Nov 23

The Holidays:  Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s, Kwanzaa (whatever that is)… Time to think of others and be thankful for what you have, right?  Normally, I would take this opportunity to dog on each and every single one of these holidays.  I would bitch about everything I see as being wrong with these holidays… which is a lot.  But, then I asked myself, “What would Jesus do?” Jesus would not dog on the holidays.  Jesus would tell us too look out for our fellow man.  Jesus would tell us to put the needs of others ahead of our own needs.  Jesus would tell us all about Stacy Rock!

Stacy who?  Stacy ROCK!  Say it like you mean it… ROCK!  Although a few years younger than me, Stacy grew up in the same small Montana town that I did.

Whenever I think of Stacy, I think of her mom… Mrs. Rock.  Mrs. Rock was my English teacher in 6th, 7th and 8th grades.  All of the younger grades feared Mrs. Rock.  She was the kind of teacher who would yell at a kid down a long hallway if said kid was screwing around.  Mrs. Rock’s voice could be heard from one end of the school to the other and stabbed fear into the hearts of the young children.  We knew that, sooner or later, we would end up with her as a teacher.  There were rumors of children who had mouthed off to Mrs. Rock and just…  disappeared.  I held a suspicion that the Rock family had a freezer full of formerly-mouthy kids who were served — you guessed it — for the holidays.

When I finally reached 6th grade, I was terrified that I would end up as a Thanksgiving main course.  Mrs. Rock was not only the English teacher, she was the homeroom teacher for 6th grade.  6th graders are too young to die.  What was wrong with the Ft. Peck school system?!?

Well, it turns out, nothing at all was wrong with the Ft. Peck school system.  Mrs. Rock was an awesome teacher.  She was strict, but she was also kind.  She had a great, cynical sense of humor, which, of course, I loved.  Mrs. Rock ended up being my favorite English teacher of all time.  It was an incredible experience to watch Mrs. Rock yell down the hall at the younger kids who were misbehaving… knowing the fear that was building in them… some of them probably wetting their pants… maybe even a touch of the poo…  Good times!  In fact, I contribute all of my writing success to Mrs. Rock.  Yeah, this stupid blog is all her fault.  So the five of you who read it can blame her.

Back to the real reason for this post.  Stacy Rock is no longer a little girl.  Stacy Rock is now a soon-to-be rock-and-roll LEGEND!  She just needs a little help from whoever stumbles across this post.  After school, Stacy moved to the Big Apple in search of fulfilling her musical dreams.  She found some success with the release of her first album.  Now, she is attempting to produce a second album, and she is raising funds in the effort to make that second album come to life.  But Stacy isn’t just asking for money… she is giving out rewards at every contribution level.  The rewards sound pretty cool, too.  If it wasn’t the holiday season, I would have went for the $50 level just to get some of Mrs. Rock’s cookies, although I still suspect there may be bits and pieces of mouthy kids within (‘What’s the secret to your delicious cookies, Mrs. Rock’,  ‘Why, just a little Robert Jones, Mrs. Smith.’) If one were a great contributor to the arts, he or she could actually end up with a personal concert from Stacy in his/her house.  That would be pretty cool.  Check out Stacy’s story:

Currently, there are two semi-famous people from Fort Peck, MT.  One is Wayne Hawkins, who was like a guard for the Oakland Raiders or something.  The other is Ron Hauge, who is a television writer who wrote for The Simpsons, Ren and Stimpy, and I think he wrote an episode of Seinfeld or something.  Please, please, please help this small Montana town have one more semi-famous person to its credit: Stacy Rock.

Check out Stacy Rock’s Kickstarter page for more information on how you can help and what you get in return. There is a goal and a deadline, so don’t delay. Also, check out Stacy herself and her music at StacyRock.com. The holiday season is a great time to help someone out :)

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Oct 09

When I was a kid, I was pretty involved in sports. In elementary school, I played basketball, Little League, flag football, and participated in track. I was very young and relatively skinny then, so I (like most young, skinny kids) did pretty well at sports.

Then I entered high school, and everything changed.

In high school, I started to put on weight. I stopped growing vertically, but I didn’t limit my eating, so I began to grow horizontally.

In other words, I got fat.

Even though I was fat, I tried my hand at various sports. Okay, not really “various”… more like a few. And two is really more like “a couple” than it is “a few”, so I really participated in “a couple” of sports in high school: football and track. Needless to say, I really pretty much sucked at both of them.

I went out for football because my dad really wanted me to. I went out for track so that I wouldn’t put on a tremendous amount of gut-fat before the next football season.

I totally sucked at track. I attempted the javelin, discus and shot put. I was too fat to run or jump, and I wasn’t strong enough to excel at any of the “strong guy” events. I remember one of the coaches didn’t like me very much. In fact, I would dare say that man hated me. I wasn’t good enough to really even be on track, but I went out all four years. This may be hard to believe, but I was kind of a smart-ass in high school. I was never disrespectful to my teachers or coaches, but I liked to make people laugh… and apparently this coach didn’t share my sense of humor. Also, one of his pet runners was one of my best friends. This coach felt that I was a bad influence on his pet. Little did this coach know that his pet was far more of a bad influence on me that I could have ever been on him. However, I liked my friend and was happy when he had success with his running. So, I put up with all of the crap that jackass coach dished out solely to me. I can’t remember a single thing that I did to that man that would have made him hate me so much… but he never once had a kind word for me… not even a smile. Whatever. It’s not like I hold a grudge or anything… that miserable son of a …

Anywho, football was a little more up my alley. I understood the game, and I even came to enjoy playing it. I actually came to believe that I wasn’t half bad at it. My junior year, our varsity team went undefeated and won the Montana Class A State Football Championship. That championship was in 1986… and was the last year to date that a Glasgow, MT football team has won state. I should be proud, right? Well, seeing as how I really didn’t have anything to do with it, nah. In fact, that championship year actually kind of ruined sportsmanship for me. I am probably the poorest loser ever… and I have had plenty of practice.

