Monday, February 23, 2009

Everything I Needed to Know About Life I Learned at Scruffy Murphy's

Scruffy Murphy's is a nominally Irish and fully dilapidated bar in Waco, Texas. The floors are concrete. The walls are tagged with all sorts of writing and drawings conveying all sorts of messages, mostly inappropriate. Of the six or so pool tables in the bar, none has a clean, unscarred felt surface or all of the required balls. This means -and I've seen this done- missing balls are shared among tables playing at the same time. A straight cue stick is a pipe dream. Every drink is served in a plastic cup or from a cold bottle. The odd assortment of furniture that comprises the seating on the patio was salvaged from fast food restaurants that couldn't make the grade. I once spent an evening at Scruff's (as the initiated call it) during a thunderstorm. There were more buckets catching rain water from the many holes in the roof than there were patrons at the bar. One of the two urinals in the men's restroom is usually out of order and the door to said restroom, if opened wide enough, exposes anyone relieving oneself to pretty much the entire length of the bar. Scruff's is an unapologetic shithole.

In short, it's my favorite bar.

The usuals at the bar are mostly upper classmen and townies, but at about closing time the population of the bar swells to standing room only as people who struck out at the nicer bars look for one last chance to meet (the running joke is "meat") that special someone, emphasis on someone. The one exception to this routine is St. Patrick's Day when the bar is packed inside and out from about six in the afternoon to closing time. I have thought on more than one occasion that the bar survives the other 364 days of the year on the profits it makes every March 17th.

In the many nights I spent at Scruff's (many more than I'd care to admit), I learned some valuable truths that have been proven again and again as I attempt to navigate my way through this caustically funny life we all try to seem so good at.

- Karaoke is one of the last great egalitarian endeavors of our time. One can absolutely belt out a song with perfect pitch and confident showmanship and receive the same cheers of appreciation as one who mumbles and strains one's way through a song one had no business singing in the first place. It's not about being good, it's about entertaining an audience. Humor and courage can get you through most situations even when talent is lacking.

- Finding a mate is as much about ratios and good fortune as it is about being really, really good looking. Anyone who has spent much time at a bar at closing time can attest to this. There's really no rhyme or reason to love -and I use the word loosely here -it's about meeting someone with the same goals at the same time.

- Never ever, ever, ever get into a drinking contest. Ever. They're dumb, unsafe, unhealthy and do very little to prove anything about anyone other than the fact that those participating are desperate to prove their worth to their peers. This is sort of the lush's version of keeping up with the neighbors. Just because you own a Porsche doesn't mean I need to buy a Ferrari. In the end, we're both assholes.

- There are very few things worth getting in a fight over and almost none of those things happen at bars. Having said that, there is no shortage of people in this world who will fight at bars over girls, perceived slights, lewd gestures from the karaoke stage, or spilled drinks. Avoid those people. If you can't, there's no shame in walking away.

- If you should ever find yourself in the back of a truck, in Mexico, in the early morning, on the way to a drug dealer's house, you have made some poor choices in life. Reassess your decisions and friends but remember every detail of your adventure so you can recount the story to people like me at a bar like Scruffy Murphy's. A well told story goes a long way.

- Never, ever, ever, ever piss off the bartender. There are multiple ways to do this in a crowded bar, but all of them can be avoided if one remembers to not be an asshole. Servers are underappreciated and have to deal with the type of people who get in fights at bars. Be patient. Be clear. Say thank you. Tip well.

- If you should find yourself airborne and parallel to the ground after having been thrown out of a bar (possibly for pissing off the bartender), it was your fault. People who are paid to keep order are often bigger and stronger than you and once they're involved it's too late to say sorry. Be accountable, follow the rules, and you'll get to leave most places of your own accord.

- If you should find yourself involved in a conversation about driving cross country RIGHT NOW to go to a casino, take some time to collect yourself and make a better decision. If you don't take that time, remember every detail of your adventure so you can recount your story to someone like me at a bar like Scruffy Murphy's. A well told story goes a long way.

- If you are employed in a high visibility job like, oh, say assistant football coach at a Big XII university, do not piss on the bar at a place like Scruffy Murphy's. The bouncers will throw you out, the media will get wind of it, and you will no longer have a job. This is especially true if the team you help coach has been consistently horrible during your tenure as an assistant. Even if you're an asshole, someone may look up to you and your employer may expect you to behave in a manner befitting a role model.

