Anatomy of a Strange Day

The green numbers didn’t add up. How could it be 6:18? I set the alarm for 6:00. My sleep-filled eyes started to focus on the eerie light, while my cobwebbed mind began firing to warm up the memory center. Once a little heat was generated, I realized I was supposed to meet Jon at the trail head at 6:30.

Like a high-speed drunken scramble, I dressed two legs at a time and ran out the door for a wet morning run.

As omens go, it wasn’t that bad.

Cool down was a pot of Dragon Well green tea and checking E-mails. That’s about the time a small box popped up in Facebook. “Are we still on for our meeting today?”

If I could’ve seen my face, I’m sure the color drained as my memory caught up with the words on the reminder. I hate being late for meetings.

I argued with myself briefly about the meeting time, some confusion telling me it was for 9:30, still 20-minutes away. But a quick check of Google calendar confirmed the 9 a.m. meeting time.

I had a calendar full of such meetings. A full-time job keeps you from making all the connections you’d like to, and there are a lot of people around Missoula I’m trying to catch up with.

By 1:30 p.m., I had accomplished several meetings, and I was looking forward to getting home to check up on the job search and finish some correspondence.

Just as I sat down at the computer to start writing, my wife said something about not giving Gabrielle any more of some new granola bars we bought at Costco the day before. I remember trying the nutty bars at a sample table and pointing out that these bars contain no peanuts, wheat or gluten. Perfect for a little girl with allergies.

I acknowledged her without realizing my daughter was laying on the couch with the throw-up bucket curled in her little arms.

As my wife walked out the door to take our oldest son to track practice, she told me she’d given her Benadryl, but that she had thrown it up about 45-minutes later. “Check and check. See you in a bit.”

Allergy attacks aren’t common, but with a good dose of Benadryl, Gabbers usually feels better in a couple hours.

After a few minutes I noticed she was itching her tummy and bouncing on the ground scratching the back of her knees. I told her to come over so I could check the hives. They were bright and angry, making her skin tight all over her stomach.

Something was different about this attack, and I started putting all the information together again in my mind. She had taken a bite of the bar at about 1:15 p.m. My wife gave her a dose of Benadryl when she noticed some hives pop up on her arms. Gabbers threw up about 45 minutes later.

I started searching for the phone number of a friend who works at an allergy clinic in town.

Gabber’s ears started to turn really red, and she could barely control the itching.

I left a message to this effect: “Gabbers is having  pretty nasty allergic reaction to a piece of granola bar she ate today. She’s got hives, she threw up 45-minutes after my wife gave her Benadryl. Her ears are turning really red, and she’s fairly miserable right now. Tell me I don’t have to go to the emergency room.”

There it was, my real worst fear. We don’t need an $800 emergency room bill after our insurance has been terminated with the layoff. My wife and I discussed this just a week ago. We agreed to keep our fingers crossed and to police the kids’ activities with a little more vigilance to ward off any bad breaks, head bonks or other emergency room sureties.

The phone finally rang after what seemed like an eternity, and our friend in the allergy clinic said the words I needed to hear. “Tim, you can’t mess around with an allergy attack. Anaphylaxis can come on fast.”

We found shoes and car keys and said a silent prayer that the extremely small amount of gas fumes left in the SUV would be enough to get us to emergency.

My daughter kept looking at me funny, but I was looking back to check on her every five seconds, so I can hardly blame her. I was also trying not to panic, though the thought of her little throat swelling shut kept my mind fluttering between negative thoughts and a vague awareness of traveling down I-90 at 75 miles an hour.

At emergency, the triage doctor asked all kinds of questions I didn’t know the answers to. Didn’t even get her birthday right, though I was within two days. I kept trying to call my wife, whose phone was on vibrate in her purse, while telling the doctor I had no clue if she was up to date on her immunizations.

