Thursday, October 10, 2013

What I love.

            What. What I'm thinking about. I've been thinking about you a lot. Its funny, all the times I bring you up to girls I'm dating one of two things happens: "Why are you not dating her?" or "Why is your best friend 58, 67, 79?" I don't really have an excuse, you don't pick your Best Friends, they just kinda are.So I usually just dodge the question and keep talking about her. So here I go yet again---

        The first time I over spoke to What was through my mom's "belly button window." She would say "Hello, Michael" and I would probably start kicking wanting to get out just to meet her. My family, just 8 of "us," at that point had just moved in at 35712, right across the street from 35673. My mom and her connected immediately. Best buds. as I learned to talk, I gave her her name. One day she came over to visit me and my Mom and Dad. She was holding me and said "Mom's her name," pointing to my mother, "Dad's his name" pointing my Dad. At this point you'd think I could learn one more. She asked "What's my name?" I said, "What." It stuck.

          As i grew I spent 50% at home 50% at What's. My mom was naturally always calling to see where we were. When my mom asked me to do some chores or practice piano or anytime she said all my three names, you bet I was running across the street. I'd poke my head through the mail slot and yell, is anybody hooooome? She'd open the door and we would watch one of her many Disney videos on VHS. (NOTE: I am holding a remote in the picture below). Our favorite was Mickey's Trailer because of all the gadgets and Sword of the Stone because it was about our favorite era, the medieval.

             At 430 every afternoon from 1-4th grade she'd fix me an ice cream sundae and I'd curl up on the La-z-boy and watch Ducktales. She was teaching English at Irvington at the time so she needed sometime to wind down herself. As her kids John and Dani we're already old and had their own kids just a tad bit younger than I as you could imagine, we fell in, eating delicious waffles watching Disney, quizzing each other on the capitals and states from her educational map placemats (always teaching), Taniyah (Nicole) would "school" me and my brother something proper. Learning so many trivial and random things geared me up for our favorite show in my older years, Jeopardy. We both fantasized about being on the show but never did. It was enough to use our armchair buzzers.

         Speaking of school, she always taught me. About everything. A natural educator, we would never finish a film without a lesson. We'd watch Ben-Hur or The Ten Commandments her pausing to tell us which one was Peter or why the Israelites were carrying Joseph's bones in their exodus from Egypt. She would even invite us to the High School she taught at where I saw the Hobbit and Fiddler on the Roof; some of the first musicals I ever saw.  She taught me culture. From listening to Beatles to watching classic noir with Bogie or Mr. Bond played by her favorite scotsman to the most rugged historian nerd out there: Indiana Jones. When I was hit by a car at 12 the first thing she noticed was that I got a scar on my chin just like Harrison Ford. Cool.

        I couldn't talk about cool without including sports and the one we loved the most, Football. We LOVED it. Every sunday after church we watched the Niners play, first with the legends, Floyd, Cross, Montana, Rice then of course when Steve came to town from our favorite college team, it was pandemonium. She would fix up the same perfect football snack: Lipton's Onion Dip with Ruffles Potato Chips. She KNEW how to watch football.

       The food didn't stop there. We would take trips to get a Happy Meal all the time when I was just a boy. That was when I wanted it just for the toy. She spoiled me. As soon as my palate developed she found out I loved a good Steak and a baked potato. Just like her. She called me her meat and potatoes boy. We'd go to Cattlemen's often but when she wanted to show me an excellent steak for a special occasion (one, she said, DID NOT need sauce) she took me to the Sundance Mining Company in Palo Alto or even Shadowbrook in Capitola. These places were nice. Real nice.

         As I got a little older, and my only extra-curricular were those after-school excelled classes, My mom and What wanted something good for me. Something meaningful that would enrich me culturally.  This influenced my life. A lot. We went to the Hayward Library for a free little concert given by the Golden Gate Boys Choir. My mother would argue some of her worst experiences came from this time in my life (haha) but honestly I had some of the most amazing experiences with the choir: singing for the Pope, touring europe, singing in SF Opera productions, What's favorite and my favorite being Carmen. She even bought some very pricy tickets for her and my parents in the Orchestra section. Food was a part of everything so of course we would go to this amazing New York Style Deli restaurant called Max's Opera Cafe where all the waiters sang. It was there I was introduced to my first Bing Cherry New York Cheesecake. Yum.

