How to Clean Your Conscience: Epilogue

August 26, 2019

I listened to an old album from the Yeah Yeah Yeahs the other day.  I have been fond of the three-piece trio since the first time I listened to their emotional rock ballad “Maps” in college, but it’s their album “It’s Blitz!” that is nearest and dearest to me.  As with all albums, the replay value fades over time, and it had been years since I listened to it.  But a recent blog post that revisited some of my old, homemade skate videos retriggered it.  Consequently, it began playing itself over and over again in my head, a phenomenon that would continue and drive me further into madness until I’d decide to confront it.

As I walked toward the metro for my evening commute from work, I popped in my earphones and shuffled through my musical albums until I settled a picture of flying yoke from a crushed egg.  It would be a major deviation from my usual routine of watching Fantasy Football draft prep videos on YouTube, a late summer obsession I had developed, fueling my deeper obsession of beating Mike Gibson this year.  Yet, it was a deviation that felt absolutely necessary.  I stepped onto the green line, found an open seat, and pressed play.

A driving, electronic beat drove into my ears, and immediately I was taken back. I was a young 23-year-old on the brink of moving to Seattle.  My head was buzzed, my flannel collection was growing at a rapid pace, and I had but two desires—to skateboard and party.  As I shut my eyes, I could feel my heart pump with the energy I once had as lead singer Karen Oh’s voice opened the first verse, building the anticipation towards the beat drop.  My life consisted of counting down the days until the 2009 Sasquatch music festival, waiting for work to end so I could get my daily fix of skateboarding in at the local skatepark, and working for the weekend to get to Seattle for whatever ridiculousness I could pull off with Ben Woodward.  It was an exciting time, my first glimpse of adulthood, my first real taste of freedom, and I had the world at my fingertips.

The chorus played out until there was a break in the beat mixed with random synth blips and guitar strokes.  It signaled chaos, confusion; the calm before the storm.  I braced for it, a beat drop I had heard and yearned for on many occasions. And as the synthesizer released a high pitch squeal and the beat blasted back into play with the advent of the second verse, I reopened my eyes with illusion that I was ready to take on the world once again.

Fast-forward. My flannel collection has been replaced with dress shirts, my hair is grown and styled to form a business-friendly part, and I now have a pair of glasses that accompany my few dustings of gray hair.  In the past, my heart may have filled with despair, for part of nostalgia is grasping with the fact that you’ll never have that time back. And in many ways, the Zack of 10 years ago would’ve despised the Zack he had become.  But for some reason, on that day, things were different.  I was at peace with the past, at ease with the present, and optimistic of the future.

Who knows if I’ll ever have another chance travel across the United States with one of my best friends again.  If I did, I certainly wouldn’t be able to recapture the silliness of a ghostly possession in Montana or recreate a wild moment like we had at the 1029 bar in Minneapolis, nor would I even attempt to try!  And by miracle of the Holy Father, my brush ins with Josh Ulrich have become surprisingly cordial.  Now don’t get me wrong, I’ll get my opportunities to throw in a dig here and there, and he’ll be sure to do the same (I’d expect nothing less).  In fact, at the time of this writing, I am on my way back from a quick visit Boise, and I had the pleasure of seeing my good buddy Josh.  And let’s just say, we had our fair share of drinks between the two of us (of course I had more… and paid for it as well).

But I no longer crave that type of excitement, at least not on a daily basis. As a married man, my ideal Friday nights consist of relaxing with the wife and the weenie dog, watching a movie with a maybe a cocktail in hand, then turning in early for a head start on the weekend.  For how grueling it can be, I actually treasure my early morning routine of carry our little weenie outside so we don’t wake up to a puddle of piddle on the floor. And I know that someday, I may have my own little army of Zack’s running around, which will open up a whole new realm of adventure.  I can only imagine the memories we’ll create, the heartaches they’ll cause, and the love they’ll bring to this world.  And if that’s not something you can look forward to, then I don’t know what is!

Within the 10 years from which I heard that first driving beat of “It’s Blitz!” to now, there have been many great times coupled with great memories. On the flipside, there has also been a fair share of heartbreaks, lessons learned, and not so good times.  And to be honest, it often feels like those hard times not only outweighed the good times, but lasted longer as well.  I’m not sure if it’s just a trait I’m blessed with however, but human nature seems to have an easier time clinging on to the good times.  And when it’s all said and done, the bad memories seem to fade away in the wake of the cherished ones.

I thank God for that. 

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 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 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?”

The Sweethearts of MSP

A couple years back, there was this Tom Hanks flick that came out about a foreign dude who went to the US, but for some reason or another, got stuck in the airport. So instead of trying to get out, he kind of starts living and working there I think. I mean, I don’t exactly know what happened, I never saw the stinkin’ movie, and really have no intention of ever seeing it to be perfectly honest; it just happened to keep popping up as one of the previews on a DVD I bought one time. And besides, I think it got pretty crappy reviews, so I’m going to go out on a limb and say I didn’t really miss out on much.

That being said, the concept of that movie made me wonder, “what if I was ever in that situation? What would I do, and where I would go? And most importantly, what airport would I be stuck in if I had the choice?” Because to tell you the truth, I kind of like hanging out in airports, ever since I was a young lad following my dad around on his business trips. There’s something about all of the commerce, mechanical progression, and businessmen reading the Wall Street Journal just like my pops that I always found intriguing. In one trip you may pass a Fortune 500 CEO on his way to making a multi-million dollar, world-changing deal in a major metropolis, or sit next to the next a future rock star, and not even have the slightest clue. All the while, you’re helplessly at the mercy of a pilot and his plane, unable to act if the plane is late, has mechanical problems, or if they simply don’t want to fly until a later time, leaving you with a prolonged layover that everyone seems to dread.

There’s an airport however that always stuck out with me above and beyond the rest; one, being that it’s a hub for Delta Airlines, I found myself frequenting time and time again. It’s a place where long layovers are celebrated, for it means getting to grab a bite to eat at Ike’s, a local favorite that happens to be named after my old man, where the food is always delicious and Minnesota’s best beer, the Surly Furious, flows furiously down your throat. And after a hearty lunch and a couple of refreshing brews, there’s always time to stop for at least a round or two of pinball at one of the many video arcades placed throughout the airport before having to catch your next flight.

Of course, there’s only one airport that could ever fit this wonderful description, and that’s the Minneapolis-Saint Paul International Airport. Aka, MSP.

MSP: Such a beautifully designed airport, from the terminal layout to the shopping centers and food courts, and even down to the fine details of the small amenities, whether it be the pristine nature of each bathroom, or how they fill the terminal gates and restaurants with complimentary iPads for lunch ordering, web surfing, game playing, and much more as you wait for your turn to board your flight. And although there’s something about implementing technology into societal infrastructure and commerce that really impresses me, my strong penchant towards MSP most likely stems from vivid memories throughout the years, like blazing through the shopping center between Concourses D and E on my skateboard, weaving through tables, chairs, and bodies, barely making my flight with merely seconds to spare, or spending a whole 5 dollars at the Aurora Borealis arcade in Concourse C (which in the 90’s was a lot) in response to getting bumped to the next flight. We kids knew full well that whenever the flight attendants announced that they were looking for volunteers to be bumped, it meant that we were soon to be bribed with fast food, candy, and money for the arcade among other goodies just so my parents could score a hefty sum of airline vouchers without upsetting us.

Lately however, I can’t help but feel that my presence in MSP has been nothing short of corrupting. Don’t get me wrong, whenever I’m in the Midwest, I’m on my best behavior! The people are some of nicest and down to Earth you’ll ever meet, especially in Wisconsin, the number one state in the world! But for some reason, even when I’m practicing my upmost proper etiquette in an attempt to blend in as a polite young man in Midwest society, trouble always seems to follow me, to the point where it’s beginning to rear its ugly head onto some of the most innocent among us: the little sweethearts of MSP. And sadly, nothing has been more adducing to this revelation than my most recent trip…

We landed into MSP that afternoon where I was to make a connection back to the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, or “SeaTac” as it’s commonly referred to by the locals. As usual, everybody had the tenacious urge to stand up in the aisle as soon as the seatbelt sign turned off, as if they’re getting an edge on everybody else doing the same exact thing. The whole thing baffles me every time. Nobody ever goes anywhere for 10 minutes, and everybody get’s all hot and bothered over the fact that they can’t get off the plane! Hello people! We’ve been through this drill several times before! We all know what’s going to happen, that we’re going to get stuck and then all upset just like last time. But even with all that valuable knowledge, we still find ourselves jumping out of our seats as soon as we hear that pleasant sounding ring throughout the cabin like a bunch of middle-aged moms at a Brett Michaels concert!

Not me though. I just keep my cool and stay perfectly content in my seat. What can I say? I just know better, and don’t buy into the false hope like everybody else.

