Eddie Arana, Rick Thibodeau, & Chris Bakunas San Diego, Ca. March 2012

Eddie Arana, Rick Thibodeau, & Chris Bakunas San Diego, Ca. March 2012
Eddie Arana, Rick Thibodeau, & Chris Bakunas at Luche Libre Taco Shop in San Diego, March 2012

Monday, September 26, 2011

Meandering Paragraphs of Adventurous Prose

There once was a very little Blue whale. Very little is, of course, a relative term, as Blue whales generally weigh about 150 tons, and this one still came in at around 40 tons.

Which may not seem very little to you or I, but it did to this particular Blue whale. This Blue whale, who went by the name "Morty", always felt a little intimidated around other Blue whales, even Blue whales that were Pygmy Blue whales made Morty feel small.

Morty was not very happy when he felt intimidated, so he took to staying away from other whales. He even stayed away from Beluga whales that he was nearly three times the size of, simply because they would always ask him why he wasn't hanging out with the other Blue whales.

This self-imposed isolation from his fellow whales made Morty a very lonely and bitter whale. Most of the other denizens of the deep who were not whales would tend to give Morty a wide berth as his size, though small for a Blue whale, intimidated most other aquatic life quite a bit.

One afternoon, as Morty was casually straining seawater through his baleen for a nutritious lunch of krill, a Fin whale swam past humming a joyful tune. Morty stopped dining for a moment and watched as the Fin whale did a few flips and turns as it swam through the murky green ocean, and wondered to himself what could possibly be making that Fin whale so happy.

Morty had been lonely and bitter a long time, but suddenly he decided right then and there to call out to the Fin whale and ask if it wouldn't mind sharing the secret of its happiness.

With a series of short oots and beoows, Morty managed to catch the attention of the Fin whale, and it turned and headed back towards Morty.

"Hello," said the Fin whale to Morty, "What's up?"

"Oh, erh, uhm, Hi", said Morty, a bit nervously. "I just noticed you swimming by humming quite a happy tune and I was just wondering if you wouldn't mind sharing with me the secret of your happiness?"

"Well", replied the Fin whale, "It's really no secret. It is, in fact, something well known to one and all - though I think maybe it's a little under appreciated."

Morty looked at the Fin whale curiously and said, "Whatever can you mean?"

'Under appreciated, as in not everybody is able to appreciate it. Look, what's your name kid? I'll ask you a few questions and see if you are able to appreciate it."

"Uhm, my name is Morty. What's yours?"

"Elias. Pleasure to meet you Morty. Now, tell me something Morty, have you ever held a grudge?"

"A grudge? What do you mean? Have I ever been mad at someone?"

"No Morty, not just mad at someone - hey, we all get mad at someone. I mean held a grudge, as in, you got angry at someone or something and stayed that way, no matter what, just stewed and simmered in your anger as if it made you stronger or better than whatever you were angry at. There may still be someone or something you're angry at now, in fact."

"Hmmm..." Morty pondered. "You know Elias, that is an awfully personal question."

"True Morty, true, but you asked me what the secret of my happiness was and if you want to know, you're going to have to answer some questions."

"Uhm, okay, I do want to know, so yeah, I'll tell you. I have held a grudge, and still do. Against my parents, for not being bigger so that I would have been born a bigger whale."

'Seriously? A grudge against your parents for not being bigger? Do you think not being bigger was a deliberate action on their part? That's a pretty odd way of looking at things Morty, I gotta be honest with you."

"Well, it's true, if they had been bigger, I would have been bigger."

"Alrighty, that's an interesting take on the good fortune to be born healthy and intelligent. Tell me Morty, did you have a lot of friends growing up?'

'No, not really. I mean, I knew other whales from school and such, but I never had any real friends. I always thought the other whales felt like they were better than me. I hated just about every whale I grew up with. I decided I didn't need other whales around me for nothing, no how."

"Okay, okay, no need to get testy. What do you do for fun Morty? Have any hobbies? Play any sports? Like to play Checkers?"

"Well not really...I never even tried to play with any of the whales I grew up with, as I always felt too small. My Mom and Pop always wanted me to join the Whale Scouts, but I hated the thought of being around so many whales bigger than me. You know, these question aren't making any sense at all. What's the point of them?"

"Right. I'm beginning to sense you may not appreciate what it takes to be happy Morty, I don't think it will help you to know it at all."

"What do you mean? You haven't even told me anything yet, how can I know if I can appreciate it if you won't tell me what it is?"

