What’s Your Disorder? (Can’t I Just Enjoy Mine In Peace?)

Will the labeling committee please stand up?

I mean, who gets to decide an action, a trait, or a preference, is ”pathological”, then create a pithy little acronym by tagging a ”D” on, and subjugate the behavior into a disorder? Who are these people?

Can somebody please tell me what is so wrong with being active and having a hard time paying attention to one thing at a time? So what your knee twitches up and down like the needle on a sewing machine; you wave your hands like a traffic-cop on speed when you talk; and you happen to notice and point out every cardinal that lands in the back yard during your wife’s attempt to tell you about her day with the kids? Is it really such a crime to be aware? (At least you choked down your suspected Aspergers and didn’t mock her for the hair you saw growing out of her left ear.)

Maybe a chart exists with the exact amount of attention every single topic deserves to have paid to it in milliseconds of unbroken focus. But who actually came up with the precise sum of Attention you have to pay not to be in a deficit state? Who are these attention auditors who determine what attention should be spent on?

I think what the attention police really have a problem with isn’t that you’re not paying attention. It’s that you’re paying attention to the WRONG DAMN THING! You should be aware that there may come a day in the not-too-distant-future, when you’re prevented from going to a movie, reading a novel, or stalking on Facebook because your attention credit score is blown from missed attention installments to the right things: like work meetings and class lectures.

You’d think that protecting your attention from boredom, and saving it for important stuff like the way dust mites sometimes sparkle like floating rainbow-prisms if you hold your head sideways near your desktop and the sunlight slants in the classroom window just so, would help you to jack up your Attention balance. That attention to detail ought to count for something! But your balance takes a beating because the pencil sharpener is diagonally opposite and across the room from you and you need the fine point of a very sharp pencil several times a class. Your deficit only decreases in a ratio proportionate both to how uninspiring the subject matter is, and how little temptation it holds for your innate curiosity (with extra-credit given if you sit ramrod straight with your hands folded in your lap, no matter how dull your pencil gets).

Look, just because when you’re at work, you don’t happen to notice and become distracted by the sound of your spinning hard drive, doesn’t prove that I’ve got a problem for ALWAYS NOTICING MINE! Maybe I’m just sensitive to my environment, like a finely-attuned, fully-functional, highly-trained member of the ecosystem, you ever think of that, you haters? (I bet you don’t even hear the audible frequency change when your DVR cycles on in the night! And yet, I’m the one with the disorder?)

Here’s my vote for the Attention-Deficit-Hyper-Active crowd. I propose we start calling ourselves Awareness Ninjas because we need love too! Reacting to being surrounded by sedentary people with Yawn-Inducing-Conversation-Topic-Disorder, shouldn’t result in all the negative publicity and prescriptions for adderall. Who but we will interrupt you in the middle of your rambling story to point out the cool way the tree branches bounce and sway in the breeze like they’re connected to invisible yo-yo bungees? Give credit where credit is due.

But let’s move on to my favorites, the Obsessive-Compulsives, of whom I admit I am a charter member. Everything is fine with scouring the Internet to accumulate every little nuanced scrap of minute data about waterfowl hunting and collecting items for said pursuit until somebody has to go and call it “Obsessive!” Yes, I remember owning the chest high waders and tying my chocolate Labrador in the trunk of the Buick to go duck hunting with forty-five dollar boxes of copper-pelleted shotgun shells and three different types of handmade duck calls after spending hours practicing in front of VHS duck-calling videos and almost got my shotgun thrown into the lake by the irate, duck-loving landowner whose permission I forgot to seek before putting my two-dozen plastic decoys into his favorite bass pond without tethering them to anything more substantial than his wife’s rose trellis. (A man’s got to hunt!) Plus, I told you that yes, all three calls were necessary because they represented the three different stages of successfully convincing the little gourmet-meals-on-the-wing to apply their air brakes and alight in your spread within shotgun range, and they’re expensive because you have to pay for quality with ducks being smart enough to discern the difference between plastic and handmade as anyone who’s researched the matter knows.

Of course, since you’ve watched me grok out on (and later graduate from) duck hunting…and mountain bike riding…and drawing…and Battlefield 3, I don’t expect you to understand that in fact it does require a bare minimum of two subscriptions to different golf magazines, and an hour a day watching “Golf Fix” plus several times a week hitting buckets of balls in order to be moderately successful on the course. I’m sure you don’t realize that most serious golfers own three or four putters and three or four drivers like I do, and that the quest for the perfect driver/putter is a serious one with no discernible end in sight and, I am not the one who sets the prices on this stuff.

Don’t even get me started on the number of guns one must own, and the accessories one must acquire, and time one must devote, in order to be a responsibly armed citizen with the requisite knowledge and skill to secure his domicile, and to protect your right to label people like me if and when the SHTF. Truly, I should be praised for being intense and thorough and practical, not degraded with a label like OCD. I guess some people are just content to be passive and mediocre.

And does it really bother you so much that all of my picture frames hang straight and that the items on my desk are lined up into neat little, geometrically symmetrical piles? At least all of the golf tees emptied on to it from my pocket (even the broken ones) all point in the same direction like they should. Who else would be devoted to precision like that? Just because I feel nauseous and get vertigo when I walk in your house with its tilted pictures, and I freak out when I open the silverware drawer to discover that the spoons have hopped the barrier and nestled in with your forks, you have to judge me and say I’m the one with a disorder? Ever hear of a thing called a level? I mean, please! Why do you even bother with a divider tray? And you should just confess you were being a little devious to stack the tee shirts in groups of mixed colors on the closet shelf.

And while I’m on it: just how do you go about making coffee if you think your way is better than mine? Do you really think yours tastes better just because you can make it at any old haphazard time of morning with any old kind of coffee you happen to have on hand and you don’t count the exact same number of scoops aloud to yourself? How are you supposed to achieve CONSISTENCY that way? I know you’ve even committed the sacrilege of microwaving yesterday’s coffee…heaven forfend!

And I guarantee you my system of organizing the bills in my wallet by denomination in ascending order with all of the faces and numbers pointing in the same direction, is better than yours. I bet you don’t even know where to find a fiver when you need to. I, on the other hand, know that Abe is always tucked right behind George and in front of Alexander. I know it can be embarrassing when I hold up the cafeteria line to get them all in place before moving on, but hey, do you really expect me to be able to feel okay to “keep the line moving sir” with them just crammed in there all willy-nilly? Oh, hell no!

I will admit that getting up at four a.m. to watch foreigners play tennis seven time zones away is a little compulsive, but hey, like Grandaddy Leo used to say, ”sleep is for the birds.” Maybe I just happen to feel guilty knowing someone is over there sweating, while back here in America we’re all asleep. How are they supposed to play to their full potential if I don’t get up and watch?

Also, for the record, there are plenty of other people who become excessively angry when provoked. Been to a Little League game lately? Do we all have Borderline Personalities because we aren’t afraid to display negative emotions and show how much we care? How about your mild-mannered girlfriend who can’t drive to the grocery store without breaking out with traffic Tourette’s? Does she have BPD too?

While we’re on it, I can handle being “bi-polar” a hell of a lot better than being, what? Mono-polar?, uni-polar?, what? Have you looked at a globe recently? How many poles do you see? What’s the big problem with having two of them? How would we know North if not for South, or Hot if not for Cold, or Happy if not for Sad? Just seems well-rounded to me, but I digress…

Look, I don’t go around campaigning that you have RMD (Random Money Disorder) or CNFCKIYPD (Can Never Find Car Keys In Your Pocketbook Disorder), so stop hating on me, alright?

Anyway, I’d like to meet these people with all the spare “D’s” to throw around? I bet they are some real calm, focused, middle-of-the-road, milquetoast dudes and dudettes.

ZZZZZZZZZZZZZ…

I’d buy them a beer at Hinson’s, and try to liven them up a little bit, except anyone who shows up at Hinson’s more than once (and likes it) obviously has some kind of greasy food and alcohol disorder.

Dawn Moon (An Invitation to Appreciation)

The man sat down at his desk, feeling harried with the business of the new day. He logged on to the open computer, but before losing himself in the contents that appeared on its screen, he glanced up through the open blinds and immediately noticed the full moon hanging torpid and pregnant in the dawn sky. Pink-tinged, vanilla cotton clouds veiled it against a sky so blue it didn’t look real. Such a scene as this always made him hold his breath and linger, trying with all his might to apprehend and infuse the splendor into his memory the way a connoisseur of wine might taste a rare vintage and embrace it on his tongue. Who else in all the world is looking at this same sight right now, He asked himself, and thanked God in heaven for such a lovely portent of the day, if no eyes but his own beheld and appreciated it.

He recalled a passage read long ago suggesting that the deepest yearning of the spiritual man is not just to behold beauty in nature, but to be one with it. Gazing again upon such a masterpiece of perfection, he felt the ache and longing for such a union.

