How to Clean your Conscience Chapter 11: A Baby’s Clean Conscience

July 23rd, 2016.  11:30 PM

They say your life flashes before your eyes right before you die.  I never doubted it, but never had any concept of understanding it…

Not until that night.

The sun, though millions upon millions of miles away, surely has no trouble dealing punishment to anybody brave enough to set foot in Southern Idaho. She is a relentless bully, one that’ll leave you burned, dehydrated, and if careless, completely miserable without a flinch—our sweat-drenched, energy-deprived bodies proof of its inexorable ways.  But even the fiercest of warriors require a respite between battles every now and then. And there we were, survivors of the night, still standing after everything she had thrown at us; enough fuel in the tank for one more round.

A sharp pop from my beer interrupted the faint trickle of the Boise river, a few rocks throws away from our hotel room balcony.  I took a sip then turned the can, taking the time to examine its exterior, already suffering from severe condensation.  Coors Original.  Hard to believe we considered this a delicacy once… I took another sip and melted into my chair, the taste a refreshing contrast from the IPA’s and microbrews I had become accustomed to in recent years.

Bill stepped outside, laptop in one hand and the remnants of a six-pack in the other.  To make room, he stacked his beer on top of a can that had been left on the table from the day before, as if it were the base of a beer staff, minus the duct tape.  The practice can be witnessed at your typical college party, as students and party-goers alike will walk around with staffs several cans high, adding a link after each consumed beer.  I may have participated in the ritual a few times, but not like Bill.  Every once and a while, him and Jay could be seen strutting around the University of Idaho campus, proudly wielding their staffs and causing a ruckus.  Each outing wasn’t complete until the staff towered over each of their heads—a rite of passage for any partier, the main requirement if the rank of wizard was to be awarded by the end of the night.

Jay… The name gave me goosebumps.  Bill grabbed one of the beers, popped its top, and lifted it to his mouth.  I followed his lead, taking another sip of my own.  Man, the times we used to have drinking this stuff…  I looked up to a sky littered with stars, imagining Jay’s figure forming in a cluster of them, watching over us amongst the giants. I lifted my beer to the sky for a toast—just in case.  I miss ya buddy.  You left us way too soon.

I took in a full breath of air, anticipation for a long speaking engagement. They were all too common on nights like these, especially with Gibson.  Add in a pack of cigs and a cheap case of beer, and you could count on it! Just be careful not to bring up politics.

I couldn’t count the amount of times we had staying up late with a beer in hand, exploring the reaches of each other’s conscience on a variety of topics, ranging from football, to philosophy, and every once and a while, women.  In fact, once, I discretely remember him staying up with me until 4 in the morning, just to make sure I got over a girl. The night was much colder, but similar to this…

Before I could speak, the soft plucking of an acoustic guitar came from the computer speakers; a simple rift, slow, but familiar… and comforting.  Ugly Casanova—Babies Clean Conscience.  Bill has played this before… A gem from our youth, written and performed by the front man for Modest Mouse, yet hidden for 15 years under a pseudonym.  Turns out, it’s become one of our favorites…

My words stalled, searching for the right moment to interrupt.  The rift repeated itself for a few measures, the sound of a lazy summer day, stocks of wheat brushing against the side of a barn; two friends sitting beside it, embracing youth and its eternal state.  A small break in the plucking signaled the entrance to the chorus.  I prepared myself.

…This reminds me of home.   I didn’t say it.  I hadn’t the will to speak.

I’ve got a babies clean conscience,
I walk around with my head off,
And in the state of the big sky
The ground holds on to my grandpas…

My eyes drifted down my arm as the song led into the first verse, following a contour map made from layers of perspiration and dirt, soaked, then dried, then soaked again throughout the course of the weekend.  I continued, down my sweat drenched shirt and to my dirt-stained cutoffs.  My hand, wetted with condensation sifted through my hair, separating the knotted strands adhered together by an emulsification of sweat and river-water. My gaze floated upward, eventually locking once again with the glowing night sky.

