Monday, July 17, 2017

The Podcast That Dares 19: The Big Goodbye

This is my essay about the parting of the ways between Big Anklevich and me, in podcast form.  Also, Fake Sean both helps and hinders.

As always, Right-Click here to download the sound file.

What follows is the text/blog post version of the above podcast, which should be close to word-for-word.


June 5-7th, 2017

So, there may be a bit of T.M.I in this one, but probably not a great deal.  I may have to ask Sir Fake Sean to assist me on a couple of points, but then, he may not be necessary.  Is he ever necessary?  Tee hee, now he knows how it feels.

So, this has been an interesting year for me, 2017.  I was a real writer (ie, I wrote every day) for a couple of months, and was blown away by how much I accomplished.  I've been making weekly trips to my childhood home to work and maintain it, which has been kind of surreal, though sometimes enjoyable.  My friend Jeff went away to Germany, then came back to attend his son's high school graduation, left again, came back to attend his other son's college graduation, went away, then came back, collected his wife and daughter, and actually left for good (though the yo-yoing had had the effect of making it never seem particularly real any of those times).

And now, Big Anklevich, my podcasting partner and cohort, has loaded up the truck and moved to Bever--Houston, moved to Houston.  And that's a bit more abrupt, since he quit his job on Friday, on Monday I helped him move boxes, and on Wednesday, he was driving into the sunset.  Although the sun sets in the west, according to my Travis Tritt collection, so he was driving away from the sunset when he went.  I dunno, maybe he took the scenic route.

It's strange to lose two friends like that in so short a time.  Jeff, I imagine, I'll still see from time to time, since he left his parents and two sons here, and we never did finish watching "Supernatural."  Big's wife got a job at the Houston-based wing of her company (a promotion, I do believe, which is nice), and while Big was worried about not having a job in Texas, he did apply for a Houston TV editing job, and I hope that he gets it.*

Big was here when I moved here, my tail not only between my legs, but partially run over and hanging by messy tendons, my attempt to make it in Hollywood not only a failure, but a cautionary tale told in every institution with a film program and held up as the anti-La La Land when young people dare to dream beyond their little backwoods upbringing and middle-class origins.

While Big and I met in college, we didn't really become friends until after (he was one of those guys who would corner me in the hall, and slap me with my own flailing arms, going, "Don't hit yourself, don't hit yourself!" until I proclaimed him king (or queen) of the school.  You know, I don't know that I ever got an apology about that.  Through emails we achieved some sort of weird friendship, and when I became persona non grata in Los Angeles, he told me he could get me a job at his TV station.

Of course, when I became persona ditto non grata there, he was the one who told me I could either quit or possibly serve jail time for inserting a shot of raw meat during a story about Jared Leto.  But after that, we stayed close, started a podcast together, and aired an average of three episodes a year ever since.  It became a tradition to go over to his house on Sunday nights to hang out and record, and then when his wife got a crazy night job, it became Monday nights, which continued up until this week.

This Monday, I went down to my ancestral home (I like saying that even though it was built in 1977) to mow the weeds, then I hopped in my dad's old pickup truck and drove to Big's house, volunteering to fill it with trash I'd take to the dump for him, and ending up staying a while to help him move furniture (including a massive, unwieldy treadmill that not only refused to go where we wanted it to, but dug a huge divot in the wall of the stairwell as we were trying to get it from the basement to the moving van--unsuccessfully, despite the destruction, I might add).**  Big had four piles of items from his house: stuff to give to his sister, stuff to take to Houston, stuff to donate to the thrift store an hour away, and stuff to throw out.  All of the latter stuff we loaded into the bed of my dad's truck, including all the food Big's wife emptied out of their freezer, and covered it with a big mattress so it wouldn't blow away.

We were sweaty and dirty, and my back hurt just from the couple of hours I helped Big carry and load stuff . . . I can't imagine how bad his hurt, since he had been doing that all day, and the day before.  I meant to get back to my hometown right away, to make it to the junkyard before it closed (I texted my brother asking what time it closed and he still hasn't gotten back to me), but knowing this was the last time I'd be seeing Big Anklevich, I hung around longer, until the buyers of Big's house were coming over to look at the place (I wonder what their reaction was to discovering a huge hole in the wall of the stairs that hadn't been there before), and his family had to vacate it.  So Big and I went over and got dinner, talking a little more, before I finally decided I needed to head home, realizing it was too late to go to the dump and I'd have to another day.

