Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Mr. Broken Back

So, I haven't written in a while. It's not that I haven't met anybody interesting, because I have. I still meet someone new everyday. But I've just been so tired at the end of the day that I haven't hit up my blog. Then I say, "I'll do it tomorrow" . . . and we all know what procrastination does to us.

I did meet somebody very inspiring today. There was a guy at the gym sitting next to me doing calf raises on a machine. He was terribly hunched over, and I could tell each rep pained him somehow.

"Dude, are you okay?" I asked.

"Ya, it just hurts," the guy said. "It's my first day in the gym in about a year."

"Welcome back man," I replied. "I know how laziness can get us."

"Naw man I wasn't lazy. I broke my back a year ago." My mouth dropped.

"How did it feel when you broke it?" I asked.

"It's pretty scary when I hit and felt everything crack. I couldn't move for a little bit, but luckily it wasn't serious enough to paralyze me. I'm just glad to be back."

Everything can change in a moment. Meeting this man has made me want to stop complaining and start being thankful that every morning I can open my eyes, stand on my feet, and walk.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Fear and Fortune Cookies

It all started with a fortune cookie I got from Panda Express today:

People find it difficult to resist your persuasive manner.

I thought it was kind of cool and put it in my pocket. Later that night I was at the gym swimming laps. There was an older man about 64 years old sitting in a chair in his bathing suit relaxing and watching the swimmers.

"Hey, how come you aren't in the water?" I asked jokingly.

"I can't swim," the man replied. I honestly thought everybody knew how to swim. If not, then everybody should learn!

"How come you can't swim? Didn't you learn as a kid?"

"When I was a little boy I almost drowned," he looked up and made coughing noises. "Every since then I've been terrified of the water."

That fortune cookie popped into my head.

"Get in the water," I said. "I will teach you right now."

The man looked a little surprised.

"Come on, get in. You need to know how to swim." To my surprise, he jumped in the water!

First he practiced kicking and learned how to keep his body afloat. Then we moved in to the actual freestyle technique. Finally, we learned breathing. After 30 minutes, the man swam a full lap by himself. He was so happy to have overcome a 6-year old fear.

My toast for the day: Here's to facing your fears and fortune cookies!

Monday, July 12, 2010

The Red Head

"My sister would kill to have that hair, you know," I said to a red-headed girl standing next to me at a stop light.

"Well thanks," she laughed. "I kind of like it now, but not so much when I was a kid."

"Did you get teased a lot? What would kids say?"

"Oh yeah, other kids would always pick on me and call me names like "orange-head" or "red," it was pretty sad."

I laughed with her, mostly because I was amazed at the lack of creativity from the kids at her school.

"Well, I'll bet you like it now," I said.

"I love it now. Most girls want to have this hair, red and super curly. I can't lie, though . . . I would love to have straight blond hair. I would trade for that any day."

Question: Why do girls always want hair they don't have?

Saturday, July 10, 2010

The Beach Runner

I've moved down to CA for a month. It sucks being away from my wife, but she's extremely busy with a heavy class load and I thought I could go down to California and make some money. We said difficult goodbyes on Thursday. Today I ran from my house to the beach in Huntington Beach.

"It's a beautiful night for a run, huh?" I said to a guy with a dog at the beach.

"Ya, it's perfect right now and in the morning."

"Do you go running a lot?"

"Usually I run six miles every morning. I like to run on the sand because it really strengthens your legs. I've found when you put on running shoes after sand running you feel stronger and more stable."

We parted ways and I sat down on a log. Then I turned back and watched the guy walk away with his dog, and it hit me: I really missed my wife. I missed her companionship, her love, and her support. I missed seeing her next to me in the mornings and when I go to bed. I missed her always asking me for a small "bitesy" of food. I ran home and the next day I woke up, quit the job I had, and drove home to her.