- If you go to a bar together -and I'm talking about couples here - go home together. Dance with who brung you, no? This does not mean either of you is going home with someone else. If that's a worry then you're in the wrong relationship to begin with, it means that when one or the other of you is ready to leave, you both leave. This may mean you don't get to stay until closing time, but it will go a long way to proving where your priorities lie. Chalk this up to life lessons learned the hard way. Being unified and supportive helps the gears of love go around.

- The best tasting beer is the beer that costs the least.

- Know thyself. If you're the type of person who goes to Scruffy Murphy's, then you're the type of person who goes to Scruffy Murphy's. Don't try to church it up. People will respect you more if you know who you are and say what you mean.

- If the bar is closing, it's time to go home. Nothing good ever happened after closing time.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Conor Oberst, You Magnificent Bastard

So, Bright Eyes...where to begin?

Firstly, I want to call Bright Eyes a band, but since it's really just one guy can you do that? I find this obnoxious in the same way I find it obnoxious when, speaking about Nine Inch Nails, one feels the necessity to stop and refer only to Trent Reznor as if wrestling with the one man band conundrum. Speaking of, there's this great street performer in London who plays dozens of instruments at the same time. They are all strapped to his legs and feet and there's a drum on his back and horns on frames that run across his face and he carries a guitar and sings. He's truly a one man band. I guess I just answered my question. Moving on...

Secondly, I get tired of Bright Eyes fans. If you are one, don't be offended, I am too. This is convenient because I sometimes get tired of myself so at least I'm being authentic, right? It's all the weightiness of the world and the tight jeans on guys, and the tiny t-shirts (also on guys) and tortured beauty of it all (not the guys, but the dance of life). It just seems so self consciously artistic that I want to burp and do a keg stand just to offset the sensitivity.

Thirdly, and this is my weakest point but I feel like I have to throw it in there or else I won't respect myself when I click "post"- Conor Oberst once did a show in Houston during which he stated something along the lines of, "If I were from Texas, I would shoot myself." Even among the emo kids in attendance there were probably enough gun owners with the weaponry on hand to oblige him. I mean, it IS Texas.

So why the "magnificent" in front of the "bastard?" Quite simply, lyrics like these:

Some plans were made and rice was thrown
A house was built, a baby born
How time can move both fast and slow
Amazes me

And so I raise my glass to symmetry
To the second hand and it's accuracy
To the actual size of everything
The desert is the sand
You can't hold it in your hand
It won't bow to your demands
There's no difference you can make
There's no difference you can make
And if it seems like an accident
A collage of senselessness
You aren't looking hard enough
I wasn't looking hard enough

An argument for consciousness
The instinct of the blind insect
Who makes love to the flower bed
And dies in the first freeze
Oh I want to learn such simple things
No politics, no history
Till what I want and what I need
Can finally be the same

I just got myself to blame
Leave everything up to fate
When there's choices I could make
When there's choices I could make
Yeah, my heart needs a polygraph
Always so eager to pack my bags
When I really wanna stay
When I really wanna stay

When I wanna stay (x4)

The arc of time, the stench of sex
The innocence you can't protect
Each quarter note, each marble step
Walk up and down that lonely treble clef
Each wanting the next one
Each wanting the next one to arrive
Each wanting the next one
Each wanting the next one to arrive

An argument for consciousness
The instinct of the blind insect
Who never thinks not to accept it's fate
That's faith, there's happiness in death
You give to the next one
You give to the next on down the line
You give to the next one
You get to the next on down the line

The levity of longing that
Distills each dream inside my head
By morning watered down forget
On silver stars I wish and wish and wish

Move on to the next one
Move on to the next one down the line
Move on to the next one
Move on to the next one down the line

You get to the next one
You get to the next on down the line
You get to the next one
You get to the next on down the line

That bastard.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009


I heart Chicago.

It's official, Chicago is on my list of cities that, were I to suddenly become God (unlikely), I would scoop up and move to Texas. That may sound ridiculous to you, but if it does you're probably not from Texas. Just saying. Other cities on this list are Buenos Aires, San Francisco, Denver, London, and Charlotte.