The summer before our big championship year, my buddy and I started hitting the weight room. At first, we were the only football players there. We really wanted to get a shot to start on a team that we both knew was going to kick butt. Slowly, more and more of the kids from the team started showing up in the weight room. By the end of summer, most every starter on that championship team was in that weight room lifting weights, every starter… and me. I could press a mean bench, and I could squat the crap out of those weights, but I weighed all of a buck-75, and I still wasn’t extraordinarily fast… so I got to sit the bench. Those who tell you that if you want something bad enough and work for something hard enough you’ll get it… are full of crap. I learned this when I was 16-years old. It’s a lesson that I have never forgotten.

Because I showed such dedication in the weight room, the coach must have felt like he needed to throw me a bone. I was put on special teams. I was the center for PAT (point after touchdown). I believe I was on the kick-off team as well. Bones for those who have the determination and put forth the effort… but really aren’t good enough. Some people just aren’t meant for athletics. I hate bones.

So anyway, the team went undefeated in an impressive way and slaughtered most of the competition. Of course, the summer in the weight room was the last time I really ever felt like part of the team, but I was happy for them. And I was ready for the next year.

Another summer was spent in the weight room, a bunch of talented seniors graduated, and I knew that I should have a starting spot. I really like playing middle linebacker (which is where I played in junior varsity), and I didn’t mind center (which I also played in JV). The season starts, and I get both a starting linebacker spot and the starting center spot. Finally, I get to play real high school football and contribute to the team.

The first game comes and goes, and we lose. I felt like I did pretty good. A got a couple of tackles during the game and had several assists. The next week, during practice, the coach pulls me aside and says, “Rich, we don’t have anyone to back you up at center. If you get hurt, we’re in trouble. I’m pulling you from linebacker and we’re going to have you focus on your duties as center.”

I wasn’t stupid. Apparently the coach thought I was. Almost every other player on that team played both ways, and there were many of them who were a hell of a lot more important to the team than I was at center. Like our quarterback, and our running backs, and our receivers… all of whom played both ways. Also, there were two guys who could easily replace me at center… one of whom was a year younger than me but was awesome. He went on to be the center for the Wyoming Cowboys on a scholarship after high school. The coach was feeding me a line of crap, and I knew it. He probably wanted to stick someone else at center as well, but my commitment to the weight room and the fact that I was a senior probably led him to feel obligated to keep me in a starting position… for at least half of the game. I came really close to quitting the team, but I figured I’d stick it out for my final year.

“Sure, Coach, whatever you need me to do,” I said.

We went four-for-four that year. Not nearly as impressive as our predecessors the previous year, but not too shabby considering that a large volume of talent graduated the previous year… and considering that all focus from the coaching staff had gone into those (mostly) seniors and that team.

Still, old people in Glasgow, MT at that time lived and died by Scottie football. It reminds me a lot about how stupid people in Nebraska get about Husker football. I remember one evening, a lot of us football players waiting outside the high school before a basketball game or something. We had a boom box out there and were listening to some tune-age before going in to root for whatever Scottie team was playing in the gym that night. I remember this crusty old piece of crap coming right up to me (why me… I don’t exactly know… probably because I was only 5’7” and he didn’t feel as threatened by me as he did the larger players) and he says something like, “If you boys concentrated more on the game and spent time listening to your loud music, maybe you could actually win a game!”

We were all stunned. The old man hobbled past us and into the building. We turned the music off, staring at our shoes. No one knew who that old man was. No one had ever seen him before, and I don’t remember ever seeing him after. All that I know is that old fart brought down a bunch of teenaged boys very quickly… a bunch of teenaged boys who were doing nothing more than having some innocent fun being what we were: teenagers. Some of the guys went in to watch the game inside. Most of us just went home. Even though I don’t know who that guy was, I hate him. I’m pretty sure he must be dead by now… and that warms my heart just a little bit. It boggles my mind how people get so wrapped-up in sports… or, as I like to think of them, little kid games played by people way too old to be playing little kid games. Old farts past their glory days living vicariously through the efforts of those much younger… playing a little kids’ game. That old fart probably never even played football, yet he took our having a little fun outside of the grueling practices and intense games as a personal assault on what he expected us to be doing. Like I stated earlier… knowing he’s probably dead warms my heart just a little.

So many people talk of the importance of sports… how it teaches teamwork and good sportsmanship, and blah blah blah. For those people, I’m gonna have to call a BS-time-out. In all of my years of school athletics, I didn’t learn how to be part of a team… and I surely didn’t learn good sportsmanship. When we won, it was great. It’s easy to be a good sport when you win. When we lost, I hated life. I was depressed for days after a loss, replaying in my head every mistake that I personally made that in any way could have contributed to the loss. I beat myself up, and I hated the victors for making me feel that way. And when I’d find a way to not focus on what a loser I was and would start to enjoy life again, some crusty old fart would come along and make me feel like garbage. Such is life. Losing is part of the game. In athletics, however, you may learn from your mistakes… but if you don’t have the natural athletic ability, or are not of the right physical composition to acquire that ability, you learn that losing is going to become commonplace. You learn that you, not the team, are a loser at certain things and there is nothing you can do to change that. My belief is that a young person can learn just as much about teamwork (perhaps even more) through clubs and other non-athletic activities that will benefit the young person more later in life than athletics ever will for the average student. America, however, focuses (too much, in my opinion) on athletics. After all, most people aren’t gong to rake in a multi-million dollar contract with a signing bonus by being good at debate. Most won’t even get a small scholarship to a small college to continue with sports after high school. Those same people who focused most of their attention on sports in high school would benefit from being able to enter into a lively debate… but that doesn’t matter. In our society, chase the money and fame even if they realistically don’t have Frosty’s chance in hell of obtaining it. Besides, the starting quarterback has a better chance with the ladies than the president of the chemistry club (at least in high school)… even though the head of the chemistry club will probably make more money in real life. Instead of focusing on developing skills that could actually benefit me in the real world, I played sports… poorly.

I don’t regret my years wasted playing sports. I had some good times and made some good friends. However, if I could do it over again, I probably would chose a different path for my high school years. But hell, if we could do anything over again, I’m sure most of us would change a thing or two (or a thousand). Life doesn’t work that way, at least not until I find that stupid genie’s lamp, or catch that elusive leprechaun.  Until then, maybe I should start going to the local high school’s athletic events.  I can look around for a bunch of student athletes and tell them how their behavior off the field is causing their lack of success on the field… whether that’s true or not.  Maybe, just maybe, I can make myself feel better by making them feel like crap.