In the few moments he spent meditating on these things, the moon gave way to the greater light and was visible no more. He considered that this was all the better as such loveliness is always passing by, and not a thing to be caged and captured. He gave thanks again and rose from his desk richer in soul and spirit, having gilded them in a beauty rare, and secure in the knowledge that He who so ordered the relations of sun. moon, and clouds to create such magnificence could yet make something beautiful of his life.

Five Years

Today marks five years since my ex-wife and I went to a local bank to have a separation agreement notarized, and I moved out of the house away from her and six of our seven children. When I mentioned this to my eighteen year-old daughter earlier, she couldn’t believe it had only been five years. ”It seems like forever,” she said.

She’s right. It does seem like much longer than five years. The marriage lasted twenty-two and a half years, the last two and a half of which were pure hell on everyone involved. Having done all that was humanly possible to preserve my marriage and keep my family intact, when I finally succumbed to the inevitable, it was time.

I am such a different person than the one who drove away from the family home with a borrowed pick up truck full of personal belongings. I am a man again, whole and complete, not the shell of a man I allowed myself to become; eviscerated in my efforts to hold onto an unfaithful woman, letting myself believe that I somehow deserved her treatment. I accepted the labels and derision that she heaped upon me, and I felt every bit a failure.

In leaving my family and giving up on my marriage, I was also leaving behind and giving up on my entire conception of myself, my identity, my being and meaning in the world. As a practicing Christian, I had somehow contorted the truth that a married man and woman become ”one flesh” into meaning they become ”one being.” I gave up my identity as an individual apart from my role as husband and father. As a result, I had not made a single decision of any consequence in over twenty-two years without considering its impact on my wife and my children; usually in consultation with them; from what to eat for dinner, to what type of toilet paper to buy, to whether or not we should paint a room, to where and when we should go on vacation, or even whether it was okay to take a few minutes alone to quietly read my bible. I can see my married readers nodding in recognition.

In the beginning of our dating relationship, and perhaps even early in our marriage, these mutual, shared decisions about all the various minutiae of life were a source of bonding and delight. Over the course of time, especially in the midst of a marriage gone bad, these same decisions provided instant feedback in the form of criticism, derision, and ridicule, even when a decision was supposedly agreed upon. Because I was the ”head of the household”, I shouldered the blame for every mistake, mishap, accident, unforeseen consequence, hurt feeling, and dollar spent. So much so that my oldest son now jokes with me when anything goes wrong and says, ”must be your fault dad!” I realize now that being the head of a family doesn’t mean being the family scapegoat.

I’m not sure why many if not most relationships devolve into this kind of acrimony and resentment. I only know mine did. Living on my own, alone and in my own rented house, was a brave new world for me. Even going to the grocery store was an adventure as I chose foods strictly because I might like them whether any one else in the household did or not. I watched what I wanted on television. I read the books and articles I wanted. I bought furniture I liked and decorated how it pleased me. Not once did I consult my ex.

This is the most wonderful thing about divorce. I found myself again. This is so important that I will likely spend the rest of my life trying to write about how crucial and rare this is. The greatest commandment it is said is to love God with all one’s heart, mind, soul, and strength. The second greatest is, ”you shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Having lost myself in a bad marriage, and then being told in the most brutal way (the unfaithfulness of a spouse) how inadequate I was as a husband, I certainly had no love for myself to even know how I ought to love my neighbor. If you don’t know yourself, how can you love yourself? If you can’t love yourself, how can you love your neighbor?

But I do know myself again. I am able to make decisions with an appropriate regard for my own pleasure and live with the blessings or consequences, taking full responsibility for either. I care about the people around me in a way that is no longer a feeble attempt at self-validation. I know both how to receive love and how to give it. I have an amazing girlfriend who has shared these five years with me without either of us trying to stifle or undermine the other’s individuality, and who has made me feel good about myself again as a man worthy of love and of faithfulness.

Divorce has left me very jaded and cynical about marriage, but it has made me very optimistic about life. I think that’s why today’s anniversary seems like too short a time: the living has been so condensed and concentrated in these five years that it has more than made up for the bad years at the end of my marriage and the initial faltering steps out on my own.

Here’s to many happy returns!

There Is No Good Filter For My Eclectic Reading List

It’s Saturday morning and therefore one of the most luxurious days of the week for me. I woke up sans alarm at 7:15, fell back asleep for fifteen more minutes, then motored off to Starbuck’s to replenish my bean supply and get a ready-made cup of wake-up fuel.

Back home, I began trying to catch up on all of the auto-collected stories and articles that had been accumulating during the week. For the next hour and a half, I sat on the deck and read articles on making war movies, germ theory, the arc of innovation, a story about a reporter’s Bernese Mountain Dog, and how the British now can make brewed tea with a specially designed gadget in their armoured vehicles because the Germans in WWII kept killing them when they’d stop and get out of their tanks to brew tea on the roadside, etc.

It’s a collection of reading material that is nothing if not eclectic. And therein lies the problem. I read for the pure pleasure of it. It ranks 2nd or 3rd in my top most enjoyable activities in life. And yet, it’s a little depressing too. There’s so much out there to read, so much to learn, to know, to be exposed to…

A few weeks ago, I discovered and began using a combination of web-services and connected apps to crawl through various sites that generate content I might wish to consume, and collect it for me into one place to peruse at my leisure. I read a lot! I mean a hell of a lot! But I cannot keep up. Having read six or seven articles this morning, there are eighty-eight…EIGHTY-EIGHT…88…still to read. Damn! I feel guilty as hell to delete even one of them without at least a quick, speed-reading glance, but at a rate of one article read every fifteen or twenty minutes, it will take me twenty-nine and one-third hours to read the ones still left.

That realization makes me yearn for a better system to gather the material, but maybe with a little more ”filtering”, kind of like when I’m looking at an item on Amazon, the site is kind enough to inform me, ”customers who looked at the item you’re looking at ultimately bought X…” or, similar to the way Netflix makes suggestions about movies I might want to watch based on my previous selections and ratings. That would be cool…

Or would it? What kind of filter could ever have put together my reading list this morning? What kind of relationship is there between tea brewed by soldiers in a tank, and the 2,4-D herbicide that started the Green Revolution among Iowa corn farmers that has led to the most plenteous and cheap food production of all time and has contributed to this country’s obesity epidemic?

I guess I’ll have to keep using the one filter that can amalgamate and make sense out of all this motley collection, my own brain. How do you decide what to read? What to follow? What to pay attention to?

Hey, one of my apps just signaled on my iPhone that another article just arrived, number 89, titled, Breaking up with Facebook. That sounds interesting. Let’s see, that’ll push me to twenty-nine and a half hours…

Get In Touch With Your Inner Geek

I love technology that works and fulfills the promise of either higher efficiency in terms of productivity, or saved time, or both. I’ve just finished reading the book Less Doing = More Living by Ari Meisel. It is one of those books that has re-awakened the dormant geek in me that has lain fallow for several months. As a result, I have subscribed to several web services in order to adopt some of the principles of efficiency and automation espoused by Meisel.

Here are some of the ones I’m currently using in no particular order.

I will probably write more about these over the next few months as I either adopt and use them or abandon and jettison them.

Unroll.me at http://www.unroll.me is a great service that will search your email account for all ”subscriptions” and then give you the option of unsubscribing all at once or one at a time from the ones you no longer wish to receive, or if you’re like me, ones you cannot remember ever signing up for to begin with. On first run, it found an amazing 240 subscriptions in my account! I unsubscribed from 160 of them! That will equal real time saved on a daily and weekly basis not having to deal with unwanted emails, even if just to delete them.

Box is a very robust service with a free plan that allows storage and access of up to 10GB of all kinds of data. There are several other paid plans allowing more storage and more administrative control. Use Box to upload a folder full of photos and then send a link to anyone you wish to be able to view them in a very cool format that even allows downloading if you enable that feature. It is most commonly used for group or team collaboration on projects that require multiple documents or document types. An admin can assign levels of access to the files in a project folder and each team member can contribute and collaborate on the project files without those files having to be stored on one of the team member’s local, personal devices. There is a web-based service and also apps for your mobile devices. There are even dedicated applications to use while working with files hosted on Box. For PC users, this means the full suite of Microsoft Office apps. Find out more and set up your account at http://www.box.com

Followup.cc is a web service that allows you defer reading or acting on received emails by employing follow-up triggers that will basically send the email back to you at a specified time or interval. For an email you want to read or act on tomorrow, you just forward the email to: 1day@followup.cc and send it. The original email will arrive 24 hours later. It can be used for a group or team to improve collaborative efforts. I plan to use it in lieu of ”flagging” so many emails for later reading. I have a ”Smart Mailbox” that collects all my flagged emails and I have gotten into a habit of flagging and archiving emails that I want to read at some time in the future, then never making time to actually revisit them to read and process. Followup.cc is a paid service with a modest monthly subscription fee of around $10 for 250 reminders. Check it out at http://www.followup.cc.