"Oh, but I have Morty, I have. Indirectly, true, but I did tell you. I asked you about your family and friends, and if you know how to forgive."

"Look Elias, I know I have to forgive Mom and Pop for not being bigger, and I have, really, I have. But forgiving friends I've never had? How can that be done?"

"No Morty, I'm not referring to forgiving your family and friends...I'm referring to forgiving yourself."

"Myself? Forgiving myself for what?"

"For allowing yourself to grow into a lonely and bitter whale Morty. Think about it. No other whale made you feel this way, you chose to feel this way. It's all a matter of choice Morty, all of it. If you truly want to be happy, then answer me one last question."

"Okay, sure, one last question. Go ahead."

"Do you think it's possible for you to choose to be happy Morty?"

Morty stared at Elias for a short while, a million thoughts tumbling though his mind. Over and over he repeated the question: "Can I choose to be happy? Can I?"

After a few moments he spoke up. "I think I can Elias, but tell me, how does one chose to be happy? What is the actual process?"

"It's fairly simple Morty. Just appreciate what you have - you're a smart, capable whale with parents who no doubt love you. You have the ability to speak and you called out to me, so I must assume you can make friends. So forgive yourself for allowing yourself to feel that you were less than other whales because of your physical limitations, and get out there and become part of life. You may not be as big as most Blue whales, but you can go big Morty - you just have to choose."

Morty let this sink in for a few minutes. "I may not be big, but I can go big. I like that. It makes sense! I'm going to go big!"

With that thought in mind, Morty suddenly turned and started to swim furiously. "Hey!" Shouted Elias after him, "Where are you going?!"

"Back to my old swimming grounds Elias, I have to see my parents. They may not have been big whales, but they really are great whales, and I've got a lot of catching up to do!"

Elias the Fin whale smiled as Morty disappeared from view. He did a little flip and started humming again as he swam in the big beautiful ocean. He thought of Morty and hoped he was humming too, the happy tune of a happy whale.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Scaling the Walls to Escape the Barbarians

I'm preparing for my retirement. It won't be for another twenty years or so, but I figure I should get started on it now. Truth be told, I started planning for my retirement when I was in my teens, but now I'm going to transition from the "What I'd like to do" to the "What I'm going to do" phase.

What I'm going to do when I retire is primarily hang out with my friends. Why? Because I like my friends. I like people in general, but I really like my friends. That's why they're my friends (Oooh what an intellect, eh?)

I enjoy the friendships of a wide variety of people, old and young, near and far. I'm lucky that way. Some of my friends are like me in that we share the same sense of adventure, the same taste in literature, appreciation for technology, etc.

Then there are those people I consider friends who I have almost nothing in common with - we are on opposite sides of the political spectrum, have none of the same CD's in our music collections, think each other dresses funny, etc.

And there are those with whom I'm right smack dab in the middle - like the same films, hate each others choices in television shows. Share the same fiscally conservative values, can't understand what the other is thinking in terms of morality.

All of those people are very important to me. All of them add to my life immeasurably. Their opinions, beliefs, lifestyles, hobbies, indiscretions, etc., all give me pause for reflection, celebration, observation, pause...what have you.

Some of my friends I see almost every single day, some I see only once a week or once a month. Some I see once a year or even less often than that. However, the amount of time I spend with friends is not an actual indicator of how much I like being with them - it's generally just an indication of geography - how close they live to me and I to them. There are several of my friends that I do not get to see nearly often enough, and there are some I see often, but would still love to spend even more time with.

That's because I like them. I have been very fortunate in life in that I have met a wide variety of interesting people who have decided that I'm fit for their friendship. It's really the best part of my life.

So what does having friends of all stripes that I like to hang out with have to do with planning my retirement? Well, I've decided that what is going to be important for me to be able to enjoy my friends in my retirement is a home with a fairly large area for entertaining - I have a nice deck right now, but I think I'll need to expand it, add some built-in seats. I have two small entertaining areas in the house, but I think I want to remodel the home to combine those two areas into one great room, with plenty of seats and a nice built in bar.

Yeah, that's what I want to do. So that's what I'm going to do. It'll probably take the entire twenty years or so that I have until retirement to do it.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Everybody Want's To Be A Winner


The first week of February 2011 was brutal here in Colorado - only 6 of the first 60 hours were over zero degrees.

Ugly cold, that's what that is. Just ugly.

And now it's 62 degrees. Sun blazing. One week later. Amazing.

