Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Gone Country

The weekend came and went (as most tend to do) and I managed to neglect writing the Country Stampede-themed blog I promised. I’d like to blame something rational for such an omission (I did spend 10 minutes at a drive-thru on Saturday… Where does the time go?), but it’s much more entertaining for me to fabricate an absurd excuse. Thus, I didn’t get any writing in over the weekend because I was called away at the last minute to attend a meeting of the secret society that dictates which greetings are considered cool. (Spoiler alert: the three-step-handshake/man-hug will soon give way to the double-wet-willie… Be prepared.)

With my 10-year high school reunion set for Saturday, I decided that I should look back at my experience working at the Country Stampede; the only job from my high school life that did not involve a lawnmower or weeds. Let’s hope this is more entertaining than pulling said weeds.

The decision to join the Stampede labor force came about as an effort to raise funds for a high school class trip to New York. Each student in our Entrepreneurship class was tasked with raising a certain amount of funds to make said trip. As an awkward high school junior-to-be, my most marketable skills were serving as a tackling dummy during football practice and stammering around cute girls. Oddly, such traits did not translate well to fundraising efforts. (Alas, if it had been six years later, I probably could have had Michael Cera’s acting career.)

Because folks weren’t willing to pay good money to see how quickly I could avert my gaze after making eye contact with someone, I was forced to pursue jobs that actually “existed.” Through one route or another, I wound up filling out an application to work as a Country Stampede laborer. At the time, I despised country music and had never been to the event. Frankly, the only real knowledge I had about the boot-scootin’ blowout was that a fatal stabbing had occurred during the inaugural concert. Win-win, this was not.

I arrived for my “orientation” session at the Stampede grounds a few days before the event began. Embracing my introverted nature, I’m not sure that I spoke more the four words the entire time. Instead, I just listened as a nondescript* middle-aged man explained my duty as an “ice runner.”

*Writer’s code for: It was 12 years ago and I respect you far too much to attempt to fictionalize this guy’s appearance.

Luckily, my job involved no actual running. Luckily, my job involved repeated trips into a refrigerated semi-trailer (to retrieve bags of ice) during one of the hottest stretches of the summer. Luckily, fellow ice runner and I got to cruise the Stampede grounds in a road-ready Gator vehicle

Unluckily, as I quickly learned, the Country Stampede brings thousands of people to Tuttle Creek Park, and many of them, when inebriated, are as kind and accommodating and pit bulls.

Backed with a soundtrack that my ears found quite grating, my days involved loading 20-pound bags of ice onto the gator, toting them to various concession locations around the grounds, and continually being cursed at by Stampede-folk because I would not compromise my integrity and rob my employer to give them free ice. Had I been an exchange student working on picking up the language of the American Midwest, I probably would have gathered that the “f-bomb” was the most versatile word in the vernacular. (I also might have assumed that the natural accent of folks from the area involved slurred speech.)

Granted, the Stampede was/is more than cursing drunks. I was witness to an all-out wrestling match in a pit of mud. I regularly participated in recreational people-watching. (Yes, some people do have their entire backs covered by tattoos of the Confederate flag.) I saw plenty of cute girls (with whom I, naturally, avoided eye contact). And, from what I understand, there was even some good music played. Imagine that… Some folks actually attend for the music.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

The People's Blog

What’s a guy to do when he’s been struggling for blog topics? Naturally, he seeks the opinion of the people.

I put out a call for topic ideas today via Twitter and Facebook. My faithfully devoted followers and friends (read: people who tolerate me, I assume because they are being paid off by someone) responded quickly and in quality fashion. Below you’ll find the topic ideas provided, with my immediate reactions, as well. Yes, we will be revisiting some of these ideas in the future.

Behold the power of cheese. I’ll admit, I’m a fan of most varieties (even in cake form). Alas, I’m not I can bring a new take on the dairy product. I assume the cheese stands alone for good reason.

Lace Dunn
As far as I know, this is referring to the former Baylor basketball player and not anything with doilies. At Baylor, Dunn was best known for being one heck of a scorer, but also for taking the sort of shots that made one wonder if he’d forgotten that passing the ball was legal… Oh yeah, and he was allegedly involved in a domestic dispute that resulted in his girlfriend’s broken jaw. At this point, I’m afraid to write anything that might be considered a joke.

The dachshund belonging to a couple good friends. Deemed my “godson” years ago. His favorite hobby? Barking to wake up their toddler. 