We’ve been here. Many times…

It had been over a year since we had arrived in Pony, Montana, but the sights, scents, and feels remained.  The air was crisp in that small Montana town, barely changed since the frontier days of its founding.  And with as many horses as cars and a local bar where a beer only costs you 2 dollars, granted somebody doesn’t buy one for you first, it would stay that way for many years to come.  And on the night of our arrival, Bill, Gretch and I stood outside the Dutcher cabin, gazing upon a starry spectacle, so clear that streaks of the Milky Way were visible to the naked eye.

Photo by Alan Labisch on Unsplash

Within the blink of an eye, the world had been transformed—a world enshrouded in darkness, all but for the cluster of stars above.  Atop a bed of water, we gazed upon the majestic sight, soaked in the benefits of isolation, the central tenant of the Boundary Waters experience. Protected by a solid wall of timber, a tributary of lakes, and two Boundary Babes by my side in the small corner of Northern Minnesota, we knew that nothing could harm us.  Nothing could corrupt us.  And in a world filled with evils and wrongdoings, we knew that for that moment, we could live in peace.

I took another sip, my gaze still commanded by the stars.  Here’s to you, Lauren.  The spirit of the Boundary Babe lives on…

A short gust of wind pressed against the surfaces of our exposed skin, reminding us of the soothing presence of stagnant air—one of the many comforts of an Idaho summer.  Even in the dark of night, a t-shirt and pair of shorts is all you need, much like it was at the gateway of Hells Canyon the night Jimmy Dawson, Collin Morlock and I sat and watched a shower of meteors broke the calm of a crystal-clear sky, our minds consumed with pinpointing each instance of the astrological phenomenon. Known as the deepest canyon in North America, all it takes is a few minutes inside the naturally sculpted channel, carved through millions of years of geological turmoil to forget that a world actually exists outside the canyon walls.

The memories flowed, hundreds of them it seemed, one after another as the sound of a strained guitar waned forward, one descending note at a time.  It repeated itself over the song’s original rift, a musical line that would eventually lead to a conclusion.  I listened and stared, petrified in total awe at the infinite ceiling, much like that night on the Palouse, hoping that somehow, I could be frozen in time.

It was another pounding of snow over the plot of fertile farmland that spreads across the southeast border of Washington and Idaho.  Perfectly timed during finals week at Washington State University, I furiously trotted through the snow, dead set on a mission across campus to fetch a case of energy drinks in what was anticipated to be another all-nighter.  Our thermal systems design project was on my mind, and time was running out.  “We still have calculations to do.  We’ve barely started writing the report…  There’s so much work—how in the world are we ever going to get this done?  We’ll never make the deadline—“  I stopped dead in my tracks.  Gasping for a breath, I looked up to the heavens, ready to make a desperate plea to God.  Instead, flakes of snow fell on my face as I stared up through the fog.  There were thousands of them, each making a soft puff as they hit the ground, the only audible sound throughout the neighborhood. Above it all was a bright, yellow orb glowing in the sky and lighting the snow-covered planes of the Palouse. I stayed there for several moments staring, too awestruck to move.  “Oh, my God.  What a beautiful sight.”

I savored that moment as long as I could, but as soon as that thought entered, another one sifted in.  I just hoped there was enough time fit everything in…

Cruising up Bryden Canyon Road to another summer party at Josh’s parents, an event that I was destined to get kicked out of.  “I’ve had 20 shots, and I’m not even drunk,” he’d say, believing that his farcical taunt would be enough to get me to take another shot… which it usually would.

Countless music festivals at the Gorge—one giant, three-day party smack dab in the middle of Washington State.  Overlooking the mighty Columbia River Basin and surrounded by tens of thousands of other concert goers taking it all in, it was easy to get lost in the spectacle, believing whole-heartedly that we were in the happiest, most beautiful place on Earth—and you’d be right.

Sitting in the basement of the Sanden’s house with Brandon, Shaun, and the rest of the crew after a long day of skating, wasting away with a video game after a long day of skateboarding in the Lewis-Clark Valley, waiting for the next day to do it all over again.  I took another sip and stared into oblivion, letting the familiar feeling sink in once again—the feeling of absolute bliss.

