When I First Heard “Stakes is High” I was…

(These pictures are of a recent trip to N.Y., the most appropriate images to go with this post)

Love N.Y. in the mist.

Love N.Y. in the mist.

If you’ve been following my twitter account of late (@mattmanguso), you’ve probably noticed I’ve been tweeting about De La Soul nonstop for about two months. I apologize for the onslaught, but at the same time I hope it led to someone clicking a YouTube link and experiencing one of the most eclectic, long-standing hip hop groups, ever.

It all began when I was planning to go home to New York. I love Wyoming, it’s a fantastic place, but it’s been a long time since I saw a concert worth getting excited about (in the two years I’ve been here the only show I was pumped to go to was G. Love and Special Sauce, which was a dope show). Now, every time I go back to N.Y. I always get the shaft when it comes to live music. I always somehow choose the week that has no shows worth going to see. This most recent time was no different, but while perusing the websites of my favorite artists, I noticed De La had announced more dates for their tour. I scrolled down and saw

March 14 – Pink Garter Theatre

Now, there’s a Pink Garter Theatre up in Jackson (some 70 miles north of Pinedale), but there was no way De La (Posdunous, Trugoy the Dove and Maseo) would ever play in Wyoming. It was too much for me to comprehend.

Still, I clicked the “get tickets” link and there it was: Pink Garter Theatre – Jackson, Wyo. Deliriously, I clicked “get tickets” so hard and fast I almost broke my computer and was relieved when everything went through and I had my tickets. I called my girlfriend.

She can hail a cab but she ain't never been to hip hop show.

She can hail a cab but she ain’t never been to hip hop show.

“Do you want to go see De La Soul in Jackson in March?”

“I don’t really know them and I’ve never been to a hip hop show, but sure.”

“OK, good because I already bought tickets.”

After hanging up, my mind had time to process what my girlfriend  had said: I don’t really know them and I’ve never been to a hip hop show.

How. Could. This. Have. Happened?

Forget never having heard of De La Soul, I can understand that (kind of), but never having been to a hip hop show? My God. I can’t even count how many I’ve been to, nor can I remember my first. And my girlfriend is a concert freak.

I began thinking (a dangerous pastime, I know) about when I first heard the hip hop group that totally changed how I thought about the genre and music in general. Like most things in my life, it goes back to college.

It was during freshman year and I was trying to make friends. My roommate was a drag, so I spent the first few weeks roaming the halls trying to bump into someone and strike up a conversation (that sounds so much more pathetic than I thought it would). With no luck, I headed back to my side of the dorm and passed by my neighbor’s room. I heard the unmistakable hard, gritty beats of the Wu-Tang Clang pouring from the door. I timidly knocked, introduced myself and said, “Hey, I like hip hop, too,” meaning I wanted to be friends. That man was Tom Ford, and we did become friends.

I’ve always loved Tom: He was from Queens and I was from Long Island, so we always had a slightly better connection than the other members of our crew who were all from north of the city (if you’re not from N.Y. you might not understand that, but just trust me on it). I could write a million posts on the shenanigans the two of us got into, but that’s for another day.

A few months into our friendship we were sitting in his room getting ready for Friday night, which always consisted of watching boxing, followed by A Tribe Called Quest’s “Beats, Rhymes and Life” album, and plenty of beers in between. One Friday night, though, it wasn’t Tribe that come on, it was a new (for me) album. I clearly remember Tom hitting the play button on the tape (that’s right, my man has this album on cassette) and hearing the album begin:

“When I first heard Criminal Minded I was…”

I didn’t know it then, but that album, “Stakes is High,” was “the album” that would change everything I knew about everything. I listened in silence for the first five or six songs until Tom said, “Yo, you ready to go?” I had completely blacked out (there weren’t that many beers, finger-waggers,).

“Yea. Who is this?”

“De La Soul.”

“I never heard of them.”

“Noodles (my nickname), they’re from Long Island.”

The evening’s plans were delayed, and we sat and listened to the rest of the album. I was floored. It was one of those moments where I was immediately in love with everything I was listening to, but also super pissed off that it had taken me this long to hear it.

