Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Random Ramblin' in The Springs

©2014 by LeeZard

Here are some random thoughts and observations after two weeks in and around Colorado Springs or, as they call it here, The Springs.

There is this somewhat familiar big shiny yellow ball in the sky. It emits tremendous heat and the sky around it is always blue. I do remember something similar in the Pacific Northwest but here it seems more intense, as if it has more confidence it will show up nearly every day. I’m told it even makes regular appearances between blizzards in the winter. What a concept!

As in the Northwest there are mountains here, lots of ‘em. They’re called the Rockies and, while they are quite beautiful, I still find the Cascade Mountains more dramatic. I think this is because the Cascades are viewed primarily from sea level while The Rockies grow from the high plains.
Mt. Rainier From 50-Miles Away
Pikes Peak Up Close
The Springs sits at 6,035 feet – sorry Mile High City – and in the shadow of one of the most famous mountains in America, Pikes Peak. At an elevation of 14,114 feet it is only a few hundred feet “shorter” than the Northwest’s beloved Mt. Rainier. But the so-called gateway to The Peak is at more than 7,000 feet and the illusion is that it is not nearly as mighty as Rainier. Plus, Pikes Peak does not sport the sparkling white glaciers that cover the top of Rainier.  

I can hike to Pikes Peak’s peak in running shoes while my dear friend Peter Sandler had to endure weeks of mountain climbing classes before he could even attempt to conquer Rainier. Still, the Rockies have majesty of their own and I delight every day living in their shadow.

The people in Colorado are much better drivers than those in Seattle and environs. But then, so is almost everyone else in America. I’m told motorists here even know how to drive in the snow, which apparently falls in abundance in winter, one of the area’s distinct four seasons.

The Jeep is celebrated here much like salmon are in The Northwest. To my knowledge, there haven’t been any treaty wars over Jeep purchasing rights but they are everywhere. I’m not surprised since I’ve owned five. Their legendary four-wheel drive is, well, legendary. Out here people trick ‘em out with lots of lights and humongo wheels/tires. I’m sure it’s a macho cowboy thing. My little ’06 Liberty is dwarfed by most of its cousins but it has a nice patina of Colorado mud thanks to my isolated, rural location. I love it!

While we’re on the subject of wheels, The Springs, like most of America, has its share of shady auto repair shops. I had the misfortune to fall into the clutches of one but I had no choice; the bearings in the Jeep’s A/C unit were about to seize which would’ve taken the whole engine down with it. At 5:30 pm on a Friday I had to use the only place I could find that was still open. The end result was a $670.00 bill that I later found out would’ve been about $300 if I could’ve waited to find an honest grease monkey. Ironically, the place I used was called (I can hardly write this with a straight face) Honest and Accurate Auto Service (ROFLMAO).

Guns. Colorado is an open-carry state and, while you don’t see a lot of openly carried sidearms, as near as I can figure almost everyone has one either on his/her person (a concealed weapon permit is required) or under the pillow at home for self-defense. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t considering it.

In sports, I am shocked – shocked, I say – by the endemic amnesia that’s crippled the region. Hardly anyone can remember the score of this year’s Super Bowl. Yet they crow about a recent pre-season victory over the champion Seattle Seahawks. So sad. Other fans here are very quick to point out their allegiance to any team other than the Denver Buncos. Given the climate here, it’s no wonder these folks are called fair weather fans.

In Colorado, the term “passive aggressive” is used primarily in Psych 101 classes. Back in Seattle it’s a pastime. You know who you are.
My "Driveway"
Finally, what is it with dirt roads and me? I just love ‘em. I think everything happens for a reason and, when my apartment wasn’t going to be ready for my arrival, I immediately found this amazing 750 sq. ft. loft In-the-Middle-of-Nowhere, CO, otherwise known as Franktown. It is halfway between Castle Rock – my Starbucks gig – and The Springs, where I push my other remaining drug, cigars. 
That's Moi Above the Garage

My palatial domicile is two miles of dirt road off State Highway 83. My Jeeps’ wheels haven’t touched the freeway since I moved in.

Nice to Have Good Neighbors
My nearest neighbors are friendly but have little to say, although they neigh.
The 'Hood'
All in all, it's been a grand two weeks in my new 'hood.'