It must’ve been a night just like this when Bill and I met.  And it wasn’t just Bill.  There was Moody, the Drizzle, and a whole slew of us.  We were merely just a couple kids then—kids with nothing to lose, nothing to worry about, and nowhere to look but up.  And in that little oasis they called the Lewis-Clark Valley, two towns on the Washington/Idaho border separated by the Snake River sat a skatepark—the perfect place for a few strangers to share a common love, establish a bond of trust, and over many seasons standing atop a piece of plywood with a set of wheels, form lifelong friendships.

Too most, it was an abomination.  Its ground was crusty, the obstacles uneven—not even making sense at times. There was a rail, “Big Red” they’d call it—much too high for the amount of runway that was provided and pushing required to hit it.  Miraculously, nobody ever racked their nuts on the thing—except for Ben Woodward, of course.

But the park had personality.  We knew how to ride it, knew ever little crease—how to hit each transition to maximize pop.  It was our park, our sanctuary from the symptoms of teenage angst… thus, it was so much more than a park.  It was a place where legends were made.

We screamed and cheered at the Hot August Nights Comp when Kevin Lentz pulled a 360 kickflip over the hip, only to be outdone by Nate Pasch’s melon off the wall and over the quarter pipe.  Many a times we stood shoulder to shoulder when unwelcomed visitors tried to start trouble, or when there was a prank or two to be carried out on innocent bystanders. But perhaps most precious of all, once our bodies were enervated from a day of skating and shenanigans, we’d sit along the side of the park, imagining the thrill of sliding down a handrail, or soaring down a flight of stairs—whatever combination of flips and grinds our minds could devise.  We’d sit on a park bench without a responsibility in the world, silently scanning each obstacle spread across the crusty asphalt on a warm, starlit summer night, and we’d dream.

…I could remember it all as if it were yesterday.

Hard to believe this movie was made 10 years ago. And staring some of the finest.

The song resolved into oblivion, the dreams fading from my memory bank as the obfuscation of reality set in.  We sulked in the silence—the stillness, left frozen in the night.  Now, it seemed like an eternity, this familiar feeling, this look that was commonly donned during a simpler time and this prosperity we sought, abundant in life, but lacking in materialistic desires—the successful career or the Mercedes-Benz, all part of a life that I was forced to return to in less than 24 hours…

A life that had been slowly transformed over the last 15 years.

Suddenly, I felt numb, like a frog slowly accustomed to boiling water.  The skatepark was gone, replaced by a newer, sexier model.  It had been years since I seriously stepped on a board, unable to feel the magic of riding out a smooth transition, rediscover the thrill of grinding down a ledge. And the friends… people you’d spend every waking hour with, now lucky to see once a year, if that.

Sitting on that balcony at the advent of my thirties, gazing upon the endless sky, I couldn’t help but battle a tear, pondering a cold reality.

My God, how so much has changed…

I turned my head ever so slightly, in fear of creating disorder in the universe. Through my peripheral, Bill peered into the darkness, the ambient sound of a running river filling the void.  He wouldn’t dare move a muscle—wouldn’t dare disrupt the comforting force that gravity exerted on our bodies.  And like me, he was destined back to Texas, back to his own version of a career-driven reality.

Age does wonders to the soul.  Whether we realize it or not, it develops wisdom within us, one that makes us cringe at the mistakes of our past, better informs us for the future, and eventually, for the sake of removing ignorance, helps us realize when it’s time to move on. And after a weekend engaged in conflict between friends, enemies, and the forces of nature, it helps us realize what a rarity moments like these are… that it’s never too late to clean your conscience.  We’re never too old to sit back in wonder.

…We’re never too old to appreciate the calm that comes after a long, summer day.

