Originally published in Denver Magazine

August 2009

“I had a strong taste for angling, and would sit for any number of hours on the bank of a river or pond watching the float.” –Charles Darwin

“Thousands have lived without love, not one without water.” –W.H. Auden

“Everything technology does for you that you could do for yourself diminishes you as an organism.” –John Gierach

According to at least one theory, life on the planet Earth began in a dirty, brown puddle of water. Teeny, little atoms clustered together in the warm, salty goop to form slightly less teeny molecules, which in turn developed into amino acids, proteins, carbons and cells—the building blocks of living organisms. These cells had an extraordinary ability to replicate and adapt. The microscopic narcissists produced billions of identical clones, which clung to one another like LEGOS and eventually evolved into larger, more complicated entities. Some of the cells clustered together and formed pond scum. Some of the cells needed to travel, so they developed fins, tails and long, sleek, torpedo-like bodies. Another group of cells wanted to leave the puddle, so they grew arms and legs and stumbled clumsily onto land.

Approximately 350 million years later, on a bright, gusty afternoon in the Rocky Mountains, a bipedal cell cluster named John Gierach took me fly-fishing. We each put on a pair of rubber waders and stood testicle-deep in another dirty, brown puddle of water for about an hour or so, repeatedly casting metal hooks decorated to look like insects onto the water. Gierach didn’t talk much during this process, aside from the occasional piece of advice on how to improve my casting technique, which was more or less the same mantra I’ve heard from coaches and sportsmen my entire life: It’s all in the wrist. Baseball, basketball, tennis, golf and now fly-fishing—my wrist has a lot of responsibility to live up to.

Gierach is 60something, slender and charmingly Midwestern, with eyes the color of a winter sky and a white beard that is frayed just slightly around the edges in a dandelion-gone-to-seed kind of way. He has authored more than a dozen books on fly-fishing and is one of the most celebrated writers of the genre in North America and the United Kingdom, although he’s reluctant to admit it. His books feature self-deprecating, existential titles, such as Standing in a River Waving a Stick, Trout Bum, Dances with Trout, Fool’s Paradise and, my personal favorite, Sex, Death and Fly-Fishing. During the course of our interview, he chain-smoked at least a dozen cigarettes and drank enough coffee to kill a small rhinoceros.

Gierach lives a stone’s throw from Lyons, Colorado, with several cats and his girlfriend, Susan, who is also a writer and sometimes wears a hot-pink T-shirt that says, “Not Tonight, Honey. I’m On Deadline.” On an average day, Gierach wears blue jeans, an earth-toned button-up shirt, a tan safari vest with many zippers and pockets, and a beat-up fishing hat that resembles an upturned bucket. I have seen numerous photographs of him taken over the past thirty years, but I have only seen him once without a hat. We were riding in his old, blue Chevy at the time, and he took the hat off for a moment to smooth back his hair, which is as fine and as white as spun cotton. I wanted to know what the hat felt like, so when he wasn’t looking, I reached over and pinched the bill between my thumb and index finger. It felt like a leather baseball glove that had been sitting out in the rain for about thirty years.

The place where we went fishing was a picturesque, ice-cream-scoop of a pond called Lily Lake, where tourists of all shapes and sizes stopped to snap photos with disposable cameras and young lovers walked around with their hands in each others’ back pockets. It was guarded by an elderly ranger named Robert, who wore a crisp, brown uniform and asked anyone carrying a pole if he could please see your fishing license, sir? And by the way, are you aware of the catch-and-release policy, sir? There was a well-worn dirt path around the outskirts of the lake and several crude log benches that looked as though they had been made crudely on purpose to give tourists the feeling of an authentic outdoor sitting experience.

By fishing standards, Lily Lake isn’t exactly what you’d call a prime spot. It’s too open, too commercial. Fly-fishermen can be a bit on the misanthropic side, and they generally gravitate towards more remote locations. Lily Lake’s only real claim to fame is the fact that it’s stocked with greenback cutthroat, which are a rare subspecies of trout that were thought to be extinct until someone pulled one out of the water in the 1950s. These fish have brown tummies and emerald backs covered with black speckles, and they are shaped more or less identical to their ancient brethren.

The greenback cutthroat are not the only fish that have faced extinction in Colorado—the pikeminnow, the razorback sucker, the plains minnow, the humpback chub, the Rio Grande sucker, the northern redbelly dace and the southern redbelly dace are just a few that have been placed on the endangered list at one time or another. As the human population on the Front Range grows, the aquatic population suffers. In many ways, it’s a battle over water, which both species need to survive. Fly-fishermen like Gierach have been working for decades to protect the rivers and streams where the fish live, but it’s been an uphill journey. Colorado is a semi-arid state that suffers through regular drought cycles, and water shortages have been a concern here since the Anasazis abandoned the area in the 14th century. The current laws governing water rights in Colorado were primarily created in the late 1800s, when the state’s population was much smaller, the economy was focused more on mining and agriculture, and few people were concerned about conservation. In general, Coloradans love nature, of course, but modern society has changed the way the average citizen interacts with their environment. Often, urban residents don’t understand how their actions are impacting the surrounding landscape.