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Leaving From the Wet Plain

©2014 by LeeZard
Shitty Poster tied to a Shitty Tag Line
I arrived in soggy Seattle February 9, 1974 to become News Director for the brand-spankin’ new KZOK-FM, “OK102-and-a-half.”  It was a shitty tag line then and it still is today. Wouldn’t you want to be more than just OK? As usual, I digress. 

I left Renton, WA, just east of Seattle, on August 11, 2014, relocating to Colorado Springs, CO where, I hear, they have four seasons each year. 

Garden of the Gods, a city park in Colorado Springs
Has it really been 40 years?

 When I arrived in Seattle I was just shy of my 27th birthday, newly married to (I thought) the love of my life and riding the crest of success as a broadcast journalist in the nascent Progressive Rock format on the FM band (can you say Hippy Radio?). Back then you could use the words “broadcast” and "Journalist” in the same sentence with a straight face and we used the burgeoning commercial FM boom to pioneer a style of journalism heretofore unheard of on the airwaves. 

We concentrated on issues instead of events that were important to our listeners. We reported in long-form on these sometimes very dry matters and to engage our audience we wrapped the news in a mix of humor, attitude, music and high-production values. It was our version of Hunter S. Thompson’s Gonzo Journalism. We weren’t always objective but we strictly observed the tenets of our trade with accuracy and fairness to all parties involved in the stories and the listeners loved it!
Unfortunately we also aped Thompson’s penchant for alcohol and drug abuse, a practice that would play a central part in my Seattle experience.
About a year-and-half after arriving in Seattle, the so-called love of my life left me for reasons that were vague until decades later. In the ensuing years I experienced (sparing you, dear reader, the messy details): 
·      Minor celebrity as one of Seattle’s top journalists (http://seattletimes.com/html/entertainment/2002226566_kzam01.html); 
·      The social benefits of the above and being single at the same time
 ·     The agony of having it all ripped away at least in part by letting my ego draw me into a power struggle I could not win
 ·     A brief sojourn back to hometown New York City as an editor for ABC radio News; 
·      A downward spiral into the depths of late-stage alcoholism and drug abuse; 
·      A second marriage, this time to my enabler; 
·      The birth of two amazing kids; 
·      The miracle of recovery and sobriety; 
·      As a result of sobriety, restoring my credibility as a journalist; 
·      Finding my voice, really finding my voice as a writer; 
·      An acrimonious divorce when my enabler’s job description changed; 
·      As a result of the above, a heartbreaking estrangement from my two kids; 
Adam Joseph Somerstein at one-year
·      As a result of the above the birth of a grandson I’ve never seen in person;
·      Building a successful second career in PR, marketing and media relations; 
·      A romantic relationship – a sober, adult relationship – with an amazing woman who was not ready for the commitment I desired; 
·      As a result of the above, the emergence of a loving, deep friendship with the aforementioned amazing woman; 
My Baby!
·      The agony of having it all ripped away in the Great Recession – my six-figure job, a beautiful new home and my beloved 2005 Porsche Boxster S;
Stutz and I have been friends for 42 years!





 ·      Living, for the first time in my life in extreme poverty; 
·      Making friends with whom I will be close to no matter where I live;
·      And, finally, meeting a woman who might be willing to love me in equal measure.

Yeah, that’s a lot crammed into 40-years. If you look at the entire second half of that list, you get a pretty good idea why I’ve relocated to Colorado. Bottom line, it was just the right time in my life; it seemed to me I’d accomplished everything I could in Seattle. It was the right time to leave.
People talk a lot in Alcoholics Anonymous about active drunks often moving in an effort to run away from their problems. It’s called a “geographic.” That was probably me in 1974; I was running away from myself. The problem was, I followed myself to Seattle.
This move is different. My so-called problems are fewer and smaller. Probably the best thing out of my 40-years in Seattle is that I finally grew into the man I’m supposed to be and he ain’t half bad. I hate this cliché but I am actually comfortable in my own skin, fully recognizing there’s always more work to be done to constantly grow and evolve.
This “geographic” is not about me running away from anything. It is about me running to the next chapter in my life. Could anything be more exciting?

