and see…”

“We’re going to get her… We’re going to get her so good! We’re going to get her…” Bill repeated the incantation over and over as “Everywhere and his Nasty Parlor Tricks” attacked us through the car speakers. The album usually sends off good vibes, reminding us of rolling up to Josh Ulrich’s for a good ol’ fashioned summer pool party at his parent’s house and how he made Little Thorton clean his pool every time whenever “Night on the Sun” plays through. But as soon as Gretch opened her insensitive mouth, a sour mood turned the car dark and cold, and the music churned a production of malevolent thoughts, thoughts of which culminated into one goal…

Payback.

The drive was long and hard from that point on, which was more than disappointing considering we were doing so well making fun of Ben Woodward. But now, nothing could rekindle our passion for ragging on the Asteroid. There was only one that consumed our minds now…

“We’re gonna get her… we’re gonna get her…” continued Bill well into the night, his arms folded, his head shaking, and his body rocking back and forth in his seat; it was the only phrase he could muster. Even the country-fried steak at the local diner couldn’t satisfy his madness.

I kept my cool for as long as I could not to provoke Bill’s fury any further, but eventually, at some point between Junction City and Topeka began my long and drawn out ramble of words. Hateful words, that may not have made sense coming out of my scrambled mind, but nevertheless matched each honk of the horn as each syllable left my mouth.

I—hate—Grecth—I—hate—her—so—much— I—hate—her—so—baaaaaad—She’s—so—stu—pid— she’s—so—duuuuuuuuuumb—I—am—go—ing—to—get—her—She—is—bad—I—hate—or—ga—nic—I—hate—As—ter—oids—I—am—so—mad—I—could—scream—Bill—how—much—far—ther—to—To—Pe—ka—I—hate—Greth—She—will—pay—I—hate—Gretch—I—hate—Gretch—I—hate—Gretch…”

 

“We’re gonna get her… We’re gonna get her…. We’re gonna get her…”

Chapter 2: I call it a Brass Monkey…

“Well look what we have here,” said Bill looking into his phone. “A text from Gretch: ‘Did you book a room in Wisconsin?’”

“Well, I booked a room. She can fend for herself as far as I’m concerned!”

“If that’s the case, then, ‘No… I… did… not…’ Send.”

“Sure took her long enough. And of course that’s the first thing she’s worried about!”

“It’s like whenever we buy liquor and then Ben Woodward gets mad because he can’t drink as much as us!”

“Tell me about it. He looks like a fool! Or what about that time I got Ben Woodward all liquored up and then he got poop in his hair? He blamed me for the whole damn thing, trying to fight and stuff!”

“It’s ridiculous!”

“It’s an epidemic!”

“Hold up, I have a response—oh my God.”

“What did she say?”

“‘Classic.’”

“What is her major malfunction?”

“She’s gonna get it. At this pace, she might as well walk from the airport.”

“I’m not picking her up, not in this car!”

“We’re gonna get her… We’re gonna get her…”

Aside from a few obvious interruptions, the majority of our three and a half hour drive to Pocatello went by with relative ease, a nice and easy warm up for the much more exhaustive legs to come. We continued to rip on Ben Woodward, a topic of which anybody can easily get carried away with, while a few breaks were taken here and there to talk business, plotting against Gretch and her insensitive behavior. Her string of sarcastic comments surely did not settle well with us, nor did nixing us of a proper goodbye. Lucky for her however, her shortcomings were about to be overlooked.

It was around 5:00 when we pulled into Ridley’s grocery store in Pocatello. In front of us laid a sign tied around a lamppost—a precursor to our upcoming good fortune—it had to be. “Bill, do you see this? Rockstars on sale, 84 cents a can!”

IMG_1507

“Yea, but you have to buy 12 of them.”

“Who cares? I’ll buy 24!”

“Did you call Shaun?”

“I’ll call right now!” I dialed his number and the ringtone rang through the car speakers, thanks to Bluetooth technology.

“Hello?”

“Shaun!”

“Zack, what’s up?”

“We made it. We’re in Poci! Come to Ridley’s.”

“On my way! See you soon brother!”

 

***

 

Shaun Walters and I had been acquainted through my high-school years, as he was well known around the Lewis-Clark Valley’s skater scene as the guru on pop-punk music, a subject matter of which I would become moderately educated in as time passed. But it wasn’t until Christmas Vacation of 2002 when our friendship truly blossomed. A freak meeting at the Saturday matinee screening of “The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers,” along with a recent procurement of a Sony Digital-8 HandyCam catapulted our newly formed friendship into uncharted territories (the fact that I owned an Xbox with Halo didn’t hurt either). Thus, many of the succeeding nights were spent deeply entrenched in the world of skateboarding, filming, and playing video games into the wee hours of the morning, a ritual that continued well throughout the duration of Christmas Vacation.

“Hey, check this out,” said Shaun on one of those nights. Austin Moody and I heeded to his call, huddling around my parent’s computer, of which Shaun was at the helm. Through a cheap video editing program, he had made a short edit, a joke in the car followed by the opening of a Sum 41 song with a driving beat. “It’s the start to our video.” My eyes brightened with excitement as the electric guitar rift pressed on. Inspiration rose up inside of me. “The Dark Chronicles” was born.

That two-week stretch of unbridled freedom and Sum 41 was just the beginning of our adventures. For several months, we spearheaded our efforts to perform outrageous stunts and self-masochistic acts both on and off our skateboards, just like our hero’s Johnny Knoxville and Bam Margera. And in our pursuit to make our own, homemade version of “Jackass,” we, along with our loyal group of friends, had developed quite an amount of notoriety around the Lewis-Clark Valley. We were unstoppable… or so we thought.

We became cocky, and in return, became sloppy. Failing to cover our tracks, our cover was blown one afternoon as I found my parents sitting in front of a goldmine, over a year of unfiltered clips showcasing the worst of the worst. One in particular, leaked footage of Shaun peeing on my parent’s bathroom floor was exceptionally damaging. I had no choice but to condemn the actions and sever my ties with Shaun.

In time, I would eventually finish The Dark Chronicles. However, it seemed as though my relationship with Shaun was forever strained, and the whole ordeal of which we called “The Dark Chronicles” forever became a blessing, and a curse.

Years past without much contact from Shaun. Perhaps, each of us was a little too stubborn to admit our faults. But after the unfortunate passing of our friend Brandon, a co-star of The Dark Chronicles, I received a message from a long time friend.

“Hey man, I know we’ve been apart for a long time, but I was watching some old skateboarding clips of Brandon and us, and they were absolutely amazing. Just wanted to let you know I miss you man and would love to see you soon, brother.”

–Shaun.

I responded in kind.

“I watch those videos from time to time myself, and think about those days of skating, drinking Mountain Dew, and listening to Blink 182. Brandon was one of the craziest skaters, and I miss him big time. I don’t know the next time we’ll see each other, but whenever that is, I’d like to buy you a beer.”

 

***

 

It came to no surprise then as we waited for Shaun in the parking lot of Ridley’s Grocery that illusions of grandeur poured into my head, a replay of the glory days. I started to believe I could actually do it all over again, the skateboard tricks, shopping cart rides, Jackass stunts—everything, much like Brett Favre did his last years playing for the Vikings. Yes, maybe… just maybe, for one night, and one night only, we could get it all back…

That dream mended into reality Shaun stepped out of his car, exposing his scraggily face and sporting your typical Blink 182 T-shirt with a pair of Dickies, a style unchanged since he was in high school; a style I wouldn’t have any other way.

“What’s going on brother?” he said as he greeted each of us with a hug.

“Nothing at all, just on our way to Wisconsin. What’s going on tonight?”

“I don’t know! What do you guys wanna do?”

“Drink some beer, play some video games, watch a little YouTube,” I half-jokingly suggested.

“You read my mind!” he exclaimed in mid-turn towards the entrance of Ridley’s, fully expecting us to follow. We did—our minds perfectly in sync and aided by the prospect of 84-cent Rockstars, the best deal for the energy drink I had ever seen in my entire life. Could this day get any better?

“What beer do we want?” asked Bill as we perused long and hard at the selection before us. Although not a terrible selection, it wasn’t exactly up to the specifications I had been accustomed to, having lived only two blocks from a hop shop, making the decision of which beer to purchase much more difficult than anticipated.

“Well, I know what I want,” blurted Shaun quite confidently, strutting his way towards a collection of cheaper beer. Bill and I shook our heads in half-humorous disgust as he grabbed for a 40-ounce bottle of Mickey’s.

“Yea, I think I might pass. I’ll go with an IPA, or maybe something light, like a nice PILS-ner or something,” I said to him. My taste buds deserved something better, but there was no point in causing offense over his choice of beer, especially since he was setting us up with a place to stay for the night. And hell, this was Shaun Walters were talking about! The best punk rocker to come out of the Lewis-Clark Valley! Our long lost friend of several years! The last thing I wanted to do was challenge the man’s brew and bring up unnecessary contention!