The old country road I took to get to his house I hadn't driven in more than a decade, during the visit to his house when there was the terrible snowstorm that inspired my story "Stormy Weather, and it is basically a forty mile stretch of road alongside farmland and empty rolling hills on one side, and a lake on the other.  There is Big's town (now ex-town) and then nothing until you get to the village next to the village where I grew up.  About a third of the way through the drive, there was an insanely loud boom under the truck, and not having experienced that before, I guessed it had either been an aerosol can exploding or one of the big garbage bags from the freezer popping.  It freaked me out, but there was no change in the truck, so I shook it off and kept driving. 

About ten minutes later, there was a bit of seizing in the truck's engine, and then a second loud boom, this one only turning half my hair white, since I was a bit more prepared for it than the first.  It felt like it came from underneath the truck, not from the engine or the bed of the truck.  My dad's Ford is a 1971, and he had it my whole life, changing out virtually every single part of it over the years, but I was getting nervous now.  That sound could not be normal, could not be right.  I decided to slow down a little, just in case I was overworking the truck, but the temperature gauge (which was a new addition in the last five years) claimed the overheating was not the problem.

I was halfway home now, and while I was nervous about it, I kept on driving, worried that I might not make it back.  Of course, the fact that the truck kept lurching every minute or so, as though there was no gas in the tanks (which there was, I was pretty sure), kept me from enjoying the no-radio, no-air conditioning, no-scenery drive through no-man's land.  The jerking of the truck increased in frequency, and I started shifting it into Neutral any time there was a downhill slope, hoping that it wasn't the transmission trying to go out.  I slowed down even further now, having discovered that the lurching only occurred in fourth gear . . . but soon it happened in third gear too.

And second.  Every minute or so, there would come the loud boom under the truck (though none were as startling as the first two were now), and once I could only go about twenty miles per hour, I decided I should pull the truck over and let it sit a while, just in case I had overtaxed the old Ford.  I had entered mosquito country, and what can only be described as a swarm of them filled the vehicle and I was forced to roll up the windows and spend my breaktime smashing them.

By now, the sun was setting and I should have made it back, even going under the speed limit.  The back road was fairly untraveled, with, I believe, only two vehicles passing me in all the time I was driving/coasting so slowly.  My dad's truck has two gas tanks, so I did switch from one to the other, just in case that was the problem (doubtful as that seemed, though I thought that kind of seizing of the vehicle could be due to air bubbles in the gas line, that guess based on nothing and no experience).

I got the truck started just fine, pulled out of the little entrance to a ranch where I had parked it, and got back on the road.  I got it up to about fifteen miles per hour before it began seizing and booming, reminding me of a non-charming version of the noises a Model T made when it was starting up in old TV shows.  Now there was no chance of getting it up into fourth gear.  Unlike the times before, the engine actually started to die on me as I was driving.  I'd shift into Neutral, turn the key again, and get it started, only to have it die on me again a block or two down the road. 

I pulled it over into the soft-shoulder, probably a mile or less from where I'd last pulled it over.  I didn't know what I would do, because there is no cellphone service in my little town, let alone out in the boonies where I was currently stranded.  But I flipped on my phone and . . . weird, there was a signal.  Maybe like the singer of "You Sexy Thing," I too believed in miracles.  I called my brother, asking his advice about the truck.  He didn't know (which vexed me, as I had assumed my brother inherited my father's knowledge of all things mechanical), and suggested I call my aunt (who lives less than a block from where I grew up) and see if she would come and pick me up.

As I hung up, my phone began to ring.  You see, my sister had driven down to the ancestral home to steal gas*** and seeing my car there, had wondered what became of me.  She had left and driven to where there was cellphone service, and called me, worried that maybe Dad's truck had broken down on me.  You see, she told me, that truck used to break down on my dad all the time, and he'd either have to walk or hitch a ride back to town (the man did not believe in cellphones, unlike the singers of "You Sexy Thing," not that there was service in our part of the county).