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Jun 10

Remember when you were a kid and you had all kinds of friends?  Well, unless you were the kid who accidentally pooped the pants in 3rd grade during math and everyone knew about it; then you maybe didn’t have so many friends.  Maybe you were the girl who had her first “Carrie” moment during 6th grade English, and none of the kids understood why you left school early,  upset and crying; until someone spotted the evidence of the early dismissal on the seat of your chair… your adolescence may have been a little rough.  Or you were the boy who got caught enjoying Baywatch just a little too much when you thought no one watching… you may have had a few rough years.  But aside from those few sad instances indicative of the cruelty of other children, many kids have lots of friends.  And as you grow from adolescence into high school and up through college, you make more and more friends.  By the time you get out of college, you probably have tons of friends… and I’m not just talking acquaintances, but real friends… you know, the kind of people you wouldn’t hesitate to call if you needed a good bailing out of jail.

At this point, we’re set!  We have a plethora of friends and a brand-spanking new education just waiting to be developed into a life-long career of happiness!  Guess what happens to many of us then.  We pack up our belongings and move half-way across the country and start completely fresh in a community where we don’t know a single soul!  Sounds exciting, right?  Sounds like a true adventure, doesn’t it?  Yeah… not really.  It sucks, and years later, you will find yourself pretty much friendless as you roll through mid-life.

When I first moved to the panhandle of Nebraska (almost 20 years ago), I figured I would fast make new friends.  And right out of the gate, I met a few people my age and we became buddies.  Considering that the people in this community are very cliquish (which is something I didn’t discover until later), I was lucky.  One of these buddies actually introduced me to the woman who is now my wife.  So, yeah, I thought I was on a roll.  Now see, where the problem comes into play in my example is the fact that I moved to a community where the young people are anxiously leaving in droves.  In the small town of Glasgow, MT where I grew up, all of the kids always talked about how they wanted to get the hell out of Glasgow and actually do something with their lives.  Scottsbluff and Gering Nebraska are much the same.  Kids see what their parents have accomplished living here, and the kids want nothing to do with it.  The kids want to actually find some measure of success in their lives, so they bail on the communities at pretty much the first available opportunity.  My problem: I moved in as everyone else my age was trying to get the hell out.  I escaped from one community where all the kids and young adults wanted to get away to another community where all the kids and young adults wanted to get away.  The destination of my escape was another destination from which to seek escape.  Most of those original friends that I made when I moved here have long since found more fruitful paths in other areas of the country.  There are still a couple in the area, and I really enjoy hanging out with them, but the second thing to come along and disrupt the friendship cycle is kids, and I’ve got them.

Having children is one of the most rewarding things that a person can do.  I don’t want to make it seem otherwise.  However, having kids puts a huge crimp in any sort of social life that you may desire.  You aren’t able to go out in public nearly as much once you have kids, especially while they are young.  You’re at home trying to catch some sort of rest and instill in your kids the basics of being a functioning member of society.

Then the kids hit school, and through school and other extra-curricular activities, you are forced to confront other parent of other kids who are pretty much in the same boat as you.  Once again, you start forming some relationships.  Maybe you find a church or other civic organization, and you begin attending regularly, and you form some relationships there as well.These relationships, however, are more along the lines of “strong acquaintanceships” than they are the true friendships you had  in your youth.  In other words, these are people who are fun to hang out with while the kids are off playing and whatnot, but these aren’t people you would feel comfortable calling to bail you out of the joint.

Even these strong acquaintanceships you have developed through the parents of your kids’ friends and through your civic activities (and maybe even co-workers from your job) soon seem to slightly dissipate as your kids grow even older and their activities seem to encapsulate more and more of your free-time.

My wife is from the panhandle.  Once she finished college, she really never had a strong desire to leave.  However, neither does she have a strong desire to stay.  She is constantly telling me that if I can find us a life somewhere outside of the panhandle that would make me less… uh, “grumpy” would be a polite way to put it, I guess… she would be more than happy to make a move.   She, however, actually has some of the friends from her past here.  Not many (most moved away), but she is occasionally able to have a “girls night out” or get together for coffee with a friend or two.  I still have a lot of really good friends, but, for the most part, they are spread out all over the nation.  If it weren’t for Facebook, I probably wouldn’t even know where most of them are.  They sure in the hell aren’t close enough to bail me out of jail, if the need were to arise.

So, what’s next?  You got me.  My kids actually have some true friendships, and they are doing well in the local schools (even though the schools tend to piss me off from time to time).  I’d hate to disrupt their potential growth in a selfish effort to find some sort of friendship or contentment in my life, so moving isn’t the most attractive option at this point.  Doesn’t mean that it won’t happen, just means it’s not the most attractive option.  I try to keep in touch with the friends of my youth… at least those on Facebook.

I’m guessing that once my kids have joined the mass exodus of young people who leave the panhandle of Nebraska to better themselves in different areas of the country, the options for the wife and I will increase.  We will be free to move wherever on God’s green earth we want to live.  We will be short two mouths to feed as our college-educated boys head out into the world to try to figure out how in the hell they are ever going to repay all of those student loans.  Of course, our bodies will have deteriorated even further, and God only knows what the status of our health will actually be in 10 or 15 years.  I’m guessing that will be the next point in the cycle where new friends are made.  We will probably find them at the clinics and doctor’s offices and pharmacies and, later, in the retirement communities.  We will all sit around and reminisce about our kids, about the friends of our youth, and about all of the opportunities we probably missed by living in the panhandle of Nebraska.

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May 24

In my last post, I pointed out how both high school and college graduates are often (usually) unrealistically optimistic. That’s me, destroyer of young dreams… but I only tell them for their own good.  Better to have no dreams or to know that your dreams are probably unachievable than to dream and have those dreams shredded and left on the compost pile of life.  Did I just quote Shakespeare?  Wasn’t that in Hamlet?  … maybe not…

I felt kind of bad for presenting the future of most of these graduates as the miserable abyss that, for most of them, their lives are going to become.  I wanted to make a modest attempt, in my own very special and unique way, at letting them know that everything is gonna be alright.  Here we go…

Sometimes, my family worries about the level of pessimism (or, as I like to think of it, “realism”) that I display on my blog.  I spoke to my dad on the phone shortly after he read the last graduation post. He seemed slightly concerned.

