Category Archives: Words

Slaying Dragons

14183_10204305721786323_5142934658518605392_n (2)“I’m trying out for a play.”

“You’re doing what?” my wife asked.

“You heard me.”

“Why?” she asked.

“Why not?” I answered. So the odyssey began. Mind you I wasn’t trying out for anything Broadway-esque, not even Missoula-esque, just our small town’s attempt at doing community theater. No big deal, right? That’s what I thought. Yes, the play was a musical, but I was playing it safe. I was going out for a bit part that didn’t have any singing. No sweat.

The production was an original, all-age rendition of Sleeping Beauty entitled Briar Rose. Less than two weeks prior to opening, auditions were held. I walked in thinking I would snag the King role. After all, I procured a script and spent time perusing it and, being cocky and brash, knew that the role wasn’t too much of a reach. Safe territory. Did I mention that I practiced the lines?

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that this wasn’t an ordinary small-town production. The creator of the script, the composer of

The Briar Rose Brain Trust   L to R   Brenda, Brad, Ann
The Briar Rose Brain Trust L to R: Brenda, Brad, Ann

the original score, and a professional director would be overseeing the process. I thought it was cool until at auditions, I was told Brad Hagen, the composer, was going to interview each potential cast member. The interview consisted of going into the ‘music’ room and singing Happy Birthday.

No big deal, right?

Maybe for you. When I first started talking with Tammy in the early days of our long-distance relationship, she asked me to sing to her. I warned her against the idea. She said I couldn’t be that bad. After three notes, she said that I was right. I was that bad. It was the only time in fourteen years she ever admits to me being right. Henceforth she requested that I not sing in her presence. That last bit may or may not be an exaggeration, but you get the idea.

The man who gave me the tools to slay a dragon.
The man who gave me the tools to slay a dragon.

Anyway, waiting for my turn to step into the music room butterflies took residence in my gut. I looked for any excuse to delay my audition. I felt like a kid waiting his turn in the dentist chair. When the time came, I was greeted by a gentle, silver haired giant sitting behind the piano. He immediately engaged in witchcraft, a nasty trick: He started a conversation and put me at ease. We talked music. In the snap of a finger, I was disarmed and he asked me to sing. A voice came out of my mouth I never heard before. Steady, unwavering, deeper than I imagined. Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t good by any stretch of the imagination, but the best I’ve heard come from me.

Rumor proceeded Brad. It was said that he could teach anyone to sing. I figured people were pumping sunshine up his nether parts because there was no way he could teach this creature. In short, I’m a frustrated musician with no sense of rhythm, and a high-pitch voice which still cracks at fifty. My only foray into playing an instrument led to personal tragedy. I got my fingers caught in guitar strings which led to near amputation and the death of said acoustic guitar. I’m content to know my art is storytelling. 

Next came dancing. Now, as bad at singing as I am, there’s no hope for me with dance. Even crazy frog dances that were

The first runt through
The first run through

designed for kids were beyond my scope of practice. Though it was humorous being in the room and going through the paces with townsfolk that one would never imagine in such situations.  I struck out on two pitches and was glad. Acting came next. Some may know that I consider myself an actor in the consummation of my day job. I’ve never met an improv situation I didn’t like. Our gunfights are the epitome of improvisation. In short, as much as I was sucking at the first two, I was confident I could act up a storm. And act I did, right into a roll I didn’t want.

After auditions we were told to sit tight. Casting was happening right then and there. I sat back sure that I secured my spot as monarch. When the cast list was hung on the wall, I distinctly felt my scrotum crawl inside my intestines. I was assigned the Prince role. I was Prince Fucking Charming! And I had to sing! Like I said I was familiar with the script. What I thought was going to be fun turned into a nightmare.

Wendlyn the Witch, Prince, and Old Man
Wendlyn the Witch, Prince, and Old Man

I had the impulse to pack it in and quit. But, I know quitting is like stepping out of a rollercoaster line. It feels good for about ten minutes and then one’s left wondering why everybody coming off the ride is laughing and smiling. I didn’t want to regret not doing this. I took a deep breath and committed myself to being artist’s clay. I would let the professionals mold me. If I shit the bed, I took the attitude it was their problem. So began eight days of being apt pupil.