And in that small pocket of time and space, overlooking a small aggregate of flora amongst the rugged landscape of southern Idaho, maybe… just maybe, Bill was thinking the same exact thoughts as me…

“Hey Bill,” I said at the risk of destroying the ambience we had carefully crafted.  It was the first words spoken since we had returned to the hotel.  He paused for a moment, cautiously waiting for the follow-up. “…Play that song one more time.”

Bill reached for his computer.  With a few clicks, the simple, acoustic rift once again blotched out the sound of running river water.  He sat back, took a sip of beer, and braced himself for another round of deep introspection.

I sat back in my chair, my head forward, staring into the abyss.  I took a sip of beer, and smiled.

…Some things will never change.

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!”



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

“Believe me, it pisses me off too!”



“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!”




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…


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…”

Thanksgiving and a tale of two McRibs

Thanksgiving.  Truly the most genuine holidays of em’ all.  It leaves you in a peaceful mood and can even make the most deplorable among us rediscover our caring side.  For a day, you forget about all of the stresses created from the world around you–work, politics, football… well, maybe everything, but the point is that you remember the things that make life so great in the first place, and set aside what doesn’t matter, contrary to popular sentiment.  It’s part of what makes the Fall such a wonderful season; the coziness of sitting near a fire sipping on a fine cocktail or one of the many seasonal beers that are cool to the taste and warming to the spirit; watching women pile on the layers, going from there scantily clad summer attire to a more conservative autumn overcoat with stylish leggings (I don’t know what it is, but there’s something about girls dressed appropriately for the colder weather that’s kind of a turn on); and possibly the greatest of all is the line of holidays, one after another, starting with Halloween and ending with Christmas, each one a stepping stone of anticipation for the next!  It’s a continuous blast of excitement with all of the parties, food, shopping, and traditions; it’s what I look forward to each and every year.

Although all of the holidays are great in their own special way, Thanksgiving stands out far and above the rest of them.  Let’s start with Halloween.  Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE Halloween.  It’s the one time of year that it’s socially acceptable for me to dress like a freak and for girls to dress provocatively.  In fact, the more out of control your costume is, the more praise you get, and this Halloween was no different.  My Kanye West outfit was spot-on (aside from painting my face black, a decision that was against Ben Woodward’s wishes and but made after some much appreciated consultation from my snarky minority friend Sharath), and compliments were flying left and right–a leather on leather on leather combination with a couple of gold chains and some rockin’ high-tops, the leather pants being the most on point.  I didn’t even have to go to the S&M shop (Ben Woodward’s favorite store) to find them either, thanks to my sister’s keen eye and extensive knowledge of fashion websites!  Unfortunately though, I ripped them two weeks later (a little piece of advice: don’t play basketball in leather pants.)


But let’s be honest with ourselves, what is Halloween but a bunch of kids going house-to-house begging for candy from a bunch of strangers?  “TRICK OR TREAT!” they scream in your face, holding out baskets full of processed sugar bars and pleading for more like a bunch of mendicants.  So just because you come to my house dressed in a costume, you’re entitled to the goods that I worked hard for?  And if I don’t surrender, you get to play a trick on me, like TPing my house?  Please.  Halloween sounds like another front for socialism if you ask me.  The Founding Fathers must be rolling in their graves every year on October 31st.

And lets take a look at Christmas and face the hard facts.  The thing that makes Christmas awesome is that we get free stuff.  But at what cost parents?  Because of our selfish desires, we allow our children to sit on an old fat dude’s lap while he ho ho ho’s and asks them what toys they want.  And then we look forward to him dressing in his red suit and breaking into our houses, sneaking around while the kids are sleeping and leaving them presents, Michael Jackson style.

Hello!  Do you see anything wrong with this picture!?!?  And that’s before he eats all of our cookies and drinks our milk too!

Sure, New Years is a big party, but in the end, your left with that depressing feeling of inevitable aging mixed with at least three months of terrible, endearing weather that drags on, and on, and on.  If your football team wins the Super Bowl, then maybe you end up with a winter that’s a step above mediocre, but with 32 teams in the NFL, the odds are stacked against you, and you’re left with even more disappointment that sinks you into the dark crevices of winter.

