May 4, 2013

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Happiness (They Say) Is a Warm Gun

On my first or second day at the University of Colorado, before classes began, I met a girl named Teddy. I met quite a few people during that orientation week, but Teddy was memorable because she had long hair flowing down almost to her waist and because she told me she had spent the summer working as an acrobat in a European circus. Ohhh-kay, whatever. Then someone else began talking to me and she was gone.

A few weeks later, as I was sitting in a large lecture hall waiting for class to begin, a pleasant looking girl with short hair sat next to me and began talking as if we were friends. My face must have given me away as she paused and said, “You don’t remember me, do you? I’m Teddy.”

I asked, “What happened to your hair? The last time I saw you it was long.”

She told me she was wearing a wig when we met. “Wow,” I said, “it looked real.” She told me she had made it herself, using her own hair. Ohhh-kay.

I walked out with her when the class was over and asked how things had been going. She said, “I just finished a hearing before the University Disciplinary Committee.” I had not been aware there was such a thing.

“Why?” I asked.

She said it was because she was carrying a gun in her purse.

“Why?” I asked again.

She looked at me very seriously and said, “People are ratfinks, Louie.” Continue reading


May 3, 2013

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Space Music

The summer of 1969. I was 21 and it seemed a good time for rock and roll. Everyone remembers the Woodstock Nation as summer wound down in August. Heck, I remember it and I was over a thousand miles away. The first major concert event that year was much closer to home, though. It was the Denver Pop Festival held the last weekend of June.

I was delivering mail that summer. Having a real job, making a real salary was nice after my part-time minimum wage job at the library during school. While I needed to save for the next school year, I could afford a little entertainment. The Pop Festival tickets were $6 per day. I could afford that.

The performances began on Friday night at Mile High Stadium. I did not go that night, so I missed Frank Zappa inventing “the wave” as he “conducted” the audience. On Saturday, the first part of the show was in competition with a loud demonstration outside the stadium. This time the crowd was not protesting the Vietnam War, it was protesting the price of the tickets. Music should be free, said the demonstrators.

The second act that night was a Boulder band, Zephyr, which featured vocalist Candy Givens, who was every bit as good as Janis Joplin, and guitar legend Tommy Bolin. Bolin later played with The James Gang and Deep Purple. During their set, the protestors outside broke through security fences and began rushing into the stadium. Police responded by firing tear gas into the crowd. As I look back, breathing that gas was more memorable than the music. Order was finally restored and we heard Poco, Johnny Winter, Tim Buckley and Creedence Clearwater Revival.

I didn’t know what to expect on Sunday night. All the concert tickets had been sold. The promoter, wanting to avoid any more demonstrating and rioting, announced from the stage that the remainder of the festival would be free. Anyone not having tickets was allowed to sit in the South Stands, where they could hear the music, but could not see much. The highlight of that night was Jimi Hendrix. During his set, Hendrix announced that it was the last show for the Jimi Hendrix Experience, which was disbanded immediately afterward.

One thing I enjoyed about delivering mail was that working hours were usually 7:00 am to 3:30 pm. The sun stayed up for hours after I finished work, giving me the opportunity to hike, bike and enjoy the warm days. Often I would go to Boulder to hang out with friends in the evening. Among those I enjoyed seeing were two women named Connie and Joanne, who shared a house and were my co-workers at the library. In early July, a friend of Joanne’s came to visit her for several weeks from New York. All these years later, I can’t remember his name. I will just call him “John,” because that might have been it.

So soon after the Pop Festival, we discussed rock music quite a bit. John was a big fan of the New York Rock & Roll Ensemble, a group of mostly Juilliard-trained classical musicians who found they could make more money with electric guitars than with their cellos and oboes – but they included all of those instruments in their performances. By coincidence, that group had a concert scheduled in Denver, so John and I attended – the girls did not want to go. The juxtaposition between the different musical styles was interesting.

Although my life was pretty calm, I could not help but observe the weirdness across much of the country. Continue reading


May 2, 2013

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Healing – Part 4

My Dad was 91 years old and my Mother 84 when they decided to make the trip. My cousin’s daughter – my Mother’s grandniece – was to be married in Dallas. My parents were in Arvada, Colorado. Recognizing their mortality, they wanted to go to the wedding. “This is probably the last time we will ever travel to Texas [my Mother’s home],” they said.

People wouldn’t say things like that if they really understood the power words have on the subconscious.

Since this was to be their “last trip,” they wanted to make the most of it. Their plan was to fly from Denver to Austin to visit their granddaughter Lisa and her family. Then, they would meet another relative and drive with him to his home in San Antonio. After a visit there, they would fly to Dallas for the wedding; and then back home. The itinerary sounded exhausting to me, and I was much younger.