So after patiently sitting in my seat for 10 minutes and watching as the frequent business travelers scoffed at grandma getting her bag out of the overhead, I causally gathered my belongings and headed off the plane in a peaceful manner. However, my pace seemed a little slow as I hit the jet way. I looked down to investigate the situation, only to see a behemoth bulging at the seams, barely containing its contents while it magically moved in an evanescent motion down the jet way. Upon further inspection of this phenomenon, I was able to deduce a scientific explanation much more miraculous than my previous observation: a little 5-year-old girl with unnatural gorilla-like strength was dragging this monster on wheels behind her the whole time.

Her wardrobe was impeccable in nature, cruising in shin-high, zebra-striped boots, which seamlessly blended with her purple tights and bright yellow coat with a heavy fur lining. The leopard printed suitcase behind her must have been her mother’s, clearly twice her size and weight, and no doubt over regulation size for carry-on luggage. Being that her mom was a bit of a babe, I’m guessing she easily got away with taking it on board.

I hovered behind and watched as she struggled to pull the giant mass off the plane, weaving and heaving, stamping her feet as if each step was an attempt to make the largest splash in long line of rain puddles, finding herself nearly losing balance and tipping over at every few seconds. No matter the pain, struggle, or excruciating strength drained with each tow, she kept on chugging along, never quitting, volunteering as a grateful daughter to carry this large burden for her mother at any cost, exhibiting more honor than a character in an Ernest Hemmingway novel, with twice the determination. I was tempted to pass her and not think twice about the act, except her position on the jet way was just enough to make a pass a completely awkward ordeal, something I wasn’t willing to do in front of her babe of a mother. And besides, this was just too cute not to miss.

She kept on glancing back for a look of approval, giving the suitcase a nice great tug, sending it forward a foot or two before the forces of friction and gravity sent the rolling suitcase to a dead stop, nearly pulling the little girl back the opposite direction, but using all of her might to thrust it forward again and repeat the process once more. Just when I thought she had reached the point of total exhaustion, her legs somehow found a way to keep moving forward in a steady direction, never losing sight of the goal, pulling the suitcase forward once again.

“Mommy, we’re almost to the top of the-“

POP! She went down like the crack of a whip. The wheels of the suitcase locked, setting her up for a catapult, slamming her face first into the stained floor, just beyond the metal grate that had been the catalyst for  the deadly fulcrum. She lay there motionless in the belly flop position, crushed under the weight of an over-bloated suitcase, as the heavy boom of her head crashing against the dirty ground of the jet way reverberated into the terminal. I nervously awaited the inevitable cryfest, and the arrival of the MSP Medical Staff.

“Whoa! That was an ouchie-oochie!”

And that was it. There was no ear splitting scream, no tear swellings around the eyes, not even a slight cry for help; only a hasty effort to jump back to her feet and plot along, just like a trooper…

I couldn’t believe it! Half of the grown men I know would be pouting in fury if something like that ever happened to them (Ben Woodward comes to mind). I froze in awe, watching her as she trotted down the rest of the jet way unscathed, gradually fading into the focal points of the long path into the terminal, the suitcase a constant foot behind. It was a mixture of honor and pride that I felt at that moment, having been given the privilege of standing in the presence of possibly the future first woman governor of Minnesota, a candidate of whom I would vote for in a heartbeat.

After a minute of initial shock, I was able to regain my bearings and travel on through the airport. But for some reason, I just couldn’t shake the image of that cute little girl’s head pounding into the ground at maximum velocity. I tried everything, a quick pit stop at Ike’s, sucking down a Surly Furious or two, and even a few rounds of pinball at Aurora Borealis. But no matter what I did, the slam replayed itself over and over again in my head, like the monotony of that DVD movie menu that keeps repeating itself, poking at your semi-conscious state long after you’ve passed out on the couch during the movie.

In the end, I considered myself lucky. Her speedy recovery was nothing short of a miracle, even taking into account her undisputed determination. And all the while, I couldn’t help but wonder if my presence had anything to do with this tragedy. Maybe the choice I made to sit in the seat I did on the exact flight the little girl was on because of an itinerary change I made to hang out with a friend of whom I met because I chose to go to my other friend’s house that one time in college and offer him a beer which happened to be his favorite of which I decided to buy at gas station for some random reason… heck, I could go on to the moment I was born with this crap!

The point is, the universe works in mysterious ways, and all I know is, maybe it was inadvertently my fault that this little girl biffed it, and maybe it would never have happened if I had never boarded that plane to in the first place. It was a deep thought I had to ponder for a long while before I could fully understand what my mind was trying to tell me. Unfortunately though, my once modest layover was coming to a close, so I pounded my last Surly Furious and headed to my gate that was beginning the process of boarding.

It was a full flight, I could tell because the flight attendants at the front desk kept nagging me before hand to check my carry-on luggage to my final destination. Screw that noise. My bags stay with me!

I was positioned in the middle seat, probably the crappiest seat in the row. You don’t have the window to lean your head on if you want to take a nap, you’re constantly in a battle over the arm rests with the other passengers, and if you have to get up to go to the bathroom, you’re going to bug somebody! To be honest though, the whole having to go to the bathroom thing doesn’t bother me too much, for I rarely get up to go anyway. Once during a trip to Guam, I sat in my seat for 11 hours straight without even having the urge to get up to take a whiz, something I’m still proud of to this day! It’s whenever some coffee drinkin’ nerd has to go next to me, causing a disturbance in my perfect little oasis, where I have to position myself appropriately just so he can get out and relieve himself. And 9 times out of 10, it turns out to be a violation of my personal bubble.

But anyway, everybody settled into their seat and Delta began its corny safety presentation which included a red headed lady explaining what to do if the plane goes down and/or blows up, while people in the background make terrible jokes to make us feel good about the whole thing. It didn’t really work too well on me, because it was somewhere during that video presentation where I ended up passing out. It’s weird, one minute I’m staring at a video screen, the next minute I’m out cold! I don’t understand it, because the same thing happens to my mom whenever she watches a movie too! Maybe it’s hereditary…

It was only about an hour of snoozing before I woke from a sudden burst of turbulence in the cabin; nothing major where everybody starts freaking out, but just enough to leave me restless with a couple hours to kill during the flight. “Oh geez, what to do?” I asked myself. Luckily, I had a couple movies I could watch that had somehow magically showed up on my computer’s hard drive one day…

Honestly, that’s what happened! I don’t condone illegally downloading movies onto any computer whatsoever (except when it comes to Game of Thrones, but that’s a different story that involves politics, a topic I refuse to delve into on this blog, ever). It just so happened that one time I let a friend use my laptop, and “POOF,” I had like 20 new movies to watch! One of those movies happened to be “Aliens,” the sequel to the 1979 thriller, “Alien.” Both are sci-fi classics and have made quite the dent in American pop culture, inclining me towards the choice to watch it.

I resumed the movie exactly at the point where it starts to get good… Real good: A group of marines stumble across a life form on the ravaged interplanetary colony they’re exploring. It’s a young lady, pale in the face and covered in slime, glued to the walls of the colony as if she’s stuck in some sort of interstellar cocoon. She slowly raises her head drenched in sweat, her eye rotated upward to the ceiling.

“…Kill… me…” she stammers. It’s all she can squeak out, barely finding the strength to blurt out a final, desperate request, seconds before her chest begins to expand and contract rapidly. The convulsions become more frequent and severe, while a giant bulge pounds from the inside of her stomach outward, until finally, the pressure is too great and her skin rips apart. Blood flies everywhere and out pops a baby alien, rearing its atrocious head out into the atmosphere. The marines waste no time burning this abomination into annihilation.

And from that point on I was hooked! The aliens kept coming, and the marines kept blasting. The action never stopped and the time flew by! It was almost like I never wanted this plane ride to end!

After a good hour of what played out as a constant barrage of blood, guts, and bullets, I had reached the movie’s climax: Ripley, the movie’s hero, frees Newt, the colony’s 10-year-old lone survivor, who had found herself stuck in one of those cocoon like structures covered in alien sludge, barely averting having her face sucked off by this egg like creature who folds open a couple flaps and slides a slimy tentacle-like appendage outward that raps around its victim and attacks their mouth.

Upon their escape, Ripley and Newt stumble upon a nest. They look outward, overwhelmed and aghast at the sight of 100’s of the same egg type creatures that attempted to infect Newt moments before. Slowly, the camera pans from an abdomen like figure, an intestinal track at least 5 feet in diameter stretching far across the room forming into a colon, where a defecation of eggs are spat out at a constant rate. Then, a close up of the anathema, a black and boney hag that resembles an overgrown preying mantis with drool and alien slime dripping from every pore of her treacherous body. She opens her mouth, lets out a snarl, and out pops another mouth, exposing the vicious teeth of the grotesque alien queen. James Cameron is one sick bastard.

Ripley shakes her head and mashes her lips together in anger and annoyance, for she’s just sick and tired of all these aliens! All the space traveling, slimy cocoons, flying alien babies, dying marine soldiers, and alien blasting cultivates into a facial expression that screams, “F this!” She cocks her weapon and blasts away at the disgusting pile of vermin that lies before her; the eggs, alien colon/egg maker, and all.