My hockey experience kicked in and I committed myself to being the first to rehearsals and last to leave. I even shaved my beard. What I learned is that during such an intensive process most people hit the wall and have a meltdown. Mine occurred away from the action. Tammy and I had plans to take Anamae and her mommy to Glacier Park the Friday after auditions. Every time I hold my granddaughter,  I sing her Joe Cocker’s version of You’re so Beautiful. Even though it’s a great song, it’s hard to sing it worse than Joe Cocker. It’s a piece of art that is so good because it is so bad. After recording it and teasing me that she would post it to Youtube, I had my meltdown. What little confidence I had wavered. Resolute,  I planned on walking into rehearsals the next day and quit. Again hockey kicked in. This was a team effort. I wasn’t going to be the one to derail the process. I sucked it up and tucked in my skirt.

With dread I pushed forward. Away from cast action, I squirreled myself away in the music room for remedial singing lessons,

The three ladies in my life: Tammy the costuming genius, Tiffany, and the only lady who didn't cringe when I sing, Anamae.
The three ladies in my life: Tammy the costuming genius, Tiffany, and the only lady who didn’t cringe when I sang, Anamae.

or in the gayest moment of the experience, hiding in the room with my duet partner and belting out a rendition that had all the stray cats in the neighborhood running for refuge as if Yellowstone had erupted.

The next moment of despair came when director Brenda Kane announced that Monday we would go off book. Which meant we had to know our lines, without referring to the script. I can’t speak for anyone else, but it was a butt-clenching experience. I had over a hundred lines and up to that point I had problems memorizing my wife’s last name. Fear kicked in and I cut up a script, taped my lines to plastic container lids and carried them with me everywhere. When I drove I would look at the lines, when I went to the bathroom I studied them. Then something Tammy said kicked in. Two magic words. Voice recorder.

Sunday evening I read every scene that I appeared into the recorder. Every part. I learned my lines, other’s lines, my cues. I played it while I slept, I played it to and from work. During independent study time at rehearsal, I squirreled myself into a classroom and interacted with the recorder.  It didn’t stop me from bombing Monday night. I only nailed half my lines. I left Monday night in despair. After a stopping for a beer, I settled in for a miserable ride home. 

The King and Queen. I thought I would get the King role. Silly me.
The King and Queen. I thought I would get the King role. Silly me.

Then an omen appeared. As I rounded a corner a mountain lion sat in the middle of the road, its eyes glistened in my headlights. Not until I was yards away did it scamper off the road and bound up a hill. The grace and power from which it acted brought a smile to my face. In that moment, I knew everything would be okay. It didn’t mean I didn’t have a ton of work, but I knew I would do it.  

The next hurdle was memorizing the lyrics to the song I had to perform. For two hours after Tuesday’s practice I put on headphones and listened to the song’s melody while mumbling the lyrics. Measure after measure I put into a loop, which meant I repeated each measure dozens if not hundreds of times. The process worked. The curse is that I doomed to forever remember the lyrics.

With each day captured more of my lines. Even though I was mastering a great majority of them, I

The Croakies: The Frogs that stole the show.
The Croakies: The Frogs that stole the show.

still had a half-dozen hurdles. Lines that if I missed would cause a domino effect of blunders. One such line was: “I’ve never seen anything like them.”  Pretty simple, straightforward. It was my personal hell. In one rehearsal it caused me to forget the rest of a scene. I took to writing it on my palm.

During the last rehearsal, Thursday night, a mere twenty-four hours before the opening, after being complimented on knowing my lines, I forgot another line in the same scene. I did as we were instructed. I asked: “Line.”

The director pitched the curve ball. “What? There’s no one on book. What are you going to do tomorrow night? Ask the crowd?” Brad’s voice played in my head. He had mentioned productions in which actors nailed rehearsals but when something unexpected happened in the show, they didn’t have the muscle to overcome and the wheels came off. It was the medicine I needed. I felt a defiant smile come over me. The improv license was granted. 