She sat there shy and probably nervous. It was difficult to tell, but the room was filled with all kinds of technology, and I kept seeing flashbacks to “ER” and “Gray’s Anatomy.” Like most hospitals, the docs and nurses were extremely attentive and made soft sounds using gentle words while getting down on their knees to address her.

I finally got a hold of my wife and told her we were at emergency but that Gabbers seemed all right. She said she was on her way and hung up.

The doctor asked a lot of questions about breathing and noticed that her uvula, that little tear-drop-shaped flap of skin in the back of the throat, was a bit swollen and red.

We both wondered what was taking mommy so long.

She finally walked in shaking and breathing fast, and I assumed she’d let her mind get the best of her on her way to emergency the way I had. But she said that she had been hit while waiting for a parking spot.

“Oh crap, tell me the car is drivable?”

She said it was, that a fellow driving a Suburban had backed into her despite the fact she laid on the horn. The right driver-side panel was crunched in pretty good.

I told her the doctor wanted to dose her with an EpiPen and then observe her for an hour or so, and she caught her breath and called in the accident to our insurance.

As Gabbers started to improve, I started reflecting on the day.

Double doses of bad news can make anyone want to give up. I felt that way yesterday afternoon. Like all the cards are stacked against you, and you’ll never crawl out of whatever bad luck hole you stumbled into inadvertently. 

Money guides so many of our decisions in life. More often than not we’re influenced by fear, which can become pervasive at times, especially in times of great turmoil or change. Being laid off can almost paralyze you with fear and change the way you make decisions.

After we got home, we decided to head back to town for a pizza dinner at Biga Pizza, where we decompressed and unloaded our fears and frustrations before a grateful feast of togetherness.


Forcing the Dream Part II

I was six months into my first journalism job and dreaming big. Afghanistan, Iraq, I had war dreams where I wore Army issued spectacles and carried a 5D around my neck and a notepad in my hand while giving people a real picture of war.

There are few things I like more than waking up in a new country. New people to observe. New flavors to taste. Big pictures to put together.

I’d sit at my desk and try to envision the steps it would take to get to the New York Times. But the contrasting mind-numbing stories coming from the Marion County Board of Commissioners didn’t promise much of a future unless I could find a huge cover up or a sex scandal.

During the most mundane part of summer, those journalistic doldrums where you can’t reach a source to save your life, I sat at my desk trying desperately to drum up county stories. Aside from a little piece on some new natural product the county was spraying on area dirt roads, I had nothing.

My dad happened to call me that day to let me know he was going to Cuba that summer. The list of interesting places my dad travels to on a regular basis would make the Travel Channel blush.

“Do you want to come with us?”

“Does the Pope pee?”

Dreams often stand on legs we don’t recognize as our own. But they are more often than not related. You parents, your wife, your brothers and sisters.

The sun shone so bright on that first day in Havana, that I thought I was going to go blind. Caribbean blue and colors the rainbow never dreamed of made it difficult to focus on one thing.

We walked through markets and I sat on the Malecon and people watched to my heart’s content.

For five days I observed life in one of Havana’s famous neighborhoods and fulfilled a long-time desire to visit Finca Vigia, Hemingway’s Cuban home.

I remember looking up at the huge banners flying above some of Havana’s most famous buildings. They wished Fidel Castro a happy 80th birthday. Still months away of course.

But the world’s most famous dictator was holed up in one of his residences apparently in great pain and worried for his life that day. Word began to leak out that the great revolutionary was on his death bed, and by noon the following day, power was passed from Fidel to his brother Raul, the first such exchange of power in Cuba in more than 50 years.

And I was there to write about it. I wrote a story for our front page and a reporter’s notebook story that I tried to send from within Cuba. I was foiled by the nation’s tough Internet security. But an hour’s flight to Cancun and the wifi at a beach-side hotel provided the link up I needed to get my story back to my newspaper. The story eventually went out on the wires, and I received notes from people who’d seen it on the AP wires the next day.

