Wednesday, August 19, 2020

A Perfect Day At The Hair Farm (A Dorm Daze Prequel)

One of the things that drives me in life is the quest for "the perfect day." Now that means something different to everybody. For me it means a day so goddamn good, if you could bottle it up and relive it over and over again, you would. I can think of maybe three of those off the top of my head. Days where you are actually kinda sad when your head hits the pillow at night. 

There was a day last Fall where after sort of knowing somebody online for over a decade and texting or talking to her every day for four months solid, I took five days off of work, blew out of town, drove nine hours and a state away and we finally met in person. Let's call her Katie. Katie and I spent a Friday (and eventually the whole weekend, where unfortunately we made one bad decision after another, not the least of which was spend entirely too much money on club seats to attend the atrocity that was my beloved Chicago Bears taking on her Denver Broncos while unbelievably hungover) together. DIAGRAM THAT SENTENCE! But that Friday, I'm telling you, that Friday was a perfect day. We met for breakfast, had our first actual golf lesson for the first time in person after several years of virtual online sessions, played eighteen holes, got dressed up (GOOD LORD, SHE'S A KNOCKOUT), shared a fancy dinner and drinks, talked about what we wanted out of life and capped it off with a warm embrace and kiss to cap the evening. I never felt more alive in my goddamn life. Now, somehow, despite my best attempts at screwing things up royally in the ensuing month and change, Katie is still as good a friend as I have, I love her to death and always will, and we at the very least message daily if not talk. I'm sure I'll write about her again some day. Things didn't turn out quite the way I pictured it in the future with her when I drove back to my hotel that Friday night. As always, I massively over-read the situation like I do the majority of putts these days. My dumb brain going places it shouldn't have and seeing things that weren't there. That tends to happen more often than I'd like. But that Friday was as perfect a day as I'd had in two decades. If I could bottle up that day and sell it, it'd fetch more on the streets than cocaine.

Halfway through a perfect day!
Most recently, I had a day a few weeks ago where I got up, watered my garden, taught an awesome golf lesson, fired a red-number on my old golf course and spent the afternoon with a pretty special gal, let’s call her Carly, who took me shopping at one of those high-end clothing stores that I wouldn't have ever pictured myself wandering into in a million years. I could’ve never fit in their clothes! She outfitted me with a whole new wardrobe. Stuff I never thought I'd wear, but you know what? They look fucking fantastic on the new bod! We capped the day again, with a lovely dinner and drinks at a swanky restaurant talking about how we got to where we were at. Unfortunately, I was actually successful at torpedoing that friendship royally and I still don't know if Carly and I are really friends anymore. I suspect probably not, and that really fucking bums me out. Sometimes the perfect day doesn't result in better things down the road. In fact, by definition, it's really all downhill from there. But sometimes, when you can just live in the moment of the perfect day, those things stick with you and burn a memory so vivid in your head you couldn't shake it if you try. 

This entry covers the events of one of those days, and we're going to turn on the wayback machine. Just a little over twenty-one years ago to one perfect June day that I spent with one of my best friends before I moved away to go to Westminster. I call this one "The Perfect Day at the Hair Farm."

It was June 19th, 1999. My alarm clock blew off at 5:30 AM with my favorite Keith Richards Stones' song, "You Got The Silver." I had to catch my pops before he left for work so he could sign my financial aid paperwork. My whole application to college came in pretty late. I'll tell that story another day, but I was behind the eight-ball and couldn't afford to wait for the mail to deliver it, and the money was starting to run out. So my buddy Skwez and I were going to drive it up to Salt Lake and hand-deliver it ourselves to the school. Plus, I wanted him to see how good this situation was going to be. He wasn't only one of my best friends, but he was also my golf coach in Junior College at Eastern Utah. He wasn't just going to send me off into the wild without seeing the lay of the land first. And I at least wanted to introduce him to my new coach. 

The old man and I sat at our ancient-ass 70's era kitchen table (yellow veneer? TACKY), hammered down some bacon, eggs and coffee and went over the paperwork for my pell grants and work-study. I think it was finally setting in for both of us, the clock was ticking on my leaving Price for good. Less than two months to go. I still miss those breakfasts. Pops Nickas was a hell of a breakfast cook. I swear it's the paprika on the hash browns. Goddamn fantastic. "You guys staying up there tonight?" he grumbled. 

"I don't know pop. We're flying by the seat of our pants today. The only real item on the agenda is dropping off these papers and checking out the dorms."

"Didn't you do that three weeks ago?"

"Yeah, but this time I'm taking a camera so I can see what I've got to work with as far as space goes." I obviously needed to figure our a way to fit all of my worldly possessions into an 11'x9' space. "Have a good day at work, pop. I'll find a pay phone and let you know what we do."

Nickas and Skwez, lookin' like a couple preppy
assholes, circa 1999.
Skwez pulled up an hour later at 6:30 in his pimp-gold 1996 Jeep Cherokee. I tossed my golf clubs and overnight bag into the back. He tossed me the keys as he filled up his CD changer with our road-trip standards. GNR's "Appetite for Destruction," Ozzy Osbourne's "No More Tears," Metallica's "Master of Puppets," and Rob Zombie's "Hellbilly Deluxe," among others.  "You're driving." He hated driving that canyon. 

"What's the plan?" I asked.

"I had TK call in a favor and we're teeing off at South Mountain in two hours. Fucking step on it dude." The course was roughly two hours away.

South Mountain Golf Club was at the time (before Salt Lake County bought it) was one of the two high-end golf courses in Northern Utah in the latter part of the 90's. Carved into the hillside in Draper, it opened up in 1998 and immediately got a reputation as one of the best tests of golf in one of the best conditions in the state. And for $90.00 at the time, it sure as hell better have been. That was pretty much unheard of for a public course green fee in Utah back then. 

We blasted through the canyon. Just a college dipshit and his slightly older than college buddy screaming metal tunes and power ballads at the top of our lungs. Not being my own vehicle, I drove extra carefully and we pulled into the South Mountain parking lot in an hour and twenty nine minutes. We popped the hatch on the Cherokee and started unloading our gear and changing our shoes when a bag attendant pulled up and loaded our clubs onto a cart. I damn near pulled the Happy Gilmore and tackled him when he grabbed my bag, until I remembered that yeah, nice courses have those guys. We tipped the dude and checked in where the guy informed me that I wouldn't be allowed to tee off unless I wore a collared shirt. Free golf at a swanky track though. Blew my mind, but I saw a decent looking one in a fat-kid size (MORE X'S THAN A PORNO THEATER) on the rack and bought it so we could tee off. Only $70! I couldn't believe how much of a rube I was back then. I'd like to say I still have that shirt, but no. It was in that giant tub of giant clothes I donated to the shelter last Winter. 

We teed off and this track was better than advertised. Super long from the tips, tight, with trouble everywhere. The greens were slick and the wind was whipping. Birdies were hard to come by, but we both made a few. Our scoring was pretty unspectacular, we both shot 75, but we had a damn blast and took a hundred bucks off the suckers we got paired with in a best ball match. We thanked the Director of Golf for being an awesome host and said hello for TK. "Come back anytime," he said. I don't think he lasted more than a year in the job.

DJ for a Day!
We dropped our gear off at Skwez's sister's place, got cleaned up and I got my paperwork together. We still had to make my meeting with Financial Aid at 2:00. We jumped back in the car and headed for downtown, switching this time to the radio. It was no secret, radio in Price Utah in the 90's was liquid shit. Radio in Price is STILL liquid shit. We had three country stations, two right-wing talk stations, a pop station, and an oldies station that I probably listened to more than anything. In fact, I can still sing along to almost any 60's song on Sirius Channel 6. I heard them all a thousand times. Liked them, but we were hurting for variety. But Salt Lake had the mighty KBER 101.1. Still, for my money the greatest radio station in the history of this state. We flipped it on just as the last refrain of Tesla's "Modern Day Cowboy" blasted out and the DJ, Hammer (who I got to actually host a show for an afternoon a few years later) came on. "Let's check in with Helmut over at Rocky Mountain Raceway getting warmed up for the big Poison/Ratt/Great White/LA Guns show tonight!" 