Gierach has spent most of his life in nature, and he knows all about the plight of the greenback cutthroat. He also knows about salmon and mule deer and cottonwood trees. He can tell you when the damselflies are going to hatch and the difference between a fox squirrel and a rock squirrel. Over the years, he has informally studied biology, zoology and various other ’ologies, but like any good outdoorsman, he continues to be wary of science, relying heavily on experience and instinct to guide him. While we walked around the lake, he kept rattling off facts about the various birds and insects we came across as though he planned to quiz me on them later. Sometimes, he gets so caught up in his observations that the modern world seems to fade away. Once, while driving his pickup down a mountain, Gierach stopped talking mid-sentence and nearly ran the truck off the road. “Take a look at that,” he said, peering through the windshield at a large hawk circling overhead. “That’s something you don’t see every day.” I nodded and reached for my seatbelt.

*     *     *

My favorite piece of information that I learned about Gierach during the course of writing this article: He once had a regular column in the New York Times, but he quit because, as he says, “They were assholes.”

My second-favorite piece of information that I learned about Gierach during the course of writing this article: When he was a child, his aunt and uncle had a pet raccoon named Agnus.

*     *     *

Fly-fishermen come in all shapes and sizes. They are rich, poor, old, young, black, white. They are farmers, truckers, CEOs, accountants, cowboys, hippies, yuppies. Notable fly-fishermen include Robert Redford, Liam Neeson, Charles Darwin, Teddy Roosevelt, Dwight Eisenhower, Ernest Hemingway, King George IV and Henry Winkler. Washington Irving described fly-fishing as a spiritual pursuit. Tom Brokaw says fly-fishing gives him humility.

Overwhelmingly, fly-fishermen are male, but not exclusively. There is a popular story of a female angler whose husband wasn’t happy with all the time she was spending on the river, so one day he sat her down and forced her to choose between their twenty-year marriage and her favorite bamboo rod. It wasn’t much of a choice, really. She sure did love that rod.

Fly-fishermen can often be obsessive and meticulous. They like to perform an act over and over again until they get it right. Sometimes this drives their friends and family members to distraction, but it can also be a huge asset in life. It’s reassuring and rewarding to repeat the same function, each time expecting a different result (although some have also called this the very definition of insanity). When Gierach is on the water, every cast looks identical to the last, but you can see him working things out in his head, making small, strategic adjustments with each metronome-like swing of the rod, getting closer and closer to perfection. A psychiatrist in Washington who uses fishing as a counseling tool once told me that fly-fishing has more than a few things in common with gambling. They are both occupations that require countless hours of repetition, instinct and skill, but in the end, the respective participants are still hoping for that lucky strike.

To be a fly-fishing writer is to become obsessed with this strange, unpredictable sport to the point that it starts to take over your life. Arguably the first substantial piece of literature in English on the topic was a mysterious essay called The Treatyse of Fysshynge wyth an Angle. Although no one knows for certain who the author was, credit for the Treatyse is most often attributed to a Benedictine nun named Dame Juliana Berners. It was written in the early 15th century and hand-copied by monks until the printing press came along in 1440. Berners discovered that insect swarms varied according to the season, and she developed twelve different fly patterns, one for every month, that anglers could use to successfully catch fish all year round. The descriptions were so detailed and precise that fly-fishermen continue to use those patterns to this day.

More than five hundred years later, writers are still describing fly patterns and struggling to find the right words to capture the fly-fishing experience. You’d think they’d have figured it out by now, but the elusive nature of the sport is part of why it has endured for centuries. As a favorite uncle of mine liked to say, “Fly-fishing ain’t just about fly-fishing.”

Consider this passage from Sex, Death and Fly-Fishing in which Gierach examines the life of an insignificant, little insect and ends up combining ideas from entomology, religion, philosophy, literature and the Kama Sutra:

“A mayfly spinner lies on the surface of the stream in what fishermen call the ‘spent’ position. To picture it accurately, remember that the insect has just had the first and only orgasm of its life and is now, in the natural course of things, dying from it. His body lies flush with the water, wings spread, legs out flat, tails splayed wistfully. Usually he’s limp. If he struggles at all, he does it feebly at best. There’s probably a silly look on his face, although it’s hard to tell with insects.”

It’s not the type of paragraph you would get from an academic or a guy who is just interested in killing fish. This is an extremely talented writer/naturalist/philosopher wrestling with ideas that have plagued humanity for centuries. Like theologians or string theorists, the best fly-fishing writers are the type of whimsical, tenacious SOBs who are willing to spend their entire lives thinking about something they know they will never completely understand.

*     *     *

Gierach never planned on becoming a fly-fishing writer. In fact, he never even planned on becoming a fly-fisherman. As a child growing up in rural Ohio, he was raised by a family of avid outdoorsmen, but they practiced a more relaxed fishing technique, which Gierach describes as “getting drunk and drowning a worm.” His father was a small-town conservative who did not understand the 1960s counter-culture that was creeping across the country at the time, and was perplexed by his son’s shaggy hair and liberal politics. “My dad believed very much in traditions and following the rules,” said Gierach. “He was confused by my generation. I don’t think he ever figured it out.”

In college, Gierach studied philosophy and aspired to become a poet. He listened to psychedelic music, read about the Beats, experimented with a few recreational drugs, played very bad rock music, participated in protests, and hitchhiked to San Francisco to see what all the fuss was about. After graduation, he packed his meager belongings and moved to a cockroach-infested apartment in New York City’s East Village, where he landed a job as a bicycle messenger for a photography lab. “I was young and ambitious at the time, which is a good combination for making stupid decisions. I thought I needed to live on the East Coast in order to be taken seriously as a writer. The idea of the New York art world was appealing to a lot of us back then.”

