Mr. Mainline: tribute

Andy and I were perhaps not a full generation apart, but we surely came from different worlds. He didn’t care about that.

It wasn’t that he didn’t care about things, he just didn’t care how old I was or where I came from.andyclapping

We would chat every now and then about boxing, about Philadelphia, and about food. He knew more about all of those things than I did and it was obvious. I didn’t mind so much, mostly because he didn’t mind either, and he wasn’t all too preachy about it. Even when I disagreed with him. I thought Dinic’s served the best sandwich in the city and he was convinced the Vesper Club cooked ‘em up better. I had never shot a pheasant and I’m pretty sure he had never shot a coyote. We both agreed neither of us should eat a coyote.andyHe invited me to go watch his heavyweight fight at the New Alhambra, he treated me to lunch at the Vesper, he sent my resume out to his friends without my asking. He was supposed to introduce me to the world of horse racing but I moved away too soon.

Too soon.

We talked a lot about the mummers and black face, chatted about the legal system. We wrote to each other quite a bit about rugby. Andy loved lacrosse, he loved his boy, and that boy recently traded in lacrosse for rugby. He wanted to figure this game out so he asked questions. I’m a kid from nowhere who had never heard of the Vesper Club, or any club, and he had no problem asking me to teach him things.

I think that is how he approached people. As people.

Good people.

I have no doubt his memorial service will be full of good people. Andy always treated me like I was good people.

You will be missed Mr. Mainline.

https://mainlinesportsman.blogspot.com

 

 

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Oh the Tacos at Guisados!

It’s just down the street from Dodger stadium, which I did not think about till I found myself in a string of stagnant cars filled with people wearing blue hats. I wasn’t there for the game, I was there for mole’.
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Standing in line with a bunch of hipsters I had plenty of time to check out the chalk board menu and its list of creatively named entrees, none of which looked familiar, I decided to do what all smart people do in new situations; order the sample platter. Now my not understanding the menu may have had more to do with my lack of Spanish than their creativity, but I tend to trust anyone who states on the menu that they don’t adjust the recipe. they know what they are doing and that is what you go there for.

From the menu: “Chiles Toreados-Habanero, serrano, jalapeno, thai, chiles blistered together over high heat. Served on top black beans. Adjustments kindly declined.”

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And horchata, always order horchata. Their’s was the most cinnamony I have ever had, in a good way. Good enough to make up a new word; like cinnamony.

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The Suburban Middle Class Mind-Set: Four Wheeling Through Poverty

I have always wanted a Jeep Wrangler. Four slightly large but not huge tires, top down, and the doors removed from the hinges. Forest green, maybe black or midnight blue, not yellow. I have pictured myself driving it off road in the dirt, on the streets passing strip malls, and even pictured parallel parking it in Manhattan between a cab and a Smart car.  It was never an obsession, not a top priority, but it was always there. In 8th grade, drifting off during math class-Jeep. College, sitting in a dorm room eating instant noodles-Jeep. I have always thought it the perfect vehicle for the person I wanted to be, the vehicular expression of the inner me. I may wear a suit and tie to work, but deep inside, I’m a Jeep.

Funny thing happened when I lived in Philadelphia’s inner city, the Jeep drove away. It was not buried under life’s cares, it wasn’t towed away by day-to-day practicality, it simply drove out of my consciousness.061004-philly-W(4)

I have since moved to another local and to my surprise, the Jeep, or rather a vacant parking space meant for a Jeep, has returned to my imagination. I can’t shake that stinking contraption, it’s there all the time. I suppose I could exorcise the demon by simply buying one. I can think of a million reasons not to do that, but none of those reasons can shake the fantasy. I’m doomed and the realization of this doom has caused me to reflect a little on why this is the case. I have also reflected a little on why Philadelphia somehow made me mentally Jeep-proof. I think I know the answer, and it makes me just a little afraid of myself. It makes me a little afraid of us all. I will explain.

Philadelphia was the first place I had ever lived, not visited, where there were a lot of poor people. Now I have never been wealthy, or even very stable (reason number one for lack of four wheel drive dream car), but in Philadelphia there were people, a lot of them, that were very visibly doing much, much, worse than I. The longer I lived there, the more I not only saw such folks, but I got to know them. Names. Situations. Humans. This familiarity and proximity provided for me a new opportunity; I was able to help. I didn’t help much. In fact it could easily be argued that the net effect of me living there nine years was zero. At least zero in the dent I made on poverty. But being there and working there made a huge dent in me. That dent came from a constant blow to my chest that eventually crushed by ribs and touched my heart. I felt it. It hurt. But it didn’t only hurt it also gave me this sort of zealous energy and joy. This trying, this being needed, and this involvement in something bigger and more important than my day to day life was invigorating despite the pains I picked up along the way. Not only was it not only painful, it was also not only poor people. This was the first place I met real life rich people.