Dad:  “Son, I bet people who don’t really know you think you’re very bitter.”

Me:  “Ya think?”

Dad:  “You’re really not that bitter , are you?”

Me:  “I thought you knew me.”

Dad:  “I do, I just have a hard time believing you’re that bitter.”

Me:  “Yeah, me sometimes too.”

Dad:  “I mean… you’re really not that bitter… are you?”

Me:  “Not always.  Sometimes, I sleep.”

Dad:  “… oh…”

Hahaha!

Nothing says “good times” like making your parents believe that they somehow failed you in your childhood and your current level of life-misery is all their fault.  No worries, Dad.  All of my pessimism is self-induced.  Life has taught me that it often sucks without any help from you… although the short-gene that you have passed on to me hasn’t helped.  How was I ever supposed to live out my dream of playing in the NBA when I come from short European stock?  But, you just passed on what was passed to you, so not really your fault  (I don’t want to piss off my dad… he’s one of 3 people who read this blog regularly.)

Ok, back to encouraging high school graduates.  I think part of the problem I see with the whole free education system is that, by the time you are finished with it, you are still way too young to have a decent idea what you want to do with the rest of your life.  “I’m going to be a doctor” or “I’m going to be a lawyer” you may say if you are one of them real smarty-pants-types… or you actually have parents with enough cash to help you get through medical or law school.  But, do you really want to be a doctor?  Do you really want to be a lawyer?  You’re 18-years old.  How can you really know what you want to do with the rest of your life?

You can’t.

When you are 18-years-old, you know you want an attractive person of the opposite sex to pay attention to you, you know you like hanging out with your friends, and you know that you like to eat food that, a couple of  years in the future, is going to end up straight on either your gut or your butt; this is what you know about life.  I’m 41-years-old, and I only really figured out what would have been pretty cool to do with my life a few years ago… and by then it was too late.

For my college education, I went the business route.  4-years and a lot of money went to Montana State University and the Bozeman community while I earned a bachelor of science in marketing.  Now, I knew I could make more money if I chose something like engineering, but I always had issues with science.  I didn’t enjoy it, so why would I want to apply it to my career for the rest of my life?  Teaching sounded okay, but kids who took the teaching path seemed to be looking for the easy route.  Besides, teachers don’t make squat, right?  Business… no crappy science, and good money, right?  Oh, how wrong I was.

There needs to be a large disclaimer when someone enrolls in a business program at the university level.  That disclaimer would read:

This degree does not guarantee any kind of future success.  This degree will most likely lead to some crappy job in sales or retail management.  If sales and/or retail management aren’t what you are looking for, chose another program of study!

Of course, this disclaimer does not exist… until now.  I am warning you, if you get a business degree (unless it is very specialized, like accounting) you will most likely wind up as an assistant manager at Walmart or trying to sell computer software to companies that don’t need it and who cringe every time they see you come through the door.  This is a proven fact… well, I don’t have proof, but I’m pretty sure it’s true, which is almost the same as fact, isn’t it?

So, I went through college, got a crappy retail management job, and jumped from crappy job to crappy job every couple years.  A few years ago, I realized that an education in literature would be more up my alley.  I’ve always liked reading and writing.  Maybe that teaching thing wouldn’t have been so bad.  Besides, as crappy as I perceived teacher pay to be at the time I was making career decisions… in reality, I’d be making a hell of a lot more if I had been teaching for the past 20 years than I am now… and I’d have my summers off.  Hindsight… it’ll kick your ass every time.

A few years ago, I figured, heck, why not try pursuing something that would be a little better fit with my personality.  I enrolled in an online graduate program through Fort Hays State University in Kansas.  I was gonna get me a Master of Liberal Studies with an emphasis in English.

“What could you do with that?” you may have asked.  Well, boy howdy, I could have taught English at a community college.

“How does that pay?” you may have asked.

“Like crap,” would have been my response, but I was going through a brief period of insanity in my life where I thought maybe money wasn’t everything.

I enrolled, took a couple of classes, loved the classes, started to get a fresh perspective on life, and then reality smacked me upside the head.  First of all, I stopped working for a company that had a really good tuition reimbursement plan, and college classes are not cheap.  Second, I realized that taking these classes was interfering with family time (and my kids aren’t going to be around forever… they will get out of high school and, I’m assuming, move as far away from the panhandle of Nebraska as possible).  Third, I realized that the odds of getting an actual job teaching English at a community college were pretty slim, and, even if I did, I wouldn’t be able to support a family on that kind of crappy pay.

See, even a seasoned pessimist like me can let stinking dreams and hope and all of that other positive garbage creep back in every once in awhile.  I’m just glad that dream got smacked down before it grew too large.  I was in my mid-30s when that one snuck in.  I’m in my 40s now and any silly hope of getting an education that would lead to some sort of life-happiness is a thing of the past.  Once you get family obligations and mortgages and car loans piled on you and once you get accustomed to a certain quality of life and start thinking about the prospect of being able to retire some day, going backwards financially to make silly dreams come true becomes what it really was all along… a pipe dream.

So, you may be wondering how these words can be construed as “encouragement” for recent high school graduates.  I’m not exactly sure.  I guess my words of encouragement would have to be:

DON’T STRESS IT!

Don’t stress the fact that everyone expects you to plan out the rest of your life through the choices you make at age 18.  Plans change.  Dreams change.  Hopes change.  And most importantly… YOU change.  You will not be the same person at age 28 that you are at age 18, and 38 is going to make 28 look like a total stranger.  You will see the world differently, you will value different things, and your passions may change hundreds of times before you leave life in this realm.  Very few choices that don’t involve death are permanent, and any wound that doesn’t kill you will heal.  Scars are badges of effort,  and it takes effort to survive.  Whether you accomplish your goals or realize your dreams, or if you end up living the disappointing life of the average mortal, you will get some scars along the way.  Wear them with pride.  They show that you made the effort.

