Friday, April 4, 2014

Calling A Bromoratorium Or Romance In Durango

“Life’s not a bitch. Life is a beautiful woman.”

            That is my favorite line from an abstract rapper, Aesop Rock, and it’s also how I feel about life and the opposite sex. Life is a beautiful struggle, and love with a stunning woman makes it all worth it.

            Several weeks ago I wrote an article for The Telegraph about dating in Durango. In the style of journalism, I reported just the facts, based on what I got out of interviewing single people in Durango, while also additionally including some more informal thoughts from conversations with various single friends. Personally, I found it interesting that there are seemingly an abundance of single women in Durango, for a mountain town anyways, and many of these women complained about this “Peter Pan syndrome”: men who are never going to grow up, and are more concerned with skiing and beer than a relationship.

            For starters, I’m calling bullshit with this whole “Peter Pan syndrome” thing. Not that many men, including myself, spend as much time as possible recreating in the outdoors, and are able to hold onto a youth like energy and enthusiasm for life, but that this somehow trumps the need for a relationship. I mean, we have our bromances, but bromance alone is just not enough to live upon.

            That is why recently I called a moratorium on my bromances. It was getting to be too much. I realized this on Valentine’s Day. It was just me and one of my best bros alone out at Indian Creek. The weather was perfect. There was peace and solitude in abundance. The moonrise over a quiet camp put me over the edge, “This is too bromantical,” I said. It was Valentine’s Day and there I was, in the perfect situation for romance, but I was with my bro. And, thus the bromoratorium began. No more bromances until I experience some real romance.

            By all accounts of my Midwestern upbringing I should be married and have three to twelve children, with a boring 9-5, a minivan and a mortgage. I rarely think much of being 35 and single until I go back to the Midwest and people are getting married in their early twenties and then poppin’ out babies a couple years after getting hitched. But I guess I went another way, some people’s paths to finding a partner take longer than others.

            My friend Matt, a good looking lawyer if I say so myself (oh, wait I said I was done with the bromances) has this theory: once you decide that you’re done with the floozies, and want to be in a committed relationship with a life partner, you’ve got to give yourself around five years to find that person.

            Just recently I’ve truly arrived at the place Matt described. Looking for that special someone, that one in a million, not that one that is over there at the bar. Reflecting over my Peter Pan qualities more than one got away. And then there was The One, but she moved to the east coast, and I chose the mountains of the west over our love.

            For years I lived in the Gunnison-Crested Butte region, where the dating scene can be tricky. My friend Nicole, a Gunnison local, told me, “You have to pounce here, if there’s a new girl in town you have to sweet her up before someone else does”. So I tried pouncing, and you know what she was right, it works, but pouncing is not exactly a natural way to start a relationship.

            Compared to the pouncing of the Gunnison Valley, Durango seems chill. It also seems like New York City compared to Gunny. There’s much more women here, and not just that there are women who are really looking. So you have to play defense a little more. When I had a close friend, who is quite charming I must say (who am I kidding I’m addicted to bromance), moved here I warned him. He thought I was joking until he lived here for a few months and several women were going after him. Luckily, he practiced some self-restraint and didn’t turn into a man whore.
            And I’ll admit I had a brief phase where I went after every woman who came my way when I first moved here. But I found often dating is like interviewing for a job you don’t even want. After three years of this in Durango I haven’t found The One, but there is The One I Avoid At The Grocery Store. So now I’m a little more laid back and selective, waiting for that perfect blip on the radar. It’s a nice place to be.

            To me love is like cheese, or beer, or anything that is incredible and you can’t really explain it you just know you want it. Dating gets trickier and there’s less of a pool the older you get. At 35, the women in their younger twenties are out of the question, which kinda makes me feel old. Now, I look at a women’s face and see those crows feet as sign of beauty, the lines of experience that shows she’s been through similar trials and tribulations of life and love that I have. I’m okay with some baggage; it must fit in the overhead container, but the reality is when you’ve reached your mid thirties you’ve been through some stuff. The longer we live the more stories and experiences we collect.

