Monday, May 13, 2013

the decade that was: 2004

"I went out driving,
Trying to clear my head.
I tried to sweep out all the rooms
That my emotions left.

I guess I'm feeling just
A little tired of this,
And all the baggage that seems
To still exist.

It seems the only blessing
I have left to my name?
Is not knowing what we could have been,
What we should have been.

So ...

Take your records, take your freedom.
Take your memories -- I don't need them.
Take your space and take your reasons --
But you'll think of me.

And take your cap, but leave my sweater;
Because we have nothing left to weather.
In fact?  I'll feel a whole lot better.
But you'll think of me ..."

-- "You'll Think of Me" by Keith Urban, a gigantic hit to close out 2004 ...

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No year of my existence has been as painful, as 2004 was.  Personally, professionally, sports wise -- nothing, and I mean nothing, has hurt as much as 2004 did.

So if this latest installment in "The Decade That Was" is depressing, causes tears to flow, causes you to say "good God, that sucked!" ... well, yes: 2004 sucked.  Somehow, it sucked worse than 2002, and all 2002 saw was a $42,000 gambling addiction, a DUI, a couple nights in lockup, the introduction of Leif into my professional career, and one near suicide attempt.  Yet 2004 was worse.  Unreal.

Here then, is the look back at the worst year of my existence ... 2004.

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Prior Installments In the "Little Series That Could":

* The Bonus Year: 1998.
* The Decade That Was: 2000.
* The Decade That Was: 2003.
* The Decade That Was: 2006.
* The Decade That Was: 2008.

And now ... 2004.

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* The year began as most New Year's do for me: a couch, Dick Clark's Rockin' New Year's Eve, and a bottle of something alcoholic in nature.

* My 27th birthday was relatively uneventful ... other than for the fact that for the first time in a few years, the Cowboys were in the playoffs (they got pounded at Carolina).  I recall a pizza being ordered, and a few adult beverages being consumed, for Quincy Carter's only postseason start.

I should probably note: when January 3rd is arguably the "highlight" of your year, and it involves you, "the Voice of Reason", a meat lovers pizza from Pizza Hut, and a couple frosty cold Sam Adams?  It's one horrific year.  As you're about to read.

* Eleven days into the new year, the Chiefs were still playing, hosting the Indianapolis Colts on Sunday, January 11, 2004, in the divisional round of the playoffs.  It was an unseasonably warm day -- pushing 60 degrees at kickoff.  I know this, because (a) I'm anally retentive like that, but (b) this was the last Chiefs game "as we knew it".

I had jokingly been asking for two weeks for steak kabobs for tailgating, because nobody makes a better tailgating spread than Nancy with her steak kabobs.  The last two home games in 2003, were both kicked off with below freezing temperatures (and "The Voice of Reason" and I had ventured to Minnesota for the road game in between said home games).  It was damned cold.  So I begged, I pleaded -- "if it's above freezing, and if you can stand it, can I request ..."

To this day, I'm glad I begged.

* So many details about that year are seared in me, given how tragic, how awful, the year turned out to be.  8:02 was the answer to the "When Will Randy Call" idiotic "kill the time" game we used to play on the drive to Arrowhead that January morning.  I remember because Gregg damned near lost control of the Accord, coming around the curve, headed into downtown on 670, when the phone rang, and I remember dropping the "no, really, you're supposed to be the sober driver!" comeback at him.

Sweet merciful Jesus, what I wouldn't give for one more "When Will Randy Call" idiotic "kill the time" game on the ride into Arrowhead ...

* We got our steak kabobs that day.  We also got a defeat -- Colts 38, Chiefs 31, in a game in which neither team punted.  The most painful moment came late.  Chiefs trailed 31-17 with eight minutes to go.  Dante Hall takes it to the house.  31-24.  I argued very, very, very loudly that the time for an onside kick was NOW.  The Chiefs kicked off.  Touchback.

I've been in the hallowed grounds of Arrowhead Stadium for many magical moments.  I have NEVER heard Arrowhead louder, than on the 3rd and 6 that ensued.  Everyone in that stadium knew, that if the defense held, we were gonna tie this game, and seize destiny ... and if the Colts converted, we were screwed.

peyton manning to Reggie Wayne, 6 yards and two inches.  First down.

Ballgame.

* From mid-January to mid-February, not a whole lot happened with me.  Until the night of February 13th (which was a Friday, if I remember right), when I was driving home with some dinner from Pizza Shoppe, and (stunner) I got pulled over for speeding.  A seemingly insignificant event, and it should have been.  Only thanks to our "good friends" in the City of Shawnee ... it wasn't.

In the words of my high school history teacher?  (mr. hoduski voice) Stay tuned ...

* Come late February, after the Royals signed Juan Gonzalez, "The Voice of Reason" and I have our most inspired ... in a completely "what the f*ck were you thinking?!?!?!" kind of way ... idea of all time.

We're not just gonna have season tickets to the Chiefs.  And to KU Football.  Oh no -- we need the trifecta of punishment.

We're going all in ... on our Kansas City Royals.

I asked my buddy Brett to get us in touch with a Lancer, one thing led to another, and next thing you know, we have a notice in our mailbox on Friday, March 12th (I cheated -- I looked this date up), that the Fed Ex guys had tried to deliver our season tickets to us, but since we were both gainfully employed, at least one of us had to head out to the Fed Ex place to pick them up.

I mention this, for three reasons.  (1) If you ever -- and I mean EVER -- get the urge to buy a full season ticket package for a major league baseball team?  Find a toilet and flush the cash down said toilet -- it'll hurt less.  (2) A couple years later, when we were cleaning out the desk area in the kitchen, we came across the season ticket book.  No ticket after July 19th was used.  And (3) this would be the beginning of one horrific weekend for me.

