All posts by mgwalks

218. On death

“Picture a very swift torrent, a river rushing down between rocky walls. There is a long, shallow bar of sand and gravel that runs right down the middle of the river. It is under water. You are born, and you have to stand on that narrow submerged bar, where everyone stands. The ones born before you, the ones older than you, are upriver from you. The younger ones stand braced on the bar downriver. And the whole long bar is slowly moving down that river of time, washing away at the upstream end and building up downstream.

“Your time, the time of all your contemporaries, schoolmates, your loves and your adversaries, is that part of the shifting bar on which you stand. And it is crowded at first. You can see the way it things out, upstream from you. The old ones are washed away and their bodies go swiftly by, like logs in the current. Downstream where the younger ones stand thick, you can see them flounder, lose footing, wash away.

“Always there is more room where you stand, but always the swift water grows deeper, and you feel the shift of the sand and the gravel under your feet as the river wears it away. Someone looking for a safer place can nudge you off balance, and you are gone. Someone who has stood beside you for a long time gives a forlorn cry and you reach to catch their hand, but the fingertips slide away and they are gone. There are the sounds in the rocky gorge, the roar of the water, the shifting, gritty sound of sand and gravel underfoot, the forlorn cries of despair as the nearby ones, and the ones upstream, are taken by the current. Some old ones who stand on a good place, well braced, understanding currents and balance, last a long time. A Churchill, fat cigar atilt, sourly amused at his own endurance and, in the end, indifferent to rivers and the rage of waters.

“Far downstream from you are the thing, startled cries of the ones who never got planted, never got set, never quite understood the message of the torrent.”

John D. MacDonald

217. Solar energy, Nutella, democracy, my voice

You get to the bottom, and you can feel it, feel the cold, rocky edge of it all scrape your face, and you realize that’s why it’s called rock bottom.  

“We have been made aware,” she writes. “It’s taken care of.” Don’t end a sentence with a preposition. Don’t end a sentence with a preposition. Don’t end a sentence with a preposition.

Somewhere in the dusty lazy Susan of the mind an old Oasis song plays one decibel too loud.

And I want you to know / I got my mind made up now / But I need more time 

Suddenly you realize  that you talk to all your ex-girlfriends, even the ones that live overseas, even the ones that told you they hated you, always would hate you, hate your penchant for emotional forgery and your constant masochistic tendency to grow bored with the warmth of a beautiful, boring woman. You talk to them, and you say kind and genuine things about them. You compliment their new boyfriends, who all have long hair and sometimes have the same name as you.

She is electric / Can I be electric too?

You read the blotter report in the newspaper the other day. A friend of a friend had been arrested for a vaguely sexual offense in the next town over. It made you nauseous.

“I like it when you’re under the ocean and all you can feel is calm,” she writes. “Will you write about me?”

This weather is making everyone crazy. People’s brains are baking in the sun. Stand up, dammit. Stand up! One foot after the other. Reach up, dig your fingers in. You’re on the curb with the bread, your sunglasses are gone and you will have to learn everything all over again.

August is not august.

205. 2004, or the year I found music

The first time in my life I sought out songs that meant something to me.  

I bought The Strokes’ Room On Fire in 2004 mostly because I loved the cover art.

I’d heard “Reptilia” a few times, and each time it blew my mind. It sounded so new, so unlike anything on the radio, and it opened up a world of alt and garage rock that never found its way to Montana. I had to go and find it.

That album actually came out in 2003, but ’04 was the first year I actively cared about music. I bought so many albums that year looking for that same kind of escape The Strokes gave me. I wanted to live inside the machine three minutes at a time. I was a teenager, dammit, and I was cool and different and intellectually sophisticated. 

Generously lazy extended family members kept me waistdeep in iTunes gift cards, so I kept buying albums.

And what a year for music.

Matt’s top 7 album purchases from 2004, according to iTunes

1. Hot Fuss – The Killers

2. Good News For People Who Love Bad News – Modest Mouse

3. The College Dropout – Kanye West

4. Franz Ferdinand – Franz Ferdinand

5. The Libertines  – The Libertines

6. Thunder, Lightning, Strike – The Go! Team

7. A Grand Don’t Come For Free – The Streets

203. Getcha Popcorn Ready

This is an actual conversation that happened and has been edited for brevity and clarity.  