“Yea, maybe we’ll probably just go with some Summer Shandy, or maybe this Bud Light with Lime, just for you,” said Bill.

“Oh. Right, you guys haven’t drank with me before,” he said with a slight braggadocios tone.

“Heheh, I know, it’s been a long time since we—“

Wai… whoa, what the Hell did he just say? Drank… with me??? No, he couldn’t have. No way he—my God, he did. The words come out of his mouth quite clearly in fact! ‘You guys haven’t drank with me before—’ Yes, those were the words. Those were his words! How… how dare he!”

Suddenly, I had forgotten where I was. “Why am I here, and who is this punk next to me with a freaking Mickey’s in his hand, and this hunk to my right with a box of bud light lime?”

“You guys haven’t drank with me before… you guys haven’t drank with me before…” It was all I knew, a single phrase that lingered, and its intended interpretation. It was a challenge; it had to be. No way Bill and I spent countless nights in Moscow under the Mentoring of a world-class drinker like Mike Gibson, number one at the University of Idaho, for this. The man even had his own, self-proclaimed tagline, “I Could kill off alcohol poisoning with a 5th of Mr. Boston.”

“You guys haven’t drank with me before…” it wasn’t a challenge; it was an insult.

My vision became obfuscated, all but for one, lonely subject. Its label captivated my attention, the only sure way to end all arguments once and for all. This man, who apparently referred to himself as “Shaun Walters,” had to be proven wrong, and this 40-ounce bottle of 8.7% ABV Steel Reserve “Premium” Malt Beverage was the key—

“What am I thinking?” Reason struck, a miraculous shockwave to keep me from making a drastic mistake. “Shaun’s a really good guy; a loyal and good-willed man, the keeper of Neil Young’s long sought after heart of gold. He didn’t mean anything bad by the comment. Surely it was all a joke, just a silly joke he happened to mention. Bad timing, that’s all! All he wants to do tonight is hang with his buds, no need to ruin it with the dirtiest, bottom of the barrel choice of beer you can get your hands on. I mean, he made The Dark Chronicles with you. The Dark Freaking Chronicles! That means something! You’re better than that. Be a good man. Be a friend. And for God sakes, don’t throw your life away. You have so much to live for—“

“What the hell. Let’s do this,” I replied as I grabbed a bottle of Satan’s piss and walked out of the beer cooler, absent of rational thought. “Bill, grab the Rockstars. We’re going!” No eye contact was given leaving the store.

We drove back to Shaun’s apartment with three 40’s, a six pack of IPA, a case of Bud Light with Lime, a carton of orange juice, and 12 Rockstar energy drinks, all of the ingredients for a perfect storm. Conversation was made was only to eliminate suspicion.

“Ready to start drinking?” he asked back at the apartment with a series of YouTube videos in queue. It was a silly question—a very silly question. The 40’s already in my hand for God sakes! “I bet you guy’s can’t beat me.” God, was he was on a role of pissing me off or what?!

The cap to the Steel Reserve flew across the room, ripped from the lid with tremendous torque and the bottle pressed against my lips, filling my mouth with a grotesque replica of toxic sludge. Each gulp slashed the inner lining of my mouth and attacked each square inch of my esophagus as it made its way into my stomach, the only organ that could foster such a destructive mixture, of which God must have laid down a miracle unto its inventors just to get it passed the FDA.

“Add a little orange juice to it. I call it a Brass Monkey.” I was well aware of the concoction called the Brass Monkey, one of which added orange juice to a 40 after about a third of its contents had been consumed. And frankly, I didn’t need to be reeducated on the matter either, but humored him by doing exactly as he said. I let him know I play ball, and hoped that the mixture of OJ and malt beverage would mask the Steel Reserve’s unfavorable taste.

Its effects were the exact opposite, its taste equally as offensive as its appearance. The mixture only exacerbated the previous destruction inside my body, one that my stomach simply could not handle, obviated the moment my lips once again pressed against the rim of the bottle. But I could not stop, and I would not stop… the Shaun Walters could not win. Not this time. I empty the rest of the contents of the 40-ounce container, that cheap imitation of throw-up into my mouth. Not for a moment did I flinch—not once. Both Bill and Shaun stared with amazement; my insides screaming for relief, barely able to sustain the torture forced upon them while my outside remained stoic. There was no room for weakness.

“What is this, amateur hour?” I replied, the smugness seething under my breath, for I had only begun with the insults. “Oh man, you’re actually reading those stupid Game of Throne books?” I asked, looking over at his bookcase. “A big waste of time if you ask me. Just watch the TV show, like I do. It’s way better!” Shaun’s lower lip tucked under his teeth. I couldn’t begin to imagine what pernicious thoughts were running through his head. “I’m getting another beer. Anybody want an IPA?”

“Uh, I think I’ll go with a Bud Light with Lime,” replied Shaun. I figured that’s what he’d say.

“Oh, I forgot you were a 49er’s fan Shaun. Say, when was the last time you guys beat the shi— I mean, Sea—“ I couldn’t do it. “…Never mind.” I couldn’t bring myself to say something nice about the Seahawks.

No other remarks concerning our beer drinking abilities were uttered the remainder of the night.

Instantly upon my return with a fresh round of beers in hand, the cloud of tension that had overcome the mood of our visit had lifted, as if I had been under an evil spell for the last few hours. We resumed our session of YouTube videos, ranging from the greatest moments of my favorite WWE Wrestling stars to… well, now that I think about it, all I can really remember is watching John Cena over and over again with maybe a little Blink 182 in the mix...

As the night went on, we shared memories and retold funny stories, many of which involved Brandon. And for some reason, every time the words “Ben” and “Woodward” were mentioned in the same sentence, each of our heads suddenly lowered in shame, as if the combination triggered an automatic reaction. The drinking continued with Bill and Shaun forced to play catch-up the rest of the night until the beer supply was nearly depleted and each of us fell into a deep slumber…

 

***

 

I awoke the next morning unaware of the carnage my body had undertaken. It was only from Bill’s recounting that I discovered a great battle had taken place all throughout the night, a battle who’s sounds, scents and fury kept him awake for most of the night. It didn’t take long for me to understand the ferocity of such a battle. Judging by my rush into the bathroom, it was still ongoing.

On the toilet I sat, expelling the demons that haunted my bowels, each one making a harsh, blood-curdling scream as it was thrust out of my body. As it turns out, Brass Monkey’s and intestinal tracts do not make a good pairing. In fact, they make quite the bickering couple, a feud I was sorry to involve Shaun with. The process repeated itself multiple times, but my body’s digestive bastion firmly held its position and sent the enemy and all of its weaponry back to the dirty depths of septic hell where it belonged, leaving permanent marks of devastation along the way. The battle may have been fought and won, but the war continued for many hours and miles afterwards.

“Sorry Shaun, I think I accidently destroyed your toilet,” I said, my outside body language no longer able to mask the somberness of its inside counterpart. I knew that whatever happened, whatever monstrosity that was produced—that prematurely woke him from his slumber was a mistake… a huge mistake.

“Heheh, I heard that final push,” replied Shaun with a smile on his face and a pat on the shoulder. My disruptions had quickly been forgiven, and once again, all seemed to be right within the 7 kingdoms of Westoros.

“Did we get in a fight last night?” I had to ask. A risky question to bring up after a night of drinking, but I had to know. There was a feeling of altercation floating about, something that had happened long ago, but couldn’t quite put a finger on, a distant memory all but forgotten except for an inception, the thought that something could’ve happened—my mind trying to convince itself that something did in fact happen, even if the event never actually occurred…

“Absolutely not,” he shot back. Good enough for me!

We shared a couple of hugs and wished each other luck as we repacked our car, preparing ourselves for our next leg of the journey. “Let’s do this again soon.”

“I agree. Let’s do. And let’s not make it another 10 years from now.”

“Agreed. Take care brother.”

We exchanged another set of hugs before we hopped into our separate cars, his going to work, and mine onward, closer to our final destination. As we drove away that morning, I couldn’t help but think… Shaun Patrick Walters. What a great and honorable man. Any more noble and he’d easily be confused with the name “Stark.”

I’ll see you again Sir Walters of Pocatello… very soon. And next time, I’ll bring the 40’s.

Chapter 1: Out of the Vein, Part 1: The Road to Wisco

Seattle to Boise

The look on Megan Mill’s face matched that of a soldier’s moments before he was to storm the beaches of Normandy. It was the beginning of a dreadful two-week long heat wave across the Pacific Northwest with scorching temperatures that would result in a large number of forest fires and grumpy residents all across the region. Hoopfest just so happened to land on the onset of those treacherous two weeks, with Megan Mills being one of the many unlucky souls who had volunteered to suffer.