Chicago makes the list because it's a beautiful city and it's strikingly well planned compared to the midwestern city I live in. It's the little things. The freeway has express lanes with exits only at the major streets and local lanes with exits at every street. There is a well developed and utilized public transit system. Someone is paying traffic cops to keep an eye and direct traffic at almost every major intersection. Everything has an accurate and easy to understand sign. There are parks throughout downtown and things happen there. By "things" I mean events other than muggings or soirees with hookers.

I can't imagine ever being bored in Chicago. Is that possible? There are so many museums and restaurants and parks and bars and events that you would have to be terminally dull to not come up with something to do. Then there's the history: The Mob, riots, prohibition, baseball, the fire, the railroad, and Oprah. Yup, Chicago is definitely my new "city crush," and right at Valentine's Day (oh yeah, there's the Valentine's Day Massacre as well).

My one complaint is that it is cold in a way I just can't handle, and not for a brief period every year. It is cold with a capital C for a few months every year. I mean, I'd be thinking marriage with Chicago were it not for the cold...and the wind. Like Katt Williams says, you have to buy your coat from there for there. This is part of the reason that, were I to suddenly become God (still unlikely), I would move Chicago to Texas. You can't change cities though, you have to love them for what they are.


Ah Chicago, we could have been perfect for one another.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Inter-American Relations

I overheard the conversation I'm about to recount outside a packed restroom at Crew Stadium last night. A particularly savvy beer man had set up shop right outside the restroom and was selling beer faster than he could pour it. Almost everyone in line was buying. Whether a Mexico fan or a USA fan, the same series of actions was preformed in reaction to the beer man's peddling. First, the buyer would look confused at the oddness of the context in which the beer was being offered. Then the buyer would reluctantly but agreeably shrug his shoulders and ask for a beer. Next, the buyer would take his first sip from his new beer and smile contentedly knowing he was mere feet away from creating room in his bladder for what he had just purchased.

I was in this line, sipping a newly purchased beer, when a Mexico fan, wearing a lucha libre mask, Mexican flag cape, and Mexico jersey walked up to get his picture taken with a USA fan decked out in a full red jumpsuit, USA flag cape, and red, white, and blue painted head. I say "head" because it was most certainly his whole head and not just his face. Both men were spectacularly drunk. Neither man spoke the other's language.

Pancho Villa: Oye, compa! I picture?

Captain America: Fuckin'-A man! USA! USA! USA! Cool.

Pancho Villa [just after the picture was taken turning to Captain America but only being able to look him in the chest]: Joo drun.

Captain America [laughing]: Bo-rach-o! Awooooooooo! You too, man. It's cool if you don't come do my lawn tomorrow.

Pancho Villa: Ho-kay. Ho-kay.

[Both men laughing and hugging]

Pancho Villa: Joo weening es luckee.

Captain America: What!? That goal was awesome! That's not luck! The Alamo was lucky, motherfucker!

[Both men laughing, hugging, high-fiving, laughing, sipping, hugging, and high-fiving again]

I think the two superfans took another picture together, but by that point I was past the threshold of the restroom and could no longer see them. Those of us in the line who had heard the conversation (and understood both sides), eyed each other uneasily. I mean, on the one hand, it really was a comical display. On the other, it was sort of a parody of US/Mexico relations and did more than touch on overt racism. I suppose the men could have actually known one another and that Pancho Villa actually did Captain America's lawn, but I'm guessing that was not the case.

I was mulling this over in my head and trying not to think about how horribly I needed to use the restroom when images of fans in El Salvador, Honduras, and Mexico City popped into my head. Hmmm. Borderline racist drunken hugging and laughing? Or, Overtly violent battery throwing patriotic rage?

The Mexico fan in front of me turned around and we made eye contact.

Me: Viste esos borrachos?

Him [surprised look]: Si, si. Hay pendejos aqui y alli!

[both of us laughing]

Me: Vamos a ganar, sabes?

Him: No, no guerro! Vamos el tri!

Me: No creo que si! Estas borracho tambien?!

[both laughing]

Our conversation ended as we reached the front of the line and we finally got to relieve ourselves. Apparently etiquette on both sides of the border precludes conversation during urination. As an aside, I once broke this rule at a Baylor basketball game when I glanced to my right to see Drayton McLane, owner of the Houston Astros, making use of the urinal next to me. He had just traded Billy Wagner and I had to let him know I, as a long time Astros fan, did not approve. Drayton was friendly and understanding and then said he'd shake my hand but his were otherwise occupied at the time.