        San Francisco was her favorite city maybe rivaled by Park City and Carmel. We didn't just eat there, she took me to many museums, two of her favorites, being DeYoung and the Palace Legion of Honor. At the DeYoung museum she took me, wide eyed to their Austrian Arms and Armour exhibit. I still remember that one exhibit after 25 years. It featured our favorite era: the Medieval.

           As the years went by, the seasons brought many distinct events to What's house. In the summer it was Pool party barbecues, sometime scheming of the twenty different ways we could go down the slide playing with all the confiscated SuperSoakers from her time being a Vice Principal at Irvington. We swam so much, even on sunday for a "sacred swim," it wasn't surprising that a good portion of the Wood Family swam for the local High School.

           Probably the toughest seasons for me will be the ones we spent inside. If we went outside we'd be bundled up for a brisk walk which was also great. Most of all we just loved to be inside. That might sound odd, but What and I loved the rain. It was the only precipitation we ever got in the Bay Area. We loved the way it fell on the roof. We loved the thunder roar and lightning crash.  We'd have a fire roaring and read our favorite books, To Kill a Mockingbird, John Grisham Novels or a classic movie on TV.  Fall was Football or watching Night of The Living Dead near Halloween. Thanksgiving meant her classic raspberry jello with graham cracker cream sauce being the prized item at our family's feast. We'd then walk it off around the lake, she loved that.  Christmas meant setting up villages in her family room. We'd dust off the outside lights (seen in the picture of the house above) she has had up for 32 plus years. We'd get the tree out and lighting and decorating it listening to Christmas at Boots' Place. Mostly it meant holding her hand as we sat on that same tattered grey la-z-boy and watch Mickey's Christmas Carol.

            I started this blog entry back in May when What passed. I wanted to do a kind of obituary. From my perspective. It probably looks like I'm telling nearly everything I ever did with her. Not even close. Like I said earlier, I don't know if anyone will really know her impact on my life. The little things that happen throughout the day that remind me of her. If you skipped any of the stories above I don't blame you. One thing she could never stop is my thoroughness. To exhaustion. Even in singing her praises. I do want you to know one thing however. What was the most selfless person I've personally known. She's What I love. What I know. What I miss. What I can only aspire to be.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Off the Grid

The last weekend I was able to get away. From everything. It was Lake Powell, the sun was high and it was hot. So my phone probably would have melted anyway. Either way, I left in the car. The trip was out of nowhere, but it was just what the doctor ordered. I wondered about my texts, emails, insta and fbook for the first half hour but then stopped. This was a huge blessing. There were night clouds that looked like aliens and cats while we discussed the theology and the inevitable marriage of two that were on our trip (I'll let you figure that one out). There were "interesting" petrogliphs above a house called defiance that looked like they had been painted yesterday but have been here for centuries. Got some air wakeboarding being instructed by a friend Chids, (this being my second time up ever) with Cousin throwing some ill beats down on the boat stereo that matched that feeling exactly. We flew a kite with nothing but the light of the moon but we got it up after a bunch of tries. It was spooky the way it kinda floated out there like a demon. Who needs late night ghost stories right? I took a dip about 10 times a day, most likely cause I was turning firehouse red (Jess could tell you that. Anyone could really.) but more likely cause I love the water. Me and Allison started each morning of the trip with a mild half mile swim. I jumped off some pretty tall cliffs because that IS my favorite thing about the Lake. I didn't wear a life jacket but that makes the plunge that much more thrilling. I miss the ocean so this was the closest thing (literally and figuratively). Most importantly, Chids' mom provided all of us with enough brats and uncrustables to feed us forever.

Those that know me, know that I love my phone and its access to unlimited information.  I usually have it glued to my hand. One thing we discussed at night was that we live for these moments. Disconnected from the world. One even suggested that the world could be over and it could be just us here one the lake. As ominous as that might sound, I feel that we need to remind ourselves to stop and smell...well there weren't any roses down at Powell, and we ate nothing but cheese, burritos, and bratwursts but you get the picture.