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Everybody Lies


©2014 by LeeZard
Let’s be honest; everybody lies. We even lie when we tell our kids, “Honesty is the best policy,” because in our heart of hearts we know it’s not always the best policy. We cover our lying asses by calling them “little white lies.” Is that the opposite of big black lies? Isn’t that unfair to anything (or anyone) Black? But, as usual, I digress.
Let us count the top ten (according to LeeZard) little white lies (You can add your own to the list):
1. Santa Claus
2. Tooth fairy
   3. Easter Bunny
   4. Hanukkah Harry (Thank you,   SNL!)
   5. I was only kidding.
   6. I had a great time. I’ll call you.
   7. No, you don’t look fat in that outfit.
   8. I love your hair like that.
   9. Fake orgasms
   10. (Sometimes) I love you.
As the top four attest, we even create great myths around our lies. Then there’s the myth of George Washington’s young admission that he did, indeed, cut down the cherry tree. Does that mean GW never, ever lied? Puh-leeze; the man commanded the Continental Army. History shows that he not only had his small band of spies in New York City while the British occupied it but he also spread disinformation (Lies!!) throughout the Revolutionary War. Yup, war is hell.
Politicians? ‘Nuff said.
Yeah, that's me with with Grandma
My two loyal, regular readers know that I grew up in a perpetual lie because my family invented the game of Grandma. It seems the family consensus was that Grandma could not handle bad news so we developed sometimes-elaborate conspiracies to hide things from her. The most successful conspiracy was the year+ my brother spent in Vietnam. As far as Grandma knew, he never left Okinawa. Likewise the 17-weeks he spent recovering from post-Vietnam Malaria, Mononucleosis and, Tuberculosis. We played Grandma with everyone on Grandma’s side of the family. It seems they were all badnewsophobic.
Granted the latter were not a little white lie but they bring me to my point in all this. Big or small and no matter how justified they seem, lies can do damage. And, no, I am not trying to change the world here; that would be impossible. All I’m suggesting is that we give up the ghost of “never telling a lie.” Who among us can honestly say they’ve never lied in their life?
Perhaps the most honest person I know is Joe, a long-time sober pal of mine in AA – which suggests “rigorous honesty” as a part of recovery. When he shares in AA meetings, Joe will often admit, “I can’t say that I don’t lie anymore. What I can say is that I lie a lot less.”
Now that’s honesty!

Friday, May 2, 2014

On 67



©2014 by LeeZard
How to write about turning 67 without sounding sappy and/or maudlin? I’ll take a stab at it because, for one thing, I can’t believe it! People tell me I don’t look 67. I sure as hell don’t feel it, think it or even act it – although I do let my inner adult out when I need it.

I was 33 when my Dad was 67 and he seemed really old. I look at pictures of Dad around that age and he still looks older than I do today. That alone is amazing; many of you know the hard life I led for many years. I like to tell people a lot of bets were out that I’d never make it to 65. But, here I am.

A dear departed friend of mine – the venerable Jim Moss, who died at 90 – used to say in his later years, “At my age, it’s good to be anywhere,” when people asked how he was doing. Even at a relatively young 67 I now get that.

I call my life a miracle for many reasons. First and foremost is my 16-years of sobriety. As I’ve said so many times, if I could do it after 33-years of drinking and drugging, anyone can if they want it badly enough. Secondly, many of you know I’ve escaped death at least once – when an inept doc accidentally and unknowingly snipped a bit too much during a supposedly simple day surgery. I almost bled to death internally without anyone knowing it and a three-day recovery turned into an eight-week ordeal.

Many of you don’t know how much I used to love getting drunk and weed high simultaneously and hitting the road in any weather to drive as far and as fast as I could. This included “commuting” to work for five years 210 miles between Bellevue and Tri-Cities, WA. Thank god I didn’t kill myself and/or others![1]

Most of you don’t know I certainly could’ve died a few years ago when my lower intestine inadvertently twisted closed and 36-hours later miraculously untwisted without surgery. My dearest doc and favorite Deadhead visited me in intensive care shaking his head. “You must have nine-lives,” he mused.[2]

I really haven’t made a big deal about recent birthdays and I’m not sure why I feel the need to write about 67. But, here I sit at my keyboard on May 2, just three days before 67, chewing my ruminating cud.[3]

I can’t (or won’t) sit here and tell you it’s been a good life – so far – or a bad life. That is for others to decide, I suppose. I can tell you it’s been an adventurous life, some of it my own doing and a lot of it simply the roll of the dice.

