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The medicine I’ve needed

It’s the little things I’m going to express gratitude for this Thanksgiving.

Not that I haven’t been given a huge gift this year and for that, I am speechless, there are no words to express my gratitude.

We just moved into our house, a beautiful, warm home overlooking the lake with a spectacular view of the mountains. Every time I walk out on my porch, whatever was bothering me at that moment immediately drifts into oblivion as the view overwhelms me, reminds me how fortunate I have been.

If I could bottle up that moment and sell it, I’d put a million therapists out of business. I don’t know if I’ll ever become jaded by that view or grow out of the way it affects me.

It’s medicine I’ve needed.

The past week or so has been an exhausting example of how far I can push myself and everyone around me. Trying to squeeze in moving, kids, work and cleaning up the place where we moved from, I have lost out on any chance of winning this year’s Mr. Charming.

At times, it has been difficult to drag myself out of my chair, much less hold my eyes open. Snapping, tantrums and an overall beastly temperament — yeah, that’s been me.

More than usual, I mean. This week, it’s been accompanied by muscles that scream when the slightest breeze lands its merciless blows. Picking up my wallet? How much is in there ... ?

Give me your cane, Tiny Tim.

Yet, despite the week from Hell (and the several Hells within), that moment on my porch reminded me that, short of war, plague, pestilence or a black president, nothing’s really that big a deal and, conversely, what seems like catastrophe or a broken back gets swept underneath the refrigerator when held up against something tiny but brilliant.

Looking back on this last week, the brilliance dazzles me. The trudge that hammered me physically, emotionally and spiritually seems like duff off a dry cleaning bag compared to the moments that I can hold my hands around and warm my soul during our day around the big table, with the big feast.

My comrades at work who, without a second thought, made time on their Saturday afternoon and not only helped me hump furniture (indeed, they did most of the heavy lifting while I supervised) but towed my derelict ’68 Bug to my new house. Their act of selflessness not only helped me expedite a task that would have been nigh impossible to accomplish on my own but reminded me that when our better angels are on the wing, we pull together and help one another, without asking for recompense, without a groan or an excuse. No little thing what they did and my gratitude for their help earns a toast, a vigorous hoisting of my glass over a generous portion of tomorrow’s turkey. The small thing is the remembrance that we are not solipsistic but interconnected, relying on each other when there’s a barn to be raised or a fire to extinguish.

Brillo pads. Yes, Brillo pads. As we were working to clean our apartment this past week, I realized for the first time the value of those little gems. Sure, they gum up stuff with that pink smegma but they are Astair and Rogers on oven racks. No matter how much soap, water, copper wire and elbow grease I applied, the Brillo was the dealy-o; bank on this friends — Brillo for your oven rack.

The smell of my dryer vent over fresh fallen snow. Throw in a dryer sheet and it’s like walking in a flower shop. Sure, there’s a perverse thrill in watching the vent eat up the snow (“Take it away, baby!”) as well as it being a reminder that I no longer have to drag a ton of clothes up the hill to the Laundromat but wow... standing outside in the cold, grabbing some nicotine, my knees trembling in the wind... that dryer vent smells like my first love’s hair.

Add to that, the moon poking through the clouds at night after a long day of a winter storm. A breath of Bounce across a frigid, wind swept wasteland.

My home and its porches were not the only places where I grabbed a moment of bliss, however; Pagosa Springs holds my roots fast now and the moments I grasp will help me polish off this year’s Beaujolais Nouveau with alacrity and gusto.

The brief, flirtatious smile of the young, pretty blonde during Family night at the elementary school. That one glance, the double-take and upturned edges of her lips is enough to make my week brighter, to put a lift in my weary heels and thrust my fingertips across the keyboard like a prodigious young Mozart.

Getting to work early enough to catch the burrito guy especially if he has steak, egg and potato — a thin layer of salsa, washed down with black coffee — there is no better way to start my day other than hooking up my iPod and having something by the Rolling Stones as the first song to greet me for my work day: “Complicated,” “Honky Tonk Women,” “Street Fighting Man,” any of the hundred and some songs available to me will raise the sun and make it shout light louder than afternoon August thunder.

There’s a scene early in “Pulp Fiction” when the reluctant Vincent (John Travolta) is trying his best to remain aloof despite the wiles of Mia Wallace (Uma Thurman), his gangster boss’s girlfriend that he’s been charged with taking out and showing a good time. During dinner, Mia asks Vincent if he’s an Elvis man or a Beatles man, explaining that one is either one or the other.

Although Mia and the viewer has no doubt that Vincent in an Elvis man (he couldn’t be anything else), I disagree with her that it’s either the Beatles or Elvis; the Rolling Stones are — must be — another option, a third choice. To borrow from the Buddha, the Stones are the Middle Way, straddling excess and privation, existing firmly between the excess of the Beatles and the Memphis mud of Elvis.

With an unabashed commitment to nothing more than playing blues, R&B and making a raucous noise, the Stones weren’t afraid to be anything other than what they were: pretty much everything anti-Rock and Roll scolds had feared. Whereas the Beatles began as the world’s first boy band and evolved to become something indescribable, Elvis was white trash who managed to interpret the zeitgeist into the most powerful argot in history. Neither could accept (on a deep level) the derision heaped on them by “polite society” with both seeking some kind of validation.

The Stones were just who they were, then and now, with no concern where they stood nor how they looked (indeed, an uglier group of gits has rarely disgraced the record bins) but in only how they sounded. While Elvis and the Beatles took their time to pose with the bow, the Stones just let the arrow fly and, with few exceptions, hit their mark every time.

I’ve heard Zen is a lot of things. I’ve also heard that, “Those who say don’t know; those who know, don’t say.”

That’s how I picture the Stones, the absolute Zen of Rock and Roll, standing outside the mainstream (while firmly inside it), not unappreciative of the fortune that fame has brought to them but, I suspect, that was never the point. When Elvis walked into Sun studios and convinced Sam Phillips to give him a shot, he was driven to be the next big thing. When the Beatles played the dives from Hamburg to Liverpool, their path was clear.

The Stones on the other hand, just wanted to play the music they loved — Muddy Waters, Solomon Burke, Chuck Berry — sides that gripped their collective souls and shook them to their gizzards. Fame and fortune was a happy coincidence.

As we finished cleaning our apartment on Saturday, my children drenched with soapy water and smudged with the dirt we’d accumulated over the last year, the Stones came up on my Pod: “I know, it’s only rock and roll but I like it ...”

Each of them danced, each of them sang, each of them caught up in the sentiment. Each of them wanted to spend their Saturday afternoon in a different way, decidedly not stuck in a barren apartment, scrubbing walls and floors, listening to Daddy yell when things weren’t going right or on schedule.

Yet, there they were, suddenly moved from their antipathy, ebullient and insouciant, transported from their immediate drudge to sing at the top of their lungs.

I could not have survived this week without those kids; their selflessness and No Mind in tackling out task saved me. The little things, all three of them, are what I am most grateful for this year (or any year). Tomorrow, I raise my glass to them and say thank you, thank you, you dropped a bucket into the well of my despair and raised me to the light.

I know, it’s only Rock and Roll. But I like it.

jim@pagosasun.com