Pocket is both a web service and iOS/Android app that acts like a storage ”pocket” for anything from emails to videos, websites to images. I think it will be a nice tool for saving items that I want to explore further when I am in a web-browsing mood and serendipitously stumble upon something I want to spend more time reading or exploring. I have installed the Safari extension on my MacBook Pro and a bookmarklet on my iOS devices. It also integrates with Evernote and Dropbox so that anything I save to Pocket also gets saved as its own note in both of those apps. The difference between Pocket and Evernote is the difference between the pocket of my jeans and the change dish near my desk. I carry the change in my pocket just long enough to either spend it or stash it in the dish. Evernote is where I stash stuff I want to keep longer term. Pocket is a short-term place to put stuff to check out later. You can learn more at http://www.getpocket.com.

Feedly is a great RSS reader. It can be customized for the categories and subject matter that is particularly interesting to you. Using IFTTT (which you can read about below) Anything I tag for reading later saves automatically to Pocket, and anything I mark as a ”favorite” saves to Evernote. Create your own account on the web at cloud.feedly.com. There are also iOS and Android apps for Feedly.

IFTTTIf This Then That – is another cool web service that utilizes ”channels” to trigger actions. For instance, when I tag an article in Feedly to read later, it sends that article to Pocket and to Evernote. I am using 15 or 16 ”recipes” like this. I will spend more time with this service to create my own custom recipes. I want to create one that will recognize all emails from Apple iTunes and forward and file them in the appropriate folder in my Evernote account. You can look for recipes that will work for you at https://ifttt.com

Penultimate is an app by the developers of Evernote that will allow for writing, drawing, sketching, and doodling on an iPad. Every ”note” created in a Penultimate notebook gets synced to Evernote. I ordered a bluetooth enable stylus specifically designed to work with Penultimate. Unfortunately, when the stylus arrived I attempted to use it with no joy at all. My handwriting is remarkably poor. I have not written in cursive since high school, choosing instead to print, usually in all caps. The stylus doesn’t exactly make ”marks” where I touch it to the screen, but rather, somewhere very close by. It also doesn’t stop marking when I lift it off the screen, but if still in near proximity, it will continue to mark almost like an etch-a-sketch would. Printing, rather than cursive script, requires much more “touch and lift” technique. The JotScript stylus made my normal chicken scratch look like chicken sh*t! Frustrating! Oh well. You may have better handwriting, more patience, and therefore better success with both this app and the tool mentioned. I really wanted this to work for me. If you want to give Penultimate a try, it can be downloaded for free at the iTunes App Store.

Back on a positive note,  HelloFax is terrific, inexpensive, paid subscription service that allows both sending and receiving paperless faxes as PDF documents via a web-interface and email. I had previously been using Free Fax which has worked just fine for sending invoices to my customers by fax, but it does not offer receive capability, and the faxes look cheap and clunky. HelloFax has several cool features:

1 – Although the entire service is web based, you are assigned and actual telephone number. This way, it looks like the faxes are coming from and being sent to an honest to God fax machine.

2- It also integrates with Evernote. Every fax that is either sent or received gets filed in its own notebook as an individual, searchable, tagged note in Evernote. It also integrates with Dropbox where all faxes are stored in separate folders. Very cool! The faxes look great too! They also offer a service called HelloSign for signing documents and receiving signed documents from others. I plan to check it out soon. You can get a free HelloFax account at:https://www.hellofax.com?ref=32cdc1ed&s=F. Using this link will get both you and I five free pages in the first month of service.

FileThis, found at http://www.filethis.com is another very handy web service that will automatically pull statements from any account you specify and file those statements to their own categories and folders in Evernote or Dropbox. The ”forever free” version allows connection for up to 5 accounts and will poll those accounts monthly to download and file statements. There are several paid plans allowing connection of more accounts and more frequent downloading and filing. I love the idea that my statements for AT&T, Time Warner Cable, Piedmont Natural Gas and a couple of credit cards get automatically pulled and filed for me without me having to look them up, download them, or print them. Very cool.

I have written assuming that you already use either Evernote, or Dropbox, or both, to store files like documents (everything from receipts to tax returns), photos, and music and then synchronize and access those files across all your devices. If not, you owe it to yourself to check out what they can do for you

Point your browser to http://evernote.com , for Evernote, which uses the phrase “Remember Everything” as it’s raison d’être. I use this app everyday on my MacBook, my iPhone, and my iPad. It is one of the coolest, most useful apps I’ve found. One of the things that differentiates it from Dropbox is how conveniently you can search for anything that you’ve filed there. The contents of each “note” in Evernote is searchable, even hand written ones that have been created in Penultimate. The use of descriptive tags makes this process even easier and allows you to search for all the related notes that you’ve filed.

Dropbox is equally as useful and can be found at: https://www.dropbox.com. It is an online storage service that synchronizes files and folders from your computer and all your mobile devices. It is astonishingly simple in concept, but is unlimited in execution. I use it to store items that I may need to access from anywhere on any device. It is not as easy to search as Evernote, but I use it for larger, more “static” files for which it is perfect. It provides some redundant backup security too, since anything stored there is “offsite” and immune to theft, fire, loss, or accident.

I hope some of these services and apps will be helpful to you. Ari Meisel’s philosophy is that you shouldn’t spend time on things that can be automated and/or done by someone else cheap enough to allow you to focus on those things that can only be done by you. I agree. Some of these apps and services allow me to offload stuff out of my mind into a secure place that lets me get back to dealing with life at hand. Some of them just give me more time to chill in the real, er, non-digital world…

If you are using an app or service I haven’t mentioned that provides real value to your life, please add a comment to let me know. I love trying out apps and services that come already endorsed. Thanks!

To Thine Own Self Be True

I can’t trust myself to do the right thing all the time.

What do I mean by that?

For instance, last year, I spent the weeks from early August thru Thanksgiving at the end of November on a diet and exercise regimen during which I lost forty-five pounds. In the four months since Christmas, I have put twenty pounds back on.

For instance, I wrote at least five hundred words each day for almost a month recently, then I stopped altogether for almost a month. This is something I tell myself is extremely important to me, but I do not consistently make myself do the writing.

For instance, I downloaded a ”free” game on my iPad of the sort of quasi-historical, strategy types that I love. The game absorbed all my free time, and in two weeks, I spent nearly $500 on ”in-app” purchases to upgrade my ”free” game experience before finally realizing the stupidity of my actions and deleting the entire game.

For instance, I started in March on an ambitious goal to read at least one book per week. I made it through five books, which is not bad, but got sidetracked by the aforementioned game and the NHL playoffs. (I am admittedly a little bogged down in a William Faulkner novel that I’m still reading).

For instance, I set a goal to make at least sixty telephone calls each workday. This number of calls virtually assures me the income I need from my sales job. Some days I make fewer than ten!

I could go on. My personal history is unfortunately replete with instances of abortive performances like the few mentioned above. I am (and have always been) a great starter! I have not been a great finisher. I am determined to change that.

Toward that end I make resolutions and set goals. I use apps. I track. I update. I analyze. But all of those are intellectual pursuits that happen mostly in my head. In this respect, I’m like the habitual sinner who goes to church on Sundays to soothe his conscience, but who never repents and changes his life.

The things that I need to do, I need to DO!. I don’t need to just think about doing them.

I am not interested in ”self-improvement” except as a mine from which to dig out ideas. Yes, I subscribe to the ‘LifeHacker” RSS feed.

I am, however, very interested in self-actuation. I need to empower and feed my true self and stop wasting resources on the lazy, distracted, flabby-assed quitter, afraid of failure, who I allow to parade around as me.

I think each of us already has a self that we imagine we could be, but we seldom have the courage, conviction, and discipline to get that self off the bench and put that self into the game. That self doesn’t need improvement so much as it just needs a consistent opportunity.

I want to be true to that self! With the help of God Almighty, I am going to be true to that self! Why not? We only get one ride on the merry-go-round…

Words (or, the thing vs. the description of the thing)

I sell used tractor-trailers for a living. Often, I can sell trailers to my customers via photos that a seller forwards to me and I never have to leave my desk or dirty my hands. Sometimes, if the trailers are near enough, I go inspect them and take my own marketing photos. There are times I’ve inspected a unit “in the flesh”, and even done a write-up of its flaws, blemishes, and strong points; and then I get home to my computer and pull up the photos, and they don’t do justice to the trailer, or, on a more regular basis, they look better than the actual piece of equipment they visually represent.

Words are like that. They are oral or written abstractions of actual ideas, or of real world things, events, people, and places. Words are symbolic only and are not the thing described. Sometimes the words used are better than the actual thing (that would be descriptive of most advertising hype; which is short for hyperbole, by the way). Other times, the words don’t do the thing justice. Take the phrase, “What a beautiful sunset,” to convey the sight of a panoramic skyscape of surreal colors and lights so intense it can almost be tasted.

A common phrase you hear is: “Words mean things.”  And this is without a doubt true. But what exactly do words mean?  A skillful rhetorician (or thirteen-year-old drama queen) can torture words so that they become the literary equivalent of abstract painting compared to “real life?” On the other hand, Hemingway wrote in short, simple five word sentences and painted masterpieces his readers can vividly see and feel. In my attempt to sound intelligent and articulate, does my use of polysyllabic words in sentences cobbled together with commas and semi-colons conceal the “real thing” thing from my readers?