In my 20-years as a broadcast journalist I had a front row seat for historical events: the original Woodstock; half-a-million people converging on Washington, D.C. to protest the Vietnam War; marching with anti-war protesters outside of Richard Nixon’s 1972 GOP convention; Judy Garland’s funeral and the WTO riots in Seattle to name a few. I’ve tasted tear gas and partied with Peter Tosh. My journalistic career also gave me the opportunity to make my community better, something for which I am eternally grateful.

Frankly, I know I’ve made many more bad choices in my life than good ones, many of them fueled by alcohol and/or drugs. I have to live with that and, where I’ve injured others, I’ve taken responsibility and tried, where possible, to make things right. That, too, is part of living sober. So is being of service to others and I like to think I do that fairly well, especially with those nearest and dearest to me.

I guess the real reason for this meandering monologue is to take a look at where/who I am at 67. As is often the case, it’s nowhere I ever imagined. Thankfully, I can honestly say I feel that I am a good man at heart. I hate clichés but I can also say I am comfortable within my own skin, aware of my faults as well as my strengths. I care less what people think and merely try to do better each and every day.

I never thought I’d be living in virtual poverty – at any age but, again, here I am. Despite that, I can honestly say I am not unhappy. I’ve learned to live and manage within my modest means and can still cherish the many blessings I do have; dear friends and family, a true and loyal canine companion, relatively good health, my ability to write and communicate well and, above all, the ability to appreciate the beauty in the world around me without letting its ugliness overwhelm me.

Finally, I must write about the saddest thing in my life and, it’s something about which I’ve never written. I grieve every day for my two estranged children and, as a result, at least one grandchild. I’ll spare you the details. I will only say I’ve done everything I can to try to close the chasms between us and so far have failed. They do know if/when they want to reopen communication I will always be ready to listen.

No matter where my life goes from here, I do know this:

“I've lived a life that's full
I traveled each and every highway
And more, much more than this
I did it my way
[4]






[1] Yes, I know, that’s a lower case ‘g’ in god. I use the term god for lack of any other way to describe my spiritual, not religious, higher power. That is for another discussion.

[2] I believe I’ve survived all of that because I’ve yet to fulfill my ultimate purpose in life. That, too, is for another discussion.

[3] As usual, many thanks to the Mexican government for the national holiday.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Greetings From a Nursing Home in Asbury Park, New Jersey

©2014 By LeeZard


FLASH!!!
In a recent interview with AARP Magazine, Bruce Springsteen revealed that he is reworking the lyrics of some of his classic songs to reflect his aging and that of his fans. LeeZard has gained exclusive access to these lyrics (and the cover art!) with permission to publish brief snippets.

Leezard has also learned the new songs will be released this summer on a new album entitled “Greetings From a Nursing Home in Asbury Park, New Jersey.” Here we go!
 
Cataract Ranch
Cataract, cataract
Blurry and dark, things are going black,
Open up my eyes, trying to see more
Oh my god they’re tearing, I feel like a dinosaur.



Pee All Night
When I lost my prostate honey sometimes I think I lost my guts too
And I wish God would send me a libido, send me something I thought I’d never lose
 Lying in the heat of the night like we never made love all our lives
I get shivers down my spine and all I wanna do is keep myself dry.

I swear I'll pee all night, I’ve got the prostate blues
I have to leave your tender arms.
And I just gotta pee all night or else I’ll do us harm.

Throwin Up
I stood stone-like at midnight, suspended with my irritable bowels
I combed my hair till it was just right and bundled up some towels
I was open to pain and crossed by the rain and I walked on a crooked crutch
I strolled all alone through a nauseous zone and came out with my towels untouched
I hid in the clouded wrath of the crowd, but when they said, "Sit down," I threw up
Ooh... throwin' up.



I’m Goin’ Down
We sit in the car outside your house you're quiet
I can feel hot flashes coming 'round
I go to put my arm around you
And my arthritis tells me you’re way out of bounds
Well you let out one of your bored sighs
Well lately when I look into your eyes
I'm going down, down, down, down
I'm going down, down, down, down, down.