During the same practice I belted out the song. Of course there was a cheer, it was the three directors job and the lingering

The Croakies making fun of the Prince's clothes.
The Croakies making fun of the Prince’s clothes.

cast members to applaud. At this point, reassurance in any manner is needed and taken. The comment that stuck was from Summer Drey, the actress who played Wendy the Wicked Witch. “That song will be your eulogy.” I’m still not sure what she meant, but I think it had something to do with the eardrums I would be forever known for bursting.

Opening day arrived like every other day. I completed my outside world obligations and was at the school by noon-thirty. Six and a half hours to show time. I ran through the script three times and worked on the song. During that process a curious mental block sprung up. I forgot the melody to the song. Since my laptop had crashed, I hadn’t a means to replay it. I wandered around the rest of the day in a semi-panic. I contemplated asking Brad to play it for me, but he was busy with other technical details. I did what anyone else would do, I tortured myself trying to remember it. I had the chorus, but for the life of me couldn’t recall the rest. Luckily I remembered the lyrics.

The Green Room.
The Green Room.

The clock ticked. There comes a point when you have to put everything down. Another Brad quote rang in my head: “If you try too hard, you can cause irreparable damage. Trust yourself. It’s muscle memory, Trust it.” The picture was taken in the Green Room before a dress rehearsal, but my expression is still: “Oh shit, I hope Brad’s right.”

Places, five minutes before show time. I’m alone in the school’s kitchen. The hum of refrigerators blocking my thoughts. I tried remembering random lines. Nothing popped up. I heard Brad again. “Self-defeating behavior. It tries to get you.” I focused on my breathing. The lights dropped. I took a deep breath and stepped before a full house.  Without much thought, muscle memory did kick in. Lines came from my mouth like in practice. Nerves fell aside. Especially when I took a seat on the log behind a ‘campfire’ and looked into the crowd. Many familiar and friendly faces caught my attention. James Hetfield of Metallica speaks of looking into the crowd and finding a person and looking into their eyes and if needed, wordlessly asking them for help. Whenever crazy thoughts rose I took Hetfield’s advice. It worked.  

Me taking myself way too seriously belting out "Where my True Love Sleeps."
Me taking myself way too seriously belting out “Where my True Love Sleeps.”

Luckily for me, my favorite scene to portray was the one leading up to my act of dismemberment by vocals in front of one hundred-fifty people. The Prince muses about destiny and love. It’s a scene that I can relate to, and in acting it I felt as if I was tapping into Tammy and my story. So, despite my anxiety, it mentally prepared me for song.  I spoke my lines, took my cue, moved to center stage and the lights came up. Immediately the melody flooded my mind and I heard my voice. One word gave the next and not much thought went into recalling lyrics. Before I knew it the lights dropped, I opened my eyes and heard applause.

The rest of the show was downhill. Including a moment of pure improvisational gold. In a scene which I was interacting with

Me in 2000, collecting a National Dekhockey Title -  a dragon on a similar scale.
Me in 2000, collecting a National Dekhockey Title – a dragon of a similar scale.

the audience, I had to ask what the symbol the witch had cast to open and close the Briar Patch. Without boring you with details, the shadow of a little boy appears in the spotlight, I can hear his voice say you take your left hand, make a L and put it next to your nose and say: “Weavers wobble but they don’t fall down.”   The line was a joke in the play, but the little guy was listening and wove together the joke and the witch’s curse. For me it was the highlight of the entire experience.

Of the dragons, two lay dead on the floor – one was memorization, two was singing in front of people – but there’s a third lurking in my neurotic mind. I’m not ready to hear a recording. I’m still convinced everybody is playing nice. Maybe  I’ll give it a listen when I stop waking up in the middle of the night repeating my lines. They’re a ghost I don’t want to give up, yet.

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Revelation

The new woman in my life.
The new woman in my life.

You may have noticed I haven’t been around lately. I’ve been distracted. There’s a new woman in my life. You know how it goes. When graced with new love, little else penetrates your thoughts. “But, John, what happened? You’re married – happily. What does your wife think of this?”

