I Remembered Rose a Little too Late

I remember Rose. I wish I could do more than remember but I don’t have a choice.
Rose was the perfect name for her.cfiles6499
I have no idea how old she was but she looked about ninety. She was just like any elderly black woman you might see in a movie; toothless, sappy sweet, with just a little touch of sass. She was once a nurse; had been for forty years. She was never married and had no children. She lived with her nephew and an assortment of other characters that I could never keep straight. Cousins, nieces, grand cousins, play cousins, but they all looked older than fifty and none of them spoke to me unless I addressed them directly.

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I met Rose when some missionaries asked me to come along for a discussion. She lived in a row house in North Philadelphia. It was the grand kind of place I would have loved to have seen when it was new, but that would have been about 1850 and it had long since been subdivided into apartments and I doubt many had loved to see it for at least fifty years. There were two short sets of stairs leading up to her front porch which was a large cement slab surrounded by a crooked railing.
She spent her days sitting in the living room, sharing the space with an old TV, a ratty couch, and an upturned coffee can filled with cigarette butts. She never went anywhere. She never left the room. She didn’t wander because she only had one foot. She lost it to diabetes some years before and so now she sat in her wheelchair on the ground floor of a three-story apartment. The others in the house seemed to go up and down, in and out, passing Rose the same way they passed the ratty couch and the old TV. The coffee can wasn’t hers. She didn’t smoke.”Naw honey. Gave that up years ago. T’aint good for ya and I gots enough problems as it is. That can’s for everybody else in this house. I wished they’d smoke ’em out on the porch but I guess its cold out there. Anyways, at least when they’s smokin’ in here I can talk to ’em a little.”
Rose found the missionaries when they knocked on her door and she hollered for them to come inside. Maybe she just wanted someone to talk to. Maybe she had been sitting there waiting for them. Whatever it was, they found each other and they called me to come along. “Miss Rose has lots of questions and has been reading quite a bit,” the Elder’s informed me. “Today we will be talking about church and baptism.” Now I knew why they really asked me to come along; my minivan.

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I was happy to offer my services to help Rose attend church that upcoming Sunday. She was the only one in the house who had any interest in the gospel but it didn’t matter because none of them owned a car. “You sure that aint a problem? You sure you don’t mind coming all out your way to get me?” she asked. I did not mind at all. 8:30 that next Sunday Rose was waiting for me right on the other side of the screen door. She would have been on the porch but couldn’t get herself up over the door jamb. I wheeled her around backwards and we bump, bump, bumped our way down those two small sets of stairs and then I gallantly lifted her out of her chair and set her in the passenger seat of the van. “Hi Rose,” my daughter and wife called out to her. “Hello everybody,” she replied and we drove off to the chapel.

This became our regular Sunday pattern up through her baptism and a month or so after as well. But then my responsibilities changed and I was no longer available Sunday mornings. I couldn’t call to tell Rose because she had no phone. I stopped by on a Wednesday to tell her I couldn’t be there on Sunday and she apologized to me. She was sorry to be any trouble. I promised I would try to find someone else.

The only person I could find was Brother Berry.

I hadn’t really thought this through very well. Brother Berry was perhaps the only person I knew who was older than Rose. Despite his age Brother Berry would volunteer for anything and they were the only other people we knew with a van. That Sunday morning the Berry’s showed up without Rose. Sister Berry marched up to me and launched into some high decibel diatribe about Brother Berry’s back and stairs and wheelchairs, heart attacks, and another thing coming. I pled forgiveness. Looking back I guess it was my fault. I had assumed that Brother Berry had a plan or was simply more capable than I thought. He was not capable, just willing. After church I drove over to visit Rose and she apologized to me again.

After five months of asking for volunteers and organizing Rose had still never made it back to church. I refused to accept that I was the only solution. Besides, I had other things to worry about than just Rose. So I continued to try to find her rides and would swing by to visit her on weekdays as often as I could. I felt guilty I wasn’t able to be her taxi and was inspired by the addition of a blue book with gold print as the newest piece of living room furniture. It didn’t take long for that blue book to look as used and ratty as the sofa it sat next too.

