A Collection of Short Stories
How’s your day been? My day’s been going really fast actually she said with a smile and a delighted little laugh as she moved my items across the barcode laser with the precision and speed you can only find at Costco And I said GREAT. and when I walked away with my $242 receipt (WTF?) I wondered why I had said GREAT that a woman is delighted her day is passing as quickly as possible When all I want is for mine to take a leisurely stroll into eternity
One thing I’ve become grateful of since moving to an island: you understand exactly where your resources come from. Water being the most important. If we’re running low, we can’t just call up Utah or Arizona and tell them to send more down a concrete ditch. I learned so much spending time with the stewards of the Mauna Kahālāwai Watershed (West Maui Mountains). These mountains – Hawaiian meaning: “holding house of water” – supply Maui with 77% of its commercial water, and the folks who preserve it seem to be made from 1/3 geographer, 1/3 ecologist, 1/3 badass. Though they could tell me the name of every native and invasive plant species, they also hiked miles through scorching temps to reach their work locations. They pummel fence posts with 45-pound pounders, and they’re ready (if not willing) to camp out the night if weather gets bad (and a heli can’t scoop them). I would never have associated fence building with conservation until this @hanahoumag assignment. But on Maui, introduced ungulates (pigs, goats, deer) work their way up mountainsides destroying native vegetation and introducing invasive seeds. Ultimately this causes erosion, lessening the watershed’s ability to hold onto water. Looking at both sides of their fence was seeing two completely different ecosystems. In this case, it really is necessary to build that wall! For those on Maui, please thank the folks @mauna_kahalawai for what they do, it’s brutal and important work. For those elsewhere, try to figure out where your water truly comes from, and then maybe do something to protect it (donate, volunteer, etc.). Grateful to my friend @kylethevagabond who thinks up (and writes) these unique stories, finding a way to combine conservation, physicality, and creativity (my all time faves!). And to @hanahoumag who still cares enough about quality journalism to run a story like this. If you’re on a @hawaiianairlines flight, check the story in the mag.
Today is my birthday a Monday, and I’m on my way to the earn nose and throat doctor because I think I have surfer’s ear now that I am 36 half of my life has passed since high school which forces the question how should I feel? Happy? The word that finds itself in an arranged marriage with Birthday if you’re not Happy maybe don’t bother having a Birthday this year This year I’m (slowly) learning Hawaiian on my computer when I need a distraction from my computer, and Happy Birthday is expressed Hauʻoli Lā Hānau Happy day of birth I am very happy that my parents made a decision that day and I get some years to play around inside whatever this place is truth? a simulation? depends on who you ask jesus or elon musk I just know as my age ticks up I catch more of it each sunrise dissolves more dark corners each fight lays forth a lesson, if I am so willing even chores can crack my lips into a grin all of it feels more beautiful even when IT won’t abide by society’s happiness mandate But I am happy today or maybe just feeling special playing with words in case you find yourself something less than happy maybe you won’t feel so deserted Because it’s totally normal to feel happy and unhappy at the same time Like 36 my new age of 36 shit I am definitely not happy about that. photo: @filippaedghill
He could have kept walking they all could keep right on walking and usually they do to give a stranger the attention of an instagram like is really not so 21st century But not him maybe because he didn’t know about instagram He knew about growing up in Hawaiʻi before it was a state Still he contained all the kindness to make up for the billions of strangers gradually growing grooves in their foreheads and necks and cheeks from years of frowning at their phones in acceptable boredom But not him He smiled and I smiled And Hawai’i and Indiana were no longer just states on a map
We grab a broom or vacuum when our floor gets too dirty. We take a day off from exercise when our bodies are too tired. But aren’t we pretty reluctant (or lazy) to do the same thing for our brains? I just came across the idea of brain recovery and it stopped me. Why had I never thought of (or practiced) this before? It doesn’t take science to sense that brain recovery is a modern need. We each know the drowsy feeling from slurping down the worldwide information firehose. We all push through when we should be sleeping in. So I’m curious what you’re doing to recover? For me, it’s a daily fight to free more brain space… declutter my mental room. Making space for the endangered states of boredom and daydreaming and aloneness. Taming my reflex to light up a screen and stuff myself with digital diversions. Taking a day off instead of always trying trying trying. Recovery can feel uncomfortable, like I’m missing out or letting the world pass by me. But let me tell you this, my soul feels good when it spends time back in 1989.