* That Sunday was WrestleMania (insert number here -- I'm 94% confident it was XIX I'm 100% confident it was XX).  As always, "The Voice of Reason" and I took Mean Gene Okerlund up at his request, and called our cable and/or satellite provider, to order some quality WWE programming at (I'm guessing) $29.95 for the night.  And as always, "The Voice of Reason" and I opened the house up to anyone who wanted to come over and watch.  There were a few co-workers of mine, and some friends of ours, that showed up to watch.  I was most hyped for the HHH / Chris Benoit / Shawn Michaels title match.  (Jesus, that sounds even worse in hindsight, than it did at the time.)

After sitting through a few horrific undercard matches, and enduring a few decent bouts, it was pushing 10pm, and the doorbell rang.

On my doorstep, were two of Shawnee's finest.  One of which I had gone to high school with.

That speeding ticket from February?  The one I'd left a check in the overnight drop box at City Hall (which in Shawnee, doubled as the courthouse back then) five days earlier, the day it was due to be paid?

Yeah.  Said check never got applied to said speeding charge.

Let that sink in -- the city of Shawnee has so little actual crime, that "failing" to pay a ticket, results in an arrest warrant that's actually executed four days later.  Un (blanking) believable.

So, instead of enjoying WrestleMania's main event ... I got to spend a lovely four hours in the Johnson County lockup watching some crap-tacular rerun on TBS in the holding area.

* Even worse -- although I'd somehow had the foresight to leave my wallet behind, they wouldn't let Mr. "Voice of Reason" bail me out with my check card ... so my dad had to show up to bail me out.

Or as my dad put it: "Come on kid -- if you're gonna get popped for something, at least let it be (a) legit(imate charge)!  Who gets hauled in for speeding?"

Uuh ... this guy?

* But worst of all -- my co-workers who'd been there that night, knew I'd disappeared, but didn't know why.  So when I finally made it into work on Tuesday, all my other co-workers were like "wow, what'd you miss yesterday for?"  They were convinced that I'd gotten blitzed, or somehow scored a hot girl for the night, or (insert your fantasy here).  And major props to Tucker for keeping his mouth shut about what really happened ... but yeah, it hit the fan that "wait -- the city didn't cash your check (for a ticket), so they hauled you in?"

Doesn't really help your "street cred".  Although my boss thought it was hysterical.  Needless to say, my checking account was not laughing.

* Gregg and I finally picked up the season tickets for the Royals that Monday.  Two days earlier (pre-arrest), I'd picked up six tickets for what I was most looking forward to that summer, the Projekt Revolution Tour concert at Sandstone.  Korn, Snoop Dogg, and Linkin Park.  We'll get back to this as the year unfolds.

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"Yeah!"

-- "Yeah!" by Usher, THE massive smash hit of 2004, that I couldn't stop listening to on the drive to ...

* Last weekend in March, and KU was still alive and kicking.  They survived Illinois-Chicago and Pacific in the final tournament games played at Kemper, then throttled UAB in the Sweet 16 at the "whatever the hell they call it" Dome in St. Louis.

That Sunday, I headed the four hours east, met "the Voice of Reason", our buddy Adam's folks (who I'd gotten my ticket through), and a few other friends at the Landing for some pre-gaming, and then, headed into the Dome for the Elite Eight matchup with Georgia Tech.

I have never attended a more painful sporting event in my life.

Two years earlier, I walked into the Dome on a Saturday in late March, convinced beyond all shadow of doubt that I was going to watch KU lose to Stanford.  (When I get around to reliving 2002, this game will feature prominently, as it's my favorite KU game I've ever attended.)  On this Sunday, I entered the Dome one hundred percent convinced I was going to watch KU reach the Final Four for the third straight season.

KU led twice -- at the under twelve timeout of the second half (by two), and in the opening seconds of overtime (by two).  They overcame not one, not two, but three double digit deficits, the final overcome by a "holy f*cking sh*t!" three pointer by JR Giddens on an offensive rebound with :17 to go, and then KU survived not one, not two, but three final point-blank attempts by Will Bynum to get to overtime.

And in overtime, Keith Langford fouled out early, Aaron Miles fouled out late, and Georgia Tech -- a loaded squad in hindsight, with Jarrett Jack (who hit every damned shot he, uuh, jacked up), JR Crittendon, Will Bynum, and some freshman named Chris Bosh -- would still be standing a week later, before falling to UConn in the title game.

And as if walking two miles back to the car, through the bullet-riddled blocks of St. Louis isn't hurtful enough?  It was POURING down rain.  I mean, monsoon-like conditions.

It's been nine years, and that game still hurts like it happened yesterday.

But that National Championship Monday?

It's been nine years, and the game I attended that day, still makes me smile like it happened yesterday ...

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"I'm surrounded by liars, everywhere I turn.
I'm surrounded by imposters, everywhere I turn.
I'm surrounded by identity crisis, everywhere I turn.
Am I the only one who noticed?
I can't be the only one who's learned ...

That I don't wanna be anything other than
What I've been trying to be lately!
All I have to do?  Is think of me,
And I have peace of mind!

I'm tired of looking around rooms,
Wondering what I gotta do,
Or who I'm supposed to be --
I don't wanna be anything,
Other than me!"

-- "I Don't Wanna Be" by Gavin DeGraw, a huge hit in early 2004.

* That first Monday in April kicked off what probably was the one truly good week of 2004.  The Royals, for the first time in nearly twenty years, a trendy "yeah, they can absolutely make the playoffs" pick, opening the season at home against the Chicago White Sox.  It was a gorgeous Monday -- pushing 75 degrees, not a cloud in the sky.

"The Voice of Reason" and I's season tickets that year -- (gulp) for the whole damned season (gulp) -- was on the first row of the upper deck, right behind first base.  336, 1, 1 and 2.  Could not choose better seats if you tried.  At $5 / game, you'd think it was a bargain, a steal.

It's the biggest waste of $600 (counting parking) of my life.  And yes -- I am fully aware I had season tickets for the final couple Terry Allen years at Kansas, once I moved back to KC in 1999.  I guess you can add Royals Season Tickets to Strip Clubs and Flyovers as "the biggest waste of money known to man".

But for one day, one magical day in early April, the investment was worth it.