After months of the grueling cold, Easter rolls around, which means the weather gets nicer, but at the same time, life springs back into action and all the critters come back into play, terrorizing the neighborhood with glee, with one particular rodent who always seems to make his way into our homes, leaving egg droppings all over the place.  One of these Easters I’m going to wake up in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom or something and accidently step on the little turd who’s running about my house unabated.

“What the heck man, you stomped the Easter Bunny!”  Hey, I’m sorry, but he came out of nowhere!  He scared the crap out of me!  Easter’s ruined, forever and ever.

Heck, there are even flaws with my favorite holiday, the 4th of July, the day we celebrate the valiant fight and struggle to gain our independence and become the greatest nation in the world.  It’s a wonderful day of reflection and gratitude, but I’d be lying if I don’t use it as an excuse to drink beer and light off a bunch of fireworks while screaming “MERICA” at the top of my lungs.  It’s the one-day where I’m allowed to do really dangerous (and stupid) things while being hailed as patriotic!  And trust me, I take full advantage of the opportunity every year.


Fourth of July 2014

With Thanksgiving however, there’s no BS, no facades involved, just family and friends gathered around a feast to giving thanks for the gifts we’ve received in our lives.  Going back to its origins, it’s about a group of people after many harsh winters and an ongoing struggle to survive in a new world, finally having an abundance of food for one season, and deciding to share it with another group of people who taught them the fundamentals of survival.

And we continue the tradition today–simple as that.  Taking time to reflect even with all the prepped up stresses that come along with life.  We step back for a moment and say, “Hey, we really have it pretty good, and our blessed with what’s all ready around us, most of which we take for granted day in and day out.  Let’s give thanks for this and share our blessings.”

It is a time for great company and lasting tradition, with each family having their own unique rituals.  It could be as simple as getting together for a great turkey bowl battle with the pigskin, or a round of “The Settler of Catan,” which leaves all but one person (the winner) in a sour mood after it’s all said in done.  There is one tradition however that I share with my dad that has been somewhat of an untold secret for some time now.  It’s not a planned out tradition by any means, but something that coincidently reoccurs every year, and I believe it’s time to let this secret come to surface, for the truth will always set you free.

Many years ago at our residence near the Quail Ridge golf course in the Lewis Clark Valley, the Andrews family was working hard preparing for the big meal.  My mother slaved away in the kitchen while my sisters cleaned and the men were on stand-by, awaiting orders.  Thanksgiving dinner always starts around 3:00 PM in our family, making it difficult to plan your meals for the day.  Because of the awkward dinner time, I usually eat a very light breakfast so I can take advantage of stuffing myself with turkey, gravy, and the rest of the fixings to the fullest extent, and lunch is skipped for that very same reason, because hey, no sense eating lunch when you’re going to eat dinner in an hour or two anyway.  The closer you get to that 3:00 PM mark however, the more you suffer and grow delusional from the lack of food inside your body.  Even with all of the agony I was facing that Thanksgiving from an absence of food, I powered through the hallucinations that follow starvation, for a vision of me sitting in a food coma watching holiday movies and football would be well worth the wait.

Illusions of grandeur filled my mind with the multitude of flavors that would eventually enter my mouth, drawing me into a deep trance.  The juicy deep fried turkey that Bob would bring over, my mother’s stuffing, crispy on the outside, moist on the inside and blended with a fruit concoction of apples and cranberries that tastes so good that you could eat just that alone and be satisfied.  Add the mashed potatoes smothered in butter and gravy, A bowl of yams topped with toasted marshmallows, and pumpkin pie with a side of vanilla bean ice cream and you’re screaming for a beautiful disaster where the end result is a gluttonous gathering of humans parked in a living room unable to move for the end of the world from the dense mass inside their bodies.  What a great day this was going to be…

“Zack, Zack…  Snap out of it,” a voice shot out followed by a snap of the fingers across the face, giving me a bit of a startle.  “Your mother needs some spices from the store, lets go,” my father barked.  I obediently followed.  And just like that, reality set back in, and the pain of perpetual hunger rose again.

