Thursday, March 10, 2016

Two Front Teeth

who loves Colorado? This guy.
All Lucas wanted for Christmas was his two front teeth. At least that’s how the story goes. On Halloween, he was dressed up like a Storm Trooper from Star Wars, having a banner night at a local bar, and proudly showing off his costume that took months to make. Then, something happened, the kind of thing you never want to happen on your favorite night of the year: he got sucker punched right the middle of the face. The drunken attacker ran off, and before anyone had a chance to catch him, he disappeared into the night.

photo stolen from Lucas's Facebook page
            I found this information out a couple days after Halloween. The last couple years I’ve snuck away to the desert, I love Halloween and costumes and all the fun that comes along with it, but the bar scene isn’t really my thing anymore, so instead I prefer to party down under the light of the moon.

            I ran into Lucas at the grocery store shortly after finding out. I felt bad for him and I felt that awkward kind of guilt when bad things happen to good people. He didn’t have any replacement teeth yet so he spoke with a lisp. One of the first things he said after finding out I already knew what happened was, “I probably had a huge smile on my face when it happened.”

            That’s the kind of guy Lucas is. He finds the positive when the worst happens, always looking for the silver lining, even amidst a touch of grey. I’ve gotten to know Lucas well because he’s my co-worker. We work in a busy restaurant together. I’ve worked in the food industry now for twenty-one years, off-and-on, but mostly on. Something I’ve noticed is that you see someone’s true character when they are under stress. And, with Lucas he never fails to suck it up and get the job done, even when he’s running around like a chicken with his head cut off, like we often are at work. I’m always happy when we work the same days, because I know he always steps up to the plate and gives his best.

            Lucas and I also have the same name. Sometimes he goes by Lucas, and sometimes Luke, but he seems to prefer Luke. He told me when he started there he really wanted to go by Luke. But, I was already there, and my Mom named me Luke because she didn’t want me to go by and abbreviated name. So graciously he conceded and let me be the Luke. That’s the type of guy he is. Always thinking of others first.

            It didn’t take long for me to understand why Lucas was in Durango. He’d just graduated from CU in Boulder, and wanted to do the thing that many of us do in Durango — get a job in the service industry, buy some time to decide what’s next, and most importantly have time to get outside and recreate in this beautiful place. For him it’s skiing, fishing, and hunting. I don’t really do any of these activities, but I respect his passion, and I think all outdoor people can relate to each other. When he comes back from an adventure, telling me that he woke up at like three in the morning to hunt ducks, or fish, I’m always impressed by his dedication to his passion. Without passionate people, life isn’t worth living.

            In the meantime I’ve watched him become fully engaged in the culture of Durango. He loves each and every holiday that involves costumes, and spends countless hours constructing his own outfits, like the Storm Trooper one he sported for Halloween last year. But after getting his teeth knocked out Lucas started to lose faith in the community of Durango.

            My fellow co-workers all were concerned about his situation, especially after we learned that his expenses were totaling up to be thousands and thousands of dollars. I thought it would be cool to have a little poker night fundraiser. Lucas and I always talk about poker but we both rarely ever have the same night off, so we never get to play together. I told my boss, Cody, about this and he suggested we start a Go Fund Me campaign. I’d never started one, but the very next day after our conversation, Cody started the page, and tagged me in a post on Facebook. I shared it, and so did several other friends and co-workers. In the blink of an eye a thousand dollars had been raised. Then another. In a week it was already almost five thousand dollars!

            Then came the poker night. It was inspiring how many people wanted to help out. My friend and poker mentor Travis, who had never met Lucas, offered to help organize the event. We decided to make the night a surprise, and my bosses arranged for both of us to have the night off — a rarity considering we are both night managers. My other boss Mike, ended up working that night, and arranged for a pony keg and free food. His girlfriend told him they would be having a date night, and somehow, he never found out that we’d been secretly planning the evening.

            Everyone came over an hour before he was supposed to arrive. It was a cool and quirky mix of Durango folk: his friends and family (two of his cousins live here), our co-workers, my poker friends, and my climber friends. There were many people there that didn’t even know Lucas, but when they found out what happened quickly decided to come over and support the cause.

            His girlfriend Liz decided to blindfold him, and he watched as he hilariously walked across my icy driveway, and then up my stairs. When Liz took the blindfold off of him he was stunned. The first thing he said in a very endearing voice was, “You guys are ridiculous”, which was quickly followed by, “Wait, who is at work right now?”

            The poker game was epic, 15 some people playing into the wee hours of the night. During the break in the middle, Lucas told me about how he was losing faith in the community of Durango during this whole thing, but then all of that went away once the fundraiser started and people rallied to support him. Later he would tell me what a cool assortment of people showed up. I thought about that for a minute. I thought maybe it was his group of people, or maybe it was mine. But, then I realized that it was bigger than that — it is the community of Durango that is so awesome and supportive.

            Not to dismiss the problems we have — there’s more than one evil person running around committing acts of violence — and it’s not just violence, its drugs and homelessness and 99 other problems that ail of community and our larger society as a whole. But, if we are strong enough to support people when something bad happens, even people we don’t know, then that’s a start, and that’s the essence of community, a common unity.

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This piece is published in today's Durango Telegraph

My books, The Great American Dirtbags and Climbing Out of Bed are both available online, at the Zine site, and on Amazon. 

My third book, a memoir, American Climber will be published on April 11th.  

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