Relishing my sweet relief, I sighed contentedly. Yes, there are dumbasses here and there, but thank God we can all go to a soccer match and support our teams without the riot police getting involved...

...and thank God the US won!

Sunday, February 08, 2009

I Want To...

1. Be in a fight - I used to get the crap beaten out of me by my best friend in elementary school. We would be in one or the other's front yard playing army (we were neighbors) and then Adam would snap and land some bruising punches to my back or chest. Mostly, I was confused by this rather than hurt. Adam was really and truly angry at an age when I was most concerned with whether or not my mom, on a cleaning binge, would ship some coveted toy off to Goodwill. My parents argued when I was growing up, but Adam's parents could be heard screaming at one another over the fence. He was a kid in a thorn bush and pounding on me must have given him some release.

My gut reaction to any physical altercation has always been to break it up. As I eventually grew to 6'2 and 215 lbs, my stature seems to have served as a deterrent to most possible brawls. I was once punched in the head at a concert, but I instinctively laughed at the kid who threw the punch and I think this dissuaded him. Who wants to fight someone who laughs at your best shot? It's not that I want to hurt anyone, but to quote a great movie, "How much can you really know about yourself if you've never been in a fight?"

2. Live in the woods for a year - There is something about being alone in the wilderness that completely subverts your conception of what is truly important. When concerns about electrical bills, clothes, email, debt, and relationships are replaced with concerns about food, shelter, water, and beauty life seems to come into brilliant, vibrant relief. As the poet said, "God is in His heaven and all is right with the world."

3. Do something really and truly badass as an occupation - My father has a non-sexual man crush on my brother-in-law. My brother-in-law flies F-18s. My brother-in-law is the GI Joe of my family. My cousin's kids think he's an astronaut and my grandfather, a WWII pilot, gets all misty eyed and excited when he talks aviation with him. I thought all of this was a bit hilarious and not born of a small dose of envy, but then I visited my brother-in-law at his air station and got to watch F-18s tear the sky in half and I realized he's kind of a badass.

4. Work my way around the world - Who wouldn't want to do this? Obviously, I'm speaking from a perspective of leisure and not of necessity, but can you imagine having the freedom to set out east or west, land in a country, and stay until you've worked and saved enough to move on to the next locale? You'd be like Kane from Kung Fu. The road would be your home. Bandits, scrapes with the law, exotic loves, mysterious diseases, revolution. Imagine all you could see and all you could learn?

5. Be multi-lingual - I had Spanish working in my favor for a while, but then I moved to the Midwest. Not a whole lot of Spanish being spoken here. I envy the Europeans I meet who speak French, English, German, Italian, and Spanish. I think I'd take all of those but throw in some Arabic, Farsi, and Chinese for good measure. Oh, and Russian. Maybe if I did 4 I could crawdad my way into 5. Hmmmmmm...

6. Take a bow to the roaring applause of thousands - Does this need explaining? I was reading an author the other day who wrote that when he was younger he wanted to learn to play the guitar, but then realized he could give a damn about the guitar and really just wanted to be a rock star. I was in a punk band in high school and played the bass guitar. I think (I know) I practiced less than anyone in the band. We all started in the same place, but I was rapidly overtaken by my best friend (and lead singer) and soon found myself on the wrong end of a, "I think we're moving in opposite directions," conversation. Getting kicked out of a band is a little like being dumped, but by more than one person at the same time. I guess I got my just rewards. They really were artists. I just liked being on stage.

7. Write a book - Ahhh, the ego.

8. Plan, execute, and get away with a heist - This may be my answer to number 3, although I'm sure my father would not approve. I have always loved heist films. Don't mishear me, I'm not talking about a mugging or a simple burglary. I'm talking about a HEIST. I'm talking about donning a skin tight, temperature controlled skin suit, rappelling into a laser guarded vault, cracking a safe using an advanced gadget (preferably something involving algorithms), and pilfering an invaluable and unique artifact or jewel or government secret. If there's a moral subplot (a la Inside Man) the heist would be that much cooler.

There's a lot more here, but "ten" lists are tedious and I have recently compiled one of those. Who wants to become predictable?