But city life didn’t sit well with the country boy. Gierach did publish his writing in various small, literary journals around the nation and managed to put together two slim books of poetry, but the New York lifestyle began to take its toll. Also, the bike-messenger job wasn’t really working out. “It was a pain in the ass. I was robbed three times—once at knife point. They didn’t want money; they wanted the yellow courier’s bag that I carried all over the damn city. Apparently, they thought there would be nude pictures in it.”

Tired of being burgled by sexually repressed New Yorkers, Gierach followed Horace Greeley’s sage advice: Go west, young man! Go west! “I moved from New York to Colorado, and within two weeks ended up working for a share in a silver mine that never materialized in Montezuma. I was living in an unheated cabin with no running water or electricity, but it was like a penthouse in the Plaza compared to where I was living in New York. If I got hungry enough, I’d go out and shoot a deer, and if I needed firewood, I’d find a dead tree and lop it up and burn it.”

When the mining project didn’t pan out, Gierach found part-time work as a landscaper and settled in with the writing crowd in Boulder, which at that time contained such visiting luminaries as Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac, Neal Cassady and William S. Burroughs. He wrote poetry and worked odd jobs to pay the rent. When he ran out of food, he simply made a quick trip out of the city to hunt squirrels or catch trout.

This was an exciting time to be a young artist in Boulder. The city had become a hotbed for the hippie culture, and there was electricity in the air, a sense of excitement and optimism about the future. Young men and women descended on the Front Range from all over the country, hoping to reconnect with nature and create a place for themselves outside of mainstream society. “The trend was to find some task that was small and seemingly insignificant and really focus on that,” said Gierach. “A lot of people were getting back to the basics—making your own clothes, growing your own food, creating craft art, things like that. I wanted to do something I was passionate about. The mainstream culture was telling us that we needed to subdue our enthusiasms to get ahead in life. And we were saying, ‘Ahead of what?’”

It was at this time that Gierach first became, ahem, hooked on fly-fishing. Several of his writer friends were anglers, and Gierach decided to tag along on some overnight adventures. Soon he was at the local tackle shop, purchasing his own rod and picking out flies. The individualism of the sport appealed to the libertarian in him, and he enjoyed the repetitive, thoughtful action of the swinging rod, which had an almost Zen-like quality. But mostly he just thought it was fun.

“I wouldn’t over-analyze it too much,” Gierach said when I asked if his philosophy degree influenced his passion for the sport. “I think it’s trendy to link flyfishing with spirituality these days. There might be something like that involved, but most of it’s crap. In the end, it comes down to this: I like catching fish.”

However, Gierach wasn’t catching as many fish as he wanted. And he wasn’t writing as much as he wanted, either. It wasn’t enough to enjoy these activities as pastimes; he needed to spend every waking hour on them. For him, minimum-wage employment and paying rent were a waste of his valuable time.

As fate would have it, Gierach’s father passed away suddenly at this point in his life, leaving him with a small inheritance, exactly enough money to buy a secluded little house up in the mountains. “That was really a turning point in my life in more ways than one. It wasn’t much of a house. In fact, I’ll bet it was the cheapest house in Boulder County. You couldn’t buy a garage door now for what that house cost, but at the time it was a lot of money. All of a sudden I could live for property taxes. I could live on nothing. I could just do odd jobs and hunt and fish and grow a garden and keep chickens for food and cut my own firewood. And I just had all this time to write.”

And write he did, mostly on an old typewriter that made a noise like an angry woodpecker when Gierach was particularly inspired—rat-a-tat-tat-tat! Now that he didn’t need a full-time job to pay the bills, Gierach was free to attack the blank page. He left poetry behind and transitioned naturally into prose. He wrote clean, spare narratives in a Hemingway-esque style and published several short stories, receiving “thank you” notes and contributors’ copies for his efforts. The “thank you” notes were nice, but contributors’ copies wouldn’t cover his tab at the local bar. Finally, in an effort to completely remove himself from the nine-to-five grind, Gierach decided to try his hand at writing fly-fishing articles for one of his favorite magazines. He thought it would be an interesting side project, but he didn’t take it too seriously at first. “When I started, I never thought it’d become my career. You have to understand that fly-fishing was this underground activity at the time. Nobody was doing it except a few weirdos like me. Now it’s mainstream. Now everyone wants to be like Brad Pitt in A River Runs Through It.

Gierach doesn’t recall the exact moment he stopped working on fiction and became a true fly-fishing writer. It was an accident, he says, a fluke. However, eventually that fluke became an obsession. Articles in prominent magazines turned into book deals from small publishing houses. Small publishing houses turned into large publishing companies. Best-seller lists followed.

It took a few years, but Gierach finally accomplished a rare feat: He was able to financially support himself with his art. He had a roof over his head, a steady source of income, and an opportunity to grow and flourish as a writer. He had separated himself from modern culture. He had beaten the system. Or so he thought. “The world has a way of sucking you back in,” said Gierach. “I thought I’d escaped society, but it eventually caught up with me. I began noticing that some of my favorite fishing spots were drying up because someone was taking all the water. I didn’t want to get involved, but I didn’t have much of a choice.”