            In my prime, I often fantasize about one last wild phase of my life, move to New York City for a year, get crazy, date all sorts of women, but then I stop and think that there are probably more women in Durango I’d want to date than there are there. In all of my travels there’s nothing more attractive than the Colorado Mountain Woman, the one who works hard all week, frolics in the mountains when she can, and you hold her in your arms when the day is done.

            And why are we so hung up on this Peter Pan thing? That kid’s going to grow up and see what he’s missing out on. Even if many of us Durango dudes let our inner Peter Pan’s run wild most of the time, there’s a man inside who’s going to get his way sooner or later. 

This piece is published in this week's Durango Telegraph. 

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Stack That Cheese, Becoming A Hip-Hop Historian

            “Luke, what does smack that cheese mean?” two of my college-aged co-workers asked me the other day.

            We were closing down the restaurant, and like usual, we were listening to hip-hop. The subject matter of the question: a song by Lupe Fiasco, in which the chorus is, “stack that cheese”. It’s not “smack that cheese” I explained to the ladies, it’s “stack that cheese,” cheese is money, and to stack money means to save it, stash it away.

             Another piece of modern lexicon was added to their brilliant young minds, and we went back to cleaning. Then I wondered, when did I become a hip-hop historian?

             For me hip-hop is a love-hate relationship. If there is one form of music that speaks directly to my heart it is hip-hop. If there is one form of music that disgusts me it is hip-hop. Hip-hop is alive. Hip-hop is dead. Hip-hop is sitting on the mountaintop, singing the praises and joys of being alive. Hip-hop is down in the gutter, sipping hard liquor and syrup, waiting to be resurrected. Hip-hop is a reflection of the human condition.

            I don’t remember where my first hip-hop tape came from, probably a Sam Goody store at the mall, but I remember its manila color, and the energetic vibes that the Beastie Boys created. It was License to Ill, a 1980s classic, with Led Zeppelin sampled guitar riffs and outrageous lyrics. Lyrics that would later shape high school and the excessive partying that led into higher education. Simply put, the Beastie Boys were trouble, and what does the confused youth love more than trouble?

            In high school, when the world moved into CDs, I kept Snoop Dogg and Dr. Dre stashed away in my desk, for fear my parent’s would find it. In essence the songs on Doggystyle were similar to License to Ill, partying, misogyny, and standard misbehaving; which is exactly what I wanted to get into as a teenager.

            I now look back to the 1990s with nostalgia. So out of reach. Many say the golden age of hip-hop was in the 1990s. In the nineties, to me, hip-hop was simply rap, music that was made for partying, for escape, firmly removed from reality. In my senior year of hip-hop I decided I was tired of rap, and became a hippie, perhaps just for a change in drugs to do at parties.

            So the golden age of hip-hop, a crescending wave, crashed over before I even realized it was there. Luckily, at my third college, up in Gunnison, Colorado, I realized there was more to live for than partying. There was the outdoors.

            Hip-hop was invented in the concrete streets, in New York in the 1970s. Founded within black culture, there were three essential ingredients in hip-hop: the music, graffiti art, and breakdancing. It didn’t take long for hip-hop to spread across the globe, or to become commercialized. Still, today in 2014, the essence of hip-hop remains alive and vibrant: kids are still rapping, dancing and creating art with the same tools from the inventors (at least in a figurative sense) from America to Zimbabwe.

            So I moved from an urban existence in Illinois to the rural Rocky Mountains of Colorado, and finally discovered the true beauty and genius of hip-hop. I made the transition from being a hippie, to being, well, just me. Doors began to open in my mind. My friends and I would take trips all over the country to climb, and hip-hop was always on the stereo.  

            One buddy in particular, Big Red the Superjock, was a DJ on the local radio station in Crested Butte, and we had intricate discussions about our favorite artists and their work. Hip-hop was more than just music for partying, way more.