The woman is literally possessed! Her eyes widen, teeth grit, and her whole body violently shakes while the machine gun that resembles the BFG-2000 in Doom oscillates with each rapid succession of bullets firing from the barrel of the gun. Alien blood flies in every which direction, spewing puddles of thick, yellow acid all across the floor.

Ripley’s BFG runs out of bullets, a crisis she couldn’t be more pleased of. She flicks a switch, re-cocks the gun, and out flies a grenade, piercing into the belly of the alien queen, followed by 5 more. A second later, the intestinal track explodes and a flood of embryonic fluid bursts out of the open gash, resulting in an deluge of alien flesh, blood, gore, and other foreign liquids plastered across my computer screen. Her grenades run out, but still, she’s far from finished.

A giant, bursting flame explodes out of the gun barrel, targeted at the nest. A chilling, high pitched squeal stabs at my eardrums, the sound of a hundred abominable creatures crying their last breath of air. This doesn’t falter Ripley’s objective of incessant deprecation, torching every non-human creature in sight until every alien being in that room is nothing but a pile of charcoal. Upon their exodus is the decadence of a once flourishing breeding ground, reduced to decimated piles of organic matter, shred to pieces and left as a mixture of bodily juices and tissue spread across the ground, the reminiscence of extraterrestrial life caught ablaze by the wrath of one woman’s ambition for destruction. The holocaust was complete.

“Jesus Christ!” I muttered under my breath, having just witnessed one of the most nefarious scenes in the history of film. I leaned back in my seat and looked toward the aisle, taking a break from the intensity that lay before me. “How could anybody watch that and not be affected by its dete—“

That thought abruptly dropped out of my head. My eyes turned down, fixated on a much more urgent matter—a round, dark face, the lips separated, hanging naturally open with an amorphous line of mucus running from the upper lip to the nostrils, signifying that it hadn’t been wiped in some time. Nappy strands of brown hair frayed beyond the limits of her shoulders, suggesting that it had missed a much needed combing. Above the nose was a pair of blue eyes, just like Newt’s, permanently transfixed on an intractable object, a position that had not wavered for much of the trip’s tenure. I followed the line of vision, leading to images of detestable violence—my computer screen. My oblivious nature prevented me from realizing that I had a companion during the viewing of this on-screen massacre—a 6-year-old little girl… Uh oh…

This was bad. Really bad! What was I to do? The damage had been done, her innocence had been ruined, and she had witnessed the R-rated horror fest and already been scarred for life! Every night from this day forward, she’d wake up from a frightening dream where she’s stuck in an alien nest while an unknown parasitic creature explodes out of her stomach! We’re talking the possible first female governor of Minnesota, whose dream is in danger of being forever lost! I quickly forged a plan inside my head, clever and cunning, to relieve me from this current crisis. It was going to work. It had to work, or else…

I shut my laptop, put it away, and started reading a book, acting as if nothing had ever happened. Nobody was the wiser, and the girl didn’t move a single inch the rest of the trip, not even to wipe the constant molasses-paced flow of snot oozing from her nose, which further accumulated on the bridge of her upper lip; her eyes stuck on the back of my seat as if the movie were still playing. Her father didn’t suspect a thing, drinking a coffee and too focused on solving a Sudoku on the other side of me, a stroke of luck that may have proved to be essential to my survival. What a nerd!

On the outside, I was cool and content, nothing to fret about while reading my literary classic. I guess you can say it’s a testament to my superb acting skills, for inside, my heart was beating fiercely and my mind was spinning with extreme paranoia. How in the world was I suppose to focus on this stupid book with the knowledge that I just ruined some young sweetheart’s innocence? And what was the point of reading anyway? I mean 1984? Really? Orwell was way off the mark on that one!

We began our decent, the longest one in the history of aviation. With my head buried in my book, I made quick glances every other minute to monitor the situation, holding onto a false sense of hope of getting out of this unscathed. To my left: the father was still stuck on his puzzle. Man, this guy really sucks at Sudoku! To the right: no change, except for a slight tremble throughout her body that seemed to become more violent with each glance.

The plane landed and crept into its designated gate. I swear the pilot must be 100 years old or something. Any slower and we’d have been moving backwards!

I looked at the dad. Son of a B, he’s finally figuring it out. I look back at the little girl—oh God, I can’t take it anymore! I’m about to explode. Hurry old man, I need off this freaking plane!

“Calm yourself, man,” I tell myself. Making a scene will just make matters worse. You have your stuff packed. There is still time. Breathe man, breathe, deep and slow. The nerd next to you still hasn’t finished his Sudoku. You have time. R-E-L-A-X. The plan is set… Good, you’re calming! You know what you need to do. Just wait, and breathe… Breathe… Brea—

“BUM.”

The seatbelt sign turns off. I pop out of my seat and slide past the little girl and into the aisle. What great finesse. I wish I had time to acknowledge my smooth exit. I look down the aisle—nothing but empty space. I’m out of here—

“Crap!” My carry-on!” I open the overhead and swiftly swing it out from above; a waste of two valuable seconds. I’m ready. I turn. I make my escape. I’ll be off this plane in no time—

Too late. One instant, a blissful space of tranquil stillness; the next, utter chaos and congestion, the same effect that a baby loaf of cheese may have on the digestive system. Great… just great.

Oh, and just my luck, I happened to be behind the world’s number one lollygagger of all time. Yea dude, by all means, get in my way, bend your fat butt across the aisle and over stuff your backpack with your iPad, laptop, book, and all the rest of your useless crap while the rest of the aisle fills in front of you. The rest of us are in no hurry. None at all! I’m sure there’s a valid reason why you couldn’t have done all that before hand, like I did.

10 minutes pass… 10 torturous minutes. And man, this dingleberry wouldn’t shut the hell up for the end of the world! His glib smile, the unbearable cackle, the fact the he was casually flirting with all of the 40-year-old mom’s in our vicinity…

“So, I just came back from Africa where I spent a week feeding poor and neglected children. It’s a part of my job of working for a non-profit organization that cares about the lives of the underprivileged in this world while—“

Oh my God. I. Don’t. CARE!!! God that guy was starting to piss me off. Every syllable further enraged my body with a fury that was going to choke the life out of this—

“Breathe man, breathe. There’s still time. Don’t let your anxiety get the best of you. You’re not in trouble yet. Keep your cool. Making a scene will make things worse. Big deep breathes. Breathe man… Breathe… Breathe—“

“Oh, go ahead mam, after you.”

“Oh c’mon! Yes, please miss lady, go and take your sweet ass time getting off the plane! The rest of us certainly have nowhere else to go. I don’t mind at all if it takes you two minutes to grab your suitcase out from the overhead bin and walk down the aisle! And way to be a gentleman Mr. Lollygagger! I’m sure the way you were raised, it was perfectly acceptable to not help an old fart with her suitcase!” Seriously, this dusty old bird was methodically moving in such a fashion that would make watching the flow of crude oil seem like an exciting experience!

A quick glance back to my seat unveiled an imminent mission compromise. My cover was blown. The dad began to suspect that something was wrong with her daughter. Yea, it sure took ya long enough!

But that wouldn’t have mattered either way. I turned back, monitoring the situation through my peripherals. She was talking, a conversation I couldn’t decipher, but intuition had it that she was about to spill the beans. But wait… there was only one more row ahead of me. Almost home free, just breathe man… breathe—

“Oh, better get my carry-on out, sorry guys…”

Are you FREAKING KIDDING ME! Screw that noise! You crossed the line, pushed me over the edge, pulled the last straw, insert hackneyed platitude for having enough! No more Mr. Nice Guy! Move it or lose it chump!

I squeezed past that dingleberry and gave him a nice nudge so my roller suitcase could find a smooth path, and a little extra for all of the trouble he caused. He turned his head blasted a sissy sounding complaint my way, but I didn’t listen. In fact, I didn’t even care! I for one was glad he was mad! My only regret was that I didn’t leave a silent but deadly for him to embrace on his way out.

I scurried down the terminal to catch the shuttle transferring me from S gate to baggage claim, grateful to God that I had made it out in one piece. My moves were brisk, traveling with purpose, but just slow enough not to cause unusual suspicion.

“This doors are about to close…” sounded an automated voice through the shuttle transfer station.

“Not if I can help it!” I made a dash for it, my roller carry-on flopping every which direction in my attempt to hop on the shuttle, spending half its time in the air and the other half dragging on the ground, essentially defeating the purpose of the rollers in general. None of that mattered, not at this moment.

Warning signs plastered the sides of the shuttle doors. “Do not attempt to enter when the doors are closing.” Sure, like it’s going to shut and crush me, and leave while I’m stuck in-between the doors, sending me to my inevitable death. No way they’d create a liability like that, not in such a progressive city like Seattle.

