I’m not from here, I just live here Part 2

Some things about Omaha are just flat out impressive.

Omah

I worked for Omaha steaks for 4 days. In that short time, I did learn something about what makes the meat so tasty. I don’t remember all the specifics, but I do remember something about letting the natural enzymes in the meat work their magic by storing the meat a certain way and a certain temperature that makes it so tasty. And hey, Omaha could do a lot worse than earning a reputation based on the quality of the steaks it produces. I mean, at least we’re not Idaho. While I’m on the subject, this one caught my eye too.

Bison Jerky

I think when buffalo were taken off the endangered species list, some entrepreneur called the FDA that day, Fed-Exed them a sample, and had this stuff on the shelves the next week. And despite my affinity for four-legged creatures, I am also a carnivore and I can’t wait to pony up the $7.50 I will need to purchase a hunk of this stuff. I’ve had bison burgers before (all the touristy restaurants in these parts sell them) and they’re quite tasty, so I can’t wait to get my hands on a hunk.

And Steaks aren’t the only thing Omaha’s got the bragging rights on.

Mangelson bear

Thomas Mangelsen is a renowned nature photographer with a gallery in the Old Market, the hip, Bohemian section of downtown. Go to the Omaha native’s web site and you’ll find some of the most impressive nature photography you’ve ever seen and it’s displayed all over the airport.

Other things at the airport celebrate the history of the state that makes it uniquely Nebraska

Railroads Book

I’m a total history nerd, so flipping through this one consumed a good 15 minutes that I could have otherwise spent walking up and down from the north terminal to the south again and I do that enough already. The book was quite interesting and certainly appeals to the part of my nature that is extremely attracted to remote locations with historical significance. Even if it is historical for only a handful of people, I love to picture how the people in one of the long lost towns in this book once gravitated to the train that no longer passes through and the wastelands left behind. And then there’s the books that you wonder what possessed someone to publish it. I mean, I know I sound like a snob that wishes everybody listened to NPR and drank expensive coffee like me. But that is certainly not the case. I know there is a place for some books.

You Know You're a Nebraskan

I can’t fathom what could be included in the “New and Improved” edition that they overlooked the first time around, but whatever. If there is a place in the world for the railroad book, this one gets to stay too. And again, there’s a little local flavor too,

Busting Bad GUys

The author is currently the head animal control officer at the Nebraska Humane Society, a former Omaha Police vice cop, a friend of my Da and actually pulled pretty hard for me to get in at NHS again. And the man’s publisher must have greased a few wheels because this book is right in the front window of the Hudson Booksellers at Eppley. As is this little number …

Omaha T-shirt

 

I mentioned in a previous post the T-shirts thing and I get it. I mean, I was in an airport in Milwaukee once and my Da signed up for a credit card just so he would get a “Milwaukee” T-shirt I still have. So if a weary traveler gets to the airport and realizes he hasn’t purchased anything for the kids yet, I can see how this T-shirt makes sense.

I cannot, however, imagine why this one does.

Grandmas Gone Wild

I suppose for a little old lady who knows nothing about the “Girls Gone Wild” franchise and it’s creepy, rapist proprietor, this sweatshirt would be kind of silly and fun, but really, why take the risk that she does? Why not do something safe and warm and fuzzy and not related to naked chicks.

Nebraska Loves Me

Good, solid product of Americana right there. And Eppley has plenty of Americana. Take these wall displays.

Tuskegee Airman

Aviation history

You’ve got black Omahans and their contribution to WWII. In the Aviation display you’ve got newspaper articles about Amelia Airhart and Charles Lindberg touching down in Omaha. And yet in a wall display even bigger than these, a wall display that in fact takes up the whole damn wall, you’ve got …

Travel and Transport

Um, okay. One’s first reaction to this one might, understandably, be “AHHHHHHHH!!!!” So many questions went through my head when I first saw this one. Is that a child dressed up like that or a midget (okay, “little person”)? Is that two children or some funky Photoshop effect? Perhaps most importantly … I just …. What the hell?!? Why? My cousin is the CFO of Travel and Transport, the company the ad is for, and I’ve been tempted several times to call him and ask him to please make the necessary calls and take this one down. I have nightmares.