Me, verbally: Hey, TO. I don’t wanna bug you or anything, I just wanted to tell you how much I appreciated watching you play.

Terrell Owens: Oh, thanks, man. I really appreciate that.

Me, internally: Damn, his hand is like three times the size of mine. Firm handshake. Soft palms. He caught more than 150 touchdowns with these hands. Damn.

Yeah, I actually am a lifelong Cowboys fan, and right at the peak of my teenage fanhood, you were my favorite player. Owned your jersey, and all of that.

Always good to hear. That’s nice of you to say.

Also, for a brief time, I hated you, mostly because of the business on the star with George Teague. I’ll never forget the Sports Illustrated anecdote about your text to Drew Bledsoe before the 2006 season. “This year is gonna be sick,” you wrote. That year was decidedly unsick. But I got over it. It felt childish to hate someone so nakedly talented.

You were actually just in Billings, Montana, giving a motivational speech to some kids.

Huh? Oh, yeah! That was actually a really cool event. Very fun.

While other kids complained about your showboating, I backed you up. Even when you played for the hated Eagles. I mean, damn, dude, you’re on the cover on my favorite video game of all-time.

That’s actually my hometown — Billings. Way out there, huh?

One time, playing pickup with the guys in that very town, I stuffed a Sharpie in my sock and autographed the ball after catching a touchdown. I thought they’d think it was funny, but mostly they just thought I ruined the football. Oh, well.

Oh, no way? Yeah, man. Beautiful though.

Is there a subtle way to let you know that I know your middle name is Eldorado? Because that’s a weird middle name, dude.a

Definitely. Well, I’ll let you get back to it. Enjoy the party.

Tossing the popcorn in your mouth. That’s my favorite moment from your time with the Cowboys. You caught at least 10 touchdowns in every season you wore the silver and blue. You cried for Tony, and when everyone across the sports world shit on you for it — and I sort of did too, in public — I was secretly genuinely moved. That’s your quarterback. And mine too.

Thanks, man. Take care.


188. Power Ranking Country Music’s Two-First-Namers

Never trust a man with two first names.  


What’s your country music stagename?

[Your favorite book of the Gospels]
[First name of a character John Wayne played]

That’s all it takes. Mine’s Matt Cole, and he’s coming at you with his new single “Chasin’,” about chasing shots, girls and his dog.

I set out to find the ultimate TFN in country music today. To do this, I set up a few parameters.

Primarily, they must be active and contemporary. I agonized over whether to include Garth, but I ultimately excluded him because of his extended irrelevance. He’d be in the top 5, though.

I also followed this rigorous and thoroughly testeda scoring system.

The scoring system

1 point = Scoring a No. 1 country hit

5 points = Using your original surname

Name Popularity Points = I judged each artist on the popularity of their surname as a given name. To do this, I looked at a name’s peak popularity on Baby Name Wizard.

They measure in terms of per million babies, and I divided that number by 100. This rewards the Luke Bryans more than the Keith Urbans.b

For instance, in the 1940s, “Allan” peaked at 600 per million babies, so Gary Allan got a 6-point boost. He didn’t, however, qualify for the real name bonus, since his original surname is Herzberg.

Here’s the chart. Below it are some thoughts.

The Country Music Two-First-Namer Power Rankings

Alan Jackson 25 Yes 31.5 61.5
Toby Keith 20 No (Covel) 29.2 49.2
Randy Travis 16 No (Traywick) 27.3 33.3
Luke Bryan 5 Yes 21.3 31.3
Chase Bryant 0 Yes 25.6 30.6
Jake Owen 2 Yes 21.9 28.9
Michael Ray 0 Yes 15.5 25.5
Keith Urban 14 Yes .44 19.44
Brantley Gilbert 3 Yes 8.3 16.3
Thomas Rhett 0 No (Akins) 13.2 13.2
Easton Corbin 2 Yes 4.3 11.3
Josh Turner 4 Yes .68 10.68
Gary Allan 4 No (Herzberg) 6.0 10
Lee Brice 1 Yes .83 6.83
Craig Morgan 1 No (Greer) 2.5 3.5


  • Alan Jackson, who shares my birthday, is far away the clear winner. His hit-making longevity and the fact that he doesn’t have a stage name put him over the top, and it wasn’t particularly close.
  • Michael Ray just needs 35 No. 1 hits to compete with Alan Jackson. He might get started soon — “Kiss You In The Morning” is storming up the charts as I write this.
  • Chase Bryant is far too high, and the clear beneficiary of a popular last name. He also reminds me that we could have similar success playing this game with NBA players — Kobe Bryant, Tim Duncan, LeBron James, Michael Jordan, etc.