“110 degrees, are you kidding me?” said Megan Mills, not at all enthused at the extended weather report displayed on her phone.

“…Man, that really sucks Megan Mills.” It was pretty much the only response Bill and I could give for what the participants of the annual 3 on 3 basketball tournament in Spokane, Washington were doomed to endure. The once energetic outing that brought about the most competitive of stars to test their skills on the court each year was now a ticking time bomb of gloom, a definite death sentence for all of its attendees.

“People like, die in this kind of weather! We won’t even be able to sit down on the pavement it’ll be so hot! And you know they never provide enough shade, and what about water? They better have water… God, we have to play at least three games. This is going to suck… big time…” Yes, the further Megan Mill’s talked of this year’s Hoopfest and the thought of her buns being given a permanent branding whenever she was to sit down on the sweltering pavement, the further her face filled with despair; preparing the eulogy to her own funeral.

It was an expression that was in stark contrast to the one’s on my and Bill’s face, for the heat wave she talked of was one that would not be felt by either of us. The trunk of my Mercedes-Benz E350 was nearly packed, ready to embark on an adventure, away from this retched two-week hot spell of which they spoke of, and that we were conveniently avoiding.

 

***

 

“So where are we going to stay?” asked Bill the night before as we shared a beer at a local bar in downtown Boise, a fancier joint that had a nice collection of microbrews, one that we were slightly underdressed for.

“Um, well, I guess I hadn’t really thought of that… Maybe we’ll just wing it or something.”

“Hmm. Sounds like we probably should’ve planned this a little better.”

“Ahh, we’ll figure it out. We got friends all over the place. Denver, Minnesota, Wisconsin—hey, doesn’t Shaun live in Pocatello?

“Yea, maybe we should call him up.”

“Ok, I think I will.”

At that point, how we would get there, what sights we would see, which locals we would meet, what stories we would excavate from their heads, and all the other important matters obviously weren’t given the appropriate amount of thought as it probably should have. “Oh well, too late now!” I thought to myself. Any worry of the matter would be useless. We had a little over a week to make it to Wisconsin to watch our friends Beth and Blake unite under the banner of holy matrimony (i.e. get married, get hitched, jump the broom, whatever…), and despite our lack of planning, we were excited, and we were almost ready, and all there was between us was 2,500 miles of country.

 

***

 

The extrovert inside of me was in full display that morning as Bill and I prepared for our departure with a few last minute to-do items left on our non-existent checklist, delaying Megan Mill’s of a departure of her own with our non-stop chatter, whose only supposed purpose was to further fuel her anxiety. “Hey Megan Mills, what do you think of Donald Trump? He might be the president someday? Oh boy, he sure does speak his mind! Are you mad? What about Bruce Jenner—“

“That’s Caitlin Jenner!”

“…Right, so sorry. He just got a—“

“SHE!”

“…Yes, oh boy, my mistake. She just got a major award. That’s going to turn the sport world upside down! And what time are you heading out to Spokane? You probably want a head start—you know, now that I think about it, I wish you would’ve told me! You could’ve stayed at my parent’s place, free of rent… oh, you’re staying at KCR’s in Kellogg? Geez, that’s like an hour away! Oh well, I guess it could be worse, but I bet Gretch will be complaining the whole time…”

Unbeknownst to me, an important meeting was awaiting Megan Mills at work, and it was her own politeness towards her guest that was the cause for her late exodus, one that risked an unfavorable chance of getting fired, or at least harsh chastisement from her superiors, a scenario equally as bad. Her tension was in full display each time she reached for the door, unwilling to show offense with a blunt statement in order to end the conversation. I, however, was blinded by an excitement steadily built up during my 7-hour drive from Seattle the day before, where a wonderful night’s sleep on her couch did nothing to curb the sensation. It was way beyond anyone’s control at this point. “By the way, where’s Gretch? Shouldn’t she be here to wish us goodbye?”

“I don’t know. Ask Bill, she’s his sister.”

“She’s your best friend Megan Mills!” he shot back.

“I can’t believe this!” I said, throwing up my hands in disbelief. “I drive all the way to Boise, and she can’t even stop by and say hi… a bunch of bull crap if you ask me.

“Tell me about it,” replied Bill. “And get this. She expects us to pick her up at the airport. Fat chance!”

“I agree!” It was quite apparent that morning that Megan Mill’s gracious spirit would not be properly recreated by a certain Boise resident, of whom I was more than willing to meet and share a few polite words with, up until now. I mean, c’mon! All we asked for was a simple goodbye from a friend, and in some regards, a relative; one goodbye that would bring luck to a couple of hunks who were about to travel thousands of miles across the country… luck that was expected, but never received. It was official. Gretch had stood us up. “Whatever. That just pisses me off. Where’s my freaking Rockstar?

“Where was the last place you left it?” asked Bill.

“I don’t know! Obviously I would’ve checked there if I knew!”

“I saw one sitting on the counter. I put it in the fridge a couple of minutes ago,” said Taylor, Megan Mills’ boyfriend.

“…Oh, thanks dude… Say Taylor, you’re from Wyoming, aren’t you?”

“Yes, I am. You guys planning to cruise through there?”

“…YEA—duh, I mean no—well, the thought crossed our minds,” replied Bill.

“Yea, it’d probably be cool to see the Gran Tetons or something, if that’s even cool to do nowadays.”

Gretch’s actions, or lack there of, would no doubt prove to be detrimental given the amount of festering that was to be done while driving through flyover country. However, her inconsideration was set-aside for the moment, as picking Taylor’s brain became our principal priority. Besides, we would have plenty of time to plot our revenge on the road.

“Yea, the Tetons are cool, but damn, Jackson Hole is crawling around with waaay too many tourists this time of year. It kind of sucks dealing with them all. It’s like none of them have ever seen a wild animal in their entire life. ‘Oh my God, it’s a moose,’ somebody will say, and everybody looses their damn minds!” I took in Taylor’s advice with great deference while Bill gathered a variety of Cliff bars that Megan Mills had kindly bought for us, knowing we were in for some long stretches. “Just don’t draw attention to the fact that you’re a tourist and you should be fine. All you gotta do is treat the locals coolly and calmly, and they’ll give with the same respect.”

“Understood,” I replied, with a heavy and sincere nod. “Yea, those types of people can be pretty ridiculous,” reaffirming his annoyance and scoffing in mockery of the stereotype. “Not me though.”

In time, the unfortunate working souls found their window of escape after I sporadically decided to burn a few calories around the block before our departure, presuming it would be difficult to continue with my normal exercise regiment during vacation, no matter how hard I tried. By the time I had returned and cleansed my body of the thick membrane of sweat developed during my run, it was only Bill, their two cats and I left.

With Taylor and Megan Mill’s gone, and Gretch—well, Gretch was pretty much dead to us at that point—there was nothing left for us to do. Our bags were packed, our teeth were brushed, deodorant applied, and after several months of anticipation, it was time. “You ready,” I asked Bill, having climbed into the Benz, waiting for his answer before turning the ignition.

“Did you ever get a hold of Shaun?”

“I did. Looks like we’re staying in Pocatello tonight.”

“Poci huh? I’ve heard… things…” Bill looked forward and took a deep and anxious breath. “I’m ready.”

I cracked open my ice-cold Rockstar Energy drink and took a long swig, letting the wonderfully processed chemicals assimilate into my bloodstream, something I would come to depend on throughout the duration of our trip. The engine turned and I pulled my Gucci sunglasses over my eyes. “Let’s do this. Say goodbye to Boise.”

“…Goodbye Boise…” Bill’s goodbye was soft and sentimental, as if it were his parent’s on his first summer at camp. His stare was blank as we pulled out of Megan Mills’ driveway, on our way towards Interstate I-94.

It’s hard to accurately describe the feeling one gets at the beginning of an adventure in a single word or phrase. It’s like a turning point, or a crossroads where a false known awaits you. There’s an intriguing element around the corner, yet a slight sorrow that exists over what you’re leaving behind, and what you’ll eventually come back to. And whatever sorrow you’re feeling is partly overcome by a sense of accomplishment, taking part in something not many have ever attempted before you, something proudly displayed like a medal of honor. It leaves you in a state of ponder, encouraging you to begin your search, to try and understand the mysteries of life.

And we had more than plenty of road to ponder, search and understand in front of us…

The Who’s “Baba O’Riley,” played through the speakers, a personal tradition of mine to mark the beginning of a journey as official, and into the east we drove with the ongoing keyboard loop to one of the greatest rock songs ever made, pushing us towards several more hours of daylight. It was now officially official. Our adventure had begun.

“Oh, by the way, do you mind if we stop at Carl’s Jr. before we go?”