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I’m not from here, I just live here

Omaha is a town with an identity crisis. Big cities like Chicago or New York are secure enough in their stature that they have simple, silly tourist stuff like “I love NY” T-shirts you’d expect find at an airport or some such tourist trap. Eppley Airfield has those shirts (Omaha T-shirts, not “I love NY” shirts. That would be wHeird), but it also has more glaring signs that truly show it for the fat kid with Coke-bottle glasses at the prom that it can be.

Omaha skyline

On one screen, there is a photo of Omaha’s meager skyline. I’m not going to trot out the old jokes about “I went to Omaha and I thought it was just gonna be a bunch of cornfields.” Nobody thinks that anymore, and with movies like Election and About Schmidt, you do get a pretty accurate picture of what Omaha looks like. Plus, you’ve got folks like Conor Oberst and Warren Buffet who have also reached international fame for their own reasons, so nobody really thinks Omaha is that bumpkin anymore. But they do think it’s kind of bumpkin because, well, it is kind of bumpkin.

Don’t misunderstand. On that screen alongside the skyline is a list of upcoming events at the Henry Doorly Zoo (2nd most diverse in the country after San Diego), the Omaha Community Playhouse, the Durham and Joslyn Museums, The Holland Performing Arts Center, etc. There’s a lot of things to do and see in Omaha, there’s just less of them than in other cities and they are more spread out. I mean, we do have our own AAA ball club, the Omaha Stormchasers, the AAA club in the Kansas City Royals organization. Not that you would notice since the whole bloody state lives and dies by the Nebraska Cornhuskers (not the” Huskers”, as they are known now. That was the brain child of somebody at the university that wanted Nebraska to be more “hip”. Yeah, that worked. We have a farmhouse and windmill on the license plate. I rest my case), our Division 1 college football team. (By the way, my assertion that the Stormchasers are in the Royals family and the Huskers are indeed “Division 1” are purely guesses. I don’t know and I don’t care. The Chasers could be in the Phillies or Pirates families these days. I don’t know. I was cursed with carrying the mantle of being a Chicago Cubs fan when they won their division in ’89 and I jumped on the bandwagon. I had no idea. And I couldn’t care less about football, college or otherwise. That’s right, I said it. You want to do something?)

The point is Omaha does have a few things that allow it to pass for a small city (actually, it’s a just a big town. It always amuses me when people around here find out through talking that they both know somebody who knows them or know somebody who knows somebody who knows them and they say “Huh! Well isn’t it a small world!” No Ringo, it’s a small town with 2 degrees of separation dividing everyone in this area code). And Nebraska has a couple things that are nefariously note worthy. Charles Starkweather murdered eleven Nebraskans between December 1957 and January 1958. That’s right, we have our own serial killer. Not exactly Ted Bundy or the Son of Sam, but still. And we had the whole Tina Brandon/Brandon Teena story about the transvestite girl who was raped and killed by a couple guys in southwest Nebraska. That one was made into a movie starring Hillary Swank and I think there’s something somewhere that says if Hillary Swank stars in a movie depicting your state, your state has “made it.” Omaha had their very own mass killing/suicide at a Von Maur department store a few years back, too. I mean, somewhere along the line, you have at least heard of Nebraska.

But back to the pastoral nature of Omaha. David Spade has a stand-up routine where he talks about The Eagles playing Hotel California in Tempe, AZ and old Don is singing about a dark Arizona highway with a Sun Devil Breeze in his hair and the crown goes ape shit in that “Yea!! He’s talking about us!!! I’m going to cheer louder because I live in the place that he is singing about!!!!” patronizing display that shows that the boys really did check the marquis before the show to find out which town they were in tonight. Omaha’s Eppley Airfield is like that, only much, much worse. Do you remember the Super Bowl this year? Peyton Manning said “Omaha! Omaha!” something like 37 times during the course of the game. I never quite knew what it meant. I think I heard a radio guy say it was code for Manning calling an audible or audible twice removed or it was his own quirky reminder to buy water chestnuts at the grocery store on Saturday, something like that. Well, the next two days the radio stations were awash about how Peyton was shouting “Omaha!” on Twitter over and over and there was talk of some advertising people were going to approach him to do some spots for MECA (Metro Entertainment and Convention Authority) and on and on. Okay, fine, pro quarterback says the name of the town a lot on television and everyone’s very happy because they feel somehow validated. Good, let’s move on, shall we? Wrong.

