The Great American Dirtbags

The Great American Dirtbags
The book that you can judge by its cover. $13.99 or cheaper on Amazon, or even better at your local bookstore.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Five (years) On It

“Do you think Durango is the final stop for you?” my co-worker turned friend, Peyton asked me.

            She was telling me about her plans to move up to the Front Range after she graduated college, and wondered what I would be doing after she left.

            “I think so,” I said. “Durango is perfect for me.”

            “I’m nervous about the move,” she said.

            “All great things in life should make you at least a little nervous,” I gently suggested.

            Recently the machine that is Facebook reminded me it was exactly five years ago that I moved here to Durango. It showed me the jalopy I packed full of every possession I owned, and I could practically taste the fear. I was 32 and after ten years in the little icebox that is Gunnison, Colorado, I needed a new start. Problem was I was terrified of starting over.

            I remember when I moved here I knew I had a limited amount of time of grocery store anonymity, and other things that come along with small mountain town living. I liked that for a second - in Gunnison everyone knows everyone and it can be confining at times, especially in the dating world - but after a while of flirting with Durango as a place to live I knew I wanted to become a member of this community.

            Durango was tough at first. I moved here just after the economic crash and work was scarce. I’d spent years honing my writing skills and was hoping to quickly find a good paying gig. When that didn’t happen I went back to my other profession of working in the food industry, and started a publishing business on the side.

            When I first moved here I had all the time in the world to do whatever I wanted. I had a couple bucks saved from my old 9-5 and a plush housesitting gig up in Durango West 2. I used to run along the Animas River almost every day. One day I picked a spot just past the Main Ave. Bridge and sat there and meditated on what I really wanted out of life. The river was especially peaceful and lush there with trees gently overhanging over the green water. It came to me - all I wanted was to build my life with love in this little town where the mountains meet the desert, perhaps until I die. Day after day I would stop at that spot and reflect on my vision.

            Slowly the anxiety of starting over started to fade. Grocery store conversations started happening. I became friends with some of the baristas where I holed up and wrote and read for hours on end, like the answers to dreams are in stories (they are). I remember the feverish week when I read “Love In the Time of Cholera” by Gabriel Garcia-Marquez and my heart travelled a thousand miles all while sitting there drinking coffee.

            Fortunately the economy did bounce back and these days I’ve got more work than I have time. My leisure days of being a stranger and losing myself in books in coffeeshops for hours on end are gone. Each and every minute seems valuable and precious these days. Daydreaming has to lead to action, after all dreams are realized with work.

            Work, dreams, and the landscape we live within are all nice things, essential to the modern person, but I think what has made me love Durango the most in the community, transient as it can be. The modern world is full of illusionary connections, like we’ll immediately fall in love with someone we meet on Tinder, or we think we know what our friends’ lives are like based on their Instagram photos. Starting over in your thirties is hard, and the fact that I truly feel like I have a real community of friends in five short years here in Durango says something really powerful about this place.

            So this brings us back to my friend Peyton. We started work together the same week three and a half years ago. She was 20 and just started at Fort Lewis. At first she seemed very shy, but over the years we got to know one another; working in a busy restaurant kind of guarantees you’ll get to know your co-workers, and you gravitate to those people you get along with best.

            After a couple years we ended up living on the same street, and in the summer we would both ride our bikes to work. We jokingly formed a bike gang, and during those summer nights riding home we would tell each other about our lives (mostly our love lives). It was like the conversations I had in my mind with the Animas River, but with my friend. Saying a dream aloud keeps the dream alive.

            Summer nights always pass by don’t they, and life moves on. Peyton moved to a different apartment, and right around that time she started dating someone. Now they are planning to move to the Front Range together. When she told me that it really hit me how fast life is flying by. Just yesterday it seemed like I was the new kid on the block in Durango, and now I’m seeing good friends move away to follow their dreams.

            When I first heard the news of Peyton and her boyfriend leaving (he is a good friend and co-worker of mine as well) I lamented that they would no longer be in my day-to-day life here in Durango. More than anything though I think we should want our friends and family to be happy and follow their own dreams. My dreams took me to Durango, and I was scared as shit that they would never come true. You know what though, they did, and my life is more balanced and happy than it was before. Friends come and go, but really they are always with you.

            And since its Thanksgiving, I’ll end the piece by saying this: to the people of Durango I’m thankful for you.

This piece was published in the Thanksgiving issue of the Durango Telegraph. 