Love that mist.

Love that mist.

For me, Stakes is High is a flawless album. It pulses with the rhythm of the Southern State Parkway, it chugs along like an LIRR train heading West, it ebbs and flows like the tide at Long Beach.

It begins with a homage to KRS-ONE, it questions what it means to be a “Supa Emcee,” the third track introduced me to Common (The Bizness), it blared out Long Island towns I had lived in and around my whole life (Wonce Again Long Island), it gave me a go-to make out track (Dinnit) and then it just completely grabbed me and seemed to say, “Shut up and listen” (The Brakes).

That’s only the first six tracks, and it just keeps going.

I knew what Dave meant when he said, “I shed a tear cause I’m hearing nothing new or particular,” (Dog Eat Dog), another make out track (Baby, Baby, Baby, Ooh, Baby), the smoothest beat to ever accompany rhymes about Long Island (Long Island Degrees) that reminded me of so many summer days, “Betta Listen” was the song I played for my sister that got her into De La (she’s always loved the line, “her name was Gail from the Union of Dale”) and then came the moment when I realized I was listening to a group of craftsmen at the top of their game, “Itsoweezee.”

I don’t know what to say about this song. It has some of the sickest lines and is a lyrical masterpiece; it’s De La calling out everyone else in the rap game and saying, “top this, if you can.” In my opinion, no one ever has and the song just put me deep into hypnosis.

And, the album STILL keeps going. “4 More,” an incredible love song that only the “right” girl is allowed to hear, “Big Brother Beat” the Mighty Mos Def, enough said.

Then it gets real (Down Syndrome), with Plug One throwing verbal haymakers, one after the other, and landing every one, (“Just because you talk all that glock shit don’t mean you can rock shit.”). I can only imagine it’s like being knocked out by Muhammed Ali; you’re nose is broken, you have a concussion and probably brain damage, but you feel blessed to have been punched by someone with so much skill.

“Pony Ride,” again, a ridiculous beat that is a testament to the mastery of Maseo and a song I’ve repeated so many times I could recite it in my sleep. “Stakes is High,” the title track that is buried at the way end of the album, quite unusual, but which, I think, is only at the end because it conveys all the messages the group is trying to get across (“people try to snatch the credit, but claim the card,” “I think smiling in public is against the law, because love don’t get you through life no more,” “because nobody’s neighbors, just animals,” “no wonder where we live is called the projects,” “gun control means using both hands,” “man, life can get all up in your ass”)  and it just makes you say, “I probably wasn’t listening closely enough, I should listen to this album again, from the beginning” because I don’t want to miss any “hip hop quotable.”

Unfortunately, it eventually does end, but in the best way possible, with “Sunshine.”

This album was it for me; “Stakes is High” is what made this Long Island white kid get out into the hip hop world, strike that, it made me get into The World and explore. It caused me to listen more closely to hip hop and weed out who was rapping for fame and who was rhyming because they had something to say. Rappers weren’t songwriters anymore, they became poets, and that helped me understand Shakespeare, Blake, Wordsworth and all the other wordsmiths I studied in college. They may not have been using iambic pentameter or other such canonized lyrical standards, but theirs thoughts, opinions and observations were just as valuable.

Stakes is High introduced me to new artists (Native Tongues, Mos Def, Common), the samples brought me back to musicians my mother used to listen to and who I grew up with and made me appreciate them even more.

It was like having a tapeworm; no matter how much I ate, I was never satisfied and just needed to consume more and more and more.

I only wish losing my virginity was as life changing as the first time I heard Stakes is High was, because then it might be a story worth telling, which it sure as shit is not. Sex for the first time was just something that happened, but after hearing De La Soul for the first time, I wasn’t a kid anymore.

So thank you to Tom Ford for introducing me to what is now my favorite hip hop group of all time, and thanks to De La Soul for keeping it alive since ’89 and for coming to Wyoming in 10 days.

Where were you when you first heard “Stakes is High” ?

That's Tom in the back.

That’s Tom in the back.

A Winter’s Tale, or a Homage to Cody

This post is kind of a follow-up to the last one I wrote, which you can find Here.