*     *     *

The Rocky Mountains have always been a magnet for obsessive idealists—gold and silver prospectors, pilgrims, hermits, religious fundamentalists, mountain climbers, etc.—and in the past decade or so, the Front Range has become something of a mecca for fly-fishermen in North America, as well. According to a survey conducted by the Leisure Trends Group, total sales on fly-fishing-related products in the U.S. came to $804.8 million in 2007, and a whopping 37.8 percent of that money came from stores located in and around the Rocky Mountains. In the same year, while fly-fishing sales slumped throughout the United States, the Rocky Mountain area continued to thrive, showing a 6.7 percent increase from 2006. The Federation of Fly Fishers has announced plans to move its headquarters to Loveland, Colo., and in the meantime, the American Fly Fishing Trade Association (AFFTA) has beaten them to the punch and relocated to Louisville. When I asked AFFTA president Gary Berlin why they decided to move to the area, he seemed to think the answer was fairly obvious. “Colorado is the place for fly-fishing right now, and the Front Range is the center of everything. If you’re in the surfing industry, you go to California. If you’re in the fly-fishing industry, you go to Colorado.”

This feeding frenzy has prompted what Denver Post outdoor writer Charlie Meyer has called an “industry stampede to Colorado’s Front Range.” Meyer said that when he first moved to Colorado in 1966 “there was one fly shop in the whole damn state. It was in the front of a former motel and the size of the shop was about the size of your kitchen.” Now, there are dozens of fly-fishing outlets up and down the mountains, selling everything from graphite rods to carbonite reels to exotic-looking flies with whimsical names, such as Zonkers, Nervous Minnows, Royal Humpies, Psycho Princes, Vanilla Buggers and Crazy Charlie Browns.

Gierach is not the only successful fly-fishing writer in Colorado. Nick Lyons is a giant in the genre, as is Gierach’s good friend A.K. Best, just to name a few. Together these men have helped popularize and define a sport that was once thought of as a cult activity. They also put the Rocky Mountains on the map, and the result has been a boom in the local fly-fishing industry, which has had both positive and negative effects. With popularity comes population.

Over the years, as Colorado’s economic focus has shifted away from agriculture and mining towards tourism and technology, the state’s population has grown dramatically, and some projections say there will be more than six million citizens living here by the year 2030. Eighty-eight percent of Coloradans reside on the eastern slope of the Rocky Mountains, concentrating specifically around Denver, Boulder and Colorado Springs; however, 80 percent of our water is on the western slope. In order to satisfy the needs of these sprawling communities, water is constantly being diverted from the western slope, causing alarming drops in stream flow for many rivers, which wreaks havoc on fragile ecosystems.

Ask any environmentalist and they’ll tell you that Colorado is in the middle of a water-shortage crisis that could become a full-blown catastrophe in the next couple of decades. The crisis has many causes, including inefficient irrigation practices in the agricultural industry, an unwillingness in the political arena to make water conservation a priority, greedy land-development companies, and a growing apathetic human population. In the West, water means money, and those in power are often more interested in cash flow than stream flow.

In order to make the type of large-scale systemic changes that would be necessary to avert catastrophe, the public would need to unify and force political action. But for the most part, the public has no idea that a crisis exists. “People in the cities aren’t really connected to nature on a personal level,” said Gierach. “Nature is a weekend activity for most Colorado residents. They go up to the mountains, hike around, look at the chipmunks…and then they go back home and dump a bunch of water on their lawns. It’s stupid.”

In other words, people are moving to Colorado because they want to be close to nature, but in doing so, they are helping destroy the natural environment they love so dearly. This is the conundrum.

Gierach first became involved in water rights around the time his writing career was taking off. “I could see what was happening right in front of me. The water levels were dropping, and every year there were fewer fish. It was happening fast, and it was scary.”

In the beginning, Gierach jumped into the battle with the same type of tenacity and passion that he had for his other life pursuits. The self-described misanthrope volunteered to attend long, litigious meetings conducted by politicians and lawyers. He spent nights attempting to understand the Byzantine language the water-rights laws are written in, and he published articles in local newspapers on the subject. He was never a ringleader in the movement, but he was a dedicated soldier for the cause.

However, results were either slow or nonexistent. The good guys won a few minor victories regarding stream flows and whatnot but that did nothing to solve the larger problem, and after a few decades in the trenches, Gierach lost faith in the system. “It just felt dirty. Every time I went home after one of those meetings, I wanted to take a shower, even if we’d won a victory. Especially if we’d won a victory. Every victory came with strings attached. It was really demoralizing.”

After one too many demoralizing losses and victories, Gierach went back to his house in the mountains, and he didn’t return for a long time.

*     *     *

Gierach no longer has to work odd jobs to pay the rent. Several of his books have become best-sellers, and he is free to explore his passions. He travels all over the world to fish, and when he goes on a book tour, loyal readers line up for his autograph. Every editor of every fishing magazine in North America knows his name, and they all return his phone calls. He now owns a five-acre piece of property in the foothills, which contains rabbit brush and buffalo grass, as well as juniper, aspen, cottonwood and elm trees. Over the past ten years, he has identified more than seventy species of birds on his land, most of them attracted to the seed, nectar and suet feeders he puts out for them. There are also bull snakes, garter snakes, cottontails, coyotes and elk. Sometimes a black bear or a bobcat will wander through, but that’s a rare occasion. The house has active and passive solar, several wood stoves and a propane backup, and it’s situated at an angle to align with the mid-winter sun. When the weather turns cold, Gierach still goes into the backyard, finds a dead tree and chops it up for firewood.