186. Hemingway

“The most essential gift for a good writer is a built-in, shockproof, shit detector.”  

Hemingway said that in Havana, 1954.

It’s true for any kind of writer, more blatantly for journalists, but also too for creatives who craft and weave. That’s what he bitched at Fitzgerald for doing —  Invention is the finest thing but you cannot invent anything that would not actually happen.

It came near the end of a long, winding Q&A he did with George Plimpton for The Paris Review. Since the Mailer piece I posted, those have been a well I’m slowly pumping dry.

Hem’s feisty in it. Not argumentative — more sad, a bit troubled and grumpy and unwilling to give Plimpton the space to delve into a line of questioning. Outside of that line and a few choice othersa the most elucidating parts of the interview come from Plimpton’s careful dissection of Hemingway’s writing chambers. Heads, furs, trinkets, books, sheafs of onionskin. Carved figures of big-game, small pewter turtles, broken model bi-planes… all rife with sentimentality.

He keeps three buffalo horns, not the largest he ever bagged, though. Just the ones from hunts that went so poorly he thought he might just die.

Writes standing up, always has, and he still maintained a healthy disdain for the churn and burn of newspaper writing, escaping from the profession himself.

I admired his frankness, so unknowingly close to the end of his life. He knew which books of his mattered, that Old Man And The Sea was a classic, that Death In The Afternoon was “instructive,” that he rewrote the last page of A Farewell To Arms 39 times because the wording wasn’t quite right.

Perhaps it was apocryphal. Maybe he was self-mythologizing. But I’d like to think he was himself to the marrow.

“How did you name your characters?” Plimpton asked.

“The best I could,” Hemingway said.

185. The Fourth

There was a moment, some time after the fireworks, when I turned to Vinny and said, “This is such a surreal moment. We always find a way to manufacture fun.”

He laughed, and we clanged our beers together. Then we launched a ping-pong ball across the table at the same time, over a scarred hardwood table in an apartment we’d never known.  

The idea to visit Boston on Independence Day began kicking around in the back of my head a week before Vinny came to town. Connecticut couldn’t offer the Good Times Bonanza to which we’ve grown accustomed — at least not the parts I’m familiar enough to exploit — and my focus on a day-trip sharpened after he told me he had never been.

But none of the fun that followed would’ve been possible if H hadn’t been so damn cool.

She had a friend visiting from overseas, a Dutch girl who likely heard every scrap of Holland culture I ever picked up in four years of living with Jelle. They welcomed a pair of earnest, goofy pals who too often indulged their impulse to say everything in a shitty Boston accent.a

I hadn’t seen H since March, so we caught up, caught Ubers, and caught fireworks and a few bug bites. They shoot them over the Charles, big blooming flowers of neon you feel in your chest seconds after you see them.b

H’s friends welcomed us into the fold, inviting us back to their place for a host of drinking games that are played with just enough subtle variations to piss off a West Coast fratboy.c

All the way into the night, the four of us maintained, the toughest thing to do when you’re engaged in an all-day skirmish with the bottle. H is warm and so agreeably practical, challenging in perfect measure. B was thoughtfully girlish, well-traveled and made less cynical because of it. They were the perfect company, and our talks danced on the edge of genuine curiosity and cleverness.

And there we were, all through the night, straight on to a morning sunrise on the beach, alone inside ourselves, taken in by the gray dawn, but acutely aware of a shared experience we could feel etching us in real time.

A sunburnt postscript into the next afternoon was the cherry on top. Too soon we were back in our own worlds full of advanced analytics and solar panels and holiday misdemeanors.

For that one day, though, throughout a weeks-long afternoon that offered a promise so achingly ripe, we held summer.


This stretch of the summer always races away a little too quickly, just on the other side of total comprehension. The heat of the breeze was a cell block wall, and when I looked, you were out of sight. 

