Happy Day

It was Day 30 of the longest shutdown in the history of our federal government. It was a chilly, sunny Sunday. It was the date of a blood wolf super moon lunar eclipse. And it was my birthday.

Super blowout rager? Nah. Not this time. We’ll do that party in a few days. All y’all Jan babies are invited. See invitation, or ping me.

Annual birthday ride, far enough up the Cascade range to see where the ice starts? Solo snow camp with a bagful of bourbon, to consider past and future? Nope. Those are in my past. Also in the rear-view mirror: re-erecting GP Medium tents at 0200 in gale force Texas winds.

Shambling out in lamb hide slippers and a well-softened terry cloth robe to make coffee and feed the dogs, I was rewarded with one perfect, over-easy egg next to a couple of mitten-sized, blueberry-stuffed hotcakes under a drizzle of aged maple syrup from the Great Francophile North.

Trimmed my beard and dosed it with softening goop to make it feel a little less like a gorse bush, then opened a big, air-weight birthday package whence emerged the last hat I’ll ever choose from the millions of dreams’ worth of stock resting in quartersawn oak cases at Byrnie Utz on Union Street.

It’s a dinger, if you like that sort of thing: a Stetson Stratoliner, “Royal” quality with a soft hand, rich brown tone, Sinatra-cool crown and a tiny chrome airplane charm with “JBS” stamped into its toy wings. There are many who insist today’s Hatco, Inc. Stetsons aren’t worth screwing onto their elitist pates, but those guys would gripe if they were hung with new rope.

Anyway it’s not the hat but the wearer or, in this case, the giver. When downtown during the final wane of the best hatter on the West Coast, Pretty Wife kicked me back into the store, then back in again. On the third go ’round I found this hat, recently set out, with no box available but the first Strat I’d seen there in my preferred color and the correct size (more or less; I’m a 7-3/8 unless it rains but I can grow into a 7-1/2 by letting my side hair sprout past #3 guard length). As is my way, I completely forgot about it and was delightedly surprised yesterday. Once again, TBI affords its quiet advantages…

Can’t hitchhike on Depp’s look, but I can steal his hat.

Suited up, it was time for “an activity” of the “you’ll find out when we get there” variety. Smalldaughter was slated to drive until a brief discussion of parking challenges changed the plan. Pretty Wife punched in the coordinates, and I doggedly obeyed Bleating Billie the GPS as s/he/it marched us across town. At one point I decided I knew where we were going. Once we blew straight through that neighborhood and all the way onto Market Street in Ballard, I confessed where I thought we’d been going: the Norse Museum. We missed out on that a few months back. It was under construction. Pretty Wife just smiled.

It startled me to pull up next to a capacious building, diagonally overstreet from Limback Lumber. That property used to host a flapping steel warehouse, full of drafts and mysteries and irascible pigeons, where I sublet shop space to build and repair furniture, and where I first realized I’d have to relearn how to draw and plan, and even how to use and tune my tools.

Now it’s the new home of the Norse Museum. Guess I forgot that “under construction” meant “in a new space.” TBI strikes again, as did Pretty Wife’s gentle smile.

We spent four happy hours there, making connections and talking about kin and regional stories, overlaps and discoveries, and left with a bright-eyed teenager talking about her “five-star” experience. For my part, I tried manfully and with partial success to keep my booger hooks off the gorgeous, clinker-built boats. Turns out I’m the reason they keep the swords and helms under glass.

Bronze helmets, forerunner of the infamous “steel pot.”

There’s stuff I can’t do now. If I got up at the buttcrack of dawn to perform military calisthenics, then run a few miles out to Geronimo’s grave and back, I’d land in the hospital before achieving escape velocity from the cantonment area. These days, about all I’m good for in the morning is lifting a few weights and playing loudmouth pickle ball with the indulgent geezers at the YMCA. On the good hand, I don’t have to get up at oh-dark-thirty to run PT (only to pee), and pickle ball always was more fun than grass drills; I shoulda figured that out years ago. Can’t hit an unwavering, choirboy-pure high note anymore (hi, Mom!), but these days I kinda like shuffling through a few songs, growling like Tom Waits’s bartender. There are few fucks left to give and each time I find one, I do my best to pass it down to our kids. They still retain the fire to use ’em properly.