Before too long our ward welcomed a set of senior missionaries. They weren’t all that old, they were full time, and best of all they had a car. I asked them to please go get Rose. And they did.
I was so happy when this good Elder wheeled Rose into the chapel. She reached out to give me a big hug repeatedly asking, “Where’s the baby?” till my two year old was eventually produced to be hugged as well. It was a great day till about four o’clock.

At four I got a phone call from this Elder’s wife telling me all about her husband’s back problems, his age, and the challenges of getting Rose back up those stinking stairs. I apologized. I often find myself in situations where this is appropriate. This senior Elder spent a day and a half resting hs back but had the bright idea of a deal moving forward. If I couldn’t be there to pick her up, and he couldn’t get her home, maybe we should work together. He would go get her if I would take her home.

Deal.

That next Sunday the senior missionaries showed up without Rose. When they arrived at her home one of the others in the house told us she was in the hospital. Something about her diabetes and surgery. No one there seemed willing or able to tell us anything more than that. After church the senior couple began calling hospitals eventually tracking her down. That Tuesday I paid her a visit.
There she was, smiling her toothless grin. She had lost her other foot but not her smile. She chuckled and waved me into the room past an extra bed that looked to hold a large pile of pillows and sheets. “That’s Clara”, she said pointing to the other bed. “She upset because they won’t let her smoke and I keeps reading the Book of Mormon out loud.” With that she winked at me and pulled open a side drawer to show me her dog eared scriptures. I love that she had her scriptures and loved even more that she winked at me. How could anyone not like Rose?IMG_9088

The senior couple continued to visit Rose till she was moved to a convalescent home nearby. We all talked about how it would soon be time to start arranging for her to get rides to church again, there was some discussion about maybe perhaps bringing her the sacrament, but no one felt any urgency. Things were just moving along. It all began to feel quite normal. That is the right word for it; normal.

It was now normal for me to drive right past the home where Rose was staying as I went to and from wherever doing this and that. I would drive by on my way to pick up one of the youth for an activity, look over, and think to myself, “I should go visit Rose.” But I was on my way somewhere else, somewhere worthwhile, so I would vow to visit Rose later. I would pass by Rose’s center on my way to meet the missionaries somewhere, look over and be reminded I hadn’t yet been by to see Rose. “I should make a note to go see Rose”, I would tell myself, and then hurry off to meet the Elders. I recall one day driving past having finished my work for the day and thinking, “now is the time to go see Rose.” It was dark, it was late, and I was tired. I figured it wasn’t that big of a deal, I would get by to see her. She wasn’t going anywhere, besides, no one but me seems to be able to move her. I went home.

Sometime later the senior missionaries told me a story. It had been just a little too long since they had seen Rose so they scheduled some time to drop in and visit.
Rose wasn’t there.
Rose had passed away.
The people at the home had done their best to contact someone but Rose had listed no relatives and left no point of contact. With no one to contact Rose had been buried by the state. The employees at the home were only disclosing this information to the senior couple because they recognized the logo on the name tags as the same logo on Rose’s copy of the Book of Mormon.
Riddled with guilt I asked where she was buried.
“They don’t know. They said people buried by the state are put in unmarked graves. They have no idea where she is. Sorry.”

That was that. Rose was gone.CIMG4332

I know enough of the gospel to know that Rose is in a better place. It wouldn’t be hard to be better than an empty living room in a wheel chair. Yet when I think of Rose I mostly remember that I drove past her house, thought I should stop, and didn’t.
My little family was in the airport getting ready to board a plane when my little three year old yanked on my sleeve, “Look Dad, it’s Rose!” she said pointing to an old stranger in a wheel chair. “O yeah, that does look kinda like Rose.” I say in my best fatherly voice; encouraging and matter of fact. But it wasn’t Rose. Rose was gone.