The toddler. A joyful tike who has recently become exceedingly mobile. Seemingly a big fan of mine… I assume this is because we have similar mental capacities.

Milky Cabana
A pretty funny mispronunciation for current Royal Melky Cabrera. A suggestion for a blog covering the best names in sports? This has potential…

High school reunions
My 10-year reunion is just over one week away. This is a disturbing fact, but it remains true. I hope we hand out awards. I think I’m a shoo-in for best-looking “Derek L.” in attendance.

Country Stampede
An event that brings hordes of inebriated wannabe cowboys to my neighborhood? Yes, this will be covered.

Getting a dog
Does watching that new “Wilfred” show that stars Frodo count?

Best/worst college courses
This would take some careful consideration. By “careful consideration” I mean that I’ll actually have to attempt to remember what classes I took in college.

Best/worst bible school memories
The idea of a “worst” bible school memory seems like it could be sacrilegious.

Best/worst 4-H memories
For me, the idea of a “best” 4-H memory might also be sacrilegious.

Fashion commentary
Yes, I do need to bring back “Things I don’t understand.” Duly noted.

Most boring sports
Definite potential here.

Best vacations
Note to self: take a vacation.

We have some good ideas here, but where to begin?

What's that you say, out-of-towners who have never seen a traffic roundabout? You want more booze and you've been wearing the same shirt for three days?

Country Stampede, it is.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Good news, better news

There's good news and there's better news.

The good news is that Saturday evening's wedding and reception ended up being as near to picture-perfect as a person can expect. The ceremony was very nice. There were no on-the-job meltdowns from either the flower girl or the ring bearer. I avoided using my handkerchief to wipe sweat from my brow through the entire ceremony, and no cameras were broken despite the fact that I was involved in more pictures than most Hollywood stars. Also, despite ominous reports of impending storms earlier in the day, foul weather steered clear of Vintage Gardens*. Beyond all that, my family still avoided scaring off my brother's bride-to-be, meaning I have a new sister. Life is good.

*No, this area was not full of well-aged (read: dead) plants, though the name might suggest it. It was actually about the perfect area for a wedding reception on a not-blazing-hot day.

The better news is that I no long have to attempt to live up to any titles that contain the word "best." I performed my duties during the wedding*, and even avoided sprinting away in terror when it was time to give my toast. It's like a weight off one's shoulders, knowing he can go back to being referred to as "anything but the best man."**

*A couple people told me I did a good job with my ceremonial duties, which basically involved standing next to my brother and breaking in my ridiculously uncomfortable shoes. My response? "Thanks. I'm pretty good when it comes to standing around and not talking."

**Truth: I have never actually been called "anything but the best man"... to my face, anyway.

Was my toast any good? If "good" can be judged by the fact that I did not - at any point - fall to the ground and curl up in the fetal position, then yes. If "good" takes into account the actual content and delivery of the speech, then I really have no idea. I did get some compliments from folks afterward, but I'm never one to discount the value of pity.*

*Note to self: learn how to take a compliment.

Whatever the case, a couple of family members asked me to give the written form of the toast a home here, so I've reproduced it to the best of my ability below. (I actually made it through the speech without having to look at my notes once... Apparently there is something to that whole "practice" idea. Luckily for my car, I will no longer best testing how many times I can recite the speech on a drive from Manhattan to Riley.)


For those that don't know, I'm Derek; Jared's brother and the best they could do at short notice.

It’s great to see so many people here tonight. I know that some of you traveled miles and miles; some even traveled across the country, just to be here. I think that says quite a bit about these two. Of course, the thing it probably says the loudest is that apparently it‘s pretty hard to imagine a Larson finding a girl willing to put up with him. As the last single Larson male standing, I have to say that’s not very encouraging... but I'm getting off topic.

Jared and Michaela, I went through a lot of ideas when trying to find a topic for this toast; most were bad. Many involved inside jokes that few would understand. Inside jokes involving things like
- “special friends”
- “bringing some excitement to the Larson family”
- Jared nearly setting my car battery on fire
- and Michaela making my niece cry the first time she met her.

Through all the bad ideas, one thing kept coming back to mind. It was a text message that Jared sent to me early in the relationship. Now, before I get to what the text actually said, I better explain something:

Whether Jared likes to admit it or not, we’re an awful lot alike.

- We read the same books.
- We quote the same movies.
- We are both undeniably handsome ---[After laughter... perhaps too much laughter] Good, people are paying attention.
- We both love K-State.
- Thanks to some incredible influences, we both know the true value of faith, family and friends.
- And, finally, we’re stoic.