The Royals entered the bottom of the ninth, trailing 7-3.  Somehow, they got a run across, and with two on, the immortal Mendy Lopez came up to the plate.  This exact conversation occurred:

(gregg) he's going yard here.
(stevo) not a chance in hell.
(gregg) he's going yard here.
(stevo) if Mendy Lopez hits this out of the park, I've got dinner at Morton's, on me.
(gregg) deal.

You all know my gambling luck when it comes to sports -- after all, I post the weekly NFL guesses as a courtesy to the gambling community, to know who not to bet on.  You can guess what happened next.

And after a Carlos Beltran homer to end it, we were off to ... Famous Dave's.  Come on gang -- I can't afford Morton's.  It's the best $22 dinner I've ever bought for someone else.  Gregg was even nice -- he capped the beer purchases at five, I believe.  And it was just about the only Royals highlight of the season.

* That Thursday, I attended my first Royals game ever with "the Champ"*, and that Friday and Saturday I went with my buddy Anthony to the games.  Why, you ask, was "the Voice of Reason" bailing on Royals games not even a week into the season?  Especially when the Royals opened 4-2?  (Only to close 54-102)?

Because he had better things to be at.

Namely, Augusta National Golf Club ...

* where on Sunday, Phil Mickelson finally broke through, winning a major for the first time, making up a five stroke deficit with seven holes to play, to edge out Ernie Els with a closing stretch for the ages:

Birdie on 12.
Birdie on 13.
Birdie on 14 (and two inches from eagle).
Birdie on 15.
Birdie on 16.
Par on 17.
Birdie on 18 (for the win ... and yes, Jim Nantz, it WAS his time!)

It was Easter Sunday, and I began the day at church with the folks, then over at my uncle's for a late lunch and some quality family bonding time (aka "gambling via some card game").  I poked my head into the room where the TV was on, and saw Mickelson was imploding on the front nine, and said my goodbyes and headed home.  (Phil entered the final round tied for the lead.)

I got home as Phil drained a miraculous par saving putt on 11.  It was the start of the best two hours of golf I've ever watched.  And to this day, in Mr. Reason's office, there's a framed photo of his reaction to Phil's putt to win on 18.  What I wouldn't give to witness history like that someday.

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(*: yes, "The Champ" and I have our issues at the moment.  The present doesn't undo the (mostly) fun and (always) memorable, uuh, memories of the past.)

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"I got 99 problems, but the b*tch ain't one!"

-- "99 Problems" by Jay-Z, another big hit in 2004.

* As referenced in the 2003 look-back, I had a manager at work that was damned near unbearable to work for.

And in late April 2004, that bastard finally got his justified reward.

It was a Friday.  The other two managers in our department were off that day, for whatever reason.  And then Leif disappeared for a solid four hours.  Normally?  Not a big deal.  Except we had a legitimate medical situation -- namely, a sick employee who needed to go home, and there wasn't a manager there to sign off on it.

Toss in his sexual harassment of female co-workers, his drug abuse, and his horrific treatment of me back in 2003, and I reached my breaking point.  And yes, I'm an opportunist.  So I placed a quick call to our HR rep a couple floors down, noted the situation, and asked what we should do.  Things escalated in a hurry, and the following Monday, Leif was fired with cause for a myriad of things, not the least of which was being a drug abusing, sexually harrassing asshole.

I wasn't the only one celebrating his demise.  Come to think of it, I can only recall one person upset at his demise: our department chair LeRoy.  Who called me into his office as the firing was going down, to verbally slap me down for my role in getting Leif canned.

I never had much respect for LeRoy.  What little I did have, vanished that morning.  If (ok, fine -- when) we get to the 2005 look-back on this site, I'll delve more into just how shitty our management was in that department (save for Stan).  There's a reason why in my current job (where we're virtually all ex-Transamerica folks), noone from any position of importance in reinsurance, has been hired on.  And that reason would be a complete lack of ethics, a complete lack of character, a complete lack of common sense. (Pause).  What?  (Pause).  Well yes, I know that's three reasons.  What's your point?  If Vice President Biden can declare jobs to be a three letter word, I can claim one reason equals three!

* Memorial Day 2004, one of the rare times I didn't head up to Indy for the 500.  The Champ had his housewarming party that weekend -- that was fun.  Buddy Rice won a rain shorted event -- neat, because it put David Letterman in Victory Lane.

And that Friday night, Jasson and I took in the Royals and Twins game, where some dude named Zack Greinke made his Kauffman Stadium debut.  When Greinke's debut ranks as one of the five best games of the decade?  You've had a pretty sh*tty decade, as a franchise.

* Fathers Day 2004, is probably my second favorite game from the decade: Royals (Greinke) vs Mets (Glavine).  I have rarely, if ever, been as geeked for a ballgame, as I was for this one, and it didn't disappoint.  Anytime you have a chance to watch two epic pitchers like Zack Greinke and Tom Glavine go at it for a day, you gotta show up.

* The last Royals game I made that season, was a Saturday right after the All Star Break.  Almost half a season worth of tickets never got used.  Good God, that was a waste of money.  That Saturday, the Saturday of The Open Championship, I got a call about 11am from my buddy Phil, asking if we had any extras for the game (it was a rare FOX broadcast day game, against the Twins).  Gregg took about 2/1,000,000,000,000,000th of a second to say "he can have mine!", so me, Phil, his brother Jon, and some other dude took the day in.  Again -- middle of July, I have pre-purchased tickets to every game remaining ... and I made none of them.  You'd think the Royals lost 104 games that year or something.  (Pause).  Oh.  Yeah.  They did.

* The rest of the summer was pretty uneventful, heading into late August.  I know we took in race weekend at the Speedway to open July, but I'll be damned if I can remember anything about it.  I'm sure we had the annual "Gregg and Steve Blow Up the Backyard BeerBBQ Bonanza" the Saturday night of race weekend, but again, I'll be damned if I can remember anything about it.  In both cases?  That's probably a good thing.