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Boobs, Wings, and Story Value. Not Necessarily in That Order

I have a confession to make. This is not easy, and in writing what I am about to write I fear I may significantly damage conceptions of what you all think of as essentially Me and leave in the wake of those conceptions a polluted shell of a person with whom you would rather not associate. But I have to get this off my chest:

I have been to a Hooters restaurant. More specifically, I have been to three Hooters restaurants.

I immediately regret my decision to use the expression, "I have to get this off my chest," but you must forgive me. I mean, I'm the type of guy who goes to Hooters restaurants.

This indiscretion (or these indiscretions) occurred in July of 2008 and October of 2008. On all three occasions I was accompanied by the same two friends. To protect their identities, I shall call them Bill and Dick. That was a lie. I'm pretty sure they could care less whether or not they are named as willing patrons of Hooters. In fact, Bill may have a collection of Hooters apparel or, at the very least, a frequent diner's card. I mean, this is a guy who bought a signed copy of a Hooters calendar to give to mutual friends of ours on the occasion of their WEDDING (I may have encouraged this). In fact, I'm pretty sure Bill has dated a Hooters girl before. I guess I'm just protecting my identity. Ok, in the interest of accuracy: To protect MY identity, I shall call them Bill and Dick. Better?

Hooters is an interesting place. Somehow, although Hooters is essentially a strip club at which the women never actually disrobe, it has been marketed as a family restaurant. And I have to admit, during all three of my Hooters experiences, there have been actual families dining alongside the gawking men I expected to be there. Maybe it's the fact that it's less sleazy and more tacky; or that the ridiculous outfits, campy songs, and decent wings (seriously, they're quite decent) lend to it an air of all-in-good-fun legitimacy; or maybe it's the best example ever of it-is-what-you-say-it-is. Regardless, I'm not here to deconstruct Hooters and its implications in a feminist sociological construct. I just know that Bill, Dick, and I have been on three different occasions and that on all three occasions, although I reluctantly sulked to the door and muttered under my breath that I could not believe I was about to go to a Hooters, I left with laugh weakened abs and a story to tell.

The first Hooters I ever went to was in West Virginia just inside the border with Virginia. Think about that for a moment:


West Virginia...

If you're like me -and if you're still reading this we probably have some similarities- both Hooters and West Virginia set off a slide show of images in your head. Now, If those images were published and if that book of photos became popular and if it became so popular that it spawned a following of similar books such that a new category for those books was created and if those books were sold in your local bookstore, I like to think the label telling you where to find those books amidst the romance novels, history books, and literature would read,"Moonshine Erotica." Just saying. And before you become offended, remember that I was in the midst of this Moonshine Erotica with two of my best friends and that we were not necessarily unwilling participants.

We stopped at the Hooters on a lark. We were on the last leg of a road trip that we did not want to end and we figured story value for stopping at a Hooters was worth the delay in our trip. To be honest, not much of note happened at that first Hooters. Which is to say, nothing surprising happened. Which is to say, all of my preconceived notions (see the previous paragraph) were confirmed. Which is to say, it was hilarious, but in all the wrong ways.

The most notable thing that happened at that first Hooters was the taking of a solemn vow between Bill, Dick, and me that we would stop at every open Hooters we passed on the way home. I know that doesn't sound too terribly earth shattering, but we still had an eight hour drive in front of us (at 3PM) and had to be at our respective jobs early the next morning. Story value makes teenagers of us all.

After a thirty minute drive from Hooters number one, we found ourselves at Hooters number two (also in West Virginia). This Hooters was quite a bit more active even though the dining room remained almost totally empty through the duration of our five hour stop. Yes, five hours. Those five hours produced a series of events and conversations that caused me to wonder if perhaps Bill, Dick, and I were the unwitting targets of a hidden camera show. Bill hula hooped with in the parking lot with our waitress, a ridiculously well endowed college student studying to be a nurse. In an effort to steer our conversation with said waitress away from Bill's amorous proclivities, no doubt heightened from his hula hooping experience, I asked her what kind of nurse she eventually wanted to become. She replied, stone faced, that she wanted to be an RN nurse. A nurse nurse. Ignoring the redundancy of this statement, I followed my initial question with, "When are you done?" I was thinking that since we had already been discussing school she would answer with something along the lines of, "Next spring," or, "Next fall," but was instead answered with sincerity that she would be off work at eleven thirty that night. She seemed even more confused when I explained the true intent of my question and then could not figure out when she was scheduled to graduate. She really tried too. For about four or five minutes she stood next to our table, bit her lip, counted on her fingers, and muttered the names of classes already taken and those left to take. Finally she just threw her hands up and answered, "I don't know. A few years."