Dreams don’t always look like you think they might. Sometimes you can force a dream out of thin air, and sometimes they come to you when you least expect it. Dreams are the result of luck, hard work and family. They don’t happen every day but even once in a lifetime can be good enough for those who learn to appreciate them.

It wasn’t the New York Times, but for a day, I was an international reporter. 


The Spectre of Moving

I am a collaborative person by nature.

Because most jobs that would fit my criteria are out-of-state, we’ve been slowly getting the kids used to the idea of moving. It’s not easy. They’ve developed friendships, they’d like to finish running cross country and playing flag football. Even my four-year-old wants to play soccer, which we signed her up for before I was laid off.

But I know that if and when a job offer happens, we’ll have some tough decisions to make, and we’ll have to make them fast. For this reason, we’ve been talking to the kids about where some of their favorite places to live might be. Just to get them verbalizing their fears and their desires.

I don’t look forward to the sad goodbyes they’ll have to say to their friends or the fact that my oldest son Cole was looking forward to his first hunting season. He also worked really hard to get on the student council so he could broaden his school experience. These things really cut me when I think about moving.

But I don’t want a sudden announcement of where daddy got a job to freak them out, so dinner has been a game all about all the cool possibilities out there. Warm climate or cold climate. Mountains or oceans. This state or that state. We’ve listed the things we like, like rock climbing and cross country skiing as well as our favorite sights, smells and sounds. Personally, I like living next to Big Sky Brewing Company. The smell of warm Grape Nuts in the morning is almost as good as coffee.

Apparently Bermuda, San Diego, India and Alaska are all fair game. 

In they end, we might not get a choice about where we’ll end up, but being collaborative is a process that works for our family. The kids feel they have a stake in the outcome, even when that might not be the case exactly.

As for me, the specter in moving is the massive logistics of moving a household anywhere, be it across town or across the country. It’s tough to set up a life, dismantle it and then set it all up again. But, is the old adage says, life must go on.

Forcing the Dream Part I

I always saw this ad in my head:

The New York Times seeks a smart, fast and ambitious reporter to cover the (pick your war) from our (pick your bureau). The reporter will join an energetic four-person team covering this and other conflicts in the region. This is a high-profile position, as the world is watching to see if this conflict spreads and involves other nations and regions. The reporter will be expected to consistently break wire-moving news and to write insightful features on important developments as well as to report on human rights violations and the lives of citizens caught up in the conflict.

By the time I graduated from journalism school the dream was dead.

The New York Times and Washington Post effectively disassembled their world-wide bureaus during my last two years as a student at the University of Oregon School of Journalism and Communication.

I used to walk into the study room on the ground floor of Allen Hall in hopes of finding a note posted to the bulletin board announcing internships in places like Moscow, Mexico City or Madrid, but I never did.

By the end of my junior year, I was looking at spending the summer interning at a local weekly paper covering city council and the county fair. My wife was watching my dream die right in front of her eyes, and it was a conversation we had about how we loved to travel together so much that got me thinking about E-mailing some editors at English-language newspapers around the world.

I sent a dozen notes out to newspapers like the St. Petersburg Times, the Prague Post, the Kyiv Post and some papers in China and the Middle East. Within a few weeks I’d heard back from no less than half that dozen.

My favorite reply came from the Kyiv Post in Ukraine.

“You want to come work at this newspaper for free for the summer? I think you’re crazy, but I’d be crazy not to take you up on it. Come on over.”

My dad graciously gave me some of his air miles to purchase a ticket, and I left my wife and two young boys on their own to pursue this journalism dream that didn’t have a raft to float on.

Two days later I was sitting at a desk hastily cleared of old Kyiv Post publications and calling a government source about damages from a huge set of thunderstorms that pounded the region just after my arrival.