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Dirtbag in The Big Apple

As a writer it’s impossible not to have a literary, even romantic notion of New York City. Jack Kerouac called it, “the place where paper America is born.” He was my first writing guy. I would say hero, but Kerouac’s life was too sad for him to be a hero to anyone. (Like many great writers before him he relied a little too much on drugs and alcohol, and died a young death.) He simply had the prose that made me fall in love with the written, printed word, so much that I decided one day I would become a writer myself.

            So now I write. I write to you. What a strange job it is to be a creative writer, especially writing columns like this one. The Telegraph gives you these words for free, and asks for nothing in return. I try my hardest, once a month, to entertain you with a short story. In turn I get a modest check - enough for a trip to the desert.

The brevity might be easy for the modern blogger, but it’s a challenge for me to keep it to a thousand words for a piece, I like to go long; if this is the era of short attentions spans, thinking beauty can be summed up in the caption of an Instagram post, I’m old school, like Kerouac waxing for thousands and thousands of words, trying to put into words that magical feeling life sometimes provides, and finding meaning even when it doesn’t.

            I’ve seen a little magic in New York City, but when I was there last week, I was not looking for a muse, I was just on book tour, and visiting my brother, Clint and sister in law, Kelly, who recently moved from Manhattan to the suburbs just over in New Jersey.

I’ve been traveling and doing presentations for a couple years now. Sometimes I get an eager audience, a packed house that will pay attention to every word in a story. Other times attendance is sparse, especially when the host doesn’t promote the reading properly. The difference is striking, when people show up I’m energized and confident, when they don’t I feel defeated. I believe in my dream though, and I’m willing to follow it wherever it may lead me. Plus, I don’t drown my sorrow in booze or let my highs and lows get too extreme.

            We started the trip off by driving to New Paltz, a quaint little village on the edge of the most famous climbing area in the East Coast: The Gunks. We were accompanied by Lizzy, their tiny little adorable dog, a greyhound-chihuahua mix. Usually I don’t like little dogs, especially the ‘yipper’ ones who bark at everything, stuck in their Napoleon complexes and afraid of the world. This dog, that they rescued from a shelter, is different. She rarely barks, and is cute and sweet as could be. Even her incessant licking is endearing.

            She’s also tough, and smart. Clint once lost her in Central Park, about a mile from their apartment complex. He panicked, a tiny little 12-pound dog lost amongst the hustle and bustle of New York. An hour went by and he couldn’t find her. She could be anywhere he thought, in the massive expanse of Central Park, or lost on the busy streets of Manhattan. This was their beloved dog and she could be gone, forever.

            While Clint was frantically looking for Lizzy, she decided that she wanted to return home, and she did, running through Central Park crisscrossing Manhattan traffic to the apartment, somehow finding someone to let her in, and climbing up six flights of stairs to their doorstop. Oh, the places you’ll go Lizzy!

            So the place we’re going, The Gunks, is well loved and appreciated and the small village of New Paltz is picturesque. Plus, our timing is perfect; the leaves on the trees have cascaded into an epic variety of yellow, red, and orange. The air is crisp, and the nostalgic fall unfolding. Forget climbing, all I want to do is drink pumpkin beer, huddle up by a fire, and listen to Frank Sinatra.

            After a little bit of climbing, some leaf peeping, and a couple pumpkin beers we roll into downtown for my presentation at the local gear shop, Rock and Snow. There’s a packed house, and the vibe is high. I show the premier a Beatnik inspired short climbing film I’ve been working on, and it’s well received. To be so warmly welcomed so far away from home feels all warm and fuzzy.

            The next day we drive through horrendous traffic back to Jersey, and I get a taste of that aggressive driving they are well known for. Luckily, Clint and Kelly live close to a train station, so our commutes into the city our less dramatic than wondering if I’ll die at the hand of some agro-Jersey motorist.

            It’s nice to have some chill time with my brother; life stretches us apart in this modern world, doesn’t it? We walk around some parks, go shopping for Halloween costumes, and get a drink at a well-lighted place. That night we plan to see if we can get into the Comedy Cellar, the famous comedy joint in Manhattan. I’d been there years before, with the whole family: mom, dad, grandma, aunt, and even some cousins. Now, I come from a conservative, Midwestern family and the material on a Saturday night at ‘The Cellar’ is profane to say the least. The famous comedian Louis C.K. happened to be on stage that night, and while he ranted about the grooming of pubic hair, amongst other things, I tried to block it out of my head that my dear grandmother was sitting right next to me.

            You never know who is going to show up at this club, after all its New York City, and I’m secretly hoping maybe like I’ll get to see Dave Chappelle or Jerry Seinfeld. This night, however, we’re waiting standby behind thirty other people, and we don’t even get in.