Now, if you end up bitter and pissed at the world like me, I’m thinking I’m probably going to be looking for a protege to take over this blog in about 20 years (if I ain’t dead by then).  If you are 18 now, you’ll be 38 then (which is how old I was when I started this bad boy) and we may have to get together and discuss you taking over old Happy Stinking Joy.  See, even when your dreams are dead, you may still have something to look forward to… or not…

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Mar 24

Ahhh… remember back to the days of your youth.  These were magical years where your future seemed so bright.  Remember?  From the end of August to mid-May, you learned and played sports and hung out with your friends all day.  But summer was when the true magic happened.  Summers were a seemingly endless period of long, hot days and cool, enchanted nights.  You could ride your bike with your friends day after day and it never got old.  As young boys, my friends and I would ride bikes and play catch and start a pick-up game of kickball of football and hike paths and climb trees and hang-out at our favorite stores (… uh… it was Fort Peck, Montana, so there was only one) and swim at the pool or at the lake and, as we got older, appreciate the way our rapidly-maturing female friends were filling out their bathing suits in spectacular new ways… and the summers seemed to last an eternity.

As we got older, some of us started getting summer jobs, and some of us got jobs year-round.  School got harder, and we had to start really thinking about our futures.  Then, college called to some of us, and some of us went straight to full-time, real-world work; but we still held tight to our dreams.  Those of us who went to college soon joined our working friends.  During these years, many of us fell in love, got married, started families; the dreams were still there.

Our kids started to grow up.  Soon, we could see our kids enjoying many of the same things we enjoyed in our youth, and we were starting to feel a little old.  The dreams were still hanging on, but we began to wonder how we were going to accomplish them with a full family life.  Oh well, maybe after the kids are grown and on their own.

Soon, we start living vicariously through our kids. Maybe we want our kid to be that great sports star we never were.  Or maybe we want our kid to be the genius we were never smart enough to be.  Or perhaps we want our kid to be the singer or actor or musician we never had the confidence to attempt to find within ourselves.  Our dreams migrate to the purgatory of our consciousness, awaiting the day when they will either realize the joyous fruition of heavenly accomplishment or be cast to the inescapable torment of hellish failure.  We start trying to help our children with their dreams, which are merely extensions of the dreams we had in our youth.  We start to realize that our age is actually catching up with us.

We become obnoxiously proud parents, praising the accomplishments of our children as if they were our own… often to the major annoyance of most other adults around us.  Soon, we find that other adults begin to avoid us because they really don’t care how good little Jimmy’s baseball team did… or how excellent little Susie’s dance recital went.  We become monsters who seem intent at driving everyone away from us… everyone except our families.  We scream at the umpires or referees at a game because their calls made our kid’s team lose.  We badmouth the teacher who doesn’t truly see our child’s intelligence.  We harbor ill-will toward the second-chair trumpet player who screwed up during the concert and made our first-chair child look bad.  We become bearers of vehement hate toward every single person or thing that interferes with our child’s success.  Our age is no longer catching up with us; it has caught us and is a driving force in our lives.

Our children, meanwhile, are oblivious.  They are focusing on having fun and creating their own dreams.

Soon, the kids are off to college or work, and we have the houses to ourselves again.  We are still focusing on the dreams of our kids.  We give career advice.  We warn them of the mistakes we made along the way.  We tell them what they should do to be happy, which is really what we should have done to be happy.  Our hindsight is, for the most part, ignored by our children.

Our kids are now adults, they are working full-time, many of them are happily married… and before you know it, we’re grandparents.  Our kids seem to have put their dreams on hold in an attempt to help their kids create new dreams.  Finally, there is time for us to focus on our dreams once again, so we search.  We search our consciousness for those dreams of our youth.  We search for the motivation to once again bring them to the front of our minds.  Funny thing is, when we search for our dreams, the smell of brimstone becomes overpowering, and just the thought of trying to accomplish those dreams makes us very tired.  We have moved beyond old and are now ancient.

Ahhh… it was nice to have dreams.  Too bad we never found the time or will to accomplish them.  What to do now?  Ooooh… looks like the grand kids could use some help with their dreams…

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Dec 25

If you’re dreaming of a white Christmas, stay away from Nebraska!

I can remember the Christmases of my youth in Montana: Christmas days filled with sledding and snow-fort building and snowball fights and ice skating.  These are fond memories that my children will most likely only experience on the rare “Christmas visit to the extended-family in Montana.”  My boys will grow to adulthood thinking of Christmas as a time of brown grass covering the earth and patches of dead leaves that avoided the rakes of fall.  Dust and dirt, brown on brown… nothing screams “Christmas” like the colors of death and decay.  This is Christmas in Nebraska.

When most of us think of Christmas, reds and greens and whites (is there more than one?) fill our imaginations.  Red represents the blood of Christ that was spilled for our sins.  Green stands for life, the eternal life found through Christ’s sacrifice.  White is for snow; snow that covers the earth and hides all imperfections, just like Christ.  Brown is for… uh… well… there really is no “brown” in the Christmas color-scheme.  Brown is reminiscent of… crap?  Crap that life can be without Christ, I guess.  Or, maybe a donkey in the manger or something.

Southern states can boast of the green of year-round vegetation and temperate weather, and I can see how Christmas could be enjoyable down there what with the reminder of the eternal life that awaits us.  Northern states are covered in the virgin snow that reminds us of the love of God.  Central states, like Nebraska, remind us that this life can be a pile of crap and, I don’t know… maybe that we can expect donkey-rides in heaven?!?

Christmas should be all about Christ.  This time of year, we get caught up in the gift-giving and the gift-receiving and the food and the extended mid-day naps (ok… so that’s probably just me).  We all remind each other to remember the true meaning of the  Christmas, and then we head out to buy that one last present, or we run to Walmart to get that last box of Jello for the salad.

