Saturday, October 29, 2016

Riding on the Shoulders

I’ve had the photograph for years. Taken in 1938 in Spokane, Washington, it’s a pic of my father and his parents on a motorcycle. It sits atop my office desk at home on Sunnyside Drive. I’m looking at it right now.

With the talent of some really creative Kansas friends, the photo will be on the cover of the book I’m writing. I hope it captures the essence and spirit of the story.

So... the book is done.

Beta read (x5), copy edited (x2), firewall copy edited. It’s in the hands of the publish on demand vendor and will be available for presale (whatever that means) sometime before the holidays, assuming the sky doesn’t fall.

It’s a creative non-fiction family memoir. Think The Glass Castle or Angle of Repose, two of the dozens of books I devoured in the runup to writing. Mine’s a period piece, taking place from 1931 to 1956 and is titled, Spifflicated (1930s slang for drunk).

A houseboat honeymoon down the Mississippi, a cross-country motorcycle adventure, on the front line of FDR’s New Deal projects, evacuation from Alaska in the weeks after Pearl Harbor, my grandmother’s “Rosie the Riveter” experience, a move to Kansas and the largest-producing oil field in North America.

Three years of purposeful conversations with my father about his troubled childhood with two alcoholic parents prompted me. Pop died a year ago, before it was done.

If you follow this blog or my social media posts, I’ve made no secret of the fact that I’m a recovering alcoholic. Twenty-five years after my last drink, I share 25 years of the lives of those from whom I sprang, whose DNA and blood I carry.

A reviewer called it “an extraordinary memoir of dysfunction, sadness and redemption. Mike Matson captures the insidiousness of the illness of alcoholism in a way only one who has experienced it can. A story of one family’s journey through heartache, abandonment and eventually, forgiveness.”

Wow. Uh... holy crap.

I continue to struggle with the self-centered aspect of my illness and the concept of writing a book. My God, the entire enterprise just screams, “Look at me!” In that struggle, I take comfort in defining a target audience in three niches: friends, family and those in the addiction recovery community — giving and receiving.

(Oh, btw, during the writing of this book, I have learned the difference between the em and en dash).

So I got that goin’ for me. Which is nice.

I’m also building a website and this blog will eventually get migrated over there, once I figure out the widgets, summary blocks, extensible markup language and other technical stuff.

I’m glad it’s done. My wife is glad it’s done. (Omigod is she glad it’s done). Lady and Scout are glad it’s done. My extended family is glad it’s done.

It’s a book about systems and structures. What we know and what we don’t know. It’s about geology, theology and genetic predisposition. It’s about abandonment, loss and suffering. It’s about what we believe and the peace of mind we can achieve if we know how.

And it’s about all the shit that we let get in the way.

Riding on the shoulders of my father and his parents.

Friday, September 16, 2016

Three Dozen Random Thoughts

1. My wifes been away for three days (State Fair). Not sure who misses her more, me or the dogs.

2. When I lived in Hays in the 80s, a friend had a cat named Toulon. I think of that cat every time I pass the Toulon Road exit on I-70.

3. When I was 21, I would act on my first thought.

4. Theyre still World Champions and will be for another month-and-a-half.

5. Since my father died, Ive been a lot more attentive to my mother.

6. 2000-2010 doesnt stand out as a distinct decade the way the 70s, 80s and 90s do.

7. The Kaw at Manhattan. Running full.
7. The Kaw is behaving dangerously like its 1993.

8. I like the feel of Indian summer on my increasingly enlarging forehead.

9. What, exactly, is the pompatus of love?

10. Humidity. September. Kansas.

11. I want a pair of dogs named Jack and Bobby.

12. Saw a billboard pimping high quality cremation. As opposed to what, tossing Grandma on the campfire?

13. At 31, I tended to make up my mind after only one experience.

14. Jackie loves all the elements -- wind, snow, rain, storms.

15. Good journalism starts with good journalists.

16. I get the impression Bob Dole is constitutionally incapable of fading away.

17. Pondered adapting the lyrics to make it Yordano Ventura Highway, but still haven't figured out what to do with alligator lizards in the air.

18. Do all the good you can seems like it oughta be a damned effective political message.

19. Joseph Gordon-Levitt is becoming a favorite.

20. Never had a craft beer. They came along after I quit drinking.

21. Sometimes obligations are a gold-plated pain in the ass.

22. When I was 41, I realized McLuhan was right. The medium is the message. 

23. Only a couple of months remain in the Jubilee Year of Mercy. 

24. All of us have debts to pay.

25. We are surrounded by dysfunction, idiosyncrasies and odd ways of being. Rarely do we go upstream.

26. My fathers mother is buried in a Catholic cemetery in west Wichita. I should visit her grave more often.

27. When I hear certain songs from the past, I am reminded of my true love at that moment.

28. What I used to call spin, today is anarrative.

29. Some days I want to throw my smart phone in the river.

30. Unless you want a well-reasoned admonition on loyalty, do not boo at a K-State sporting event within proximity of my wife. 