And just as I predicted, the doors shut, then reopened to let me through with ease. In the distance, through the windows of the shuttle car, I saw the little girl and her father rush forward to make it on. The menacing sight of a shutting shuttle door however prevented any attempt to climb on board. What a bunch of suckers! I couldn’t help but form a giant grin across my face, complimented by a feeling as if I had just gotten away with murder as the shuttle accelerated past S gate and onto baggage claim…

I stood at the edge of the escalator, breathing a sigh of relief that this disaster of a trip was near an end, the only thing between the mobile staircase and my home being the Seattle Light Rail, a rather safe and conservative mode of transportation.

It’s kind of a beautiful thing if you think about it. Not the light rail, but that feeling of averting disaster, the moment where you can slow things down and reanalyze the world around you, where every tangible object has a purpose, from the stair railing on the escalator, the headphones stuck in the teenager’s ears behind me, the woman’s pink suitcase to my left, to the wedding ring worn on the elderly man finger in front of me. And each one of these individuals has a unique story of why they’re here on this day, making their way through the SeaTac airport; a story that includes a rich history of love, heartbreak, accomplishment, and adventure among other things. Some of these stories are still just in the beginning stages, as was the case of the young 4-year-old three steps in front of me. From the look in her eyes, it was evident that when it was all said and done, she would a grand story to tell.

Her stance and body posture, surveying the amazement of such a brilliant spectacle of technological ingenuity, glistened like a diamond among the sea of strangers. Never before had she seen a staircase that moved itself. She marveled at the way a simple machine was able to carry such a large aggregate of mass from one floor to another with relatively no effort. It was a vision unlike any other, an endless line of people gathering on a single track, watching them as she grew shorter and shorter while they forever remained higher and growing at a constant pace.

It was at this moment when she discovered her purpose in life and her passion for living. At age 4, she knew she would go on to design some of the greatest machines ever crafted by man. She was to be the world’s greatest engineer, a true specimen of genius and integrity that Ayn Rand could only dream about. Calling her the next Elon Musk or Nikola Tesla would be a compliment to Elon Musk and Nikola Tesla.

And while experiencing the workings of this powerful machine, another vision came to her, obfuscating the physical world around her. She was to battle politicians over erroneous regulations standing in the way of progress, overcome dishonest competition, and get stabbed in the back by the people closest to her, whose only scientific motive in the end would be profit. But she would never give up! And after a lifetime of struggle, sacrifice, and never-ceasing work, she would follow through on her goal of making the world a better place, or die trying. This was the moment, on this descending escalator leading to baggage claim in the SeaTac airport, and I as the witness, that this little 4-year-old girl, brave and full untapped potential, knew that she was destined to change the worl—

Her eyes abruptly grew to the size of grapefruits the moment the escalator reached the bottom and flattened out. She was ill prepared for the dismount with her back turned to the escalator’s edge, resulting in an unfettered and non-uniform wavering of limbs; her knowledge of the newly discovered technology proving to be quite primitive.

It was a loss of balance, followed by a predilection to lean backwards, sending her into a roll, ending with two legs clothed in black tights pointing straight towards the ceiling with its connecting body lying flat on the ground, an unrecoverable position which wavered back and forth on the cusp of static and dynamic foundation. Her body remained at the bottom, ignored by the businessmen who stepped over the cadaver scraping along the edge as if it didn’t exist. She was helpless against the relentless nature of the machine, a soulless creation of blind justice, as all machines are; their good and evil intentions determined by their operator, a lesson this young 4-year-old learned the hard way.

“Audrey… AUDREY!!!”

Judging by the sound of the blood-curdling scream behind me, this little girl’s name was Audrey.

A fierce elbow pressed against my body, and then I watched as the woman, presumably Audrey’s mother, ungracefully scurried down the escalator, plowing over patrons in a desperate attempt to extricate Audrey from the morbid affair she had found herself in.

Audrey’s mother grabbed her from up off the ground and held her tight, saving her from being skinned alive. Audrey clinged tight against her mother in response, hesitant on delivering a reaction, too overwhelmed by the rapid state of affairs that had just taken place, an understandable emotion after a near death experience. Her facial expression matched that of another young girl’s I’d recently seen, of whom unintentionally gazed upon a perturbing scene of intergalactic slaughter.

Then, it hit her. Her senses regained, her eyes swelled, and an effusion of tears released from her cloudy eyes, leaving a trail of breadcrumbs along the ground as Audrey and her mother disappeared into anonymity. A constant scream resonated through the corridors of the parking garage, the sound of a little girl’s dream escaping her body, forever lost into dissipation among the walls of the SeaTac airport, accompanied by a piece of my soul…

It was a very long ride back to Seattle, where again, I found myself pondering the benevolence of my existence. And believe me, on that light rail, you have a LOT of time to think!

I know full well that trouble seems to follow me everywhere I go, and for the most part, I’m able to absorb it as it comes. But this time, I managed to bring this madness upon the most innocent among us, corrupting their lives with my presence, a sin that I fear I may never be able to absolve myself from.

“It’s all probably just a coincidence,” I told to myself. But then again, I’m a very superstitious guy, and have never understood the concept of a coincidence. The thought even crossed my mind of never setting foot in MSP again, the ultimate sacrifice. That was nonsense though. My will isn’t strong enough to ever conceive of such an idea.

More thoughts began to pour into my head, about the universe, and time continuum, and contemplating whether or not my simple presence contributed to the demise of these young sweethearts. “Great, exactly what I need right now.” But unfortunately, you can’t always control what runs through the ol’ noggin.

But the thought that scared me the most was that someday, I may have a little sweetheart of my own roaming through the concourses of the Minneapolis-St. Paul Airport, and who knows what sort of trouble she’ll get herself into. I mean, I’ll sure do my darn best to look after her, but I’m not a perfect specimen by any means, and I’m sure there’s going to be lots of situations that require lots of explanation.

But maybe that’s part of the fun; making mistakes and learning from them, and then teaching everybody else so they don’t make the same mistakes you did? We get to take all of those bad experiences and those sticky situations that we went through over the years and pass them on to our sweethearts to better their lives.

Holy crap, that’s actually a really awesome concept! Man, now that I think of it, I have a lot I can teach! That’s really cool!

And luckily, each one of those sweethearts whose lives I had potentially ruined had somebody looking after them and guiding them along the way, even if they are in fact terrible at Sudoku. We all need somebody looking out for us from time to time, and whether you know it or not, you’re a sweetheart to somebody. Heck, it’s the only way we survive! And sooner or later, we have our own little sweethearts that enter into our lives, old and young that we have the privilege of looking after, whether they be friends, family, boundary babes, Packer babes, running babes, or babes who like Lulu Lemon! They’re all special, and that’s really a wonderful thing!

So when it’s all said and done, with all the crazy things happening in this world, whether it be my fault or not… in the end, I think those sweethearts are going to turn out to be just fine…

And I think mine will too… Someday…

-Grizzly Chadams

That Time I Became a Jedi Knight for a Wedding…

There is nothing that brings a group of convivial spirits together better than a wedding. Something about two individuals professing their everlasting love to each other just gets people in the mood for dancing, drinking, meeting and greeting, followed by excessive celebration throughout the night. I love showing up and raising eyebrows as I strut around on the dance floor in a newly tailored suit, at the same time fawning over the beautiful members of the opposite sex who are dressed equally as fashionable. They’re one of my favorite things to attend these days.

So when my longtime childhood friend Nate told me that he was getting married, I was more than excited to participate in the festivities along with all of the preceding events leading up to the big day. The first matter of business of course, was the bachelor party.

Now to be honest, I imagined a sentimental night reminiscing with a couple of old friends with what we used do on any typical Friday night when we were youngsters growing up in our small rural town along the Snake River; sitting around the TV with a large pepperoni lover’s pizza from Pizza Hut and a 12 pack of Mountain Dew, playing an epic game of Monopoly. And to top the night off, we’d finish with a little TGIF, watching only the classics of course; Family Matters, Boy Meets World, and Step by Step among a list of other great family friendly shows before popping into the VCR a selection from the Star Wars trilogy and fading into a deep slumber. It would be the perfect departure from bachelor life for our good friend before taking that final step into adulthood…

47 drinks later, I found myself at the rehearsal lunch the next day hating the very essence of human existence. My regularly extroverted personality had quickly turned quite misanthropic, as I sat at the table finding the task of swallowing food increasingly difficult, further regretting my bibulous decisions from the night before. With my face turned pale and my eyes bloodshot red and drooping halfway down my face, it was clearly evident that my cadaverous features had me in the running for poster boy of the Spokane County morgue.

I guess you could say that that day… just wasn’t my day. But at least I had the rest of the afternoon to recover before Nate’s wedding the day after, and thank God for that. I needed to be at the top of my game, because lets face it, wedding’s aren’t just a time to watch a couple present themselves as one under the blessing of God. They’re also prime territory for meeting babes… LOTS of babes!