The truth is she’s ecstatic. No, she’s not excited to get rid of me – as far as I know. Quite to the contrary, this has brought us closer than ever. No this isn’t a sister-wife situation – get your mind out of the gutter – one spouse is enough for this guy.

The new love of our life is a granddaughter.  Truthfully, I’m shocked with my reaction. Having no children of my own, and never possessing much of a paternal instinct, I never, ever, ever, imagined having such strong emotions. Sure, I was excited for mommy, daddy, and granny, but I was meh. When my nieces and nephews were born, I hadn’t much of a reaction holding the new bundles. It was cool and all, but I was in my twenties and intimidated. I expected similar with the new arrival. I didn’t expect to be flattened by a freight train.

From the moment I laid eyes on her – holding her less than an hour into her life, I fell in love. I’ll spare you the gushy details. I don’t want to be one of those people. Needless to

My favorite picture of Mommy and baby.
My favorite picture of Mommy and baby.

say, I can’t get enough of her. The more religious of us would say she’s God’s precious gift. The spiritual comment that she represents the possibility of life. The more far out think she’s stardust. Other’s state her innocence is from recently being in the presence of the divine. I’m in line with the idea a newborn’s glow is Mother Natures little trick: a mix of pheromones and hormones that prevents us from eating our young. Whatever it is, the experience has been most intoxicating. I’ve taken to holding the bundle in my arms for hours. More than once tears have rolled down my cheeks. Some of my miscreant friends say I’ve grown a vagina. I laugh, think of my little angel, and feel tears well.

Gepetto and his girl!
Gepetto and his girl!

One night while holding my angel, as she made the same expression in sleep as her grandmother makes in hers, the following words found me.

 

                                                                                                                 AnaMae:

                                                                                                         Baby on my chest

                                                                                       Rising – Falling with ancient breath

Her Innocent smile tears in my eyes
Cleansing soul – Healing heart
Feel the love –
Bathe in its light
From my arms into life
If lonely, tired or frightened
Reach across time Tug my heart
Shower in the white light
Rest within its might

Gepetto

 

I'll crack anyone who comes between me an Gepetto!
I’ll crack anyone who comes between me and Gepetto!

Yes, my grandfather moniker is Gepetto. I wanted to call myself Zedo, in honor of my Slovakian Grandfather, but when I looked it up I found that Dedko was Slovakian for grandfather. My family either twisted the pronunciation or Zedo is rare dialect, either way, it just didn’t feel right. Then in the word play that always happens in our home, Gepetto was born. Maybe because of my Pinocchio nose. At least I’m not called Granny Panties.

Welcome to life Anastazia Mae…

Yes, she has her Granny Panties initials in her name, poor kid.

 

 

The Day my Life Changed

The year was 2000, but this shot still brings back memories
The year was 2000, but this shot still brings back memories

Many moons ago, on a summer’s night, I stumbled across her profile in an AOL chatroom. Does anybody remember AOL chatrooms? If you don’t, you missed out on a cultural phenomenon. Anyway, I read and re-read her profile; something really stuck out, though the only thing I remember it saying was: “I say what I mean, I mean what I say, I mean it!” Sensing that I had one chance to make an impression, I played with words and composed a line of two parts quip and one part schmaltz. For the life of me, I can’t remember what it read, though what I do recall was pausing and thinking: Are you ready for you life to change? I sent the message… but this isn’t the day I’m talking about.

Nor was a it couple of weeks earlier, when during my first visit to Missoula – in the throes of a hangover –  I sat up in the backseat of the car in which I was riding, looked out over the Reserve Street bridge towards Squaw Peak and the Nine Mile Valley and thought: I can’t imagine being in a relationship this far west and this far north.  Pretty heady stuff for the worldly Philly boy that I was at the time.

In the second tidbit, I’m convinced that I was sensing her presence in some weird ethereal plane. In the first, I think I had identified her. Nevertheless, the day that I’m talking about was roughly six months later, when I was going to meet the girl who had become ‘The Voice in the Night.’