31. I am more honest in my writing than in person.

32. At 51, I was no longer surprised at how small the circles are in Kansas.

34. Cold and wet off the presses.
33. Steve Inskeep comes across like a know-it-all on Morning Edition.    

34. Why do I bother with a wet newspaper -- especially when the news inside is a day old before it even comes off the press?

35. In the days and weeks immediately following a speeding ticket I slow down. The system works.

36. Do the Durans really smell like they sound?

Monday, August 22, 2016

Dulcet Tones

Standing in the bathroom of a ranch house he designed and helped build on the High Plains of western Kansas, his face lathered, my father sang while he shaved.

“O bury me not, on the lone prairie...”

“Sang” is generous. Since he recognized his own melodic shortcomings, his singing-while-shaving was exaggerated, over the top. He knew if tried to sing it straight, he’d have not been able to pull it off.

And James E. was big on control.

"The happy beat."
The man was tone deaf. I think he enjoyed music as much as the next man, he just couldn’t carry a tune to save his life. Standing between my parents as a child during church services was a new experience in equilibrium. Mom was a lark. The old man may have been singing from the same hymnal, may have even recognized a quarter note from a held whole note, but the sounds he emitted bore little, if any, resemblance to what any reasonable person would call “music.”

The shaving lather was whipped up with a shaving brush from some shaving soap perched at the bottom of a shaving mug designed for this express purpose. I seem to recall it bore an image of a sailing ship. O bury me not in the deep blue sea?

He used a Gillette Super Speed Razor and changed blades from his Blue Blade Dispenser, which allowed its consumers to install a new blade without the worry of slicing off the tip of a digit or three. After the new blade was in place in the ship’s hold, you’d ratchet down the cargo bay doors in much the same fashion that the space shuttle astronauts would in outer space. 

That Gillette Blue Blade wasn’t going anywhere. 

We’re about a month shy of the one-year anniversary of Pop’s death. His wife is slowly, surely, painfully, jettisoning some of his stuff – especially the junk he brought with him into that marriage from his first – the one to my mom. I recently inherited a stack of his LP’s.

It’s quite the eclectic collection. Jimmy Dean, Sons of the Pioneers, the Ray Conniff Singers, Harry Belafonte, et al. Perusing the titles is like a journey back to 1965 into my father’s heart, mind and soul. 

Careful, Pop. The Ray Conniff Singers are the gateway to the Carpenters. Then before you know it, you’re jonesin’ for Simon & Garfunkel.

It took me four days to hitchhike from Saginaw.

James E., ca. 1965
A year without the old man. Tryna figure out WTF, exactly, I will do with his 33 1/3 Long Playing “new orthophonic” high fidelity MIRACLE*SURFACE (RCA’s caps) vinyl recordings. I’ve not owned a turntable since the days of Oliver North and Fawn Hall.

I suspect it’s a happy memory because so many of them with my father during my childhood are not. Unresolved anger issues stemming from his parents’ behavior during his own childhood. I think there’s a book due out this fall that will drill a little deeper.

So the happy ones tend to stick out.

O bury me not on the lone prairie 
Where the coyotes howl and the wind blows free.

Which, when you think about it, is sort of the way it’s supposed to work.

Saturday, August 13, 2016

My Apple Berry Twist/Honeyberry Hula Summer

It was the middle of June when I first noticed the lumps of coagulated Cascade that remained in the little receptacle on the inside of the dishwasher door. Thinking a few moves ahead, resigning myself to the inevitable, I break out the Gain Apple Berry Twist dishwashing liquid and go old school. (JM cooks, MM cleans up. The system works. Don’t f--- with it).

Communicate with the home appliance repair outfit. We’ll be there in two weeks. A responsible adult over the age of 18 needs to be home. Watch for us sometime between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. We’ll send you an email the day before with a narrowed window to mitigate your discontent and allow you some semblance of organization on the day we’re to arrive and effect the repairs to your dishwasher. (Paraphrasing).

Repairman arrives. He’s named Mark. About my age. Friendly, with the social skills that come with time and experience. I retreat to the office and get back to work, sounds of crapped out dishwasher diagnosis emanating from the kitchen. 