On that sunny Sunday morning, after a good night of much needed sleep, I headed to the Glover Mansion, a historic landmark of Spokane, Washington where the wedding was to be held. Built in 1888 by famed architect Kirtland Cutter, this 12,000 square foot masterpiece takes the elegance of the Victorian era and mixes it with modern amenities such as electricity, air-conditioning, and Xbox, while still seamlessly preserving a classy 19th century look. I, as well as the other members of the wedding party, was enamored at the myriad of rooms to be explored amongst the vast layout of the place. Walking through the ballroom and up the stairs, I imagined a grand history of glamorous city functions that had taken place within the walls of the home: the rich and famous that had once stood in the very spot I was standing, the elegant parties held by Spokane’s aristocratic elite in the roaring 20’s, or the line of children scurrying down the steps each Christmas morning overlooking the spectacle of a 12 foot Douglas Fir meticulously decorated with a beautiful assortment of ornaments, towering over a collage of presents scattered about the room.

Along the upstairs hallway past the awning of the staircase, I peaked into a long line of bedrooms, each one housing in its past many a children, teenagers, parents and servants, each of whom had created their own memories, including semi-violent scuffles from family feuds between the siblings, deeply held secrets of sinister acts dealt within the mansion’s walls and never to be mentioned to the parents in fear of a spanking or grounding, and generations of people living out their lives in opulence and luxury, savoring the special occasions that cements the miracle of family. All of which is merely but a small fraction of the mansion’s 100 plus year history; a history that will never be complete, forever locked away in the minds of its previous dwellers.

The refined décor of the mansion’s interior screamed romance, an obvious attraction for wedding locale. And in almost all cases, romance attracts one other important element that wouldn’t make a wedding complete without it’s complement… Girls!

As for the wedding itself, I wasn’t exactly a groomsman, but still seen somewhat as a guest of honor, able to hang out with the homies and do the groomsmen type of stuff before the commencement of the day’s activities. Most people would be a little sour about not being picked as a groomsman, but the way I see it, I’m still looked upon with importance to the groom, while holding less responsibility, thus, giving me more time to plot my strategies and execute my mission to pick up more babes, a mission that my mind quickly began convincing me that it was to be the day’s primary objective.

Not long after I arrived, the first prospect came strolling by the groomsmen’s lair. “Can I get you guys anything?” sounded a pretty voice, just sweet enough to divert my attention away from the major Halo pown session I was delivering on the Xbox. It was the wedding planner, a traditional cutie presented to us gracefully in a summer dress, one of my favorite types. A couple dumbstruck looks floated around the room, as if they didn’t exactly know what to do when a situation like this arises. Luckily for them, I had a witty and concise request up my sleeve to relieve the stagnant awkwardness consuming the room.

“Yea, I’d like a round of beers,” I stated, followed by a few chuckles from the rest of the party.

“No problem, I’ll bring you guys up a couple of Blue Moon’s,” she replied with straight and proper demeanor, much to our astonishment. My buddy Alex and I looked at each other with bewilderment, as if we had just watched Jesus himself turn water into wine. A minute later she was back with 8 full bottles of beer, more than plenty for each of us to get loose with before show time, an accommodation that literally took my breath away. I knew this one was worth it, at least for some good conversation, with the possibility of a number exchange.

I spent a couple minutes ironing out my moves, contemplating how to approach the situation and what lines to say, then waiting for the opportune moment to strike. I could start with a few trivial questions about the history of the mansion, spark some intellectual curiosity, then move into some small talk, a perfect setup to swoop in with a clever pick-up line and sweep her off her feet.

After a minute of preparation, I was ready for action. This doll was in my sights, and I set out to claim her full of confidence and adroitness… only to be stopped within footsteps of my prize by Nate’s father, our long time spiritual advisor.

“Follow me,” he insisted with a slight grin on his face. I was very reluctant to do so, for I had this anxious feeling that it could destroy all of the plans I had worked so hard to set in place. Regardless of my quarrels, I decided to abort my mission for the time being and settle into what he had to say out of respect for the man. I’d get my chance; patience was the key.

“I’m going to need your help during the reception,” he began as he led me into one of the empty rooms of the mansion. His smile grew ever more vivacious as he began pulling out an oversized brown cloak from a closet in which the fabric never seemed to have an end judging by the amount of pulling that was required to lift it completely off the ground. After a minute of pulling, it was finally removed from the closet, and in the corner appeared a long glass shaft with some metallic gizmos at one end. Nate’s father looked around the room in a sheepish manner, while my intuition foresaw bad idea brewing inside his head. When the coast was clear, he grabbed the glass wand and pressed a button, illuminating the glass with a bright neon blue color. It was now abundantly clear what this long, light infused object was, and I could feel my heart sinking into the abysmal depths of my chest, fearing that I was to have a significant level of involvement with it. With a cloak in one hand, and a lightsaber in the other, he leaned in close to my ear and whispered…

“I want YOU to be a Star Wars Jedi Knight during the wedding.”

“NOOOOOOOOO!” I screamed inside my skull. This was bad. REALLY bad.

“And?”

“And you’re going to walk around, and talk to people like you’re a Jedi from Star Wars. You know, like Obi-Wan Kenobi, or Yoda, or Luke Skywalker! It’s going to be really funny.”

The look in his eyes—I don’t think I’ve ever seen Nate’s dad so excited for anything in his entire life. And I could understand; his son was getting married, and in his eyes this would be the coupe de grace of all toasts to end toasts for future toasts for all people who like to toast. What I’m trying to say is, if I went through with this, my chances for getting any girls at this wedding would be, well, toast.

“Uh, ok, I guess I could think of something to do when-“

“Great! We’ll talk a little later, I’m going to go check on some of the other family members,” he told me while dumping the Jedi equipment in my hands and disappearing into the depths of the mansion. In the distance I caught a glimpse of Nate’s younger brother looking upon my overwhelmed stature and shaking his head, vicariously feeling the anguish I was suffering. But what was I going to do? Say no? I’m sure he had this stunt planned out for weeks—months even, and had been counting on me and me alone to pull it off.

Some quick background before I go any further: As kids, we used to love Star Wars, like many young children did. There were many weekends and even weekdays where we’d stay up late watching the movies over and over again, arguing over its history and why and how the events took place the way they did. It opened up an endless imagination of space and exploration, with a good mix of fantasy and mythology, a perfect aggregation that we seemed to never grow tired of, especially Nate. Over the years, many of us kept our appreciation for the film series, even the butchered prequels, with Nate showing the most affection, something I completely respect the man for. But I just couldn’t see him bringing homage to his Star Wars adulation at his wedding. I guess his father had a different idea, and who am I to argue?

Anyway, the outdoor wedding ceremony began, and it was hotter than a honey bucket in the Gobi Desert. My 100% cotton shirt wasn’t doing me any favors either, intensifying strategically placed discolorations under my armpits and back from the copious amount of sweat dripping from my pores. “How the hell did I get myself into this,” I kept asking myself, escalating my frustration through each thought that entered my head. I don’t know why Nate just couldn’t have made me a groomsman. It would’ve been way easier to pick up babes that way, and I could have easily gotten out of stupid Jedi duties. It seems like this type of crap keeps on happening to me wherever I go.

They said some vows and kissed or whatever—I don’t exactly remember in what order; I was still a little steamed about being a Jedi and suffering in the baking sun. Don’t worry, I kept my cool and didn’t make a scene, partly out of respect for Nate, but mostly because my parents were there and I didn’t want to deal with getting the wide-eyed death stare from my mother mixed with the “cut it out” hand gesture across the throat, or get a disappointment lecture from the old man later. Both suck in their own separate ways.

My angst didn’t stop there. During the ceremonial lunch, I was constantly tormented by my throbbing heartbeat, a subconscious reaction to the fact that I was about to look like a complete dork in front of everybody. I hadn’t felt this much anxiety since the time cousin Nick made me do a belly flop at the Wisconsin Chain O’ Lakes in front of a parade of pontoon boats, and the more I tried to forget about the whole thing and conceal my emotions, the harder they came crashing down. It took a long time for me to overcome my nerdy past of math teaming, chess clubbing, Magic: The Gathering, and computer plugging from high-school, and as an engineer, I’m constantly battling the stigmas of nerdom, which is not an easy thing to do, but somehow seem to pull off from time to time. God knows how many years this little spectacle was going to set me back.

The ambience of talk and background music faded as the honored guests took center stage to begin their toasts, my cue to sneak off to the upstairs and prepare for my “Grand Entrance.” “Oh gee, I have to go to the bathroom,” I told my surrounding company as I glibly excused myself from my table and headed towards my immanent doom. I reached the backroom where the stunt’s apparatus lay, but not before something else caught my eye in the bridesmaid’s den; an open bottle of champagne placed smack dab in the middle of a table with droplets of water bleeding through the glass. I wish I could say I skipped passed that room without touching the bottle, but shamefully, desperate times call for desperate measures, and my human willpower wasn’t strong enough to resist the temptation.