When I write, the whole point of the exercise is to strive to find the words and phrases that reveal the essence of whatever it is I’m narrating. I am sometimes frustrated that there are no better choices to describe a particular event or emotion. (Microsoft Word doesn’t recognize the word “skyscape” I used a couple of paragraphs above, for instance) I can imagine how aggravating this is for a genuine wordsmith or poet! I suppose this shouldn’t be surprising since it is obvious that words, whether oral or written, evolved sequentially after the thing or idea for which they were created to represent. Trees existed way before the word “tree”, or “arbre”, or even before the letters were first scratched out that are needed to craft these written words together…

The specialist, it is said, uses language that confuses, rather than enlightens, his hearers. The doctor’s use of jargon, for instance, creates a fog of mystification between the unwashed layman and the highly-trained-and-rigorously-educated physician that is himself. Thus a bruise becomes a subdural contusion exhibiting epidural edema. For fuck’s sake, it’s a bruise with some swelling, alright!? Other doctor’s may understand, but to the patient he is speaking in tongues. As St. Paul so eloquently said, “Unless the trumpet sounds a clear tone, who will prepare himself for battle?” The patient hearing the above diagnosis may think he’s facing an amputation when all he really needs to do is hold a bag of frozen peas on his injury.

A shared language, employed thoughtfully, is the most common framework we have for building understanding, establishing relationships, and convening cooperation…and vice versa, its misuse can create chasms of separation. I want to use words that capture the subject in the clearest most universal light. I want my word pictures to look like the real trailers, to the best of my ability. I want to engage my reader’s mind with my own to the degree that he never has to “leave his desk and dirty his hands” to figure out what the hell it is I’m trying to say. Such a goal will be worth keeping in mind as I continue to record my thoughts for whomever may eventually read them.

Big Green Egg

with side tables - 1

 

This past Friday, I purchased a Big Green Egg. It was a decision nearly a year in the making, and I thought I’d share my experience of the purchase, assembly, set-up, and initial cooking results with you.

For anyone who doesn’t know, the Big Green Egg is an oval-shaped Kamado style, ceramic/stoneware cooking system that uses charcoal as fuel and is designed to work as a grill, a smoker, and an oven. Unlike conventional charcoal or gas grills which are typically constructed of thin metal which are therefore not able to retain heat nor maintain a steady temperature very well, the BGE uses thick ceramic in the construction of it’s walls and domed lid for excellent heat retention and temperature stability. Used properly, these properties make the egg suitable for a wide variety of uses from grilled or smoked meats and veggies to brick oven pizza.

I have been toying with the idea of a ”BGE” since last May when I moved into the home I currently occupy and left my old, worn-out Weber propane grill behind. Two things made this a difficult decision for me.

First: Charcoal vs. Gas (Propane); I loved my Weber grill! It was a four-burner model with individual controls for each burner. The gas jets ran from front to back so it was easy to create an indirect cooking space of up to half the grilling area by simply turning off any two adjacent burners and leaving the other two ignited. My experience grilling everything from hot dogs to pizza has taught me that indirect cooking is essential to successfully cooking anything on a grill, and, while I was intrigued by the BGE, I was very skeptical about achieving this with charcoal, which obviously doesn’t respond to a ”control dial”. Gas is also very fast from on to done. It certainly wins in the speed category. With these two advantages, you may be asking why I’d even consider a charcoal grill at all. One word, ”FLAVOR!” I will discuss this more in-depth later on. My philosophy about the role of cooking and food is changing at this stage in my life, and I’ll discuss that as well.

Second: Expense; either choice was going to be costly! I mean well north of a grand, costly! Having been used to (and spoiled by) the four-burner Weber, I couldn’t force myself to downgrade to a different brand or a three-burner model. While a smaller cooking surface and fewer burners would certainly meet my needs (the BGE has a significantly smaller cooking area than my Weber had), I wasn’t willing to compromise on quality construction and a name I knew I could trust. I owned my Weber for 15 years! It gave me outstanding performance and I consider their products to be the highest quality. Big Green Egg won’t even advertise their prices online, so I had to go to an authorized dealer to find out that the model I wanted was going to cost $999.99 just for the egg. This didn’t include a stand or any accouterments. All told, the package I ended up with cost me $1295.36 out-the-door, including tax. The weber model I considered was pushing $1500, so, yeah, I needed to wait until I could justify (rationalize) the outlay on what is essentially a splurge.

Once I crossed the bridge mentally about spending the money, I really wanted to make sure that I was going to get value equal to my expectations. To me, this is the critical idea with any expenditure of any resource. Ultimately, as Thoreau says, “the true cost of an item is how much of your life you’re willing to exchange for it”. I believe that maxim is true with the caveat that while it is certain that one can never retrieve the quantity of life traded for any purchase, one can receive quality in exchange, thus achieving “value”. I want all of my trades of time to produce value. If I’m going to end up with less of quantity, I want to also end up with more of quality.

Having never used a Big Green Egg, and having no personal friends or acquaintances from whom I could receive first hand testimony, I relied upon my research on the internet and at a couple of resellers. This is an important step for me because I wanted to make sure my expectations were realistic. Resentment and frustration result when unreasonable expectations are allowed to take root. As I mentioned earlier, I had first hand experience with a Weber propane grill and I knew pretty much exactly what to expect. Do you wonder why I chose not to replace my worn-out Weber with another one? There are a couple of reasons:

First, I don’t have as much space for a grill as I used to have. My deck out back measures eleven feet by twelve feet. The deck I previously had for use with my Weber was at least sixteen by twenty. The Weber’s footprint is one and a half times as large as the Big Green Egg and a Weber cannot be placed diagonally into a corner without taking up significantly more space. I wanted to preserve as much seating and standing area on the deck as possible. The large model BGE I purchased tucks right into a corner and even with the optional side tables I purchased, takes up only forty-two inches of space in each direction. This leaves plenty of room to walk around the deck, access the grill, and have a couple of Adirondack chairs and side tables set up without feeling too cramped.

Second, I became enamored with the idea of charcoal, generally, and the versatility of using charcoal in a BGE, specifically. There is no doubt that propane is fast. It is relatively inexpensive to use also. A refill on a propane tank is around twenty to twenty-five bucks. I never kept an accurate count, but I imagine I could get a minimum of ten to twelve grilling sessions per tank. A twenty-pound bag of the recommended premium chunk charcoal (not briquettes) for the BGE is almost thirty bucks, $28.99 to be exact. I expect to get only eight to ten uses out of each bag. I’m sure that running out of charcoal will be just as much of a hassle as running out of propane, though finding premium charcoal at some odd hour of the night will undoubtedly be more difficult than finding a propane refill. But there is virtually universal agreement that food cooked over charcoal just tastes better.

Consider this: for my fortieth birthday, my ex-wife and I went to Chicago to celebrate. We ended up dining at the Weber restaurant just off of Michigan Avenue, where all of the meat is cooked on Weber grill. When I ordered steak, the waiter asked me if I wanted it prepared over charcoal or gas. He suggested charcoal, and said ninety-per cent of the patrons chose charcoal because of the superior flavor. ‘Nuff said!

Aside from the expectation of more flavorful cooking, I also was ready to experiment with different cooking techniques and cuts of meat. I wanted to try some things I’d never been able to do on a conventional grill. The BGE is an excellent smoker and slow cooker. It can be used for Boston butts, ribs, beef brisket, roasts, turkey, chicken, seafood, etc. as a low-temperature smoker. These were things I’d never been able to cook on my Weber, and I wanted to try something new.

The BGE also is apparently an excellent brick oven for pizza and other baked goods. I am familiar with grilled pizza on my old Weber. There’s no other pizza quite like it, so the BGE will have to be pretty damn spectacular to top that, but I know it’s an option. I used to be able to cook pizza crust directly on the grid on my Weber, then flip it, turn off the heat under the dough, add toppings and close the lid. The indirect side burners finished off the pizza and melted the toppings together. That method will be very hard to beat. With the BGE, since it is charcoal, I’ll have to purchase a pizza stone and use it with an add-on called the “plate setter”, and cook the pizza similarly to how it would be done in an oven, but with the added bonus of the charcoal smokiness.

I’m at a point in my life where convenience is not the most important thing anymore. When there were seven kids around, convenience and speed were non-negotiable essentials, now, I have time to savor some things in life. Food preparation and enjoyment is one of the things I plan to slow down enough to really savor. Toward that end, I hope I’m through with eating fast food in a car anymore. I’m not saying I won’t still succumb to fast food, but I’m either going to sit down inside or bring it home to eat it.

At any rate, my decision turned on the belief that the food I cook on the BGE will taste better than what I could cook on a gas-type grill, and that although it’s going to take more prep time to achieve that result, I’m ready and willing to be conscious and conscientious about that time. I also swallowed the idea that there was going to be a learning curve for me to successfully retrain my grilling habits and practices from gas to charcoal.