Typical reactions when encountering and exciting situation usually involve some combination of jumping up and down, yelling, high fives and hugs. The typical Larson male reaction, on the other hand, involves one of us saying “Oh, really? That’s good.”

I bring this point up because Jared’s text message that night seemed to advance a bit beyond the typical stoic Larsonese. I asked him how date #2 went. His reply?

“She might be around for awhile.”

That may not sound like much to some folks, but in the stoic Larson vernacular, it’s high, high praise. It was then that I knew that the relationship might be something special.

“She might be around for awhile.”

Jared, I think I speak for everyone here when I say, I’m glad you were right.

Michaela, Welcome to the family.


There you have it. Good or bad, that's not for me to decide. Mostly, I'm just glad that I was able to be a part of things... And I'm also glad that it's over.

That's good news.

Monday, June 13, 2011

LeBron was right

When I woke up this morning, I came to a frightening realization: my life was the same as it was the day before… LeBron was right! (Cue dramatic music.)

You see, following Sunday night’s game six of the NBA Finals – a game in which the Dallas Mavericks secured their spot in NBA history as champions, and the Miami Heat secured its spot in NBA history as… well, a basketball team that was once on TV – Miami’s LeBron James said the following in response to a question about folks that were rooting against his team:

 “All the people that were rooting on me to fail, at the end of the day, they have to wake up tomorrow and have the same life that they had before they woke up today. They have the same personal problems they had today. I’m going to continue to live the way I want to live and continue to do the things that I want to do with me and my family and be happy with that. They can get a few days or a few months or whatever the case may be on being happy about not only myself, but the Miami Heat not accomplishing their goal. But they have to get back to the real world at some point.”

Response to LeBron’s comment has already run rampant, and it seems that each person who encounters the diatribe interprets it in one of two ways.

Translation 1 (LeBron’s a regular guy):
“It’s unfortunate that some folks find happiness by rooting for people to fail at their chosen professions; cheering for folks to miss out on their lifelong dreams. Alas, anyone who might do such a thing probably has worries greater than basketball in the grand scheme of things*. While my detractors may feel good now, problems don’t typically disappear. I wish them all the best in making the most of life. God bless.”

*So, I shouldn’t have bought a Bucknell t-shirt in 2005? Whoops… Sorry, Jayhawks.**

**Note: I’m not really sorry.

Translation 2 (LeBron’s an elitist):
 “Sure, my team lost, but I still have money… oodles and oodles of money. Once I’m done talking to you yokels, I’m going to drive my Benz home and watch movies in my home theater, which – by the way - is larger than your house. Oh yeah, good luck with your mortgage payment, let alone feeding your homely children. Later this week I might take a private jet to some exotic location where folks will wait on me hand-and-foot. Don’t people say “happiness is buying whatever you want”? No? You say that sounds pretty arrogant? Oh well, they SHOULD say it. At no point during the next few months that these putzes are celebrating a championship (that they did nothing to earn) will I even consider mowing a lawn or washing a dish. Did I mention that I get paid absurd amounts of money to PLAY A GAME? Ka-CHING!”

The translations may or may not have merit. The only thing we can really be sure of is that LeBron should practice that whole “think before you speak” thing. While I can’t be sure of his true intentions with the comment, I would like to offer up my own guess…

If we’re really going to sit back and examine things, I have to admit that the waking realization that my life is the same as it was yesterday was not frightening. After all, I enjoy my life and all the awkward stories that come with it. The frightening part comes from the fact that LeBron predicted the future: my life didn’t change overnight! His nickname – pushed by his teams, the NBA, and even James himself – has been “King James*” to this point in his career; however, after the wisdom he spewed last night, I think “The Oracle” may be more fitting. 

*Note to self: Did LeBron translate the Bible? Research this.

What do I think? I think LeBron is already thinking about life after basketball. What career will he move on to? …Fortune telling of the so-obvious-it’s-stupid variety. I don’t know about you, but I haven’t seen a commercial featuring fortune-teller Miss Cleo in a long time. LeBron can fill the void. In fact, I have a strong desire to call Mr. Bron right now for my free psychic reading. Can I expect a free meal in the future? Should I let sleeping dogs lie? Will I wake up to the same life tomorrow as I did today?

