Run, run, run

When my girlfriend told me she signed up for an early morning running class, I laughed at her.

“There’s no way,” I said. “You’re gonna hate it.”

She assured me that not only would it not be a problem, she was actually looking forward to it. Even though it’s, you know, winter, she said it would give her an excuse to get up and going in the mornings.

To be fair, she is a diligent runner. She’s working her way up to 5Ks and half-marathons. She pounds the pavement.

Yet sure enough, she skipped one chilly, early session before dropping out of the course entirely. I could hardly wait to tell her I told her so.

You who know me know I’m competitive — that I like to be right, I need it sometimes, in fact. So of course, when I asked her about her morning runs and she told me dropped out of the course, I gave her a big ol’ TOLD YOU — and braced myself for her retaliatory excuses.


Wait, what? No defensiveness? No anger?Instead, she laughed. “I don’t know what I was thinking.”

And there was my lesson.

See, if the roles were swapped, I probably would have lied to her, told her I was loving the class, rubbed it in as a little joke. And maybe even my desire to prove her wrong would have actually driven me to get out of bed each morning to attend the class. That motivation comes from a deep stubbornness ingrained in me from my family. It’s gotten me where I am, but also sometimes pops up as a childish little manifestation.

But the grace she showed in that one little moment, when she let me have my little win and took the high road (and therefore took the much bigger moral victory), made me fall just a little bit harder for her.

Finding the ‘Diamond’ in the rough

diamondI finally found it.

Hidden at the back of one shelf in a brightly lit bookstore in Brooklyn — the kind with unvarnished wooden floors and a deliberate lack of comfortable armchairs — I found a copy of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s 1922 short story “The Diamond As Big As The Ritz.”

It’s not that this book is exceedingly rare or flawlessly written. It’s just that ever since Gatsby had his recent second wave of sunshine — leading me to dig deeper into Fitzgerald’s short stories and learn of this particular one — I’ve been obsessed with finding, owning and reading it.

diamond2It’s about a Southern young buck who travels west to visit his college friend’s family. They live in an unsurveyed plot of land outside of fictional Fish, Montana, where they hide a terrible, beautiful secret — you know, like everyone else Fitzgerald created. It’s been labeled a sinister fairytale, and it’s partially inspired by the summer Fitzy spent in White Sulphur Springs. Being a Montanan young buck who’s traveled every direction while burning through the ’20s ex-pat novels and journals (and in the case of “A Movable Feast,” novelized journals), I can’t wait to crack its tiny spine.

At only 75 small pages, it’s going to take me maybe a day to burn through, but I already know it’s going to A) Make me miss Montana, B) Demand a second and third read, and C) Look great on my shelf between Chandler and Hammett.

I just hope reading it measures the excitement I had finding it. Every time I’d mosey past the F’s in bookstore, I’d poke around and see if they had it. Sometimes they had it in a larger anthology of Jazz Age tales. No good. I wanted it pure and distilled. I could’ve snagged one online, but that felt unfair; it’s about the chase, the hunt for a gorgeous copy in exactly the type of cramped bookstore I eventually found it in.

And as soon as I’m done with the fourth quarter of Phil Jackson’s latest book on coaching, I’ll head west, back home to Montana, if only for 75 pages.

Friends & Enemies

Enemies are good advertisement so long as you’ve got some solid friends.

ernesthemingway3Newsweek recently wrote a story about a previously unpublished letter Ernest Hemingway wrote to his best friend, Bill Smith, on Valentine’s Day in 1925. Under the click-baiting headline “Hemingway’s Homophobia,” the article’s caption claims the letter “sheds light on Papa’s unenlightened views of gay men.”

Hemingway’s letter isn’t that incendiary. He spit much more venom at cowards and female suffering, and taken as a whole, it seems like Newsweek’s just shoehorning a clickable name into an ongoing social issue. I’m not even going to include a link to the article because I don’t think they deserve the page views.

All of that said, Hemingway includes the above quote near the end of the letter, and regardless of whether it was an original quote, it’s classic Papa H.

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 drawl. “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.

This isn’t a eulogy. I expect and hope to have all of my grandparents around for a long time to come. Nor is this a journalistic representation of Bill Andersen as a person. He’s full of flaws, fears and failures like everyone else, and I wouldn’t be chosen to write his objective, tell-all biography.

But four score is more than I can imagine. More of everything; age, wisdom, integrity, respect. It doesn’t take one score and two years to recognize that. And I’ll consider myself lucky to have half of Bill Andersen’s perspective at 80 years old.