We looked at each other, "Dude, no way we're driving home tonight. We've gotta go to this. There won't be twenty people there, they might let us play in the band." Don't get me wrong, we still loved those bands. We grew up in the timewarp that was Carbon County, where it was still 1988, but we both knew most of those acts hadn't been heard from in years. Thankfully, the legendary Heavy Metal Shop was in the Sugarhouse neighborhood within walking distance to Westminster so we popped in and managed to snag their last two tickets. We were gonna rock our dumb asses off that night. 

Formerly known as Res.3
The college visit was every bit as good as my initial one, if not better because one of my best pals was there with me this time. We met with my new coach, DP, briefly and it was like a passing of the torch. We took another dorm tour. And this time I got to see my actual room. Res. 3, Room 302. The Penthouse of the new building. And I didn't know it at the time, but I also met one of my future roommates, Jerry Flynt. I took a few photos of my bedroom to get some idea of what I had to work with space-wise. Not much, but at least I got my own room. I was going to have to stack some furniture, or do some "Step-Brothers" shit. Skwez was impressed. "This dorm is nicer than Harvard!" he said. I have no idea if that's true. We stopped over to the Campus Patrol office so I could pick up my residential parking permit, made one more trip by admissions to say goodbye to DP and my admissions counselors Kenny and Clint and booked it over to Tres Hombres for some dinner before the show. 

Over giant smothered burritos and for him a margarita, for me a Sprite (I was still 20 years old and the DD for the trip), we talked a bit about what I was about to dive into. He asked me, "What do you think about your coach?"

"Seems like a nice guy. And this is the chance to get in on the ground floor of something. Yeah, we're probably gonna get our asses kicked, but at least this is a chance to play. I mean, I won our Conference last year and I couldn't get a look from any of the big schools. I just want to play man. I know I'm not D1 talent. But I think I can hang in the NAIA."

"I think you're making the right move man.That campus is awesome." he said

"Yeah, and not a ton of rules when you live there. Just enough rules. And I kinda like the idea of living in the dorms. I kinda need rules and structure to bend and push!"

We finished eating, paid the bill, I hit up a pay phone (REMEMBER THOSE?) to call Pops Nickas to let him know I was staying up there that night, and we lit on out of there towards Rocky Mountain Raceway. After driving for what felt like a goddamn eternity we approached the 5600 West exit off of the 201 freeway. Felt like we were basically in Wendover, kind of funny to think that’s pretty much where Casa de Nickas is now. But about a half mile from that exit we ran into bumper to bumper traffic. “Shit, maybe there’s more people that remember this stuff than we thought.” 

It was a half hour before we reached the venue to find an absolutely jam-packed parking lot. We got out of the car just as the opening bars of LA Guns' (Jizzy Pearl Version) "Ballad of Jayne" echoed across the property. Bummer, we'd missed most of their set while stuck in traffic, but managed to clear security just in time to see them blast through "Never Enough" and "Rip and Tear" to close out their set. The infield of the racetrack was packed wall to wall with people. There might've been 13,000 people there. Which considering it had been nearly a decade since any of those bands have had a hit, really said a lot. 

This dude was put in charge
of reviving the unrevivable
Next up was Great White. I know, I know, but this is pre-Station fire. We were at the same time both struck by how good they sounded and how awful they looked. This was a weird era for rock music, Sony had created a label called Portrait that summer and tabbed producer John Kalodner to revive the careers of these old glam rock and blues metal acts. I bought a couple of those albums that year and while they sound pretty good, don't exactly hold up to the older material. But there's a couple gems on each. Great White recorded one of those albums in which they pretty much re-recorded most of their old hits along with a new song or two. It was pretty stereotypical, when the new songs came out, that crowd made a mass exodus for the john or the beer line. It was uncanny. 

Their set wrapped up, and I was really most excited to see Ratt. So Skwez hit the beer line, and I hit the restroom. When I came out he was talking to these two fairly attractive women who immediately ran up to me and asked if I'd buy them a drink. I'm an idiot, so dumbfounded, I obliged and they planted a kiss on each side of my face like to freaking Doublemint Twins and disappeared into the crowd. Skwez was ten feet away laughing his ass off. "The fuck was that all about?" I asked.

"Oh, I told them you were one of the promoters and loaded. But you 'don't like to make a big deal out of it.'" 

"Thanks pal, I've barely got a pot to piss in or a window to throw it out of. Especially now that I'm going to that school!" Still, at the time, that was pretty damn funny.

Utah! Get me two!
We waded back into the crowd just as the opening riff of "Lack of Communication" brought Ratt out onto the stage. They sounded great, and unlike about 2/3 of the times that I've seen them live since (6 or 7 times in various clubs and bowling alleys) actually put some effort into the performance. They blasted through all the songs you recognize and a few only us heshers recognized. For us, the highlight was easily "Nobody Rides For Free," just because it was the closing credits song on one of the two movies (the other being Top Gun) that we'd watched over and over again that summer, Point Break. Bottom line though, Ratt sounded fucking awesome that night. That tour might've been the last time they were really at their best and the crowd was shit hot. I had no clue this many people even still liked this music, but this crowd was genuinely into it!

And now Tan Mom plays the hits!
Poison was Poison. Even if you're the type that thought of them as "metal for chicks," you still couldn't help but have a great time jumping around to their songs. They basically blasted through their entire greatest hits record, which for a nostalgia tour, should be an actual law. Played pretty much every recognizable song they had. About halfway through the set, I got bumped into by a guy absolutely flying on grass, hobbling around on crutches. "Dude, you look sturdy, I need a favor!"

"Uhhh, whatcha need?"

"Put my lady up on your shoulders man!"

Hey, who am I to say no to a man in need. Up she went for "Something To Believe In." I managed to catch a glimpse of Skwez's face. He had a mixture of bemusement and a bizarre pride when she handed me her tube top. It was funny at the time, but there's a good reason you don't see that too often at shows anymore. And that's definitely for the best. 

They wrapped up the show with "Rock and Roll All Nite" from the legendary Less Than Zero soundtrack. A hell of a good time was had, and as we filtered our way out of the racetrack and back to the car, Skwez and I just looked at each other like, "did that day just happen?" We ran pretty much nonstop from 6:30 that morning until now at 12:30 at night. And everything we did tangentially hit on just about every aspect of our friendship. From playing golf (where we first started hanging out), to touring the halls of academia, to blowing our eardrums out with a bunch of obnoxious hard rock tuneage. It was a the fullest of days with one of my best friends, dare I say "perfect." Because while life has moved on for us both, and we're still pals and have had many good times since, that day was pretty much our apex mountain. And I'll remember that forever.


Two months later, I left Price for the last time as a full-time resident. In fact, outside of the summer after my first junior year, I've only popped in for a few days here and there to visit the family and a few friends. Skwez got married, moved to Colorado, divorced and married again, adopted a couple kids and now is a domesticated family guy. Neither one of us are fat kids anymore. My history in the years since has been pretty well documented here on the 'Monster. But that perfect day will stand out as a real turning-point in my life. That day, moving to the city became real.