Viagraland
The Rangers had a homecoming
In Harlem late last night
And the Aging Rat drove his rolling chair machine
Over the Jersey state line
Very old girl sitting on the hood of a Dodge
Drinking warm milk in the soft summer rain
The Rat pulls into town hikes up his pants
Together they take a stab at romance
And disappear down Viagra Lane

Well the Maximum Lawmen run down more Viagra
Chasing the Rat and the aging girl
And the oldsters round here look just like shadows
Always quiet, holding hands
From the churches to the jails
Tonight all is silence in the world
As we take our stand
Down in Viagraland



My Body’s in Ruins
There is a blood red circle
On the cold dark ground
And my blood pressure’s falling down
The ER’s door's thrown open
I can hear the organs’ song
But the medical team is gone
My body’s in ruins
My body’s in ruins.




Up All Night
I had my colon cleaned and checked, had her line blown out but it’s achin' like a turbojet
Propped myself up and the bed felt like concrete blocks, I reached for my meds and received a shock
Drank ‘em down with my mouthwash, checked my drawer, there were no more drugs. 
I'm goin' out tonight I'm gonna rock the 24-hour pharmacy.





Yup, That's QE II!
Looking for the Queen of the Supermarket
There's a wonderful world where all you need
And everything you've longed for is hard to grip
Where the bittersweet medicine for your wife is on your list
Where aisles and aisles of lotions and creams await you
And the cool promise of no more dry skin fills the air
At the end of each working day she's waiting there  
I'm looking for the Queen of the Supermarket
As my addled brain turns blue
She’s waiting to help me in aisle number two.



Pile Driver
Rode through forty nights of the hemorrhoid pain
My butt’s like a howlin’ dog
And Preparation H it was in vain
I was down where the itching grows wilder
Baby get me a pile driver.

Well if something on your butt feels a little unkind
Don't worry darlin'
It probably feels like mine
I'll be your gypsy joker your shotgun rider
Baby let me share my pile driver.



Shingles of Fire
When the night's quiet and you don't care anymore,
And your eyes are fried and you can’t stand the pain any more
And you realize you wanna let go
And the weak meds and the cold towels you embrace
Eat at your insides and leave you face to face with
Shingles of fire.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

The Great Chicken War of 2014

©2014 by LeeZard

The Battlefield
The first casualty of the Great Chicken War was – what else – a chicken but, ultimately, the flock would emerge victorious. Yes, I’m still alive to tell this tale but my pride and my skills as The Chicken Farmer From New York City suffered greatly. It was a war of strategy and tactics fought in the dense bushes of Monroe’s Landing and the muddy plain of its chicken pen.

Monroe’s Landing is the name of Wende’s three-quarter acre property located along the shores of a shining little jewel of a lake less than 30 miles east of Seattle. The tiny lake is populated by nesting eagles, deer, beaver, a gaggle of geese, beautiful white swans, nasty, thieving coyotes and the occasional bear.

Wende and Sarah were spending spring break with friends in Hawaii and, as usual, I was left to care for the menagerie – Kota, the sweetest Golden Retriever you’ll ever meet; Tex, the Texas-Bobtailed-Cat who thinks he’s a dog and rules the roost; Tuxie, all cat all the time; Ruby the mouse-eating corn snake, six young chicks and ten fully grown hens.

Wende has a way with animals like no other; they are drawn to her as if she were dripping with bacon grease and she loves ‘em right back – except for the coyotes. This love extends to her chickens. While they are there to produce the most delicious eggs in the world, they are also her pets. Each one has a name and she talks to them – as a group and individually. They actually seem to understand what she’s saying. My relationship with the flock is quite different. Not bad, just different.

My only previous experience with chickens was either fried or roasted but I’ve learned they are not as dumb as you might think and each one has its own unique quirks and personality. While most of them will flee if you approach – unless it’s with food – a few will just squat and wait for you to pet them and/or pick them up for a quick cuddle. There are countless breeds of different colors, shapes and sizes. Some of the feathering is quite striking and beautiful. Likewise, their eggs are different in shape, size and color.

I’ve learned a lot about chicken culture and care and I’m surprised but I've become attached to the little buggers. So, I was even more surprised when they turned on me that week when The Great Chicken War began. The weather turned fowl, the feathers began to fly and the chickens began to flee.

Wende and Sarah departed very early Monday morning. When I went out to check the chickens Tuesday morning I was alarmed to see Oreo, one of the blacks, lying motionless at the bottom of the chicken coop’s ramp. I walked over to check and she was deader than dead, her little chicken eyes staring lifelessly at the blue sky above. I immediately thought coyote, even though the coop is in an enclosed area with a four-foot high fence. But a coyote would’ve tried to drag her out or at least enjoyed a chicken dinner on the spot but, oddly, there wasn’t a mark on the corpse while all her feathers seemed intact. Hmmmm.