This new perspective was much warranted.

Sunday, April 1, 2012


Just put my name in for the St. George Marathon this morning. As I listen to conference, I'm already thinking about self-improvement. So this fits. Let me tell you first and foremost I am not a runner. I've never been. I run a lot though. I feel like the things that push us the most are the things we should strive for. If it's easy its not worth it - vice versa - if it's worth it, it's gonna be fierce. Fierceness is what will get us through the race but it's more than that. When I run I think smile. Not miles. Switch the s. The mechanics of the running provide us an opportunity to think. Get in your head. You can do one of two things. You can think about the 6 in. in before your front foot. Or you can think smile. You can look at a the stoplight, the hill, the turn maybe even the next runner (for the kill) to keep your self looking forward and smiling at the opportunities that lie ahead. It's boundless.

I ran something called the Frigid 5k this early this year, named such because afterward everyone plunges into icy Utah Lake. What we found out the night before and in the morning was that it was snowing/raining solid and that we had to run the race wet. This was crazy, but I ended up getting a PR for a 5k with that race. Perhaps it was the challenge posed by the elements that caused me to think smile and work harder. Who knows. I just know that it suprised me how well I did but I thought smile.

This is why the Tarahumara runners can run for hundreds of miles. Long ago they built their small mountain community around the infinite run.  They even run in sandals. I understand that many have ailments and handicaps that keep them from running or running long without pain, but you would be surprised who still runs: crutches, prosthetic athletic legs etc... Regardless, whatever your athletic challenge, meet it. It will try you in ways everyday life never can. When you forget to run, or can't run, think of the next time you can. I run. and swim. You might dance, lift weights, power-walk, do water aerobics. Whatever that challenge is, think smile.

“That was the real secret of the Tarahumara: they'd never forgotten what it felt like to love running. They remembered that running was mankind's first fine art, our original act of inspired creation."
                      ― Christopher McDougallBorn to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Celebrate Him Home

         Christmastime. I say I will always get overexcited and waste it out beforehand but I can't hold it in. As as I lay resting from overfeasting and leftoverfeasting on yams and apples and REAL mash potatoes on black friday, I start thinking about Christmas music. I dream about it. I love giving for selfish reasons. It makes me feel good. Just plain good. I try harder than ever during the Christmas season because I want others to feel good and see how happy it makes me. I've been sporting a Pay It Forward rubber bracelet for a bit because I want those I give to to understand that it can do the same for them.  My mother taught me that. My best friend "What" is the perfect exemplar. She would teach me SO MUCH that I could not possibly contain the knowledge she had to give. Most importantly she gave me the fire of learning. The passion to soak in how  everything works.
          Christmas = Music. Amazing music. From holy to secular. From attending Mo Tab Christmas Specials (thanks to my roommate Tyler) to my time singing as a "wait" in the Feast and Revels at the Sir Francis Drake with the Golden Gate Boys Choir to Caroling sometimes with my Family and other times Alumni from the choir to Christmas party and gift shopping sing and dance-a-longs.  I love to share the feeling the music gives me with everyone. Tremendous songs sung in church like Good Christian Men Rejoice or Whence is that Goodly Fragrance Flowing. Soulful Christmas jams like What Christmas Means to Me or This Christmas. Classics like The Christmas Song or Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.  The feeling it gives me is Joy, Happiness, Excitement, Warmness inside the heart and home against the Bitter Cold of winter.
           Most of all Christmas is a word for the greatest of the many special Catholic masses (feasts or celebrations) celebrated on December the 25th; aka Christ's mass. Although more a traditional holiday than an accurate historical birthdate, it is a mass to celebrate the birth of The Anointed One and we'll take it. He showed us how to give and what it would mean to give. It shows love and brings love. While our family listens to Journey to Bethany on vinyl to the dramatized version of Luke 2, I feel the wondering awe sung of in the hymn. A few years back my little niece Ella (as many kids are prone to do) picked up the baby in the manger and asked me "who is this?" Of course I started to tear up and I told her he is the very reason for Christmas; he is our Savior.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Fall = Football

It's fall again people. Although I love Pumpkin Pie, Cookies, Muffins and Doughnuts, I love eating them while watching FOOTBALL.  I do love the "rest of the world's" sense of the word but it is Our Nation's favorite pastime that is my favorite spectator sport overall.  Even College's big end of the season game edged out my World Champion Giants playing in the World Series in viewers, even if you counted two baseball games over one football.