Saturday, November 2, 2019

Dorm Days - The Penthouse Chronicles Part 7: Beer Money Part 1

The weather is slowing things down a bit at ol' Rosie, so it's time to bust off another entry before things get busy! After a few years of personal reflection on this blog, as well as a couple goofy stories and ranting about football, I figured that it's time to get back to my roots, dumb, boozy college stories. And since I'm closing in on twenty years gone since that era, I've got to get a few more out before I lose those memories forever. Anyway, after a seven-year absence, here is the latest installment of The Dorm Days...

Dorm Days: The Penthouse Chronicles ~ Part 7 
"Beer Money, Year 1 ~ "

Folks, this one takes you back to the earliest days of a three-year stretch at Westminster. I'd been on campus for two days and I received a phone call from my golf coach DP, he wanted to see me in his office. "Shit, I'm already in trouble? I just moved in!" was my thought as I took the two minutes to walk across campus to his office. Clearly, my mental state was setting me up for academic success. I popped into his office and sitting next to him was TC, our esteemed college's new (and first in about fifteen years) head Basketball Coach. I'd recognized him from several great University of Utah basketball teams from several years previous.

"Nickas, have you nailed down an on-campus job yet?" DP inquired.

"I've just kinda gotten settled, coach. I've only put on a couple decent twisters since I've moved in. Haven't really thought about a gig yet, we haven't even started class." I replied.

"Smart-ass. You're getting work-study money right? You do know, they don't just give you that cash don't you? You kinda have to earn it."

"Really?" My dipshit punk side started to show.

"Any thoughts as to what you want to do?"

"Well Coach, let's just say, I'm probably not too cut out for a librarian gig. Is there anything in the athletic department available?"

"That's why I called you. This is TC, We're coaching basketball. The first team this school has had in twenty years, and I think we've got something for you with the team if you're interested."

That head still looks weird on that old logo.

"Absolutely." I'd only ever really had jobs in recreation and athletics up to that point, running a driving range right up until the day I had moved up to Salt Lick. Little did I know, I'd probably never have a regular-grown-up-people's 9-5 gig ever. I still had some inkling about being a (probably terrible) therapist at that point. But a chance to get in on the ground floor of a new athletic program was intriguing. And I knew how sports on this campus were looked on by the community as a whole. There hadn't been anything but soccer on that campus for nearly twenty years and even that program was kinda hidden away from the campus at large. Athletics were just kinda getting going there. And were kinda looked at by the campus community as a whole as the bastard child of Westminster. As a new athlete myself, I was pretty excited to have a chance to be a bigger part of the department as a whole. Kind of that "whole world's against us" kind of ethos that was embraced by folks like myself made this offer very tempting. 

"Good." DP said, "You're going to be our new Video Coordinator. You'll be filming practices and the games as well as running our film exchange program with other schools. You've run a video camera before have you?"

"Uh, yeah Coach." I really hadn't, and I had no idea what I was getting into, but hey, as my favorite Flintstones character, that weird pterodactyl that did the dishes and and served as a record player would say, "SQUAWK! It's a living."

I'd be this guy's secret service agent.
Coach TC was oddly silent, but as he rose to shook my hand, he said a few things that I'll never forget and always take with me and treasure. "Nickas, I can't understate how important this job is. This is something you're going to need to take tremendous pride in because if you do a shit job, we'll lose." So, no pressure, huh?

After a solid weekend of drinking and sort of bonding with my new roommates, "The Zoo" from the Scorpions blasted into my brain via clock radio at 5:00 AM the following Monday. I threw on a tracksuit and schlepped across campus to the Payne Gymnasium. Payne was one of the oldest buildings on campus and it showed. The pipes clanked, somehow it was freezing-ass cold in there at 5:00 AM in early September, and there was zero in the way of acoustics, so every ball hitting the floor thundered through the building. My kinda joint. The guys were warming up for the last unofficial practice before formal sessions were going to begin the next day. I met Justin, the team manager and he helped me run the cable from the film room to my video pit way up in the corner of the gym. A little unconventional but the bleachers weren't high enough to film from the side. This was the best spot to capture everything. Rather than scrolling back and forth, I'd have to shoot and zoom from the far end of the floor to up close. "Nickas, get down here," TC hollered. I wandered down to the floor as he gathered the team around. "Guys, this is Nickas. He's gonna be our new film guy. So he's gonna capture every screwup, loaf, or mistake you make in every practice and every game. He's the eye in the sky and he'll see it all which means I'll see it all." Now, I'm getting nervous. I'm gonna be Public Enemy #1 with a bunch of 6'8 guys. "But he's committed. He's every bit a part of this team as you guys are. So welcome him." That was kinda nice. The guys all shook my hand and introduced themselves. I felt better.

An unconventional game film angle, to say the least. But at
least there were some steps to sit (and pass out) on.
Those early 5:30 AM practices were brutal. We weren't going to be able to start practicing in the afternoon until Volleyball was done at the end of October, so every day, my ancient-ass clock radio would startle me awake at 5:00. Barely enough time to get a coffee in me and get set up before the guys started the first Celtic Drill of the morning.

My birthday that year fell on a Wednesday night and I had the dubious honor of turning twenty-one that day. With Big Nick, The Nate, Dowder and all the other maniacs I was running with at the time rooting me on, I took part in an unofficial 21-shot tradition after after my "History of the World Wars" class. For some reason, me turning 21 was a big deal. Besides Jerry, who was like 40, I was the first one to hit that magical age. This was like an event. I could hook up the younger fellas, and even the mormon girls down the hall got in on the act and baked me a cake in the shape of a Michelob bottle. Pretty hilarious when I think about it actually. Anyway, that night I got, as the kids these days say, "pretty faded."

"HELLO ME! MEET THE REAL ME!" bellowed Dave Mustaine out of my cranked-to-eleven clock radio at 4:45 AM the next morning. I hit snooze one and a half times before taking a 30-second cold shower to wake up and busted my ass down to Payne. I got my gear set up and the fellas were up and running. With our first games coming up in a week and a half, TC was installing new offensive sets at a rapid pace. The whole team lingered at the far end of the floor for most of the morning so I didn't have to do much. My mind started to drift to things like helping my coach recruit me some new teammates, midterms and fall-break coming up, and whether that cute girl from Alaska that lived across the hall from us was single or not when suddenly the shout of "TEAM TOGETHER" startled me to alertness. I looked at my watch, 7:52 AM. I'd passed out. The team ran their last sets at the basket underneath me, my camera was still focused on the far end of the gym. I tore down my gear, rewound the tape, labeled it, plopped it on Coach's desk and scooted off to the student center for coffee and breakfast. "Maybe he won't watch the whole thing." I (rather poorly) tried to convince myself, "After all, we were at least 25 practices in already. He wouldn't still be breaking down 2 1/2 hours of PRACTICE tape a day still, right?" My thoughts drifted back to that first meeting in DP's office. "IF YOU DO A SHIT JOB, WE'LL LOSE." I was screwed.

Two days went by, and everything was business as usual. I had kind of forgotten about the incident and had shot a couple of my best practices yet. I was kind of in "game-prep" mode as well, getting used to smoothly following the ball up and down the court and being able to widen the shot enough to see the whole half-court on both ends. Maybe I should've gone to film school. The end of practice hit and to close each session, coach would pick one of the players to hit two foul shots. If he made them, practice was over, if he missed one, the team would have to run a sprint up and down the court. Before he picked the player, coach bellowed, "NICKAS, HIT STOP ON THE TAPE AND COME ON DOWN!" I hustled into my office, hit the clicker and jogged down the stairs. "Goddamn, Nickas is doing a great job for us. He's turning into a regular Scorcese with that camera in his hands. Isn't he Daron?" Coach DP nodded. I started to smile a little bit. "...Until two days ago. Did the tripod get stuck or something?" He looked at me with those steely blues. He knew. "There was a good 45 minutes of the shot locked in on an empty far-end of the court there."