Within a week I was working on a story about the 2,000-strong Palestinian community settled right in the heart of the city. I spent time with them in their homes at their Mosques and the Christian services they attended with their Ukrainian wives on Sundays. I wrote my first front-page feature story on a part of Kyiv culture that not even the local dailies would touch.

By the end of the summer, the Orange Revolution was more than just an idea, it had fomented into a huge political wheel rolling toward a November showdown in Kyiv. I wrote about some of the earliest effects like student riots at the U.S. Embassy, even interviewing U.S. Sen. John McCain when he visited the city with a large contingent of U.S. politicians.

I spent many nights at the famous political hangout known as The Baraban (the drum) just off the city’s main thoroughfare. The politics were hot, and reporters recited poetry and defended their latest articles. Some talked of going into hiding after reporting on the country’s four ruling oligarchs, while I soaked it all up like a sponge.

I was as green as you could be in journalism. Not even worthy of being a cub reporter at the time. But the editor, a sharp New Yorker of Ukrainian background, liked my ambition and my sense for good feature stories about culture, people and places.

The closest war-like experience was the explosion of a pipe bomb in a market in the neighborhood I was staying in during my last week in city. And I survived a long hitch-hiking trip across the country on my last weekend there. 

It wasn’t war-time reporting, but it was electric, and I was absolutely sure of what I wanted to do the rest of my life.

With my wife’s encouragement, ideas and blessings, I had forced the dream, even if briefly, and I got a taste for it that is as strong and salty on my tongue today as it was the day I left Kyiv seven years ago.


My view from the unemployment line

The view from the unemployment line is the view from my kitchen table. My little office space I carved out in our home since I was laid off from the newspaper a few weeks ago.

When I’m confused over some bureaucratic issue involving the now-online claim filing process, the computer screen stares blankly back at me. Which is probably the same look I’d get if I spoke to an actual person. I’m basing this solely on my past experiences with the Oregon Department of Motor Vehicles.

The process of filing an unemployment insurance claim is not that bad, though like most government forms these days, the main goal seems to be figuring out if I’m a documented citizen who is able to work in the United States. I can’t tell you how many different ways I was asked this question with little digital check boxes to assure them I’m indeed a red-blooded American able and allowed to work here.

God forbid one of my wonderful foreign friends working in the United States on a green card ever gets laid off. I just don’t see how you’d ever navigate the system.

Like most government entities, the single phone line at the Montana unemployment office is always busy. I’ve found that asking other unemployed people questions about earning freelance wages on top of what I get from unemployment insurance to be the best way to navigate the system.

And there is no shortage of people who have a lot of experience figuring out unemployment in this town and across the country.

I think the best thing about my view from the unemployment line is that my four-year-old daughter is sitting right next to me learning how to write her name while I figure out the claim and fill in my job hunting requirements for the week.

Bureaucracy is somewhat more tolerable when a cherub-faced little girl asks you to help her write her Gs, then the sustained sadness of a place synonymous with downcast men in fedoras and trench coats since the 1930s.

In some ways, the digital process makes it feel a bit more unreal. Lines are real, forms are real, bureaucratic-minded workers who are always five minutes from their next break are all too real. Telling a form that I’m American and can work here and have been laid off and where the next screen flashes your approved amount almost instantly still is a bit unreal.

But I’ll take it, process and all.

See you in the unemployment line next week.


No more finger pointing

Thirteen years ago I had a small house painting business that I ran mostly by myself. My wife would help me tape windows and sand window sills occasionally, but I mostly spent long days working by myself inhaling paint fumes and spraying some variant of bland eggshell paint on the walls of new homes.

Not having a lot of income from this particular job, I tried to get a few more coats out of an old spray tip that malfunctioned often, which caused a large drip of paint to partially block the spray pattern. I’d swipe my index finger across nozzle to clean this excess paint and go on with my business.

My left index finger as it appears 13-years after surgery.