He has finally reached a level of personal and financial independence that he always wanted, but modern society still beckons once in a while. “I do the two things I ever wanted to do: fish and write. I live up in the country with my cats and my girlfriend. When I have to come down and deal with the real world, it’s just agony. I understand the problems with water rights and I’ve fought for it any number of times, but I just don’t last. I just burn out. A lot of this stuff just gets forced on you in the end.”

Despite his frustrations, every couple of years Gierach will drag himself down from the mountains and once again take up the fight to protect Colorado’s rivers and streams. At this point, he’s not sure if his actions are making a difference, but he won’t surrender the cause. He’s got that rare combination of dogged tenacity and skeptical optimism that only a fly-fisherman could possess. “Effective environmentalism is a long haul requiring patience and a clear head,” said Gierach while sitting at a picnic table outside a coffee shop in downtown Lyons. “If you start out expecting to change the world overnight, you’re bound to be disappointed. The simple truth is that most of the world doesn’t want to change. Most people aren’t necessarily evil; they’re just lazy.” He took a long drag on his cigarette. “I have no idea if anything I’ve done will make a difference in the long run, but you have to try. Every generation has to try. Because if you give up, the bastards win.”

Worst Fear

March 15, 2011

I used to work with an idiot. This girl, this “coworker,” I hated her with a passion I cannot describe in words. Everything was more difficult when she was around. She wasn’t stupid, just consistently and infuriatingly incompetent. The job in question was retail, so it wasn’t as though we were building rockets to the moon, but she couldn’t seem to grasp the most basic details: enter the correct price into the cash register, make sure the customer signs the credit card receipt, when the phone makes the ringy-ringy noise that means you’re supposed to pick it up.

The strange thing was that this young woman was actually quite intelligent. She was in her early twenties, about ready to graduate with a bachelor’s degree, and her next step was med school.

And that is what frightened me most. I had never given much thought to hospital staff, but it must be like any other field: there are a few bright ones, a few apathetic ones, and plenty of people who can memorize every bone in the human body but can’t figure out how to turn on the vacuum cleaner. (Hint: There’s a big red button on the top that says ON).

One of my greatest fears is that one day I will be in a horrible automobile accident. (This would involve a bus, of course, since I don’t drive.) The paramedics come with their flashy lights and woo-woo siren. They put me on a stretcher and hoist me into the back of their vehicle. They say things like, “Stay with us, son,” and, “This guy’s a fighter. I can see it in his eyes.”

When I get to the hospital, they rush me to the emergency room, where I am hooked up to a variety of beeping and blipping machines. “It doesn’t look good,” someone says. “We have to perform emergency exploratory surgery. STAT!” (You know they mean business when they say stat.) I stare at the bright lights on the ceiling as they put me under. And just before I drift off to sleep, my former coworker sticks her bulbous head in front of my face and says, “Oh, my God! Dale! Is that you? Totally cool. I haven’t seen you in years. Don’t worry, I’m totally going to be your doctor today. For the reals! You’re in good hands… Now how do you turn on this defibrillator? I have to restart that gross red thingy in your chest.”

So unfortunately the last time I was drunk and writing this blawg, apparently I said something ridiculous about posting one every week and the two people that read it got all pissy with me for not meeting my intoxicated-induced deadline, and that is why you are being forced to suffer through another one of these narcissistic stories about my life. If you don’t like it, take it up with Michelle Crouse and Nate Cook. Bastards.

ANYHOW, it’s another episode of “Where The Buffalo Roams” brought to you by Hungry-Man dinners. If you’re lazy and don’t care that your body looks like a bloated bovine carcass that has been rotting in the sun for a few days, try Hungry-Man. Huzzah! Let’s hear it for American ingenuity and obesity!

Speaking of food, as Michelle so graciously pointed out, I forgot to mention in my last blawg that The Buffalo regularly brings me canned food from the Food Bank here in town. Specifically, black beans and pears. You might be asking yourself: Well, Dale, are black beans and pears your two favorite ingestible items? Perhaps you have a mouth-watering recipe for black-beans-and-pear pie. Nope. Pears creep me out because of their grainy texture (it feels like I’m eating fruit-flavored dirt) and as for black beans, well, I’m just an old-fashioned racist at heart who doesn’t like anything with the word “black” in it.

(Boulderites, before you call the NAACP, that was a joke. I love black people… Now Jews on the other hand!)

(Haha, also a joke. Zay moykhl.)

I have no idea why The Buffalo brings me black beans and pears, but I currently have…

(pause while I count the jars in my solitary-confinement-like apartment)

…seven cans of pears and…

(pause for a second count because I’m not very good at math and didn’t think I could remember the first number while I was counting to figure out the second number)

…twelve cans of black beans. That’s right, I said TWELVE. That is a ridiculous number of beans for one person to have, I don’t care what color they happen to be.

Yesterday, The Buffalo showed up with two more cans of black beans and said, “Could you use some more beans?” Which is always his question. I said, “No.” Which is always my response. And then he stood in my doorway awkwardly until I took them.

When I was a kid, we used to have this Siamese tomcat named Leroy who would go out hunting all night long and the next morning he’d leave a dead mouse at the front door. I would be headed off to school, tra-la-la, and then, oh, a dead rodent on our Welcome mat, how nice. And I would pick it up by the tail and chase my sisters with it all the way to Yuma Elementary School, Home of the Little Indians!