Because come August 20th, life was about to change, in ways you wouldn't (for the most part) wish upon your worst enemy ...

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"We watched him drink his pain away,
A little at a time.
But he never could get drunk enough,
To get her off his mind,
Until the night ...

He put that bottle to his head, and pulled the trigger,
And finally drank away her memory.
Life is short, but this time it was bigger
Than the strength he had, to get up off his knees.

We found him with his face down in the pillow,
With a note that said I'll love her 'til I die.
And when we buried him beneath the willow?
The angel sang a whiskey lullaby ..."

-- "Whiskey Lullaby" by Brad Paisley (featuring Alison Krauss), one of my favorite songs released in 2004, if not my favorite.  And yes -- as the long-time serving President of the "NYPD Blue Is THE Greatest TV Show Ever" Club, and as the long-time serving President of the "Rick Schroder Was THE Worst Thing To Happen To NYPD Blue" Club, this music video really conflicts me ...

* Friday, August 20, 2004, started out as a day full of promise, of hope, of fun times to come.

For starters, we had this thing called "Short Fridays" at Transamerica -- between Memorial Day and Labor Day, we only worked until lunch on Fridays, then got paid afternoons off.  I loved -- loved -- that perk of the job.  Also, this particular Friday, we were having our work fantasy football league draft at Dusty's that afternoon.  Nothing says "Stevo is into full on football mode" like me hauling the Chadwick Pennington jersey out of the closet to wear for the day.  And to cap the trifecta of what should have been an amazing, incredible day for all the right reasons, I was supposed to swing by my brother's apartment on the way home from the draft, to pick up the Mangy dog, and take him to my place for the weekend ... and then hightail it to the Plaza, because my brother was going to propose to his girlfriend Ashley that night, and he wanted his close friends and family to be there, when the moment went down.

Oh sweet Lord Jesus, how I wish that was all that had happened on August 20th.

Because August 20th was the start of the worst two months of my life.

Eight weeks.  Three deaths.  Two by choice.  The first, on August 20, 2004 ...

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* If you've ever seen "Titanic", and let's be honest here, who hasn't?  If you've seen "Titanic", you might remember the scene where Rose holds her old mirror, and begins telling her story of what happened that night.  ("It's been 84 years, and I can still smell the fresh paint ...")  Or maybe you're reading this, and you're more my parents age, and you remember exactly where and what you were doing, when President Kennedy was shot.  (Or my age, and remember forever where you were on Tuesday, September 11, 2001.  When I get to reliving 2001, I might finally relive that day.)

Friday, August 20th, 2004, is a day I will never forget a single detail of.

The day, as noted above, started with hope and promise.  And started innocently enough -- me, getting ready for work a little after 6am, having fed Priest and Phogger, let them out into the back yard to do their business, and I had FOX4 on the television in my bedroom.  They kept replaying a wreck from the night before that had occurred on 435, heading east, just as you begin the descent down the hill between 35 and Quivira.  I didn't think much of it, other than to note something like "damn, that had to hurt".

I headed into work that morning.  Worked my five hours.  Headed over to Dusty's after work, to have our fantasy draft.  (Note: any team built around Chadwick Pennington as your quarterback?  Is a total and complete waste of money.  Cue the "no sh*t Sherlock" gallery ...)  I got all the draft recorded in Excel, then me, Dusty, Ben and Brett enjoyed a few adult beverages, may have enjoyed a medicially legal product, and chucked the football around for awhile, before I had to get going.  I still had to pick up Major, take him to my place, and make the Plaza for Drew's proposal.

I start the car, head down View High towards 470, and check my phone, lying in the passenger's seat.  I notice I have eleven missed calls, and six voice mails.  I don't get eleven calls in a month most of the time, let alone in a day.  So I start checking the voice mails.  The first is my mom -- "when you get this, call us at the house".  The second is my brother -- "hey, call me when you get a chance, please".  I was worried either something had happened to my dad, or the engagement was off.

The third voice mail was from my buddy Jason Sheahan, who I hadn't talked to in probably three years, since he moved to Arizona after college.  "Hey Steve, I got your number from your mom, and I got some bad news to tell ya ..."

The driver of the truck that wrecked on 435 earlier that morning, was my buddy James.  It was his 26th birthday.  A one car wreck, caused by turning his pickup into the retaining wall at a ridiculously high speed, in rainy conditions.

The exact way I had planned to kill myself, two and a half years earlier.  (Scroll to the bottom of the link to read that story.)

* I got ahold of Sheahan as I pulled into the parking lot of Drew and Ashley's apartment, to pick up Major (who, in classy Major fashion, took a gigantic deuce in the common area while I was taking him to my car ... and in classy Stevo fashion, I didn't bother to clean it up).  I hung up with Jason, then took Major to my place (Gregg was gone for some reason; I'm guessing "at least one of us has a social life" would be the reason).  I changed clothes, put Major out back with Priest and Phogger, headed to the Plaza, and tried to enjoy the evening as best I could ... but honestly, how do you celebrate one good friend's fortune, when another has made the most difficult decision imaginable, to check out of this life voluntarily?

That Sunday was hot as hell.  I spent it at the pool.  I headed home, changed clothes, and went to James' wake that evening.  The third most depressing thing I've ever been at in my life.  (The two most depressing things, are still to come.)

* I left the funeral home, and on my drive home, Nancy called me, regarding getting the tickets for the next evening's preseason game against the Rams.  She attempted to tell me how bad things had gotten with Randy, but I just wasn't processing two plus two at this point.  I've just walked out of a room where one of my best friends growing up, a guy I got in so much trouble with it's ridiculous, is laying dead by his own choice.  I agreed to meet her the next day to pick them up, and ended the call.  This subplot was just beginning to be played out, sadly.

* The next morning (Monday August 23rd), I headed into work at 6am; I had a major reconciliation project that was supposed to be done on Friday.  I had planned on finishing it that weekend, to meet the first thing Monday morning deadline.  With that shot, I headed in early to do what I could, before James' funeral at 10am.  My department boss Stan (who was always the first to arrive), headed my way about 6:30, and was like "wow you're here early", then noticed me in a suit and tie, and (I think) jokingly asked "so, who's the interview with"?  Christ, I wish it was an interview, I was dressed up for.