On this particular day, I think it might have been a Tuesday morning, I found myself cleaning the nozzle more often than I had in the past, and in one angry moment, I caught my finger in the nozzle guard, and when I went to pull back to release the stuck finger, I inadvertently pulled the trigger lever, which my other hand held in a pistol grip.

Thirteen cc’s of bland eggshell paint blew my finger up like a huge, pale balloon. Surprisingly, it was rather painless at first, and I dropped the spray gun and grabbed the finger trying to push the paint back out the punctured opening. Nothing happened.

I called my father and asked his opinion of the matter. He suggested the emergency room, and so I drove myself there.

Ordinarily you’d have to line up with everyone else in the waiting room, and since I wasn’t bleeding, and I was breathing just fine, I figured to be there for a few hours before hearing my name called. But during triage, the nurse looked at my finger and said, “My, my, that is a bad bee sting.”

“Umm, Ma’am, that’s not a bee sting, I shot my finger full of paint.”

The nurse Betty smile faded from her face, and she turned my arm over to reveal a bright red line heading up the normally blue veins on my forearm.

It was all action from that moment on. I was hoisted onto a gurney and stripped of my clothes and dignity, while a team of people pontificated on the seriousness of my injury.

At one point, I managed to gain the attention of the surgeon.

“Excuse me, doctor, can someone get a hold of my wife for me?”

“Sure, how should I reach her?”

“She’s on a job site, so can you leave her a message on our answering machine?”

Had I not just had a large does of some drug injected into an IV I didn’t even know they’d put in, I would’ve realized that my method of contacting my wife was not that smart.

The answering message went as follows:

“Hello, my name is Dr. Leonard, and I’m a plastic surgeon at the Salem Hospital. I’m the attending emergency room physician on call today, and I just finished a surgery on Tim Akimoff. He’s in recovery and resting well. You can have the hospital page me if you have any questions.”

Had my wife heard that message, she might have just figured that my face had been removed by a rough patch of asphalt, or that my limbs had gone missing in some crazy wood chipper accident.

The top of my left middle finger is now the bottom of my index finger.

Luckily, my dad managed to find her at the job site, and he told her I’d taken myself to the hospital for some kind of finger injury.

Four surgeries later I had a shortened, yet usable index finger on my left hand. Dr. Leonard had used a relatively new technique called a deep tissue skin graft to grow a new section of meat and skin to my index finger, which was missing a quarter or more due to tissue destruction by the injection of all that paint.

I was sick for days because of the paint in my system, but the effects eventually wore off enough for coherency and the realization that I would not be able to work much during the six-month process of fixing my finger.

Indeed, I lost my business and had to sell off all my equipment, while the bills piled up in the corner of the kitchen counter.

The ensuing months are lost in a fog of pain killers, depression at having no direction in life, much less a career and punctuated periodically by big news events like the death of Princes Diana in a French tunnel.

Much of the next five years were spent wandering around the globe in pursuit of something permanent and fulfilling. But that time constituted the first real unemployment period of my life, and the differences between those helpless days and these are that I have purpose and direction now that sustain me, even if I don’t have a paycheck to qualify them.

And while I don’t use my short finger to type, I’m still glad I got to keep it. Thank you Dr. Leonard.


Bottling 55 gallons of Belgian brown ale.

How I spent my Sunday

Beer waits for no man. And when we brewed this dark, Belgian beauty it was months and months before I  was laid off. It sat for a long time in a French oak merlot barrel soaking up tannins and wine acids, while we went about our business. Well, today was our date with destiny, a long and arduous destiny with what seemed like a million brown and green bottles in the Lewis/McBryde Casa. Sometimes I like the continuous and traditional aspect of beer and the process of brewing and fermenting. It’s unshakable and never changes at all, and yet you end up with something amazing every time.



How Joseph Stalin changed my life

All people share a dream. For the desperate, that dream is freedom. But give a man a sense of peace, and the dream will shift toward security and shelter.