When I say rich I’m not talking the “I own a car dealership” kind of rich, I’m talking the “My name is Henry Ford the 5th”, kind of rich. Now no, I never really met the heir to Model-T dynasty, but surely I now know players in that same league and I will admit there was excitement in such encounters. Some such folks were wonderful, and others not so much; just like the poor people. Some people were doing fascinating and wonderful things with their resources, and others were just minding their own business. Knowing these people and peeking into their world taught me a few things, but it didn’t hit my heart. Some of those folks bruised my eye a little, but nothing lasting.cheesesteak

In Philadelphia I saw these two worlds, the wealthy and the destitute, rub up against each other. Watching these two tectonic plates, these huge forces of nature that have to our knowledge always existed, grate and rub, I learned what humanity is. Humanity is people, you me, us them, rich and poor. Humanity, these individual and singular people are what are important. Not the money, not the lack of it, but the person is what is important and one person interacting with another can do big things. Huge things. Things that matter! Not matter in the way that getting the high score on Angry Birds matter, but matters in the life outcomes and eternity sort of way. I got to live in that world. I was one of those people getting ground up between these two forces of nature, poverty and power, and I got to do a few little tiny things that really mattered.

And none of those things required, or had anything to do with a Jeep. That gorgeous chariot and all it offers never even occurred to me while I was there.

I have since left that city. It is a hard place to be and my job sent me somewhere else. Where I live now is wonderful. No potholes. No abandoned houses, no panhandlers, and no rib crushing blows. My kids go to a great school where I never worry about their safety and my wife never complains about the weather. I like my job, my friends, most everything about the place. I love it here-but the Jeep is back. I see it driving down the sunny streets and parked right over on the other side of my desk where chairs should be. It no longer has chrome rims, but it’s still green or blue. My dream car has returned and my chest has started healing. That dent, that damage, doesn’t hurt quite the same way, and that, is what makes me afraid.IMG_3945

My daydreams are not the faces of the people struggling to make it day to day but rather a gas guzzling car. The pain of tragedy and struggle is being replaced for a desire to have a little fun. Now make no mistake, I never abandoned fun, but it’s becoming my default setting. I had for some time filled my thoughts with doing good for other people, but without even trying, my thoughts are drifting to Jeeps. In fact I’m trying really hard to focus on doing good stuff for other people but Jeeps are all-terrain and apparently so are my daydreams. I have learned that seeing struggles on television, or the radio, or even talking to struggling people on the phone, just doesn’t hit my heart quite the same way. There is too much meat and bone, perhaps a little flab, protecting my heart from the outside world and I have a new found appreciation for a wounded heart’s ability to heal. This makes me afraid for myself. It also makes me afraid for all of us. I’m afraid because I think I might just be a normal person. Not super special or unusual, and if this is the case, than what are the rest of us dreaming about when we could be dreaming about helping people? Mine is a Jeep, what is yours?

And this matters because the one thing I refuse to forget is that those others, the ones who need help, really do need help. They need help from other people… more than I need a Jeep.

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Repulsion vs. Propulsion: Knott’s Berry Farm

I like Roller Coaster’s. I like my family. I dislike lines but accept them as a part of civilized society. There are however, some lines that should never be crossed, or some lines, that stretch so long that you should cross them on your way somewhere else.IMG_7515

Despite proximity I have yet to venture on over to Disneyland. The price of admission is way past where I draw the line. Word on the street is that the lines at Knott’s Berry Farm are much, much shorter, and cheaper. Not riding roller coasters when roller coasters are available is a unacceptable in my wife’s mind so she drew a line in the sand. Not really in the sand, but rather on the calendar, and along with that line in the sand she declared, “Here marks the end of summer. Before this date, you (me), will join your family at Knott’s Berry Farm!”

So I did.IMG_7510

So did a lot of other people.

It had been nearly a decade since I had been strapped into an open air train that goes upside down and in my memory, it was fun.