For hours on end, night after night, we ‘chatted’ online. Soon we were talking on the phone. I couldn’t believe it, here I was relating to this voice, this person, better than anyone in my life. For months our nightly ritual continued, building an unspoken relationship. If one of us would have mentioned the ‘R’ word I think we both would have ran the other way. We were so open with each other precisely because there was no expectations or pressure. There was definitely no hurry to meet. We used to joke that we would get around to that in 2029. We were constantly in the moment with each other. But a funny thing happens when you strike gold like this. Certain emotions creep in.

Tammy and me at the beach before we met.
Tammy and me at the beach before we met.

For months I was walking around like I had a girlfriend that nobody knew about. I’m sure I exhibited all the outward signs of falling in love, but to those around me, there was nobody on my arm. With the exception of a select few, nobody knew what I was up to. There were times, when I was playing hockey, I would look up from the crease and gaze at the spectators and imagine her being there, watching. A bittersweet loneliness crept into my existence. The sweet part was to have this connection with this human being, the bitter part was being separated by thousands of miles.  At some point the conversation got around to meeting. Despite the 2029 jokes, we agreed that December would be as good as any. I suggested the twenty-ninth. It was after Christmas, all the family obligations would be over with, and it would be the perfect time to hang out for a few days – five to be precise. Who was I kidding? I wanted to see if this magic conducted itself to real life.

So the countdown was on.  When I mentioned: “See you in eleven days,: Tammy had a reaction. It was thing like this: “AAAAAHHHH!” She felt the pressure. What ifs were creeping into our thoughts, like when a good friend asked, “only five days? That’s not a lot of time.” To which I responded: “It’s an eternity if we don’t hit it off.” I mean sure, we got along on the phone, but, what if she was nothing like her picture? What if she had rancid broccoli farts? What if…

Christmas came and went. The hours ticked away. The night before I was flying out, I got a phone call. It was the airline. You’re flight from Minneapolis to Missoula has been cancelled due to staffing concerns. What? Didn’t they know there was a Nor’ Easter coming up the coast and was forecast to hit Philly on the thirtieth. There was a real chance that the storm could take a huge chunk out of the plans and that our five days could be reduced to five hours. That wasn’t going to happen, so I got on the horn and said, “hey, I’m flying out on the twenty-ninth. If I have to spend a night in Minnesota, no big deal, but I’m not staying in Philly.” When I told Tammy, she thought I was joking. Then she felt relief. What was see you tomorrow was see you in two days. More time to stew in romancistential (yes, I just made that word up) angst.

untitled (28)And so, as of this writing, thirteen years ago to the minute, I was sitting in the Philadelphia airport watching the sun rise over a city rife with anticipation of approaching Armageddon. If you think I’m being overly dramatic, you haven’t lived on the east coast. There was an energy in the air, and as I waited for board my flight I fed off it knowing that I was about to meet this voice in the night. If you were in the Philadelphia or Minneapolis airports that day, I was the guy with the coy smile. Everything felt right.

Speaking of Minneapolis, with backup plans in place ( a hotel room and the idea to see a Wild game) I played the standby game. The experience gave me my love of airports. There’s just an energy about them. It could be that most people are out of their element and possess a certain vulnerability, or maybe I just relive the anticipation I felt that day. I even savored standing in line to get a cup of coffee.

My first chance to get to Missoula the standby route went up in flames. The fight was overbooked and there wasn’t a chance. It was decision time – do I fold and go to the hockey game and wait another day, or do I take a chance? Since I was having such a good time being an airport voyeur, I hung out for another three hours to give my quest a fighting chance. As the time neared, I approached the gate. The only other couple there were arguing with the Gate Nazi about this or that and were demanding to be placed on the flight. Me, I just enjoyed the show. When she finished with them, I told her my story: That I was on my way to Missoula to meet a girl, my voice in the night. She swooned. I know for a fact she bumped me up the list. “How?” you ask. Let me tell you.

Not the Gate Nazi that helped me, but thanks anyway.
Not the Gate Nazi that helped me, but thanks anyway.