It’s sunburn weather, time for laying under a blue sky and baking and roasting, drinking and sweating, battling mosquitos and drowning in sunscreen. It’s my favorite time of year, without a doubt.

I’ve never had a bad summer. Some, like ’09 and ’12 and ’14, are unforgettable and represent chapters in my life that are so vividly unique and well-defined that they’ve left indelible marks on me, long after I’ve outgrown the person who lived them.

Eugene, Denver, Montana, Brooklyn, Connecticut.

Those are my last five summers.

Five different states and states of mind. One spent floating the river; two spent East; three spent working in newsrooms; three spent in love with a girl; three spent outdoors; three spent with Chief; four spent looking for work; four spent away from my family; five spent at concerts and bonfires; five summers spent chasing, always chasing, chasing girls, chasing Chief, chasing stray basketballs, chasing The Perfect Day, chasing an unending night, chasing the ephemeral Godly glory of a setting sun, and then chasing those last drops of sunlight to steal and keep for me.

When I was a kid, summer meant no school and sleeping in late and mowing lawns and stealing kisses. Summer’s added more depth now, more shades of blue and yellow tinged with a greater freedom to be foolish. Seeing more of them pass by has intensified the urgency to seize a sunsoaked afternoon, too.

But adding more chapters hasn’t changed the dazzling, white-hot core of it all, that summer to me is chainless.

181. I wonder why we’ll hate Steph Curry

Someday it will happen. The collective beast that is NBA fans will rear its ugly head and deem Stephen Curry no longer worthy of its unqualified praise. But which reason will we fabricate this time?  

The uncynical truth is that even the worst NBA player is 100 times more athletic than you and me. Yet that doesn’t stop us from systemically tearing down every player’s mythology — the same mythology we often spend years constructing and tending to.

Name any player, and I’ll give you a dent in his legacy.

Kobe’s too selfish, an inflexible tyrant and, in Brian Phillips’ perfect words, the Analytics Antichrist.

LeBron’s an easy one. He took a shortcut to winning by escaping to Miami to play with his friends.

Chris Paul can’t win when it matters.

Kevin Durant isn’t aggressive enough and may no longer even be the best player on his team. Oh, and he’s got bad feet.

Derrick Rose’s knees.

A lot of these criticisms are unfair, and that’s exactly the point. We don’t adhere to any sense of justice when we collective decide a player is one thing or another. Very few great players escape this degree of treatment, and the ones who do — Tim Duncan, for example — do so sharing the burden of failure and ecstasy of success.a

All of it, really, is an in-the-moment attempt to prevent current stars from ever potentially eclipsing Michael Jordan. To me, that’s what it’s all about. Jordan’s the ruler by which all great players are judged, and none measure up.

(And even Jordan doesn’t really measure up. Most people just ignore his lame-ass stint with the Wizards because it complicates the image of Jordan as the GOAT.)

With that in mind, I’m interested to see what we decide is Stephen Curry’s downfall. Right now, it’s nearly impossible to find any fault with his on-court game. His ankles appear healthy, he’s arguably the greatest pure shooter the game has ever seen, and he’s a champion.b

But inevitably, something will go wrong for Curry. The Warriors are not going to skate to the next five titles. He’ll experience some adversity, and how he deals with it will go along way toward defining him and his mythology. Jordan had baseball. Kobe had Smush. We may be in the midst of experience LeBron’s such moment.

Maybe it will be an off-court issue. Maybe, like Tebow, he’ll get a little more emboldened with his role as public figure and become more forthright with his religious views. He already wears Psalms in his shoes.

Maybe his ankles will flare up again, and we’ll wonder — Damn, what would’ve happened if Curry could’ve stayed healthy.

There simply aren’t many feasible options right now, and that’s why I’m interested in seeing how his public persona will continue to be shaped. Right now, he’s untouchable with no signs of slowing down.

Which obstacles will we arbitrarily hurl in his way?

182. For Andrew and Sarah

Here’s the Best Man speech I gave at Andrew’s wedding.  

I didn’t want to do it with notes, but I think I made it out okay. Thanks to Ryan for filming, and an even bigger thanks to AJ and Sarah for letting me do this, and being such a damn good couple.

To a lifetime of happiness, you guys.