It was one of the those beautifully sunny, frigidly cold winter days in Wyoming and the gang decided to hold the first ever “SlideFest.”  The idea was simple, head up to the Green River Lakes parking lot and hit the various hills and mounds that surround the area.

With lots of layers, a grill and some libations, we began the day and had a great time. What made it even better was we he had rented a cabin in Kendall Valley, which is one of the most beautiful areas in the county that is surrounded by the Bridger-Teton National Forest. After tiring ourselves out, we went back to the cabin and relaxed.

Now, I have a friend named Cody. How do I describe him? To start, he is probably the nicest person I have ever met; he has never uttered a bad word about another person, never gets frustrated or goes on a rant and I don’t think he is capable of anger. For me, he is the essence of a Wyomingite – friendly, welcoming, not much of a talker, handy, strong, helpful, adventurous, quick to laughter but (extremely, if at all) slow to anger. Whenever I’ve had people come and visit me Cody is always the highlight of the trip. One friend said, “Cody oozes modesty, but he could probably destroy anyone on the planet.”

Cody is an avid biker – he almost always wins the gold medal at races – and he is also the kind of person who will wake up one morning, decide to run a half marathon and subsequently crush the competition. One great story about Cody’s athleticism is that he went to a race in Utah, had his bike stolen, went and got another, which was quite a bad bike, was very late to the race, but still managed to win. He’s a machine.

After SlideFest, Cody, never one to just sit around and relax, suggested he and I go into the forest and try to call in some wolves. I was 100 percent in, so we jumped in his car, which is not suitable for backcountry driving – I believe it’s a Ford Mercury or something – and headed into the woods.

We drove for about two or three miles on a non-maintained, snow-covered dirt road until I, always the sensible one, said, “Codes, I don’t think we should go any further. Let’s turn around.”

Three miles in and with darkness approaching, we decided to turn back.

Three miles in and with darkness approaching, we decided to turn back.

Cody began to maneuver his car around, trying multiple three-point turns in hopes of turning around. The engine revved.

“We’re stuck,” Cody said nonchalantly.

I hopped out and began to push. We were freed! I got back in and within inches we were stuck again. Back out, push, freed, stuck again. This went on for some time.

To say I was surprised we became stuck would be a lie. One of Cody’s attributes I forgot to mention is that while he is extremely adventurous and always ready to head into the unknown, he is also apt to get stuck. Without really thinking about it, I can confidently say I’ve gotten stuck in mud, snow, or the like about eight times with Cody. We always get out, we always laugh about it, and really if I was going to get stuck with anyone, I would be glad it were Cody.

Darkness was coming on very quickly and the temperature was dropping. We began shoveling.

Stuck, again.

Stuck, again, trying to get free. 

That didn’t help out too much, but we managed to clear enough of a path and with me pushing, Cody got the car facing in the right direction. He was essentially back on the road when he was sucked into a ditch and stuck, for good.

Our last effort was to put on snow chains, but, of course, Cody’s were already mangled, so we came up with string and other stuff to try and make them work.

A poor effort.

A poor effort.

With barely an pressure on the gas pedal, the “chains” quickly snapped.

“Cody, I’m calling this one. We’re going to have to walk out of here tonight, and maybe tomorrow we can get it out with someone’s sled.”

Cody agreed.

He pulled out his Nordic skis, I strapped on my snowshoes and we began walking. As we headed away from the car, Cody realized why we had ventured out into the wilderness in the first place and put his lips to a predator call and blew.

I looked at him in shock.

“Codes, we’re in the middle of the woods, it’s freezing and dark and we are on foot. Do you really think now is the appropriate time to call in a pack of wolves?”

He laughed, I laughed and we started walking, quickly.

It was cold that night, probably around -25 degrees Fahrenheit, but we were dressed appropriately. We walked and talked, and very quickly both of us realized we were having a great time. I would make a joke, and he would laugh, Cody would ski ahead to survey the scene, and I would come running after him, snowball in hand. We laughed and laughed and laughed, for a mile and then we both realized something horrible – our girlfriends were going to be pissed.