On my way out a little before 9am, I ran into Dusty headed into work.  We confirmed our plans for the following day (the Projekt Revolution concert), and he noted "what, off to an interview"?  My response: "nope, off to bury a friend who was going with us tomorrow".

As the summer wore on, the original six of us who were earmarked for those tickets -- me, Gregg, Dusty, my brother, Ben, and my buddy Neeck -- had gradually worn down.  Ben dropped out due to "not being able to afford it".  (Shocker.)  My brother and Neeck dropped out because of work obligations.  I managed to convince James to use one of the three available's, but that still left two I was gonna eat the cost of.

Now, I was back to eating the cost of three.

* James' funeral was as depressing as imaginable.  I saw so many old friends I hadn't seen or talked to in years -- Troy, Macoubrie, Lori, Mark.  My brother came as well.

* After the funeral mass and lunch, it was off to Arrowhead for the Chiefs / Rams preseason game.  It was pouring down rain all day -- probably appropriate, given the events of the day for me.  It was insanely cold for late August -- barely 70 degrees out.

Before heading to Arrowhead though, I had to get my ticket from Nancy (and the two extras I pawned off on someone that evening).  And our meeting started to reveal just how bad things had gotten with Randy, a harbinger of things still to come in hindsight.  Honestly, I couldn't take any more bad news -- I'd just buried one of my best friends growing up.

I just needed a release, a day to simply escape reality as it existed.

Cue Tuesday, August 24, 2004.

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"Hearing your name?  The memories come back again.
I remember when it started happening.
I see you in every thought I had, and then
The thoughts slowly found words attached to them.

And I knew as they escaped away?
I was committing myself to them.  And everyday?
I regret saying those things, 'cause now I see?  That I
Took what I hated, and made it a part of me.

(It never goes away.)
(It never goes away.)

And now you've become a part of me!
(You'll always be right here)
You've become a part of me!
(You'll always be my fear)
I can't separate
(Myself from what I've done)
Giving up a part of me?
I've let myself become you ..."

-- "Figure .09" by Linkin Park, off the "Meteora" cd that the Projekt Revolution tour was started in 2004, in support of ...

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* That Tuesday started as a typical day, other than that I had the day off.  Dusty was working a half day, as was Gregg.  They both got to the house around noon.  Gregg spent a few hours taking a nap; Dusty spent a few hours whipping my Chadwick Pennington led Jets at Madden 2004.  (Funny -- even on a video game, the Chadwick Pennington led (and more importantly, Stevo coaching led) Jets had issues.  Shocking!)

We headed for Sandstone a little after 2pm, planning to get some quality drinking time in ahead of entering the concert.  When we got there, we were informed the parking lot didn't open until 4pm.  Uum, what?  I've been to plenty of DMB and 311 concerts at Sandstone; the parking lots are always open way early.

So we made the (dmb voice) best of what's around -- we headed across the street to the park, and set up tailgate there.  You know you're in Wyandotte County when you've got three guys drinking beer in a park's parking lot, with two of us passing a medicinally legal in certain states product between each other, on a 95 degree day.  White trashy?  Of course!  Nothing but the best!

* Dusty had managed to hawk my three remaining tickets, and not just hawk them -- he got face value for them.  Unbelievable, that kid.

* So after plowing through a case of Miller Lite*, enjoying a couple blunts, and burning damned near every inch of skin north of our waistlines, I thought the first two bands (which were some local act and Less Than Jake, who I despise) were done, which meant that the Used were up next, and then the big three headliners -- Snoop Dogg, Korn, and Linkin Park.

I was wrong.  Turns out there were two local bands to open, so we headed in early, only to have to suffer through Less Than Jake.  I once again profoundly apologize for this counting screw-up.  I'm the accountant in the group; if anyone has no excuse to screw up the math, it's me.

(*: I used to be addicted to Miller Lite.  I gave it up cold turkey when Kurt Busch took over the Blue Deuce for Rusty Wallace, when Rusty retired after the 2005 Cup season.  Save for every Wednesday night in bowling league for four years, I have not had a drop of Miller Lite since Rusty walked away on his terms.  I'm a Coors Light / Coors Banquet guy now for the cheap mass-produced domestics, with the occasional Bud heavy mixed in.)

* Mickey arrived sometime during the Used's set, and Jon and his kid arrived sometime after they finished.  And again, I somehow got face value on three tickets I was prepared to eat the cost of.  That really came in handy with the inflated beer tab, due to my "OK, Less Than Jake is done, we can head in now!" screw-up.

* Snoop Dogg was the first major act to go, and he was great.  I remember this for four reasons:

1. The chick and the dude in front of us.  Dude was thinner than me, wearing a Brett Favre jersey (on a 98 degree afternoon.  Moron).  His chick was at least -- and Dusty and Gregg will back me on this -- his chick was at least 300 pounds, and all she had on was a sports bra and shorts that left nothing to the imagination.  Sweet merciful Jesus.

2. The rookie who tried shrooms next to us (or behind us, I forget which), who had a bad experience and puked all over Jon's kid.  Good times!

3. Snoop, riding around on a tricycle, with a gigantic marijuana leaf hovering over the stage, as he's "rolling down the (stage), smoking endo, sippin' on gin and juice!  (Laid back!  With my mind on my money, and my money on my mind ...)"  And

4. When Snoopy finished, the events of the weekend, the passing of my friend, finally set in.  Probably because James loved Snoop Dogg.  God, we got baked listening to Snoop and Dre back in the day.

* And when the emotion set in, I had to disappear for a while.  It takes a special person to have a mental health / emotional breakdown at a concert in front of 16,000 people.  It takes ... hang on, let me at least attempt to do this right.  Mr. Hefner?