Our most rewarding interaction of the evening was with our waitress the nurse nurse and her best friend, also a waitress and suspiciously the only Hooters girl seemingly doing any work. It went something like this:

Bill: So, you're working here to save money for school?

Nurse Nurse: Yeah, but I also gotta buy a new car. Mine's wrecked.

Dick: What happened to it?

Nurse Nurse: It got wrecked.

Dick: Right...but how?

Nurse Nurse: Well, my friend and me were comin' back from a promotion and we were on the Interstate and I wasn't payin' attention because I hate drivin' and we hit a Laz-E-Boy.

Bill, Dick, Me [in unison and quite surprised]: You hit a Laz-E-Boy on the Interstate!

Nurse Nurse [with a horrified look on her face]: Oh ya'll don't worry! No one was in it.

This did it for me. Not only is West Virginia the type of place in which a Laz-E-Boy on the Interstate is not uncommon, it is the type of place where it is in fact so common that a Hooters waitress, noting the horrified looks on our faces, would see fit to explain to us that it was all ok, no one was in the Laz-E-Boy. Still laughing in dismay that Laz-E-Boy fatalities happen with some regularity on the West Virginia highway system, Nurse Nurse's waitress friend walked over to see if we needed anything.

Bill: Nurse Nurse is a piece of work!

Waitress: Yeah, she's my best friend.

Me: That story about totaling her car is unreal.

Waitress: Oh! I was in the car when she totaled it!

Dick: You hit a Laz-E-Boy? On the Intersate?

Waitress: Yeah, but don't worry. No one was in it.

Mercifully for us, by the time we left Hooters number two every other Hooters we drove by had long since closed. Our conversation for the rest of the trip was limited, each of us regretting staying at Hooters so long, but also no doubt mulling over the evening's happenings and keeping a keen eye out the windows of the car for rogue living room furniture and those unfortunate souls who might be occupying it. It would take a few months of recovery and an invitation to a wedding in South Carolina for Bill, Dick, and me to be reunited with the Hooters franchise. Staying in a beautiful resort town on the ocean, we had numerous respectable choices when it came to dining, but, as story value was now back in play, we opted for a Hooters just off the highway.

Parking in the nearly empty lot of the restaurant and repeating my usual hushed objections to eating at a Hooters, I felt naked and branded by the cold stares I imagined coming from the passing cars in the heavy traffic behind us. Bill and Dick laughed, shook their heads at my self-consciousness, and reminded me that in a matter of moments I would be laughing and carrying on just like I did at the Hooters' in West Virginia.

As it turns out, Hooters in South Carolina is hauntingly similar to Hooters in West Virginia. Who knew? Realizing this, I began to wonder if "story value" was just what we said to make ourselves feel not-so-dirty when in actuality we enjoyed Hooters, even would have picked Hooters over any other restaurant in the city. I Was still contemplating this and what it said about me on a basic level when I snapped to and realized Bill was buying a Hooters calendar. Not only was he buying a Hooters calendar, but one of the girls at the restaurant was in the Hooters calendar and she and the other girls were signing it. At this point, Bill told the waitresses that we were in town for a wedding and that the calendar was actually going to be a gift for the lucky couple. No one seemed surprised by this, and after the waitresses were finished cooing they unblinkingly asked for the names of the soon-to-be-married so they could scrawl well wishes throughout the months of the calendar.

After they were done, I thumbed through the calendar to see what had been written and came across it in October. Scrawled across the oiled breasts of a Hooters girl on all fours:

Carl and Shannon


Huggs n' Juggs!



It's snowing again today. I woke up this morning...well, late morning, and went to let out Mazzy to use the restroom. We both kind of stood at the door for a second adjusting to the new blanket of white that had been gently tossed over everything. Small, swirling flakes were still quietly adding to what had already landed.

"Son of a bitch!"

I found myself surprised that it had snowed so much without my knowing, which, in and of itself, is surprising. You think I'd be used to it by now. But there is something alarming about going to bed in one world and waking up in another. You feel like you've been snuck up on.