Wende takes personally the loss of any chicken; they are part of her big multi-species family. I was particularly saddened by this loss because Oreo was one of the squatters and I’d held her close to me many times. But I was puzzled by her death. I did some investigating and, lacking solid forensic evidence, could only theorize. Is there a chicken CSI?

Oreo's Grave
I only briefly considered frying the victim for dinner. Oreo was special to me. She arrived as a chick and Wende named her Oreo because of the white spots under her black wings. She was a people chicken from the start. Chicks stay in the house until they are fully grown and Oreo loved to sit in my lap and cuddle. So, I buried her within the enclosure and erected a cairn over the grave both as a marker and to keep predators from digging her up.

What to tell Wende? No, WHEN to tell Wende? After consulting with her sister and a close friend I decided to wait until she came home; there was nothing she could do and why ruin her vacation? Now, we were down to nine little Indians. That night it was eight.

When Wende is home during the day she opens the enclosure and allows the chickens to roam the rest of her property. It’s a win-win all around. The chickens love it. They visit “The Spa,” an uncultivated spot where they lavish in a dirt bath and in which Wende secretes medicated powders to keep them healthy and lice-free. In return the chickens forage and peck away all over the place, doing an amazing job of removing the lawn moss while leaving the grass healthy and vibrantly green.

The downside is that they are potential prey but Wende keeps a close ear to their chatter and runs to their aid at the slightest indication of chicken anxiety. Right before dusk the birds dutifully return to their coop for the night. It seems chickens basically stop wherever they are when it gets dark and that’s where they stay until dawn.

So, on this Monday I followed the routine (it was my day off). There was nary a peep all day (you knew I’d work that in somewhere) but, unfortunately, of the nine remaining chickens, only eight returned to the roost that evening. With flashlight in hand I hunted all over the place. Can you say gone without a trace? Damn!

Yup, That's Cinnamon Scouting for the Mass Escape
I worked on Tuesday and so the chickens were on lock-down and my plan was to keep them that way whether I was home or not. They had other plans and they had a ringleader in Cinnamon.

Cinnamon is a serial recidivist; the fence to her a mere playground toy. She jumps it gleefully and regularly. She is not a squatter and runs at my slightest move toward her. She is a pain to lure back into the pen. But when I returned from work that fateful Wednesday I learned to my utter dismay that Cinnamon had organized a mass escape; only three chickens were in the pen. Arrrggghhhhh.

There was plenty of daylight left and off I went in search of the escapees. Most of Wende’s property is lush with bushes and trees and I knew the birds had their favorite spots, usually in the underbrush. There is plenty of that in the front yard under a few majestic evergreens and a humongous Rhododendron bush. Well, it’s not really a bush; the damned thing is more like a tree with thick long branches extending for several yards in every direction.

As I looked around the tree-bush I heard the telltale nickering of roosting chickens and I knew my targets were nearby yet, they were nowhere to be seen – until I looked up. Sure enough, well up in the Rhody’s branches, and safely out of my reach, were the five offenders – three on one branch and two on another. Were they laughing at me?

I reached up as high as I could to reach one of the branches and began shaking it as hard as I could. There were loud complaining squawks and much wing waving but those chicken feet were not to be moved. They clung to their chosen nighttime roost like there was no tomorrow and all I got for my effort was a pine needle and stick shower from the neighboring trees. Pissed and frustrated I left them, knowing they would find their way down in the morning to once again enjoy their freedom.

The next day I was home so I left the gate open, hoping the chickens would come to their senses and their hen house. By dusk only one chicken had returned. I knew where the others were and I’d be ready for them the next morning.

I was up pre-first light and, grabbing a wide rake outside the garage, I stationed myself just outside the underbrush under the roosting Rhody. Sure enough, after a short while the victorious and unsuspecting former inmates clucked their way down to the ground eager for some free-range breakfast worms.

As soon as all seven offenders were on the ground I made my move. Using the rake to herd them left and right I directed them to the backyard where I’d left the pen gate open. Victory was mine! Or so I thought.