            Hip-hop is art; it is about knowledge and self-discovery, and in the words of my second favorite duo, Black Star, “Life without knowledge is death in disguise, that’s why knowledge of self is like life after death. Apply it to your life let destiny manifest.”

            I learned about the drug epidemic, about how many rappers only escaped jail because they got into hip-hop (Former crack dealer Jay-Z being the most famous). The anger and injustice of 400 years of slavery was voiced through many artists. Tough and honest voices against capitalism, though hip-hop has been noted as the only pro-capitalist form of music out there (again the contradictions). Another great duo, Dead Prez, raps about a proper diet, exercise, love, poetry and yoga, “You are what you eat, so I strive to eat healthy, my goal in life is not to be rich or wealthy.”

            My favorite was (is) Andre 3000, of the duo Outkast. Such a poetic pure soul, Andre 3000 is still ahead of his time, 20 years into his career. He embraced the cool of hip-hop, while remaining true to himself, “Softly as if I play piano in the dark, found a way to channel my anger, not to embark. The world’s a stage and everybody got to play they part.” When Andre 3000 raps, whether it is about struggle, drugs, violence or love, you feel his soul. When he says, “we the coolest mutherfunkers on the planet” you feel like the coolest mutherfunker on the planet.

            Even the Beastie Boys came around. My path mirrored theirs. After years of partying and debauchery, they started rapping about meaningful topics. They apologized for their misogyny and stopped carrying weapons. They started getting involved in the Free Tibet movement, and featured Buddhist monks on one of their tracks. Before his untimely death Adam Yauch aka MCA, spent a winter dirtbagging it as a snowboarder at the Alta ski resort.

            So there it is, a brief history of how I became a hip-hop historian. I kinda like it that, like myself, hip-hop has a few grey hairs. The art is getting better, and worse, all at the same time. It’s everywhere, from commercials to street corners, but the essence of hip-hop lies within the doers: the graffiti artists, the breakdancers, the up and coming rappers; people trying to make something from nothing.

            And if you’re still confused whether you should be smackin’ or stackin’ your cheese, you can buy me a beer; we’ll talk. 

This article is published in today's Durango Telegraph 

Thursday, February 6, 2014

The Golden Hour (and The Golden Thong)

“You always stay at a party ten minutes too long,” my buddy Shaun says.

            So true. With the trifecta of the Outdoor Retailer (OR) show, Snowdown and the Superbowl occurring over the last two weeks I’ve done my share of partying, and now I’m ready to get back in my normal, mellow routine. But first, I’ve got to dive back into that untrustworthy narrator that is memory and recall exactly what happened. 

            The journey up to the bi-annual OR show in Salt Lake City always involves a stop through Moab. My friend, Buddy Bear Benson, as I call him, lovable as a teddy bear, lets me crash at his place when I’m in Moab climbing, or just passing through. OR always involves a lot of networking and partying, and afterwards I always feel burnt out. So this year I committed to getting some exercise in before and after the show.
            So Buddy Bear and I meet up around four o’clock, and as a Moab local he’s got the perfect climb picked out for us. A two-pitch moderate crack route, five minutes from town that is still basking in the last rays of the setting sun. The Golden Hour. I always get stressed out preparing for the OR show (I’m not a natural salesmen) and getting on the rock reminds me to breathe and focus on the task at hand. “Enjoy the moment,” Buddy Bear says before I take off from the belay ledge.

            Climb completed in two hours before the sun leaves us, I take stock of the surroundings: massive chunks of ice floating down the Colorado River, the sexy, alluring, yet dangerous maroon sandstone walls, a velvety pink sunset, and a good friend. “What lives we lead,” Buddy Bear waxes poetically. “We live in the richest nation in the world, and after work we get to climb on these beautiful sandstone walls.”