I made the decision to purchase the Big Green Egg, but I still wanted to get the best deal possible. Big Green Egg is a US company, headquartered in Atlanta, but I believe most of the construction of the units is done in Mexico. The proprietary design, quality materials, and fanatical following allow BGE to charge a premium for its products. They do not advertise pricing online, nor do they allow resellers to do so on the reseller’s own websites. I wanted to get the best deal possible and I was still trying to decide between a large or medium Egg.

Ultimately, I stumbled upon my decision about where to purchase by going into my local “Ace Hardware” store in Indian Trail, NC. I went in to buy some small washers for my oldest son’s longboard assembly. I noticed the Big Green Egg placards and advertising and asked one of the store personnel if they were, in fact, an authorized dealer. She assured me that they were and that they gave customers “excellent deals” on BGE purchases.

A couple of weeks later, which turned out to be last Friday (March 21st), I called and spoke to one of the employees at Indian Trail Hardware who told me that they do in fact offer package deals on purchases and told me about their current available promotion. I could purchase a large Egg at $749 (which is $250 off the retail) if I also purchased the “Nest” (a rolling stand), and the “Plate Setter” at full price. I knew that I wanted both of these items anyway so that was a deal to me. The same offer was made for a medium egg, but I was only going to less than $200 on the purchase and the large allows for cooking roughly double the amount of most items (eight steaks as compared to four, etc.). A large it was!

When I arrived at Indian Trail Hardware, I went to the display area and saw Eggs set up both in large wooden tables (a $500 purchase) and in the Nest ($164). I opted for the Nest as it was less expensive, provided mobility, and preserved the compact footprint that was important to me for conserving deck space. Most of the display models also had small side tables added on which were valuable as prep areas and also provided some hooks for hanging grill tools underneath. I purchased a set of them, called Table Mates, for an additional $105.

The only other purchase I made for my initial set up was of a cast iron grid for searing and grilling steaks. The BGE comes with a stainless steel grid that is well made and fine as far as it goes, but having cooked with cast iron skillets for many years, I was familiar with the excellent heat retention properties and I thought the wider spacing would provide better searing and more aesthetically pleasing “grill marks”. So, I shelled out another $65 for that. A very nice, knowledgeable young man named Matthew helped with my questions. He explained that he’d owned an Egg for two years. He eased my mind about the need for a cover, (you don’t need one), the cast iron grid (makes better steaks), and offered advice about smoking Boston Butts and Baby Back Ribs. He was extremely low-key and very helpful.

Matthew gave me the option of taking home a pre-assemble BGE right from the display area. I asked him how long it would take to assemble my own and he told me that he assembles them in 45 minutes, but that it usually takes over an hour for most people. He said that the assembled ones are cumbersome and asked if I had a way to roll it from my driveway to the back deck. When I told I did not, he said I’d definitely need help getting it out of the car, walked to the back and lifted onto the deck. I opted to assemble my own. I have a large kitchen floor that opens directly through double French doors to the deck so I figured I could take my time, watch some NCAA basketball in the process and roll the completed Egg out into position when I finished. Before leaving, I purchased a bag of Big Green Egg brand chunk charcoal and some starter blocks. BGE grills do not use briquettes, nor do you ever use lighter fluid with them.

My total purchase including the large model BGE, the nest, the “table mate” side tables, the plate setter, the cast iron grid, a twenty pound bag of charcoal, a box of starters, and a couple of box end wrenches I would need for assembly ran me exactly $1295.36. I know, I know. That’s a ton, but with a lifetime warranty, I figure to get my money’s worth.

Matthew and I loaded everything into the back of my Element and I headed home with my new Big Green Egg for an afternoon project, visions of ribeyes dancing in my head.

The load

Once home, I carefully unpacked the Element and the various boxes being careful to leave myself enough space to sprawl and spread out as I completed the assembly. I visited the Big Green Egg website at: http://www.biggreenegg.com for some excellent videos on assembly. The site is awesome! It provides video and written instruction on everything from assembly to cooking techniques and recipes.

unpacked in the kitchen

I have provided photos of the routine for each step of the process. I didn’t set a stopwatch, but I wasn’t in a race and it probably took me about 2 hours from start to final set up out on the deck.

nest -1nest - 2

 

 

 

 

 

 

The photos above show the nest assembled without the casters and then fully assembled with casters in place. The casters have lock down brakes to keep the Egg from rolling once it’s in proper position. The assembly was very straightforward and easy, Very detailed and illustrated instructions are provided. This part took maybe 15 minutes.

banding strapsStraps with handle and hingehandle, hinge, table brackets assembly

The part of the assembly shown by the photo above was perhaps the most “challenging”. A separate box contains the banding straps that are attached to the Egg and which serve to hold the upper dome to the lower half of the unit. The instructions were fine and precise and the website video for this part of the assembly is great, but I constantly needed to refer to the diagrams to make certain that the various pieces were facing the correct way and not upside down. Also, my choice to install the optional side tables had to be kept in mind. The instructions don’t mention side tables and it would be possible to construct the entire Egg, cinch down the banding straps and then realize there is no way to attach the table support brackets without disassembling the whole damn thing.

Fortunately, I took enough time to think through how the table brackets needed to fasten. The mounting studs for the brackets have to be pushed through the “egg side” of the strap out through the pre-drilled holes in the bands and brackets, then fasted with the provided acorn locknuts. One has to be careful to put the brackets right side up as well and this took some careful study of the illustrations because there is not a lot of immediate distinction and no markings on the brackets themselves for “L”, “R” or ⬆︎,⬇︎.

The photo above shows the bracket completed with the table mounts, hardwood handle, and hinge all attached and finger tightened, ready to be place on the corresponding halves of the Egg. I probably spent at least forty-five minutes on this part alone.

unboxing - 1 unboxing - 2 unboxing - 3unboxing - 4unboxing - 8unboxing - 5

unboxing - 6

 

 unboxing - 7

 

After completing the bands, it was time to unpack the egg from the main box. As the photos above illustrate, the components are nested inside one another and are well cushioned with cardboard and packing materials. I just set the smaller pieces like the fire grate and stainless steel grid aside to get to the larger halves. Getting the halves out of the box is a two-person job unless you are much stronger than I. Unboxing the pieces and setting them aside for the next step(s) of assemble was relatively quick. I spent another five to ten minutes on this stage.

 

lower half in nest - 1lower half in nest - 2

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The next step required lifting the lower half of the egg into the nest. I locked the brakes on the casters and lifted the lower piece into place. At around fifty pounds, it is rather heavy, but it slid into place easily enough. The ends of the nest “arms” have rubberized end covers that serve to both stabilize the egg by gripping the dimpled outer texture and also prevent marring the finish by the action of metal on ceramic. Once in place, I affixed the lower band onto the lower half and roughly centered the handle on the base of the unit. I then rolled the assemble outside for the final assembly to cut down on the weight I’d have to roll and lift over the transom of the door and down the few inches to the deck level.

Once outside, I lifted the domed upper half of the Egg into place making sure that the upper band with the handle on it fit around the outer circumference of the upper half. My OCD kicked in here and I spent quite a few minutes jiggling and moving the pieces in small increments to line everything up just so prior to tightening the bands on with a wrench. All together, these steps took about twenty to thirty more minutes.

 

hinged - 1

 

 

 

Here, you can see the hinged halves. Each bands (both upper and lower) is held tight by a single threaded bolt near the rear hinge of the unit. The directions call for the nut to be threaded on to this bolt so tight that as the ends of the band are pulled together, the bolt actually bends. The instructions amplify how important it is for all of the hardware to be securely tightened prior to releasing the spring guards on the hinge to prevent injury or damage to the unit. I took my time and went around each acorn nut and hinge nut making sure everything was good and snug. It was sweet to lift the lid for the first time.

with side tables - 2

with side tables - 1

I finished the side tables by mounting them onto the brackets that were already in place. I also secured the cast iron chimney vent to the vent stack with the supplied gasket tape. This piece is only used while cooking and works in conjunction with the sliding stainless steel door you can see at the bottom front of the unit to achieve the desired cooking temperature. At this point I was ready to put charcoal in the firebox and light this bad boy up! I had steaks ready to go!

firebox - 2first firefire with cast iron grid

It was nice to get the charcoal lit and to start to enjoy that unique aroma. The Big Green Egg charcoal is 100 per cent carbonized oak and hickory and made my deck smell like I was camping! I absolutely love that smell. That, gunpowder, and leather, and my nose is in heaven!