Cody’s lady has been sitting at a bar waiting for him to come pick her up for the past hour, and mine, knowledgeable as ever, had told me, “Don’t get stuck and come back alive.” Little did we know that Cody’s girlfriend was warding off the amorous advances of a one-eyed bartender, and my girlfriend was combing the roads looking for us. Like true jackasses, we hadn’t really told anyone EXACTLY where we were going.

As the horror of two angry girlfriends materialized in our minds, I noticed we were approaching the wilderness boundary.

“Awww, who cares about them! We’re having a blast. Get next to the sign and smile!”

The man, the myth, the Cody.

The man, the myth, the Cody.

We walked the next mile or so, and had tons of fun. As we approached the road, we saw two cars sitting there. We approached, apprehensively, and the windows rolled down. There were our girlfriends, shaking their heads at our buffoonery.

“Hey!” we both exclaimed. “We got stuck and had to walk back. It’s freezing out.”

“Get in, you idiots.” We did as we were told and told them about our adventure. Like good girlfriends, they laughed, and were glad to see us safe and sound.

The next day, we headed back to the infamous spot, with two friends and two snowmobiles, and managed to get Cody’s car out and back safely to the pavement.

Stuck.

Stuck.

 

Freed!

Freed!

 

You Get Back On: Laughing in the Face of Death

There are many ways to die, and with winter arriving in Sublette County, I’ve begun my annual routine of dreading driving on snowy roads and venturing out into the frigid temperatures.

In New York, you read stories about someone getting run down by an out of control taxi cab, falling onto the subway tracks, getting crushed by a crane or even being stabbed or shot. Growing up there, you kind of brush those types of city-deaths off your shoulder and don’t even think about it. In Wyoming, though, the ways you can die were much more different than anything I had experienced before. Take for instance this conversation I had upon arriving in the Cowboy State:

Me: “So, how cold does it get here?”

Wyomingite: “Pretty cold. Last year we had a week where it was -30 degrees.”

Me: “What? That’s crazy.”

Wyomingite: “Sure is. When it’s that cold I don’t even go ice fishing.”

Me: “Ice fishing? Look, if it’s ever that cold just shoot me in the face.”

Wyomingite: “Why would I do that?” (Sarcasm doesn’t really translate too well.)

Me: “It was a joke. I mean, it seems like venturing out in that cold is asking to die.”

Wyomingite: “It can be.  Ralph went out in -40 degree weather to check on his horses during a blizzard and lost his way coming back to the house. He froze to death a couple hundred yards from his front door. They didn’t find him until next spring.”

Me: “…..”

Avalanches, running your car off the road, numerous animal attacks, falling trees, rogue hunters, getting lost in the wilderness; the list goes on and on. But in true cowboy fashion, you have to look death square in the face, realize you survived, laugh at it and get back on the horse. Here are some of the deadliest/funniest moments I’ve encountered while living in Wyoming and the lessons learned.

Running off the Road 

One day, I had to drive up to Jackson to interview some people about the annual Cutter Races (a longtime Jackson Hole tradition where men and women race down Broadway on chariot-style sleighs). It seemed easy enough. There was only one problem: driving through Hoback Canyon in the dead of winter in a Ford Focus without snow tires. Wintertime driving is probably my least favorite activity in Wyoming. Not only is my car ill equipped for such ventures, but the roads are horrendously steep, windy and covered in ice, both clear and black. Not to mention the Wyomingites driving 60 mph in monstrously large trucks during a blizzard, flashing their high beams at you, speeding past and kicking up additional snow that blinds you further. Things can go very bad, very quickly.

I was driving through the canyon, going, at most, 30 mph when I began a descent down a not-so-steep hill when I suddenly lost control. The car began to slide and drift into the oncoming lane of traffic. Not used to such things I did everything wrong; slammed the brakes and jerked the wheel. My Focus kept sliding down, down and down, spun around and I went ass-first into a snowbank. The second the car collided with the pile a semi blew past me. Had I left my house some 2 minutes later I would have hit him head-on.