I took them to the airport to begin the adventure, and said a brief prayer as they disappeared into the security line. I stayed in contact with them by phone every few days, as did my two brothers. The visits to Austin and San Antonio seemed to be enjoyable, but tiring. In Dallas, they stayed with my cousin Mitch. They had a full day to quietly visit and rest before the wedding ceremony.

When the wedding was over and my parents were back at Mitch’s house, my Dad began to feel ill. To be safe, he was taken to the emergency room of a nearby hospital. The examination found that he had contracted pneumonia and needed to be admitted for treatment. That meant he could not fly to Denver the next day, and my Mother was not going to leave without him; so the return tickets were cancelled, he stayed in the hospital and she was Mitch’s guest for the next several days. Continue reading


May 1, 2013

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A Happy Birthday, As It Is Meant To Be

There are people who were absolutely meant to be born into this world. Our son Michael is certainly one of them.

He came into the world on October 12, 1983. My wife Cathy had suffered a miscarriage in the summer of 1982. The pregnancy had been progressing well, but then there had been the bleeding and cramping and contractions; the drive to the hospital late at night. There was nothing the doctor could do. I felt like crying when I saw the lifeless fetus. I didn’t, though. My anguish was emotional, but Cathy was going through physical and mental hell. I tried to put up a good front and support her the best I could.

She slept through most of the next day. The day after that, we needed to get out of town, get away for a few hours. We started driving West on Interstate 70 toward the mountains. We passed Idaho Springs. When we reached Fall River Road, I turned off the highway, suggesting we drive up to St. Mary’s Glacier. It had been years since we had been that way, and I don’t know why I chose that route on that day. About 5 ½ miles from the Interstate, we passed the driveway to the house we would buy several years later – the house where our children would grow to be adults.  It meant nothing to us then.

We were sad for what seemed a long time. I thought losing the baby was a terrible thing. It was, but I see now that it was meant to be. If that pregnancy had continued, Michael would not have been born when and where he was.

Cathy was very careful in all she did and ate and drank during the months just before his birth. Everything was going well and we did not want anything to happen to endanger this baby. However, only a couple of weeks before the due date, Cathy was diagnosed with a viral infection that could affect the birth canal and be life-threatening to the newborn. The alternative was delivery by Caesarean Section. We had been practicing Lamaze breathing, looking forward to as natural a birth as possible, but were glad to change our plans and welcomed the surgery since it could well save our baby’s life. The procedure was scheduled for October 14. Continue reading


April 30, 2013

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When the Teacher Is Ready

Between 2000 and 2004, I had a business called Gilpin Title – a title company primarily serving the mountain areas of Boulder, Gilpin, Clear Creek and Jefferson Counties in Colorado. Most of the larger Denver title companies are reluctant to work in those areas because real property titles are different, and perhaps more complicated, than in the Metro area where there are mainly lots and blocks in subdivisions. The mountain areas were developed by miners and the merchants who followed them, so a title examiner must understand mining claims. There were homesteaders, so he must understand the federal Homestead Act and the Stock Raising Homestead Act. There were towns that arose under federal Townsite Acts.

These more unusual title issues stem from the ways in which land owned by the United States was transferred into private ownership. I was fortunate that I had long been interested in natural resources and had taken law school courses to help me understand the basic legal framework. I had been president of another title company that worked in many of the same mountainous areas. I found that examining the titles of these properties was more interesting than intimidating.

There was a serious downturn in the real estate market during the first months of 2004. The gentleman who was the co-owner of the company, and had the responsibility for the closing and escrow operations, became discouraged and suddenly announced he was leaving the business. I had to quickly decide what phone call I was going to make. Should I call the newspaper to place an ad for a new closer, or should I call someone who might be interested in buying the company? Continue reading


April 29, 2013

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Partnership in Business

This is a difficult essay for me to write. Though I never seem to have much luck in my choice of business partners, I would like to be fair and objective in discussing them. I was president of Clear Creek-Gilpin Abstract & Title Corp. for more than a decade. That is nearly one-sixth of my whole life to this point, and during those ten-plus years the business was the most important thing to me, next to my family. It seems, then, that I need to write something.

Clear Creek-Gilpin had three shareholders, who I will refer to as “partners.” G (I am not using real names) owned the majority interest, while D and I had minority interests. G and D approached business as capitalists, with the belief that whoever was able to furnish the money to start and operate a business should reap the rewards if the business succeeded. I wanted to think of my approach as more Marxist, recognizing that if a business succeeds it is because of the efforts of the employees, and they should be rewarded. In practice, though, my approach was more paternalistic. Looking back, I think that might not have been the ideal style of management. Continue reading


April 28, 2013

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Greg Louganis and Me

Greg Louganis has long been recognized as America’s greatest diver.  He won gold medals in both platform and spring board in the 1984 and 1988 Olympic Games.  Until his retirement from competition, much of his life was spent in or above the water.  More recently, he and his pets have been accomplished participants in dog agility events.