I’m gonna keep this post short, because I don’t want to complain too much on the day we set aside to remember the birth of Christ.  I’m going to try to end this post in a positive manner in tribute to the ultimate sacrifice of our savior.  As I look out the window at the brown grass and the blowing dead leaves, I shake my head and try to think positive.  It’s too cold outside to enjoy the lack of snow, but it’s not cold enough to go ice fishing or ice skating.  Brown upon brown upon brown… I guess riding a donkey would be kinda fun…

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Dec 01

I attended college at Montana State University. When I tell people that I went to MSU, they assume that I went to Michigan State, and I have to refute the idea that I would have furthered my education at any institution whose mascot looks like he belongs on the side of a box of condoms… but in hindsight, maybe Michigan would have been a better choice…

Montana has a slew of good colleges scattered across her girth, but there are two major universities: Montana State University and the University of Montana. MSU resides in Bozeman, MT and when I attended school there, the population of Bozeman almost doubled when the 10,000 college students made their way to low-rent apartments, trailer houses, and dormitories within Bozeman city limits. Missoula is home to U of M and, like Bozeman, offers a variety of winter activities to its residents. Both schools are great for anyone who likes his or her winters filled with snow and frigid temperatures. I loved going to college in Bozeman!

Of course, having two decent-sized colleges in the same state leads to a natural rivalry. Whatever the sport, these two schools and their alumni always cheer hardest when they are playing their rival… especially when it comes to football.

Now, I am sorry to write that this rivalry has a tradition of being a little one-sided. U of M has built a quality football program, while MSU has… uh… tried to not embarass themselves. Every once in a great while, however, the Bobcats of MSU hand the Grizzlies of U of M some bear butt on a platter. This year just happened to being one of those monumental years.

That’s right… oh yeah… uh huh… uh huh… the Cats beat the Griz!  Did you hear me… the CATS beat the griz :)  See, this is supposed to be how it goes.  The fan of a winning team should be able to go off, you know.  You do a little of the rubbing-in-the-face, you cheer, you shout, you degrade the other team, and then you stop.  And then the football season ends and you sit on pins and needles until next year (where in the case of the Bobcats, you will probably lose).  This is supposed to be how it goes!  But Grizzly fans don’t let it play-out this way.  Grizzly fans kind of… well… suck.

I don’t blame the Grizzly fans for sucking so much.  They aren’t used to losing; so when they lose, they don’t follow the rules.  The rules are as follows:

1 –  When your team wins a sporting competition, you have every right to make as complete of an ass of yourself as permissible by law.

2 – No matter the record nor the history of the two teams competing, the winning team has every right to ride and remain on cloud nine until such position on such cloud it removed by a defeat the following year.

3 – The losing team is allowed to cuss and swear and belittle the opposing team with temper-tantrum-style-rants.  The losing team may use any language necessary… up-to-and including threats of beating the crap out of someone, murder, rape and even bestiality (as in: “I’m gonna take your Bobcat and I’m gonna ‘something having to do with bestiality’ him until he’s screaming for me to stop (as if an actual beast could  legitimately scream out anything).  This is what Bobcat fans do, and this is what we expect of Grizzly fans.

Grizzly fans do not stick to these parameters.  Grizzly fans try to seem uncaring in their team’s defeat.  They throw out all sort of pompous “congratulations” and effacing “you deserve it” type statements, but all the while they remind you of the record between the two schools and throw how many “national championships” the Grizzlies have won in your face.  You can’t even enjoy your team’s victory because you are sooo torked-off at how the Grizzly fans are rubbing… uh… your victory… in your face?!?  Stupid Grizzly fans!

As a Bobcat fan, I have a few words to all of the Grizzly fans out there!  First of all, thank you for your congratulations and stuff… yes, we deserve it.  Second of all, I don’t care what the record is or how many times your team has steam-rolled our team… we won this year and you did not… so this year, the Grizzlies SUCK!  :)  And I’m not talking about a minor suckage.  I’m talking major suck!  Third of all, I don’t care how many “national championships” you’ve won.  I’ve tried to tell people where I live that “Montana won the nation championship”, and they say, “What?”

“Yeah, University of Montana won the national championship,” I say.

“In what sport?” person where I live asks.

“College football,” I say.

“Huh?” say the person in Nebraska where I live asks.

“Yeah, their like in the NCAA Division I-AA,” I say.

“Division what?” the Nebraska person says.

You know… Big Sky Conference and stuff,” I say.

“You mean where Boise State came from?” the Nebraska person asks.

“… uh… yeah, I guess so,” I say.

“Cool!” the Nebraska person says.  “Who did they beat in the championship?”

“Well, I think in the last national championship, they beat Fargo,” I say.

“Like… Fargo State?” the Nebraska person asks.

“…uh… well… no.  It was like the Fargo College of Mines and Cosmetology,” I whisper.

“… national champions, huh?” the Nebraska person asks.

‘That’s what they tell me,” I say, but am quick to mention, “but the Bobcats of Montana State kicked their ass this year!”  And I smile from ear to ear.

“Good for you, Special Ed, “says the Nebraska fan… I don’t know why they always call me ‘Special Ed’ whenever I bring up Montana sports… I think they may be talking down to me… much like the stinking Grizzly fans :(  Whatever!

So, to anyone and everyone who happens to read my blog in the next few days (that’s right… both of you!), please be rooting for MSU against whatever lame North Dakota team they may be playing this coming weekend!  We Bobcats need as much crap to rub in the face of those annoying Grizzly fans as possible :)

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Aug 18

Growing up in Glasgow, Montana, I had the privilege of  regularly consuming some of the best pizza on the entire planet.  This pizza is served by a little hole-in-the-wall restaurant (located in the “Big G Shopping Center”) called Eugene’s Pizza.  Eugene’s Pizza does not take reservations, and on certain nights you may have to wait for an extended amount of time to seat yourself at a recently departed table.

You almost never sit at a clean table at Eugene’s; you sit at a dirty table and wait for a waitress to come clean the table for you.  The waitress then takes your order and you wait… and you wait… and you wait for your order.  The cool thing is, as a kid (or a kid at heart), you can watch the entire pizza-making process if you can muster the courage to go stand in front of the counter.  You can watch the dough go through this cool flattening machine, and then you can watch a highly-trained pizza-tossing professional twirl the thinning disc of gluten higher and higher into the air.  If the dough doesn’t actually hit the vaulted (probably 15 foot) ceiling, the dough isn’t thin enough.  There are usually cobwebs encrusted in flour near the point on the ceiling where the dough makes contact, but this never seems like a big deal.