I was told at the end of January that I was getting a raise, retroactive to last July 10th, but I have yet to see it. It's a pretty decent raise too, one that will help me pay down a few more bills, if not pay off a few completely.

Getting 100% debt free is still my top priority. There is just nothing more important than that. Not a new car, not new clothes, not a vacation, not a relationship - nothing. I want to be 100% debt free as quickly as possible.

Which, realistically, will probably be about 3 years or so. Could be a little quicker, but I owe a lot on the house, and even with double payments that's a huge mountain to climb.

Can you imagine owning your house? I mean having the deed in hand, or at least in a safe deposit box.

I'm drooling at the very thought.

Better clean that up, expecting company.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Too Late the Last Post of 2010

Just who was the first year-end reviewer? Who was the first scribe, the first amateur historian, to sit down and write a summation of the past year's highs and lows, trials and tribulations?

I imagine that humans have been recording, in some form or another, everything that occured to them, their friends and family, etc., for as long as there have been means to write.

"The past 12 moons saw flooding such as had not been seen since the 12 moons before the birth of the daughter. This past harvest..."

You get the picture. Humans like to write, like to remember. There are people who spend a little time each day writing about what's going in the world, or how they feel, or what they can't feel, or one of the infinite variations on that theme.

So, without further ado...

2010 was a rough year. Save for 1983, I believe this was the roughest year I ever had to endure.

The major traumatic event of the year occured October 1st. One of my best friends, John Page Hines, was killed by a wrong-way driver. John was only 33, and he left behind his beautiful daughter, Olivia Ann.

The driver, 18 year-old Joshua Wittig, confessed to being under the influence of Marijuana to the police officers at the scene. He was using quite a few other prescription meds for various emotional ailments, too.

He was also out on bail for putting 49 stitches into the face of a 16 year-old girl who had made the mistake of trying to stop him from beating up his girlfriend.

Re-read that, let it sink in. Then digest this. At his arraignment, the first three rows of seats in the courthouse were full of his supporters. Family and friends that believe, earnestly, that Joshua is a victim. A victim of his Doctors, who over-medicated him, and a victim of a society that could not or did not tend to his special needs.

I could elaborate on how I feel about that, but really, it'll only get me worked up emotionally.

Let me elaborate about John, and what he meant to me. I met John through Brad Bundy, who in turn I had met while working at Automotive Avenues.

John and Brad were roommates, and lived within walking distance of a bar named Jackson's Hole. One Sunday night they were at Jackson's having a beer or two, and playing the bar's trivia game. They were not doing too well when Brad suddenly remembered that I had a gift for recalling arcane, useless crap, so he called me up and asked if I wanted to join them.

I had never spent any time outside of work with Brad, but I did like him, and as I was doing nothing else but sitting around my empty house (it was 2002, just after my divorce from Carrie), I thought playing trivia at a bar with him and his roommate would be a good idea.

I had met John prior to the trivia phone call, but only briefly, when he had stopped by Automotive Aves to see Brad, bringing along his dog Uno, the coolest dog in the world.

So I found myself at Jackson's Hole playing trivia with John & Brad. The trivia game was broken down into three rounds of ten questions each, and then a final four part question.

Each round winner won a pitcher of beer, and the game winners were awarded $50 house cash for first, $25 house cash for second, and $15 for third.

We won a pitcher of beer and first place - the $50 house cash, that night. That first night led to many, many others. I would venture a guess that we played trivia at least three out of four Sundays a night for the next five or six years. We played trivia with girlfriends as part of date nights, we played trivia against teams that came to loathe our winning ways but became our friends (Desi, Wes, Mark, etc., all playing as the Short Bus Outlaws), and we played trivia against people that hated us not only as trivia players but as human beings (we could be real asses sometimes, esp. me).

And as we got to know each other playing trivia, our friendship expanded. Our friendship was somewhat of a three musketeers thing - John, Brad, and I fell in together and something just clicked. When John and Brad bought a house together, a scant mile and a half from mine, our relationship became more family than friends.

We developed the habit of going out to breakfast Sunday mornings, as we all had Sundays off together for a long while, and even when we didn't have Sundays off, those of us who had to work didn't go in until late in the afternoon.