With all eight birds safely enclosed I tied the gate securely. When I was done and turned around toward the house, to my surprise and great chagrin four chickens were standing behind me happily squawking away. Indeed, they were laughing at me. 
Neither Robert E. Lee nor Napoléon could’ve felt worse than I did at that moment. This was my Appomattox, my Waterloo; The Great Chicken War was over. The chickens would have the run of the place until Wende’s return and for the rest of the week I heard nothing but chickens laughing.
War is indeed hell.

Friday, February 7, 2014

The 700,000

©2014 by LeeZard
Let’s see, the last time I was in a crowd of any size was November 1999. It wasn’t nearly as much fun; the air was filled with pepper spray and I was dodging rubber bullets fired by the ill-prepared Seattle Police Department during the WTO riots – but that was “only” about 50,000 people.

In 1979 I joined 300,000 to cheer the NBA champion Seattle Supersonics. I’d have to go back another 30-years to the original Woodstock and a pair of massive anti-war marches on Washington, D.C. But those crowds were “only” about half-a-million.

This week I was at the heart of The 700,000, The Seattle Seahawks screaming, cheering, adoring fans, their storied 12th Man, massed for the team’s Super Bowl parade through downtown Seattle. I love big events. I go as much to observe – and write about – the people as I do for the event itself. This one provided plenty of fodder; it was a singular life experience.

I knew as soon as the final whistle blew on Seattle’s thrashing of the Denver Broncos that I would go to the Hawks’ parade. In 1979 I casually arrived about two hours before the Sonics’ parade started and ended up about a block from the route on Fourth Avenue. I saw nary a Sonic but screamed and cheered with everyone else. This time, I would not be thwarted. I had The Plan.

I popped out of bed at 5am Wednesday, ready and rarin’ to go. Phase One of The Plan was the dress code. It’s unusually cold this week but I was ready with long johns, two pair of wool socks, two layers of shirts topped by a heavy hoody, my winter hiking boots, heaviest jacket, knit cap, and a thick pair of ski gloves.

Phase Two of The Plan was to drive south, away from Seattle, and park for free at the regional transit light rail station in Tukwila, eliminating certain traffic and parking distress. I wasn’t alone in my foresight; even at 5:45am I was lucky to grab one of the final slots in time to catch a 6am train. Regular commuters were drowned in a sea of blue and Hawks green. It was standing room only.

By the time I arrived at the downtown Westlake Station 40-minutes later the streets were already abuzz but not overly crowded. Addressing Phase Three of The Plan, I quickly scouted out a choice curbside spot in front of Westlake Park at the corner of Fourth and Pine next to a KING-TV news crew and up against the temporary steel crowd barrier. After chatting up the crew for a few minutes and dropping a few names of former colleagues still at KING, my spot was safe and secure.

The Starbucks right across the street at Westlake Center was already slammed with a line snaking out the front door. This being caffeine-fueled Seattle, I strolled a short two blocks, passed two other jammed Starbucks and walked right up to the counter at a third store tucked away on a side street. It was but 16 degrees and my first thermos of hot java was gone.

I nursed my coffee and read the newspaper for about 45-minutes before taking up my frozen vigil. It was a few minutes before eight, only three hours until the scheduled start of the parade. The crowd was starting to build, by now about six or seven deep.
Everywhere I turned there were flags, banners, posters and blown up pictures of favorites.


Traffic was still flowing north on Fourth, most of the vehicles sporting Seahawks colors and/or flags and honking their horns to the raucous delight of onlookers. 
By nine o’clock Phase One of The Plan unraveled; the tips of my fingers began to go numb. Thirty minutes later my toes also numbed, painfully so. The minutes began to drag by and at about 9:45 I ever so briefly considered bailing as the cold slowly seeped deeply through my entire body. I quickly rejected the idea, even before I turned my head and saw there would be no escape as the sidewalk was now shoulder-to-shoulder full from the curb to the building line. Luckily, Hip Hop fate intervened.
At precisely 10 o’clock the large speakers at Westlake Center boomed, “Hellllllooooo Seattle!! I am Supreme La Rock, official DJ for Seattle Seahawks.” He immediately followed with the familiar call and response chant that haunts opposing teams at Century Link Field, “SEEEEEEAAAAAAA – HAWKS, SEEEEEEAAAAAAA – HAWKS.” And the real party started.