             Our backup plan turns into a delicious sushi dinner. Later I learn from Clint and Kelly that you can openly drink on the train ride back home. That sure beats fighting traffic!

            The next day I have a presentation at a climbing gym in Brooklyn. Clint and I walk the streets beforehand, and stroll through a park. I’ve heard so much about Brooklyn, my favorite musicians hail from there, and in my opinion the hip-hop that came out of Brooklyn in the 1990s is the best rap that has ever been created. As they say, Brooklyn goes hard!

            I get a modest turnout at the presentation, and a warm reception. Another success. Later, I learned that Jay Z and BeyoncĂ© were playing just a few blocks away at the Barclay’s Center. While I usually would have lamented missing two incredible artists and being so close, arena shows aren’t exactly my thing.

            The next day was a marathon travel day, flying back to Albuquerque, and then driving back here. I did get to catch the sunset in New Mexico, a pink and orange cascade that just seemed to keep going with me, as the Subaru drove into the sky, back home in time for a few more weeks of this nostalgic, stunning autumn.

This article is published in today's Durango Telegraph.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Hit Me Up On My Pager Yo!

“What is this photo of you doing jello shots?” my Mother asked me at a family gathering last year.

She was scrolling through my Facebook photos on her trusty iPad and happened to come by some shots of my recent birthday party. In my mid-thirties I’m well past the stage of trying to hide anything from my Mom, but I felt the need to offer some context.

“Well, my friend Gala, who has the same birthday as me found out that I’d never done a jello shot and she basically forced me to do one,” I explained to my dearest Mother.

What I didn’t explain is that I was scared of Gala. Yes, I’m a grown man and I’m scared of a woman. Once on Halloween I was dressed in a woman’s sexy kitten outfit, and Gala was dressed as a zebra. Gala often gets quite aggressive when she’s drunk, and I was easy prey. While doing some moves on the dance floor Zebra Gala ended up kicking me in the face, leading me to the bathroom for ten minutes while I tried to stop a profusely bleeding lip. So when she found out I’d never done a jello shot before and insisted I do one, I didn’t try to argue with her.

Sometimes I miss the days before every little single moment was recorded on social media. I come from the last generation who went to college before the social media revolution took off. Which is good, because college is for making mistakes, and realizing what type of mistakes you don’t want to keep making for the rest of your life. Having my college career on the interwebs for a future employer to see would have probably ensured I would have never gotten a job after graduating.

I also come from the first “screen generation”. One of the most thrilling moments of my childhood is when my parents gave in and bought my brother and me a Nintendo. We were obsessed with it, playing Super Mario Brothers and Zelda until our parents cut us off. Luckily, we were also into sports, and we had some exercise regiment to combat the stagnant lifestyle that often comes along with video games. Computers came along later, but up until smart phones and social media were invented they didn’t dominate our lives like they do now.

Yes, I come from the last generation of phone callers and note passers. The generation that remembers calling a girl’s house and the accompanying fear that her parents might answer. And making mixtapes for a girl, poring thought into each and every song. When the only way to access adult entertainment was stealing a Playboy from someone’s Dad, and hope to God you didn’t get caught. When people had pagers, and often used pay phones, and if you were lucky enough you would get a page that read: *69, which means you were going to get some action.
But I had no game then, I didn’t really know how to talk to girls until I was in my early twenties; I was as scared of them as I’m as scared of Gala in a zebra outfit now.

I did have pager, though. A couple of my friends, who were selling dirty brown brick weed, had pagers and I wanted to be cool and have money like them and sell weed. Problem was my Mom. She found the pager and freaked out. “Drug dealers use pagers,” she said.

I thought about trying to angle saying I was just hoping for a “star 69” but that wouldn’t work, and I lost the privilege of a pager.

Part of growing up in my generation means that I was alive when 2 Pac and Biggie were alive; these two rappers were both murdered in their twenties and to this day still remain cultural icons. (Their murders are still unsolved as well. WTF?) Just the other day a 20 year old I work with at my night gig at a local restaurant told me, “Dude that’s so cool, you were, like, around when Biggie was alive, what was that like?”

That could have made me feel old, but I guess I’m too young to feel old just yet. I think its cool that hip-hop is now the oldies, and the original living hip-hop pioneers are now graying and becoming grandfathers.