Eugene's Pizza,Glasgow,MT,Best Pizza Ever! St. Louis style pizza,thin-crust pizza

Crap, if there was a spider in my Eugene’s Pizza, I probably wouldn’t care, because the pizza is that good.

After the dough is tossed, they bring the paper-thin masterpiece to the counter and slather it with a tomato-based sauce.  The other toppings follow… and what most clings to my memory are the sheets of mozzarella cheese.  This isn’t a handful of shredded cheese sprinkled on top of the pizza; rather, a solid foundation of sheeted mozzarella is laid under the building blocks of flavor that will soon be exploding in your mouth.  Honestly, I didn’t know pizza was made any other way until some point beyond my youth where I came to the conclusion that some pizza-makers cheated with faster-melting shredded cheese.  There is no “faster” with a Eugene’s Pizza.  From the counter, the pizza makes it’s way into a true pizza oven, where it spends what seems like an eternity.  This ain’t fast food, and you can tell by the taste of the finished product!  Cracker-like crust that bursts upon impact with the teeth, stringy mozzarella in every bite, a world class sauce that is reproduced by no imitator, and enough toppings to satisfy the largest hunger.  I always figured that Eugene’s was one of the best thin crust pizzas  in the world.

After leaving Glasgow (’cause pizza alone cannot retain a soul yearning for satisfaction… there has to be jobs), I discovered that the style of pizza that Eugene’s served was unique.  I couldn’t find anything like it anywhere I went.  So, I did a little Internet research at some point that led me to believe that Eugene’s served St. Louis style pizza.  Yeah, I know, St. Louis style pizza in Glasgow, MT… seems like a stretch.  So I did a little research on St. Louis style pizza.  What I found out is: there isn’t a lot of information on St. Louis style pizza.

Although the info on St. Louis style pizza is limited, I did find some.   St. Louis style pizza is made on a cracker-thin crust, is cut into 3″ or 4″ squares (instead of the traditional pie-type cutting), often uses (but does not require) Provel cheese, and is either loved or detested by most people who try it.

Eugene’s cuts its pizzas into the squares found in a traditional St. Louis pizza, and the cracker-thin crust of Eugene’s Pizza is one of it’s greatest features.  The major difference I could find between traditional St. Louis style pizza and Eugene’s Pizza is the cheese.

Provel,Imo's,Eugene's Pizza

Provel cheese is a blend of cheddar, swiss and provolone cheese.  But Provel isn’t just a blend… Provel is a processed cheese food (think Velveeta).  Provel cheese originated in St. Louis in around 1947 (Wikipedia) for use in the St. Louis pizza market.  If you have never heard of Provel cheese, well, that’s because you probably aren’t from around the St. Louis area.  The world outside of St. Louis knows little about Provel cheese.  Why?  Well, if a pizza place started using Velveeta on it’s pizza, the average pizza connoisseur who most likely run the opposite direction.  In St. Louie, they run for it?!?

Mozzarella is real cheese.  In fact, mozzarella is the traditional cheese used in modern-era pizza-making.  And, when a pizza joint forgoes the now-common shredded cheese in favor of large slices on cheese; well, said joint is going to serve a superior pizza! At least these were my thoughts having never tried Imo’s Pizza.

Well, recently, I had the opportunity to visit St. Louis. I didn’t see the Arch, I didn’t hear any live Blues, I didn’t catch a Cardinals game… but I made sure I tried an Imo’s Pizza. It had been so long since I had good thin crust pizza of the Eugene’s caliber that I was extremely excited! I had grown up eating a copy of Imo’s, right? Now I was going to get to try the original! After all, Imo’s claims to be “The Original St. Louis Style Pizza!”

I ordered the pizza from my hotel room and anxiously awaited the call announcing the delivery dude had arrived. When the call came in, I sprinted to the lobby and grabbed the wonderful-smelling treat.

Imo's Pizza,St Louis style pizza

I rushed back to my room, mouth watering, and threw the box open! The pizza that rested before me looked quite similar to the Eugene’s that I missed so dearly; square cut pieces, cracker-thin crust, loaded with toppings…

Imo's Pizza,St Louis style pizza

As I slid a piece between my lips and snapped into the crust, a wave of nostalgia swept over me. That was some good pizza. In fact… believe it or not… Imo’s is… is… almost as good as Eugene’s Pizza!  Imo’s just didn’t have the zing of Eugene’s.  Although I liked the smoky flavor of the Provel cheese, the stringy-chewy-deliciousness of Eugene’s mozzarella just can’t be touched by a processed cheese food.  Eugene’s is KING!

You know what I really found interesting?  If you notice on the box from Imo’s, the “Original St Louis Style Pizza” has been around since 1964.  If you check out Eugene’s website (from which you can order these pieces of art to your own home anywhere is the continental USA), you will notice that Eugene’s was established in Glasgow, MT in 1962?!?  My research had led me to believe that Eugene’s copied Imo’s… but it looks like Eugene’s was in business before Imo’s!  Maybe Imo’s isn’t the original St Louis style pizza… maybe Eugene’s is the original Glasgow, MT style pizza… and maybe, just maybe, Imo’s copied Eugene’s :)   YEAH… Glasgow, MT may be famous for a pizza style… it just has the wrong name!!!

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Dec 06

I spent some time back in Montana over the long Thanksgiving weekend.  Spending some time driving in a normal state made me realize how ridiculous drivers are in Nebraska.

In Montana, especially eastern Montana, there are a lot of deer.  A LOT OF DEER!  When you drive in the rural areas after the sun’s gone down, you have to constantly scan the sides of the road looking for any sign of movement.  I lived in Montana for most of the first 22 years of my life; I hit two different deer on two separate occasions.  If you live in Montana and you drive at night, you will almost unavoidably hit a deer.  Something that Montanans realize is that it’s a heck of a lot easier to catch the glint of a deer’s eye in the headlights if your headlight beams are on high.  Thus, people in Montana, when approaching another car at night, usually dim their headlights about 4 to 5 seconds before passing the other car.