As if he couldn’t drive the crowd any wilder, La Rock boomed, “I just got a text from Beast Mode, Marshawn Lynch, with a request for his favorite song,” and spun into a rap about Lynch’s now famous quote, “’Bout that action, Boss.” Before I knew it my frozen feet were dancing and my bones were rattling to the beat. I could hear my kids’ voices in my head, “Dad, you are such a dork!” I didn’t care; I could feel the feeling coming back into my frigid digits.
La Rock continued to DJ tunes I’d never heard before while the surrounding (and much younger) crowd mouthed every lyric. But, there I was, the 66-year old dork rockin’ to the Hip Hop beat with many thousands of my new friends. What a blast!!! It was a good thing too; what we didn’t know at the time was that the parade would step off more than 90-minutes after its scheduled 11 o’clock start. Not that it mattered. The beat gave us the heat with all discomfort forgotten. Party on, Dude!
 
Finally, at 12:30pm, even louder roars from the crowd to our north signaled the parade was approaching and my front row spot suddenly became about a tenth row spot as hundreds started climbing the waist-high steel barriers and filling the Fourth Avenue roadway. Seattle police, with help from surrounding jurisdictions, tried in vain to firmly/gently move people back toward the curb. Eventually they were able to make enough room for the caravan to move by. Thankfully, they also got the people in the street to sit down so my prime viewing lines were preserved and I prepared my trusty old Nikon CoolPix digital camera to record it all.

And, this is one of those rare times when words nearly fail me. The players/coaches were riding atop both military vehicles and in those high amphibious vehicles that usually haul tourists around The Emerald City hither and yon. The collective euphoria, joy, love and gratitude enveloped everyone there. While the aroma of semi-legal marijuana wafted through the air (it is not legal except in private settings) this was not a drug-fueled Woodstockian Love-In; this was pure and raw mass emotion and it was thrilling.

Suddenly, just a few yards in front of me was a hatless and black overcoat-clad Pete Carroll pumping his fist and grinning like a Cheshire Coach, Beast Mode standing on the hood of an amphibian tossing skittles into the mass of fans and Russell Wilson waving necklaces of shiny blue and green beads. The Legion of Boom took up two vehicles but, of course, Richard Sherman stood out with his trademark dreadlocks. 
As each position group rolled by I snapped away as quickly as I could to capture as many memorable moments as possible. In return the players were taking pictures, shooting videos of us and joining the dancing party. WOW! DOUBLE WOW!

Then, like a finely cooked gourmet meal that took hours to prepare, the historic moments were much too quickly consumed and digested.

Phase Four of The Plan was getting out of Dodge as quickly and safely as possible. Again, using past experience, I knew the bulk of the masses would linger to revel and party some more. A good number of us, though, quickly turned east as soon as the last amphibian passed and tried to move away from Fourth Avenue – no easy feat even with fleet feet. We were salmon against the flow of a powerful human river and it took about 20-minutes to get from Fourth to Fifth Avenue.

Along the way, I noticed what I consider a brilliant crowd control tactic by event planners and/or law enforcement. Halfway between Fourth and Fifth several rows of police buses were parked tail-to-nose with about two feet between each row, forcing the masses to separate into orderly lines with little or no shoving/pushing that could cause skirmishes and injuries. Miraculously, there were no arrests the entire day. Think about that! Almost a million people crammed into downtown Seattle without a single arrest. Only the 12th Man could pull that one off.

It was jam packed standing room only on the light rail ride south to Tukwila but nobody cared; the euphoria of the day drifted through the air like intoxicating incense with ongoing whoops, chants and camaraderie. For me, it was time for a quick reflection to organize and gather my thoughts for this piece. It wasn’t very difficult; every image, sound and emotion is seared forever in my mind. The Plan was beyond successful.

Finally, I want to offer a couple of quick props. First, to all the policemen/women assigned to crowd control. It could’ve led to a near impossible, if not disastrous, conclusion with one overzealous nightstick swing or harsh command. Instead, the police presence was there but not overwhelming, maintaining a balance between firm control and threatening micro-control.

Finally, join me in a round of applause, please, for my 66-year old prostate. I remembered reading stories of people in Times Square for last New Year’s Eve wearing adult diapers because they would be standing for hours with no place to go – literally. Thank you Mr. Prostate for standing down, at least for one amazing and historic day.