I kind of think that’s what The Buffalo is doing. It’s some sort of offering he makes, although I’m not sure what exactly it is for. It’s his strange way of saying that we’re friends. Which is completely cool but also weird and unnecessary.

Michelle asked me why I keep taking these pears and beans, and I honestly don’t know, except that it seems like I would be breaking some sort of code if I refused them. I guess my logic is that if The Buffalo ever decides to go all John Wayne Gacy on the world, I want to be on his good side. One day he might freak out about quality of the janitorial services in the building and start chopping up all my neighbors. If that happens, I’ll barricade myself in my room and blawg about it while surviving off of my endless supply of black beans and pears.

Where The Buffalo Roams

January 1, 2011

So today I decided that I am going to write a weekly blawg about my neighbor, The Buffalo. Therefore, in the future, if you see the words “Where The Buffalo Roams” in the title, you will know what the post will be about. These posts won’t be too arduous, five-hundred words or so, and if they do not amuse you…um…well, that’s life, I guess. Okay? Okay.

First, let me do a little recap in case there are new viewers who are just now tuning in to our show:

The Buffalo is the rather obese, unemployed man who lives at the end of the hall in my rather strange, dysfunctional apartment building. He is an eccentric urban hermit who has cloistered himself in this place like a post-apocalyptic monk, and he will die here unless he wins the lottery one day, which is his only financial plan for the future.

Important Things You Should Know About The Buffalo: A) The Buffalo does not like to wear shirts. I do not know why he has such an aversion to upper-body garments but he does. I suppose I should be happy that his aversion is not toward lower-body garments, if you know what I mean. (Pssst…I mean it would be frightening to see his ding-dong.) B) The Buffalo is called “The Buffalo” because he believes that he was a buffalo in his former life. Why? Well, that’s another story altogether. C) The Buffalo only leaves the apartment building once a month to get groceries. Otherwise, he is here. Always. D) The Buffalo receives exactly $700 a month from the government. He is on welfare because a psychiatrist once said he had “bonding issues.” He attributes this to the fact that he was adopted as a baby. E) The Buffalo was adopted as a baby. Why is this important? Well, it’s not really, except that The Buffalo attributes every negative thing that has happened in his life to the fact that he was adopted as a baby and uses that phrase approximately twenty times a day. F) The Buffalo is thirty-nine years old. G) The Buffalo appears to consume mostly coffee and Hungry-Man dinners. H) The Buffalo may or may not be a virgin. I) The Buffalo has very bad social skills and cannot seem to comprehend when he is making other people uncomfortable. J) The Buffalo is constantly making other people uncomfortable. K) The Buffalo believes in ghosts. L) The Buffalo constantly tries to debate the existence of a spiritual world with me. M) The Buffalo believes that he has telekinetic powers but only when no one else is around to witness them. N) The Buffalo smokes pot. O) The Buffalo has a fungus underneath his armpit. P) The Buffalo feels compelled to show me disgusting things, such as the fungus underneath his armpit. Q) The Buffalo is going bald.

Well, okay, that should give you the basic physiological/psychological picture of The Buffalo. He is not a bad guy, but he is rather strange and frustrating at times.

I guess this was more of a background blawg than anything else. You now have the basic tools necessary to comprehend future stories. Tell your friends. Tell your therapists. Tell your milkmen. (Why don’t we have milkmen anymore? I would definitely purchase dairy products from a milkman. Especially if he drove a refrigerated truck and wore one of those old-timey uniforms.)

Communicating with Nature

December 23, 2010

Sometimes I like to communicate with Nature. For instance, it was gray and cloudy today, but it hadn’t begun to snow yet, so I decided to brave the elements and walk to the library at 2:15 p.m. Ten minutes after I left my apartment—the exact amount of time it takes for me to be far enough from home not to want to turn back but not close enough to my destination to make the trip worth catching pneumonia—it began to drizzle. It was one of those slushy, disgusting meteorological events that feels like Frosty the Snowman is peeing on your face, and I said, “I hate you, Nature! You are an asshole, Nature!”

And Nature just laaaaaaaughed and laughed.

As I’ve mentioned before, there is a man who lives in my apartment building who calls himself the Buffalo. He is a big man, a talkative man, and a man who would prefer not to wear shirts. He is not ashamed of his body, thank you very much. Although he probably should be.

Fortunately, the Buffalo is also a computer-less man, and since he only leaves his apartment to do laundry and purchase Hungry-Man Dinners, I can safely assume that he will never ever read this blawg.

I am simultaneously awed by and frightened of the Buffalo. I constantly want to have conversations with him, and yet whenever he does start to converse with me, I have an overwhelming impulse to scream and run out of the room. This is also kind of how I feel about Lady Gaga.

If the Buffalo was either evil or good, it would be a lot easier to make up my mind about him. I could simply classify him in a category and then treat him accordingly. For instance, if he were evil, I would say that he’s got a real Jeffrey Dahmer-type vibe and all those hours in the bathroom are probably spent carefully peeling off the tips of his fingers so that he won’t leave any prints on his  victims, a la Kevin Spacey in “Se7en” (and, yes, that is technically how the name of that movie is supposed to be spelled–I looked it up on IMDB.com).  Or if he was good, I would say that he is more of the Quazimoto type, a deformed creature that has been rejected by society because of his outward appearance, but inside that extremely hairy, man-boob chest there beats a heart of gold.