I do feel blessed that the obsessive recording of every single minute event wasn’t going on when I was young. I don’t need to see what you had for lunch on my Instagram. Speaking of Instagram, this same 20 year old, bless his heart, recently got busted at work for taking shirtless selfies in the bathroom during his shift. When another co-worker, a 16 year old, whose maturity pretty much is the same as the 20 year olds, noticed the photos on his Instagram feed when he was eating his shift meal, he made fun of him (as he should). He also called him out for taking the photo at work. The 20 year old tried to deny it, but the 16 year old called him out, “You’re wearing those same pants and the background is our bathroom,” he said. Busted.

I’ve never understood the compulsive urge to take a selfie, that’s where my generation and the current generation differ, but I can relate to being young and still figuring things out. Lately I’ve been hearing this idea that the decision making part of your brain does not fully develop for a man until around 23 years old (slightly earlier for women). This makes such perfect sense as I get older, and look back on how I lived my life during my first years of so-called adulthood. What a shame this is! We are forced to make many important life decisions before our frontal lobe in our brain fully develops.

These days there are so many more ways to get in trouble than when I was nurturing my young brain in all the wrong ways. Still, I managed to mostly come unscathed, my mind fully intact, and most of the photos of my college mistakes are tucked away in a cardboard box up in my attic.

I can’t say I’m all that different than some of these kids who didn’t know a pre-Facebook world. I like being liked, right swiped, favorited, re-tweeted, endorsed, and tagged. I just also remember the romance when you had to put yourself out there a little bit more, but I doubt any of the girls I made mixtapes for are still holding onto them. It’s an ephemeral existence we are living.

I think the main problem with all this new media and technology is thinking that Instagram photo is more important than the actual moment at hand. My best moments are when I’m away from a cell signal, and thank God those places still exist. Someday they might not. Or maybe some giant crash will happen and we’ll have to go back to the old ways of living. I think the years before cell phones were more romantic anyways. Either way, I’m damn sure I’ll never do another jello shot…unless Gala forces me to!

Check out my books, Climbing Out of Bed, and The Great American Dirtbags

Friday, September 11, 2015

Squamish poetry

Poetry is my first true love in writing. I wrote poetry before I thought of myself as a writer, and poetry readings are some of my favorite events to go to. Here's some random lines I wrote in my journal in Squamish this past summer:

Blackberry bushes beneath
Days planned
Rarely do they go
according to plan

Slabs say trust me
but dont trust me
trust yourself

Filling our futures with follies and fantasies
knowing there will be falls on walls
whippers runouts fear and failure
and being okay with it

Climbing is my daily bread
Like water it keeps me going
Keeps the mind sharp
the muscles moving
but, why? why?
have i give so much to it?

Squamish steals my heart
Where the granite meets the sea
and i see myself for many summers
but you can only have one summer
at a time

Fit women wander with wanderlust
and I wonder what women will meet my lust
and i've been blessed to have so many
but I only want one

I gotta keep pushing and striving
in every way to try harder
in climbing
The investment would be a waste
if I did not do that

And am I adept at adjectives?
Writing on a stomach full of hope?
Nine pitches led on a Thursday
After going out on a Tuesday

The best things happen to a climber
Right around ten' in the morning
Or right around right now
at nine in the evening
In Squamish
watching the sun set into the sea.

Friday, September 4, 2015

Simple Man - Climber's Version

I’m just a simple man
I like pretty things
I’m just a simple man really

I’m just a simple man
I like pretty climbs
I like pretty girls
I’m just a simple man

I like my cracks as handcracks
I like big holds, jugs
I like crimps
I don’t like pimpin’
I just like crimpin’

I like hip-hop
I like rice and beans
I’m just a simple man really

I like Colorado
I like green things
I like pretty things
I’m just a simple man

I like bouldering
I like free climbing
I like big walls

I like girls with chalk on their hands
I like girls with chalk on their nose
I like girls with chalk on their clothes

There’s a chance this might never catch on
But my friends like my poems
And I like my poems

I’m just a simple man

Adapted from "Simple Man" a cool rap song by The Grouch, a cool rapper

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Straight Outta Squampton

I’ve got a confession to make people: I haven’t’ seen “Straight Outta Compton” yet. Like many hip-hop fans I’ve been excited about this movie since the project was announced, but when it was released I was up north in the land of Drake, not Dr. Dre. That also means I was out of town for the Gold King mine accident here in Durango, and watched from afar as the rest of the world did; the wrath of the Old West still affecting us in these modern times. Thanks a lot Teddy Roosevelt.

I can’t recall the last time I was this excited about a movie, something about hip-hop and the role that N.W.A. played in the development of the music, as well as bringing a larger awareness to what was happening in Compton, and other urban areas in the United States. Yes, N.W.A. kept it real before that was a phrase.