Apple Berry Twist Honeyberry Hula.
Mark says you need a new pump. We’ll order one. It’ll arrive here at your home within a week. Let’s find a mutually available day when I can come back and install that bad boy. K. Second week of July.

Back to the Gain Apple Berry Twist.

New pump appears on my doorstep within the week Mark said it would. Installation Day and email arrive, narrowing the between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. window to between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m.

This time it’s Rick, a younger version of Mark (read: social skills still developing). Turns out the pump that appeared on my doorstep is for a washing machine, not a dishwasher. Rick’s pissed and launches into a series of disparaging remarks about his colleagues in the home appliance part distribution chain. 

I think to myself, take a pill, dude. I’m the one who’s gonna be two more weeks elbow-deep in Gain Apple Berry Twist Suds (Proctor & Gamble’s caps).

Once more with the mutually convenient day calendar dance. Mid-August. Few days later, a box leaking oil arrives on my doorstep. I could bust it open and inspect it, but my oil leaking dishwasher pump diagnostic/intervention skills are not fully developed. 

By now, I’ve drained my bottle of Gain Apple Berry Twist and moved on to Gain Honeyberry Hula. Yanno, just to mix things up. (WTF is a honeyberry, I wondered?) Wonder no more.

Mid-August. Email narrowing the between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. window to between 3:15 p.m. and 5:15 p.m. Mark again. Major surgery, this dishwasher pump installation bidness. Mark sutures up the patient and delivers the bad news to the next of kin. Correct pump this time, but now the water line leading to the dishwasher is leaking.

With all the social skill that time and experience has afforded him, Mark delivers a spiel that translates to: Done all we can do. You gotta call a plumber. 

I’ll do that Monday. Too bad, really. Ive sorta grown accustomed to the smell of the Honeyberry.

Saturday, July 30, 2016

Future Boy

Denver this weekend with my son and daughter-in-law. Among the many reasons I love spending time with my son is the opportunity to dissect Royals baseball. Astute observers of this space will recall Scott Michael Matson’s Royals Love is genetic. He can’t help it. He’s powerless to fight it.
Surrender, Dorothy.

Today, we both (each?) have a much greater appreciation for what this team accomplished in 2014 and 2015. Now, with the benefit of the Royals’ 2016 clank and 20/20 hindsight, we better understand how all the stars, moons and Rex Hudler’s planets aligned during those two years.

The three best relief pitchers in the game each with an assigned inning, Hosmer and Moose ascending and a wide-open capturing of a window of opportunity related to Messrs. Young, Morales, Medlen, et al. 

‘14 and ‘15 also happened when the Tigers, Tribe, White Sox and Twinkies were down. Right now, the Indians look like the Atlanta Braves of 1991.

Father and son at the '14 World Series.
Scott thinks we’ll sign one of the Big Three Free Agents (my caps) after 2017: Cain, Hosmer and Moustakas. His money is on Moustakas. The logic is compelling: Cain’s increasingly injury-prone and he’ll be 31. On-the-field production aside, Hosmer’s a big-market commodity in a small market.

He looks at the future and sees a core of Moustakas, Perez, Cuthbert, Hunter Dozier and Raul Mondesi. Three of them are third basemen, so maybe Moose switches to first. 

Scott thinks, and I tend to agree, Brett Eibner is the latest in a decades long series of adequate-but-by-no-means-outstanding Kansas City Royals right fielders. (See also: Alex Rios, Jeff Francouer, Daryl Motley, Pat Sheridan, Tom Poquette.)

If we want Salvy to have a Yadier Molina-esque career, he should catch 100 games and split the other 50 at first base or DH. 

I thought Whit Merrifield was the second coming of Ben Zobrist. A more realistic assessment is he’s the second coming of Greg Pryor. My son says there’s a reason he was a 28-year old rookie.

We each (both?) scratch our heads over Yordano Ventura. Flashes of brilliance, interrupted by periods of getting rocked. But he’s locked into a team-friendly contract, so let’s continue to give him the benefit of the doubt.

A couple more days to the trade deadline. We’re apparently shopping Volquez and Morales, Davis and Kennedy. Word is we’re asking for top-level prospects in return, guys who will be MLB-ready in 2017. No takers so far. Which means Volquez and Morales likely have two more months in the powder blue, then seeya.

Still, my son argues, there is reason for optimism. The cyclical nature of the game these days, combined with the future core and Dayton Moore’s abilities, lead Scott to believe we’ll be competitive in the Central and fighting for playoff berths again soon.