Jay

 There are very few moments in my life where I have been literally left at a loss of words.  No matter how much I try to think and decipher some explanation of why things happen the way they do, nothing comes out.  Two weeks ago, during what seemed to be just an ordinary Saturday spent at the bar with a couple friends, that feeling snuck up and smacked me like a 2×4 to the face.  It was on that that first day in March, when we learned that our great friend, a friend who we considered our brother, Jordan Webber, was taken from us.

 

I sat for hours trying to put words onto paper, but all I could do was look at a blank screen.  I just couldn’t find any sort of clarity in this situation.  I even ran 9 miles in the pouring rain in an attempt to clear my mind, but no matter what or how hard I tried, nothing seemed to work.  I was in utter shock and disbelief that he was gone, just like that.

 

How was I supposed to find some understanding in all of this?  It was supposed to be another typical Saturday night, where I had just finished working on a silly blog post about my screenplay I had finally completed, and was on my way to celebrate my friend’s birthday.  Even coming home from work that afternoon, a thought passed through my mind.  “What if I just got smacked by a car and that was it for me?”  It was a thought I quickly dismissed as highly improbable.  Jay passing away however, that was one of the furthest things from my mind.

 

That next week was a bit of a struggle for me, as I’m sure was the case for many others, especially as I tried to find the correct words to write so I could properly pay tribute to our fallen comrade.  The meaning of life was on my mind constantly, what Jay’s life meant to us, and what I was meant to do with mine, let alone trying to wrap my head around the fact that I would never be able to see him ever again.  The following weekend however, after spending a week in Boise with some close friends of his, it started to become apparent what his time on this Earth represented, and what I would write.

 

It was the summer of 2002 when I had my first encounter with Jay.  We were part of a church group on our way to Whitefish, Montana to help a local Presbyterian Church lead a vacation bible school program, one of which my pastor had pressured me into volunteering.  I was pretty sore about the whole thing, for Pastor Tom was very adamant about me coming along, giving me the impression that I would be going to hell if I didn’t.  Therefore, I reluctantly agreed and prepared myself for a week of pure torture and agony.

 

It was about an hour into the trip, and I was just sitting by myself near the front of the 16-passenger Congo-Pres church van minding my own business, probably listening to one of my many burned mix CD’s.  I was thinking about the usual mid-day pit stop in Kellogg, Idaho, looking forward to the moment when I could indulge myself in the ecstasy of devouring a Quarter Pounder with Cheese when I heard the sound of chuckling coming from the back.  I turned around to find out what the commotion was; a group of young teenagers by the names of Collin, Nate, Nick and Tay were fixated on this 14-year-old kid with wavy blond hair.  They huddled around, totally drawn into a story being told with expert precision, which included a signature brush of the hair and explosive hand motions.  This kid was a natural, knowing the correct times to pause, when to emphasize, and how to use simple body gestures to propel the story into new and exciting directions.  I resisted at first, but it didn’t take me long until I became intrigued as well.

 

“My dad took a puff of the Cuban and handed it right over to me, ‘POOF’ (he was never shy about using sound effects, a common Jay storytelling trademark) and said ‘This is disgusting, here you go Jordan.’”

 

“Who the hell is this kid?” I thought to myself.  “Is he really talking about smoking a cigar on a church trip, while Pastor Tom is driving, sitting next to his kids?  Let alone a Cuban!”  I could just see Pastor Tom stopping each of us individually later into the trip to have that uncomfortable conversation; the one where they have to tell you they’re concerned about you spending time with your friend that’s a trouble maker and what you’re supposed to do if they start acting up (the correct answer was always tattle), such as throwing around some swears or dabbling in some hard drugs.  In fact, I was dreading it horribly, for it was the same type of lecture I’d get from my mother whenever I’d spend the night at Austin Moody’s house.  What can I say?  I get a little anxious about confrontational situations.  I really do.

 

I nervously looked back to see if I could get a glance at Pastor Tom’s demeanor through my peripherals.  I slowly positioned my head where I could look at him without it looking like I was looking at him, if that makes sense.  Looking through the rearview mirror of the car, I saw a slightly tilted profile view of Pastor Tom chuckling in his seat with a huge smile on his face.  I was in total disbelief!  I could never get away with anything like that, and even if I did, my parents would find out somehow or another, resulting in one of those “I’m not mad, I’m just disappointed,” types of talks.  I quickly dismissed the thought as he continued with the story, for within a minute, he had the whole van gut-rolling as he went forth into a wild tangent.

 

The Cuban Cigar incident was only the tip of the iceberg, for that trip was filled with many more episodes that included rockin’ out to Styx with Pastor Tom, exploring Glacier National Park and seeing a grizzly bear (Which Pastor Tom was so excited about, he based his next sermon off of), and this stupid Organ with a pre-recorded track that him, Tay and Nate Jasper kept turning on full blast when the rest of us were trying to take a nap.  I remember four times in a row, I was on the verge of taking that plunge into a perfect sleep, when a “BUM, BA DA DUM DUM” would ring through the room over and over again followed by a bunch of giggling and thumps from the three of them running away.  God that pissed me off.

 

Sometime near the end of that trip however, Jay turned to us all and said, “You know, I wouldn’t mind staying another week.”  I believe he said it during an excursion through town, sometime between the incident where we tricked Tay into using the bathroom of this local bar to confirm a rumor that it was plastered with pictures of naked girls (it was) and going into a store where we bought fireworks from this girl with hairy pits, nearly making Jay throw up in his mouth.  No matter the time he said it though, the important thing is that we unanimously agreed.  That Whitefish trip actually turned about to be one of the best trips I’d ever gone on, despite my initial doubts, and little did I know that a measly story about a kid smoking a Cuban with his pops would spark a friendship with one of the most fun and good-natured people I’d ever meet, and in turn spur more tales equally as epic as the ones we had just created in Whitefish.  I lost count of how many times Whitefish got brought up during a conversation over a drink at the bar, on a drive from Lewiston to Moscow, or while we were hanging out at his apartment.  Maybe Pastor Tom had this grand plan set in motion all along for me to meet and befriend Jay?  He always had the tendency of plottin’ and schemin’ on the low like that.

 

A few years later he started to attend the University of Idaho, where it didn’t take long for Jay’s presence to be known throughout the campus.  Between the years of 2006 and 2011, you were bound to have an encounter with Jay, whether it was between class, at his job at the Kibbie Dome, at the bar, or a house party, for better or worse.  It was here where his personality fully blossomed, and when the weekend arrived, we would gather around with delight whenever he’d walk through the door.  After joining in a boisterous song and dance to get pumped up for the night (usually to classic groups such as “Men at Work),” innocent bystanders were warned by our waning voices traveling about the town, your night would not be dull.

 

I always got a kick out of how many people he could convince that he was a heroin addict after he showed them a punctured skin mark on his arm from a recent trip to the blood donation center.  “I just shot up a few hours ago, stuck the needle right in my arm, ‘POOF,’ Pulp Fiction style!”  A wide-eyed look mixed with a wringing sensation of fear was the typical natural response.

 

There was even a string of months where he started rocking a necklace with a cross and convinced a quarter of the student population that he was a member of the Irish Republican Army.  “I just set up a couple of car bombs next to the SUB,” which was followed by a few laughs from the poor souls he was telling.  “I’m not laughin’,” he would then say with a straight face.  That got them shuttin’ up real quick.  I think he told that story so much that he eventually convinced himself that he actually was a member, but it could’ve been that he simply enjoyed the combination of Guinness, Irish Whiskey and Bailey’s instead.

 

And then there was the infamous Cinco, Bill, Tay and Jay’s apartment located on Taylor Street next to a big field that separated the street from U of I’s Greek Row.  How do you describe a place like Cinco, and how do you serve its justice for the people who lived there and helped create the legendary establishment?  The answer is, you can’t, but I’m going to try anyway.

 

Every weekend, we would all converge to that vortex of calamity where Jay would invite us into his home.  There we would plan our strategy to attack the town, usually with the help of our two favorite weapons, Keystone Light and Montego Bay at our arsenal.  It seemed like it was at least twice a month we would find some new way to piss off his downstairs neighbor, the one who apparently “ran” the city of Moscow while living in his piece of crap apartment.  If something broke, Jay would run over and break it some more, leaving the culprit at ease of his crime.  If someone was too loud, Jay would become louder so they wouldn’t get the blame.  And one way or another, after we blanketed the citizenry of Moscow with shear terror, we always found ourselves back where we started.  Cinco.