As the time approached, I counted the bodies in the gate and compared it to the planes capacity. Yes, the Gate Nazi told me the plane’s capacity. She told me to sit nearby and count. I did. As the plane loaded I was feeling discouraged.  More passengers trickled on. I got a better grip on the numbers. There was a possibility. I felt a smile. I was going to make it. Then, my name was called. She smiled at me and wished me luck and handed me my boarding pass. The couple that was giving her grief was left out in the cold. On a side note, to the Northwest Airlines Gate Nazi on that last flight of the day from MSP to MSO on December 29th, 2000, thank you… You helped change my life.

But, things are never that easy. As the plane was ready to depart the captain comes over the intercom and says: “Sorry folks, this flight is experiencing a critical weight ratio, we will be asking for volunteers to give up their seats, if there are none, we will be forced to bump passengers.”

My favorite pic of Tammy. Taken on our third date way back in 2000. She was horrified when she learned it hung in entryway to my condo back east.
My favorite pic of Tammy. Taken on our third date way back in 2000. She was horrified when she learned it hung in entryway to my condo back east.

What? Oh shit, I thought. I was the last one to get a boarding pass, they will bump me off the flight. I held my breath and waited. And waited. Someone obviously took the bait, because I was still in my seat. It would be a matter of hours before I would be face to face with the voice in the night.  I smiled as the plane rumbled down the runway and took off into a cold Minnesota night. Somewhere over the plains, I looked from the window – where way below lonely lights bobbed in a sea of dark desolation – to the ‘air’ phone that made its home in the back of seat. Yes, this was in the days before everybody had smartphones. I got my wallet out, swiped my credit card, and called her.

“Guess what?” I said.

“What?”

“I’m on my way. Be there in two hours.”

“AAAAAAHHHHH!” She said.

When Tammy tells her side of the story, she claims that I don’t know how to tell time. Because, the flight wasn’t due for three hours, causing her an extra hour of that angst I mentioned earlier. Her story is, she went to the airport, saw that the flight wasn’t due for another hour, went home, did what nervous women do, and came back in time to meet me.

Since that night, I’ve flown into Missoula scores of times, but I can tell you that no approach seemed as long and as foreign as that night. The plane just didn’t seem like it wanted to land. On the approach I looked over the ground that in the following years would provide the fodder for many memories, and more importantly, many stories. But I wasn’t thinking of that then, especially

The Girl and the Place. Yep, I married her and we tied the knot near the icy creek.
The Girl and the Place. Yep, I married her and we tied the knot near the icy creek.

after the plane landed and taxied to the gate. I sat in my seat as I watched people scramble in the aisle. When it was my turn, I took a deep breath, stood, and followed the heard up the jetway. Through the crowd, I saw her flaxen hair. It’s rumored that the 80’s never left Montana, so it’s no surprise that her hair was the first attribute I spotted.  As I stepped into her sight, so began the most awkward ten minutes of our lives. I had so many images of what our meeting would be like, but nothing in my imagination could have prepared me for the dichotomy of reality. Here is this spirit that I knew so well, in this body that, well, that is in a body that was a complete stranger. Our minds knew each other, but our eyes were like seeing the person across a smoke-filled room for the first time. Do I ravage her? I wanted to. Do I kiss her cheek? I wouldn’t mind. Do I hug her?

The unspoken compromise was option three. We hugged. And then we struggled to talk, ironic considering our entire relationship was, and still is, predicated upon yapping. But what do you say when you’re in shock. I was too busy thinking that five days was going to fly by.

To make a long story short. on the very day, seven years later, I made an honest woman out of her. And that happened six years ago. December twenty-ninth changed my life forever! Happy Anniversary Tammy.

From the Toe (it’s an inside joke!)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

which at the time, seemed like the edge of the world

The Essence

Cobalt Crisp
Cobalt Crisp

As these words find form, my heart is thumping. The heat of the woodstove is chipping away at the frost which is poking countless pinholes in my cheeks. Cold is radiating off my clothes. I’ve just come back inside, and the fresh air has stolen my breath. A look out the window reveals brilliant sunlight reflecting a healthy snowfall on the mountaintop across the way. Down low, there’s barely a skiff. The high today made it out of the negative numbers – barely: it’s zero degrees, Fahrenheit.  The low last night was -8, tonight the weatherman says -14. It’s cold, but not the coldest I’ve experienced – that was -30 a few years back – and let me tell you, that’s a different world.