            Buddy Bear and I crack a beer, and he gives me a local’s bonus, showing me some petroglyphs just up on the hillside. The next morning I’m off to Salt Lake. Off Highway 70 at a gas station in Crescent Junction I meet my buddy Shaun, a natural salesmen, who is committed to helping me achieve my dream to become a full time writer and publisher. Our friendship has been molded by the loss of two great friends in the last two years, both who lived in Salt Lake, and when you lose friends you appreciate the dear ones in your life who are still living.

            We drive up to Salt Lake and make fun of each other like we always do, while finding common ground on the iPod. (Jay Z and the Grateful Dead.) Arriving into Salt Lake the noticeable thick layer of toxic smog hovers over the city, and we barely arrive in time for our first meeting.

            In a three day period at OR I can network more than one year of sending out emails and queries. Nearly every single outdoor company is represented there, as well as renowned outdoor writers, editors, photographers, and professional athletes. We lock down a few new sponsors for my publication, The Climbing Zine, and I get to meet my literary hero John Long, who promises to write an endorsement of my next book.  

            We attend after parties, and after-after parties, and after that have to flag down the ever-elusive cab in the quiet late night of Salt Lake. We stay at many parties ten minutes too long and at the end of the show, and after breathing the polluted air for three days I’m ready to head back in the direction of home.

            Time to head back to Moab for another day of climbing, to set the soul right, and breathe fresh air. We revel in the off-season of the red rock desert, climb with no one around, and bask in the sun.

            Back home in Durango I catch up on my sleep just before Snowdown hits. Other than entering a karaoke contest I didn’t have any plans for Snowdown, but I do own a catsuit and some leopard print clothing, so it was too easy to head downtown and partake in the festivities.

            After the parade my roommate and I wander downtown, and notice that Durango Dance is hosting a “Booty Shaking Contest”. We rally some more friends and check it out. All I can say is: Best Snowdown Event. Ever.

            A rowdy crowd inside, with a hundred people outside looking in made for an infectious spirit as both men and women shaked their booties for audience applause. Women are more naturally inclined to the art of booty shaking, while some of the guys resorted to other trickery, like breakdancing to get applause. But one fellow stood out from the rest.

            From the moment he entered he was a crowd favorite. He had a good 40 years on any of the other entrants, and when he entered the floor he owned it. It wasn’t his dancing, it was his swagger. As each round progressed he gained more and more applause and his opponents less and less. Soon he had the crowd chanting, “Old Guy, Old Guy, Old Guy….” And the contest built to a feverish pitch. Destroying the field, and the dance floor, he was a hero, and awarded the prize: The Golden Thong, an item he promptly put on over his pants for display. When he left the studio, a crowd of admirers waited, erupting in applause for this Grandpa that had captured their hearts.

             It all went downhill from there. I did have a blast at the karaoke performing my old standby, “U Can’t Touch This” complete with a well practiced Hammer Dance, but it was a travesty when my friend dressed as a monkey failed to make the top three. His “Welcome to the Jungle” rendition was nearly identical to Axl’s delivery, and garnered more applause than anyone that entire night. Best costume and best delivery, and the judges didn’t even give him the top three. I mean a screaming monkey belting, “Shaaanana, Naana, Neez, Neez….” with an otherwise quiet crowd erupting in applause. If these judges are on the Snowdown payroll I think an investigation is necessary, but I digress.

            After that we witnessed drunkards getting arrested and kicked out of bars, taking the spirit of celebration way too far. We all know what happened on Sunday too, and I won’t bother commenting on that. And, I’m ready to get back into that early to bed, early to rise routine, to follow the rhythm of winter for a few more weeks, and leave parties at just the right time. 

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Weed and Typewriters

Something groundbreaking and equally unremarkable happened as of January 1st in Colorado: anyone over the age of 21 can legally buy marijuana. Of course you loyal Telegraph reader already know that. Everyone knows that, it’s plastered over every paper from USA Today to the New York Times.

As someone who voted for the measure I’m proud to be a part of what will hopefully be a trend setting law for our country, and across the world. One of the major reasons I support the legalization and decriminalization of the herb is that people should simply not be going to jail for marijuana use, simple as that. If alcohol is legal, then weed should be too.