Let me set give you my Sundays growing up. 9:00 A.M. Church. Got home at 12:10 PM or a little after judging on how long my Mom would talk with her friends. When we got home I would click on the Tube.
Only situations under which football could be watched on sunday:
1. My mother had things to do NOT in the family-room-adjacent kitchen where the TV lived.
2. Dad was tired, as he often was cause he always worked very hard at all hours to provide for us 8 kids. He would sit in the easy chair and watch with me.
3. I would go across the street to my best friend, What's (subject of which will be in a an epic blog soon) house.
4. Like number 2 if What aka Marylyn, also my mom's best friend (a kind of odd friend-triangle) came over and she would turn on the TV even on the off chance that I forgot.

OTHERWISE my loving mother would want it off so we would not "vege" and could do boring sunday things like write missionaries letters, read the Ensign, contemplate life or walk around the lake next to our house. (Things I've grown into as I've grown up which makes prioritizing on Sunday much more difficult.)

So, with these two venues for professional football watching, there were perks to both. What played football as a little girl growing up in East Oakland in the 1950s. There's a great picture she's got as a child standing in the street that I've imposed my vision of her as the only girl playing football with all the tough boys.  So in her little Football Haven, we would enjoy such staples as Ruffles and Lipton Onion Dip, Milkshakes or just plain Ice Cream (never really plain: Chocolate and Butterscotch Syrup, fudge, nuts but never maraschino cherries, blech.), popcorn with real butter poured on, and always plenty of orange juice and chocolate milk to wash it down. There were plush seats that changed over time starting with this grey corduroy chair then later a nice pleather love seat recliner. The TV would get larger overtime too. When I go home NOW, it is a considerably large HD and has since ruined me for standard definition football.

At home was still nice although we had to get all the goodies for ourselves. There was a bevy of these in the garage/Costco pantry.  It would be the same if What managed her way over as she often did waiting for sunday dinner which we all ate together very often. She often would bring the Chips and Dip with her which would make it that much more lovely. The best part of watching football on sundays was watching with my pop. As with many traits I have inherited from my father, one is my affinity and the excitement that comes to me as I watch football.  He also would watch football all Saturday if he had the chance and over time I got heavier and heavier into the college game seeing why he found it much more exciting than professional. Also, his love for my BELOVED cougars as he, my mother and three of my sisters attended there. We watched some incredible QBs, number 8 Steve Young and then Ty Detmer and on to Steve Sarkisian as with receivers like Austin Collie. Sadly we haven't seen many great QBs since, especially after the horrible display in the Holy War last Saturday. But you'll find no fairweathers here. In fact, when Dad would watch and see a great or horrible play, he would get very excited or express his discomfort. Among my favorite expressions were, "For Pete's Sake!" "Son of Gun!" and my brother and I's favorite: "I love it, I love it, I love it!" At first we would reminisce having at my father's expense but I have since realized that I get excited in a very similar manner today.

The NFL is what we got most excited about because it was something people would most talk about and seemed to be more popular than college growing up.  Our team, and I want to make this clear, was the Forty-niners BEFORE Young came to the team.  I grew up with the legacy names like Ronnie Lott, Randy CrossRoger Craig, Dwight ClarkJerry Rice and the famed Joe Montana. The amazing 16 - 80 connections were something of legend and we LOVED to watch again and again, especially  when Coach Seifert took the boys to 1988 and 1989 Super Bowl wins. When Steve Young came to town, you could imagine our family and all Mormon friends excitement with him come to the "home team." Steve Young made a great impression in his own right his southpaw connections to Rice time and time again surpassing even the Montana to Rice TD record. My favorite Young moment was "the catch II" to a certain number 81 who I loved for the couple seconds he stayed humble before he became an eyesore in the media.