What always gets me about a car crash is your music keeps playing. This time, it was Fleet Foxes; Come down from the mountain, you have been gone too long…. I sat in the car for a few minutes, dazed, shaking my head and wondering whether it would have been worth it to die for the Cutter Races. Then another realization, I was stuck, with no shovel and in a canyon where cell service is spotty at best. I got out. Looked at my car and began digging with my hands. Luckily, a kind gentleman pulled over, jumped out with shovel in hand and asked if I needed help. Clearly I did and we began digging. As we dug, two more cars came sliding down the hill in the exact same fashion as I had. I looked at the good samaritan and laughed, “Guess I’m not the only asshole on the road today.”

“Shit no,” he said.

We finished digging, shook hands and I was off. I did my research on how to properly drive when conditions are icy and learned to take my time and not worry about other drivers’ speed and told myself if I should ever see another stranger stranded in the snow I too would get out and offer whatever assistance I could.

Pesky Mule Deer 

This one didn’t happen to me, but I was involved.

I was sitting at home one night in the winter, thankful I didn’t have to be driving the 37 miles to Big Piney to cover the school board meeting when I got a frantic call from a frantic coworker.

FC: “Is Andy home?”

Me:  “No, I think he’s going to the school board meeting. Why?”

FC: “Because I think he was driving behind me and a deer ran onto the road and he swerved and his headlights disappeared.”

Me: “Well, did you pull over and make sure it was him, or at least see if the driver was OK?”

FC: “No. I have to get to the meeting.”

Journalism is journalism, be it in a metropolitan daily or a community weekly, and there was nothing that was going to stop my frantic coworker from being late. It was Andy in the car that went off the road, and he was fine. Later, I asked him about it.

Me: “Did you drive off the road tonight?”

Andy: “Yea, a stupid deer ran into the road. How did you know?”

Me: “A frantic coworker called me and thought it was you.”

Andy: “Yea, and she didn’t stop and when I got to the meeting she told me all the interesting stuff I had missed.”

Never rely on a reporter to stop and help you, especially when you work for the competing paper in town, but be aware of the conditions and always keep an eye out for stray wildlife.

Almost an Ice Cube

It was the perfect day to be ice fishing. The sun was out and its rays reflected off of the vast expanse of white and kept the temperature at a pleasant 15 degrees. My associate had already reeled in two fish and we were having a great time. As the afternoon waned, we decided to head home. He roared off on his snowmobile and I followed behind. But as I did, the photographer in me said I should take one parting shot. I stopped the sled, pulled out the camera, snapped and hit the gas to take off. Nothing. Hit the gas harder. Still nothing. Was I in neutral? Was the break on? No and no. What the hell? I looked down to see the sled was sinking into a slushy mixture of lake water and snow. The ice has broken, I thought. I’m sinking and I’m going to be an ice cube in a matter of seconds. There’s only one person out here and he’s already a half-mile away. I panicked and went to jump off the sled to run, but figured that will only make the crack bigger and sat frozen to the snowmachine. I had no idea what to do so I looked around and said to myself, “At least I’ll die somewhere pretty.”

My companion noticed me and sped back.

Companion: “What’s wrong?”

Me: “I think the ice is broken and I’m sinking.”

Companion: “What are you talking about? You’re just caught in some overflow.”

Overflow is when snow melts on top of a frozen body of water and is then covered by a fresh layer of snow. The slightest pressure can cause the underlying, liquid layer to seep through to the top and give the appearance the ice has cracked. Panic is never a good thing, and you should never fall behind the group, especially when you aren’t the best snowmobiler.

Getting Back On 

One of my main goals when I came out West was to not only learn how to ride a horse, but to become proficient at it. Within a month of arriving, I found myself atop one and totally unprepared to follow a cowboy veteran as he yelled “yawww” and disappeared into the sage. Trepidation was the word of the day as I kicked the horse and tried my best to follow suit, not look like an idiot and not die. It went OK, but sadly I did not get the chance to get back on an equine until about a year later. My friend Amber is a born and bred Pinedalian who has been around horses her entire life and who is so comfortable around them it’s almost terrifying. She’s ridden in rodeos, been a pony dancer in the local Rendezvous Pageant and only rides bareback. As we were saddling up, she brought out the horse she would be riding, one that hadn’t been ridden in quite some time, and said, “I hope you guys are ready to see me go airborne.” I thought to myself, why would you knowingly get on a horse that you knew was ready to buck you off?