Old punk asshole Nickas would've tried to make something up on the spot, but I was really enjoying this job and I really felt like I was improving and bringing something important to the table for the first time in my life. I manned up, "Coach, Wednesday was my birthday and I had a few too many. I fell asleep at the wheel. I apologize."

"Thanks for being honest. Line up with everybody. Charlie is gonna hit two free throws. If he makes them, all is forgiven, if he misses, you're sprinting too." He tossed the ball to Charlie and gave him a nod. I knew what was coming, And fuck it, I'd earned it. Charlie never missed foul shots, but the first one went up and CLANK! Off the front of the iron. I finished a good five seconds behind our slowest guy, but I did my sprint. My new buddy Dane had his name called and made the first one. Coach gave him the staredown. Number two went up...CLANK. Up and back again. I haven't sprinted since the baseball days. I was already getting gassed. But the guys were clapping for my fat ass as I waddled over the line. He called Mitch up and mercifully he swished them both. Mitch never missed. Ever. I started back up the stairs to disconnect my gear. Coach yelled at me, "Where you going? You just ran with these guys, I told you that you were part of this team, get in the huddle. Also, never do that shit again. 1-2-3,"

"TEAM TOGETHER" we all shouted. I should've just been happy he wasn't going to fire me, but right then, I fully bought in. Whether I liked it at the time or not, I really needed that. Coach had a way of making you want to take a bullet for him. And I would never put any hint of risk to the job again.  

A week later, Justin quit as team manager, and we hired my buddy and fellow three-time intramural football championship winning quarterback teammate, Sean to take over, but it was clearly a job for more than one guy. So my job started to evolve a little bit. I'd still be doing the occasional practice tape, and handling film exchange with other schools, as well as shooting all the game film, but now I was down on the floor handling half the manager duties as well. This included prepping mock opponent jerseys with athletic tape so we'd get the numbers right, sweeping the court, mixing the gatorade, getting guys ice during film sessions, rebounding during shooting drills and so on. I started working pretty long hours. My work-study agreement called for fifteen a week, but there was just too much to do in that timeframe. The season was imminent. Coach like the work I was doing and gave me a couple extra bucks an hour for the effort. I'd worked golf jobs back home for six years at that point and the only raise I'd ever gotten was when they raised the minimum wage to $5.15 an hour right before I moved. It was nice to feel rewarded.

Coach Steinke. Legends call him "Legend"
We'd finally moved to afternoon practices, and thankfully I was able to adjust my class schedule to accommodate it, transferring one of my history classes to the morning session. One afternoon, I was filling the water jug about a half hour before practice when Coach Steinke asked me to come and rebound for him for a minute. Coach Steinke was a legend at that school. He'd coached about every sport the college had for fifty years, hung around through the hiatus, and from what I could gather was about the only member of the athletic department that was universally loved college-wide from the maintenance guys, to the faculty and all the way through administration. I stood under the hoop and he worked a half-circle from fifteen feet. I was just trying to hit him in the hands with my shitty passes, but he worked that circle for a good ten minutes, must've take 150 shots and I think I can count the amount of times he even drew iron on my fingers. Swish after swish. I think he was 70 years old at the time and that still might be the goddamndest thing I've ever seen. 

A noted boat-driver and his boat.
One of my duties was running the film exchange program. I'd contact schools with which we had common opponents and swap game films with them. It got me in really good with the folks down in the school mail room. And they'd take extra care even when I had a personal package get shipped my way, sometimes keeping the mail room open an extra ten minutes so I could still pick up my stuff after practice. We were about three weeks into the season, and despite being a brand-new team, we were holding our own, sitting at 3-3 as our non-conference season got going. We had an exhibition game against Weber State coming up, and since we were just small potatoes and all, I contacted their film guy directly. The guy's name was just Smoke. At least that's all I knew him as, I'd actually known him for a couple years. He worked in a similar capacity at my JC, Eastern Utah. First met the guy at my cousin Gus' house during the Mike Tyson vs. Evander Holyfield fight. Yes, THAT Mike Tyson vs. Evander Holyfield fight. Anyway, we shot the shit over the phone about that and two days later, I got two packages from the film department at Weber State. A game film of a game they'd played against Montana Tech (One of our conference teams, so it was a two-fer) and another tape. This one was just labeled "Motley Stuff For Coach Nickas." I wasn't a coach of anything, but I am a Motley Crue fan. Maybe it's just a bunch of videos or a concert film or something. I took that one home and jammed it in the dorm VCR. It was the Pam Anderson/Tommy Lee porno. Needless to say, I didn't edit any clips of one of the greatest drummers of all time steering a boat with his dong while saying "It's all good" into our game prep clips. The roommates got a kick out of it though.

We stormed into Winter Break with pretty good non-conference record all things considered at 6-7. Coach asked me if I was planning on going home for the break. "Just the same, as long as we're still practicing, I kinda want to stay here and work for you guys."

"You're not obligated to stay, you don't get many breaks at this school, but if you stick around, we can use you."

Since they kicked us out of the dorms for a month, because can't have a bunch of lunatics unsupervised, after all, I moved in with my Aunt's family on the other end of town and commuted to Westminster every day. My uncle was happy to have another snow-shoveler around, my cousin Pete had his big brother hanging out, and my Aunt had someone she could make fun of the Chicago Bears to. I was just happy to still be in the city. I was going to go to Price for a couple days right around Christmas, but I was really enjoying the job up to that point and didn't want to ruin the momentum. But the job was tougher this time of year. Coach wanted a little practice tape and our other manager had gone home, so I would be busting my ass up the stairs to change the camera angle and then back down to take care of my duties on the floor. And those increased as well. It snowed a shitload that Winter, and Payne Gym was like a hundred years old. The roof leaked and there was more than one occasion that I'd have to actually run out on the floor in the middle of a play with a big-ass towel to dry the floor so someone wouldn't slip and hurt themselves and somehow avoid getting trampled by a 6'8" dude. I'm just happy I paid attention to the play design so that I could pick my spots.

The season stormed on, and while I struggled a bit in school, I only got better at the job as things went on. The team seemed to hit its stride too. We got to Frontier Conference play and were actually holding our own. We started the first half of conference play with a winning record at 4-3 and word was spreading around campus that we had a pretty good thing going here. Our first home games were sparsely attended by more than the guy's folks and wives/girlfriends, but students actually started showing up and our tiny little gym would at least sound loud. Anyway, a local cable outfit in Montana used to show FC games on Thursday nights and word got out that they were going to broadcast from Salt Lake as we took on the #5 team in the NAIA at the time, Lewis-Clark State. They stomped us pretty good up at their place in the first half of conference play, but Coach had a plan. And we were going to announce our presence that night.

L-C had the frontrunner for Frontier Player of the year, a dude by the name of Franklin, on their squad. Coach theorized that if we could render him ineffective, our defense would match up well with the rest of their squad. So he put one of the more soft-spoken guys on our team, Pierce, the job of getting in his head. "He'll never see it coming," he said. From the opening jump, the game was highly competitive, and the crowd was the biggest we'd seen so far. Mostly because the Cable company had to build a rather large platform covering a good chunk of our bleachers displacing a good chunk of our burgeoning "Sixth Man" fan group to other sections. But they were into it, they were talking shit and clearly L-C had looked past us. From under my video perch, I could hear Pierce's version of running smack on Franklin, which pretty much amounted to corny dad jokes, but it must've been working because halfway through the second half, he was only 3-13 from the field with two boards.

