Monday, June 21, 2010
Thursday, May 6, 2010
You don't have to know someone well to love them.
As I drive home in a hurry after work, I feel a vibration in my pocket and hear a familiar ring.
“Justin?” My grandfather's voice has remained unchanged over the years, the same voice I used to hear as he took me for rides on his lawn mower. Sometimes, he'd let me steer.
“Hi Grandpa, how are you?”
This is no idle pleasantry - his life has been a constant battle with health problems, especially those cardiovascular in nature. He's had two quadruple bypasses, and the doctors refuse to do another because half his heart is slowly dying. Once in a while, he reports chest pains and scares our family, but so far he keeps hanging on. Recently he was diagnosed with adult onset diabetes. This seemingly bad news has turned out to be a blessing; his prescribed diet changes resulted in moderate weight loss and more energy.
Behind his back I speak with my parents about the consequences of eating a diet high in cholesterol for decades, but I don't mention it to him. Time now is too precious and such decisions have already been made. Better now, I judge, to spend what time we have left together.
“I'm pretty good,” his response is honest; he would tell me if something was wrong. At least, I think he would. “Are you going to come catch the game tonight?”
Sometimes I have a hard time relating to him. We're from very different worlds. Clarkston, Utah is his home town, a place where Main Street and 1st Street have a yield sign and cows healthily out number people. He made his living on the farm, dropping out of high school and working his way up in the business of cows, milk, and cheese. That world is as foreign as the Middle East to me; we really don't have much to talk about. Sports, however, are an interest for both of us, and now the Jazz are in the playoffs.
“Absolutely. Should I bring anything?”
“No, I'll have burgers for you.”
“You spoil me, Grandpa.”
“That's a grandfather's privilege.”
That's the typical length of our conversations: now the game is on. We don't say much for the rest of the night. His new TV shows us basketball in high definition.
During halftime, timeouts, and injury attorney commercials, he gives me glimpses of his life. When they were young adults, my grandmother worked at a local diner, and he used to go there just to see her. One time, while his dad was gone, he stole the horse for a few hours and won a race among the neighborhood boys. He used to referee local church basketball and enjoyed ejecting the players who got a little too mouthy.
Not getting an education is his biggest regret: he didn't apply for a job in Oregon because he didn't think he qualified. These tidbits are precious; I hold onto them and try to piece the puzzle together. Every new piece gives color to a portion of who I am.
After a while, doctors all seem to blend together; they become Hermes, ferrying messages of well-being or disease from the gods. Last winter, my grandpa called my mother informing her that he was having chest pains again. After numerous tests, the doctors informed him that he could either live with the pain or have his gall bladder removed.
I sat in the hospital room, just the two of us, discussing the very surgery that claimed my other grandfather's life ten years ago. Tubes were in his arms, dripping who knows what into his veins. I just sat and listened.
“I know I'm old, and if it is my time to go, there's something one the other side that will make me very happy.” My grandmother passed away six years ago, and he made no attempt at concealing the longing in his eyes.
What do you say to someone who is ready to die? I hardly know anything about his life. Maybe I've wasted my time.
The game is over now, and the Jazz came out on top.
“Can I expect you next time, Justin?”
“Wouldn't miss it. Thanks, grandpa.”
Maybe, before the end inevitably comes, I will know him a little better.
Wednesday, March 3, 2010
Is it because they will be wrong? No. Of course they will be wrong. This is a given. A panel of experts, made up of myself and my brother, has proven long ago that the greatest song ever written is "Louie, Louie," by the Kingsmen, closely followed by Judy Garland's performance of "Somewhere Over the Rainbow," Gruber and Mohr's "Silent Night," and "The Theme to the Cosby Show."
The reason you should never ask someone what the greatest song of all time is this: sometimes, you will not be able to tell if they are joking.
Now, we in the column business are hesitant to write about music, because music makes up a quarter of the Wheel O' the Offended (the other three quarters are religion, politics, and the Twilight series). None of these four topics can be addressed without torrents of spittle-dripping, venomous, quotation mark-laden e-mails being e-thrust into our e-faces. They always seem to sound like this:
"Hey, Dung-for-Brains! I can't believe you think bands like Journey and Boston and Kansas and Styx and Rush and Foreigner are "all the same band!" So what if they all sound "exactly alike." So what if the "tightness of their leather pants cuts off the circulation to the musically creative parts of their brains." If I ever find out who you are, I'm going to shave obscenities in your hair while you're sleeping! And you're a bad writer! And ugly!"
Recently, I conducted a very scientific and accurate poll of my closest friends and family (via text message) to find out what they thought was the greatest song of all time. Some people shrugged the request, citing the "too many musical genres." Wimps. Most people, however, tightened their belts and gave their answers.
Expectedly, repeat responses were given. "Danny Boy," "Greensleeves," "O, Holy Night," "The Hallelujah Chorus," and "Stairway to Heaven" were some of the pre-1900's classics listed. The Beatles made the list at least eight times, with "Hey Jude," "Eleanor Rigby," "Blackbird," "That One Awful Song They Let Ringo Write," "Stairway to Heaven," and "The Theme to the Cosby Show." Michael Jackson showed up more than a few times, as did both Billy Joel and Elton John. Even Journey made the list a few times with "Don't Stop Believin'," "Tom Sawyer," "Come Sail Away," and "Stairway to Heaven." All these responses are valid ones, though technically wrong (ref. paragraph 1).
A few respectable token songs also made the list. Songs like Sting's "Fields of Gold," Eric Clapton's "Change the World," and James Taylor's "Gone to Carolina" meant something to somebody, and though they may not be academically superior to other works (ref. "Louie, Louie"), they are good simply for the fact that you can't hear them without humming them. I'm pretty sure no one has ever said, "Oh, no! Not James Taylor! He's awful! Quick, change it to Flock of Seagulls!"
I begrudgingly accepted multiple country music songs as answers, though I died a little. "Then," by Brad Paisley," "Amazed," by Lonestar, "Something Sappy and Catchy," by Rascal Flatts, the Dixie Chicks' "Stairway to Heaven," and "Patriotic Nostalgia in My Home Kitchen," by Dwayne "Ford Endorsement" McMustache, all made the list.
What makes this poll a problem are answers (all real) like "Mmm, Bop," "Love Shack," "Blue (da-ba-dee, da-ba-die)," and anything by Neil Diamond. Was someone out there simply being impish, thinking that an outlier like "I'm a Barbie Girl" would burn a hole through the bottom of the graph and ruin the poll? Or were they really sitting, dripping perspiration, making pro and con lists, debating whether Rod Stewart's "Sometimes, When We Touch" or Madonna's "Like a Virgin" was historically more significant?
At any rate, it's hard to define what makes good music good music. The main thing to remember is, though some music may be technically better than other music, that technically does not make it better than other music which is technically worse, though it is better, technically. And what may have meaning (though sometimes inexplicably) to someone else may sound to me like "Mmm, Bop."
Monday, February 8, 2010
Comes in and fills the office candy machine.
I see him now and then,
He walks awkwardly with the weight.
I wonder what his family's like,
And if he really likes those sweets.
How did he get that job?
Did he retire but it's not enough?
Usually his pants hang a bit low
I don't really know him, and so
We pass each other in the hallway
Without saying a word - me on my side, and he on his.