Scott also thinks Ned Yost is gone after this year. One way or the other. Then who? I have an idea. Except his days and night are sort of full these days, what with the saving of lives and the cutting edge pulmonary research.

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Battleship Steering

My father’s parents lived colorful lives, filled with adventure, fueled by alcohol. For a time during World War II, my grandmother led a ‘Rosie the Riveter’ existence at the Naval Shipyards in Puget Sound. She landed the job after leaving her husband in Anchorage, Alaska with some attendant extra-marital drama.

I learned this through conversations with my father during the last three years of his life. My erstwhile inner journalist resurfaced and the research allowed me an accurate timeline of their lives. I'm writing a book about them, a creative non-fiction family memoir. Memorial Day reminded me of this excerpt. My grandmother was 31.

Monday, April 12, 1943  
Navy Yard Puget Sound
Bremerton, Washington

The first thing she noticed was the Navy frogmen, diving and resurfacing to ensure the wounded battleship was lined up correctly with the bilge and keel blocks secured to the floor of the soon-to-be dry dock. The caisson gate seals on the business end interrupted the natural flow of Puget Sound into the dock. It drained like a bathtub. A 1,030 foot long, 147 foot wide, 54 foot deep bathtub.

It momentarily took her back a dozen years. The Bonita negotiating the locks at Keokuk, Iowa on the Mississippi.

Even damaged and patched, the U.S.S. West Virginia cut an impressive jib. As the water drained, the ship’s underbelly was revealed. Victoria thought it strangely beautiful, in a mosaic of colors kind of way. Battleship gray, speckled with the pinks, oranges and browns of oxidation.

The lead men and all the shift supervisors were there. The journeymen, quarterman laborers and every one of her female colleagues, too. Victoria was friendly with all her peers, though friends with none of them. Polite to the men in charge and deferential, but only to the point where she let them know if they were interested in anything from her other than ship welding, they were barking up the wrong tree.

When it came to extra-curricular activity and ship welding, Victoria harbored a notion that they need us a helluva lot more than we need them.

She leaned on a pipe fence lining the enormous dry dock and bummed a smoke from the girl standing next to her. Cigarettes were a bit harder to come by this deep into a world war, so she made a mental note to repay this favor. 

All the women wore company-issued navy blue overalls. Victoria had two pair to which she had taken the needle and thread, cinching in the waistlines to allow for a more flattering impression of her figure. The ensemble was made complete by a matching big floppy hat with a brim, which she wore backwards when working, to accommodate her welding mask with a hinged dark tinted glass rectangular-shaped viewing window. 


On the best of days, it was a full hour and fifteen minutes from the time she arose, until she was in the shop, welding torch in hand. She had developed a routine. Walk eight blocks to the ferry port. Make efficient use of the commuting time by bringing along mending or some other portable chore, eight hours welding, more portable chores on the ferry trip back to Everett, eight more blocks of walking, then a couple of hours of mother and son domesticity.

Victoria had fixed her son a pallet in the corner of the living room and sold it by telling him it’d be like camping. Champ did not complain.

My grandmother's high school graduation photo.
As exhausted as she was, it could be worse, she figured. She could have swing shift or graveyard. As it was, she was up before dawn and home after sunset. Victoria developed a habit of enjoying a libation each night before retiring. Straight rye bourbon whiskey. Two fingers neat.

Helps me sleep. God knows I need it. 

Point #2. Check. 


Point #3 would take a little longer than they had planned. Paul Slater would stay in Anchorage at least another year. The M-K bosses had asked and he could not say no. They were careful not to be too specific with him, in terms of an end date.

Victoria’s disappointment that there’d be no reunion for Champ’s 10th birthday was countered with a tinge of pride over Paul’s loyalty to M-K and commitment to a cause greater than himself. She wished she could be more benevolent that way. 

It was exactly the same sentiment the shipyard bosses were hoping to instill, as the workers clustered around the U.S.S. West Virginia at the dry dock. The WeeVee, as its sailors called it, had just arrived from Pearl Harbor where six torpedoes and two bombs scuttled her on the Day That Will Live In Infamy (FDR’s caps). The severely-damaged battleship was salvaged from the murky depths of Pearl Harbor about three months after Victoria and Champ left Anchorage.

The West Virginia was among six battleships that survived December 7th. Five were re-outfitted and re-made battle ready, here at Bremerton.

The company’s motivational speaker that day was a Presbyterian minister from Seattle, known for his fiery, anti-Japanese sermons since the start of the war. On this day, before this congregation, he was dressed like the rest of the workers. Hard hat and overalls. He used a megaphone so everyone could hear. I guess he is sort of a cheerleader, Victoria thought. He led with a gut punch.