Me: “So, what do you do if he sends you flying?”

A.: With a look of confusion “You get back on.”

She didn’t get bucked off that day and she was such a fantastic teacher I felt comfortable enough to get my horse into a lope. When we returned to the corral, the animal I had been so nervous to ride couldn’t get enough of me. He followed me around, nuzzled my shoulder and, in some unspoken way, told me “we’re friends now, but that doesn’t mean I won’t buck you off if you are doing something stupid.”

That warning came to fruition very recently. Since that second time on a horse, I’ve become pretty good at it, enough so that people are slightly shocked when they see me gallop by yelling at the top of my lungs. But, unlike a machine, a horse has a mind of its own and will sometimes be grouchy or moody and a bit of a nuisance to ride.

Amber and I went out riding again, but this time her dad came along. Now was my chance to show Jim how good I’ve become – even though I’m not a competitive person I still like to show people when I’ve accomplished a goal. We were heading back to the ranch and were riding the top of a ridge when I lagged behind and then kicked the horse. Everything was going great and felt right, then – and I have to add here that I was in a different saddle and the stirrups were much too short – the horse did a little hop and when I leaned back to absorb the shock, I realized the seat was too low for me. Quickly, I tried to lean into the hop and brace myself in the stirrups, but those were too short, also, and my feet slipped out.

With a total lack of control I flew out of the saddle and over the top of the horse’s head and landed right on my chest. It hurt. I mean, it really, really hurt. I stood up and Amber and Jim came over to me.

Jim: You know, that was looking really good until you went flying.

I laughed and dusted myself off.

Jim: Hey, do you still have the reigns in your hand?

I looked to my right hand and saw both reigns were securely in my fist.

Me: Yea, I guess I do.

Jim: Great job!

I laughed at the fact that even though I had done mostly everything wrong, I had still managed to do something right and that was a small victory. Even though I was in pain – I’m almost positive I cracked a rib – I got back on that stupid horse and continue to ride him. Even though I hate driving in the winter and have spun off the road, I continue to do it in hopes I get better. Even though frozen lakes or waterways give me the creeps, I keep venturing out, safely. And even though there a millions of ways to die no matter where you happen to be, the best defense you have against death is your brain, the kindness of others and a big, boisterous laugh. With those tools in hand the only other thing you need is the nerve to get back on.

Oh, Turkey Day

Except for Halloween (who doesn’t love dressing up and being somebody different for an entire day?), Thanksgiving is by far my favorite holiday because it is oh so American. There is no religious connection, it’s not restricted to a specific ethnic background, and the only requirement is you’re an American and are thankful for something.

While the holiday has been exploited and become a contest of consumption (how much can you drink the night before, how much can you eat the day of and how much can you buy the day after), I still enjoy the core of the tradition (a celebration of the bounty of the New World and the realization that there are reasons to be thankful).

My mother has always been the queen of family gatherings where large quantities of food are spread on the table. She’s the best cook in the family, our house was always where everyone wanted to come and there was no way anyone could do Thanksgiving better, though many have tried.

But this year, it was my turn to be the cook/host. I was excited. I enjoy cooking, I enjoy hosting and I have to admit having all that power, I had joyful visions of me throwing my hands up and, like my mother, proclaiming, “All right, everyone get out of my kitchen,” made me giddy. Clearly, I would not have thrown the One Ring into Mt. Doom, but at least I admit it.

First up: the menu. Clearly, turkey would be on it, but what kind. I perused the Internet and found the absolute best recipe for me: Turkey with 40 Cloves of Garlic.

Then, as a homage to tradition, I chose stuffed mushrooms and sausage/rice stuffing (family favorites), and added some sauteed spinach and kale for a vegan guest (I know, I was flabbergasted, too) and the girlfriend handled the potatoes. Dessert was pumpkin pie (me) and chocolate mousse (girlfriend).