The doorway to love is crooked. No matter how hard I try to straighten it in photoshop or in my mind, it eludes me. Maybe that’s how it’s supposed to be. The most perfect thing declaring its imperfection so we can all stop trying so hard.
It’s pretty hard to get drunk in Norway unless you have a sack of cash. Say what you want about the current affairs in the United States… at least you can still get tipsy for $10. So we had to choose our drinking nights carefully in Norway. I remember 3 or 4 nights of tearing down our egos with the liquid demon during our 35-day road trip, stuffed in this van (dubbed MYA) chasing surf and fish and memories to brag about here. We’d pool our cash and throw down $90 to get a fifth of Balder (spiced whisky-type hard alcohol) and a twelve-er of Rolling Rock. That was it. $90 for an amount of alcohol I could drink on my own if you forced me. Our strategy was to drink it fast, to shock our systems into feeling something. Just put on some good music and go for it, fully embracing our inner rednecks or rebels or freedom fighters or wherever that urge comes from. I hope you still have yours. I probably won’t ever travel with 4 people in a VW van again. At some point, the worst in everyone comes out. But a single night of Balder-ing down our self-importance brought everyone back together, clearing the tension like a good fight, only a happy one. We found our favorite parking spot next to our favorite mountain and got to dancing like idiots, ’til we coaxed the northern lights into dancing too.
I finished up the final draft of the Iceland book last week. 10,000 words. My first book “finished.” I did a little fist pump at my desk then drank some Pacificos and watched the sunset with Haley and her parents. A normal little Friday. I’ve never been great at celebrating achievements. I force a smile and move on. Perhaps because I can never satisfy the appetite of that damn internal perfectionist, always chewing at the GOOD things I do. Or perhaps because praise, whether internal or external, has always made me uncomfortable. Both things I should probably unpack (what a funny modern buzzword) in a therapy session soon. Anyway, finishing felt like the deep belly PSFEEEWWWW a dog lets out right before a good sleep. Writing hard, day in and day out, eats at your brain the same way endurance sports eat at your fat and muscles. You just want a burrito and some beers and a long nap afterward. All this writerly honesty to say, I’m feeling really proud of the text and hope you end up reading it and learning something about this fascinating topic – Iceland’s glacial rivers. It’s going to be a truly beautiful book paired with @chrisburkard’s images. Aiming for a book release in fall/winter of ’19… I’ll let you know when I know more.
My first time swimming was in an indoor YMCA pool in central Indiana. I was scared. I stared down at the white tile pool deck in my water wings wondering what nasty foot funk was brewing in the puddles. All the older kids were screaming and bopping beach balls around. Swimming was never going to be that fun, I thought. Not if it was in a crowded, chlorine-filled pool where I had to shower with a bunch of naked old men. They looked so weird, so saggy, so worn out. Was I going to look like that someday? (Yep!) Anyway, the instructor tossed me in with those water-wings and something felt right. I became very happy… I clapped my fat hands together and smiled. Thankfully, my parents noticed their brown-haired butterball losing his mind at YMCA beginner swim lessons. After another decade or so of swimming in indoor Indiana pools, with the guidance of amazing coaches, the sport became my meal-ticket to Stanford. I had good grades and I’m intuitively smart, but not Stanford smart. Thankfully I had the 2nd fastest 100 butterfly in the country (hi @jaymecramer). Throughout the indescribable pain endured during the next four years, I always wore an internal smile about my surroundings – an immaculate outdoor pool in sunny California. I don’t know if my teammates appreciated it the same… most didn’t know what it was like to follow the black line of an indoor pool while not seeing the sun for 6 months... every winter of my life from ages 10 to 18. It’s crazy that something as simple as learning to swim got me out West, which eventually drew me further West to Hawai’i. In a way, I’ve just been following the water all these years, its quality continuously improving as I’ve gone along. But I’m still really glad I know what it’s like in a YMCA pool in central Indiana right now. I think I get more smiles (and claps) in the ocean than the kids that grew up in Hawai’i, the kids whose YMCA is this picture.