I was a little apprehensive about grilling the first steaks because I had become accustomed to a gas grill and by all accounts of those to whom I served steak, I was pretty darn good at it. I followed the lighting instructions and waited patiently for about twenty minutes for the charcoal to be lit for full coverage of the cast iron grid. The temperature had climbed to 600 degrees on the thermometer mounted on the front (which is higher than recommended for the first couple of uses to prevent damage to the gaskets that “seal and separate” the upper and lower halves), but I knew this would be the perfect searing temperature. When I placed the meat onto the iron grid, they sizzled in protest as I quickly shut the lid to retain the heat. I knew my first attempts would be trial and error by necessity but, I knew the maxim, “If you’re looking, you’re not cooking!” so I trusted that keeping the lid down would work best to retain moisture, get that good charcoal smokiness, and prevent flare ups from too much oxygen getting to the charcoal flame.

first steaks on the grill

I ended up cooking the thickest cuts about four minutes per side to get a good, barmy, charred sear on the outside, and then another two to three minutes per side to get to medium rare. These were thick steaks; about two inches for a great ribeye and an inch and three-quarters for a beautiful new york strip. They were just a touch on the rare side when I first pulled them off, but another minute or two on the still hot coals and they were absolutely perfect! In fact, they were the best steaks I’ve ever eaten anywhere in my life! (And that includes Ruth’s Chris and the Capital Grille).

ribeye and new york stripfirst new york stripsthe whole point

Not too shabby! I will be posting again about my first experience with smoking a Boston Butt and my first chicken grilling experience. Hope you’ve enjoyed reading this and that it’s answered any questions you may have about purchasing and setting up a Big Green Egg.

3-19-86, 28 years ago tonight, revisited…

Tapers Section 8 October 1989 | Grateful Dead as The Warlocks at The Hampton Coliseum

 

It always felt a little like being underwater down on the floor at one of the shows; underwater in an aquarium. The atmosphere was thick with people pressed close together and milling around trying to burn off nervous energy. Microphones sprouted in the center of the floor, the taper’s section, until there was a veritable garden of masts and mics about ten rows deep in front of the raised mixing board. The smell of cloves, patchouli, and pot hung in the air like fog in a river bottom. An occasional scream punctuated the chatter and drowned out the strange music playing over the PA. To a newcomer, they could be terrifying, but these were not screams of horror, rather of pent up psychic energy that had to be released lest the screamer burst. They were soul screams that sent chills down your spine. He took note that glow sticks were the new thing this year; Everywhere, the fluorescent rings and wands of light weaved and waived and wandered throughout the restless crowd. All the movement and energy made him think about the bubbles that first appear sparsely and slowly at the bottom of a pot of water that’s been set on to boil. As they heat, they multiply and move quicker and quicker until the whole pot is heaving bubbles. The crowd before a show always put that image in his mind. There was never a warm-up band. There was simply no need for one.

All of the sights and sounds and smells were familiar to him, everything on the outside that is. He had been to almost fifty of these. But something felt odd tonight; some gnawing on the inside that he couldn’t quite identify.

A head walked past and silently mouthed ”Doses”, only briefly catching his eye. He just smiled at him and shook him off. Doses, he had. Instinctively, he reached into the pocket of his jeans and fingered the shreds of paper; page trimmings from a sheet of blotter soaked in Lysergic Acid Diethylamide, probably three doses worth. These “scrap pieces” weren’t marked with little blue ”Earths” like the 100 hits on the sheet he’d scored earlier that day. These were just strips of paper like you’d tear off a ring binder. He went ahead and pulled out a slender shred and non-chalantly placed it under his tongue. Tasteless, he let the paper dissolve into mush, chewed it a couple times and swallowed. ”Around-The-World” it was called; only three days old, the length of time it had taken his connection to drive it from Berkley to Hampton. Maybe this will do the trick he thought, stifling the unspoken warning in his gut.

 

At a dollar apiece wholesale, the hundred-hit sheet would fund the rest of the thirteen-show tour. He knew he could easily sell it for minimum ten bucks a hit at the concerts. The investment of a hundred bucks would gross a grand and net him and Om nine-hundred. Plenty for the gas and cheap hotels they’d be staying in up the east coast. A large mark-up, sure, but this was the freshest acid he’d run across since the liquid they’d scored on the previous summer’s tour. Back home, he could have doubled the sale price. Om was also bringing some bumper stickers he’d printed up that they’d trade for food and pot. Plus, Om said he had nabbed some plain, white t-shirts from the gymnastics academy he worked for. For a little extra money, they could dye those and sell them to the locals who always came to the shows. So he figured that the finances for the 1986 Spring Tour were all set. First stop right here in Hampton, VA for three nights. The same venue where he’d come to his first shows almost four years earlier. He let his mind drift back to that first show…

He’d started with his buds from UNC up in the mezzanine seats, but by shows end had wandered down onto the floor somehow. From up top it just looked like the crowd on the floor was having more fun. The Dead never made the house set up individual chairs. It was all General Admission, so the floor provided lots of space for the all out dance-a-thon that most of the four-hour shows morphed into. Close to the end of the concert, he was dancing like crazy, sweating profusely, and smiling so hard his face hurt when the band broke into ”Good Love”,

Well, I was feeling, Oh so bad

So I asked my family doctor ‘bout what I had

I said now Doctor, (Doctor?)

Mr. MD, (Doctor?)

oh can you tell me?, (Doctor?)

what’s ailing me?, (Doctor?)

And he said Yeah, Yeah, Yeah, Yeah, Yeah (YEAH YEAH YEAH YEAH YEAH)

All you need, All you REALLY NEED

is GOOD LOVE,

GOT TO HAVE LOVE (Good Love)

GOT TO HAVE LOVE (Good Love)

Each time the chorus came around to ”good love”, the crowd on the floor screamed ”GOOD DRUGS!” as a substitute, and wildly flung their hands in the air like so many tentacles on one enormous greedy being ready to grab and gobble every illegal pharmaceutical known to man.

He was high and grinning at the crowd when out of the corner of his eye he noticed a bearded, shirtless hippy wearing a long necklace with one of those little tie-dyed knit stash bags fastened to it like you see hippies wear. And it was flopping and bouncing around as he danced. The guy was wearing nothing else but an American flag around his waist like a long, patriotic skirt. His face and long hair and beard looked like the pictures of Jesus you see everywhere.

”Whoa! Cool!” he thought to himself in his drugged state, ”Jesus is here!”

He was about to find out he couldn’t have been more right.

 

Thinking about his first shows helped ease his tension for a little while until suddenly the dose started kicking in. ”Damn, that’s quick! This is fresh,” he thought, ”better buckle up! We’re fixing to leave Kansas, Dorothy!” He hadn’t eaten all day; too keyed-up about the concert. That accelerated the acid racing through his nervous system and hi-jacking every neuron and dendrite in his brain. He tried to relax and look cool and realize that people really couldn’t hear his mind working, but soon he couldn’t get control of his thoughts. Within just a few minutes he couldn’t remember how long he’d been standing in that spot; hours it seemed. Nor could he recall exactly why he should still be standing there? He looked around at all the foolish people so stoned out of their gourds they were still acting like the concert was about to start, but surely after that much time it was already over wasn’t it? I mean, the house lights were up, and that weird music was coming out of the PA. He tried to remember what the band had played, but came up empty. His legs and body were tired, and he was sweating like he’d been dancing, but he looked around and noticed that the tapers still had their booms up. They’d be breaking down their gear if the show was over, wouldn’t they? Onstage, there were just a couple of the road crew tapping microphones and tearing duct tape to hold down cables, so it seemed there was still going to be a show.

He shook his head and blinked several times, trying to clear his mind and get reoriented in time. ”Shit!” he thought to himself, ”I’m plastered!” He dared not look anyone in the eyes anymore, (you never know who’s a NARC), and he knew his eyes must be as big as freaking saucers. Looking down, he saw that his red tie-dyed shirt was moving like he was under a big unseen fan. He even looked up, but all he saw was a latticework of catwalks and what looked like tiny stars a million miles up in the dome overhead. He had the thought that he was going to need to find somebody with pot to stand near so he could try to tone this down a notch.

He closed his eyes and was back in the room in the little beater motel with the guys from Berkley. He remembered pulling the five twenties out of his pocket and the one dude, TJ, taking the sheet out of its little greeting card envelope and shaking the trimmings into his hand. ”Here man, you take this, on the house.” He took the strips into his outstretched palm and after looking at all the one hundred little earths on what felt like perforated card stock, he slid the sheet back into the envelope and stood to stuff it into the front of his shorts. He put the shreds in his pocket. Replaying the scene in his mind, he remembered the big picture window looking out of the shabby motel room on the ground floor. ”Damn it!” he thought, “they never closed the freaking blinds!” How could he have been so stupid! Shit! SHIT! All at once he couldn’t escape the idea that he’d been set up. He could picture the whole parking lot from where he’d sat on the bed in the motel, and how he’d stood right up and tucked that envelope right into the front of his shorts like he was on a freaking movie screen or something. If he could see out, he knew they (the NARCS) could see in. They were probably in a van or something. How could he not have noticed? How could he have been so freaking stupid?!?

Coming back to himself on the concrete floor of the coliseum, these thoughts raced through his mind producing total panic. Why hadn’t they arrested him yet? He turned that over for a while, slowly turning in circles and checking out the people around him on the floor, looking for NARCs who couldn’t possibly fit in down on the floor. He tried to come up with an escape plan, but he couldn’t finish an idea. And his damn shirt was waving like a flag by now. I mean it was MOVING! That’s a dead give-away, he thought to himself. I gotta get rid of this. He tore it off and flung it into the crowd in front of him. Instantaneously, the lights went down. ”Did I do that?” he thought, ”just by taking off my shirt?” Somebody let out a blood-curdling soul scream.