The fellas.
With about six minutes to go, something set Franklin off. Nobody has any idea what it was, and I doubt it was racial or anything, because none of those guys were that type, but Franklin took a swing at Pierce and it was on. Benches cleared, you could hear the TV guys losing their shit, I may or may not have attempted to wade into the fray myself. When I saw the TV tape, you could see me in the background sprinting down the stairs. It took a couple minutes, but the refs restored order after ejecting both guys. But L-C was now down their best player and six points on the scoreboard and the upset was in play. Mitch hit two clutch threes down the stretch and we'd beaten the at the time unbeaten best team in the league. The few students there, rushed the court, Matt, our new PA guy blasted his Pearl Jam tunes on the sound system and as a program we were on the map.

We finished conference play at .500 that year, bowing out in the conference quarterfinals, but the groundwork was laid for what was going to be a Frontier and NAIA basketball contender for years to come. It was awesome to be a part of getting on the ground floor of something good. And for the first time in awhile, I felt like a part of something bigger than myself. There's a lot of stories from those three years with the team and there will be a "Beer Money Year 2" in the future.

And even though he eventually moved on to bigger and better things, I'd still take a bullet for Coach.

Saturday, July 28, 2018

Into The Great Wide Open, Finale': The Bridge To Nirvana

It's time we put a bow on this stupid little travelogue. Again, all apologies to the tens of you who still read my incredibly infrequent stuff. Thanks for sticking with it though. Now, who knew I could get four posts worth of material out of an eleven day road trip? Certainly not me. Maybe I'm a little long-winded, I guess. Check out part one here, part two here, and part three here. Now that I've seen my old college roommate and seen how he's found satisfaction in life, caught up with some long-time friends, and experienced the beauty and the excesses of what California had to offer, all while getting laid emotionally low, it's time to wrap it up. In this installment, I hit up a stupid landmark from a twisted movie I saw as a kid, make my way into the Valley of the Sun to spend a couple days with my little "brother" and meet a new little buddy, end the season with some bad golf, and maybe figure out the key to life on the drive home. Let''s rock!

I didn't set an alarm the next day, and I finally found something that overpowered my Golf Professional Circadian Rhythm: three gin mules the night before. After a week and a half of managing to not sleep past 7:00 AM, regardless of whether I set an alarm or not, sleeping in was a welcome change. I rolled out of bed at 9:30 and packed up my shit. It was time to hit the road again. Thankfully, I'd slept past rush hour. Also, I think subconsciously, something in me didn't want to leave California. Outside of a protein shake, I skipped breakfast, checked out of my swanky hotel and made my way to a thinning I-10 freeway. I had one more stop on this spastic odyssey, a couple days with my "Little Brother" Pete and his little family in Phoenix, AZ.

Pete isn't really my brother, he's my first cousin, but growing up, we were as close as two guys that lived a hundred miles apart could be. Once a summer, I'd blow out of Price and spend some time with his family up in Salt Lick. Oddly enough, those trips always seemed to take place whenever Pete's dad needed a major project done in their yard. Funny how that works out. Those Summer days digging trenches in the yard, playing baseball and committing general mischief forged a hell of a bond. There still isn't a day that goes by that we don't at the very least fire off a "Wazzup" text to each other or argue about the Bears or Yankees. He's still the closest thing I've ever had to a brother, and now he lives five hundred miles away, so any chance I get to spend any time with him at all, I gotta take it.

There's things you wouldn't understand,
things you couldn't understand,
things you shouldn't understand.
But getting there is half the fun. After a stop for gas and lunch in Palm Springs, I saw a giant billboard. "The World''s Largest Dinosaurs in Cabazon!" OH SHIT! It's the statues from Pee-Wee's Big Adventure! Whoa! There they were, off in the distance, aaaaaannnnd, not nearly as large as they were in the movie. But still, you gotta check out the roadside attraction when you can, right? I wrestled Giselle off the freeway and pulled into the parking lot. There was a giant "Closed for Renovation" sign hanging from the gate. They needed to remodel the dinosaurs? They also wanted $13.00 just to walk in the door. Just as well, at least I wouldn't have to dodge Big Andy. Besides, you wouldn't want to get mixed up with a guy like me. I'm a loner. A rebel. Wait, what? Oh yeah, road trip. Anyway, I snapped a photo from a low angle to capture their slightly underwhelming majesty and hammered the gas pedal.

I contemplated taking a detour a little south to the Salton Sea, because clearly I hadn't seen enough dead things on this trip. Or north to see Huell Howser's crazy house on top of a Volcano in Twenty-Nine Palms, or even have a vision quest in Joshua Tree, but really at this point in the trip, I no longer really had no concept of time or distance. It's weird how two weeks with little-to-no responsibility can warp any sense of schedule, but I'd told Pete I'd be getting to his hood around 4-ish. He's a family man, and on a pretty strict, regimented schedule. It wasn't on me to disturb that. And really, a part of this trip was to see how the other half lived, so to speak. So those other stops on the road, well, I'm going to have to hit them up next time. But that's the nice thing about having a little bit of that freedom. I'll always have another chance.

The Grand Canyon State
welcomes you!
The vastness of the Mojave Desert spread out before me as I tried to make up time wasted. Nothing but straight highway all the way to the horizon. If you lose it out here, you're in a world of hurt. Thank god the car was fairly new and it was November. Driving across that stretch of desert whether it be on the 15 as you would heading from Vegas to LA, or where I was on the 10 from LA to Phoenix, you just end up happy you made it with no problems. I'm pretty sure a lot of people have just vanished on this stretch of highway.

I crossed the state line early in the afternoon and stopped at a rest area in Ehrenberg, AZ to stretch my legs. The desert panorama that lay before me was quite impressive. Arizona really is quite beautiful with a a lot of vistas that reminded me of the San Rafael Swell not far from where I grew up. The colors and the cacti and buttes had me in rapt attention until out of the corner of my eye, I saw a sign posted just a few feet away "Rattlesnake dens nearby, exercise caution." Well, that's as good a sign as any to get me back on the road. Giselle may have laid a patch of rubber in the parking lot as I punched it back down the highway. Eff snakes!

Milk Drunk vs. Drunk Drunk (WHO YA GOT!?)
I pulled up to Pete's house in Phoenix around 4:30 and nobody was home yet so I swung by the grocery and liquor store to pick up some supplies. I got back to find Pete opening a box with a cooler in it. "You're just in time dude," he said, "Blue Apron just showed up. Lets go change the munchkin and get dinner on." Literally my first "how do you do" to my brand spankin' new nephew, Niko The Greeko was wiping his little ass. And really, I wouldn't have it any other way. Pete and I did a faithful re-creation of that episode of "Saved By The Bell" where Zack and Slater had to change Kelly's little brother, with the "awww god" and everything. He might've been the happiest baby I'd ever seen though. We put him on the floor and watched him play with his dog, Lia the Labradoodle. She'd come a long way from her days as a puppy, and her patience with the little drool machine was both awesome and pretty beautiful in its own right.

 With everybody freshened up, I retreated to the kitchen to prep some dinner. I'd never cooked anything from one of those meal-delivery things, but after constructing a passable version of pozole, I can certainly understand their appeal. It almost made it too easy. The ingredients were quality and they actually had some peppers with some heat to them. Pete's bride Rachel made it home from work and we all sat around the table. They even let me feed the kid. And holy Moses, that little dude will hoover up anything you put in front of him! Gotta love a kid who isn't a fussy eater. Of course, I wasn't either, and look what happened to me. Anyway, we put the kid down to bed, had a couple glasses of whiskey and I called it an early night.

The next day was a nice little whirlwind of some yard work in the morning (some things never change), and a killer lunch at a nearby Mexican joint where I got my palate blown sky-high by an Adovada burrito and my liver utterly destroyed on a giant margarita. We trucked our drunk asses back to the house. Rachel left for a haircut, and Pete and I calmed down little Niko and got him ready for his afternoon nap by introducing him to some of the watershed moments of our childhood, old pro wrasslin' promo videos from an unbelievably high on coke Macho Man Randy Savage and an equally beaked-up Ultimate Warrior. What can I say, little kids will surprise you with what catches their attention!