Omaha! Omaha!

When I first saw the shirt, I just sighed. So much for out-of-towners not thinking Omahans are essentially just little kids who want a pat on the head and a lemon cookie. Just print up some of those T’s and sell them at the airport so we can advertise to the world that we are just tickled that Peyton Manning knows our town exists. That the sweatshirts are for sale at all would be bad enough, thought I as I walked down to the Scooter’s Coffee to get a cappuccino.

Scooter's Girl Omaha!

I had to ask and she told me. She is from Denver, had to move to Omaha for one reason or another, was still a hardcore Broncos fan, and bought the shirt to wear in front of her family and friends, Omaha natives, to mock them because they are all friends of whoever Denver played in the Super Bowl (I’ve told you about me and football right?). The only use I know of for this little gem is to scorn family members. Fantastic.

There’s more, a little more at least, that I could point to that proves that Omaha has a little sumpin’ sumpin’ going on.  And what I haven’t mentioned yet is the shear absurdity and downright wHeird stuff.

Him (Some Perspective)

This will be a quick one, more of “stream of consciousness” writing than I usually do. And I had a whole nother blog post in mind for today about my job at the airport. And I will post that one eventually. But you see, I just found a towel.

The towel was in the dryer and it belonged to Mitch. Mitch “went back out” (AA code for “he drank/used again”) a couple days ago. So I don’t think Mitch will be coming back for his towel, at least no time soon. He left his security keycard to doors at his volunteer job on the counter in the kitchen yesterday too. I grabbed the card and will see it gets to the proper people. Mitch leaving his towel in the dryer brought back a flood of all the guys who have lived in this house during my stay here, most of whom went back out at one point or another. Some even did it while they were living in the house. Mitch did it while he was in the same living room as other tenants. Pretty balls-y, for lack of a better term (actually, there are similar terms, but “balls-y” is perfect for drinking from a Monster bottle full of whiskey while sitting in the same room, drunk as a monkey, with other guys in recovery.

I should have seen it for what it was right then. Honestly, I kind of did. I was so tired from getting 4 hours of sleep then working all day, I just wanted to eat dinner and go to bed because I was going to be getting up again at 4:30 AM the next morning to go to work again. But as soon as I heard Mitch talking one certain way, I should have known right then.

“You guys don’t know shit,” he said in his drunken stupor. “I’ve got wisdom, I’ve got a lot more years than you and I know how things work,” he blathered. I’ve heard this same routine before from the aged drunk. I should have jumped right then. But I didn’t. I went to bed. And as I was plunging towards sleep, my thoughts were “Maybe I should have stepped in. I’ve heard drunks talk that way before. Just get up Andy. Just get up and – ZZZZZZZZZZZZ …” Those were my thoughts.

Woke up the next morning and Mitch had woken up another Mitch and they had Breathalized Mitch (He failed miserably) and kicked him out (rules of the house) Mitch had gone to treatment with Old Mitch, so he and another Mitch took him to a hotel and Mitch stayed with him while the other came home. When I woke up the next morning (at 4:30, remember? Try and keep up) Mitch was awake and the Mitch who had administered the breath test was still asleep and needed to get up to be at his job at 6 AM. So I woke him up and made coffee for all three of us. It was a little wake-up AA meeting in the kitchen before the sun came up. And as one of the coffee-drinking Mitch’s observed, I wasn’t much of a catcher, but I filled in as pitcher in this episode. I can live with that.