"Damn snow. You got me again."

If I wake up early enough, if the sun has yet to rise, I can usually tell it has snowed even if the blinds are closed. All of the light shining from street lights, houses, the moon, and the stars is reflected off the snow and things take on an odd and spooky glow as if the world has been turned into the negative of a photograph. It's light, but you can't tell where the light originates. Everything glows a weak rust color and resembles the set of a Tim Burton film. The trees are silhouettes with just the hint of texture and my mind can't seem to fully adjust to the fact that I can see much better than I logically ought to with the sun still tracking across the sky on the other side of the planet.

Early morning is definitely the best time of day after a fresh snow. It's a quiet, gentle blue and the stillness of the world under it's antiseptic blanket of white gives you the sense that you may be the only thing moving. Sounds are muffled by the softness of the white all around you, the plows haven't yet dredged up the filth of the streets below, and tires and footprints haven't scared the surface of the perfectly finished frosting surrounding you. It's lonely, but in a beautiful way. The frantic energy of work, errands, and travel has been buried and for a few serene moments the only thing of any importance is that you are alive and that the world can be still.

Monday, February 02, 2009

Guerrilla Sledding or Why I'm Really Still 15 Years Old

When my family was living in Saudi Arabia, my sister and I were just reaching the age at which Driver's Education was offered back in The States. My father, realizing his kids would soon be sequestered in European or American boarding schools, must have felt the clock was ticking on his opportunity to provide sage instruction on the proper use of a motor vehicle (Do all fathers feel this?), and took my sister and I out on the roads around our house to help us get our feet wet.

As I recall, my sister did just about as well as any first time driver. She listened intently, nervously eyed the roads, and depressed the accelerator and brake with a little too much urgency. I, on the other hand, couldn't stop giggling as soon as the speedometer hit 35mph. The giggling was uncontrollable. I didn't feel it coming, it just flowed out of me and did not stop until the vehicle was in park and I was out from behind the wheel. I can't tell you why I giggled -and it was most certainly giggling and not laughing - with so much glee, but something about driving was so much fun. It was completely new to me and the sensation of complete freedom and untapped power was delicious. My sister called me Dr. Giggles.

I was reminded of this just the other night as I was hurtling down a steep, snowy slope... at night...warmed by a few (several) sips of rum...on a pirated cycling tights. This was my first sledding experience. Growing up in places like Texas and Saudi Arabia precludes much snow time and at a certain age I guess you just assume your acceptable window for sledding has slammed shut, at least until you have kids. Thank Christ I have friends who do not think this way.

Armed with a four wheel drive vehicle, ridiculous winter attire, sleds of suspect origin and craftsmanship, and a designated driver, six of us set out to accomplish the more-difficult-than-it-sounds task of finding a sled worthy hill in a flat Midwest city. This rapidly morphed into Guerrilla Sledding. Piled mounds of plowed snow, front yards with steep embankments, and church parking lots became brief and hilarious victims of Guerrilla Sledding. The quality of any actual sledding was highly debatable, but this is also about the time my giggling started. Again, it was most certainly giggling and not laughing or the more adult sounding, "chuckling."

Eventually, we arrived at a sledding specific hill in a public park and behaved like idiots until our clothes began to freeze. I'm pretty sure we contributed nothing to the actual art of sledding -Sled. Crash. Collect self. Stand. Grab sled. Run back up hill. Repeat - but something blessedly new was sledded into my head. Each time I plunged down that hill I was six and my dad was throwing me high into the air above his bed so I could land in a pile of blankets and pillows. I was eight and I was spending all of a summer evening jumping from the high dive into the deep, cool water of the pool below me. I was twelve and I was riding my first roller coaster with my now gone friend, Andrew. As soon as the ride stopped we would leap from our car, sprint to the back of the line, and do it all over again. We counted our roller coaster rides at over thirty that day. I would give anything for one more.

Each time I found myself crumpled in the snow at the base of the hill I felt a little lighter and a little younger. Staring at the night sky, catching my breath, and listening to the muffled laughs of my friends, I exhaled the frustrations of the winter and giggled uncontrollably. There is something about repetitive fun that blows the soot out and makes us all children again. When you've done something so fun that logic dictates it be immediately done again, hold on to it. It's a way back. I hope I can always get back to fifteen.