Football is the greatest spectator sport of all time.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Cinematic Excellence: The Spaghetti Western

From the earliest silent movie we have had numerous of what have been called Westerns. These have been known as Cowboy flicks, and since before the first moving picture there were many stories shared and published about Lawmen, Bounty Hunters, Outlaws, Desperados and Injuns involving both heroic and antiheroic motifs.

The Duke's Legacy is a lengthy one but I find the westerns with this typecast actor to be as wimpy as his real name: Marion.  After watching the craziness of Tarantino's Sukiyaki Western Django I realized that I am not the only one that finds the Italians take on the western to be quite extraordinary.  Ironically "Sukiyaki" was made in Japanese and Western themes with Japanese Actors, while many Italian Westerns copied plots from Japanese classics like Yojimbo by Akira Kurosawa which was not an Italian exception with The Magnificent Seven obvious copy of the famed classic Seven Samurai These elaborate plotlines, the beautiful wide shots of the Hoyo de Manzanares or Tabernas Desert in Spain made to look like the South and Southwest United States in the late 19th century, the closeups of newfound prodigious actors such as Clint Eastwood, Franco Nero and Eli Wallach and the time-tested scores of composers like Ennio Morricone. He wasn't the first Italian to make memorable music set to western themes as you might see with one of my favorite and most renown composers, Giacomo Antonio Domenico Michele Secondo Maria Puccini.

Sergio Corbucci made his mark with the original Django starring Nero and had many exceptional westerns to come. Sergio Leone made an even greater mark with the No Name Trilogy in which Eastwood starred and later with Once Upon a Time in the West with Peter Fonda playing largely against type as villainous Frank. Although famous for their violence and testing the established film rating system in many countries, one can see the beauty of these films and their vision of the west.  When one watches these films it is hard not to accept these directors' view of a popular film theme as exceptional. I advise you, the reader, to start with Clint Eastwood's very first western, Leone's Fistful of Dollars, and you will see what I mean.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

British Music of the Aughts.

Since the turn of the latest century into the 00s there have been many a great group of talented musicians making good creative postnewpunkwaverock, especially British ones. First The Clash's sound started to evolve with Sandinista! but there were many more where they came from.

During my older brother's teenage years, I could hear music blasting out of his locked room (couldn't turn it down, even if he wasn't home). It took me ten-odd years to appreciate his love of record stores and open my ears to more than the gangsta rap that was so popular in MY teenage years. When I did, I remembered the sounds I had heard when I could barely recognize them: Siouxsee Sioux and her crew, Robert Smith with his new band, Ians both McCullough and Curtis and their respective groups, Jesus and Mary Chain, while Costello also and the wave he'd made. All these seem to center around English Radio DJ John Peel whose studio sessions promoted many of these acts when airplay was much more relevant to launching music careers.

In the early "double-zeroes"I was in Wisconsin serving a spanish-speaking LDS mission and although I did occasionally hear popular music, I wasn't able to soak it up like I love to do. Or if I did, it was mostly ranchera music booming out of camillonetas or trocas on the calle (that too holds a special place in my heart.)

When I returned home in May 2003, I was blown away with the resurgence of good rock music coming from across the pond in what the many called the post-punk revival. I had never made the connection, but it was much like the music I heard as a boy mixed with the creative juices flowing from all directions in the beginning of this new millennia.

While britpop pioneer Damon Albarn worked on his projects, brilliant acts like Bloc Party shared a new look at this great era of rock, citing the Cure as a major influence. My favorite of these bands just arriving on the british music scene has to be those chimps from the north, the Arctic Monkeys. They burst forth as the internet era of music brought them to more people quicker than ever before. After seeing them last monday and their new "interestingly-titled" album coming out today in the states, I am convinced that their brand of rock revives only the best in the british music of the yesteryear.

P.S. Figuring out my new handy little handheld handrecorder, I recorded a few live tracks from the in the venue show. Among other great songs I was too tired to hold my H2 up for were: Don't Sit Down 'Cause I've Moved Your Chair from the new LP, the classic If You Were There, Beware, Humbug's Potion Approaching, my favorite When the Sun Goes Down, Then when the picks and bottles of water were thrown into the audience and my friend was yelling something I couldn't quite make out, they played She's Thunderstorms also new, and crowd pleaser Fluorescent Adolescent.