The concept of alcoholic, or “stinkin’”, thinking, is what leads guys who live in my house to go back out. It’s a swirl of thoughts like “I’ll show these guys I don’t need them” and “This recovery stuff is bullshit” and “Nobody understands me” and “My foot hurts”, all rolled together. Anything to justify the first drink and all that come after. Some guys get kicked out and stay sober. Some guys get loaded, then go to a meeting and stumble around filling coffee cups (it’s happened, a Mitch who lived in my house), which is the desperation of the alcoholic writ large, some guys go back to treatment for the 6th time (seen it happen, another Mitch who lived here). And on and on. That’s the madness of the alcoholic, the mania of addiction. Some guys are semi-schizophrenic create an alter-ego and deal with Him on a regular basis in a way that somehow makes sense to others. Some guys drown themselves in the Program and host Big Book readings and poker games at their homes. And some guys go back out. Over and over again. Boom.

Like I said, a quick post, but significant to me. I’ve seen it all, everything addiction can do to a person. That, dear reader, is why I’m committed to recovery and staying plugged in. For all those reasons. I just don’t want to be “that guy.”

Tom Waits and tupperware

God, it’s a beautiful day.

I know, I know, and I’m on my laptop writing this instead of outside enjoying it, right? Let me explain. Anymore, Sunday’s are typically the day I set aside for either going to the Buddhist temple for services or doing a little laundry first thing in the morning while I write a blog post where I pontificate on my newest invention or a poem or some such concoction. But today is different. I’m leaving this house soon, and because it’s such a gorgeous day, I’ve been thinking of writing a post about new beginnings, spring on the earth and the dawn of a new time in my life. This, however, is not that post. I just haven’t really come up with an idea that is uniquely “Andy.” I hate clichés and don’t want to write a post about new beginnings because I mean, wow. Yawnsville, right? Spring on earth? Man, Jesus H. Hockey Pucks or whatever the expression is.  I might as well right a “dogs are nice” or “I like sleeping a lot” post. At some point, I’ll write a post about my profound thoughts on gettin’ to gettin’ again and the dawn of a new era in my life. This. However, is not that post.

And at some point, I’ll write a post about Him and the menacing presence He has in this chapter of moving out of this house and out on my own. This too, however, is not that post.

No, today, I’m keeping it simple. That is, after all, the moniker of my home group meeting, K.I.S.S.. Keep it Simple in Sobriety.  See, living in the ¾ house has been great for me because it allowed me a couple opportunities. First, I have seen just how bloody horrible and pervasive the specter of addiction is. You, dear reader, have someone, maybe yourself, in your home life, work life or social life that has been deeply effected by addiction and it has shaped you and others behavior in drastic and subtle ways. It may be your superior at work who is difficult to work with because he is constantly haunted by what his meth head son is doing to piss his life away. Or it is your good friend who is currently beating the crap out of their alcoholism and you just had lunch with them and you get a really big smile on your face and go through the rest of your day making other’s days better with your pleasant demeanor. It’s happening. You may not see it or know about it, but I’m telling you, it’s happening.

I lot of things about living here have been really hard and I can’t bloody wait to leave. I mean, I have had my own room in this house for several months and it’s become like my own private ecosystem. I have, within an arm’s length of my bed, rudimentary medical resources, an entertainment center, a mini-sweat shop, a library, food storage/pantry, bank, climate control, home office, church, wardrobe, and some nicotine lozenges and e-cigarette I never use because you try living in a sober-living house with 10 other guys and quit smoking at the same time. Can’t be done.

So today’s post is simple. Just a few things I’m going to enjoy the hell out of when I relocate. And I should clarify that I haven’t regretted at all this experience and the “living like a grown-up” traits it has instilled in me. A lot of them are things that normal, non-alcoholic/addict people have done for most of their adult life. I am not that person, never had a reason to be that person and in fact, whether I lived alone or with my blessed enablers, thought I was just being a Bohemian artist/writer type like Tom Waits circa Nighthawks at the Diner. Really, though, I was just a pig.

1. No shoes, no shirts. A stipulation of this house is the wearing of shirts and shoes at all times in “common areas.” I may walk around my new house with nothing but a loin cloth and a beret for a month, just because I can.

 

2. No curfew. I realize that, for their own sake, most alkies and addicts need structure if they’ve taken their addiction to the level of rehab and/or jail time. However, it’s been a real drag not knowing that I can stay out as late as I want and go wherever I want. Granted, at my age and given my fledgling social activities, there is no conceivable place or activity that I’m going to be engaged in that requires me to be out until all hours. It’s just the principle of the thing, dammit.