Not much was said in the car ride, or inside Albertsons for that matter, one of the few stores still open on the holiday.  I’m pretty sure our minds were on sync, delusional from the missing smorgasbord of turkey byproducts that should have been consumed by now, making Albertsons a quick in-and-out experience.  The sooner we got back to the house, the sooner Thanksgiving would be served, which without the missing ingredients, would delay dinner for at least another hour or two according to our calculations.

While walking back to the car I caught a glimpse of the McDonalds across the parking lot, one of the great all-time American staples with a giant sign out in the front that just slayed my digestive system.  “The McRib is back, and for a limited time only!”

The McRib:  The pinnacle of culinary excellence.  A superb blend of processed pork, a not too smoky but elegantly tangy bbq sauce slathered all over a slab of meat between two buns with a hefty serving of onions and pickles.  It’s as if God himself came down from the heavens and gave us a taste of what the afterlife will be like.  If Ayn Rand ever wrote a book about food, the McRib would be the equivalent of Galt’s Gulch.

I looked at my dad through my peripherals in an attempt to read his body language without being suspicious.  He just blankly stared at the empty parking lot ahead, not displaying any sign of emotion whatsoever.  The further we drove through the parking lot, the deeper the depression of missing out on a mouthful of flavorful explosion set in.  The odds are always against you in this situation, as learned from many occasions where my parents would drive us past fast food after karate class, giving us hope that a splash of kindness would result in a happy meal, but always being disappointed as we watched the big yellow arches fade away in the distance.

I wanted it so bad that I could taste it, but I just sat and kept my mouth shut, acting indifferent to the situation.  The whole ordeal was torturous, for my churning stomach left me in constant excruciating pain that was bound to last a long time, but there was no way I was going to risk looking disrespectful to my mothers cooking.  Hey, I ain’t gettin’ in trouble!  Better to live in pain for the next hour or two than to be given a harsh Bill O’Riely scolding while still experiencing the same pain.  So I just sat there and said nothing, wallowing in a sadness that could not be displayed.

Then, out of nowhere, when all hope had been lost, a chorus of angels sang the most beautiful words I may have ever hear in my entire life.  “Would you like to stop at McDonalds for a snack?” my father asked.  It was a miracle.  My body was freaking out inside, and I wanted to scream for joy at the top of my lungs.  However, I kept my composure, waited a few seconds as if I had to contemplate the decision.  I nodded my head and responded, “You know, I think I would,” with a grin of approval across my face.

“I’d like a McRib meal please,” order my dad.  “What would you like son?”

“You know, I think I’ll have a McRib meal as well…”

I don’t exactly remember the details of whether we ate in the parking lot, or if we drove home right away, but at a moment like this, you never forget the silent camaraderie of father and son sharing a meal together of this magnitude.  It was a coming of age moment, where he look at me and was damn proud I was his son, and I look at him and knew I would never trade him for any other dad in the world!  It’s as if the whole time, we were in sync and knew exactly what the other was thinking.  Kind of like a 6th sense that only a father and son duo can truly understand.  Just like the first time we shared a beer together, but better.

We entered the house with accomplishment written across our faces, having achieved the task that had been presented before us as we handed off the missing ingredients to my mother.  Our ailing hunger concerns had been satisfied for the time being, and nobody was of the wiser.  We were in the clear, and it was going to be a great Thanksgiving.

“Ok guys, time to eat,” echoed my mothers voice throughout the house a mere two minutes after we stepped through the door.

“Wait…  What???  That can’t be!  We just got home, and dinner wasn’t going to be ready, and McRibs in our bellies, and…  Oh no!”  I wasn’t hungry anymore!  The fantasy I had about gorging myself in food paradise… no longer existent.  I didn’t want any more turkey, stuffing, gravy, potatoes, nothing, for satisfaction had already been attained.  We ruined Thanksgiving.  And my mother…  She was going to know!  She always knows when I eat McDonalds before dinner!  And right before Thanksgiving… We’re toast!