I had a lot of time standing in line to reminisce and watch as screaming trains zipped over head. Hmmm. fun.IMG_7509

Having been lulled into a near coma while standing mostly motionless for 45 minutes I found my self unprepared for what was about to happen. I took a seat in a carriage built for someone half my size, buckled my seat belt, and was pleased when the pimply 16 year old double checked to make sure I was safe. So far so good.

But then this train took off like a rocket. No slow climb up a mountain, no click-click-click-pause before the rush, just explosive speed right from the start.IMG_7457

I screamed. Out loud.

I don’t normally do that sort of thing. But when that contraption slammed me back inn my seat, spun me upside down, then swirled in a corkscrew, I felt like expressing my joy out loud. I loved it. All 20 seconds of it.IMG_7458

I had forgotten how fun physical motion can be. All day I sit at a desk, then I walk around a little, maybe drive my car in a straight line at a reasonable speed for a little while, and then, when I find the time, I exercise a little. This had fooled me into thinking my life included motion. I was wrong.IMG_7511

Commuting to work is not the same as rocketing from 0-80 mph in 3 seconds and rocketing, in any form, is exciting. I like rocketing. It was worth standing in line. But, and this is a big but, I was also reminded of what is not worth standing in line and paying a lot of money: cotton candy, pretend cowboys, medleys of Broadway show tunes performed by 18 year olds, and interacting with humans dressed up like cartoon characters. Somewhere between the age of three and now I have lost my appreciation for all of those things.IMG_7501

But my kids haven’t, and I love my kids.IMG_7502

So while I contemplate where the lines of reason lie, regarding fun, magic, money, and facilitating childhood wonder as proscribed by the corporation of Mickey Mouse, I realize I may have to bend. MAY have to bend. Eventually.

And I also realize I need to find a way to get in the passenger seat of a jet fighter. Maybe a race car… or a spaceship. Anything more exciting than a desk.IMG_7895

 

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Roots and Reunions

I got nervous on the drive to the hotel. It was the kind of nervous you feel when a friend you’ve never heard sing is about to take the stage to belt out a ballad. You hope with all your heart they do well but more than that, you suspect they are horrible. You were excited during the planning but now that the curtain is moving, your mistake is realized too late. “Is the DJ going to play Snoop Dog or Depeche Mode?” my wife asked. “I have no idea. Actually, I have no idea if Matt even hired a DJ. Wow. What if he didn’t hire a DJ?” Imagining a large room full of people with no music, forced to make conversation with each other, suddenly terrified me. I hadn’t talked to most of these people in twenty years. Some of them I had never talked to. Imagining all the horrible possibilities made me feel sixteen all over again, which was appropriate, because I was on my way to my twenty year high school reunion.1smoothmebw

I graduated from a suburban public school outside of Salt Lake City, Utah. Going to high school in suburban Utah is just like going to school in any other suburb except that it’s maybe just a bit whiter and a lot more Mormon. There was plenty of homework, zits, football, sex, beer, bad hair, bad taste, and good times. Not all of us had all of those things, but they were all there. There were geeks and jocks, band nerds and burn outs, somebodies and nobodies. I was never quite sure which of all those I was, and I think part of my nervousness pulling into the parking lot was that I might find out. This was very much a homecoming. Not just in that I grew up in this place and been gone for most of my adult life, but because most of the people that would be there, I not only graduated with, but grew up with. I had known them since elementary school. I lived in the same house from birth through high school, and so had almost everyone else. Both that place and those people are and were my roots. We grew in the same soil at the same time and we were all going to be together again tonight. Nostalgia does not always square well with truth and some truth is hard to face. Really, the truth rarely squares with Facebook or Instagram either. This was part of why I wanted to go to the reunion in the first place. I am aware that liking posts on Facebook is not the same as friendship. Looking at online pictures of someone’s kids or latest night on the town is not the same as hanging out. I wanted to hang out. I wanted to see if we were still friends in the real world. I wanted to be real world friends with those I now chatted with online despite never speaking to in high school. I wanted them to be friends with me. I wanted to see if the folks who defriended me around election time would still shake my hand. What if they did shake my hand but still harbored hard feelings? What if it is weird? What if we all just stand around awkwardly nodding at each other? My insides began twisting into a knot but I had driven hundreds of miles back to a place I had long since abandoned and drug my wife along for the ride. I couldn’t back out. I took a deep breath, held it for just a moment, then pushed open the car door.1georgehug