Where Rose is now, she can smile with teeth. She can stand. When I knew her she couldn’t do either of those things. I should be happier about that. But I haven’t changed all that much, I’m thinking about my own guilt and failure to act. I’m trying hard to get better and I think I am making some progress. Slow progress. Rose didn’t have time to wait for me to get better. I couldn’t fix all Rose’s problems, but I could have helped more than I did.

How many Roses do we drive past every day without stopping? Let’s do a little better.

Mancation: Inception

I think maybe it was the phone calls.

I get a lot of phone calls but there are these certain types that after I hang up I just sort of stare off into space for a while. In my role in church I get told things that I then have to keep. I don’t get to talk about them, its kind of like confession. So I just sit there and stare while the phone call sinks into my soul like lead. I started getting a lot of those calls.worn out

“You should call your friends and go on a trip.”

I can’t really raise one eyebrow, but if I could, I would have.

We talked. I listened. No; I think I complained and she listened. It was decided I needed a vacation.

How does one vacation? No. Wrong way to think about this. What do I want to do? Right. Thats a better way to go about it. As I sit and think I am annoyed with the need to think and plan. Thinking and planning is what I need a vacation from. Forget it. Forget planning. I’m not planning this.

I sent a text to the guys. They were in, but they weren’t going to plan it either.

I soon realized that to travel without planning I would still need to plan a little. I emailed out a spreadsheet with the supply list: tent, cooler, a canoe, ya know, just the basics. Off to one side was a list of possible destinations: Leatherheads workshop, cheese farm, Root Soda bottling plant, somewhere up north not near anyone, just the basics. Then, up top, I wrote out some ground rules:

No internet

No hotel/motel

No more than one purchased meal per day and only if it is specific to location (ie Maine lobster)

If we come upon a natural body of water 3+ feet deep, we must swim

If any of us almost die Dr. Chadwick must save them

And that was it.load up

Early Thursday morning I drove over the bridge to the Dr.s house and shortly thereafter the were-bear (half man half bear) arrived. kaleo taking pictures

The Kala Beverages boys were back together. We loaded up the rented Xterra and pointed north.

History Class

I recall conversations in my home state and in my house about whether or not MLK Day should be an official holiday.

There would be argument over whether or not celebrating anything dealing with race made race issues worse (because acknowledging the existence of race is obviously bad), does our economy need another day off, and should we celebrate a philanderer. Discussions would waffle back and forth with no clear winner till someone would bring up communism. At the mention of that C-word a hush would fall. Everyone would stare out to nowhere, not having any available retort. Communism was the civil rights trump card. There was no available defense of being a communist.

Why?

In the mind of people engaging in this discussion, communism was real. These were Vietnam or cold war veterans. These were bootstrap capitalist republicans. These were people who fought against the red scare, not for fear of losing some personal economic empire, I never met an industrial titan, but they were people afraid of losing the personal liberty they treasured. These men wore Army green to defend rights of religion, rights of personal property, and the right to be left alone. These were people who remember that fight.

These were not the ones who fought against black people. These were people who watched the civil rights movement on TV. These are the ones who watched the fire hoses, did nothing, but still felt fulfilled by watching the Cosby Show around the same television set. These were of course, most white people.

Not the take a stand George Wallace type of white people, but the “isn’t that crazy stuff happening way over there?” type of white people. In the lives of these white folks, black people were on TV, communists were lurking around every corner. These paranoid white people live in places like: Utah, Arizona, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, Nebraska, and the Dakotas; maybe Vermont and Maine. There are more of them than most people think.

These are people who have maybe met one black person, that one time, and know nothing of black history or culture. In fact they don’t even think those things do or should exist. “We are all Americans,” they say, adding that all this hyphenating business is causing divisions.

You see the funny thing about a hypocrite is that most don’t realize when they are one.