 

And they never complained once about me passing out on the couch after a night on the town, which I took advantage of many a time.  Once on a cold and dreary day in October after everyone had retired to their chambers from a typical Saturday night, Jimmy Dawson and I were left in the living room between a couch, a TV, and a newly acquired Xbox 360.  “Let’s play a couple rounds of Halo before we hit the hay,” I suggested, in which he foolishly agreed.  A few rounds turned into a few more and a few more, at least I think.  I mean, it was a bit of a blur after we started playing.  What I do remember however, was at some point during the night, Jay came out of his room to grab some water and bumped the trashcan over, sending its contents scattered across the floor.  He ignored it and went back inside his room, but not before tipping over a mini-fridge in the process.  Now that I think about it, he may have pushed it over, or even thrown it, I can’t quite recall exactly, but the important thing is, it ended up on the ground.  By the end of that night, the floor was totally covered in clothes, trash, beer cans, and bits and pieces of leftover food; and when I say covered, I mean every square inch of carpet.  That floor could not be seen with the naked eye.  Only a few seconds was awarded from us to observe the wreckage.

 

Suddenly, a jolt of energy rushed through Jimmy’s nervous system.  He jumped out of his seat, for a pivotal revelation had just struck him.  “Dude, it’s 6 in the morning, we better stop playing and go to bed!”  Man that kid can be a buzz kill sometimes, but I guess he had a point.  We started to shut it down, and then it hit me.

 

“Wait… it’s daylight savings time.  We still have another hour to play!”

 

4 hours later, Bill came out of his bedroom, totally petrified at the madness that was laid out before him.  “Oh.  My.  God…” were the only words that he could muster as he stared at two zombies, skin pale as a vampire’s with bloodshot eyes looking back at him in an apartment that mimicked a war zone.  He slowly retreated back into his room.  No sudden movements.  That was the last time we saw Bill that weekend.

 

And that was just one meager sliver of the stories that came out of that place.  There are literally thousands of other stories that are on the same level or above, such as the time where Kim Hoppe was locked in the bathroom, sick and scared out of her mind, until Jay and Jess Sanden busted down the door into a thousand pieces just to save her.  Or when Collin Morlock accidently pushed a chair over the balcony and onto his downstairs neighbor’s car, the same one who “ran” the city of Moscow.  I don’t know how Jay talked himself out of that one.  Ask any one of us that were around during that period of time, and each of us would have our own unique story that would equal the one told by our peers.  That place will always have a soft spot deep in our hearts, no matter how disgusting it became.  I hope that sinkhole in the middle of the living room will remain for generations, as a monument for Cinco’s existence.

 

The day after a hard night of partying on the town, when our minds were clear from the toxins we had consumed and our stomachs (somewhat) settled, Jay and I somehow always found ourselves at Wheatberries, the local Moscow bakery trying to piece together what exactly happened the night before, the trouble we narrowly averted, and which person Mike threatened to beat the crap out of.  After a while, it seemed as if walking to Wheatberries and discussing the events of the night prior (or at least the parts we remembered) became our unofficial weekend tradition.

 

And whenever I think about Jay, the very first thought that pops in my head is sharing a Panini at brunch while conversing over a range of topics, sometimes getting rather deep with our knowledge and thoughts on life.  It’s funny how I look back and realize a favorite memory of somebody doesn’t have to be an outrageous stunt they pulled, but rather a simple and unscripted moment of companionship that brought a little contentment into our lives.  It was during those times when our friendship really developed and we got to know each other on a personal level, and I found out first hand how down to Earth, witty, and honest Jay really was, and how lucky I was to call him my friend.

 

There was even one time where Brian Gill and I joined him for brunch at Casa de Lopez, the popular Moscow Mexican joint smack dab in the middle of Main Street.  The waitress came out, took one look at us, and immediately turned back inside.  A minute later, she showed up with three full 64-ounce pitchers in her hands for each of us.  No words needed to be said.  It was that kind of night.

 

If one of us were in trouble, or had screwed the pooch big time, Jay would be one of the first one’s there to take care of us, whether we were in the right or wrong.  If a friend went to jail, he’d be waiting there, money in hand to bail them out (That actually happened once, not to me, but no need to get into details at this time).  If there were signs of hooliganism that could potentially lead to a hefty citation, he’d show up the next day ready to cover up the evidence.  There was never any hesitation inside of him when the opportunity came about to help a friend.  Once, during a classic Northwest snowstorm, he climbed halfway out of the car window and spent almost an hour brushing off the oncoming snow from the windshield so Mike Gibson could have a few more angles of visibility while driving across Snowqualmie pass; and all so they could meet me for a Seahawks game the next day (Mike Holmgren’s last home game to be exact).  It was just after 2 AM when they finally reached my house, when nearly 2 feet of snow had been dumped on the city of Seattle.  They were the second to last car to make it across the pass that night before the Washington Department of Transportation shut it down.

 

This last summer, what seemed to be out of nowhere, a thought popped into my head.  “Hey, I need to go visit Mike and Jay in Boise for the 4th of July.”  I may never know exactly what supernatural powers were at work that compelled me to go, but it had been ages since I’d seen them, and it would be my first time ever visiting Boise after 20 years of living just west of the Idaho border.  Now that I look back, I’m so glad that I was able to make that trip, even if I didn’t fully appreciate or understand it at the time.  I mean, being reacquainted with that signature 110-degree Idaho summer heat wasn’t exactly the best first impression of Boise (and to think I missed that about Idaho?).  Sleeping out in Mike and Jay’s shed that evening turned out not to be a very good idea either.  They both felt pretty bad the next morning when I left the hotbox looking as if I had just taken a dip in the lake.  Jay immediately sacrificed his bed for the rest of my stay so that I could sleep in comfort and wouldn’t let me change his mind otherwise, no matter how much I protested.

 

A couple of days later, the 4th of July had arrived, and the night before, in our typical fashion, Mike and I had stayed up a little too late, reuniting with old friends, meeting some new ones, and sharing stories of the past, Jay’s antics being the main theme for most of them.  And during that time, we might have had a couple of drinks, but whatever.  I woke up that day a little dazed, but ready to do my patriotic duty and celebrate our nation’s birthday.  Mike on the other hand was a different story.  He was totally passed out, with little hope of ever regaining consciousness.

 

Now anybody who knows Mike understands how much he likes to take advantage of his sleep, but it was now 4 in the afternoon, and Mike was still sound asleep, with no sign of waking up, not even for the end of the world!  Now me, I don’t like to disturb somebody while they’re deep in a slumber, let alone barge into their room when the door’s closed.  But this was the 4th of July of Christ Sakes, and there was over $150 of primetime fireworks bundled up in that room!  Something had to be done.  I was not going to let a bunch of illegal fireworks along with my favorite holiday go to waste.

 

Jay first scouted out the situation, providing me a thorough brief of the fireworks’ location inside the fortress that was Mike’s room.  It was up to me now to complete the rest of the mission without disturbing Mike of his much needed rest.  I cracked the door open to scope out the area myself.  All that was visible was Mike sprawled out on top of the bed in nothing but his underpants.  I barely lasted a second before I shut the door and retreated to my post.

 

“Jay, I’m scared, I don’t want to do this,” I pleaded with him.  “What if I wake him up?  He’s gonna kill me!”

 

“Those are your fireworks, man.  Go get em’,” he said back.  He had a point.  This was my task, and mine alone to see through.  I needed to man up, walk in that room, claim what was rightfully mine, and then simply walk out.  Easy.

 

Attempt number two:  I opened the door and took a step.  I tried to ignore Mike and shoot straight for the fireworks…  I turned my head.  I couldn’t take my eyes off him…  I froze.  Visions of Mike ripping me apart clouded my head.  Waking up with a cold dead stare straight through my trembling skull, fuming with a raging fury right before the kill.  I panicked, and fled the scene, yet again.

 

“I can’t do it Jay, I just can’t do it!  The fireworks are gone.  Forever!”

 

“Don’t be such a sissy!” he shot back.  “Walk in there, get your damn fireworks, and walk right out.  That’s all you need to do.”  This was my final shot, or it was so long 4th of July.  So I regained my composure, took a deep breath and creaked the door open, stepping back inside enemy territory to reclaim my prize.

 

I tiptoed through his room, careful not to make a single noise.  My heart raced, beating faster than a cheetah, every slight rustle intensifying the state of terror, but I pressed forward.  My eyes were locked into the target.  Nothing could stop me now.

 

After an agonizing minute of sneaking around, I had finally reached the fireworks.  Grab them too quick, and you run the risk of making too much noise.  Too slow, and your hands start to get sweaty, causing the bag to fall from your hand, making even more noise.  I had to wait for the opportune moment to make my move.  Another sound of rustling echoed through the room.  This was it; now or never.

 

I snatched the stash from his floor.  Due to the sheer number of fireworks in my possession, carrying them out with precision turned out to be quite difficult, especially when you’re trying to avoid waking a sleeping giant.  But nevertheless, I already began my task.  No turning back now.