 

Wild cheering erupted from the front now. The bubbles were crashing into each other, and the pot was going to boil! As if in a dream, he watched Jerry, very far away pick up Tiger and turn his back to hunch over his amp stack. ”BOOM!” ”BOOM!” ”rat-a-tat-tat”, pierced the air as Mickey and Bill tested their drum mics. Phil’s bass belched out a few notes he could feel. ”Whew,” he let himself breathe, ”finally”.

But then, his mind went off on it’s own again. That gnawing was back, worse than ever. He remembered the motel, the imminent bust. There was just no getting past the fact that he’d screwed up and been way to casual and trusting at the buy. Where would the cops catch him? Wait a minute! Suddenly it dawned on him. He had nothing on him but the few remaining trimmings in his pocket! They didn’t have anything to bust him with except that. He thrust his hand in and pinched the remaining slivers between his fingers. He shoved them in his mouth but he had no saliva to moisten the paper with. The previous dose coupled with his anxiety had completely dried his mouth. He closed his eyes and held the wadded up paper behind his clenched teeth. He pushed it around with his tongue and tried chewing from side to side, but there was nothing to give it any taste at all and his mouth remained dry. He finally bit down on it as hard as he could and pushed the little dry wad to the back of his throat with his finger. He looked up at the million mile high dome again and gulped hard.

The band was tuning still, taking forever. ”Jerry and the Tune-Ups” he thought. But he felt like his troubles were over when a joint was passed to him from a couple on his left. Holding it up, he arched his eyebrows, nodded a little bow of gratitude and took a long draw. He looked over to hand it back, but they were gone. (Had they really been there?) He held the vapor in his lungs as long as he could, but he didn’t want to be standing there with a lit joint in his hands. Not when he had just eaten the last incriminating evidence the NARCs could pin on him. He thought about stubbing it out on the concrete to save for a little later, but he was still too paranoid to be holding anything. So he took a step to his right, found the wildest looking deadhead he could see and bumped his elbow, the joint pinched between his fingers. When the guy looked around he offered it to him, ”Here man, take it! Enjoy!” Huge grin, bobble-head nodding, bony hand snaking out to snatch the smoldering joint, and it was no longer his to worry about.

”Alright,” he almost said out loud, ”let’s get on with the show!” A smile even crossed his face.

 

Rick and Ron are going to give you up, his mind told him then. He saw it clearly now. They had the sheet. He’d brought it back to their room after the buy, and they had told him they’d ”test” it tonight, and maybe sell a couple hits at the concert. The idea they were considering was buying the whole sheet from him for a thousand and then bring it back to Charlotte to sell for more than he could get on tour. They weren’t going to any more shows after the three in Hampton so if they bought it, he and Om would have the cash they needed and nothing in hand at the other cities. But these guys were new to the whole Dead scene. In his mind, he knew they were going to get popped, and he knew they’d squeal when that happened. The NARCs would cut them a deal to drop a dime on their connection for the sheet, which was him. Oh Shit!

”Sons-of-bitches!” he thought to himself, but now he was really afraid. Like he could ever have really trusted them. Like he could really trust anybody in this whole stinking world. His shirt was gone and with it the rippling hallucinations he’d been having. What else could he do to disguise himself? He pulled the bandana off his head and shook his hair out. Had he been wearing it during the buy in the motel? He thought so but couldn’t remember straight. What would they do to him? His friend and travel partner Bas_ had pulled 25 years in Richmond for just 25 doses. He was tied up with four times that much.

Just then, a wall of sound enveloped him and Bobby growled,

Well, I was drinking last night with a biker

And I showed him a picture of you

I said, “Pal, get to know her. You’ll like her.”

Seemed like the least I could do…

…and those crazy, eerie dark chords were playing, and Phil’s bass was thundering, and those two drum sets were crashing, and he was listening as hard as he could for some message to come through the music; a message to help him escape his coming doom. And everything was one big soup of frantic motion. The pot had boiled over! Everybody was dancing like mad, his favorite thing to do in the whole world, but he was glued to the spot where he stood. Around him a sea of color, a kaleidoscope of sights and sounds, and he felt a little dizzy and a little sick when he gazed up at that dome again. But it had somehow receded and was much farther away, or else he’d gotten very small, and somehow he knew that the world outside of this kettle no longer existed, whatever and whoever was trapped inside it was all that remained, and he couldn’t quite get his mind around that when the chorus came,

I may be going to hell in a bucket, babe,

But at least I’m enjoying the ride.

At least I’m enjoying the ride!

At least I’m enjoying the ride!

And a thousand voices all around him screamed in unison:

“Ride! Ride! Ride!”

Then, all the commotion ceased for a brief moment, and there was total silence in his head except for the One Voice that would change his life forever. A simple, reasonable question was all It asked,

”Are you having that much fun?”

And at that moment, from the depths of his very soul, he knew that the Voice was God, and that he was condemned. He was going to die and he was going to hell and God was completely just to send him there. All of the actions of his selfish existence had paid the price of the ticket for this last carnival ride and it wasn’t going to stop until it reached the one destination it could stop…the gates of hell.

His life started flashing before him, not like in a movie, with scenes and such, but glimpses and remembrance of opportunities he’d squandered, wrongs he’d done, and the singular, insipid foolishness that his lifestyle had harmed no one but himself. And then his words attacked his memory; all his many, many, endless foolish words. The way he could talk and bend logic, and reason away faith and God, and all the stuff he’d labeled myth and nonsense. And how he’d made fun of the preachers on campus, and on tv, and how he’d gone to Christmas Eve services this past year with the guy he’d lived with high on cocaine, and how they’d come home to do more coke and laugh at Jim Bakker and PTL, and how even that night with his heart beating out of his chest, he’d mumbled a false promise to God that if he kept him alive he’d stop doing coke, but that wasn’t true either. He’d laughed and mocked and considered himself so damn smart and above it all, and now the last laugh was going to be on him.

He thought about lying to his grandparents, and not paying for the car they’d bought him. Leaving town and going clear across the country on his hippy pilgrimage, and driving it north into Wyoming to evade them when they’d flown out to Denver the summer before to reclaim it when they’d learned he was on tour following the Grateful Dead, a “cult”, around the country.

And he thought about that trip out west and Yellowstone, and the Grand Tetons, and the double-rainbow in the Idaho sky, and Coos Bay, Oregon, and Donner Pass, and the river in Truckee, and camping in the Redwood Forest, and the two weeks in Mt. Shasta, and the concert on the side of the ski-slope and all the amazing things he’d seen, and people he’d met, and the times he’d had, high times, good times, fun times, but…that question was haunting him.

”No!” he screamed, ”There’s not that much fun in the whole world to go to hell for! You can’t have that much fun!”

 

He found himself in the bathroom somehow, sweaty hippies crammed in on all sides. No music was playing so it must have been the break between sets. He didn’t know if he’d blacked out after the opening song. He was just amazed to be conscious that he was still alive; one heartbeat away from hell, but still alive, nonetheless. He looked up into a mirror and saw a complete stranger. It was as if he was looking at someone else’s form. He couldn’t even look at this person in the eyes, whoever it was; chest panting, ribs showing, sunken cheeks and hollow, blood-rimmed eyes, wild, wavy hair all over the place, with a matching red beard that was soaked with sweat. He leaned over and splashed cold water onto the strangers face. When he straightened up there was still no spark. He knew it was his body, but he knew that person was under judgment and the sentence of death, of death and hell.

Back out in the hall, carried along by the current of faceless, nameless people, he could feel that they knew it too. He no longer belonged. He no longer fit. He was no longer ”enjoying the ride.”

By the time the second set started, he’d somehow made it upstairs, drifting like so much human flotsam on the tide of beaded, bearded hippies. The current deposited him at a vantage point above the mass of swirling deadheads on the floor. He was miserable. All he could think of was his guilt. He was condemned and guilty as charged, and he’d somehow thought that God was okay with all of this. ”How deceived could I have been?” he thought to himself.

When the band opened the second set with China Cat Sunflower, he wasn’t surprised. In October of the previous year, he’d gone out of his body and nearly od’d when they’d opened the second set with this same song in Charlotte, his hometown. He felt like the same thing was going to happen now. The only thing that kept him from giving in to that feeling was how terrible it all sounded. It was like the band were all playing the same song but each one of the six at a slightly different rhythm or a slightly different key than the other five. It was sheer cacophony! It was painful to listen to it and to have to watch the people around him and on the floor below, jerking and twitching and gyrating and waving their skinny arms with the bracelets sliding all up and down their skinny wrists, and whirling in circles with their skirts spinning out like a child’s top, and the glow sticks splashing dabs of moving color everywhere. He hated every bit of it. He no longer belonged.