Just last week I sat in a class of graduate students in history at an elite university and listened as the students expressed shock and wonder at how violent Jim Crow life was for black people. These are the people who intend to write history books. These are the educated. These are people who don’t really appreciate how bad it was. These budding historians aren’t the one’s I’m accusing of being hypocritical, but just like the armchair philosophers of my memory, they didn’t, and still don’t really appreciate how bad it was. Many don’t appreciate or even know how bad it still is.

This is where it could make a difference.

If an American of any color can realize how violent and oppressive life was under Jim Crow, they would realize that a black communist wasn’t plotting the destruction of American freedoms, they were struggling to gain freedom of their own, and not some philosophical ideological freedom, but the simple, tangible, day-to-day right to decide one’s own destiny; or at least the right to try.

What those of the fading generation never fully appreciated was the extent to which the freedoms they loved were denied to black Americans. Kelley and McDuffie do a good job in their books laying out the systems of oppression that spurred some black individuals’ embrace of Marxist communism. There were people like Queen Mother Moore who in the communist movement found the educational opportunities America had denied her, Maude White who found philosophical support as well as career fulfillment, and many others from city domestics to field laborers. There were millions of people who for hundreds of years had been systematically and violently denied the rights that men in the previous generation donned a uniform to defend.

But these men rarely saw this. They had selective vision. They often changed the channel.

If these individuals can realize this about themselves,  how much more understanding would they be of people like Maude White, Langston Hughes, or MLK when those people “changed the channel” when it came to Soviet atrocities? How much more understanding would the religiously conservative people of my youth be, of black communism if they knew they held meetings in churches and saw no contradiction in it? Queen Mother Moore was not the same as Mao Tse Tung.

In recent years I have watched protesters gather in American cities to take a stand against the growth of government and it’s potential to trample their liberties. I have heard loud leaders warn of the potential citizen’s disenfranchisement that will follow the cloaked “socialism” of Obama. I have heard this and I have watched people believe it. They seem to miss the irony that they have mobilized over e felt disenfranchisement, while they refuse to appreciate that someone else would have a desire to mobilize over enforced disenfranchisement.

Would some of these modern conservative activists be less fearful of Eric Holder’s youthful flirtation with communism if they knew more about the communist party’s work on behalf of the Scottsboro Boys? Would they be more open to black activists with a socialist past if they appreciated that the communist party had schools for Alabama laborers while the local police burned Black schools down?

There is in the conservative white popular culture, the idea that communism, in either its current form or in American history, takes hold mostly in the mind of spoiled college kids who are immature and have little to no appreciation for the freedoms they enjoy. It is assumed that these anti establishment youth are ignorant of the evil deeds carried out by Pol Pot, and ignorant of the real life suffering thousands of citizens faced under such regimes. It is assumed that these tender footed youth don’t know what it is like to carry a rifle in defense of free speech; which brings me back to hypocrisy.

Perhaps information and perspective have little to no effect on politics. Perhaps empathy and understanding don’t naturally spring from new knowledge. But if those calling others ignorant can realize the history they themselves are ignoring, they will at least have the opportunity to be ignorant intentionally. Maybe some individuals would adjust their views, or change what it is they advocate for, or maybe not. Either way an individual would be exposed for what or who they are. Erik McDuffie explains that the feminist communist leaders in America’s past saw themselves apart from others who fought for civil rights in that the others were treating the symptoms of poverty and racism, while they themselves were combating the cause of those things. That is what educating the people from my MLK Day memory would do; attack the cause not the symptom.

It is more than arguable that a mass understanding of Black communism in American history wouldn’t make a consequential difference in today’s political condition. I argue that if the masses were better informed, in a deep and substantial way, then those who wish to move those masses will be better equipped to do so. At least it would be an informed discussion. The majority of American’s sat on sofas not Greyhounds. It may be argued inaction equals endorsement, but from those sofas they watched Martin Luther King’s plea to judge an individual by the content of their character, not the color of their skin. The people I knew, despite their distance in both geography and ideology, took this to heart. There exist good people who get “it” wrong, because they think communism is a way to judge someone by their character. Civil rights leaders did not choose to be Black, many whites know that they know nothing of what it means to be Black, but they think they know what it means to be a communist.