 

3. No gambling or pornography at the house. Now, in my sobriety, I have developed a friendship with some guys who maintain a steady Saturday night poker game. The buy-in is $5 and it’s really more about enjoying yourself in the company of other sober guys just trying to grow up than the game itself. That said, it would be nice to have the freedom to play cards in my own home and not worry if the games of chance might be a trigger for some guys.

And I’ll just come out and say this. One time, a guy was caught watching porn on the big-screen TV in the living room and had to zip up and vacate when he heard the key in the front door. The other guy walked in to a living room with the DVD player open, the shades drawn and a bedroom door closing quickly off in the distance. Men must abstain from even having a woman (or man) in their rooms with the door closed and certainly patronizing the ladies of the night. My first weekend at the new place, I’m going to host a strip poker game with my roommate and a bunch of hookers.

 

4. No television. I have come to love reading again and it’s because I can’t watch TV. At all. At any given hour of the day or night, there is somebody watching TV and it’s never something I want to watch too. Whether it’s The Big Bang Theory or the remake of The Lone Ranger, I can so live without it. As a result, I’ve read 3 times more books in the last 21 months than I did in the 3 years prior. It’s an addiction I sorely missed.

 

5. Not marking my food with a Sharpie. One of the first things we tell guys when they come here is mark your food. The reason is simple, few things are more important to a guy in recovery than smokes, coffee and food in that order. And I have a tendency to shop according to what I have at home. If I have half a bottle of cocktail sauce, I buy shrimp. If I have half a bottle of Thai peanut sauce, I buy more peanut sauce, potsticker sauce and potstickers. As a result, I have more food in the house than almost all the rest of the guys. We recently experienced a food thief who, among other items, ate the last of my Take 5! candy bar and I reacted by throwing a brief but dramatic tantrum and putting all of my dry goods in my closet. This was met with intensity only by my outburst a few weeks back when I reacted to one guy’s traipsing up and down the hallway outside my room and shouting F-Bombs while I was trying to catch a nap. I bolted upright, threw my gym clothes in my bag, slammed a few doors and sped off to the gym. It’s very fortunate that I didn’t thrust the garage door off its track because that is in fact what I tried to do. I started going to the Zen Center the next week.

 

The list could go on, but I’ve made my point I think. The day when I muse about the significance this house has had in my new life in sobriety is coming. And as I said, He and I are going to have a big throw-down. But not today. I’ve spent enough time inside already and my laundry is done. I’m going to go to the gym, have some lunch and attend the house meeting tonight with the much welcome knowledge that said new beginning is here.

Bonding on the Beach

ImageImage

     I’m invincible (You can read about it here). I get it from my father. It always drives my mom nuts when I say that. She’ll point to the fact that he’s had about 6 different kinds of cancer and he has emphysema or whatever they’re calling the disease you get when you smoked a pack of Lucky Strike non-filter cigarettes every day for 45 years and still bum cigarettes off your son when he comes over (he still kinda tries to hide it from her since she quit in earnest about 10 years ago and reclaimed her long-ago status as a jock). I counter with “Yeah, and he’s still kickin’, Mom. It’s the Sigler genes. Immune systems of steel, I tell ya.”

     Compounding this reality is the fact that I think I’ve seen the man actually ingest 8 fluid ounces of water in my lifetime. Again, for approximately 5 decades, Da’s diet has consisted almost entirely of coffee, red meat, potatoes and red wine. And scrapple. If you don’t know what scrapple is, read about it here. He adopted that particular culinary delight when he was in the Jesuit seminary in Amish country in Pennsylvania in the late ‘60s. Despite how truly nauseating it sounds, scrapple is actually pretty good. I mean, at least it’s natural. And after reading books like Fast Food Nation and the other cursory research I’ve done on food in general, I’d certainly opt for a big plate of those pig parts before I would think about ingesting whatever makes Lucky Charms shine.