Some conversations, like this one, seem inconsequential. But the moment right after a conversation ends could be the most important. After every conversation with a stranger there is a small moment when I am more introspective. My senses feel heightened. I think of it like a "runner's high," instead it's a "talker's high." And it was in that moment that I made the decision to come home. My wife's smile, the ten-hour drive . . . all can be traced back to a guy with a dog at the beach.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

The Debt Collector

Today I met a guy that, in his own words, "lives off the stupid mistakes of other people." He is a debt collector.

"So what's the funniest or craziest thing you've heard over the phone?"

He said what follows in a weird nonchalant way with a soft grin, as if he was ordering ice cream.

"I've heard things like 'I'm gonna kill your mother,' or 'I'm gonna rape you.' I've also heard people scream they are going to blow up my office. We've had so many bomb threats the police don't even care anymore. In fact, the only person that's come to this office has come to pay a thousand dollar debt."

"So what do you say when you get those crazy threats?"

"Well, if they say 'I'm gonna kick your ___,' then I say, 'Then bring your checkbook with you because after you kick my ___ you're still gonna have to pay your debt.' Or 'Well, make sure you strap a check to the bomb.' The killing-my-mom threat made me laugh the most. I said, 'Well, my mama's going to ask you for a check so have it ready.'"

This is a guy who doesn't get offended. He gets paid.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Mr. Chicken Sub

Any time I catch someone glancing at me I smile at them. It erases the feeling of isolation between me and the other person. It's a connector.

"Hi, I'll have the footlong Spicy Italian please," I say.

"That sounds like a good one," the guy behind me said.

"I think it's the best one on the menu hands down. Which one are you gonna get?"

"You've convinced me. I'm gonna get the Italian. My wife put me on a diet so lately I've been ordering those Omega-3-chicken-whatever subs. But today, since I'm traveling, I think I'm entitled to treat myself to a real sub this time."

He told me he was heading to Minnesota for his daughter's wedding. In a weird twist him and his wife are flying out today on different airplanes from different airports. That's the only way they could use their frequent flyer points. He grabbed his sandwich and rushed out the door to catch his flight.

Sure he's about to go to one of the happiest days of his life: his daughter's marriage. But I like to think eating the Spicy Italian made him a little more happy today . . . and I had a hand in that.

The Flower Shop

One thing I love about talking to people is getting instant recommendations on things I don't understand. Like flowers.

I was at the flower shop today and met a nice old lady. I was choosing what kind of flower to get my sweetie, but they didn't have the traditional roses. So I asked for her preference.

"Go for the Gerbera Daisy," she said. "They are beautiful, like a big puff of color on top of a stem. For any woman, you can't go wrong with a gerbera daisy. Every woman I've ever known has loved them."

I got the gerbera daisy and my wife loved it. Sometimes a stranger's opinion can make you look so much better than you are. Thanks to her, my wife must think I have great taste when it comes to flowers.

Little does she know that, before I walked into the store today, I honestly thought they were called "Gerber Daisies." Yes . . . like the baby food.

Monday, July 5, 2010

An Old Friend

Mojo started barking at a man while he was loading up his car for a road trip this morning. Since barking dogs are annoying, I immediately went up to make friends with the man. I've found any inconvenience you cause can be washed away if you smile and talk to them.

"He's a friend!!!" I yelled at Mojo.

"Yes," the man replied with a thick Spanish accent,"I'm a friend!"

I walked over to his car to chat it up with him. With every step I took he looked more and more familiar.

"Do I know you from somewhere?" I asked.

"Do you have any friends who are General Authorities?" He replied.

And then it hit me. "You're Elder Amado!" I shouted. I was a missionary in Peru for two years back from 2004 to 2006, and this man was in charge of Western South America. I had heard him speak several times.

"You gave a couple of amazing talks," I said. "I remember one was three hours, and then an hour more after the break!"

"You're lucky," he smiled. "I've been known to talk for six!"

Here was a man who had such a huge influence on me as a missionary. I thanked him and moved to shake his hand (I would have hugged him but I had just gotten home from the gym).