For them, this makes a difference.

The Walls Have Eyes, Gargoyles at Penn

For undergrads I’m sure the pressure is immense. Over their shoulders look parents, professors, peers… and gargoyles.

 

Over archways, on walls, all over. Stone faces keep an eye on everything.

 

I like them.

 

 

 

 

 

But I found a favorite. One I like more than the others. Hats off to the guy who carved this one.

If you can’t tell; my little stone friend is hugging a football. Agreed, little guy, agreed.

Kala

Kala brand beverages are getting harder and harder to find.  Why?

www.dalynart.com

Because the proprietors and craftsmen who brew these fine beverages are renaissance men on dark ages budgets.  We three explore, develop, and learn, and then have to provide.  We are not upset, it is a choice we make willingly.

Where is a Medici when you need one?

Just know that should you want some, your best bet is to find yourself at an event where Kaleo, Dalyn, or Preston are in attendance.  BE warned, these are very exclusive engagements.

Where is the Kid With the Surfer Hair?

“Where is the kid with the surfer hair?”

They were talking about me.  Matt had just had his head shaved against his will, and the seniors wanted more.  They scoured the locker room, the weight room, and the student parking lot with shears in hand, and treachery in their hearts.  I hid.  I would say I cowered, but you don’t really have space to do that after having stuffed yourself in a locker.  I would have been ashamed if I didn’t know that Cowley was doing the exact same thing in the very next locker.

It was funny to me, even in that moment, that I was actually hiding in a locker.  I had seen this on TV but never thought it physically possible, nor a real life necessity.  Better yet was that the guy in the locker next to mine, weighed at least 260lbs.  I’m sure none of this would have happened in a normal world, but this was football.

The lockers we were in were specially designed to hold shoulder pads and all sorts of equipment.  We were in football lockers because we played football, and the Neanderthals outside were our teammates.  Our suburban high school was relatively small.  Sophomores, juniors, and seniors all practiced together; all one big team.  There were no official try-outs, and no cuts.  If you showed up, and lasted, you were counted as part of the team.  We were thrown together, young men and boys, and this alchemy produced a team; with a tall side order of terror.

This head shaving incident was not isolated.  The day before the “sophomore sheep shearing”, one of my classmates didn’t show up to practice.  It took a good 30 minutes before a trainer noticed him shrink wrapped to a goal post down at the main field.  At lunch time seniors would make us carry their trays, before practice they made us caddy their helmets, after practice they made us fear.

We did not shower post practice.  It was not out of prudish modesty but self preservation.  The first one to try showering returned to his locker to find his school clothes clogging up a toilet.  On one occasion, while we were all dressing, an upperclassman swung the wire mesh security gate shut, locking the twenty of us in our section.  Immediately afterwards, bins of water were poured through the gates, flooding us like a colony of gophers.

It wasn’t really that bad.  We all thought it was just part of the dues we paid to play.  As with any hostile force there were sympathizers amongst them.  Cole was a captain and the physical superior of everyone else on the team.  He would keep others in check, give us one of those knowing nods to reassure us that we weren’t really going to die, and kept things from getting out of hand, sort of.

He did not really control Chuck.  Chuck was the varsity quarterback.  Some would say he had a Napoleon complex, I would say he had a Genghis Khan complex.  He was the one with the clippers.

They did not find me or Cowley that day and I kept my hair.  They did find us later that week and we all enjoyed a “voluntary” leap into the glacier runoff up in the canyon on a hot summer day.  Possibly inspired by our trips up to the river, the coaches treated the whole team to a day at the community pool; a chance to cool off after a week of hot weathered and hot headed practices.  The seniors enjoyed a nice game of dunk the sophomore.  I enjoyed it as well; at least at first.