Well, I tried the truck again, got it to drive a hundred feet or so, seizing and booming, until I pulled it off onto the soft shoulder in a place where I thought a tow truck could fit (not that I had much choice).  My sister was turning around, going back to where there was no cell service, and would call me again once she reached that back road where, amazingly, she would be able to call and look for me.  It was full dark now, and I sat in the truck with the hazard lights on, swatting mosquitoes and pondering what I would have done had there been no cellphone service.  Guess I would have walked, hoping someone would come along, being sucked dry by a zillion bloodthirsty insects, or if nobody picked me up, knocked on the first house I found, hoping they'd let me use their telephone.

My sister found me eventually, and we called a tow truck, choosing to have them come the following day instead of at night when the rates were higher.  My sister drove me to the ancestral home, where I was a bit too exhausted to do much more than edit Abbie's book before falling asleep on the couch, but setting my alarm to wake me up after half an hour.

I woke and got in my car and drove home, arriving a little after two am, when I had intended to be home by seven pm or so. 

I told my mom about the truck, and she was worried about how much it would cost to fix it (and really, at this point, is any amount low enough to fix a 1971 Ford pickup truck?), I was worried about all the garbage in the back.  My worry increased when the temperature rose to 98 degrees the next day, and to 100 degrees the day after.   Yikes, to say the least.

Big was having car troubles of his own--he'd had a van in the shop pretty constantly over the last two weeks--and the most recent problem didn't look like it would be fixed in time for them to leave for Texas with it.  He talked to the mechanic--the same one he'd been paying to fix his vehicles for what seemed like a month--and that guy told him he was too busy to work on the van . . . but he still expected to be paid for taking a look at it.

Big told me that, because they couldn't very well leave without one of their primary vehicles, we might get together again, just to go to a movie or eat something good and greasy (in another life, we'll open a restaurant together called Good 'n Greasy, and get the same kind of glares from the tofu crowd that I give that creepy business called Fetal Fotos.  Shudder.

Ultimately, though, the new mechanic wanted so much to fix the van that Big and his wife decided to just abandon the thing and look for something better when they got to Houston.  So he drove off, family in tow, and sent me a text to let me know he was on his way.

Oh, and he also sent me a text a day later to mention that their other vehicle broke down and they were stuck in Albuquerque trying to get it fixed.  Seems like neither of us has a way with our four-wheeled friends.

This has been a bit of a ramble (this particular blog is the place for it, though, wouldn't you say?). I don't know what will happen with Big living in Texas and me . . . well, does what I currently do count as living?

Big has assured me that the podcasts (Dunesteef and That Gets My Goat) will continue, and that we will re-commence our traditional Monday night get-togethers, except now via Skype.  I'm not sure how that will work, since we always met somewhere convenient after he got off work, ate some food, and talked before even considering recording anything.  And we had, for the last few weeks, forced ourselves to write, side-by-side, which was practically the only writing either of us got done on some weeks.  I doubt we'll do that via Skype.

It will be interesting, I guess.  Big is sure to make new friends and me, well, that's pretty unlikely for me, but I may focus on my writing or get loads of new audiobook assignments.  Either one might be nice.  Regardless, this is the end of an era, that point where things are changing and you romanticize what came before, regardless of how bright the future is.

So, there you go.  A bit of a ramble, I realize, but like I said, this is a place for ramblings.  And, like I said, who knows what's around the corner?

Handjobs for everyone!