Cold Creek
Cold Creek

On days like today, when the sun is shining, it is oh so deceiving. The sky is as brilliant a cobalt blue you’ll ever see. The mountains stand prouder, the trees taller.  The creeks seem to run a little faster. Okay, that last one is a bit of my imagination, but to keep from freezing I know I would. All in all, winter is Montana’s grandest season. For those who’ve only experienced Montana’s charms in the summer, you’re missing out, but I can’t say that I blame you, I can relate. When I first started dating Tammy, I was petrified of the idea of a Montana winter. It carries a mystique. Back then, the worldly east coast boy that I was knew of its reputation. What I didn’t know it is the season when Mother Nature reveals her most beautiful self, but like so many beings that possess alluring attributes, she harbors a harsh side. For the adventurous, she is a siren, her cry seducing you to frolic in the elements.

The Road to Sunset
The Road to Sunset

In this my eleventh Montana winter – a tenure in which the old-timers no longer consider one a rookie – I’ve seen my fair share of people wanting to test their mettle. I’ve seen success and I’ve seen people flee as fast as the first plane ride south. I can’t help but think of the thirty-something couple who ‘retired’ from the whirlwind of Washington D.C. to the refines of a remote cabin. In there weekly sojourns to the bar, the cost of their lifestyle decision echoed from their expressions to their posture. What was once a refreshed smile soon morphed into scowls and hunched shoulders. Soon they were gone, together a victim to one of Montana’s seductions – Quaintness. It’s understandable, especially coming from inside the Beltway. What could be so difficult about living the ‘simple life?’

The reality is it isn’t so simple. It takes preparation and a willingness to forego. It’s one thing to winter in a city like Missoula or Billings, it’s a different story in the hills, where high-culture very likely is a conversation held atop a barstool, and a quick trip to the C-store for a loaf of a bread or a gallon of milk is an impossibility. On a bitter night, a flat-tire could mean the difference between life and death. Especially if one’s not prepared. What’s that? I have AAA. Forget about it! You’ll most likely not have cell service.

“Screw that,” I hear you say. “I’m staying home.”

Cabin Fever
Cabin Fever

Oh my. Cabin Fever is a real thing. I’ve experienced it. It’s the closest I’ve come to literally jumping off a bridge. It explains why so many people go crazy in the mountains and it leads to the philosophy that there are only two types of people who live here: Those going crazy and those already there. Cabin Fever is like Chinese Water Torture without the water. Each hour another drip of frozen nothingness dinks off your forehead. Soon objects within the paintings on the walls start moving. Some of them have conversations. Some of them stare at you. You feel it and turn around only to find your dog giving you the evil eye. It’s so cold, that unless Fido is a Husky, it’s hunkering down in front of the fireplace cursing you for not having an indoor bathroom for your best friend.  “Will you stop looking at me,” you bark at the dog.

fireplaceWhen it’s time to throw another log on the fire, you realize more firewood is needed. With a deep breath, you turn to the dog and say: “I have to go outside, you’re coming too!” You open the door and step outside. You’re met by the Seductive Paw. No, it’s not a bear out of hibernation who suddenly looks like a good option to cuddle with, it’s the feeling you get when you step into the cold. It’s a brisk kiss on the cheek. It’s not so bad. Even in a hoody, zero doesn’t seem horrible. Maybe you fall for its allure and you take your shoes off and jump barefoot into the snow. Even if you’re not like me and would never do something so foolish, it’s only a matter of time before the paw slaps you across the head. It starts with realization that your cold and it quickly morphs into the shivers. Only the cold isn’t skin deep, it burrows deep, digging into the marrow of your bones. You can’t stop shivering, but you don’t want to go inside.

“Wait a minute John, why wouldn’t I want to go back inside?”