(the great mr. hugh m. hefner voice) It takes a REALLY special person to have the presence of mind ... to have said breakdown in a bathroom stall, as at least 160 of those people are waiting to use said stall.

Pathetically, my twenty minute crying cession in a dirty stall at Sandstone ... isn't even close to my most emotional mental breakdown of 2004.  That's coming, exactly seven weeks to the day, after we buried James.

* I return to my seat, beers in hand, claiming "the heat got to me", to explain why my face was flush and it looked like I'd been spending the last twenty minutes crying in a bathroom stall.  I know -- (ron burgundy voice) Keep it classy, San Diego.

* Korn was up next, and I gotta admit -- they f*cking ROCK in person.  I entered that concert liking exactly one Korn song ("Falling Away From Me"), and tolerating another ("A.D.I.D.A.S").  I left ... well, we'll get to that in a couple more paragraphs.

* Finally, the main attraction, Linkin Park.  They took the stage a little after 9pm.  They were still going strong at 11:15pm when we headed out as "In The End" brought the night to a close.

* My roommate Gregg, who reluctantly went that night (because the ticket was free), wow.  His response said it all.  When we got home, I poured a glass of something, and headed off to bed, with Priest right behind me.  Gregg apparently stayed up half the night, because when I woke up in the morning, I had not one, but two cd's burned with nothing but LP, Korn, and Snoop, and a second copy to take to Dusty.

For the record, I have changed Gregg's mind on something exactly twice in my life: I (finally) managed to get him to watch "Friday Night Lights" (the TV series) ... and even he conceded, that Projekt Revolution was one amazing, fun, incredible night of music.

--------------------

"Sick and tired of this world;
There's no more air.
Tripping over myself,
Going nowhere.

I'm waiting, suffocating.
No direction --
I took a dive and ...

On the way down?
I saw you,
And you saved me from myself.
And I won't forget the way you loved me.

And on the way down?
I almost fell right through.
But I held onto you ..."

-- "On The Way Down" by Ryan Cabrera, and yes, this song charted big in 2004 ...

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* The rest of the last week of August was uneventful, until Saturday.  That Saturday was the last preseason home game for the Chiefs, and unlike the Chiefs / Rams game earlier that week, it wasn't being contested in a monsoon.

But man, when it rains, it freaking pours.

That was the first game Randy made it out for that season ... and all it took was one look at the man, and you knew, you knew, things were not good.  Every answer was a simple "yes" or "no".  The look in his eyes -- look it, I suffer from depression.  I see a mental health professional once a week to deal with my issues.  Randy was worse off that day, than I've ever been.

When Gregg's parents got there, Randy lost it, crying his eyes out.  Us kids took off, partly out of not knowing how to react, but mostly because we didn't want to react, especially in my case.  I'd just buried a friend on Monday.  I just had an emotional / mental health breakdown in a f*cking bathroom stall on Tuesday.  This would have been the trifecta.

We got through this game, but the storm clouds were beginning to gather ...

--------------------

* September was strange.  KU Football opened 2-0 for the first time in a decade, and cracked the Top 25 for the first time since 1995 ... and then, after a tough overtime loss at Northwestern, choked away a 30-5 halftime lead over Texas Tech, and lost 31-30.  (You were there?)  Hell yes I was!  Anytime it's still warm enough to close September that taking the t-shirt off seems reasonable?  I'll find a way to be outside.

The Chiefs, everyone's popular pick to win the AFC, opened 0-3 overall, 0-2 at Arrowhead.  The first home defeat, I remember walking the stadium before the game (as we did back then) with Gregg and Dusty, and noting "how f*cked up is it, that one of these two teams (the Chiefs, or Carolina Panthers, which KC / Carolina was Sports Illustrated's Super Bowl prediction) is going to be 0 and 2?"

The second home defeat, to the Houston Texans, was truly the end of an era.  Even if we didn't know it at the time.

* That Texans tailgate, the "old" Randy was back.  He was jovial.  He was insulting of anyone in a parking uniform.  For my memory's sake, I'd like to believe he dropped the "you must have majored in Asshole 101!" blast to the parking nazis in Lot N one final time.

He finally reached the "Randy's Had Enough Of This Sh*t!" moment, after the Texans place kicker drained a field goal with less than a minute to play, to give Houston a 30-27 victory.  He took the time to say goodbye to all us 131 / 132 regulars, as he always used to do.  I even remember commenting to Gregg on the ride home, and to my dad later that night, "it's like he was Randy again today!"

Oh sweet merciful Jesus, if I'd only known ...

--------------------

* Monday, October 4th.  Chiefs (0-3) at Ravens (3-0).  The season is literally on the line.  The Chiefs bye week hits after this one, with a manageable game at Jacksonville after the bye, followed by back-to-back home contests against two teams who wound up winning their division in 2004, Atlanta and Indy.  There's no easy way to put this: the Chiefs HAVE to win.

I decided to watch the game at Dusty's.  I honestly don't know why to this day, I made that choice.  I'd never watched a Chiefs game there before.  I'm guessing it was because between Gregg and I, we might have killed each other from stress if we were in the same room.

And yet, I know exactly why I watched that particular game at Dusty's -- because there is a God, and he gave me one last conversation with Randy.  After the Chiefs held on for a 30-27, "season f*cking on!" victory, I headed for home.  Randy called me as I was on 435 headed west, somewhere around State Line.  I said my goodbye to the conversation as I got onto K7 about ten minutes later.  We just b.s.'d about the game, noted that the season was back on track, and even tried to figure out what "dirty bird" Russ was gonna grill for the next home game against Atlanta.

It was the last time I ever spoke to my buddy Jasson's father, my season ticket seatmate -- my friend ...

--------------------

* Tuesday October 5th, 7:53pm CT.

I was talking to my buddy Vineet on our house line, when I saw the caller ID flash, and noticed it was Gregg's mom calling.  I told Vineet I'd have to call him back on my cell phone, we decided instead we'd just talk the next day.  I switched over to Gregg's mom to answer the phone, and I could tell she was pretty emotional, in asking for Gregg.