“More than a hundred men lost their lives on this battleship at Pearl Harbor.”

The times demanded horrifying detail and the good reverend was only too happy to oblige, describing the West Virginia’s captain, mortally wounded by metal shrapnel as the bombs and torpedoes ripped holes in his vessel. The man refused to leave the bridge and bled to death, giving his life for crew and country.

During repairs at Pearl, they found nearly 70 sailors – “your sons, your brothers” – trapped below decks in flooded compartments. Some were found lying atop steam pipes, the only space they could find air. 

“Three of your husbands – your fathers,” were found in a storeroom compartment. A calendar indicated they lived through December 23. Didn’t make for much of a merry Christmas, he lamented.

“Who did this?” He was closing the deal. “Who did this to your husbands, your brothers, your fathers, your sons?” He lowered the megaphone. A solitary Navy bugler in dress whites blew Taps.

Many of her peers were wiping away tears as they filed back into the shops. No weeping for Victoria, but she put her arm around a woman who was, leaned in close and offered some encouraging words. Victoria whispered a prayer for the souls of all the dearly departed and especially those poor guys below decks. They lived for more than two weeks after December 7. No one knew they were still alive. What a way to go, she thought.

She tied up her bandana, donned her floppy hat backwards, and pulled down her welding mask. Victoria Maday Matson ‘Slater’ fired up her welding torch and did her best to imagine she was applying the flame directly to a particularly sensitive area of each of the eight individual slant-eyed bastards who dropped those torpedoes and bombs. It was not difficult.

Some women cried. Others imagined roasting Japanese fighter pilot kintama

Monday, May 9, 2016

It's Better Here

It wasn’t exactly non-verbal communication, since the man was using his verbs. It was the way his verbs were verbalized that made the diff.
“Is it better here.... (click, click...) OR IS IT BETTER... HERE?”

Without specifically letting me know that it was better on the second option, with the tone of his voice, elevated volume and inflection, the optometrist of my childhood ostensibly left it up to me to choose through which specific lens, my eyesight was, in fact, better.
In a darkened examination room, E’s pointing in all directions on the far wall, with that behemoth of an apparatus containing myriad lenses and dials perched precariously on the bridge of my youthful nose, the man telegraphed what we both knew to be true. I needed new glasses.
After the diagnosis, he was really skilled at steering my mother to the “showroom,” where dozens of eyeglass frames were perched in individualized trays that covered all four walls, interspersed by mirrors. Move the little handle to the right, and an entirely new selection of horn rims and wire frames emerged. 

Skilled, because selling frames was an easy money revenue stream for Dr. Is it Better Here or HERE. Mom soon caught on that we could get the same or better frames, cheaper, at a shop in Twin Lakes and I learned the difference between an optometrist and an optician.
(Though I remained a little fuzzy about what, exactly, went on at the Optimist Club).

The fact that I was a kid, and the man knew enough about my vision patterns to predict that I’d need stronger lenses every couple of years made these annual optometrist appointments somewhat perfunctory. I’d been wearing specs since third grade. The only question remaining was when would I transition from 60’s horn rims to 70’s gold wireframes? The general answer: Long after all my peers and colleagues had. The specific answer: Summer between 7th and 8th grade.

Now firmly entrenched in the precipice of middle age, I have achieved (evolved to..? earned..?) the point in time on the cradle-to-grave chronology that those who render medical-related services tend to be younger than me. 

My dentist looks like his most recent worry was pinning the corsage on his Senior prom date (Do they still do that? Pin corsages on prom dates?) After the weather and Big 12 football, he and I have pretty much exhausted our common interests.

But bless our hearts, we try. 

Kid Dentist: “So, how about that D-line?” 
Me: “Ahghlrzmth, nuhrhft... gawoeyhaugtzh.

Today, I learned that the behemoth of an apparatus containing myriad lenses and dials perched precariously on the bridge of my no longer youthful nose is called a phoropter (FEAUX-ropter). I learned it, by asking my current optometrist, who carries on the time-honored peeper diagnostic tradition. 

She’s 30-something and wields the phoropter with the skill and expertise that comes with experience. She lays the “Is it better here.... (click, click)... or here?” routine on me, though without the telegraphed inferences of her predecessor of my youth.

When these ancillary medical practitioners look at me, their optics reveal someone their parents’ age. They tend to defer accordingly. Thing is, I don’t think of myself as their parents’ age. I’m still not used to it. I guess it depends on from which side of the lenses youre viewing.

So maybe it is better... HERE.