While the hip-hop fans of the United States were turning out by the millions to see “Straight Outta Compton” I was in Squamish, up in British Columbia, Canada, otherwise known as Squampton. I don’t really know where the name came from, Squamish is a far cry from Compton, and at this point I’m way too close to deadline to do any sort of research. Maybe the people of Squamish just are big hip-hop fans too. After all the night we arrived was at the end of a three day music festival, in which no other than Drake himself headlined, the Canada born star of the rap world at the moment.

I’d made a trip up to Squamish last summer, and after only three days got rained out, forcing us back down south to the States. We did some magnificent climbing on that trip in Washington and Idaho, but nothing was as good as Squamish. For the last year I was Squampton dreaming, and made sure my summer travels included a visit to our friendly neighbors up north.

That’s a good place to start with descriptions, there’s something about friendly people that is both welcoming and contagious. (Plus their accents are just so damn cute with their “ehs”, “abuuts”, and “soarries”, and their money: loonies and toonies, are you kidding me?)

I can see why they are in such a good mood, for a brief stretch every summer the rain typically slows down and the place is basically a paradise. Seemingly every good looking woman across Canada descends upon Squamish, the temperatures never get too hot or too cold, there’s enough trails, mountains and rocks for everyone, and The Chief the massive granite buttress overlooks the Howe Sound, the ocean meeting granite cliffs that dominate the skyline. Blackberry bushes are everywhere and the salmon are plentiful and cheap, really cheap if you’re patient enough with a fishing pole (I’m not). Those few sentences are just the beginning of the beauty that unfolds, and to be a part of it is transformational to say the least.

Now I’m just a simple man with an average athletic prowess, but beautiful places like this stir a yearning and desire deep in my soul. All of the sudden I don’t fully appreciate my days unless I give a hundred percent effort into what I’m doing, and all I was there to do was climb. It’s a simple equation, but your desires must align with someone else’s, because climbing tall walls is a team sport. Luckily we assembled a small posse of Colorado climbers there in the campground and lived out our days on the walls.

To this dirtbag lifestyle, for me, there’s this constant boiling and simmering. The intense effort and fear coupled with the aftermath: hardcore chillin’. Each day in Squamish begins with a mellow start, one in a hundred climbers get up before 8:00 am and, and every day ends at the communal picnic tables, where there’s an international representation, people from all over the world getting together to cook simple meals and share drink and smoke.

With so many people living out in the open there’s bound to be problems, and the main issue in Squampton is theft. At least one car was stolen when we were there, a result of a big city, Vancouver, being so close. Though I imagine they would be polite if you caught them stealing your car. I did have one weird encounter there, while walking the streets one day I really had to go to the bathroom, and I spotted one at a nearby at a city park. I opened up the door to the men’s room, and what did I find but a woman, who was clearly using drugs; she had sores on her face and looked like a creeper similar to the ones who lurk around sketchy hotels at night. Without hesitation, she said, “Oh I’m so sorry, come on in.” I took one look at this chick, who was probably an extra in “Breaking Bad”, and ran away as quickly as I could.

The climbing, the trails, the people, there was so much that was so sweet about Squamish, as sweet as the perfectly ripe blackberries that you can greedily eat without guilt because there’s more than enough for everyone, but I’m only given so many words here, so I gotta wrap it up with just one more Squampton bit.

We had one big party night, as one friend was arriving and another was set to leave. Somewhere in the midst of delicious sushi and drinks, we met some climbers and learned of a karaoke night at the local dive bar.

The karaoke DJ was an energetic short and stout woman who had bleached blonde hair and sang 1990s hits at the top of her lungs in between patrons taking their turns at hits from the good ol’ United States pop charts. It was the perfect mixture of talent and hilarity; everyone in the bar was having a great time.

I did my old standby of “You Can’t Touch This” by MC Hammer and as the drinks flowed and I got more and more buzzed I signed myself and my buddy Shaun up for “You Are So Beautiful” by Joe Cocker. At the last minute I realized we were going to be “those people” at karaoke, drunk and missing all the right notes. In a strange twist of fate we got up to the stage and they had “It Was A Good Day” by Ice Cube of N.W.A. fame queued up. Shaun and I both knew the words well, and we went into karaoke hero mode on the microphone. A good day indeed.

Thinking about that, I think it’s time to get out and go see “Straight Outta Compton” tonight, while it’s still in theaters.

This article is from today's Durango Telegraph (September 3, 2015)

My most recent book is called The Great American Dirtbags. Two other book projects, including a novel, American Climber are in the works.