 

I was half way out of the room, my palms becoming more and more clammy with each step I took, but still doing everything I could to retreat from the room with ease.  A bag started to slip from my hand.  I repositioned my grip, but not before a bag smacked against the bed frame.  Violent shifting came from the bed, and I held my breath not to make another sound.  Pressure was building throughout my body, my face turning beat red.  I was almost out of there, but I couldn’t quite hold it in.  It was too intense.  I had to release…  I…  I…

 

I snickered.

 

“WHAT THE $@&#!!!!”  That scream bellowed through the house as I booked it out of there like a bat out of Hell.  I bolted passed Jay and Meredith.  Mike followed closely in hot pursuit in nothing but his undies.  This was a life and death situation, or at least I was in danger of a severe ass beating.

 

I reached the front door, fireworks in hand before dropping into the fetal position while giggling my brains out, somehow finding humor in the fact that I was going to get the crap kicked out of me.  I assumed the position to receive the pounding, for it didn’t much matter to me at this point.  He cocked back for a massive blow, the first of many of its kind.  But then he took a good look at me, sitting there, completely helpless and innocent looking.  A sudden wave of compassion miraculously struck through his enraged body.  There was no way he could knock my lights out, at least not here, not now.  He came down with his right with maximum velocity, but stopped short of my shoulder.  He gave me a love tap and shook his head, with a little bit of a chuckle afterwards.  I’ll remember that day for years to come, and praise God for sparing me of a brutal clobbering.

 

I left Mike and Jay that summer thankful for the time I got to spend with them, but also with the knowledge that it may be a long time before we ever get to see each other again.  As we grow older, we often have to leave our comfort zones and embark on our own journeys.  For many of us, that meant leaving Moscow, away from our friends and family to live our lives as we were called upon, breaking away from the flock that had steered us for so many years.  But a few months after the firework incident on a pleasantly cool mid-November evening in the Lewis-Clark valley, after what may have been years since some of us left that stretch of land in Idaho commonly known as the panhandle, we all reunited under one roof to celebrate the marriage of our friends Jill and Brian Gill.  And celebrate we did.  We laughed and danced (quite foolishly at times) the night away as we congratulated Jill and Brian on their newly formed union.  Although it had been years since some of us had seen each other, it seemed like it had only been yesterday since we were in each other’s presence.

 

That night really sticks out to me, especially after having one of my many conversations with Mike after Jay’s passing.  He mentioned how Jay was much more than a friend to us, that he was our brother, who we had laughed, fought, cried, celebrated, and grew close with throughout our lives and especially our careers as college students.  At a time where we struggle to find our independence, identity, and grasp of adulthood, having people like Jay in our lives proved to be essential in making it out in one piece.  That’s what made that night so special, and that group of people gathered together so remarkable.  Over the last six years, we had grown up together, had experienced so much and shared so many different emotions, that we were more than just a group of friends who knew how to have a good time.  We were a family.  One of which was so unique and unbelievably amazing, that no matter how far and wide you traveled, it would be impossible to find a group of people that could replicate, or even come close to what we had in that small town of Idaho, where I consider it both a blessing and a miracle that we all happened to converge on that part of the world during that short window of time; a window of time that I would never trade anything in the world, a sentiment that all of us would not hesitate to share.

 

Jay was central to that, and without him, I don’t think we would have had the same experience and built the same relationships as we did during those years in Moscow.  Jill and Brian’s wedding was the last time most of us got to see him, but perhaps the first that we saw him as a mature adult, grown into a man with purpose and resolve.  In a way, that evening summarized the last six years we spent together, the end of an era, one that Jay was instrumental in creating, and one that I will forever be grateful that I could be a part of.

 

I think it had to be the weekend after his death, with many of his close friends together paying our respects, when I really started to realize what Jay’s life meant to us.  For hours, we gathered around his kitchen and shared are favorite stories of Jay, each one just as funny and outrageous as the last.  We couldn’t stop.  Throughout that whole weekend, Jay stories kept popping up, and even as emotional as that weekend was, Jay was still making us laugh, as if his spirit was still present and working through each of us to bring us comfort in a time of suffering.

 

And for the very first time, it became abundantly clear to me how one person’s simple presence can be such a tremendous influence on one’s life.  Whether we were out and about on a Friday, or sitting down having a heart to heart, Jay’s presence always brought us joy, and the fact that we could share so many heartfelt memories of him and not even scratch the surface of what is the massive mountain of Jay stories alone brings testament of how incredibly special that man really was.  Not only to us as a whole, but to each of us individually.  He loved all of us like we were his brother, and touched us all in his own distinct way.  Ways that we could never forget and will positively impact us for as long as we live.

 

And if we stop and think every now and then, we realize that we all have people like Jay in our lives.  People whose presence makes life worth living.  It could be a family member, a significant other, kids, a spiritual leader, or a great friend; just them being in our lives motivates us to get up and make an impact on the world.  Even the amazing people I have met during my life that I rarely get to see, or may never see ever again, the fact that they exist, fighting the good fight for what they believe brings me inspiration.  Those are the type of people that mean the world to us, and make it a livable place.  With each word I write, every important choice I make, I will think of think of them and whether they would be proud, whether they would be honored, and whether it would bring me a step closer to being the great person Jay was, so maybe someday I can make a difference in people’s lives the same way he made that difference in ours.

 

It’s times like these, as we mourn for the loss of one of our brothers, we need to be surrounded by those types of people, and become that type of person when the duty calls.  We feel hopeless during these occasions when tragedy strikes us, especially when it creeps up on us so unfairly.  And most of the time, I, as I’m sure is the case with many of us, don’t ever have the words to explain.  We have trouble finding the right thing to say that will bring consolation to such a dire situation, or haven’t the slightest idea of how to respond to grief.  But by merely being that loving presence in each other’s lives sends a stronger message than any combination of words could ever deliver.

 

The simplest of actions, a hug, visit, or just being present so a close friend can look you in the eye can make a world of difference.  It gives them a mutual understanding that you’re in this together.  That you will struggle, cry on each other’s shoulders, and grieve as you try to find the answers of why things are the way they are.  But in the end, for as long as it takes, you will be by their side, through the good times and the bad, to pick them up when they’re down, to stand by them when it seems the whole world is against them, to be that special presence in their life that makes life worth living.  To be the type of person that Jay was to us.

 

For a long time, I will struggle with the reasons why Jay was taken from us at such an early age.  I may never know that reason, but I will be always grateful for having the privilege of calling Jay my friend, for the type of person he was, the lessons we learned together, and the wonderful memories he has engrained in our minds.  Memories that bring warmth to our hearts, such as the times he would yell “GO HOME, GO TO BED,” to the intoxicated hooligans causing a ruckus around the U of I campus, or having a deep conversation while listening to a good jam in the car, ranging from critically acclaimed artists like the Notorious B.I.G., the Yeah Yeah Yeah’s, or Weezer’s “My Name is Jonas” (A song we practiced extensively and mastered on guitar hero), so that whenever I think of him, I begin to laugh instead of cry.  His presence in this world and the mark he left on it will forever be remembered and celebrated, especially through the hearts of his friends.  His spirit will survive through each one of us, and we will do our best to keep that spirit alive, to bring his excitement and joy to all the new faces we will encounter in our lifetime.  The way Jay would want us to.

 

It breaks my heart that we have to say goodbye, but I have this strong feeling that this is not the end, that there will be a day that you will greet me once more with a giant hug and a celebratory shot, the same exact way you did whenever I’d step through the door at Cinco after a long and arduous week of anticipation.  We may have to wait a little longer this time, but when that time comes, we will party harder than we ever could have imagined during our prime in Moscow…  We’ll throw the ultimate Boy’s Club Prom.

 

Until we are reunited once again, may your soul be at peace, and may you watch over us until the time has come where we are together once again.

 

I will see you again, Jordan.  Our friend.  Our brother.

 

But not yet…

 

Image

Jay + Friends.  One of my favorite pictures with him.

 

President’s Day is Coming…

It was nearly a year ago to this day when it all happened.  Sometimes, I wish I could forget, but turning a blind eye would be a treasonous stab in the back for the good of humanity.  It was my duty to remember and protect, for aside from my desires, an event like that leaves a permanent scar in one’s mind, to the extent where every aspect of that infamous battle can be recalled so clearly, so vividly, as if it were only yesterday.

 

I’m not proud of many of the choices that were forced upon me during that weekend excursion to the winter wonderland village located in the Northern Idaho wilderness, but choices were made to defend the honor of my family name, to send a message…  That we won’t be pushed around, that we will stand and defend what is rightfully ours.  No matter the cost.