After my quick pit stop, I settled into the backroom, slipped on the Jedi cloak and grasped the lightsaber tightly as if I was ready for battle. “Maybe I don’t look so bad,” I thought to myself, working up the courage to raise my head and take a look in the mirror. “Who knows, I may even look pretty cool…”

It was worse than I could have ever imagined. I looked like a total dweeb, and in the era of social media, that means you’ll always and forever be a dweeb. There were going to be pictures and video evidence plastered all over Facebook, Instagram, and all those other bull crap websites. Potential employers would see that and be all, “This guy has the goods, but look at him in this ridiculous Star Wars outfit! I think we’re going to have to go with this Ben Woodward kid instead.” And what if I ever had the blessing of meeting my hero Kanye West? “Oh, you’re that dude that looks like a jerk in that Jedi costume. No way you’re dope enough to kick it with me,” he’d say before driving off on his hog with his smokin’ hot wife.

Man, all these scenarios were starting to make me a little light headed. The intensity of my breathing increased and I began to keel over, nearly losing the ability to stand. “I hope I don’t pass out from a panic attack,” I said to myself… or did I?

Then, a sudden epiphany struck me, sending a sensation of feeling back into my legs. Alex and I had spotted an old secret passageway earlier when we went exploring around the crib—an old servant’s staircase out of sight from the mansion’s main interior. It led to the staff kitchen, which connected to the dining room where lunch was being served that had a door leading to the patio outside. With everybody’s attention on the guests of honor divvying out their toasts, it was a clear and straight shot to freedom. I could bail out of there without even being seen, if it weren’t for the fact that I had my backpack still lying in the groomsmen’s lair. It had a couple of valuables in there, an Ernest Hemmingway book, some Green Bay Packers paraphernalia, and my private journal of which I had spent two years recording my inner thoughts and writing down all the important events that had taken place, along with a couple great ideas that I had plans of pursuing in the future, many of which are very personal. With that thing in the wrong hands, the consequences could be devastating, let alone the fact that I was about to lose two years of invaluable knowledge and memories I had worked so hard on to inscribe. I guess some sacrifices just have to be made…

“My iPad!” I blurted as my palm met my forehead with a giant “smack!” I realized I had brought it with me for some silly reason! I don’t even know why it was in my backpack in the first place! “Crap,” I puttered as I jerked my head forward and gritted on my teeth. “I spent like 600 bucks on that thing!”

There was no way I was leaving without that! So once again, I was back at square one, in torturous solidarity waiting for the ultimate and inevitable humiliation.

Through the hall echoed the toasts from the bridesmaids. I listened attentively as they poured out their hearts and emotions for the newly wed couple, wishing them the best of luck and sending kind words of gratitude for all the memories and impacts they had on each of them. “No. Stop. Don’t do it,” I kept telling myself, but it was no use. A giant wave of guilt blasted away my selfish desires, similar to how Luke Skywalker blew apart the Death Star in the original Star Wars movie.

“What was I thinking,” I asked myself. “We’re talking about one of my childhood best friends here!” All the memories—the monopoly games, Mountain Dew consumption, Nintendo 64, James Bond Golden Eye, Sim-City 2000, TGIF, Pizza-Hut ordering, Nudey scene from Titanic—The point I’m trying to make is that there was too much history there, and Star Wars was his all-time favorite movies series, the consummation of our childhood! Sure, he isn’t as into it as he once was, but it’s still important to him… it has to be. Chances are he’s going to appreciate the ode to our favorite pastime and the fact that I looked like a doofus in front of everybody. Maybe I can suck it up and do it, or just kind of ease into a plan B or something—

Too late. The Star Wars fanfare boomed through the speakers from the wedding DJ. Go time.

Before I could figure out what to do, my legs involuntarily moved my body down the steps and onto center stage, with all eyes fixated on this dingus who was clad in an oversized brown cloak. Through my peripherals, I could definitely tell I was creeping a couple of the hotties out, but whatever. That was neither here nor there anymore.

I approached the wedding party’s table and revealed myself to the man of the hour, sitting next to his bride by pulling off the hood. They shot me a smile that resembled that of amusement mixed with delight, and maybe a little shot of “really?” on the side. I pulled out the lightsaber and proceeded to knight my newly wedded friend.

“Nate, my young padwan… You have completed your Jedi training. You are now worthy of courting your princess. Go in peace my young Jedi… and may the force be with you… Always.”

Something along those lines was said; I can’t remember the exact phrases. To be honest, I don’t know if you can ever remember something you say when it comes directly from the heart.

The Jedi knighting was followed by a hearty resonance of clapping and laughter. I couldn’t tell if I had actually pulled this off or if they were just placating me with a polite response. Frankly, I didn’t think about that part too hard, I was just glad the whole thing was over. And you know, I think I even made that babe of a wedding planner smile a little bit, even when she was trying hard not to. But even better was the look of sincere gratitude Nate’s father flashed me as I made my way back up through the crowd after the knighting was finished. I left with a solid feeling that although I may have made a complete ass out of myself, I had at least lightened the mood for a couple of folks, and touched the hearts of others.

Sometimes, it just takes a man to be willing to go through a little humiliation to better the populace. And I guess in the end, it’s just a reflection of one’s character, the type of person they truly are—their creed.

So when it was all said and done, I wasn’t able to nail down any hot dates with any babes, but you know, that’s ok. Getting together that weekend for a celebration of life and love brought back a lot of great memories with a lot of great friends. And most importantly, Nate scored a dame that he’ll get to spend the rest of his life with, a good one at that. That’s something I can definitely live with, no matter how many stupid Jedi pictures get posted on Facebook.

Besides, I still got a couple more weddings to knock out before the season’s over. If I play my cards right, I just might run into a broad or two; I mean, the odds are kind of in my favor now. I bet there’s a lucky babe waiting just around the corner looking for her Jedi hunk.

A very lucky babe…

The Secret Underground of the West Bremerton Wrestling Federation

It was just another one of your typical spring days in the Puget Sound—damp and dark, with a constant, heavy drizzle of rain.  Not like one of those crazy Midwest rainstorms that come out of nowhere and hammers you for a couple minutes with an intense, thunderous storm followed by a streak of sunshine; Mother Nature’s nice way of reminding us how powerful she is and why we shall respect her.  In the Pacific Northwest, she reminds us of her dominance in a much more subtle, but torturous manner…

 

To put it bluntly, it rains.  Period.  It will rain for days, weeks, and when she’s really pissed off, months even.  You wake from your peaceful slumber to a steady flow of water droplets pummeling the ground day after day, beating onto your skin as you step outside to make the morning commute, slowly seeping deeper into your already darkened soul.  Little by little, like the frog who’s stuck in the pot water that gradually turns to a boil, it wears you down to the point where it becomes accepted as part of your everyday routine, analogous to the mundane work that is to be accomplished when you arrive at work.

 

Then finally, after a much-extended departure, a few rays of light seep through a slight break in the clouds, sending the Olympic Peninsula natives into a frenzy of adulation.  We rejoice in the miracle of sunshine and spend much of our workday talking amongst our peers about our great plans for the weekend, now that the streaks of grey have been vanquished from the sky—our one and only sign of hope.

 

We crawl into bed with delusions of grandeur, for the sun, that bright ball of fire in the sky that had departed so long ago and had nearly been erased from our memory, would finally return to us.  Then, the very next morning, you are woken by the same persistent sound of tapping on the roof and windowsills.   You rise with every emotion drained from your body, except for a slight smirk, a recognition of the irony from the sights and sounds of sorrow, fooled once again to think we might actually have a chance to live through a day of nice weather.  And once again, the cycle repeats itself, forever ongoing, beating us into submission and furthering our depressed state.  No wonder so many people look like they’re in a terrible mood in the city of Seattle.

 

The rain doesn’t always have such a negative effect, however.  It makes us Pacific Northwesterners who deal with it day in and day out hardened to the fact that bad weather is a part of life, and that we must deal with or die.  We learn to suck it up, to pedal our bikes through unyielding walls of water just to make it to work to produce goods and services for the proud, work-driven community, or hike through flooded plains and mud-ridden trails to reach a destination of everlasting beauty.  It’s much like how the Wisconsinites deal with the bitter and cold winters with their sub-zero temperatures, or the harsh and blistering summer climate in the southwestern states.  It gives us all an appreciation of those wonderful days when by an act of God, the sun is shining bright between the Olympic and Cascade mountain ranges without a cloud in the sky.

 

Much was the attitude that I discovered that liquid-saturated Saturday preceding Cinco de Mayo when I ventured down Callow Avenue in Bremerton, Washington with my go-to skate buddies Jack and Adam.  For those of you unfamiliar with Callow Avenue, it is a representation of the very best and very worst of what the city of Bremerton has to offer.  It houses a collection of historic businesses that molded the city into what it is today, while at the same time attracting many new stores that seem to undertake a more progressive model to commerce.