We ate breakfast everywhere, driving all over the Denver metro area to find the best corned beef hash and omeletes. We ate breakfast at The Lakewood Bar and Grill, The Westwood Inn, The Looking Good cafe, The Village Inn, The Country Road Cafe, The Applewood Cafe, Sunrise Sunset, Denny's, Le Peep, Pifler's, The Breakfast King, The Breakfast Queen, Johnson's Corner Cafe, Davie's Chuck Wagon Diner, The Egg & I, Mimi's Cafe, Dixon's, Yanna's Cafe (forgot the Vodka in our Bloody Marys!), IHoP, Mona's, Smash Burger, the Country Kitchen, the Ralston Road Cafe, the Egg Shell, the Sapp Bros truck stop, the Morrison Inn, the Blue Cow, the Village Coffee Shop, the Butcher Block cafe...and so many more.

I can't remember all the places we had a drink - just about everywhere in Lakewood and the surrounding area. All the Mexican restaurants, the wing places, burger joints, pizza places, Thai, Sushi, Bar-Be-Que...I can not begin to remember them all. We went out a lot.

The thing is, we enjoyed each other's company. We went to baseball and football games, we went to car shows and home shows, we went to the Flea market and shopped at thrift stores. We drove around looking at...stuff.

When Tim and Shawna divorced, Tim became part of our group, with Johnny more or less pulling him in. Same thing with my brother Tom - Johnny would play dominoes with Tom and the neighbors to all hours of the night. The neighbors, Josh & Kelly, they too became part of John's circle. He was a friendly rascal, that's what he was.

John didn't make friends, he added to his family.

My sister Patti and her husband Ron, their children Ryan and Nichole, they all became part of John's life. John went snowboarding with Ryan, and bought girlscout cookies he'd end up giving away from Nichole.

We celebrated our birthdays together, and the birthdays of our respective family members. We celebrated Thanksgiving and Christmas together too. Last year, me, John, and my brother Tom celebrated New Year's together in the garage, and I have that on tape. I'll always treasure that.

We celebrated the birth of his and Holly's daughter Olivia. The prospect of being a father had scared the hell out of him, but Johnny took to it with an incredible zeal. He became the best father a man could be.

When he finally moved out of the house he's shared with Brad for seven years, I remember celebrating his new home, his own home, with him. He had bought that house for Olivia, really. The park right across the street is what sealed the deal.

He was killed a mile from his house. One mile. 5280 feet.

I miss Johnny, and probably always will. He was a great friend, a good man, a good father.

Okay, got the tears out of my eyes, time to finish up. Unfortunately, there's more bad stuff to recall.

My Uncle Don also passed away in 2010. He was 79 years old, born to my grandmother Agnes in Stockton California on September 18th, 1931, and died June 3rd of 2010.

I did not know my Uncle Don all that well. The first time I met him was in November of 1981, when I was stationed at Lowry AFB in Denver. It was near Thanksgiving and I had been told that he lived in the Denver area, so I leafed through the Denver phone boook and called all the Don Long's listed. I think he was the 4th Don Long I called.

Uncle Don had me over for Thanksgiving that year. I met his first wife, my Aunt Dot, and I met my cousins Karen and Colleen, Rusty, Allen and David. It was odd meeting relatives - they were the very first blood relations I'd ever met other than my siblings.

I can't recall much from that Thanksgiving. I know that in the years that followed I sent and received a couple letters with cousin Rusty, but not much else was done in the way of forming familial ties.

When I moved to Denver from Scotland, my sister Patti encouraged getting to know Uncle Don and his family. He had divorced Aunt Dot back in '83 or '84, and had remarried. His second wife was Charlene, and she was very nice. I remember hearing about how the divorce from Dot and marriage to Charlene had caused a serious rift in his family, but I wasn't aware of just how serious until the funeral.

The cousins were all there, Rusty, Allen, David, Karen & Colleen, but half of their spouse's didn't show, and I found out later that it had been over a decade since a few of them had talked to each other.

Maybe the Long family genes just aren't built for strong family ties.

I got involved in a few more relationships - another 1/2 hearted go with CCW, and a 5 month run with RR. That 5 month run was extremely difficult, and if she's not the most completely looped woman I'll ever be involved with, I need to be committed now. Seriously, I must have been insane to have been with her for more than that first month.

I met RS in December, and that proved to be a dead-end too.

I'm just a freak magnet.

There were a few good things going on in 2010. Paid off the AmGen loan, so I'm one step closer to financial freedom. Still have the house, thanks to Tommy being a good roommate. Of course, Tommy left for another year at Ft. Bliss in August, so it's a little tighter financially, but I'll be okay.

I always pull through, some how.