What else happened yesterday? Oh, nothing too important — unless you’re me. We talked over lunch at a Scandinavian bakery, and took home bags of treats to share with our dogsitter. My little sis composed a one-off birthday verse, applicable to this year only, and sang it down the phone line to me while we each watched the eclipse from different towns, in different states. I received a pan of baklava for a birthday cake and a lasagna for birthday dinner, because double-nickel birthdays only make sense in layers.

I worked at carving a thick chunk of plum into the handle for a cane staff made from backyard hazelnut wood, amiably chatting with Daughtergirl on the speakerphone even as I ran a wicked-sharp, hand-forged spokeshave gently into my thumb pad and bled dark crimson deep into the purple fruitwood’s majesty. So many little reminders to pay attention to this chapter of life, this time that holds an eternity of sweetness in every bite of baklava.

Pay attention.

A hundred or more birthday greetings poured in over various media from people whom I am eminently privileged to know. Pretty Wife and I shared a toast of Ardbeg’s Corryvreckan “Committee,” and I unboxed a birthday bottle of their “Perpetuum” special bottling (not buyable in Yankland) to open later with the globetrotting friend who brought it from the edge of the loch and sea.

Pay attention. Your friends are not immortal.

I noodled around on my half century-old Silvertone, and Marco Poloed a raspy-voiced song to our granddaughter, who’s a baby for the first and only time. We capered with our goofball dogs under a birthday moon that won’t happen again in this lifetime, and plopped onto soft furniture to watch “Stardust” together. Then last night, in a room that we built together, I settled gratefully into our bed with the only woman I’ve loved well enough for her to notice.

Pay attention. These are the good old days.

I’m 55 years old now. This is my life. You are my people. I’m surrounded by comforts, by friends and by care. By great good fortune that has sometimes felt like trauma, I’m lucky enough to realize it, here and now, before it’s over.

Pay attention. This river won’t run upstream.

What a gift. Thank you.


  1. Bill Treadway says

    Depp wishes he had your class and that he wouldn’t wet himself going where you’ve been and doing what you’ve done.
    Missing Friends.
    Happy Birthday, enjoy each one.

  2. HBD and more!

  3. Tony Elias says

    55 and still killing it. Good for you!

  4. Carl Lincoln says

    proud to be one of yer peeps!

  5. Hey, Jack!
    First, you are way HOTTER than Johnny Depp, so fuck his hat! Plus he never served anyone or anything but himself, and now his “empire” is crumbling and he’s nearly bankrupt! So be PROUD of the true non-bullshit life you and Shasta live! Second, here’s a shout-out to all of us veterans during this bullshit government shutdown! I’m Marine, you’re Army; my other best friend Julian was Navy and now FBI; what the fuck, no one but the senators and legislators are getting paychecks! True office pogues at the highest level! Fuck! Rusti and I are so pleased you are writing so fabulously, Jack; seems most of us from our generation either gave up or died, or remain silent.
    Love ya, bro, and give my love to gorgeous Shasta!

  6. Robbie the Red says

    Happy New Year to my Dear Friend. Celebrating another Solar transit with a spectacular Lunar is not a half bad way to start 55. Gorgeous and memorable – – even to we dain bramaged souls. I don’t know about you, but I’m fine with forgetting about details as long as I can remember and appreciate Beauty. And Joy. And Hope. And Friends. And, by the way, Whisky. 😉

  7. Marlon R Balkstra says

    Man, your words always move and paint a picture for me, thanks Jack. Happy Birthday Sir, I wish for you diminishing hardship as you continue to heal. I turn 60 this year and my old injuries seem to remind me on a regular basis of my past transgressions. I am grateful like you though and continue to count my blessings. Keep doing what you do, we are all better off because you do.

  8. Thought-provoking, emotive post, riddled with wisdom. But…

    Only 55? Young punk.