But the Buffalo is a complicated guy and he cannot be so easily defined. There is goodness in him and there is evilness (if that is actually a word).

PEOPLE’S EXHIBIT A: There used to be a young Mexican man named Juan who cleaned our kitchen and bathroom. Since there is one kitchen and one bathroom for the entire floor, those facilities have to be used by seven people, and since those seven people are lazy slobs, management has to pay a man to clean up after them once a week, and since management is cheap and doesn’t want to pay minimum wage, that man needs to be willing to work for very little cash paid under the table. Juan was such a man. He wasn’t exactly great with a mop and dustpan but then again he never complained about the insane people who made his job miserable, so everyone decided to ignore his janitorial shortcomings.

Everyone except the Buffalo.

The Buffalo told management that Juan was lazy and then Juan was fired. Let me repeat that: The guy who doesn’t have a job and has never had a job complained that the guy who cleans up after him was lazy.

Okay, so that’s the Evil Buffalo. However, hold on to your knickers, there’s also the Good Buffalo.

DEFENSE EXHIBIT B: I have another neighbor who steals my mail. Well, to be fair, she steals everyone’s mail, not just mine. I guess it’s like her thing or something. Some crazy ladies have cats, some crazy ladies collect campaign buttons; this crazy lady steals mail.

You see, there’s only one mailbox for the entire apartment building. What! you say. Only one mailbox! Why, that’s absurd! Yes, dear reader, it is absurd and I appreciate the exclamation points in your hypothetical reaction. The mailman simply drops all the mail on our front porch like a zookeeper throwing a pound of chum into a shark tank. For the first two months that I lived here, I couldn’t figure out why my Netflix movies never arrived. I found out later that Crazy Lady was stealing them. She waits for the mail and then she takes all of it to her room, where it disappears into a dark vortex of stuffed animals and ceramic figurines. Since I actually have a job, I can’t wait around all day to prevent this woman from taking my “Diff’rent Strokes: Episodes 1-5” DVDs. That would be insane.

I told the Buffalo about this problem and he immediately sprang (well, oozed) into action. Every day, he sits on the front stoop of the building until the mailman comes and he carefully looks at every letter three times to make certain that he has all my mail. Afterward, he either shoves my mail under my door immediately or, in the case of packages, squirrels them away in secret hiding places in his room until I come home, and then he promptly delivers them to me. It’s like having a butler. A butler who lives down the hall, and talks too much about “Unsolved Mysteries,” and doesn’t wear a shirt, and refuses to do any actual work aside from delivering postal products. So not really like a butler at all, actually.

ANYHOW, that’s the situation. Evil Buffalo vs. Good Buffalo. Who shall win the day? If Good Buffalo prevails, I will continue watching crappy sitcoms from the 1980s while writing this blawg. If Bad Buffalo is victorious, you will probably find me in a duffel bag along with numerous cans of well organized food products.

I don’t have a car, so I ride the bus a lot. I enjoy public transportation because it gives me the opportunity to shamelessly eavesdrop on other people’s conversations without them saying things like, “You’re creepy!” or, “I’m getting a restraining order!”

Yesterday I happened to jump on a bus filled with teenagers who must have been coming home from summer-school classes. Directly behind me, two girls were discussing a homework assignment, which involved the Civil Rights Movement.

Girl 1: I didn’t really understand the part about stereotypes. I mean, like, I know what “stereotypes” are, but I don’t understand what he [the teacher] really meant.

Girl 2: I know, it’s hard.

Girl 1: I know, right?

Girl 2: Totally.

Girl 1: Yeah.

Girl 2: I think it’s like when people label you.

Girl 1: Right… Totally… Right… Wait, what do you mean?

Girl 2: Well, it’s like, you know, when some people at school stereotype you as “pretty” and some people stereotype you as “smart.” It’s like that.

Girl 1: Oh, right. I get it.

Girl 2: Totally.

I thought about Rosa Parks getting on a similar bus in 1955. What courage it must have taken for her to stand up for all those people who had been unfairly labeled as “pretty” and “smart.” If she were alive today, I’m sure she would be happy to know that her legacy is being passed on to the youth of America.

And then I had a dream…

I had a dream that one day this nation would rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: We hold these truths to be self-evident that all popular girls are created equal.

I had a dream that one day on the white mountains of Boulder the daughters of former organic coffee-shop owners and the daughters of former llama farmers would be able to sit down together and watch “The Hills.”

I had a dream that one day even the state of Colorado, a dessert state, suffering from a lack of low-fat yogurt and non-dairy creamer, will be transformed into an oasis of thin people with nice tans.

I had a dream that these two Boulder girls would one day live in a nation where they would not be judged by the color of their lip gloss but by the contents of their Gucci bags.

I had a dream…

Abercrombie at last! Abercrombie at last! Abercrombie at last!

HIYAH! That was my totally awesome roundhouse kick. HIYAH! That was my totally killer kidney punch. HIYAH! HIYAH! That was me beating the crap out of a dinosaur.

Hello, I am a single, white male in excellent (EXCELLENT!) physical condition. I work out sixty-two times a day. On the weekends, I thumb-wrestle grizzly bears and participate in beard competitions all over the world. Did I mention I have a beard? Well, I do, and it’s totally awesome. In fact, it’s probably the awesomest beard in the whole dadgum world and I love it and I can cut down trees with it. Seriously. Just give me five minutes with a redwood and BZZZZZZZZ…TIMBER!!!