 

On either side of the street, you’ll find a mass of pawnshops, which have strategically placed neon signs plastered across the windows with seductive slogans.  One in particular caught my eye, and if I can remember correctly, it had a catchy phrase that went something like, “guns, guns, GUNS!”  Apparently, judging by the signs and the wooden silhouette of a cool cowboy leaning on a post and clasping a smoking pistol, these pawnshops like to sell a lot of guns.

 

Then on the east side of the street across from the town bakery and adjacent to the comic book shop, there is an adult themed store with its specially attributed mannequin models posing in a provocative manner to advertise their explicit clothing line.  They seem to have great deals on a wide range of videos that line the store shelves, which I’m sure keeps their customers coming back for more.  And who can blame them with deals like “3 DVD’s for 19.95,” or “free edible underwear with the purchase of full lingerie set?”  Say what you want about the morality of their product, but there’s no denying that they know how to run a consumer based business.

 

And what would Callow Avenue be without a tobacco shop or two, whose specialties have recently expanded into the reach of glass headpieces?  With the rise of marijuana use due to Washington’s reformed laws, business has been booming for these small business start-ups, and who can blame them for taking full advantage of the law to boost their clientele base?  It’s what any smart businessperson would do, from Donald Trump to Vince McMahon.

 

There is even rumored to be an underground S&M and dominatrix club in one of the back alleys aligning Callow.  Supposedly, some of Bremerton’s finest are members of this exclusive club that is only accessible through secret invitation.  Doctors, lawyers, bankers, among many of the other important citizens of the Kitsap community are supposedly spotted entering the club’s secret passageway to indulge in their inner-most dark desires.  I didn’t believe it at first, but with much persuasion from Ben Woodward, he verified and assured me that such a place exists.  He seems to show a keen interested in those types of places for some reason or another.

 

We had nothing but the harmless intention of composing a high quality Instagram video that afternoon, although the never-ending rain put a stop to those plans real quickly.  It was just impossible to gather the filmmaking resources required to make such a video that lives up to our standards given the cacophonic state of the weather.  All was not lost however, for as we walked further down, a congregation of spectators had come into our sight.  For better or worse, our curiosity guided us past food vendors and hollering fans, some of whom had traveled far and wide from the outskirts of town, including representatives from Shelton, Belfair, Purdy, and many of the other communities out in the sticks that surround the city of Bremerton.

 

After maneuvering through the cluster of crazed fans, growing further impatient from the delay of action, or eyes settled to the middle of the street where a group of children, drenched with an unrelenting barrage of rain water, tirelessly labored to clear a square ring erected from four columns of turnbuckles at the corners and aligned with three rows of ropes.  No matter how much these boys squeegeed or how many towels they soaked up, the unstoppable force of rain continuously militated their efforts.  These modern peasants however were determined to see the ring cleared, and were willing to do whatever it took for the chance to watch their hero’s, many of whom they’ve been waiting their whole life to see, battle it out for their shot at stardom; the superstars of the West Bremerton Wrestling Federation, or better known as the WBWF.

 

I had heard of these small-operation wrestling organizations popping up around different cities with their members aiming to take their skill set to the big leagues.  Usually these events are pretty secretive, with their whereabouts only known by a limited number of hardcore fans who rarely share the details of the sport’s arrangements.  For that, I considered myself lucky that day to have stumbled upon such an event, and I’m sure there was at least a WWE scout or two in the crowd, even if it was raining cats and dogs.

 

After 10 minutes of obstinate work from the child laborers whom of which I’m sure were grossly underpaid, out of nowhere a booming voice with a God-like reverb exploded out of a PA system setup outside a Mexican restaurant.  From the way the man screamed at the boys to get their tiny buns out of the ring, I got the idea that their determination had finally paid off, even though much of the ring was still covered in a thick layer of water.  It mattered not, for rain or shine, we were finally going to see some damn wrestling!

 

The first two opponents stepped out into the ring, a masked behemoth, clad in a full body spandex suit vs. a truly undersized welterweight sporting red and yellow Zumba pants.  Toe to toe they stood, gazing into each other’s eyes with great malice; every second passing adding to their desire to clobber the other into the mat.  The bell rang and the two reached in for a fierce grapple, forcing each other’s weight upon the other, a force that quickly overcame the friction between their florescent colored K-Swiss running shoes and the rain-soaked mat.  What seemed like perfect execution, both wrestlers’ pair of legs flew out underneath them, sending them face first to the mat.  The crash of the two muscular giants thundered throughout Callow as the two turned to their sides, squinting their eyes and wallowing in pain.

 

The referee began his 10-second match disqualification count as the wrestlers desperately attempted to rise from the fall.  I don’t know if he was paying attention, had terrible track of time, or what his issue was, because his 10-second count seemed to last over a minute, for both wrestlers found it extremely difficult to keep their balance during their ascent to stand on two feet.  Both wrestlers slipped and fell back to the ground at least 3 or 4 times before the black behemoth finally rose up, grabbing Zumba’s long, oily locks and forcing him back onto his feet.

 

The behemoth grabbed Zumba by the arm, pulling and using his momentum to send him towards the ropes… perhaps too much momentum.  Again, the behemoth lost his balance and found himself back on the ground.  Zumba saw this as an opportunity, bouncing off the ropes to set up for a fierce guillotine leg drop, a perfect set up for a devastating finisher.

 

He approached the Behemoth lying on his back as he ran full speed and lifted his right leg, the one that would soon be strategically placed across his opponent’s throat, sending maximum pain throughout the rest of his body.  It was a perfect execution, too perfect, only if it hadn’t been for the inch of rainwater covering the mat…

 

Zumba began to slide, waving his arms in a windmilling fashion, doing everything he could to keep his balance and deliver the finishing blow.  However, with one leg already up in the air and a near frictionless wrestling mat, his valiant efforts were ultimately no use.  His left joined his elevated right, an entire ball of muscle floating in the air for a brief moment of time; his eyes widening to the size of silver dollars and his mouth shaping into the letter “O”, bracing for the impact his bony behind was about to make with the floor.

 

“OHHHH,” he cried out holding his left butt check, the one that had taken the brunt of the impact from the monstrous impact.  “C’mon!” we screamed in frustration, sensing that with both men on the ground, the referee would repeat his 5 minute 10-second count all over again.  This match was far from over.

 

Zumba’s mistake proved to be detrimental, for although he was courageous for taking on the masked behemoth, his valor was much too underwhelming for the 100 plus pounds and 8 inches the behemoth had over him, much to the disappointment of the crowd.  Everybody likes a good underdog victory every now and then, especially the couple that was across the ring from me.

 

The wife sported a black shirt with the slogan, “ATF: Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms.  Who brings the chips?” and the husband was clad in a tucked in XXL shirt with Yosemite Sam spread across the torso with two revolvers drawn and the phrase “Back Off!” tucked underneath his belly, well below his waistline.  Their 6 children, soaked in oversized shirts such as “Out of my Mind, be Back in 5 Minutes,” among other witty tops easily purchased at the local Wal-Mart mimicked their parent’s demeanor, hurling insults and yelling furiously at the heels throughout the duration of the event.

 

Soon after the Behemoth celebrated his victory and Zumba pitifully exited the ring in agonizing pain, the piercing sound of the Soviet National Anthem came blaring out of the speakers, one of the most excruciating songs to come out of the 20th century.

 

“What the hell?” I asked myself.  My question was quickly answered as two Russian jerks strutted out of the Mexican restaurant covered with the red hammer and sickle flag alongside their manager who kept waving around old Soviet Union paraphernalia yelling gibberish through a stupid megaphone.  Nothing grinds my gears more than a bunch of loudmouth commies prancing around with unjustified cockiness, especially considering the hostile advances against Ukraine in the past months.  A vicious anger began bellowing inside me, a rage building to uncontrollable levels.  It consumed me so much that I regrettably found myself hurling offenses along the lines of “Putin Sucks.” It was an action way beneath my character, but I could hardly believe the utter lack of respect these guys were showing, and was very much hoping their opponents were strong enough to deliver them the punishment they deserved.

 

After their egregious boasting, out came the other tag team, whose appearance left me a bit concerned I must admit.  The first was a chubby kid; barely of legal age to wrestle in the WBWF, clothed in black tights and in the process of growing a Flock of Seagulls style haircut with purple highlighted tips.  The kid had passion no doubt, a commendable attribute, but at the same time, certainly had a lot to learn about the sport of professional wrestling.

 

His partner, although out of shape, looked to be more of a veteran of the sport.  His hair style was of one of which I had never seen; a blonde and balding bowl cut with two inch long braids lining the perimeter of his head, matching his stained and crooked teeth and his multi-pocketed, flared out bellbottom style jeans, discolored with bleach stains in multiple spots.  His one saving grace was his superman shirt.  Say what you want about the guy, a washed up WBWF legend or recovering meth addict (some would make that assumption, but I never make accusations unless I have hard evidence), but anybody with a superman shirt is a man of integrity, intensity, and intelligence, and will with no doubt come out on top, no matter their appearance.