I contemplated filling my column on the legalization of marijuana, but I simply don’t have it in me. I’m bored just thinking about a thousand words dedicated to weed. Maybe the Telegraph needs a proper marijuana editor like the Denver Post? I’m sure there wouldn’t be a shortage of applications, or perhaps we could hire within?

No, you won’t find me painting my face green, wearing a weed necklace and waiting in line for an hour to buy some legal marijuana, I’ve got work to do. There are enough champions for this cause. Plus, I’m working on my New Year’s Resolution: to write on a typewriter.

I got the idea from my friend Brian. Each year he makes practical, achievable New Year’s Resolution. Last year his resolution was to wear more blue jeans. He also has a sock addiction and owns nearly 40 pairs. He prefers women’s socks, and says he likes the colors and they fit better. He also doesn’t smoke weed, but loves the smell of it. He sent me a text last week that read, “Finally I can smell in the open without fear of prosecution.” Brian’s full of quirks. Once on a road trip to Yosemite we brought a dictionary and kept ourselves entertained by looking up new words. It was formidable.

I bought an old typewriter at a local thrift store this summer, and figured why not put it to use. I once attended a party where people wrote poetry on a typewriter, and I felt like a beatnik. I’ve always wanted to be a beatnik. Other than that I’ve never used a typewriter. I’m part of the very first computer generation, and like the 13 year olds with iPhones these days, I take it all for granted.

But since I’m old school and was born in the seventies, I’m starting to do the whole, “When I was your age” thing. For example, “When I was your age, we couldn’t text girls, we wrote them notes, and they had to circle yes or no if they liked us, and you had to risk getting your note caught, or other people finding out who you liked.” Or, “When I was your age, we didn’t have cell phones, we had beepers, and my Mom found my beeper and took it back to the store because she thought I was going to use it to sell weed.”

I once had an English professor say there’s no way we’ll know how the computer has affected literature until years from now. I mean in some ways I’m envious of the writers who never used a computer. No Facebook and Twitter to distract you, no iPhone buzzing texts while you’re typing out your great masterpiece. No wondering if your personal information has been compromised by Snapchat or Skype or Target. Just you and your thoughts at the typewriter. And, aside from my desire to be a modern day beatnik, that is why I wanted to compose something on my typewriter, that meditation, that lack of distraction, that beauty which comes from a singular, meditative focus.

My typewriter, it sat around for months until one day I got motivated to replace the old ribbon, and put it to use. I took a picture of it and went to the one office supply store that I thought might sell typewriter ribbons. They saw the picture, told me it was super old, and I’d have to order one online. So I did. Five dollars.

People have either laughed at me when I tell them about my typewriter or they say things like, “that’s sexy.” Then they see it and its covered in cat hair and dust, and its like 70 years old, and they just say, “eeeewww.”

To me this typewriter is like my shelf of books. There’s no rational reason to have this shelf of books, I live in a small room, where I could expand my yoga floor by getting rid of my books and simply putting everything on a Kindle. But I hold onto my books because they make me remember when I read them and fell in love with them, and made me want to become a writer, because there’s magic in beautiful stories and the book is a work of art, and its perfect and people will go on writing books forever because we need them to live.

So, when I returned home from the holidays my ribbon arrived and I cleaned off the typewriter. After watching a YouTube video the ribbon was successfully installed. And then I started writing on it. The words are blurry and I had to use a single finger keystroke, and play around with the mechanisms to type. I started getting frustrated. But this thing is 70 years old, and it still works! Looking at my computer and my iPod and my iPhone and they are all going to be in the trash in five years.

Now, back at the computer I appreciate it a little more. I also want to buy a better typewriter. Maybe my old one is just something nostalgic, something to sit around like my bookshelf and make me appreciate this juxtapose in time, where we can have the luxuries of modern technology, and the nostalgia of the past. And we can go to the store and buy weed (no beeper required). 

This piece was originally published in the Durango Telegraph, January 9, 2014.