     This penchant for defying the laws of nature extends to his exercise habits as well. My brother leads the pack having never smoked, a few marathons under his belt and even learning to cook healthy in his adult years. My mom and I lie somewhere in the middle as she smoked for many years too then quit and now eats pretty darn healthy (I haven’t graduated to packing my own food when I go over to their house for the day, but I’m close. The woman never has anything good in the cupboards or the fridge. Her defense is the same as anybody’s. “If I have it around, I’ll eat it.” Well yeah. I mean, you’re Nana J. You’re supposed to have a cookie jar full of Oreos and Hi-C in the fridge. That’s what your mom always had. Let’s pick up the pace shall we?).

My Da is the same way with his diet as with exercise. I don’t think the man has had a good, strong endorphin rush since the Eisenhower administration. Well, once. When my parents traveled to Ireland, Mom did tell me a story about trekking to the top of a mountain and, upon reaching the summit, my Da commenced hugging and back-slapping his fellow travelers and riding out his natural high. She had to shove a Lucky in his mouth and spoon-feed him Cabernet until he calmed down. And I think the most refreshing thing about the man is that despite the change in behavior of his wife and his two sons over the years, he shows no signs of changing his ways. He is sticking to his guns and he will die with a brat and an Old Style at his bed side and he doesn’t give a shit what his wife, his sons or the FDA’s opinion is.

     I get my love of history from the old man, too. I’ve accompanied him on many outings to historical sites and monuments and I enjoy them just as much as he does. So when he traveled to visit me in Seattle years ago, he posited the idea that we visit Fort Clatsop. The fort itself is on the Oregon side of the Columbia River which feeds into the Pacific Ocean. My memory of the fort is not very generous, but neither is the fort. It’s pretty small. It actually paints a pretty grim picture of what constituted a “fort” in 1805 and an even grimmer one of what it was like to live in those two huvels for 4 months. I mean, I hear “fort” and I think of a great expanse of barracks and mess halls and statues of generals. Ft. Clatsop is about the size of a 7-11. And the jacked-up part is that there were two buildings on the site of the fort, one for all the men who took the journey with Lewis and Clark, and then one exclusively for Lewis, Clark, Sacagawea, her French husband and the infant Jean Baptiste. You’d think the guys who get the best room and the most space are the ones who built the freaking fort. But nope. As in most social hierarchies, the prime digs went to the big guys, the Frenchman, his trollop and her incessantly crying little turd.

     I think the reason why I enjoy historical sites as much as my Da is I enjoy picturing a place at the time of its historical significance and what it would have been like for those people who were fresh on the banks of the Columbia River and the Pacific Ocean. We investigated the whole site, then retired to a camp ground right on the beach. Eager to show my father my newfound prowess as an outdoorsman, I set up the tents and the cooking gear and told him all I had learned about “Pack it in, Pack it out” and “Leave no Trace” backwoods etiquette. I cooked us dinner and afterwards, me with a nip and my dog’s head in my lap and him with a coffee mug of wine, we talked as only two guys who love of each other dearly and yet have little in common other than our love of history, literature, baseball and each other can do. By the time he was my age at the time, my Da was married, had served in the military, was married to my mom and was about to start a family. I lacked a steady girlfriend, had bounced around the country a little and at age 23, was still trying to figure out what I wanted to be when I grew up. But it was a pleasant way to end the day. Shortly, we bedded down for the night.

     The next morning, we rose in the same fashion. My brother likes to jokingly call me “Dad” in the morning because, at least at the time, we started the day in the same way: coffee and a smoke. After the morning ritual, I started to break camp and Da fished around in the car for a little breakfast food. I was paying little attention when he came across the three Gatorade bottles. The day before, in an effort to consolidate our wares and conceal the fact that we were consuming alcohol on public grounds, I had poured the vodka into a Gatorade bottle. In identical plastic bottles were my water supply and some Glacier Freeze, also clear fluids. Da absently grabbed the bottle containing vodka and drank heartily on what he thought would be the ounce or two that was his yearly water intake. Instead, he swallowed, hacked a little and shook his head with eyes wide. He looked at me and I smiled mightily.

     “Little hair of the dog never hurt anyone,” I said chuckling. I finished loading the car with our gear and we headed home.