We all want to own a home. Some people call it the American Dream, but it’s the human dream, has been since we wandered the earth looking for a dry cave to inhabit.

When Joseph Stalin was in the process of killing 10 million Ukrainians through a planned starvation, my grandparents undoubtedly dreamt of freedom or perhaps even more basically, survival.

They fled their native land and walked halfway around the world to northwest China, where they set up shop. Work, shelter, life.

Until Mao Zedong’s Cultural Revolution caught up with them, and they were forced to flee once again in pursuit of some dream only attainable in a land far across the known universe, if it existed at all.

They found it under fog-laced blue skies sailing under the Golden Gate Bridge. No Ellis Island for this family, just California dreams on Geary Street and a lifetime away from the Soviet Empire’s antithetical sense of ownership.

My grandfather, like most immigrants, worked hard to buy the dream, because the dream is never free, no matter how much you want it to be. He worked several jobs and bought up San Francisco real estate as an inheritance for his children.

Immigrant families have an overdeveloped sense of needing security. And that is often satisfied in the purchasing of land or houses, even to subsequent settled generations.

Somehow this did not affect me.

In fact, I had a wanderlust in direct contrast to that urge to settle and seek security. I suppose this, above all else, is what led me into journalism. Always moving, artistic, something new every day.

I wasn’t a loner though, I wanted a partner, and my girlfriend of three years agreed to marry me and go with me. I still feel like I duped her a bit, but she’s still along for the ride.

We traveled and lived in trailers and slept on floors in third-world countries. We had a baby together in Hawaii, and I never really had sense of place or any one place.

But I wasn’t a loner, and my wife, as wives tend to do, developed a nesting instinct and began to clamor for something more permanent than hostels, low-income housing or rented apartments and houses.

At 36 each, we bought our first house in October 2009. A green, two-story Missoula Modern out by the airport. Our neighbors are only 12 feet away, and every fifth house repeats except for color and trim. But it’s home. And it’s ours.

I remember feeling sick to my stomach at the closing, but I smiled and celebrated as we popped a bottle of champagne a little later that afternoon.

The feeling of making the first mortgage payment was good, except I kept seeing that huge number that included all the interest we’d end up paying, and I’d go dry in the throat thinking about it.

It’s not the money though, it’s the feeling of being tied down. Always has been.

So getting laid off is much more about the baggage for me. Generally, the idea of moving on to something new is right up my alley. I’m into the next thing, in fact, friends will tell you that as soon as I’m doing something new, I’m already thinking about the next thing.

Now I feel tethered to this place by this house, even though in reality, it’s just an investment that can go whatever way I decide it should go. No matter, it is a cord around my ankle and the most difficult thing I think about when I think about being laid off.

Place is good, it can define you. You can spend your life seeking a place to call your own, and perhaps that’s all my wanderlust really is, an ongoing search.


Walking the wrong way on an escalator and "Red Dawn" dreams

I received my severance package today, though I don’t necessarily think that package is the right word for enough cash to get you through one month.

But I paid this month’s mortgage and put another mortgage payment in savings, which left us with enough to keep the lights and heat on for the same amount of time. Here’s hoping for a warm fall.

I’ll get into the nightmare of navigating the unemployment aid system in another post. I’m still reflecting on its vagaries and endless bureaucratic labyrinths.

There is something very terrifying about that remaining number on your bank ledger. Knowing that it’s fairly final, and you won’t see it that high again for an undetermined amount of time. But it also plays into the adventure side of things. I’ve often wondered about our resiliency in tough times.

Everyone talks about putting away six months of living expenses so you can get through those troughs in life. But every time you reach a big milepost, it seems to cost you your six month savings. Buy a new car or make a down payment on a house. Pay a large hospital bill or a surgery for a beloved pet, and poof, there it goes.

Out of everyone I know, I’d be willing to bet maybe one or two actually have the luxury of sitting on six months worth of living expenses. We certainly don’t.