I walked slowly as my wife did her one footed hop, trying to strap on heels and walk across a parking lot at the same time. As I paused to wait, a black SUV pulled to a stop in front of me. “Daaaaaaaalyn!” they yelled as the windows rolled down. We grownups rarely get such a greeting and I was happy to see that we weren’t all going to be grownups tonight. Nanners, Nat, Dixie and Gina; I hadn’t seen those four women since they were girls and we were friends. Exchanging awkward hugs through rolled down windows gave me hope that our dormant relationships still lived and that tonight’s party wouldn’t be dead. A bit surprised at how surreal it was to see those faces after all these years I told them to go park and we would meet inside. It was awkward just as I feared. Awkward, exciting, and happy.1lisahug

Trevor was in the lobby. From fifty yards away I could tell it was him and I was scared. We were real friends, the kind that hung out after the convenience of school had expired. But I had moved away chasing my own future and we hadn’t spoken since. What if this was my fault and he knew it? We shouted each other’s names and when we got close enough to hug his smile looked real. We stepped back to stare at the creases at the corners of our eyes, and realized they were in fact the same old eyes, then hugged again. I didn’t care anymore who else’s smiles might be real because now mine was. I didn’t care anymore. I had stepped onto that stage and hit the first note pitch perfect. The fear was gone. As my wife and I turned the corner we saw the crowd spilling out of the conference room doors. There was Leavitt, Tina, Dan, and wow; is that Steve? I stepped into the crowd and slipped into a sort of sensory overload. Everywhere I looked were foggy versions of my past all smushed together into right now. I didn’t know what to say or who to talk to. I just hugged everything that crossed my path and kept smiling. Smiling and smiling and smiling.1usguys

My wife was a great sport throughout this whole thing. She had originally declined my request that she come along. “Why in the world would I drive ten hours to go hang around a bunch of people I have never met in a place I don’t really want to visit?” It was a fantastic question to which I had no immediate answer. “Uhhh, cuz I wanna hang out with you?” was all I had. With our intentions firmly settled I sadly made solo plans. I thought about this as I buzzed around the room shaking hands and reading name tags. She smiled and encouraged me to pose for a picture with everyone I met. She floated over to the table of old letter sweaters and memorabilia taking photos, reading the memorials to those of our class who passed too early; she was more than a good sport. She finally agreed to come when an old friend of hers, not mine, called and begged her to come sleep in their guest room. This invitation moved her from “no way” up onto the fence. Her mother offering free babysitting for the weekend shoved her over onto my side, and once on my side she went all in. She smiled and acted excited to see people she had never met. She read name tags and laughed at everyone’s jokes including mine. She did it so well I was convinced her smile was real. She did it so well that within a few minutes she convinced herself as well. We had done our homework before the trip. I thumbed through my old yearbooks, she fell asleep half way through Can’t Buy Me Love, refused to sit through License to Drive, but together we watched every episode of Freaks and Geeks. This combination of preparation, and her natural charm, made her an instant hit, and by extension, I felt like a hit as well.1fab5

There was a DJ. I’m not sure what he played because I was too busy catching up with old friends. There were some prizes given out to the senior superlatives, including the couple voted most likely to be together forever. They were both there and they were still together. The two voted biggest class clowns were still clowns, though one of said clowns is now, strangely enough, a principal. Most likely to be president- wasn’t. Matt, the one who organized the whole thing, said some words, but not too many. It was perfect.1splitmatt

It was around this time, or perhaps a little bit earlier, that the bar on the other side of the hotel, and the 12 pack stashed under a table, started to show their influence. No one got stupid like they always do in the movies, but they got happy, slow, and shallow. People I was excited to see would hug me tightly and while staring hard at my forehead say things like, “Living the dream man. Ya know, just doing my thing. Isn’t that great?” or maybe, “You have always meant the world to me. You are the whole reason I came,” said just a little too slow and in response to the question, “Do you have any children?” Such conversations put me in a strange place. I would stand in front of a person I was profoundly happy to see, someone I had anticipated spending time with, and there they were, but only a slightly glossed façade of a person. It was still good to see such a friend, but it was much more like watching a movie than living one in that you could see them, but they were really somewhere else.1splitjake