To date, LeBron is 100-percent on predicting my future.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Here's to some semblance of intelligent thought

In just over one week, my brother is getting married. It’s an exciting time and it’s an event that provides my family with plenty to think about. How many people will show up? Will it rain? How will Derek respond to countless mentions that he’s nearly the last single guy left standing in all of his extended family? Whatever the answers to those questions may be*, it’s bound to be a great evening. Well, except for maybe one part…

*My best guesses: 1. Plenty; 2. No rain; 3. An awkward combination of fidgeting, saying “some day” and attempting to change the subject. (Beautiful evening, isn’t it?)

As the “best* man” in the ceremony, I’m tasked with giving a toast at the wedding reception. It is an honor to have the opportunity and there’s no shortage of good things to say about the new couple… It’s just that I have established a pretty solid reputation of despising public speaking. I’m not really sure where or when this aversion began, but I know that it certainly evolved over time. What began as simple nerves became a fear of actually being nervous ABOUT being nervous.**

*Term used as loosely as possible. I tried to get them to list it as “Best We Could Do On Short Notice” in the program, but to no avail.

**Which makes about as much sense as devouring three-pounds of fudge in attempt to mask depression after you realize you’ve gained a couple pounds.

Truth told, I know I’ll be nervous when dropping my profound wisdom (translation: jokes recited from Laffy Taffy wrappers) on those in attendance, but I’ve learned that such things are not worth dwelling. The content of my toast, however, is. This is my chance to share my thoughts of what a successful marriage involves*, relay embarrassing stories about my brother**, or to hone my stand-up comedy act comprised completely of chicken jokes that don’t really make sense.***

*Two televisions. 

**No chance, as I’d be opening myself up to ridiculous ridicule some day in the future. Tales of my donut-induced tantrums have no place at wedding receptions.

***Why did the chicken cross the road? Because the road had it coming.

By this point, the speech has a pretty good foundation, meaning there have been plenty of ideas that have been tossed aside. In the spirit of transparency, I think it’s only fair that I share the ideas that won’t make it into the toast.

-    Interpretive dance.
-    A mimed reenactment of the family’s reaction to news of the engagement.
-    A diorama of the basement where my brother and I staged many epic battles in the NES classic Baseball Stars 2.
-    Def Leppard’s “Pour Some Sugar On Me”
-    A reception-wide staring contest.
-    An attempt to see how many times I can utter “dude” in two minutes.
-    A surprise appearance by a guy who used to cut former K-State basketball coach Tom Asbury’s hair.
-    Live updates from the Royals-Cardinals game that evening.
-    An auction for my autographed photo of Bob Barker. (This item is priceless.)
-    Any semblance of intelligent thought.*

*Actually, I’m still working on fitting this in. Good luck, Derek.

Saturday, June 04, 2011

Being Derek Larson

What's it like to be a 20-something male with no particular plans on a summer Saturday? Peek through this secret doorway for a look at my morning.

After sleeping in until 8:30 a.m., consuming more coffee than the Folgers family and completing an abundance of important work online (translation: checking fantasy baseball lineups and reading up on new movies) I determine that it's time to actually be productive. Alas, my own incompetence attempts to halt things. When dressing after my shower (please note: I do dress after my shower, not before or during... I find that lifestyle choice to be an important one) a grab a pair of socks, only to discover that said pair does not match. It seems that, on occasion, the tedious nature of matching socks renders my mind to a barely-functional state. Thus, I end up with socks paired despite their non-matching nature. I am not yet worried about this boredom-inspired brain flubbing, however I might grow concerned if such carelessness carries into the realm of walking down long flights of stairs or driving on straight roads. 

The first stopping after leaving my apartment is the ATM just outside. For some reason, I feel compelled to have cash in my pocket today. It's as if my conscience really wants to have something to frighteningly rip out of my pocket if I get mugged on the mean streets of MHK... That or I'll consider stopping by a friendly garage sale if I happen upon one. The ATM sits next to a laundromat, where I have to circle around a group of six middle-aged women sitting just outside the door. A normal person might assume that these ladies are simply waiting for their laundry to wash and/or dry and decided to enjoy the not-yet-blistering temperatures of this Saturday morning. On the other hand, as I punch in my pin number at the ATM I wonder to myself whether these women are actually in some sort of Oprah-inspired gang. I know her show is now off the air, but did she start some sort of movement among the moms of the world as she signed off? Am I going to be beaten with hardbound editions of her favorite books once I get my cash? Not even Dr. Phil's hokey advice can help me at this point.