I did not dunk easily.  When Chuck tried I did not dunk at all.  I do not know if words were exchanged or how it all happened, but I do know it ended with me looking the quarterback in the eye while he was hauled off by three of his cohorts Cole included.  I just stood there bleeding from the lip, alone.

At the end of each practice it was our pleasure to run any number of 100 yard sprints.  Coach would yell out “sophomores”, and we would sprint.  He would yell “juniors”, and they would run, etc.  It was a time honored tradition that the sophs went first, seniors last.  This gave the upperclassmen the opportunity to run over or through any underclassmen who were loitering along the way.  One day I stood on the finish line, arms behind my head, desperately trying to regain my wind.  By some stroke of luck I saw Chuck just as he was lowering his shoulder, preparing to collapse my ribs.  I stepped aside.

My stepping aside had the same effect as Lucy’s pulling the ball right before Charlie Brown attempted his kick.  Expecting to hit me, he hit nothing, followed by hitting the ground.  I looked back over my shoulder as I started my next sprint.  Chuck was not pleased.

Chuck had one of those stares that television tries to portray with special effects.  The sort where he looks right at you and it is somehow obvious that he can see absolutely nothing else, except possibly the funeral of the one being looked at.  I saw this stare from 50 yards away and knew that stepping aside would do me no good this time around.  I squared up and took it.

This may have been even more of a surprise to my attacker than my previous move.  The net result was the same with me standing looking down on him as he lay in the grass.  On his third Kamikaze attack Chuck surprised me, and all of us, by veering last second and absolutely obliterating the sophomore standing next to me.  As the poor soul who thought he would only be a bystander lay in the fetal position, I called Chuck a name.  I used a word I would not repeat today and he heard it.

I did not have time to start the next sprint before he was on me and his classmates were on him.  They peeled him off and had my face not been protected by an iron roll bar, my lip would have once again been bleeding.

These sorts of actions do not win one friends.  I was a marked man and as such those closest to me in both emotion and age, could be found nowhere near me or they may suffer from peripheral violence.  I did not always win these contests.  There was a day in tackling drills where Blake decided I should spend the entire time prostrate.  Every time I attempted to rise he would promptly knock me down again.  There was the day I spent lined up in front of Vern.  He taught me every way an offensive lineman could hurt his opponent and not be caught by officials.  It was an object lesson I would not soon forget, nor soon stop feeling.

Over time this repeated pounding produced a respect and fear for my teammates that no opposing team could ever match.  I faced players from much better teams with much better bodies, but I was never afraid.  I recall looking forward to the day we played against others our own age as a welcome day of rest.  We were usually a bit less organized, as all our practice time was taken being cannon fodder for the varsity, but it was pure pleasure being the projectile for a change.

Rugby Tale

This was the forced fun portion of the conference.  Two hundred twenty something’s, one year into their first post college job, and there was an open bar.  There was one other young man not drinking so I approached him.  “So where did you go to school?” I asked.  That is how we all started our conversations at these things.

“A little school called UVSC.  You?”

“Really?” I asked, eyebrow cocked as best I could.  “I spent a few years at USU, but finished at the U.”

His eyebrow cocked.  We had established each other’s reason for not drinking without having to ask directly, but my newfound brother had a distant look that insinuated there was something more.

With just a bit of prodding he offered, “I played rugby against USU once.  There was this reff…”

“His name is Nev Tuipolotu”, I answered.  “He’s a good guy.”

With this, my sober friend’s jaw dropped open, and he asked, “You mean you were there?”

This UVSC alumnus was about six feet two, blonde haired, and had a movie star jaw.  He was the one in the company we all admired, not for his look, but for his territory; he covered Hawaii.  Upon establishing that we had in fact been collegiate competitors against each other, and shared a common historic event, he shared more.

“I was on the sidelines when things got really out of hand.  I had just been watching,but when it got crazy, I started to run onto the field.  This reff stepped in front of me, grabbed me by my collar, looked me in the eye, and said, “you will stay right where you are.”  He held my gaze till I realized my feet were off the ground.  He jogged off and I stayed put.”