In a way this was the most real experience of the night. Real because one night of catching up is not enough to connect with the whole of a person. We were mostly too happy, too excited, or for some- too drunk. Reality is happy and excited, but it is also sad and hard. There are affairs and divorces, lost jobs and lost children. We knew each other when we were young and full of dreams. Most dreams either evaporate or die violently. New dreams, often better ones can take their place, but staring into the liquor happy eyes of a once very close friend, I felt the loss that comes with reality. I wanted to know everything I had missed over the years. I wanted to pay a happy visit to days past. I wanted to be close again. What I got was a good strong hug, sincere exchange of smiles, and a good look into a pair of eyes that let me know we wouldn’t be going much deeper that night. It was like Facebook in real life.1onthe table

As I sat back and enjoyed watching everyone, even the empty eyed ones, enjoy themselves, I wondered if is possible to tell the type of a tree just by looking at its roots. Looking around the room I could see my roots. This place, these people, are what I grew from. Looking around I could see it, remember it, feel it-roots. But while looking and feeling I wondered what kinds of trees or plants we really were, or rather are. I can’t tell. This was a room full of people with the same roots but we were oaks and aspens, orange trees and grape vines. I am not confident I know what everyone has grown into and I’m sure most others really don’t know me. Maybe that is because in my mind I am not sure what kind of tree I am either. I’m not done growing. How high school of me.  I am unsure of what I have really grown into, some of those I grew up with drink to avoid knowing, and most of us just post pictures of our blossoms.1splitguys

But I loved it. I loved it because what I do know is that I still have roots. I have a base from which to grow no matter in what soil I am planted. Roots feel good. In that room hugging those people, smiling a very real smile, wishing we could talk deeper than we did- I was happy.

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Hollywoodland: Because no one calls it that anymore

The sign used to say Hollywoodland and one of the major reasons movie companies moved there back in the day was to avoid being sued by Thomas Edison. Neither of those little details really matter to anyone today, which makes them just like all of Hollywood in the mind of this author. IMG_7083That isn’t really true, the part about me not thinking Hollywood matters. I love movies. I also hate movies. It all depends on the movie. But for the most part, movies are imaginary, and by extension most of the reasons to admire actors are equally fictitious. Except for maybe Indiana Jones. Dr. Jones, who was also Han Solo, is just a little too admirable in my imagination to be squashed by reality. I refuse to think that Indiana Jones does not in some place or in some time, exist.IMG_7089

What surely exists is the industry that has grown up around moving pictures and the very real dollars produced thereby. Lots of dollars. Billions of dollars. Lots of billions.

But Hollywood has also created art. Art and money each wield influence inn the world. Together they can move the societal needle, forward or back, left or right, true influence.IMG_7085

Moved to tears, moved to the streets, moved to the penthouse, or maybe movements in the outhouse. Hollywood has done all of those things. No matter how you feel about the place or what it produces, it is above all else, a spectacle.IMG_7088

Spectacle is what it is. It isn’t necessarily good or bad. It can be either. It just is. I have opinions… but really, I’m fine just spectating.IMG_7084

 

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Where Your Fortune is Created:Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Factory.

It wasn’t till after we left that it occurred to me that for a couple bucks they probably would have let me write my own fortune to have stuffed inside a cookie. Tip to anyone considering a proposal of marriage; visit the Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Factory located in a tiny alley in San Francisco’s Chinatown.IMG_5998

In Ross alley is a little shop about the size of my living room, where dreams are created. Well, maybe not dreams, but rather the little cookies you get with your sweet and sour chicken. I had never considered how these little treats are made, just as I have never really considered how my iPhone or a kazoo are constructed, but when confronted with an opportunity, why not?IMG_5991

There ya go. That’s pretty much it. A circular conveyor belt with a hundred Forman Grill like hot plates spins around spitting out hot pancakes that are peeled off the press and the folded around a slip of pre printed paper  into the shape of a croissant. You walk in, go “huh.” Then buy a bulk bag of cookies and go on your way. That is my style of learning.IMG_5736Going there is worth the trip and being there is even better. I find it incredibly American. American in that it is very much IN America, but in a place where a large number of people have come from somewhere else in hope of a better life. That is American.IMG_5990

What is also very American is gawking at the the culture of others without any real back story or true cultural understanding. That was my part in the whole visit. I played my part well and I am through and through American. Below I present exhibit A:IMG_5993

I appreciate drying your laundry the cheapest way possible and I don’t mind dried fish, but combining the two displeases me. I would guess that were it otherwise I would displease most of the people who might sit next to me on a bus.

But that is my opinion and this is America where we are each entitled to our own opinions… and smells.IMG_5997

 

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