Nebraskans (and, to be honest, Wyomingites are even more anal about this than Nebraskans) start flashing their headlights from high-to-low in an effort to get you to dim your lights at anywhere from 1/2 mile to 1 mile away.  This means these morons are flashing you at 30 seconds to 1 minute away!  Seriously!  If these old Germans have such poor eyesight that they need oncoming lights on dim at this distance, they should have their licenses taken away… not only because they are increasing the risk of roadside hazards becoming unexpected surprises, they also just annoy the CRAP out of me!

These light-flashing idiots used to get to me so bad that I would wait until I was about 4 or five seconds away before I would dim my lights just to make them mad.  Of course, this backfired, because the light-flashing nincompoops started sticking it to me.  By “sticking it to me” I mean that they would wait until the last second and then hit me with all that they’ve got… high beams, low beams, and if they got ’em, fog lights, all at once.  The blinding brightness usually lasted well after the other car passed and made me even madder.  I actually considered turning around and running the idiots off the road on more than one occasion, but doing hard time because grandma Schultz ticked me off on her way to make butterballs at church wouldn’t sit well with the wife.  Instead of tinkering with my blood pressure more than need be, I have attempted to learn to conform to the local idiotic driving patterns.

And then I went to Montana and re-experienced night driving the way it should be: safely avoiding the hazards at the side of the road.  On our return trip, it started getting dark right about the time we arrived in our local driving area… and I once again had morons flashing their lights at me from up-to a mile away.

I wanted to get this straight once and for all.  Tonight, I went to several states’ DMV websites, including Nebraska and Wyoming, to find out what the law is regarding distance for dimming headlights when approaching another vehicle.  Nebraska did not list a specific distance.  It did list a distance of 200 feet when approaching another vehicle from the rear but it didn’t list a distance for forward-approaching vehicles.  200 feet from the rear was the same distance I found on several other websites, except for the Wyoming site which put this distance at 300 feet.  The funny thing is (and I don’t mean funny in the sense of “ha ha” but more in the sense of making you want to stick a red-hot steak knife into your eyeball) the distances on the sites I visited regarding the correct distance to dim you lights when approaching another vehicle from the front ranged from 300 feet to 500 feet.  The Wyoming site stated 500 feet.

So, you might ask yourself, how long would it take for two vehicles to meet each other from a distance of 500 feet… considering a speed of about 55 mph?  Thanks for asking!  The Wyoming Driver Manual, on page 75, states… and I quote… “You should dim at least 500 feet (about four to five seconds) before meeting an oncoming vehicle.”  I kid you not!

So, let’s see if we can get Adventurer Rich’s situation all straightened out.  I have been dimming my headlights in a very legal fashion and should have increased the safety on the road (due to potential roadside hazards) in the process.  The stinking knuckleheads that blast me with all that they’ve got are, in reverse, breaking the law because they think I am breaking the law (which I’m not) and causing a danger to me and anyone in my car by  obscuring my vision with their temper tantrum… not to mention that they are tempting fate that I don’t have a temper tantrum of my own, turn around, and run their sorry butts off the road!

Let’s see if we have learned a little lesson here.  If you are driving on one of the many rural highways in western Nebraska or eastern Wyoming and you come across a gent who refuses to dim his lights at 1/2 mile away, proceed with caution.  If you get to anywhere from 10 to 4 seconds away and he then dims his lights, remember that he is acting in a completely legal fashion.  If you, at this point, decide to blast him because he didn’t dim his lights when you wanted him to (law be damned!), accept that he may very well turn around and do everything within his power to see you run off the road (which would be no more illegal or put any more life in danger than you did by blasting him with your headlights.)  And the number one thing that I hope you have learned is this: if you would even consider flashing your lights at someone when they are 1/2 mile away in an attempt to get them to dim their headlights… you need to turn in your driver’s license, Grandpa, ’cause you shouldn’t even be on the road!

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Nov 20

What’s the deal with this year’s “Winter Oreos”?  My wife recently bought a pack of Winter Oreos because our whole family loves nothing more than chocolaty wafers stuffed with sugar-enveloped lard.  Mmmm.  What strikes me about the Winter Oreos is the color Nabisco decided on for the lard filling.

What colors do you think of for winter?  I think, of course, of white, but the filling in an Oreo is normally white, so that wouldn’t work for a “seasonal variation.”  Blue also comes to mind (I don’t exactly know why… I think it’s because companies market winter stuff in blue; you know, like all the stupid snowman decorations with the blue hats and blue scarves… you never see snowman decorations with a scarf that happens to be a lovely shade of chartreuse.)  One color that doesn’t naturally pop into my head for winter is… red.  Nabisco has decided that red lard is a good way to represent winter?!?  Does anyone get this?  Seriously, red = winter?!?

I’m reminded of my days hunting as a young man with my father in western Montana.  Early morning, before the sun’s up, nestled in a patch of juniper awaiting the sun and the coming of the deer.  The sun peeks over the horizon, casting brilliance on the snow-covered ground but leaving the air frigid; and here come the deer.  Shots ring out and the deer scatter, leaping with unrelenting fury away from certain death… except for the one unlucky chap who takes a slug through the spine.  The hit deer falls immediately and is still.  My father and I approach the motionless, warm body.  As we approach, the large buck’s head moves ever so slightly in our direction.  The buck’s eyes, open-wide and full of fear, lock on my father and me.

“You gonna take care of him?” asks my father.

My shot is the one which struck true. I unsheathe my hunting knife and kneel beside the paralyzed buck.  I make it fast, slicing quick and hard at the throat of the deer with my sharp knife.  A flood of warmth bursts over my hand as the buck’s large eyes roll back into its head; his head relaxes as his last breath escapes his mouth in a mist of white against the cold Montana air.

I stand back and observe the scene.  The buck, almost a winter’s worth of meat for our family, lies still.  The blood from his throat slowly stains the surrounding snow crimson.  And all the while, I’m thinking to myself, “Oh, oh, oh, ice -cold milk and an Oreo cookie.  They forever go together, what a classic combination…”

Seriously… red and winter?!?  I think the folks at Nabisco are just cheap.  You know they are going to have red filling at Christmas (and probably at Valentine’s Day), so instead of having to mix up a batch of blue lard, they just started the red Christmas (Valentine’s Day) lard early and think we consumers are retarded enough that we won’t question what red has to do with winter.

Well for you, Nabisco, I am seriously questioning the red!

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