My father didn’t say a single word.  He acted naturally; as if he were experienced and knew exactly what to do…  act as if nothing had ever happened.   So I followed his lead act in a strict fashion as we made our way up the stairs to the dining room table…  Silent, as if nothing had ever happened.

He made no contact with me that whole dinner, and he didn’t have to.  It wasn’t worth the risk, and I would’ve done the same.  Besides, we both knew what each other was thinking and what had to be done.  It’s like a 6th sense between a father and son duo that only they can truly understand.

I did however study his every move, cautiously of course, in order to avoid any unnecessary suspicion.  He placed a variety of items on his plate in a strategic spread to give the illusion of having full meal even though the quantity of actual food compared to mere rations.  I followed suit, and we continued on behind enemy lines, just praying for survival.

Our operation was precise and going as planned, but even the most flawless of plans can never completely fool a mother.  She was beginning to catch on due to the slow pace of my father’s food consumption.

“Aren’t you going to have any more hun?”  She asked.  He just shook his head and moved his mouth like he was saying “Nah,” leading her to shrug her shoulders and retreat for the time being.  It bought us some time, but those tactics only work for so long.

The unrelenting attacks kept coming, and my dad kept fending them off in the same fashion with responses like “I’m going to save some room for dessert,” or “I’m watching my carbohydrate intake,” which is a valid statement since he’s a firm believer in the low-carb Atkins style diet.  The sad part was, due to our proximity, he was taking all the grunt of the assault, and I was getting off Scott-free.  As any great father would do, he took on the burden, sacrificing himself so his son could live another day on the lovely Earth.  But I knew this was going to get real ugly sooner or later.  My mom would break him, make him confess, and that would be the end of Thanksgiving as we knew it.  I couldn’t leave him hanging.  His actions were admirable, so much that I wouldn’t have traded him for any other dad.  I needed to do something to make him damn proud that I was his son.

I peaked around the room violently, my mind racing a mile a minute with ways to swing the battle favorably in our direction.  My dad had held out for as long as he could, but he couldn’t take it anymore.  He was about to crack.  Running out of time, I looked at our good friend Bob, one of the heavy hands at our church.  I know it’s taboo to bring up politics at the dinner table, especially during Thanksgiving, but we had run out of options.  The guy could sell you a bag full of dog crap and leave you walking away with a smile on your face as if you’d just won the lottery, he was that good.  I had to get him involved, somehow, someway.  I knew the risk that was involved and the possibility of a resulting backlash.  But this wasn’t about me.  This was about my old man.

“So Bob, I hear some of the new trustees at the church are clashing with the pastor these days?” The comment definitely caught my mother’s attention, along with everybody else’s at the dinner table.  I blurted it out of nowhere, and immediately I was shot with inappropriate looks, for the comment could be classified to some as out of line.  I felt a cloud of anxiety floating over us, as if I had just blown our cover, and not only was I going to get a scolding from my mom, but a “I’m disappointed” talk from my dad, both of which I would deserve if this didn’t pan out.  Heck, I didn’t even know if there was even any conflict with any of the trustees!  I was totally bluffing!  But what could I do?  I was desperate, and action needed to be taken, a Hail Mary of sorts.  So I waited for the seconds to pass by for Bob to respond, which seemed to last for minutes from my standpoint.

“Well, actually, there have been some issues, not with the trustees, but some of the youth leadership with certain methods they use for teaching the kids….” and that’s all it took.  The whole room was hooked!  Even my mother, gleeful to get all the dirt she could from one of the biggest political strong-arms in the church!  And it wasn’t just her.  All of us around the dinner table wanted a piece of the action, for nobody can resist digging into the dirty details of congregational dwellings, and who better to get information from than the man who knows everyone’s business.