I walked down the hall, yelled at Gregg that his mom was on the phone, and judging by how she sounded, I figured it wasn't good.  So I headed outside onto the upper back deck, turned on the TV, and waited to see what -- if anything -- I was going to have to react to.

* The fist smash.  I'll never forget that sound as long as I live.

Gregg, his fist, our counter, next to the sink.

It's the most haunting sound imaginable, honestly.  And in that three to four seconds it took me to turn off the TV, and open the door back into the kitchen, I'm still not sure what I was thinking.  I just knew it wasn't good.

The fist smash.  I'll never forget that sound as long as I live.

* When I opened the door, and walked in, Gregg turned and looked at me, tears in his eyes.  I somehow knew instantly.

Randy had opted to end his life.

Gregg managed to compose himself, and headed over to Jasson's to be with our friend.  I couldn't do that ... but for some reason, I didn't cry either.  I just felt numb.  For the second time in seven weeks, a dear friend had opted to check out of this life, rather than deal with it anymore.

And in a "what are the f*cking odds" coincidence ... the weekend 2 1/2 years earlier I had prepared to end my own life?  Was Randy's 50th birthday party, that I missed the celebration for.

* The next night, I went with Gregg over to Jasson's, and I couldn't even say anything.  I mean, what do you say?  How in Christ's name do you say anything in that spot?

* The wake was set for Sunday; the services for Monday.  Friday night, Nancy invited us "core friends" here in town up to her place, for a night of reflection, remembrance, and family bonding.  As various other folks got into town, they were welcome to join us.

Folks?  I'm not religious ... but anyone who claims there is no God, wasn't there on Friday October 8th.  For starters, a freak rainstorm came in, and virtually shut down all incoming flights to KCI.  Instead of a steady stream of visitors, it wound up being a night of just eight people: Nancy, Jasson and Tara, myself, Gregg, Jenni, and Russ and Mona.  About 9pm, Jasson and I made a liquor run ... and for the next five hours, we honored the man in our way.  Funny stories.  Sad stories.  Just honoring the man in our own way.  As a family.  Which we were.  And still are.

* That Saturday, I went to the Busch race at the Speedway with my buddy Anthony.  I was so tanked by the end of the race, that Anthony had to drive my car back to the house ... and I missed KU finally beat the Purple Headed Step Child down I-70 for the first time since Glen Mason was on the sidelines for KU.  That Sunday, I headed up for Randy's wake with my mom, Gregg, his sister, and his folks.  That wake was the second most depressing thing I've ever attended.  Topped only the next day, by Randy's funeral.

* I was asked to be a pallbearer, as was Gregg.  Like there was any way we'd say no.

* That Monday, I was up early, and got my favorite "breakfast" from Sonic -- the grilled chicken sandwich, tater tots, and the biggest Route 44 Strawberry limeaid imaginable.  Gregg and I headed up to the funeral home around 9:30.  We got there about 10, for an 11am service (as I recall; it may have been arriving at 9am, for a 10am service.)

I got there, and man, was that place packed.  My dad took the day off to be there.  And I'll never forget, about twenty minutes or so before heading in for the service, we had a little huddle in the pallbearers area -- myself, Gregg, my dad, Gregg's dad, Russ and Mona, Anthony (not the racing buddy, but Jasson's cousin), and Bill Turner, a great family friend to Jasson for so long, that he feels like family.  As I noted:

"I haven't shed one damned tear yet!  What the hell is wrong with me?"

And as Mona noted in response:

"When it's your time to grieve?  You will."

* The service itself was amazing.  I have no idea to this day, how Danny got through the eulogy without crying.  Danny's eulogy of Randy was the most amazing speech I've ever heard in my life.  He so perfectly captured Randy ...

* When Danny finished, there were maybe three dry eyes in the house.  Mine was one of them.  Still not a tear.

* As a pallbearer, I was seated near the front, which meant I was one of the last to talk to Nance and Jasson and Tara, and pass by Randy one final time.  It also meant I had to watch everyone else pass by first.  I'll never forget Gregg's dad literally coming unhinged, at seeing his oldest and dearest friend one final time.  That choked me up at least.  "Whew, I'm normal!"  Jesus, the selfishness we humans have sometime.

* I hugged my buddy Jasson, hugged Tara, hugged Nancy, when it was my time.  I headed to the coffin, saw Randy there ... and started to swell up a little bit.

And then, I turned left, and headed up the aisle to the back of the room.

And in the aisle, was Mona.

And I lost it.

I have never cried like I did, collapsing in Mona's arms, and God bless each and every one of you all who joined our collective group hug / cry / us grouping at the end of the chairs there at the funeral home.  I cried for ten straight minutes, at least.  I lost it again at the gravesite.  I lost it a third time at Nancy's afterwards.

And every Memorial Day weekend, when I visit Randy's grave, I still lose it.  I try to visit four gravesites every Memorial Day weekend (or close to it) -- my dad's parents (at 38th and State), my mom's family and parents (at 18th and K5), James (at 60th and Quivira), and Randy (I'd be lying if I knew the address; I just know exactly how to get there).

Randy's is the only one that makes me cry.

--------------------

* That Saturday, I went with my dad to Dallas for a quick 48 hour getaway, to see my grandma, my dad's mom, one final time. Her health was fading fast, my aunt told us "it's now or never", so Dad and I took Saturday to drive down, and Sunday to drive back.

The tears I shed for Randy earlier that week?  Multiply by 100, my dad leaving my grandma's assisted care facility in Plano, that Sunday morning.  You all reading this who know me?  My dad is 100 times more stoic than I am.  That man NEVER betrays his emotions.  He couldn't stop crying until long after we'd crossed the Red River that painful Sunday morning.

Grandma passed five days later.

--------------------

* Grandma got her full Catholic mass burial, at her parish (Christ the King, 55th and Leavenworth).