I had never heard this little bit of the story before.  I had never heard it told from the other team’s perspective at all.  By now some others had gathered round and more explaining was in order.

We, Utah State University, were the hosts.  This was to be a “friendly”, meaning the result would not be official, it was a practice game of sorts.  Our coach grew up on the island of Tonga, had come to the States for an education, and then just stayed.  He did not get paid to teach us the game, nor was he being paid to be the reff that day.

Our team, a rag-tag of frat boys, islanders, and general knuckleheads would win the games we were supposed to, lose the ones predicted, and accepted any request for a game extended.  This Saturday’s contest came with no crowds, no police, and no ambulance.  In this respect it was the same as all our other games.  That soon changed.

Cia (Siy-uh), had just employed a common tactic of enforcing the rules of play by “raking”.  In rugby it is illegal to hold on to the ball once you are tackled and it is additionally rude to lie on top of the ball while it is on the ground.  Raking is using your metal cleated boots to encourage the opponent lying on the ball to stop doing so.  Most reffs will allow this as long as you don’t rake one’s head, and offenders quickly learn to stop cheating.  In this instance the rakee did not learn but got upset.  He jumped to his feet, yelled choice words, and started for Cia.  Wayne, a slender fellow with two gold teeth who spoke little English came quickly to Cia’s defense with a hard thrown right fist.

Nev, the reff, caught Wayne’s fist mid-air, placed his other hand on the other players chest, and prevented a tragedy.

Almost.

This other player, this neophyte philistine, forgot himself for a regrettable moment, and punched Nev in the face.  We were not unaccustomed to a scuffle here and there and most just sort of sorted themselves out.  Someone would get thrown out of the game and we would finish a man down, or a couple of us would spend 5 minutes in the “sin bin” to cool down and then get cleaned up before the post game party.  No big deal; till now.  No one had ever punched Nev before and in so doing this unaware hot head had dropped a bomb.

Fists flew and lips bled.  I saw some of the best tackles a rugby pitch has ever seen and kicking that Beckham could never match.  Everywhere you looked there was action, two on one here, one on one there; piles of bodies writhing and biting.  Seeing a haymaker headed for a teammates head, I put my shoulder in that guys ribs and dropped him to the ground.  Holding his face in the grass I was perfectly posed to be grabbed from behind in a headlock and pulled backwards.  Flat on my back I had a great view of the player above me, kicking me in the chest.  I also had a great view of Wayne executing a beautiful flying kick that crumpled my tormentor like a paper doll.

Usually when things like this begin, some sort of authority steps in and brings it to a close.  I began to wonder how long this was going to continue as I bear hugged a very angry, but smaller, player from the other team.  I held him immobile off to one side for what seemed like an eternity before I saw the other team sort of trickle off the pitch, gather their gear, and leave.  I released my prey to join them and flopped onto the grass exhausted.

As I lay there Nev walked past and said, “Guess we are done for today.”  The incident had lasted more than twenty minutes.  I sat round the kava bowl with my roommate and some other players later that night.  I was tired, achy, and confused.  I had never seen anything like that before and nothing like it since.  It was the sort of thing that didn’t get retold often because we tellers grew tired of being accused of exaggeration.  Listeners would tire or ask questions I could not answer.  Questions like “why did it finally end?  How did the fighting stop?”  As years passed I began to wonder the same thing.  I never knew, till that evening, years later.

My cross-country co-worker told how this giant of a reff went from group to group, scuffle to scuffle, ordering people to stop, and they did.  This player, new to the game, simply did what he was told; he stayed put.  I doubt any one man has ever remained so cool amid such chaos, ever commanded such respect, or simply ever frightened so many people as Nev did that day.

I smiled at my new friend, raised my Shirley Temple in a silent toast, and the two of us sat bored as the rest of our cohorts got drunk.

Nev Tuipolotu (with ball)

A Continuous Lean, Interview

Michael Williams

“… my apologies again about the coffee — I’m an idiot.”