Later that evening, Pete and I barbecued some burgers and dogs, and a couple of their friends came over for dinner and drinks. It was nice to meet some new folks. They'd worked college jobs for a long time and as y'all well know, I've kind of been around that world for a long time. So at least there was plenty to talk about. After awhile, the baby monitor flickered to life, the kid was having a tough time settling in the crib for the night. So I drunkenly volunteered to try and calm him down. "Be my guest, and good luck," Rachel waved me into the room. Crying babies tend to freak me out a little bit. Poor little kids can't communicate what is wrong, you have to guess and it usually ends up being a case of throwing a bunch of shit against a wall to see what sticks. But I was bound and determined to get him to sleep. I picked him up and rocked him a little bit, his diaper wasn't mushy, but that didn't stop him from howling in my ear. I tried to calm him down to no avail. Finally I put him back in the crib and just kinda rubbed his belly while singing "Ball and Chain" by Social Distortion, a Capella, lullaby-style. He just kinda giggled a little bit, turned his head and passed out. I'm still convinced he was just fucking with me.

One of the few I managed to pipe that day
For my last full day on this trip, Pete and I played golf at a spectacular course called Papago Park. Now, I consider it a great professional and personal failure that virtually every one of my non-golf-world friends are pretty terrible at the game. I really need to do a better job as a teacher and a friend in that regard. Pete, like me, was primarily a baseball player for the bulk of his life, and it shows. The kid handles a club like it's an axe, but he's got potential. He also has an advantage in that every time I upgrade my gear, he gets my hand-me-downs. At least I know they're going to a good home that way. Now, I hadn't picked up a club in a little over a week and it showed as I struggled to a 78. That track was long and narrow and my hungover ass had no pop left in the bat. But it was great to get out with the kid, and he hit the new driver I gave him better than any I'd seen him hit before. All in all, a great capper to this visit with my brother, despite the shitty scores we posted.

I got up pretty early the next day, I was going to try to make it all the way back to Salt Lick by nightfall. Got one more chance to hang out and feed my little nephew. I found that the "airplane" method was, tried and true as it is, the single most effective way of getting mushed-up apples and carrots ferried from the bowl to his mouth. I was genuinely envious of him as at least that looked like it had some flavor. My daily breakfast of Greek yogurt, or as we call it, "yogurt," and a protein shake was kind of starting to get a little stale. The kid just stared at me with a "what's with you old man?" look on his face, and believe me, I get it. This old, crazy ogre blew into town in his red death-mobile, and shook up his highly structured 7-month-old world for three days, leaving goofy punk rock songs and about a million razzberries to the belly in his wake. And I couldn't wait to do it again, but sadly, real life back home beckoned and once again, I had to take to the highway.

Unfortunately, the Waze app on my phone decided to send me on the "road-rage" route out of town. It sent me down surface streets, nowhere near a freeway, resulting in it taking roughly 90 minutes to finally hit city limits, but soon I was crossing the desert on a two-lane highway through Wickenburg, Wikiup and I probably passed through Wikipedia as well. I soon made my way up to Highway 93, streaking toward Boulder City. I needed to see for myself the greatest public works project in our country's history, Hoover Dam.

The 93 soon came into view of the Colorado River, so I knew I had to have been getting close. The scenery was spectacular, with an almost bottomless canyon to the left of the highway and some crazy cliffs on the right. I passed a sign, "Hoover Dam and Lake Mead Recreational Area 1 mile" I figured, I'd better stop soon. As I neared the turnoff, I noticed that there were hundreds of people lining the right side of the road, probably looking at the dam. Sadly I couldn't see it from the road and there was nowhere to pull over, so I just kept going until the turnoff to the dam itself. I drove down a little windy road and over the top of the dam to an overlook. Unfortunately, it was getting a little late in the day for a damn dam tour, but I had to stop and admire that incredible engineering marvel.

The metaphor I've been looking for
It was then that I looked up and saw where all of those people that I drove past were standing. They were along the top of the O'Callaghan-Tillman Bridge. As impressed as I was with the structure of the dam, the bridge was unlike anything I'd ever seen before, just completely massive and artificial, yet somehow looked like it'd been there forever. It was then that I realized the lesson I'd been searching for since I departed on this whole stupid odyssey. Everything we experience in life is your bridge. Just like when I was in Big Sur and I drove across that massive span and didn't even realize I was on the damn thing. I'd taken so much in life for granted. Always looking dead ahead, rarely stopping to appreciate the moments I was in, and the beauty that surrounded me. I always looked at the things that happened to me over the years with a certain detachment, reveling in the story without living in the experience itself. I think about where that had gotten me and how empty I often felt because of it. I'd look back on things and think, "wow, that really happened" and never really realized the gravity or the flat-out, batshit-crazy nature of those experiences while in the moment itself. That's no good way to go through life. We need to appreciate all of it, the good and the bad while it's happening.

It's like I said in the last entry, absolutely nothing is forever. Everything ends. It's the First Noble Truth of Buddhism, "that to live is to suffer." Suffering is inevitable for all of us as long as we labor under the delusion that things can be permanent. When in fact, nothing is permanent. We''re all composed of a series of systems. Our culture, our relationships, our physical bodies, they're all systems and all systems have a few things in common. They all begin, grow, flourish, decay and die. Everything. Without exception. you can be a good Christian, a good Jew, a good Muslim, a good Mormon or Scientologist. You can make all the right moves and do all the right things. But your dog is still gonna die. your parents are still gonna die You're gonna fuck up your marriage. Your boyfriend or girlfriend is still gonna cheat on you. Your kids are gonna grow up and not call you as much. And you can, y'know, sit in your nice house and not sleep for three days and cry to the cats and jack off until you're raw. Or you can buck up, put on your boots and work towards achieving Zen.

Zen is when abandon the concept of the past and the future and embrace only the moment. If you can free yourself from the events of the past, which is dead, and your expectations of the future, which is fantasy and embrace only the moment in which you are alive by freeing yourself from the tyranny of all of those wants that you have, then, dammit, can you finally have a taste of that state of Zen. But of course, by its very nature, it won't last.

Final Stats, but some things are immeasurable
Sadly that trip couldn't last forever. I pulled Giselle into my driveway around 9:30 that night and after getting all my bags out of her, I closed the trunk and just leaned against the bumper for a minute, looking up at the starry sky and how those stars looked the same whether I was in Monterey, SLO, Los Angeles (not really, wayyyyy too much light pollution but stay with me here), the Arizona desert or even in my driveway. In the big scheme of the universe, we're not even a blip. But in our own lives, and for the people around us, well, we're all we've got. We need to take care of each other and make each other's lives the best blip we can.

Thanks for sharing this dumb odyssey with me. Now I can finally write about something else! More material coming soon! I swear!

Thursday, June 28, 2018

Into The Great Wide Open Part Three: The Saint of Los Angeles

Apologize for the delay, had to work out a few things in my mind on how to approach things here, then got busy! Moving on! Check out part one of this stupid one-man odyssey right here and part two right here! In this installment, I leave the scenic stretches and California kitsch of the central coast and trade it for the ultimate concrete jungle. Along the way, I get to reconnect with some old friends that I hadn't seen in over a decade, get irrationally bummed out from a message from back home, get tailored, visit every Real Rock n' Rolla's spiritual home and start to put it all together while meditating on a beach. Let's get back on the road...