Us "kids" got one last, great bender on my dad's tab, that Monday night, exactly two weeks to the day I last talked to Randy.  Dad had no clue what hit his American Express card, other than (a) it was epic, (b) it was massive, and (c) it resulted in me stealing at least two pro-Bistate II signs to toss out into the front yard for the remaining election cycle, to support that (failed) proposition.

Man, did we put a bender on Dad's tab at Old Chicago that night!  Me and my brother's buddy Sam worked as a waiter / bartender there back in 2004.  He got us a "private room" for our get-together, and over the span of 90 minutes, us cousins got re-acquainted, got drawn together like we hadn't been in years (none of us had gotten married yet).  Every family member on my dad's side, was represented: my dad (me and Drew, and Ash), my uncle (Spencer and Kristin), my aunt (Brooke), my aunt (Zack).  Plus friends, and other family, that arrived.

Grandma not only would have approved ... she'd have been pissed to know, she missed the party.

--------------------

* "The Voice of Reason" took off that next weekend (October 15th-17th) for the Chiefs game in Jacksonville, meeting our buddy "bts" there for a much needed getaway.

Anything that could go wrong?  Did go wrong.

The Chiefs lost to a horrible Jaguars team.  Mr. Reason's flight was delayed on Monday, diverted to Cincinnati on Tuesday, and come Wednesday, he still wasn't home.  I know this, because that Wednesday (October 20th), Nancy and Tara threw Jasson a birthday party at Hooters.  When Mr. Reason finally got home that Thursday (as I had to ask my boss for a third straight day for permission to leave to get him at the airport, prompting Stan's hilarious "you know, if you need to drink (to cope with Mary, my boss), you don't have to ask permission" one-liner), the only thing he could note was this:

"I've spent my last two evenings at a hotel bar with Joe Posnanski.  (Pause).  It was even worse than it sounds.  I am never flying Delta again."

Aww, that's rough.  It could have been worse though -- they could have put you up in the "four star hotel" we stayed in in Cincinnati, a mere eleven months earlier ...

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* That Sunday, October 24th, was the first home game without Randy.  I readily admit, I have been intoxicated a time or a million in my lifetime.  I have never been drunker, than I was entering Arrowhead that morning.  Put it this way -- when I'm up against Phil in a shotgun competition, and I'm whipping his ass three straight 'guns?  I'm loaded.  Especially since I'm not a big beer drinker, at all.  Shotgun a vodka tonic?  Can do it in five seconds flat.  A Bud Light?  Should take me an hour, with a couple pukes mixed in.

The Chiefs won, 56-10.  Setting up a game to (temporarily) save the season, against the only team Carl Peterson, had not defeated in his tenure as Chiefs president***, your ... Indianapolis Colts ...

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(***: (added after original posting) Dear God did I botch that.  There were TWO teams Carl hadn't defeated -- your Indianapolis Colts ... and your Tennessee Titans.  Carl remedied those two wrongs in 2004 -- the Colts on Halloween, the Titans to open December.  I apologize for that epic brain fart of mis-remembrance ...)

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* My favorite game of the Vermeil era Chiefs, was the demolition of the Dolphins in 2002.  My second favorite, was slaying the dragon that is peyton manning, on Halloween Day 2004.

There was so much, entering the game, on the line.  The season, for starters -- at 2-4, the Chiefs had to win, especially with roadies at Tampa and New Orleans upcoming.  Secondly, on Tuesday, the nation was voting for the Presidency ... and the KC Metro Area was voting on Bistate II, to renovate the Truman Sports Complex via a five county sales tax increase, that both Johnson and Jackson Counties had to approve.

(Bistate II ultimately failed, despite my attempts to vote eight times for it.  Hey now!  I am (still now, as then) a registered Democrat -- what the hell do you mean, I only get to vote once?)

The Chiefs absolutely dominated the first half, racing to a 31-14 halftime lead.  And they held on for a 45-35 victory, highlighted by Greg Wesley's interception of alleged all-time great peyton manning (career playoff record: now 8-11 all time!) that led to my favorite Len Dawson call of all time:

"Get down!  Jesus!  Just get dow -- ooh!  Good block!"

* The sole remaining highlight of the Chiefs season for me, was "The Voice of Reason" and "bts" sharing one last evening with our Ol' Pardner, Mr. William Grigsby, at the Harrah's in New Orleans.  Hell yes Bill Grigsby was hitting on the hottest girls in the bar!  With a fake English accent to boot!  Not quite as magical as telling a group of Chiefs fans outside a strip club in Nashville four years earlier that "I hope we beat those f*ckers!", but it's close.

* And honestly, for the last six or seven weeks of 2004, there wasn't much to report.  Which is a damned good thing, given how awful the eight week stretch from August 20th to October 18th was.  I'm sure the year 2004, my 27th on this planet, ended as they always tend to for me -- on the couch, with a bottle of bubbly, and Strokey Dick Clark on the television screen.

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* So in conclusion?  2004 sucked in the worst ways imaginable.  Too much pain, too much hurt, too much wrong.

Too much death.

But what doesn't kill you?  Makes you stronger.  My closing song lyrics to describe 2004, I've used on this site far too many times in the last twelve months.  It is my favorite song of all time.  But damn, if it don't hit home ...

"I came across a fallen tree;
I felt the branches of it looking at me.
Is this the place we used to love?
Is this the place that I've been dreaming of?

Oh simple thing!  Where have you gone?
I'm getting old, and I need something to rely on.
So tell me when, you're gonna let me in --
I'm getting tired, and I need somewhere to begin.

And if you have a minute?
Why don't we go
Talk about it
Somewhere only we know.

This?  Could be the end of everything!
So why don't we go,
Somewhere only we know?
Somewhere only we know?
Somewhere only we know ..."

Not sure which "decade in review" look back is coming next: 2001 (a relatively mundane year, with one day as an exception), 2002 (the one that shook my life to its core and/or foundation), or 2009 (the year with the most change, both good and bad).  I'm leaning 2001 to be honest, but given my infrequency of posting these things, watch it be 2005, decided on a drunken whim some random Tuesday night in June ...

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Go with 2007