Rish Outfield

*Aside One.  So, I've talked about the pseudo-term I've named "Fradenscheude," where you are displeased by the success of your friends, and applied it to my one-time roommate Chris writing two widely-released movies in two weeks last August.  But I can apply it to Big as well.  I thought he was not appreciated and/or treated well by his job here in non-Texas, and I think anybody would agree with me, considering he put thirteen years of his life into it and never got a promotion or an award or a single handjob, but if he went off to the Lone Star State and suddenly, people recognized his talent and hard work, and he became a huge success . . . I suppose I would resent him for it. 
I dunno.  I like to think I'm bigger than that (no pun intended), but I've talked about my work friend Austin, and his immense talent as an artist before, right?  Well, almost from the moment I discovered he could paint, I encouraged him to put his stuff out there, to get a booth at a comic-con and sell copies of his work, or at least make a few prints and sell them on eBay, and it was hard enough to get him to finish a painting, let alone put it out there for people to buy and/or judge.  But finally, as of this week, Austin is doing it.  One of the little cities around here has an annual art festival (which, aside number two, once showcased a drawing I did of a sasquatch molesting my Great Auntie Gretchin, but my artwork was so bad, they just thought it was a hunter shotgunning a grizzly bear [true story]), and Austin bit the bullet and got a booth to sell prints of his mostly Lego-related paintings.
Aside Number Three.  I hate it when people refer to "Lego" as the plural form of lego rather than "Legos."  It's just one of my pet peeves, and I don't care if that's the way it works in Danish or Swedish or Romulan or whatever language-speaking people invented the Lego.  Oh, and before, when I said "true story," that totally wasn't a true story.  I did a drawing of my dad shooting a deer, not a sasquatch, and I never had a Great Auntie Gretchin, though I refer to her often.  Sorry.
So, Austin set up his booth and I was proud of him, and told him to mark my words, he'd sell so many prints he'd have to send his wife to make more copies while he manned the booth, signing prints and making change and fending off handjob offers.  Oh, that's my second handjob reference in this essay.  By comedy rules, one more will be coming, though I'll have to switch it up.
I took my nephews to the carnival and celebration yesterday, partially so I could excitedly try to get them to ride the Zipper with me, the world's greatest carnival ride (if my summer 1992 memory is correct, that is)--which they refused to do, by the way, sigh twice and shame the devil--but also so we could check out Austin's booth and give him a little moral support.
And the poor guy had only sold one print that whole day . . . to a guy from work who only did it out of pity.  How terrible, especially since I had been the one to push Austin on, practically begging him to take the plunge of selling his work.  Oh, and another lie I just told, I know Ben, the guy who bought the print from Austin, and he is literally incapable of pity (or any positive emotion, unless self-righteous pride counts), so I don't know why he bought the print.  Regardless, Austin may or may not make enough on his art to pay for the booth, let alone end up knee-deep in twenty dollar bills and teen girls' phone numbers.
Which is a roundabout way of me saying that I want Austin--and my buddy Big Anklevich--to be successful, I just don't know how I would feel if it happened.  One more aside: I went to a panel at the last writers conference where a woman talked about mentoring a young writer with their first book, giving tons of notes, introducing the writer to an agent, only to have that first book scooped up and bought by a major publisher for a six figure pricetag.  The woman told the story with a smile on her face but not in her eyes, expressing that that sort of thing will happen, and you have to be tough enough to keep on keepin' on even if it's not you that gets the book contracts and/or handjobs.
Boy, I really like using and/or, don't I?

**Aside, what, eleven now?  Somehow Big and I were able to carry this gargantuan thing down his stairs when he first moved into the house, only gouging the walls twice.  This time, however, we simply could not get it up those stairs, either hitting the railing, or smashing fingers, or actually embedding it in the aforementioned hole in the drywall.  I once wrote a story ("Don't Tread On Me?" I may have called it, though that title sucks . . . let me go check.  [Okay, Aside Twelve: it was called "Run Into The Ground," which is a much better title.  I'm proud of you, boy]), about a woman who buys a second-hand treadmill, only to become possessed by the spirit of the previous owner.  That evil treadmill was only slightly more malevolent than Big's own.  Heck, I was probably inspired by the Anklevich treadmill to write the damn story in the first place.

***Okay, last Aside.  This probably sounds mean to say, especially since she's my sister and she rescued me.  But my dad had these big tanks of Unleaded gasoline in the backyard just waiting for the day when Barack Obama came to take everyone's guns away, and my mom had decreed that they could only be used for when people came down to do work on the house.  My brother announced that, if my sister drove down with the sole purpose of filling up her gas tank for free, that that would be considered stealing the gas, hence my use of the term.  My apologies.

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