The night before, after playing some Thanksgiving Eve, cold weather darts with a friend, I came home and began the White Wine Pan Gravy. Word of advice, always read the directions before attempting the recipe because I hadn’t realized the gravy needed to cook for three hours.

The White Wine Pan Gravy started slow, but turned out great.

The White Wine Pan Gravy started slow, but turned out great.

By 11 p.m., the gravy “base” was down and it was time for bed.

Up at 7 a.m. the next morning and the first chore was the pumpkin pie (I should have done this the night before, but this was really more of a learning experience than anything else.)

Pumpkin Pie

Pumpkin Pie

Using a recipe from everyone’s favorite racist chef, the pies were in by 8:30 a.m. Baking at high elevation (7,200 feet) is not fun. I’ve never really enjoyed baking, too much chemistry, but it is pretty important to have dessert, and though the recipe said the pies needed 50 minutes, up in the mountains it took about twice that time for them to finish.

With the pies baking and sweat beginning to develop on my brow from fear  the turkey wasn’t in yet, I began getting the garlic ready.

40, yes, 40, cloves of garlic.

40, yes, 40, cloves of garlic.

While chopping and seasoning and getting the turkey ready, my beautiful girlfriend walked into the kitchen. With my hands covered in garlic puree she delightfully began with the questions. (Note: My girlfriend doesn’t cook much, when she does, it’s great, but for some reason she feels intimidated by my culinary skills and that keeps her out of the kitchen).

After a few questions my blood began to slowly boil ( I know I’m a maniac, and I’m lucky she puts up with me), and then she looked at my hands that were beneath the turkey skin and said, “What’s that?”

“It’s super secret shit. Now, calm yourself down before I crack you with my seasoned paws.”

Again, I know I can be crass at times, but if my mother taught me anything it’s that mean, hurtful things are allowed to be said in the kitchen on a holiday. Thankfully, my girlfriend let it go and I got the turkey in on time.

The rice was already finished, so I moved on to the stuff mushrooms.

Stuffed mushrooms.

Stuffed mushrooms.

They came out excellent.

As the turkey sizzled while I basted it, I realized it was only 1 p.m. and everything, for the most part, was done. Well, this isn’t so bad, I thought to myself and poured a glass of wine and was coerced into taking a Thanksgiving shot of Wyoming’s own Koltiska.

Delicious yet deadly.

Delicious yet deadly.

At this point, all I needed were my guests. Cocktail hour was set to begin at 2 p.m., with dinner followed at 3 p.m.

Cocktail hour came and went. 3 o’clock came and went. And by 3:15 p.m. I was infuriated. The turkey had been out since 2:30 p.m., and was now getting cold and dry and gross. The gravy was solidifying and the rice and other side dishes were close to burning in the oven. I stood at the door waiting for my guests throwing out threats to anyone who would listen.

2:30 p.m.: OK, they’re running late, but there’s still plenty of time.

2:45 p.m.: What the hell, where is everyone?

3 p.m.: Well, it’s dinner time and no one is here.

3:10 p.m.: You know what I’d be thankful for, punctual guests.

3:15 p.m.: OK, f@#$% them, if no one is here in the next 10 minutes, I’m locking the door, eating all this food myself and they can go somewhere else.

At 3:25 p.m., they arrived. My girlfriend gave me the eyes to “be nice” and I said, “Happy Thanksgiving, dinner is now.”

As people ate and compliments came my way in between large bites, I began to ease up (here’s a hint, a pissed of chef can be quickly calmed down with praise and accolades) and enjoyed the company, the food and the holiday.

So what was I thankful for this year?

Well, a lot of things, but mostly, an awesome girlfriend, a life filled with adventures and great stories, the appreciation that you don’t need to be physically with your friends or family to feel loved and a part of things, another year in a beautiful place and the awareness that the next great adventure is right around the corner. And most importantly, my awesome mother who taught me how to run a successful holiday, and how to always be ready with a snappy, snarky comment at the most inappropriate time.