Just then he looked up to see a scrawny guy with a little goatee, grinning like an imp with rivulets of straggly hair cascading over his shoulders, hopping towards him. He positively glowed when he shouted in absolute glee, ”There’s that China Cat!”

And the little imp glided over to where the condemned man stood as if they’d have one last bone dance before the execution. And he looked vaguely familiar, and he realized it was Don Bas_ who had travelled with him that entire summer when they’d gone everywhere from Boulder to San Francisco to Houston together; but no, he faintly remembered, Don was in federal prison in Virginia for selling acid to an undercover cop at the Richmond show the day after Halloween and biting the cop’s thumb in the back seat of the car. So who the hell was this??? And he was more confused now than ever.

”I feel like the devil,” he finally admitted to himself. And as soon as he’d thought it, magic dust fell through the air, like an invisible fairy godmother had emptied her wand onto everything. He could see the air shimmering and glimmering with the magic particles. And in one beat the band was perfect, and the lights shone out from the top of the stage, and he could feel it again, I mean REALLY FEEL IT! And this weird beared creature was bouncing up and down in front of him, smiling his head off like it was the greatest possible climax of joy. And he smiled a little, and let himself start to sway and rock with the syncopated rhythm for one brief moment, and then an eruption from somewhere deep inside him, ”NO! NO! I WANT THE TRUTH! I WANT THE TRUTH!” Was he shouting? Could Don’s twin hear this outburst? He didn’t know, but in that moment, the band sucked again! Like they’d never rehearsed the song before. And the air was cloudy with somebody’s cigarette, not magic dust. And the smell of the smoke was acrid in his nostrils, and made his stomach nauseous, and he would have given anything for a drink of water.

 

The next thing he knew, he found himself outside. There was still an outside! He was on an incline heading down. It was the ramp from the coliseum down to the parking lot. He could hear the muffled song playing from behind him inside,

”Go! Go Johnny Go, Go

Go! Go Johnny Go, Go

Johnny B. Goode…”

The concert was over because he knew they only ever played that as an encore. What now? He started to shiver because it was drizzling rain and he’d thrown his favorite shirt away. It was only a few degrees above freezing. Even though he’d managed to escape from the ”bucket”, he had absolutely no illusions that he had escaped from hell. He was being pressed down the incline that would spill them four abreast across the sidewalk and out into the parking lot in a few dozen yards. Some headlights were already on, and some speakers were already blaring more dead tunes. The circus was going to go into it’s next act right out here he knew full well. He couldn’t remember where the hell they’d parked. He’d pushed everybody to get there early and indeed they had. There’s had been the first damn car in the lot early in the afternoon. Then they’d all freaked out, figuring they were sitting ducks to park so close to the front, so they’d circled the place about a hundred times (that wasn’t conspicuous!), before blending in with other early arrivers. But he didn’t’ really want to find the car, fearing he’d die in a car crash. Maybe his heart was finally going to give out, it was certainly beating hard and fast enough

He stumbled ahead. His mind was numb and devoid of every thought except the certainty that he was going to die and that he was going to hell. Probably tonight, but definitely soon, he knew. He was supposed to rendezvous with Om and Rich and Deb after the show and they had talked about drinking Becks in the parking lot and then grabbing something late to eat at The Jewish Mother before heading to the hotel on the other side of the bay-bridge.

He didn’t want to drink, didn’t want to eat, and didn’t want to see his friends. He was cold and alone and disenchanted with his whole life as a deadhead and small-time dealer he’d spent three and a half years cultivating. Every single choice he’d made on that journey was going to land him in an inescapable hell.

 

When he first saw her, he was repulsed. ”Another hippie chick,” he thought, ”just what I need.” But she was unavoidably in his path standing at the bottom of the ramp. She held a lime green Day-Glo flier aloft in her hand. He shuffled a little sideways to avoid her but she anticipated his movement and stopped him dead in his tracks. She pushed the folded paper into his hands and stood there in the drizzle. She looked up at him as he focused on the words written on the fluorescent paper,

”How Much Are You Worth?”

Lovely, now the cosmos was taunting him, he thought, what a sick joke! He rolled his eyes and almost threw it on the ground, disgusted with himself, with the girl, the parking lot scene, with the idea of his own complete and utter worthlessness.

And then he unfolded the paper and saw the picture.

It was a bleeding hand, pierced by a nail, fastened to a piece of wood.

The caption beneath the picture read,

”God thinks you’re worth the death of His Son”

He doesn’t know how long he stood there staring at that picture and bathing in the radiance of the most beautiful words he’d ever seen. He wasn’t cold anymore, or high, or scared. He was incredulous that at that moment, at that place, at his most broken and destitute, his life was forever changed.

”Do you want to be saved?” the girl asked.

”Oh yes!” he said without hesitation, ”Yes I do!”

And they bowed their heads while she led him in a prayer of salvation, to the God of Love, Father of the Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, Who, even though this story happened 28 years ago, today, still seeks and saves that which is lost.

Perspective

I slept in this morning. I didn’t wake up and drag myself out of bed until 8:30. That’s highly unusual for me. I usually wake up before my iPhone alarm goes off at 6. Last Sunday I slept until 8 but that was only because I was up late with my girlfriend and we lost an hour due to the onset of Daylight Savings Time.

Anyway, this morning I was just tired…not so much physically as emotionally. I went to bed a little defeated and a little deflated from a shitty Friday. I made a bad decision to drive 3-and-a-half hours one way, 7 hours round trip, to look at a single trailer that turned out to have 6 bad tires and a bent up ICC bumper. Not only was I not going to be able to buy and re-sell this piece of crap, to make matters worse, I missed out on a good trailer that I could have sold and made a thousand dollars, but because I was on the road chasing this bad one, I failed to make the necessary calls to quote and promote the good. My boss ended up selling it instead. When that happens, I make zero.

Learning of this driving home, I was so pissed off that I couldn’t even enjoy the fact that I was burning up miles in my relatively new Mini Cooper S. Although I’ve had it 4 months, this was the first trip I decided to drive it that was over a hundred miles. The car did fine and I could have turned my attention to the enjoyment of tooling along on a secluded country highway in my little sports car. This car is one of those rare purchases that continue to provide value in terms of the experience gained; but I was numb to it because of my bad attitude. All I could think of was fifty-five dollars of wasted premium fuel, the lost thousand, and the money I wouldn’t be making on the trailer mired in Podunk, South Carolina.

Today I can look back and see that I let the perception of what I’d lost in time and money overcome my gratitude for what I still had. That simple matter of perspective ruined my day, my attitude, my diet, and my sleep. I was snippy and bellicose with my boss; and he noticed. I was moribund and disinterested on the phone with my girlfriend, and she noticed. I didn’t spend any quality time with my children. Whether they noticed or cared I don’t know, I was too busy eating half a bag of potato chips and half a tub of sour cream and onion chip dip, and veg’ing on a basketball game I didn’t care about.

Looking back this morning, I realize afresh how stupid and costly wrong thinking is. I compounded my loss of quantifiable time and income by getting angry and depressed and expending emotional capital. By being an ass to my boss, indifferent to my girlfriend, and emotionally unavailable to my kids, I expended relational capital. Binging on chips and dip expended physical capital and wasted hours of jogging I’d put in earlier in the week. Sleeping on all that turmoil burned up a few hours of the most valuable capital, time.

Although it is more difficult to keep account of the running balance of emotional, relational, and physical capital, those are still finite resources that are easy to deplete. For me, yesterday was a day of deficit spending in every resource category I could tap.

I made the mistake, all in my head, of focusing on the negative rather than the positive. I refused to stop thinking about what I wanted that I’d somehow been denied instead of remembering what I had then (and still have) that could not be taken from me because it is immaterial and doesn’t fluctuate with a trailer sale. I’m ordinarily an optimist because I consistently choose to do this one thing.

I’m not optimistic because I pretend things are great when they aren’t. I’m optimistic because I’m grateful for the good things that are.

I preach these truisms to my kids all the time;

“Be grateful!”

“Focus on what you have, not on what you don’t have!”

“Count your blessings!”

“Let go of things you cannot change by your own actions!”

This morning, I’m still out a thousand and fifty-five bucks. I still don’t have a trailer to try to sell Monday morning, and my scale was up by a pound, but choosing to practice what I preach, I am conscious that I am also:

Sitting out in the warm, spring sunshine on my back deck;

Loved by a God Who Is Love,

Listening to the happy warble of birds singing,

Enjoying American Beauty playing on my old, faithful iPod,

Fortified with a cup of my favorite coffee in my favorite mug,

Writing this with a MacBook Pro on my lap,

Armed with both an iPad Air and iPhone 5s on the table beside me,

Filled from an empty Chobani Peach Yogurt cup keeled over beside them,

Secure in the knowledge that my kids are still snug in their beds upstairs,

Warmed and fulfilled by a great conversation with my wonderful girlfriend,

Counting these blessings, which are only a sample of all the blessings I could enumerate, I can exhale and proclaim, “Life is Good!”

Nothing has changed from yesterday’s disappointments except my perspective, and thus, everything has changed.