MW

http://www.acontinuouslean.com/

I was once again unreasonably early and stood outside the coffee shop in Soho waiting for him to arrive.  I watched a man in a fedora, skin tight jeans and knee high fur boots walk past, two guys in skinny suits with Moses beards, wearing work boots, and a six foot tall, waif thin woman in high heels and fur shawl all walk past.  Seeing them, and knowing I was about to meet the blogger whose work is known as the go-to place for all things hipster, I began to really wonder who it was I was about to meet.

When he walked up, right on time, he was above all else… normal.

He told me he isn’t fashionable.  He referred to fashion as the “F” word.  He retold how style industry people meet him and say, “Really?  This is the guy?”  I must admit meeting with the knee high boots guy would have been pure visual entertainment, but Mr. Williams was the kind of normal that isn’t a disappointment.

We went inside and I ordered a hot chocolate, they were out, so I got apple juice.  The normal line of questioning followed, completed by him saying, “So it’s kind of like I invited a Jew to have bacon?”  I tried to convince him it was a complete non-issue, coffee is my favorite flavor of jelly bean, but I’m not sure he completely believed me.  This wasn’t supposed to be about me.

In Michael’s case normal is not boring, but it does require you to pay attention.  He does not act or speak in a flash of flamboyance to draw attention to him or his point, he and his work just are.  That is in essence what A Continuous Lean is.

I had trouble describing to my wife what the site is, Michael helped by saying it’s a men’s interest blog focusing on Americana.  “Why Americana?” I asked.

“Uh, I guess because I’m American.”

Great answer.  He put me, and might I say a whole lot of other skeptics, in our collective place.  He put me in my place because he is not some Soho sleuth trying to figure out what is cool and market it.  He is not polling or trolling the streets for the next cool thing and trying to pass his version of it off as authentic.  He is simply a guy from Ohio with a history degree.  A  guy from Ohio, not in the “let me cover up my fly over country past to become NYC” kind of way; nor is he the “Look at my Crocodile Dundee woodsy shtick and love me” kind of way either.  He is simply from Ohio.

“I like traditional stuff.  I figure if something has been around for 100 years it’s probably because it’s good.  If you go to Istanbul you can get a traditional wet shave that has been done the same way for hundreds of years…. I’m American.  Not in the flag waving, we’re number one kind of way; it’s just what I am… Americans didn’t invent the suit, we invented jeans.  The clothing and things we perfected were work wear and utilitarian things.  I like that stuff and I just started posting stuff I like.”

Approximately 350,000 people per month like it too.  Such a large number makes me feel a little sheepish, but I have to admit… I’m whole heartedly one of them.

He posts things like trips to flea markets, how to tie a monkey fist knot, and most recently a company that makes shoe horns.  Shoe horns?

This brings us back to normal.  Michael Williams has a way of making normal cool.  He has crafted a strange world where the Varsity quarterback is envious of the second string nose guard and finds himself trying to dress like him.  He has urbanites scouring the countryside and searching attics for old military tents and ammo cans.  He has me interested in shoe horns.

I got the idea he finds this all a bit funny but he doesn’t laugh very loud.  I’m not sure if he does many things very loud.  He was apologetic and modest.  He had a dangerous way of distracting me with questions about myself, preying on one of my weaknesses.  He even volunteered that he thought his site might appear too materialistic.  How unfashionable.

As if he was sorry for it, he admitted he liked a lot of “things”.

“It‘s not that I’m telling everyone to go out and buy this stuff (the comments on an infamously expensive notebook are priceless) its more that I’m exercising demons.  I see stuff I like and after I write about it I no longer feel I have to own it.”

Preach on my good man, preach on.  The only problem is he does it a little too well and in exorcising his own demons; he’s passing them all on to me.  I’m sure those featured don’t mind at all.  I’m currently saving up for a new notebook.

This is completely unrelated but right around the corner what did I see... a major award!