My modeling days. They’re probably over now because I get far too upset about getting paid to fake it at age 35. Which will either help me flame out or flame up. We’ll see. The company asked me to clean up my beard and put on a tight t-shirt and tight pants. And I said OK. As long as I can chop wood… something had to be real. The fire I made was it. Funny, I ended up liking this outfit after all (very chic don’t you think) and asked to keep it. But they said NO. I didn’t understand… they were paying a photographer 5 grand and me much less, and they wanted back a t-shirt that cost $1.19 in Vietnam. All chic brands have moved on from China. But I understood why they wanted their t-shirt back when they went out of business soon thereafter... perhaps because they were faking it and everyone smelled it. At least I got paid a grand to go on a road trip in SW Colorado. My friend Marc in Durango rolled his eyes when I told him that. I knew he was jealous but he played the tough guy card. He just sat there sipping his porter in ripped-up jeans that were ripped from doing actual work.
The plane speakers crackled to life, startling me away from my book… they always do. The speaker setup engineers must’ve walked out on the job right after installing the LOUD switch. Or they just have a great sense of humor. (Woman’s hurried voice) “Ladies and gentlemen, if you would like to be entertained on our flight to Maui today, please download the United app now. This plane is not equipped with seat back entertainment systems and the WiFi will not work over the ocean. I repeat, if you’d like to be entertained on today’s flight, please use your cellular service to download the United app now.” A frenzy ensued. Like flies swarming to a fresh shit. Everyone pulled out their devices, most people had two or three. Old people tried connecting to the plane’s WiFi, which was non-operational on the ground. Duh. Younger people, with rolled eyes, helped them connect to Verizon or AT&T and download the app. Are you not entertained? With books or sleep or playing cards or journaling or hoarding tiny bags of pretzels or conversations with strangers or contemplating the movement of an aluminum projectile capable of 587 miles per hour and pumping oxygen to your seat. Real oxygen. I suppose not. Not these days. There’s nothing to do but laugh at these moments, then write wordy social captions.
You can tell a lot about a surfer by their posture in the line-up. Some sit lazily on the back of their boards, content, talking shop to everyone about a barrel they got six months ago in Bali… just glad to be out there, to say they were out there. Some sit forward, like a cheetah preparing its 75mph burst… also glad to be out there, but damned if they don’t get a wave, damned if it isn’t a set wave. There were only two of us out. Me and the other guy. It was big enough and bad enough to be a waste of energy for everyone else. I love wasting energy. The other guy was wetsuit-less, bareback, in the cold windy Hawaiian January, water temperature 74 degrees. Which sounds warm, until a 15 knot wind kicks your skin. I wondered if this bareback guy thought he was tough… I used to surf bareback just to show the lineup what a bunch of sissies they were. His heavily tattooed body seemed to further prove his toughness. Maybe I should let him catch the next set wave, give him the right of way? But his face stopped that thinking. Smeared zinc oxide, white as a ghost. At worst, a tough guy who gives a shit. The guys who have nothing to lose, including their skin... those are the ones I watch out for. Those are the ones waiting in the parking lot, still with nothing to lose. I decided I would stay in position and fight for every wave with ghosty McGhosterson.