    I hope you live long enough to look back at somebody my age and think “Young punk!”

    The world is a better place with you in it.

    • Well, it’s sure more fun for ME that way.

      …punk. 😉

      • John A. Stockman says

        Throwing my “hat” into this also. Better for you, better for me and anyone who reads. Becoming a motorcyclist in spite of my immune system destroying my joint cartilage (before I could even get my off-road motorcycle racing career off the ground) was very unpopular. Physicians asked me to leave their office. Only when I kept my little dream of riding again after both my hips and entire spine fused, was I able to find a surgeon that would go the long-haul with me. My physical therapist quit on me when she found out what my goal was, with the huge surgery bandages on my hip/leg still fresh from a total hip replacement. Character building, an understatement, but I’d do it all again. Motorcycling gave me physical freedom, along with a mental freedom I did not anticipate. Your words offer me that mental freedom, now that my condition is progressing non-stop to less range-of-motion and less strength and energy. Not the definition of progression, but I can find positive.

        • John, you’re G-d’s gift to the dream of freedom.

          There’s a funny thing about restrictions: they force us to choose a road. One road is to give up, hang out, put a beer in one hand and the television remote in the other. A different road is to resist limitations against all odds, and it sounds like you’ve explored that road most of the way down.

          A third way is to explore a completely different road, and see where that one leads. I’ll be interested to hear where you wander to next.

          Rock on!



          • John Stockman says

            Thanks Jack, that means a lot to me. I just wanted to ride a motorcycle with my grandfather, him on his 1939 Indian Chief, me on my own bike. I had ridden pillion on that Indian many times with him, starting at age 8, when I could finally reach the passenger pegs. Memorable moments that are still as vivid in my mind as when they happened, our trip to Sturgis when it was still being run by the Jack Pine club. Way different than when I went on my own in the mid 90s on my KZ440. The other was when we went to Speed Week at Bonneville. He had been there before and would tell me about the “roar of silence”. I experienced that at night when no one was around, just the two of us. No sound at all, but I heard the “roar”. Sadly, my grandpa died of pancreatic cancer two months before I got my first motorcycle in May 1983. He was encouraging and told me to keep going, even if we couldn’t complete my dream. It was never about recognition for what I accomplished. If I had gone through all that to play some ball sport, climb Mt. Rainier, or run a marathon, I would have been applauded for courage, conviction and bravery in overcoming such a severe disability. Doing it to ride a motorcycle, not worthy. So, in a way, I got nothing in the form of recognition. My niece told me about 10 years ago that my entire experience was worthy, and I should talk about it, maybe write it down before it’s too late. My attempt to do so was met with a similar attitude of not-worthy, just like when I started in 1980. Now, I learned it’s not about what I accomplished, but more about how it might help someone else. Whether it’s getting to ride a motorcycle, or some other worthy goal. Inspiration can come from many places and people. My grandfather inspired me with his positive approach towards motorcycling and his commitment to improving his riding skills through practice and local competition. His actions and words were the same thing, and I learned to do just that by watching him.

  9. Bob Curran says

    Happy Birthday Jack, big fan of your writing and thank you for your columns and service. You speak from the heart and I am right there with you. Thanks again.

  10. Allan Wyatt says

    Happy B’day! You’re just a kid… I’ll hoist a wee dram of Ardbeg 17 in your honour. If you ever get to Boulder, look me up. I’ll hoist one with you. Slainte’.

  11. I never ride on Fridays. But I did today. Not on Fridays in the summer because the line of campers going into the merge at the top of Richmond Hill taxes my clutch hand and my threshold of mechanical sympathy for the big Guzzi. But I did today. Also today a NorCal buddy referenced Squaw Valley Chapel where I found quilted reference to great verse, “The lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; My heart is glad and my soul rejoices.” Psalm16: 6&9. Also today I visit once again with the mind of my friend Jack Lewis. However many more breaths I have in this body I’ll feel and smell and taste each of them a little more, a little more often, thanks to this day and those who brought it to me. Thank you all.

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