 

It began with myself and sir Coby of Sammamish crossing the treacherous Cascade Mountain Range, a route of which many had fallen before us.  As for experienced riders in our native land however, the advanced trek was completed with relative ease.  All the while, our warrior cry, a compilation of songs in the form of the Pink Floyd album “Animals,” echoed through the passing townships.   We made our presence known to it’s dwellers loud and clear; that we mean no harm, and bring nothing but respect to their people, but any unnecessary inconvenience may result in calamitous consequence.

 

That night I reunited with my clan in the Dischman Micca Territories, just outside the borders of the Spokane Valley.  They are proud decedents of the Scotts and Germans, and it had been more than a month since our last meeting, a month that seemed to last for ages.  Although the reunion was joyful, it was short lived.  Our journey was far from over, for we would soon venture north, close to the borders of the great wall that separates us from our Canadian brethren.  A mountain village they call Schweitzer, located in the heart of the Bitterroot Mountain range.

 

Upon our arrival, we expected a modest cabin that would provide the basic necessities of shelter.  I stepped out of our vehicle, jaw dropped, eyes widened.  The shelter that was given to us for the weekend of the Presidents wasn’t a cabin at all; it was a royal palace.  3 stories carved out of the finest logs found in the Pacific Northwest consisting of limitless luxuries, easy access to the village’s amenities, and even a few secret passageways hidden within the structure.  One of these was discovered as I inadvertently leaned on a false wall on the bottom level of the palace.  “Is this a dungeon,” I thought to myself as I stumbled into the shallow opening.  It had to be.  But when I found a source of light, it was suddenly revealed that I was standing in a fully furnished liquor room stocked with the finest wines and spirits collected from many a great lands stretching from the vast corners of the world.  It was a personal treasure cove, but one of which I could not plunder, no matter how much temptation urged me to do so.  I would guard this fortune with all my might until its rightful owners returned.

 

I sealed the entrance to the secret liquor room and made my way up the wood polished staircase past the big screen TV equipped with a satellite dish.  My mother was busy cooking us a Fazarri’s pizza dinner (half Shotsy, half Panther) in the state of the art kitchen located on the middle level, where you take a step and immediately feel a warm sensation underneath your toes from the heated flat-stoned floors.  Although I have some culinary experience with select dishes, I calculated that my skills could be of use elsewhere by shoveling the outside walkway and upper decks.  After a visit to the storage shed to grab the necessary equipment underneath the guest apartment, I set foot on the deck to begin work, but only I couldn’t find the strength to move a single muscle. 

 

I looked outward at the setting sun over a dazzling view of the Bitterroots.  I was able to see as far North as Canada, and west to the Montana border.  But perhaps the greatest sight of all was that of Schweitzer Mountain itself, covered in a fresh blanket of snow; all for us it indulge in, to carve in the unsullied powder on our mountain equipment, as if we were creating our own personal masterpiece in nature’s backyard.  An art that only the creator could truly appreciate… and would to its fullest extend.   As the oldest male figure present in my family, I saw a mountain wanting to be ruled by a fearless leader, endless valleys looking to be discovered, and masses of land begging to be conquered.   The mountain was mine, and mine for the taking.  Nobody could stand in my way…

 

I’ll never forget the moment I saw his face.  Just when I had my mind settled for a peaceful takeover, on the brink of a world finally at ease, that menacing figure appeared before my eyes.  He stepped out of my sister’s car and delivered a disturbing smile, letting me know immediately that he meant to take over my standing as king of the mountain.  He was nothing but trouble. 

 

Thomas was his name, but it could’ve been easily mistaken for Lucifer, for this little 5 year old had all the signs of being the spawn of Satan.  Hell, anything closer and he might as well had horns growing out of his head!  We stared each other down until he dared to utter a sentence that sent chills down my spine.  “Snowboarders are weird,” he said to me.  How in the world did he know I was a snowboarder?  And to speak to me first, let alone insult me, in my kingdom?  This was setting the stage for a showdown of epic proportions, where I feared that no side would favor in the end, no matter the victor.

 

From the get go he wasted no time finding unique ways to push our buttons.  Whether it be pranks, insults, or genuine bratty behavior, the boy had the energy of a Jackrabbit during hopped up on steroids and wasn’t showing any signs of slowing.  He begged me to perform a number of wrestling moves on him, which I fervently resisted.  He was relentless however with constant nags and physical abuse.  I couldn’t give in…  That’s exactly what he wanted me to do.  But a wild swing a little too close to the family jewels- that crossed the line.   He wasn’t getting away with that one.

 

I snatched him off the floor, flipping him up over my head so he could peer into my eyes with everlasting regret before I pulled off the finisher.  I threw him down with debilitating force on his back and onto the bed.  The Jack Knife Powerbomb, a move engineered to deliver a maximum amount of pain to one’s backside, made popular by wrestling legend’s Kevin Nash and Scott Hall.  Thomas bounced a foot off the bed, busting his knee during the second landing.  A soft cry was heard from the kitchen, causing my mother to intervene.  And of course, I got slammed with a lecture about how I should be more careful, and no more roughhousing, yadi yadi yada.  Thomas however had planned the whole thing out, and his little experiment had paid off.  He had turned me into the bad guy within a matter seconds, and there was no way he was getting in trouble this weekend.  Not from my mother, my sister, and certainly not from me, unless I was willing to accept a severe punishment.  Another ugly grin grew across his face.  This was far from over.

 

That was child’s play compared to his next discovery.  Thomas had found his way into the palace’s arsenal, stocked plentiful with Nerf guns and ammo.  Excitement grew on his face equivalent to that of 5 red bulls being shot gunned at once.  His energy level became too high and powerful to control, even with the copious amounts of mead I consumed during the process.  I couldn’t hold a conversation, relax, or watch Downton Abby with my mother without being pelted multiple times by a string of bullets.  I couldn’t endure the attack much longer.  It had to come to an end.

 

I retreated to the outer boundaries in shame, for the devil himself, Thomas, had overtaken my keep.  It was a devastating blow, one of which I feared there was little recovery, but I was determined.  The battle may have been lost, but the war was far from over.  By weekend’s end, I would retain the throne that was rightfully mine.  I just needed a plan…

 

I set up a secret meeting with my sister, Lady Emily and Sir Coby of Sammamish.  The task I asked of them was arduous, but it had to be done.  I knew they could perform it, even if it meant having to endure a night of suffrage.  I instructed them to take Thomas back to their quarters where he could celebrate his victory with hours of playing the Nintendo Wii, all the while providing him an endless supply of candy and soda.  They would keep him up as long as they could, for the following day would be the true testimony for all visiting the mountain resort if Thomas could handle the title of king for a day.

 

I met my comrades at the resort the next day, both deprived of much needed rest.  I didn’t want to know the horrific details, but as time passed, I could tell they had completed their mission to task, draining Thomas of any stamina that had been built up prior to last night’s hooligans.  It was barely our first run when the complaints about the cold set in, or how he just wanted to go back to the house to play with his Wii.  It was going to be a very long day for our buddy Thomas.

 

“Skiers are better than snowboarders,” he would you say, and remind me with taunts of similar fashion.  “Skiers better than snowboarders?  We’ll put that statement to the test,” I told myself as we made our way towards the South Bowl Chutes, a double black diamond run consisting of steep terrain, sudden cliffs, and walls of trees that only the most experienced riders can maneuver successfully.  “You think you’re so hot Thomas?  Prove it.”

 

He looked down at the drop, quivering in fear.  Pressure came from all fronts.  “C’mon Thomas,” screamed Coby waiting behind him, growing frustrated as precious minutes of skiing and exploration were wasted away at Thomas’s hesitation.  Maive, Thomas’s older sister by two years stood at the bottom of the run hurling insults to her brother shaking in his ski boots, as any good sister would do.  “Nananan boo boo, Thomas is a scaredy cat,” she kept teasing.  That was the final straw. There was no way he was going to let her bruise his ego like that.  It was go time.

 

He took a step and descended upon the bowl.  He gained speed; too much speed.  In a panic, he turned his body to stop, hockey style, but his little legs couldn’t handle the initial velocity after the drop in.  He caught an edge and flew, landing smack dab on his face.  Down the mountain he went, screaming head first for help along the way, but with no way to stop.  There was nothing anybody could, so we watched as he ate it down the double black diamond, all the while Thomas watched a tunnel of white light appear with a golden gate far in the distance.  After a while, all that was visible was a dust cloud of snow descending down the mountain at an exponential rate, with the occasional ski accessory, whether it be a glove, pair of goggles, boot, or even the skis themselves fly through the air.