And me?  I am a Pisces, the symbol of which is two fish swimming in opposite directions.  Yes, they are definitely swimming through the water.

Nevertheless, when I get into the water, I am like a fish out of water.  Oh, I have been snorkeling in Hawaii and Mexico and have swum with the sharks near Tahiti.  I tell people about those experiences and they ask if I ever considered getting certified for SCUBA.  I haven’t.  First I would need to get certified to tread water.  Had it not been for the magic of flotation devices, I would have been drowning in the pristine snorkeling waters and drowning with the sharks.

My parents enrolled me in childhood swimming lessons.  However, we lived in a rural area, several miles from the pool, and whether I actually attended the lessons or not depended on my parents’ work schedule.  I learned to float and tread water and I could sort of move around the pool.  It never seemed important whether I really swam or not.

In college, Physical Education credits were necessary to graduate.  To pass PE, each student had to swim one length of the pool and back.  Suddenly my ability to swim became more important.  The PE Department provided me a swimming class, and I enjoyed being in the water three times a week.  By the time the session was over, I confidently did the elementary back stroke for the required lap. Continue reading


April 27, 2013

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The Way of a Pilgrim

 Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.

I had heard the Jesus Prayer from time to time.  I appreciated its simplicity without knowing its tradition.  Finally, when I was over 40 years old, I read the anonymous 19th Century Russian spiritual classic, The Way of a PilgrimThat book gave me some context, then I set it aside.

Two or three years later, I felt I should read it again.  It is a simple book that can be read in one sitting.  The basics of the Jesus Prayer may be found in the first pages of the book.  There is more to it, though, that I understood as I read it again.  Another two or three years passed and it was time to re-read and learn and understand even more.

When the spirit moved me between readings, I did a bit of research, learning more and understanding more.

Our church, St. Joan of Arc, used to have a deacon – Deacon Buddy – who was in charge of the adult “spiritual growth” ministry.  Each month he conducted a book club to discuss a spiritual work with parishoners.  They always discussed books I had never heard of and did not want to read, so I never attended.  I don’t like to attend groups like that, anyway.  However, one Sunday I glanced at the church bulletin and saw the book club was going to discuss The Way of a Pilgrim. Continue reading


April 26, 2013

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A short time before I graduated from high school, my parents embarked on a new career. They opened a sporting goods store called Sportline in the Arvada Plaza Shopping Center. It was a brave thing for them to do. They had no experience in that business and opening the store took most of their savings. This all occurred as they anticipated having one or more of their children in college for the next eight years.

I worked all the time I was in college to pay my own way as much as possible. That first summer after high school, my job was – no surprise – to help run Sportline. I picked up inventory from suppliers’ warehouses, stocked the shelves, waited on customers, swept the floors, cleaned bathrooms. In short, I did whatever was necessary for the business to succeed. After a few months, I moved to Boulder to attend college.

Between the time I started college in September of 1966 and the end of my freshman year, my perspective on many things had changed. It was not so much that I had matured or been exposed to more urbane thinkers at the university. It was more that the American culture had changed, and was changing, rapidly. Continue reading


April 25, 2013

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You Are Getting Very Sleepy . . . (Just a Suggestion)

I was quite young when I was born, and spent the first months of life as a baby. It seems that nothing much happened in those earliest days – at least nothing memorable – because I remember nothing.

My parents told me that I caused them a lot of anxiety, going to the hospital with pneumonia when I was seven months old. You would think I would remember something like that, but I don’t. During later childhood, I seemed to be get bronchitis each year. My Mother told me it was probably because the development of my lungs was adversely affected by the pneumonia. I accepted that suggestion and continued to come down with bronchitis, just as was expected of me.

Since that time, I have run more than 30,000 miles; so I believe the lungs are fine.

Our family moved from my Moline, Illinois birthplace to Irving, Texas when I was less than a year old. At least that is what I was told – again, I have no memory of it. My first real memories are of Texas.

I recall a quiet street with what I thought of as a forest at one end. I remember playing in a sand box with other children in the neighborhood. I remember that our dog Tripper was lost and we had to drive around in the car to look for him.

I had a small toy football that I would hold until my Dad would say “Throw it here, Doak.” Then I would throw it. Doak Walker was a standout football player at nearby Southern Methodist University. Apparently I was suggesting that I wanted to be a sports hero like him.

When I was two or three years old, some friends of my parents were visiting, along with their son, who must have been five or six. He was one of the big kids who was actually going to school. That gave him quite a lot of credibility. Combine that with my childish suggestibility, and when we were in the back yard and he said, “Let’s have a rock fight,” of course I said, “OK.” Continue reading