I escape from the threatening horde of women with no injuries and make it to my car. It's at this point that I'm reminded about a quirk with my vehicle that has become all too apparent lately. You see, when it rains, the rear door on the passenger side of my car literally holds water, which later drips out of the door at the pace of some sort of water-torture device. It's an odd experience to open my car door after a rain storm and hear water sloshing as if Big Van Vader had just belly-flopped into my bathtub.

My destination, after setting off in the SS Minnow, is Best Buy. It's there that I am privileged to take part in the standard conversation one always falls into when they are shopping for nothing in particular.
Employee: Hi. How are you?
Derek: I'm fine. How are you doing?
Employee: Good. Can I help you find anything.
Derek: Nope. Just looking around.
Employee: Okay. Well let me know if I can help.
Derek: You bet.
This one-act play is not an unusual one. Again, it's one I take part in nearly every time I go to Best Buy. What made today different was that I played the role of Derek* three different times, each with the same overanxious employee opposite me. Whether this guy considered the first two interactions rehearsals for the grand finale, I'll never know. I do know, however, that I should have decided to mess with the guy a bit by the third time. "Yes, you can help. Where's the Betamax section?"

*I do a pretty stellar imitation of myself.

I walk away from the electronics store with nothing new to my name, as I've become rather good at talking myself out of impulse purchases in recent years. Yes, Blazing Saddles is a classic film, but the fact that I already own it on DVD probably means I don't need to add it to my Blu-Ray library. With my watch reading 11:30 and my stomach rumbling (apparently coffee and vitamins are not a complete breakfast... weird) I decide to check out a Chinese restaurant that opened recently. The restaurant features "Express" as part of it's name, so I figure that the drive-thru might be the way to go, meaning I can then eat my lunch at the park. Alas, I soon discover that this eatery must be train-themed on the inside, as the drive-thru service certainly does not bring the word express to mind. As I wait, and wait, and wait for my food, I begin to wonder whether my food is actually being delivered from China. Whatever the case, it arrives and I head to the park, where I intend to eat in my pirate ship of a car with the windows rolled down.

I don't know about you, but when I eat Chinese food, I avoid chopsticks and stick to a fork. Alas, those who prepped my order did not include a fork when they passed it through the drive-thru window. Time for chopsticks. I can probably handle the chunks of sweet-and-sour pork with them. Unfortunately, chopsticks aren't included, either. There's no fork, no spoon, no spork, no knife, no chopsticks, nothing but a napkin. Being the absent-minded person I am, I forgot to shove any cutlery or flatware into my pockets as I left my apartment, meaning I am face with the choice of eating with my hands in the middle of the public park or driving home to eat in a civilized fashion.* With fear of being arrested for public indecency (I would have made that much of a mess), I choose the latter.

*Term used loosely. I'm not sure eating on my couch while watching ESPNews can be considered civilized by many.

As I prepare to eat, I realize that this restaurant already has two strikes against it: slow service and inability to provide utensils essential to the eating process. If the food is no good, the place has struck out. Luckily, the pork comes through. It's good. Very good. Sure, there are too many onions included, but I've become quite accustomed to picking around those in several dishes. I eat my fill, stuffing myself to the point where I'm unsure that I can move off my couch. At that point, it's fortune cookie time.

My fortune: Good ideas will spring forth naturally from your mind in the coming week.

... I think there might be something to that fortune. I did fit in a nap this afternoon, after all.

Wednesday, June 01, 2011

Quick observation - June 1

In recent months I have developed a bit of a Twitter addiction. What’s not to love about the web phenomenon, after all? (Well, other than the name… And the 140-character limit per tweet… And the folks that tweet things like “Just went to Wal-Mart. Tired.”) In an age where seemingly everyone has some sort of device that can access the Internet (“What? Janie sneezed? Let’s check WebMD… Just let me access the web browser on my Chapstick tube), it’s a great way to keep up with news as it is very literally happening. (Granted, I have yet to see a tweet tweeted in the midst of someone’s fall down the stairs, but it’s probably coming soon.) Case in point, I knew that Eric Hosmer had earned a promotion to the Major Leagues two minutes before it was first mentioned on the radio. Thanks Twitter.

Alas, there’s a current Twitter trend out there that I can’t commit to. Whether through their own volition or automated pedometer-like devices, folks tweet the distance they run and the amount of time it takes them. I understand that this could serve as motivation for some, but for me, well, it mostly feeds my cynical side. I’m thisclose to continually tweeting things like “Considered running two miles… then fell into a fit of deep laughter. Time: 00:00:17.”

Twitter: Feeding my desire to make smartass remarks each and every day.