 

The match began with Mr. Emo up first against one of the Russians.  It was an absolute massacre, right from the get go.  Mr. Emo didn’t stand a chance.  Over and over again the Russian’s took turns throwing him against the turnbuckles and delivering slap chop to his abnormally large breasts and blows to his bloated gut, causing his epidermis to resonate with a high frequency.

 

“No, no!” He screamed as the Russian’s grabbed each of his legs, kicking them up and down as he clasped the ropes for dear life.  His plea was humored, but ultimately ignored as they ripped him from his rope stranglehold and threw him onto the center of the mat, sending a splash of water high into the air.  The Russian’s were just being a couple of buttholes now, placing Mr. Emo in various submissions, shooting pain throughout his body with every twist of his wrist and pull of his leg.

 

The Russian had Mr. Emo stuck in a full crab, a submission move where the victim lies on his stomach while the aggressor sits on his back and takes hold of both legs, pulling them towards the back of his head, causing much strain and deformation to the spine.  Further, the Russian consistently taunted his partner, Superman, as well as the crowd, hurling insults in a heavy eastern dialect that nobody quite understood, but hated all the same.

 

Although they certainly had the upper hand, the Russians’ cockiness were getting the best of their talent.  As they were busy ridiculing the crowd, Mr. Emo was clandestinely slipping away from his opponent’s submissive grip, his hand inching closer to his partners, Superman, who had yet to be tagged into the match.

 

He was so close, nearly a fingertip away from the tag with his arm outstretched and his eyes squinting, a helpful tactic that increases your reach every time it’s tried.  My heart was pounding out of my chest, for we were on the verge of witnessing an epic comeback matching that of when the Packers came back at the last second to beat the Cowboys in the Ice Bowl.  Just a little more reach and they would have it; the match would be theirs…

 

 The Russians pulled Mr. Emo back to the middle of the ring, laughing at his hopeless effort to tag his partner, but the laughter was short lived.  Somehow, by a shear act of God, the tag had been made and Superman was on his way to deliver a world of hurt.  His eyes were full of fury, the humiliation his partner received was about to be repaid in full, and after 10 agonizing minutes, we were finally about to get what we all came for—a good ol’ fashion American ass whoopin’!

 

Superman took a lunge and stuck out his forearm to deliver a close line.  The Russian inside the ring had just enough time to see the blow coming, but not enough time to evade.  Contact was inevitable; the Russians were going down…

 

“WHOA,” screamed the Superman as he realized one of his legs slipped out much to far in front of him.  Before doing the splits and ripping his growing muscles, he miraculously switched leg positions, and switched again, and then again, and again, and again.  It was like a Nordic Track on overdrive, accelerating with intensity with each leg shift.  At the rate his legs were moving, his body was brushing with the peril of a dangerous rotation that could send him to the mat if he wasn’t careful, but I knew he was going to pull out of it.  He was Superman after all.

 

It all happened so quickly; that I can’t quite remember the exact way it went down.  What I do know is one minute he was upright, the next he was down.  His face planted hard against the wet mat, and shortly after, our palms planted hard against our faces.  The Russian picked him up and suplexed him right onto his neck, a finishing move that proved to be incorrigible to recovery.  The Referee went down for the count.  In an attempt to save his partner, Mr. Emo got tangled in the ropes, eventually landing on his stomach with complete uselessness, the epitome of maladroit.  1, 2, 3, and it was all over.

 

The crowd booed off both teams with utter disgust.  I for one was completely ashamed to have these two buffoons represent my country.  Their pathetic display was an embarrassment to our great nation, and the unruly crowd let them have it with disapproving hand gestures, nasty heckles, and flying food particles.  Mr. Emo and Superman did what they could do re-garnish their support, but in the end, they both left the ring in disgrace.

 

The last match was perhaps the most inhumane of the day, a three on three tag-team bout consisting of the most desperate wrestlers in all of Kitsap County.  They came from all sides, the one entering the ring closest to us standing out above the rest.  We were in full view of his cacopygian attributes, and from what I could tell, he may have been only wearing a mask and a white T-shirt, for his overly obese legs, covered in a film of cellulite that had the consistency of cottage cheese, blocked the view of anything between his thighs and waist.

 

The match began and immediately there was trouble in the ring.  The mangers got involved right from the start, distracting the referee while the Cacopygian joined his other teammates in illegally attacking their outnumbered opponent.  For those of you not familiar with tag-team wrestling, the wrestlers can only double or triple team for a brief moment after a tag has been made before they must return the their corner, which these wrestlers were in clear violation of.  The crowd screamed at the ref in an attempt to raise his attention to the unsportsmanlike conduct happening inside the ring, but the more they hollered, the further he got distracted.  For some reason, everybody could see that the bad guys were cheating except for him.  I hate it when that happens.  It’s become a wild epidemic in the wrestling community that after many years still hasn’t fix.  You’d think there’d be better talent out there for referees, but then again, who knows?

 

Eventually the ref did turn back around, and by an astounding miracle things just happened to return to order right before his eyes reverted back into the ring, although the good guys were still beat up pretty bad and at a disadvantage.  It didn’t take long however for pandemonium to rear its ugly head once more after one of the managers slipped a steel-folding chair into the stage.  Cottage cheese legs grabbed the chair and took a swing at his opponent, except the low friction mat caused a slip, turning a brutal chair blow to the head into a petty tap on the shoulder.  The tap seemed to affect him all the same however, causing the good guy to flail back in pain, roll around on the ground and cover his face as if he’d been sprayed with a vile of acid.  The screaming good guy was too much for the ref to handle, quickly calling the match a disqualification.

 

Shortly after he announced his decision, a nasty, vociferous voice came out of the PA system.  A man walked out, claiming to be the CEO of the WBWF.  I believed him, although his appearance caught me a bit off guard.  Usually a ripped pair of jeans, a ratty T-shirt and an unbuttoned flannel doesn’t strike me as common CEO attire, and his cheesy mustache wasn’t doing him any favors either.

 

“I’m the CEO, and this is MY Company.  Therefore, I hereby reverse this match’s decision by the power bestowed on me!”

 

And that’s when all hell broke loose.

 

I really questioned the intelligence and motives of this CEO, and how long he was going to last.  I know his ambitions were high for the WBWF, but I just didn’t see him making it onto the Fortune 500 list anytime soon.  Within’ seconds of his reversal, an all out brawl of ten grown men broke out in the ring, slapping, grabbing and throwing each other around.  One man grabbed a hold of another and forced him onto the ground, thrusting his body weight onto his victim in an attempt to get him to submit.  Two others kept rolling around on the ground, grinding against each other, trying to position themselves on top of the other so they could have the upper hand and be the dominant partner calling the shots, delivering the pain and satisfying their alpha male desires.

 

The ring became a giant collection of blood, sweat, water, and flesh.  I hadn’t seen this much body to body contact since the last time I watched Game of Thrones, and being that this was a live event, the content was much more graphic.  For minutes we watched in horror as the bloodthirsty and obese kept hammering each other over and over again.  We stared in disgust with our mouths locked open as the topless plumps battled, slowly turning into a giant blob of flabby flesh with the occasional limb flopping around in desperation.  The uglier it got, the more impossible it became for us to turn our heads the other way.

 

They nailed each other with lefts and rights and forced their opponents into uncomfortable positions, the victims resisting as their perpetrators held them against their will, forcing their body to twist and turn in ways the good lord never intended.  Eventually, after a long and relentless pounding session, their stamina gave out, and they were left laying on the mat, side by side in a puddle of water mixed with blood, sweat, saliva, and any other bodily fluid that may be extracted during a match of this caliber, with a flood of rain dropping onto their feeble bodies; these weren’t the most athletic warriors after all.  Now, after 20 minutes of intense, physical, and strenuous activity in the ring, they were exhausted of all their strength, left breathless next to their partners in a moment of extreme pain and pleasure that only the participants could truly appreciate.

 

Their moment of intimacy was our cue to exit.  None of us said a word during the walk back through Callow Avenue.  Not even past the adult store, the pawnshops, or suspected S&M club.  We thought about those wrestling warriors that gave it their all in the ring.  Would they ever get their shot, the big time Pay-Per-View main event in the WWE with John Cena?  Only time will tell.  All I know that these athletes were willing to sacrifice it all for their shot at their dreams, and for that, I commend them.  We may not have gotten the Instagram skit we were hoping for, but in the end, I believe we received something much greater, for it’s truly amazing the things you’ll find sometimes when you’re not looking.

 

I think we all learned a great deal that day walking down Callow Street, about life and ourselves.  Maybe someday, we’ll be at that same level of pursuing our dreams, taking the risk of life for the glory inside the ring.  Until then, we’ll look up to these wrestlers with pride, despite their appearance or what opinions society may cast upon them.  We’ll look at them as greater men… The men we could be…  The men we want to be…  The men we can only hope our children will become…

 

-Grizzly Chadams