In those days, it seemed like every idea I had came true. That’s living on the road, but only if you can let up enough control to let it in. Strangers are different when you’re just passing through. They know they won’t have to deal with the real you next month, so they’re kinder and more interested, like a one-night-stand… easy to ignore the incompatibilities to get the quick high. Anyway, a new friend knew a friend and here I was sitting shotgun next to a bonafide Alaskan bush pilot. On our way to land in a glacial lake with pontoons hanging from the plane’s bowels. How fucking cool. Too bad I’ve been a nervous flyer since my childhood. My mom got so scared once on a flight to Florida, that from there on out I thought I should be scared too. So I was enjoying this bush flight more than almost anything and wanting it to be over at the same time. Jack, the pilot, was anything but nervous. He had two kids and an Argentinian wife and a strong new engine – he was very proud of that engine – so all he was thinking about was getting home for dinner. Just an ordinary Tuesday. He said his wife would kill him if he wasn’t home for dinner, which I found funny, because he’d probably be dead already if he wasn’t home in time. Jack landed us next to an iceberg, idled over to the land, and tied the plane to a tree. He was armed with a 12-gauge-pump shotgun for shooting rogue bears and I was armed with a tripod for the same reason. We didn’t see any bears on our walk, but when we got back airborne we saw plenty of moose. Probably a hundred of them. Just moos’ing around down in the marshy muck. Jack brought the plane down to 200 feet and banked left and then right, left and then right, following the river’s wanderings. I had never done that in a plane and it felt good. Like freedom. I put Crosby, Stills & Nash “Southern Cross” on our headsets, which put out great sound despite the growl of that great engine. The first chords started playing. I looked over at Jack and he nodded. For the next few minutes we were no longer strangers.
First I learned that you only need one to find your way Home. Learning to be alone is an essential part of a sound mind. Then I found out it was only with two that Home had meaning in my heart and not just my mind. Learning to be with two, entangled for eternity, might just be the most impossibly worthwhile feast of the heart. Then I found out it was only with three that Home was filling, like cornbread, chili, and a spooky novel on a rainy night. Learning to be with three is sacrificing ice cream for month then finding 30 pints stacked in your refrigerator one unsuspecting night. — For those wondering about the truck. Funny thing. It took me buying a 20-year-old Japanese truck to feel like I fit in around here. I think that says a lot about a place. Shakas started flying, people waved me into traffic, I stopped getting dirty looks at local surf spots. On the mainland in affluent, white communities my ol’ VW van creates smiles. It is a symbol of freedom, of trading stuff for the wonder of nothing. In Hawai’i my ol’ VW van creates some scowls and second looks. It seems to be a symbol of whiteness, of conquest, of hippies and tourists (who rent them here). It’s finally time for me do some real restoration on the van, so we have a shot at keeping him in the family forever. I wanted Donnie’s companion to be everything he wasn’t – locally respected, good on gas mileage, easy to haul stuff, and off-road capable. But still with a strong spirit, of course. So welcome Pippin (or Pip for short) to the family. A ’98 single-cab 4WD Tacoma with just the right amount of island-cruiser to blend in around here. I now, officially, have an old vehicle addiction.
Just a few weeks ago I was done with this place. I don’t ever get out of bed and think, “I just can’t wait to hop on social media and post THAT!” It just feels like I SHOULD be posting, you know, to stay relevant. Publish or perish. People have told me I'm selfish not to share my work more often, but isn't that just something over-sharers say? Growing up in the Midwest I learned to keep quiet unless I knew, and knowing takes a lot more listening than talking. So becoming a blabbermouth is one of my greatest fears (and just look at me now). Every day I scroll down this page with an uneasy feeling... for how our brains are being re-wired by chatter-slinging algorithms, content-happy influencers curating their lives into big ass billboards we can’t look away from, and fake news – of the personal variety. I have a great life, but I have the same struggles with money, fights with my partner and family, and self-doubt that you do. You know, the grit. The real news. The stuff we all hide here but cozy up next to in bestsellers. I’ve decided the only way to keep this little app fun is to see how real I can write inside virtual reality. And I’ll probably embarrass some people since that's a pre-requisite of good writing. Anyway, I appreciate you being here; without you this would all just sit in some mildewed journal my maybe-someday kids would find in a box. But now these words live forever, on a hard drive in a small town in Oregon being cooled by massive air conditioners powered by a dam somewhere grand.
Watching a book come to life feels like all the intangibles of the creative process – passion, crazy ideas, doubt, and small daily successes – slowly hardening into permanence. I couldn’t help but smile most of yesterday as I huddled up fireside with @chrisburkard and @archive.art in a beachside shack, and we began bringing the Iceland book to life. So rarely do I allow myself to think about the end when I start something, whether it be a relationship, a goal, a job, a hobby. But being able to look back on something in totality, with some kind of gained perspective, be it good or bad or in-between, well that is special. Our hope is to have the book out by the fall, and we should know more soon.