“The essence,” I answer.

The Essence
The Essence

Even in the light of a crescent moon, shadows from the trees reach out to embrace you. It’s so quiet that you can hear the shadows stretching for you. If the creek isn’t frozen, the tumbling water plays a soundtrack so sublime that mountaintops appear to be dancing with the stars. If it is in the deep of winter and even the creek is in slumber, the silence is such that you can almost hear the earth coasting in its orbit. But it’s the stars that are, well, the stars of the show. Thousands of them, shining brightly as they watch you catch a glimpse of the Milky Way. If you’re really lucky, the cry of a faraway wolf or the hoot of an owl will rattle your soul. In that moment, that fleeting moment, you’ve felt it. The essence of being alive; the essence of what a miraculous place we call home.

Epic Hatred

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Silky Johnson sends his best.

I was flipping through television channels the other day and I stumbled across shows entitled: Epic Pools; Epic Homes; Epic Vacations; and an infomercial bearing the name Twenty-nine Ways to Grow an Epic Garden. My head started to fizzle like Alka-Seltzer and I’m pretty sure the remote left my hand like a missile that targeted the TV.  Before I knew it, I found myself running across the room while intoning an epic rant. In mid sentence, I took an epic leap out an open window, which I later realized was manufactured by Epic Windows. Luckily for me, it was a first floor window and I ended up brushing myself off and looking around to see if anybody witnessed my epic moment of insanity. I’m sure by now you’ve figured out what set me off. Each usage sounds like a mix of ten thousand lap dogs yapping in the purses of  Kim Kardashian and Paris Hilton, who are both PMSing and  trying to screech over each other while Techno music is pulsing at ear shattering decibels. Every time I hear the word I’m tempted to stick a ball-gag into the offender’s mouth and give them the honor of being the first victim of my Epic Inquisition.

Thinking I couldn’t be the only one who curls up into a little ball of miserable human flesh every time I hear the insanely overused adjective, I inquired with the high authority of modern word usage, Urban Dictionary.com and was delighted in what I found. Taken verbatim from their hallowed tome:

Epic Inquisition Launched!
Epic Inquisition Launched!

Epic:  “A word, whose meaningful definition(s)and correct applications are now obscured and have been raped to death mostly by the 25 and under crowd. It has been overused as ‘the’ catch phrase used to describe a situation, person, event, movie, taking a shit, etc. The abuse and birth as a catchphrase has its origins among avid gamers and pretentious English majors. There are too many ‘epic’ examples to count, just go walk onto a college campus and listen closely.”

My favorite Epic.
My favorite Epic.

Ah, at last, I have someone to blame for my Epic Headache. To be honest, I felt guilty blaming the word, it was like blaming the victim of a crime. After all, it’s a pleasant little word meant to describe a Tolstoy novel or a Charlton Heston movie, it wasn’t designed to make a human being bristle like a preacher in a whorehouse. It was minding its own business with no intention of replacing any other four letter words until the light bulb clicked on in some languagesta’s head.

Now that I have a target for my outrage, unimaginative linguistic bandwagon jumpers take note: Keep on naming your companies Epic This or Epic That; keep on saying that every ballgame is its own epic saga. For crying out loud, the word has jumped the shark. It’s over, like your careers should be. Authors, Writers or Reviewers who abuse the word, realize you’re trying to catch a train that has already left the station, you’d earn more respect from me if you were a Wal-Mart greeter. Finally, people in my life who insist on abusing the sweet little four letter word

I will neither confirm or deny that this was my TV.
I will neither confirm or deny that this was my TV.

be warned that every time you say or type it, know that I’m thinking you’re the equivalent of the fat, pimple faced kid who sharted in gym class and is clenching to keep the rest of us from seeing the evidence.  Before you get that wild grin and start sharpening your fingernails in preparation of running that four-letter bomb down the proverbial chalk board, allow me invoke the words of word-class hater Silky Johnson, aka. Dave Chappelle, “I hope that all the bad things in life happen to you and nobody else but you.”

Now that I got that off my chest, does anybody know where I can get a cheap flat screen?