Everybody wants to be on Bob’s side.  The man knows how to get things done, and if you’re on good terms with him, he’ll make your life a hell of a lot easier.  That’s the simple truth.  He’s not a shady guy or anything, but more of a natural leader, the Reagan type.  He doesn’t get involved in the dirty side of politics because he wants to, but because people come to him, desperate for his input.  He’ll tell you like it is, whether you like it or not, and he’ll fix any problem, even if it’s political suicide and it makes him look terrible.  He does it because it’s the right thing to do.  I swear he’d be destined for Senator someday, if only his heart wasn’t so damn righteous.  I know it was a dirty move on my part, but I had to get Bob going.  Sadly I’m ashamed to say, it wasn’t the first or last time I screwed him over on a holiday, but desperate times call for desperate measures, and my father and I needed a game-changer.

Pretty soon, we all forgot about Thanksgiving dinner, and were more intrigued on which Church high-schooler didn’t get accepted to which college, or which kid came home after curfew, who was giving the most money, who was causing a rukus, and on and on…  and that’s all it took.  It was finally over.  The focus on our dinner portions had diminished, and shortly after our political discussion that was oh so mesmerizing, we were in the living room playing catch phrase, two families enjoying each others company with laughter and excitement bouncing off the walls of the house.  We had cheated death, and we couldn’t believe it.  We saw it as nothing less than a subtle act of God.

Later that evening, my dad and I finally made eye contact once more.  No facial expressions were made, and no words had to be said, but there was a 6th sense going on between us.  We knew we had pulled it off, and for that instance, I knew that he was damn proud that I was his son, and I would never trade him for any other dad, and that’s the way it always will be.  I think it’s something only a father and son duo can truly understand.

That night, I was thankful for many things.  At the top of my list was getting away with barely touching Thanksgiving dinner and not receiving a paddling from my mom.  But looking back, I realize it wasn’t so much about that, but more so the adventure I shared with my father, and that something as cheap and silly as a McDonald’s McRib created a memory I will never forget for the rest of my life.

It’s funny how those small types of moments are the ones that stick out in our lives.  Whether it’s sharing a McRib with your father, belting out the tunes of Jewel at the top of your lungs with some boundary babes after a long and dirty excursion through the northern Minnesota wilderness, or watching a beautiful sunset while listening to a beautiful song after a long and frustrating day, even if some crackpot ultimately ruins the moment for you.  You get to stop time for that short moment and remind yourself that all the material things we obsess about, our clothes, gadgets, jobs; none of it matters in the grand scheme of the entire universe.  It makes you thankful for what you have and the people that care about you.  It’s a liberation that always puts a smile on your face, no matter what.

Over the years, it seemed that my dad and I would find an excuse to sneak out of the house on Thanksgiving, finding a way to pick up a McRib during the excursion.  For one, they’re mighty tasty, but they also remind us of that special moment many years ago when we bonded over the simple sandwich and had to work together to avoid punishment for our actions.  It helps us to reflect on the important things in life, which is maybe one of the reasons why I love that sandwich so much, and get all giddy like a little school girl whenever it reenters my life in the early parts of November.  And the funny thing is, we’ve never gotten in trouble for our pre-Thanksgiving meal… Ever! (Note: I believe my mom’s starting to catch on throughout many years of us disappearing for an hour every Thanksgiving, by setting out hors d’oeuvres right before the meal.  And of course after reading this, she’ll be on the defensive this year…  Big time!  We still find a way though.  We always do.)

Throughout the holiday season, there’s a lot of hectic commotion going on.  Whether it’s prepping for parties, or buying gifts, cooking dinner, and running about for God knows what, we tend to get side tracked and caught up in the moment, forgetting the reasons for why we celebrate, which is natural.  We’re all human for Denny’s sake!

But every now and then during all the madness, we come across a moment beyond our control, where time kind of just stops, and all we can do is observe and ponder among the ambiance.  If you happen to be lucky enough experience a moment like this during the Thanksgiving holiday, or any day for that matter, try to take a step back and reflect on your life and your surroundings.  You may just find yourself in one of those beautiful moments that you’ll remember for the rest of your life.  It’s in those moments that we’ll know what’s most important to us, and what we’re truly thankful for.

Happy Thanksgiving.

-Grizzly Chadams