The alignment on that car had to have been pretty great
After a quick stop back in San Luis Obispo at the Firestone Grill for one of their famous Tri-Tip sandwiches, I was back on Highway 1 heading south. The road weaves in and out of its ocean view and I made one more stop in Pismo Beach, just to see what Bugs Bunny was making such a fuss about. It was kinda nice, well worth taking that right turn in Albuquerque. I blasted through Santa Maria and found myself nearing Lompoc, where Mia, O'Conner and the fellas once sprung Toretto by wrecking his prison bus and somehow didn't kill everybody aboard. There were no prison buses on the road, but traffic was starting to build, and by the time I hit Santa Barbara, it was stop-and-go time. For the next two hours I probably averaged about five miles an hour as we crawled along the 101 through Ventura. It kinda blows my mind that the beautiful vistas of the chaparral that I was "forced" to look at (along with about ten thousand tail lights) pretty much went up in smoke last Winter. Eventually, I got through whatever it was that was throttling down traffic to two lanes, split from the 1 and managed to hit the Valley just as it was getting dusky and the famous LA rush hour traffic was starting to build up. The Waze app is a godsend in places like this, and even though game 6 of the World Series was going on just adjacent to my route, I was able to find my hotel downtown without a crazy amount of trouble.

My tongue is LAVA!
After stowing my gear and a quick freshening up, I took a walk to find some dinner, stopping off for some tacos at a little place down the street. It was Halloween night and pretty busy, but there was an open seat at the bar in the rear of the place and I struck up a conversation with the bartender while he was pouring. He'd come to LA from the midwest to try and get into the film business and figured out he had it a lot easier slinging drinks and living in an apartment the size of a closet downtown. NOT STEREOTYPICAL WHATSOEVER. Still, there's something to be said about actually taking the leap when you've got nothing to lose. Now, I can't eat quite what I used to these days, so I settled on just three small tacos, (carnitas, chicken and shrimp) as well as one of the better margaritas I've had in quite some time. The carnitas and chicken were both outstanding, the shrimp had to have been one of the top-ten hottest things I've ever eaten. Just blew my already-fried palate all to hell. I'm glad I saved it for last. Just as the Dodgers were putting the finishing touches on forcing a game 7 in the World Series, I paid for my meal and walked back to the hotel. The streets were a lot more crowded both with people in costumes heading to the bars for a wild night and ecstatic local Dodger fans, with visions of a possible championship dancing in their eyes.

We're practically the same guy.
The margaritas had my brain in a fog and as my head hit the pillow just after midnight, a messenger alert snapped me back to reality. Hey! It's the mysterious girl from back home! She got my "just thinkin' about you" message! I opened the app aaaaand her blunt response made it abundantly clear that whatever feelings I had for her, weren't exactly reciprocated. Not exactly what I wanted to read on my first night in The City of Angels, or ever really. But thinking about it, shit, it's totally okay. We were in completely different places in our lives. And relationships are definitely a two-way street. I was an idiot for thinking I could rekindle something that probably wasn't really there from twenty years ago. Not the first time I've made that kind of mistake and it probably won't be the last. God knows, I'm terrible at catching a hint. But hell yeah, it hurt. But just like everybody's favorite animated doormat Butters once said on the legendary "Raisins" episode of South Park, "but at the same time I'm really happy that something could make me feel that sad. It's like, it makes me feel alive, you know? It makes me feel human. And the only way I could feel this sad now is if I felt somethin' really good before. So I have to take the bad with the good, so I guess what I'm feelin' is like a, beautiful sadness. I guess that sounds stupid." Still, at the time, it felt like the many highs of the past few days had just been mashed with a pair of size fifteen waffle-stompers. I hammered down a hot shot of NyQuil and I'm not sure how long it took to fall asleep, but it was a while.
Wish we had something like this here in Salt Lick.

It was a fairly restless night, but I rolled out of bed bright and early to meet an old college friend for breakfast, Jess. You might remember her from a couple cameos in some of my old Dorm Days stories, specifically when she fell asleep hiding in my closet from campus security during our huge dorm party, and when she totally brightened up my day during one of the shittiest weeks I had during that era. Good friends like her are hard to come by in this world. She suggested we meet up at the Grand Central Market, one of those big food markets that only seem to exist on Travel Network TV shows. Thankfully, the market was only about a twenty-minute walk from my hotel. In LA, driving doesn't cost a lot, PARKING costs a lot. Actually, with the cost of gas these days, driving costs a lot too.

Don't blame me. The rat peed there.
Now, there's a lot to be said for living in a clean, almost sterile city like Salt Lick, but this was an enjoyable stroll to me for a few reasons. First, people actually seemed interested in where they were going and were MOVING. And even if you bumped into somebody accidentally, they didn't give you the side-eye, they just kept on. I actually kind of liked that anonymity. Also, as gross as it sounds, there's something oddly comforting about that familiar scent of urine and pigeon shit in the air. That felt like a city that's lived in. It doesn't pressure you to conform to a certain way of living. You can do what you want, live your life the way you want to as long as it doesn't hurt anybody else, and nobody gives a rat's ass, not even the rats. That being said, it'd be nice if it was a little cheaper though, but I still dig it. Those high prices, and the fact that your house may either burn down in a brush fire or shake itself apart in the event of an earthquake are all a small price to pay for the luxury of 70 degrees and perfect every single day with a beach nearby.

After hanging around the ever-growing line at the counter of the tastefully named breakfast sandwich booth called Eggslut for about twenty minutes, from behind me I just heard a loud, "NICKAS!" and a big hug. It'd been about ten years since I'd seen her but Jess was a vision as always! I'll tell y'all what, if we have any chance whatsoever at cleaning up the literal mess this country has made of itself in terms of litter and pollution, Jess is going to be at the forefront of the solutions. She works for a waste management NPO in Southern California and was one of the main proponents of their recent plastic grocery bag bans, as well as several other major sustainable trash management initiatives. She knows more about garbage than anyone I know, and that's a good thing. She's going to have a positive impact on this earth. It was great to catch up with her, even if for just a little while as we reminisced about the Dorm Days and everything that's happened since then. After a dynamite sausage sandwich for breakfast and about eight cups of coffee, I walked her to her car and said goodbye. As she pulled away into traffic, I remembered one of the dumb goals of this trip that I had in mind when I left Salt Lick, I was going to buy a suit.

I mentioned in the last chapter of this travelogue that one of my favorite podcasts, The After Disaster, was based in Southern California. A couple months before this, they'd mentioned on one of their shows that two of them had recently purchased tailored suits from a small tailor called Al Weiss. They'd mentioned that they were so good, they practically sized you up as you walked in the door, asked you what you were interested in, and had you outfitted literally ten minutes later with something that fit perfectly, and for not a whole lot of dough. I punched in the coordinates on my phone and found that it was located only about fifteen blocks away, so I continued my march through the streets toward the fashion district. I almost walked right past it, it was so small. I walked in and it looked like it was chock-full of stuff that "fell off the back of the truck." A dude named Roman walked over and just like they said on the show, basically sized me up on everything besides neck-size, grabbed a couple things off the shelf and told me to try them on. Holy shit! This stuff looked great! I just needed the pant legs shortened by an inch. "No problem," the guy said, "take it over to Freddy's next door and they'll tailor it for you. I was in and out of Freddy's in about ten minutes and only out about five bucks for the alterations. I stopped back into Al Weiss and bought three more shirts. All told, I was out all of $250 for an Italian suit and four shirts. Insane. I then had another pleasurable walk for about fifteen blocks packing my garment bag back to my hotel. Nobody gave me a second look. Anonymity is awesome and I was already starting to feel a little bit better. Like it was time to turn a corner.
38 Minutes! It's like I run in slow motion or something, still,
it's a pretty nice view! 