I have “Red Dawn” dreams. Those end-of-the-world apocalyptic, the-Commies-are-coming sort of dreams where city slickers have to re adapt to the wilds and living off the land. Last year my wife and I did a caveman diet, where we tried to eat mostly meats, nuts and raw fruits and veggies. It’s almost impossible to do this anymore.

A layoff doesn’t necessarily mean we’ll be eking out a living on mushrooms and goat milk with dirty faced children running around our mountain outpost, but seeing the remains of your working life summed up in a few numbers next to a dollar sign makes you think about what’s over that precipice that we’re trying to stay away from like kids walking the wrong way on an escalator.


The Village People Unemployment Recovery Plan

The YMCA has been synonymous with unemployment for me for years. I think it came from the time when a family friend lost his job and moved out of his home when I was a teenager. I heard he was living at the Y, and I was astounded that you could rent a room there.

According to the Village People, there is a lot you can do at the Y. And I suppose the whole unemployment/Y connection is a fairly common association for more than just me.

Just listen:

Young man, I was once in your shoes.
I said, I was down and out with the blues.
I felt no man cared if I were alive.
I felt the whole world was so jive …

That’s when someone came up to me,
And said, young man, take a walk up the street.
It’s a place there called the Y.M.C.A.
They can start you back on your way.

We started a family membership at the Missoula Y last fall, when an early freeze made running outside miserable, or at least more miserable than normal.

I don’t know if the membership at our Y is different than in other towns and cities, but there is a curious mix of wealthy, middle class, blue collar and unemployed folks. My general practice doctor works out there, which always makes me self conscious and somehow willing to raise my heart rate more than I normally would. Some strange confidence that he would whip out a defibrillator and save me if I collapsed, obviously.

Once I overheard an unemployed man say he had nothing else to do besides working out now and wait to collect benefits. He had worked at one of the local mills that shut down. I’d covered the last day at Stimson Lumber Mill for the newspaper and produced this video, so I felt a connection to this guy.

Still, when he approached my workout partner and I and wanted to chat about life, I kind of dismissed him. I think I felt some pity for him at the time, and it made me uncomfortable. Now that I’m in his shoes, I realize it was pity.

There’s something about the well-used feeling of most Ys. They lack that polished, moneyed feeling of high-priced gyms, and users often feel a greater sense of ownership. At least I do.

Stan is always leaving the locker room at around 6 a.m. I only know his name from the big STAN embroidered on a patch on his work shirt which hangs on a thin rack near the door.

Since I’m arriving and he’s leaving, I assume he shows up at 5 a.m. or earlier to work out before going to a full day of manual labor at whatever auto shop or tuneup place he works at. I always admire Stan’s dedication.

Stan once asked me what I did for a living, and I told him I’m a reporter at the local newspaper. It was easier than explaining that I was the digital manager. His eyes lit up and he said, “Gosh, I bet that’s a great job.”

I told him I felt like the luckiest guy in town.

I don’t know what Stan thought as he went to work that day. He may or may not have thought about my job some more.

But later, as I was on the rowing machine, I listened to two lawyers talking about their plans for cycling through Spain with their wives and some friends in the summer.

I spent the rest of the day thinking about what it would be like to be a high-profile lawyer with a sailboat and a cabin on the Flathead.

Greener grass and all that.

The Y is such a classless meat pit where doctors toil side by side with laborers. I could people watch and eavesdrop there all day. A microcosm of community, the Y certainly has the potential and obviously has given some a new start. We’ve seen a lot of layoffs and job losses in Missoula in the last three years.

“Hey, can I get a spotter over here?”

Perhaps the Village People said it best:

Young man, are you listening to me?
I said, young man, what do you want to be?
I said, young man, you can make real your dreams.
But you’ve got to know this one thing!

No man does it all by himself.
I said, young man, put your pride on the shelf,
And just go there, to the Y.M.C.A.
I’m sure they can help you today.