Leaving on a jet plane. Always leaving on a jet plane. Not a matter of if, only when. On a day of historic proportions in Hawai’i… waves as tall as 6-story buildings unload their precious blue fury on the north shore. Snow as low as 7,000 feet graces Haleakalā. Southwest winds howl their disapproval at the weakest trees. Power is out. A don’t fuck with mother nature kind of day on Maui. Every time I leave this place, I wanna leave it less. It’s so easy to feel a tiny bit sour about a place or routine… but once it’s 587 miles-per-hour to your backside, things come into great clarity. And I start feeling like a true schmuck for ever being grumpy about a chore, or project, or a lack of spontaneity. I suppose that’s the great purpose of travel… to get some distance form the box we each walk into every day. My box is a good box, it contains it ALL. But it’s still a box, and it’s easy to get stuck in the corners sometimes. But then I arrive at the airport and stare at my plane in disbelief about what it’s about to do, and I feel it all over again... the airport has all the answers. I’ll soon be up above 35,000 feet with a great push from the jet stream, on my way to the Golden State to realize that I’ve already got it all here.
I’m not gonna say I saved a guy’s life the other day, but that may not be a lie either. I was walking in the jungle trying to clear my mind of some wicked hangover blues. The line between fun and hangover has become remarkably thin at 35, it only takes 3 IPAs these days. Pathetic, I know. Anyway I arrived at one of my favorite ponds, a place remote enough only a few locals probably know it. Yet atop the waterfall pouring into the pond, a man immediately came into view. Damn. My solitude broken by a 38ish year-old guy with flowing brown hair, trimmed chest hair, and a tank top tan. Just enough belly fat to announce that 9 hours of his days were handed over to a desk. But with reluctance. His evenings were clearly spent at the gym but the desk was winning the battle, by a nose. The archetype male who needs to prove something to himself after years of proving to the Man he can’t say NO. So he looks for off-trail adventure on Maui and discovers its ability to be everything but paradise. Screaming at each other over the raging falls, I gathered he had been lost for 2 hours and wondered whether he could jump safely. I knew he could, but it’d have to be an exact landing not to get hurt. The poop brown water from the previous night’s rain made that promise unlikely, so I pointed him in the direction I thought he could escape through the bush. I hiked to intersect his trail and heard bushes and branches cracking in my direction. Relief. I wasn’t going to have to get further involved in this guy’s adventure. Or call a helicopter. I really hated that idea. I learned he was a Spaniard via way of Los Angeles. He hadn’t panicked but was preparing to sleep the night out in the jungle, a decidedly shitty headspace. Then I showed up... or he showed up to me. He said an angel had been watching over him and pointed to the sky like professional athletes do after a strike-out or touchdown or 3-pointer. I wasn’t sure if he was truly religious or if the angel he was referring to was me. That’d be pretty vain to think that. Either way, I pointed him in the direction of the road and hiked deeper into the jungle, hoping every new step would convince my hangover to release its death grip.
Home for the night. Looks comfy, eh? Beans for dinner, snow for dessert, no tent for the night cap. Light n’ fast. It’s a great ethos. Only they forgot a word. Light n’ fast n’ miserable. Our college swim coach used to hand us the workout and say “misery loves company.” That’s when you knew you were really fucked. Usually a 10,000 yard workout, 7 miles of lactic-acid-burning-all-out swimming. But he was right, sure was better knowing your friends swimming silently next to you were miserable too. So people like us in this picture, we still chase that feeling from time-to-time. Life dealt us an easy card, so we do things for fun to make it harder. Like camping in the rocks on the shoulder of Mount Hood to climb up and ski down in the morning. If sleep comes, it’ll be filled with nightmares of the mangy snowpack and a 2AM alarm. I’ve always found it hard to sleep with a 2AM alarm counting down. But it’s friends like these that get you into moments like these. Sure makes for great photos to post on the internet.
No number of tourists in fuzzy-hooded-bought-for-Iceland-jackets flying drones haphazardly above my head could keep me from enjoying sunrise seen through this piece of glacial ice on this black sand beach.