After a killer workout in the surprisingly swanky hotel gym in which I set (at the time) a treadmill 5K personal best (gotta love interval training at sea level!), I met up with my television writer buddy MJ and his wife Alexia for dinner and drinks at a brewpub in Burbank. I coached MJ for a season of high school golf at Carbon High during my freshman year of college and I'd worked with his mother for quite a few years when I was first breaking into the golf business. We spent a couple hours catching up and commiserating on the depressing state of our hometown, politics and the joys of legal weed. All the while on the giant TV screen in the bar, the Dodgers were getting thoroughly destroyed in Game 7 of the series by the Astros. We seemed to be the only ones yukking it up in there, as the rest of the crowd in the bar made the place resemble a funeral parlor. Even though I can't stand the Dodgers, I was almost secretly hoping they'd pull it off (don't tell my Giant fan Dad), so I'd have the once in a lifetime opportunity to take part in a good, old fashioned sports riot! Instead, the ride back to the hotel was pretty uneventful. Out of the window of the high-rise, I heard a few sirens and some shouting, but I chalked that up to just a typical Wednesday night in downtown Los Angeles. After the shit night I had before, I slept like a baby.

Thursday, I made my way back north a bit to Ventura County. One of my comedic heroes and radio legend, Phil Hendrie, often waxed poetic about his beloved El Pacifico and the calming shores of Silver Strand beach. It wasn't too difficult to find, the weather was a beautiful 60 degrees and to my surprise, there was all of about four people on the mile wide stretch of beach. I shouldn't have been surprised, it was a Thursday at noon, in November. What kind of crazy asshole would be at the beach right now? Well, that guy and a tourist dipshit like myelf. I plopped my duffel down, laid out a couple towels and waded out into the water. Yep, it was November, JUMPIN' JEEZUS THAT'S COLD! That was okay though, I practically had the beach to myself. 

Working on the bronze, thinking about
the universe and shit.

I pulled into the big dude equivalent of a lotus position on my towel and zoned out for a minute. Now, normally I have a difficult time shutting my brain off, but something about the gentle waves rolling in and crashing ashore, the occasional seagull squeak, the sand shifting under my tucchus made all of the whirlwind of the road, the heartache from back home, the stresses about work fall away like the sand getting pulled back into the water. I learned a lot from the ocean that day. See, those waves roll in, and roll out. They crash on the beach and move back out again. And there's a rhythm to it. Over and over again. Sometimes they roll in long, and sometimes short. Sometimes the time of day rolls them further up the beach, and at certain times of day, the beach gets bigger. But they crash, over and over and over again. Those waves hit that beach eons before I got there and they'll hit that beach long after I'm gone. No outside forces can change that. Over and over again, the waves crash. I'll leave an imprint of my ass in the sand, and by tomorrow it'll be gone. The universe doesn't care, it just does what it does. The only things we can control are what we do. The way we treat others, the way we treat the planet, the way we feel about ourselves, no other person should have the power to change that about you. They can only be a catalyst, a spark, the rest is entirely up to you. We all have that choice to make.

The Strand Jetty
It's like the second noble truth of Buddhism. "Nothing is forever. Everything ends. Except the waves of the ocean. "To live, is to suffer." Suffering is inevitable for all human beings as long as they labor under the delusion that things can be permanent. When in fact, nothing is permanent. Your life is composed of a series of systems. Your culture, your relationships, your physical body, they're all systems and all systems have a few things in common. They all begin, grow, flourish, decay, and die. Everything without exception. You can be a good Christian, a good Jew, a good Muslim, a good Scientologist, make all the right moves, and do all the right things. But your dog is still gonna die, your parents are still gonna die. You're gonna fuck up your marriage. Your girlfriend is still gonna cheat on you. Your kids are gonna grow up and not call you as much. And you can, sit in your nice house and not sleep for three days and cry to the cats and jack off until your dick hurts. Or you can man up, put on your boots and work towards achieving zen. Zen is when you abandon the concept of the past and the future and embrace only the moment. If you can free yourself from the events of the past, which is dead, and your expectations of the future, which is fantasy, and embrace only the moment in which you are alive by freeing yourself from the tyranny of all of those wants that you have, then you can achieve a state of zen consciousness which leads to a state of bliss. 
The golden arcs!

I snapped out of it and looked at my watch. I'd been literally staring at those waves for two and a half hours. I packed up my stuff, snagged a t-shirt at a local surf shop, and hammered down a gyro at a Greek joint adjacent to the beach. After topping off Giselle's fuel tank, I cruised back down the 101 towards the city and my hotel. Fortunately, Waze was acting kind of weird again and had me running through neighborhoods again, but it was fortuitous, and I almost crashed the car when suddenly I drove by a very famous, but very out of place movie landmark, McDowell's from Coming To America! Unfortunately, I'd missed the pop-up restaurant by a couple days, and an apparent appearance by JACKSON HEIGHTS' VERY OWN MR. RANDY WATSON, but still, just the fact that somebody did that to their restaurant was fucking funny and well worth the picture! Somebody get my formerly fat ass a Big Mick!

That night, I ventured into West Hollywood for a stop at the SINGLE GREATEST RECORD STORE IN THE HISTORY OF GODDAMN MANKIND and picked up some vinyl and shopped around a bit. Seriously, if it exists, they probably have a copy of it. After losing myself in there for a couple hours, I drove west down the world famous Sunset Strip to the world famous Rainbow Bar and Grill. I make a pilgrimage to that place every single time I'm in Southern California. There isn't rocker throughout history that hasn't thrown on a massive drunk in that place, and you can almost feel the ghosts echo through the walls. Their food is excellent too, and I went there on this trip for a couple reasons. My friend Susie walked in and sat down in the booth across from me. I hadn't seen her in almost sixteen years and like so many people I know, had somehow managed not to age as time wore on. It was great to see her doing well, she was dating one of my best friends throughout high school, so we'd hang at her house quite often back in the day. Nowadays, she was a doctor for the local department of corrections and had some wild stories to tell. Nothing I care to repeat here, but she's SEEN SOME SHIT! Stuff the makes the "Tossed Salad Man" seem like a walk in the park. But she's weathered through it with a sense of humor, and had also recently started a family. "Having kids changes everything" she said, "it's something I never thought I'd do, but it's been the most rewarding thing ever." I'm sure it really puts things in perspective, especially after dealing with the absolute dregs of society on a daily basis. "Keep that kid outta County!" I quipped. 

I also had to hit up the 'Bow to pay my respects to the late, great Lemmy Kilmister, the mastermind of heavy metal stalwarts Motorhead. I always thought that the only things that would survive our impending doom on the planet would be Keith Richards, cockroaches and Lemmy, but unfortunately seventy years of the hardest living imaginable finally did him in. I was at one of the last shows Motorhead played, here in Salt Lick, when after three songs, he walked off the stage in obviously rough shape. Probably one of the more traumatic concert experiences I've ever had. I literally thought I'd seen the man die onstage that night. His health finally gave out a few months later, and death finally came for the unkillable. 

After the epiphany I'd had earlier in the day on the beach, viewing his Memorial at the Rainbow seemed especially poignant. There weren't too many people over the years that lived "in the moment" as ferociously as Lemmy. That dude attacked life like it was something to be devoured. He toured the world blowing out eardrums, did all the drugs, drank all the booze, bed down with women worldwide and he did it every goddamn day of his life. If he wanted to do something, he made it happen. I think there's something we can all learn from that. Maybe not quite to the destructive ends he went to health-wise, but I think after we all handle our responsibilities, we owe it to ourselves to seek out and experience joy. Whatever that may be. I was never again going to let indecision and fear cloud the direction my life would take. I'm going to tackle life like a linebacker smashing a wide receiver going over the middle. It was time to make some changes, but I had one more lesson to learn on the road before I'd return to life back home...

Coming up soon -  Part Four: The Bridge to Nirvana

"I was born the King of Fools
At any other game I never lose.
But when it comes around to
Love that's when I realize
I was born the king of fools."