All posts by mgwalks

Graveyard shifts

Ross and I have been taking turns working graveyard shifts, midnight to 8 a.m. Here’s what I’ve learned since I started beginning my day when others end theirs.

  • Seeing the sun rise in Manhattan more than makes up for the inconvenience. I know I’m blowing my cover when I say this, but at 20 to 7 this morning, I snuck off into the stairwell, up past the 26th floor, onto the roof. I cracked an orange juice. I listened really, really hard. Even though the surrounding skyscrapers block direct views of the sun — especially at the street level, where bleary-eyed ants scurry to and from Starbucks in near-total darkness —the view from the roof offers a remarkable perspective of the day’s nascence. The sound, though, is even better. No cars, no horns — just the noise of a few air vents and the expectant calm before another full day of ingenuity and culture and human achievement.
  • Everyone’s on their grind. I got on the subway at 11:30 p.m., myself a little bleary-eyed as I trekked into work. As soon as the A left Kingston-Throop, I heard: “Alright, alright here we go. I’m your candyman today, tonight, tomorrow, forever.” A guy who I’ll call Fat Ving Rhames unzipped a loaded suitcase. This was my first experience with nutcrackers. His pitch was just a recitation of Kendrick Lamar. “I know your Wednesdays, people. Sit down, drank. Stand up, drank. Pass out, drank. Wake up, drank.” He also sold Newports and pirated pornos. Entrepreneurialism.
  • Having a beer after work reminds me of college. Yesterday I pounded a McGriddle, shotgunned a Coors Light and walked Chief before I went to bed. I call it the Bed-Stuyathlon. I think this should be a ghettolympic event. Hey, it’s not every day I wake up before they take breakfast off the menu. Carpe McGriddle.

Reflecting on 80

My grandfather, Bill Andersen, turned 80 earlier this week. The feat alone was, in his words, pretty remarkable.

I couldn’t be back home in Montana to celebrate with the rest of the family, but I called him and asked him what he thought about entering his eighth decade on Earth.

“Well, Matt,” he said in his thoughtful patter. “There’s been lots of times I thought I probably should have died.”

He told about falling through a ranch roof he was working on, his head landing just a couple feet from his axe. He told me about falling through ice on a lake and needing his cousin to fish him out before the cold or the ten-foot waters took him. He told me about driving home after having too much to drink one night — not that much, he assured me, but more than enough.

“Holy moly, I thought, ‘Man, I got away with one there,” he said.

Leaving my home state has stoked my interest in the history of both sides of my family. If the Andersens and their offspring are to be believed, Bill and Judy have Lived. They moved a lot, uprooting my mom and her siblings to follow Bill’s job on the railroad. My grandparents migrated from Livingston, Mont., out east to Minnesota and Wisconsin, finally back where they met.

I love my grandpa — and my whole family — very much, but sentimentality aside, I’ve met few men who work as hard as Bill Andersen. He’s a Montana Hemingway — a hunter, fisher, builder, fixer; a drinker and a smoker. When he asked to go fight in Korea, his country told him he was too valuable fixing its airplanes to leave. When he finally retired from the railroad, the company hired three people to do his job. When he and my grandmother wanted a cabin on their mountain property, the two of them built one from the ground up.

So, as one of the wisest men I know (though he may never outwardly agree to that description, and I suspect that’s a key to his wisdom), I had to ask him: What’s he learned?

After raising three kids, committing to a fifty-year marriage, beating prostate cancer and surviving a career of using his hands and his mind, what’s the shortcut to bliss?

“The closer you get to the end of it all, the more you realize how inevitable it is you’re going to meet your maker,” he said. He didn’t say it somberly or with a laugh. He said it because I asked.

“Just appreciate the people around you. And learn to be happy with what’s around you.”

I’ve never thought it was bizarre or out of the ordinary that my grandfather and grandmother have frequented different churches. Bill is a Catholic with a capital C: Notre Dame football and St. Bernard’s mass on Wicks Lane. Judy often joined us at a nondenominational across town.

And that’s what I respect about him — the ability to carve out a long, ostensibly happy and fulfilling life of being himself.