But enough about my beard. I also have a cowboy hat. Yeah, it’s large and black and it totally smells like my sweat. Which smells like the manliest sweat in the world, kinda like a the sweat on a lion’s ballsack—if that ballsack could kill a man with a paperclip. HIYAH!

So, yeah, I have a beard that can cut down trees and a cowboy hat that smells like a homicidal lion’s genitalia… What else? Oh, right, I also have these sweet-ass cowboy boots that could totally kill a small hippo even if my feet weren’t in them. If my feet ARE in them, my boots can kill twenty-three full-grown hippos carrying bazookas. HIYAH!

You also might have guessed that I’m a huge movie star and I once had a totally awesome show called “Walker, Texas Ranger” (and no, it’s not like “Matlock” with karate, a-holes, so shut up) and I also made like a bajillion dollars selling exercise equipment. So there! HIYAH!

Please send an email with a recent photo or I will roundhouse you in the face. HIYAH!

Greetings, attractive female citizens. Pardon me if I am a little shy, but this is the first time I have done this sort of thing. A few details about myself: I have a beard. I was born in a log cabin. I have been dead for more than 140 years, so if you’re one of those judgmental people who only wants to have relations with the living, don’t even bother contacting me.

I was the sixteenth president of the United States. My portrait is on the five dollar bill, so I literally have my own money. LOL. I am tall. Very tall, actually. Like really really tall. And I wear a top hat, so that kind of adds to the whole tallness thing. I don’t know why I wear a top hat even though I’m so tall. It’s just something I started doing as a kid and it caught on. I tried to stop wearing top hats for a while, but then I’d show up at parties and people would be like, “Abe, why no top hat? Are you too cool for top hats now? Are you going to start wearing a beret? Oooo-la-la!” And so on and so forth. It just got tiresome, so I put the top hat back on.

What else?…What else? Oh, I don’t go to the theater. EVER. So don’t even ask, okay? It’s a long story and I don’t want to get into it, but let’s just say I don’t get along with actors. Museums, poetry readings, concerts…no problem. But no theater. That’s a deal breaker for me.

Also, FYI, I’m really into role playing. I know, TMI, right? But it’s true. I’d like to dress up as George Washington and cross your Valley Forge. I’m mostly looking for NSA and maybe some light S&M with a D&D-free partner, but I’m not opposed to an LTR if it’s with the right person.

Okay, well, I’ll stop yacking about myself. I want to hear about you. So please send me a telegraph on this magical box thingy, okay? I can send you a picture as well, or you can just look at a five dollar bill. There’s also this statue of me in Washington, D.C. that’s pretty cool. It’s not a recent statue, but it’s a good likeness.

I live in a student neighborhood in between a fraternity house and a sorority house. Since my apartment building does not have air-conditioning, I have to keep my window open in order to survive the summer. As luck would have it, my window is directly above the spot where the frat boys and sorority girls gather to smoke cigarettes and chatter away like a flock of exotic, drunken, pill-popping birds. Here are some of the conversations I have overheard.

WHITE BOY WITH HAT TURNED SIDEWAYS: Did you hear what happened in Haiti?

WHITE GIRL WITH HAIR EXTENSIONS: My dad owns a house there.

WHITE BOY WITH HAT TURNED SIDEWAYS: Not anymore. There was a tornado. Blew up everything.

WHITE GIRL WITH HAIR EXTENSIONS: I should text my dad. I really like that house.

….

SCREAMING GIRL APPARENTLY NAMED AMY: You are such an…(drunken slurring noise that kind of sounds like “asshole”). Jack! I hate you! IhateyouIhateyouIhateyou! Jack! Where’s my shoe?

SCREAMING BOY APPARENTLY NAMED JACK: Leave me alone! Amy! Amy! Amy! I didn’t want to come to this party anyhow! Amy! Why’d you pour out my drink? Amy!

SCREAMING GIRL APPARENTLY NAMED AMY: I wanted to go to…(drunken slurring noise that kind of sounds like “another party”). Jack, I need my shoe! Shoe! Shoe! JACK!

SCREAMING BOY APPARENTLY NAMED JACK: I wanted to watch the game! Amy! I could be watching the game! Amy! I hate this party! Amy!

SCREAMING GIRL APPARENTLY NAMED AMY: Jack! Shoe!

SCREAMING BOY APPARENTLY NAMED JACK: Amy! You left it in the tree!

….

STONER #1: Dude, there are a lot of squirrels around here. It’s weird.

STONER #2: I know, dude. There are so many hot girls in Boulder.

(Pause)

STONER #1: I said “squirrels.”

STONER #2: What?

STONER #1: I said “SQUIRRELS”!

STONER #2: There’s this totally hot girl in my bio class.

(Longer pause)

STONER #1: They’re just rats with fluffy tales, dude. It’s strange that there’s, like, so many of them. I wonder what they want.

STONER #2: They want your money, dude. That’s all girls ever want.

STONER #1: Why would a squirrel want my money?

STONER #2: I don’t know. What are we talking about?

STONER #1: You said something about squirrels.

(Extremely long pause)

STONER #2: Oh, right. The girls in Boulder are really hot, dude.

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