He pulled me forward. "No, no, no . . . good friends have to hug."

Most of the time with The Amigo Project I get to meet new people. This was a special moment where the desire to meet someone knew led me to connect with an old friend.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

The Young Man

In church today a little kid was called up to the stand. The Bishop had found him worthy to receive the Priesthood, which is a very special moment for boys 12 years old and up. It is akin to a child's bar-mitzvah in Jewish tradition. I went up to meet him afterwards.

"Wow, the Priesthood is a wonderful power you will have," I said.

"Yup," was his reply.

"Are you ready to pass the Sacrament like Jesus did? Have you read how gently and reverently He passed it to his disciples?"

"Yes, and I'm excited to do it."

"Well congratulations on living your life worthily to receive such a great blessing. I want you to know when the Bishop said, 'All in favor of this boy receiving the Priesthood please signal by the uplifted hand,' I raised my hand high for you!"

"Thanks," he replied.

It obviously wasn't the most interesting of conversations, but I could tell the boy was learning to take his first steps into manhood.

He was about to receive the Power of God--wearing a "Looney Tunes" tie.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

The Death Defyers

My wife and I went to a cool little natural rock slide up a canyon by our house. We had heard there was a sweet bike jump into a pond somewhere--we just didn't know where. Thanks to The Amigo Project, I found out where . . . and then some.

"Hey man, those board shorts are sweet," I said to a guy in a neon-colored swimsuit.

"Ya, I like them. I got them at a surf shop where I'm from in Santa Cruz, CA." We talked a little bit about surfing and some northern spots. I asked if he'd ever been to Maverick's.

"Naw man, it's pretty much impossible there. Even when there are good waves, it's cold and there's sharks and it just sucks."

I asked him and his friends if they knew where the bike jump was. They invited us along to follow them there. I watched one of them go off it on his bike and asked, "Do you think that bike could hold me? Cause I'd love to try that!"

Thanks to The Amigo Project, I met some cool people, found a great bike jump, and even got to borrow a bike. And the rest is history:

Parents of a Schnauzer

Today my dog Mojo joined in on The Amigo Project. As soon as we left the house for his nightly walk to the park he started getting to know everyone around him.

His first Amigo wasn't really an amigo. It was a beautiful golden labrador puppy. Since those are bigger than my dog they got off to a rough start. But the owner was a nice guy who lives across the street from me. We talked for a while about how huge his dog is going to get. He goes to a Christian church his dad runs in the next city over. When I asked him how attendance was he smiled and said, "Not many people go to church anymore . . . I hope it picks up some." I hope so, too.

Next Mojo made friends with a Schnauzer. I got to know the owners while they were running around at the park. We got to talking about the World Cup. I fully expected them to be rooting for Argentina.

"Heck no! We are rooting for Germany all the way tomorrow. The Argentines are way too prideful. They think they're better than everybody else."

Whether they are right about that or not, this is why I love the World Cup. Every four years we get to vent pent-up international rage on the soccer field.

Thanks, Mojo!

Thursday, July 1, 2010

The Retired Registrar

"Yes! My front head light blinked!"

We were both staring through an office window as both our cars were getting their safety and emissions checks.

"Why are you so excited?" I asked.

"My front blinker sometimes won't turn on and I really don't want to pay to get it fixed. But it blinked when it counted so I'm safe!"

"Sweet!" I replied. "What do you do for a living?"

"I'm a bum!" he practically shouted. "I used to work for a phone company. But they forced me to retire. So now I'm living off my retirement package. A lot of my friends had to get jobs like 2 months after we left, and I remember thinking, 'What the heck for?' I don't have a lot of money, but I love not having to go to work!"

The mechanic came in a wrote "Passed" on my form. It's so much better than seeing a giant red "FAILED" stamp.

While I don't admire his train of thought, but how he said goodbye made me laugh as I walked to my car:

"Bye! Enjoy Life!"