 

After it was all said and done, It had been a minute long wipe-out where he had slid on his face down ¾’s of the run, lost both of his skis, and was left in a pool of tears as if he had just broken every bone in his body (Which he didn’t.  Kid’s always like to pull that bull crap, making their pain seem way worse than it actually is.).  Lady Emily ran to his aide, for any injury to her employer’s children could prove to be costly.  Maive stood at the bottom, laughing so hard that she could hardly control her bladder.  Sir Coby gathered the equipment that had been scattered across the run, or at least what was left after the carnage, which was an amazing feat considering the tumble.  I watched in the distance as Thomas sat in humiliation.  We made eye contact, only for a second, for he quickly looked away in disgrace the second he realized my stare.  But I continued to glare, gazing into the pathetic and disoriented figure.  “Skiers better than snowboarders???  I put that statement to the test.”

 

Lunchtime had arrived, and we settled to a little dining table we had claimed.  Snacks had been prepared to appease our appetites, for the traders at the mountain food market were known to swindle you for a few extra bucks when they could.  In front of Thomas sat his lunch, a hot, fresh “cup of noodles.”  He kept begging for candy, but my sister was much too wise to give in until he had finished lunch.  So he sat, playing with his food, swirling it around in the cup, staring at it, doing everything he could with his lunch except for consuming it, delaying the inevitable, and complaining every step of the way.

 

This process continued for well over 10 minutes, and several times I watched as he nearly tipped the cup over the edge while sloppily playing around with the prepared dish.  I stuck my hand out a time or two to catch it before it fell, warning Thomas of the disaster waiting to happen if he continued his careless ways.  He didn’t listen, and continued to play with his meal, which was typical of any kid his age.   No more warnings would be given.  He was going to have to learn the hard way.

 

I watched the whole thing go down as if it were happening in slow motion.  Could I have prevented it?  Yea, sure, but nothing was going to convince me of saving him from the tragedy taking place.  Not this time.  He tipped his cup of noodles too far to the edge, and the hot, steaming, contents fell onto his lap, severely scolding his torso.  Slowly, his mouth opened wide, eyes squinted, and two streams of tears dripped down his face, all before he took a deep breath and let out a putter of soft cries that crossed as a cough.

 

Many mothers gathered around to tend to his needs, but not me.  He knew better, and he would receive no sympathy from me.   In his head, he would hope that such an event would receive so much pity that he could go home and play Wii and eat candy without finishing his lunch.  Not a fat chance.  Not as long as I was around.  We still had a long day of skiing ahead of us.

 

A backside run had brought us to the Stella, a 6 six-person high-speed chairlift that controlled the flow of patrons with horserace style gates that opened and closed when it was time for the next group to board.  Little Thomas made his way to the front leaning forward on his poles, eyes barely level with the top of the gates.  His eyes kept wandering, unaware of his surroundings.  By the time he had arrived at the gates, he finally realized they were quickly approaching the vicinity of his face.  He tried to react, but it was too late.

 

BOOM!  The gate fully closed at a fierce speed, but not before striking Thomas right in the nose, an event none of us saw coming.  A gush of blood left his nasal cavity and spilled onto the snow, leaving a trail behind for all to follow.  The lift operators snickered at the sight, unable to contain themselves like the audience members of America’s Funniest Home Videos when a clip of an unsuspecting victim gets smacked in the balls; another black eye to Thomas’s ego.  He shed tears of pain all the way back to the top of the mountain.  I took it as a sign that the snow gods were working in my favor.

 

To add to his distress, a wrong turn left him and Sir Coby stranded past the lodge, leaving the only option of a hike.  Sir Coby was furious, making Thomas carry his skis all he way back up the hill.  By the time they had reached the top, Thomas had nearly collapsed, sending everyone the image of a Vietnam soldier who had just returned to base after an escape from the Hanoi Hilton, where he was brutally tortured for weeks on in.  With a sudden change of luck however, the day was coming to a close, and we were set on retiring to our keeps.  His fate for the rest of the night would be determined by his actions, and his actions alone.

 

Back at the palace, I had made a safe guard of all the Nerf guns in the house, placing them on high ground, where Thomas’s disadvantaged height left the weapons out of his reach.  He was growing ancy, bored out of his mind and suffering from the withdrawals of not being able to play the Nintendo Wii for almost 12 hours.  “Please, can I have the Nerf gun,” he pleaded, desperate for any type of sympathy.  Over and over, I refused, but I had to hand it to him, he was persistent.  He wanted that Nerf Gun, bad.  He needed it, for his own sanity.  Withholding a weapon of that magnitude from a five year old was unbearable torture, worse than any water boarding technique that the Taliban were ever forced to endure.  Eventually, I gave in, for even the greatest of kings can show a hint of compassion from time to time.

 

“Do you give me your word that you will not shoot me, that you will not attack the innocent with this weapon, that you will wield it with honor and use it only when necessary?”

 

“I promise,” he answered.  So I handed him the weapon.  In our family, a promise is held above all else as the most sacred entities one came make with another soul.  A broken promise would not be tolerated in my kingdom, and would result in an unspeakable curse that would plague him for years to come.

 

5 minutes later I was in my quarters rummaging through my goods, and I felt a sudden sting across my back.  I turned and saw a short, devilish figure sending me a smile that screamed of pure evil.  My eyes beamed towards his weak body, a terror released from my pores.  The boy had broken a promise, a sacred bond of trust that we had shared.  This would not let this stand.  Not on my watch.

 

“You’re lucky that God forgives,” I said to him as I cocked my Nerf pistol, fully loaded for an intense battle.  “Because I don’t.”

 

I emptied a full clip of bullets without any sense of mercy to his flailing body.  This was war, and a blind anger possessed me to keep squeezing the trigger, nailing him with every shot.  He fled across the bed, sending blind bullets back my way, but unable to connect, not even a single one.  Both our clips were empty- not a problem for a veteran warrior like myself.  I rapidly reloaded and ruthlessly pressed forward to release havoc on my enemy.  Thomas just squatted in the corner, a small sense of joy still bound up inside of him, for he continued to spill sputters of laughter from his mouth.  It was his only defense.  I ended that real quick.

 

I unloaded another round to his head as the laughs gradually converted to screams the further the massacre dragged on.  My second clip emptied, and my opponent lay, completely helpless.  The lesson had been taught.  He was ready for surrender.

 

“Stop… Please, Stop!”  He continued to plead, but I could not feel any sense of pity at that moment, especially for somebody who had broken such a sacred promise that we had made mere minutes prior.  I loaded up one more round and continuing to pummel his head at point blank range.  He covered himself in the fetal position, assuming defeat.  All of a sudden, the barrage of bullets had stopped.

 

He turned his head and opened an eyelid, a small peak with the mindset that this horrific battle was finally over, and I was gone.  Instead, he set his sights down the barrel of a gun, one Nerf bullet left.  We both waited for a moment, remaining completely still.  Any false movement could result to be detrimental.  He had surrendered, and was left to my mercy.  “I’m sorry,” he uttered, the most sincere apology he had ever given in his entire lifetime, and probably among the most genuine I’ve ever witnessed from one of my opponents.  He had finally realized the error of his ways and was ready to make a statement, for this day was the day that he would change his life for the better, to live with dignity and bring honor to his family name.  I knew it, and he knew it.  Peace could finally be achieved, once and for all…

 

I squeezed the trigger.  POP!  The Nerf bullet left my gun at a high velocity and struck him square in his open eye.  He let out a cry so vicious, so horrendous, that it captured the pain of crashing down a double black diamond, spilling a hot cup of noodles on his lap, being smacked in the nose by a horse chute, and the struggle of a treacherous hike back to the lodge, combined.  He let out screams that no man should ever hear, mimicking those of World War II vets who had nightmares after coming back from the Pacific front.  But I just stood there, emotionless and immune to the pain he was suffering.  I eventually walked away, leaving my rival cobbling in despair.  I would make sure that he’d never forget this night for the rest of his life.  That this is what happens when you mess with Grizzly Chadams; so that every time he saw my face, he would bow down to my reign, for he could not, and would not let any of his family or friends face an ounce of the devastation that he endured during the brutal battle of the Bitterroots.

 

That night, I descended upon the village with Sir Coby and Lady Emily to a vast celebration of our victory; a laser light show featuring a collaboration of selected music from Pink Floyd…  Our battle cry…  Our ancient ancestral song that we traveled with signaling our presence from township to township.  It was a sign, and a tribute… This was our village.  We ruled this land, even if it was only for one weekend out of the year.  So we indulged in our victory with dance and drink, and would remember this day for years to come, a short stint of happiness until our next battle, which very well could be our last.

 

As President’s Day draws near, our enemies grow stronger in numbers, and now, a year wiser, come back to us, thirsty for revenge.  It would be wise never to come back to the small village in the bitterroots, but yet, a sense of duty, of pride, of honor draws us back.  Thomas will surely be edging for another shot at the throne, and I will be there, ready to deliver a deathblow much more stern than the year before.  I do not wish the events to unfold the way they did a year prior, but am willing to do what is necessary for the good of my family, and to protect the people of Schweitzer, no matter the cost.

 

President’s Day is Coming…