“It Takes a Man to Make That”

I once volunteered to perform a violin/piano duet for the Mission Training Center (MTC) for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Sao Paulo Brazil. I was 24 years old at the time. It was a huge devotional with the presiding bishop of the church visiting from Salt Lake City Utah. He was to be the keynote speaker.

The purpose of the musical number was to bring the spirit of reverence and introspection into the room and into the hearts of all in attendance regardless of their primary language.

I had played the cello, stand up bass, and electric bass guitar in middle and high school in orchestra and Jazz band. But I had never really learned to read music well and had never played the violin. I figured that it would be pretty much the same as the bass but smaller, and that I could just memorize the piece beforehand as I had done throughout high school. I was wrong.

Problems started during our 1 week of practice as we found spare time between our classes on teaching the gospel (proselyting) and learning the portuguese language. My companion (each missionary had a companion with them at almost all times as we worked as missionaries in pairs), Elder Blanchard (“elder” being a title such as doctor or professor followed by the missionary’s last name) played a little bit of piano but was not known for his skills on the keys. I had trouble choosing the right key, and we made adaptations to make the piece easier for us to try and play together.

I don’t know why we thought we could do it. It wasn’t a joke or prank. Maybe we were learning so much about faith and miracles that we just figured it would work out. The day came and we started to play. Because of all the attempts to make it easier I think we were playing in slightly different keys. Some of our sounds seemed to match up but others did not. As a room full of hundreds of American and Brazilian missionaries, including the MTC president, medical staff, the presiding bishop and their wives sat silently and stupefied we played “Come follow me” occasionally in different keys and with all the screechy terrible sounds of novice playing a small string instrument in a auditorium.

Our rendition resembled a hundred pileup on the highway. The destruction seemed to be unending and no one had the power to stop it. I could see the bewildered faces of the presiding bishop, those around him, and the horrified face of the MTC president’s wife (who was in charge of organizing the musical talent). Most of those present couldn’t look up at all. What was worse was that it was close enough to the song that everyone knew what we were trying to play, and must have assumed that we were so nervous that we were tripping all over ourselves. No one had known that I didn’t know how to play the violin in the first place. Likely, because why would anyone ever volunteer to do something like this who didn’t know how to do so, and never had performed on the violin? The MTC president’s wife never even heard us practice, likely for the same reason: why would someone volunteer for something they absolutely could not do?

That’s the question you know? That’s the mystery we are left with.

That “performance” was one of the most stressful experiences of my life. The situation actually sounds like it could be a common trope for nightmares. As the veins pulsed in my forehead and my body shook I worried that an aneurysm or panic attack was imminent.

We finished the “song”, went and sat down, and time passed as blur until the devotional ended and I was approached by a Brazilian missionary. He casually beelined over to me, looked me in the eye and said in beginners english:

“It takes a man to make that.”


By the way, there were plenty of other missionaries that could have played any number of instruments for that devotional. Since musicians were not scarce it was even more bewildering as to why I had volunteered in the first place. Since that experience, a new rule was instituted that all musical performances had to be previewed and pre-approved prior to the performance at the Sao Paulo Mission Training Center.

The Smoking Contest

I used to make videos when I was younger for funsies. They were very simple and very few people saw them so we just did whatever we wanted. I became friends with Brandon who’s actually a very skilled videographer and editor. Because I liked making stupid films and Brandon actually knew how, we made several films together over the years.

The Smoking Contest was an idea for a video in which two guys decide that they’re going to smoke and exercise until one of them dies–the one who dies wins. They win money.

Brandon filmed, edited, and directed the video, and he played it on a local public TV station where he volunteered. Apparently people we knew saw it and thought it was a statement piece against smoking and the dangers of smoking.

Well truth be told that was not our original intent. It was just something cool we wanted to do. Thanks to friends like Brandon, when I got obsessed about putting an idea on film we could make it happen. No matter how dumb it sounded. And no matter how dumb it truly was.

Shane and I were the smokers in the film, Brandon and our friend Jordan were the trainers/coaches who yelled at us to smoke harder. So basically for a whole day we had to take shot after shot of us doing intense physical exercise while actually smoking cigarettes. Not just holding them in our mouths, but actively smoking. Because we didn’t have special effects, the only way to commit to the idea and make it look real was to literally spend hours simultaneously smoking while exercising vigorously.

We ran as we smoked. We biked as we smoked. We did push-ups and pull-ups and chin-ups as we smoked. We fried cigarettes and carrots in a frying pan as we smoked. For one shot I had to get as much smoke as I could into my lungs and then yell long and loud, take after take, so that smoke would be coming out in thick clouds while I yelled.

It was horrible. Cigarettes are disgusting. And although Shane and I were regular smokers during that period of time he quit smoking immediately after filming. I quit soon after.

If you or your loved ones would like to witness and be inspired by the smoking contest (original footage) please follow this link below:


Once I was a Boy Scout in Wisconsin. It was great. For some merit badge we had to build a shelter out of stuff from the woods. Our troop didn’t earn a lot of merit badges but for some reason we decided to get this one. Our scouts were known for things like bringing more boxes of matches than underwear. We all had multiple boxes of “strike anywhere” matches and would sit around the fire flicking them at each other so they would ignite in midair. We had many shorts and lawn chairs with burn holes in them.

 Since the Boy Scout motto is “be prepared” we waited until the last day to get it done. Instead of making our own shelters (like we were supposed to) we decided it would be easier to do one big one together so we could all get the credit with minimal effort. The scout leaders were so happy we were doing anything they agreed that it would count.

Our plan was a tepee covered in fern bushes. After we set some logs against each other, we needed mounds of ferns. To speed up the process we cut them at the stem instead of cutting them at the frond. It was faster to stick the fern bushes in stem first (as if the log gaps were vases) than to lay the fern fronds lengthwise across them. By then the rain was already falling. 

We were supposed to sleep on the ground and things seemed to be going pretty good until we saw rain water pooling around our tepee floor. We waited until the leaders went to bed and snuck some cots in the tepee. Problem solved. But not really. A completely soaked cot and sleeping bag woke me up at about 3am. I realized that plants, by nature’s design, are shaped to catch as much water as possible then funnel that water to themselves. The way we placed them between the logs caused the ferns to funnel rain into the teepee. This may have caused us to get even wetter than we would have if we had just slept outside. Nobody wanted to wimp out after wasting all afternoon building, so nobody left the shelter. 

Our determination did not pay off. We did not get that merit badge for several reasons. As mentioned, we totally cheated by using cots. And, as it turns out we were only allowed to use materials that were already dead, as opposed to recklessly harvesting Wisconsin’s bounty. Usable materials were old dead trees or branches that had already fallen off. Not only did we cut down somewhere between 50-100 newly growing fern bushes, we also felled a whole living tree for the center support. We needed a center support because none of us could lash well enough to make a real teepee.

Cutting down a living tree is super against the rules for the merit badge for the camp, and just for life in general. You can’t just cut down trees, that’s usually illegal. Plus we were only supposed to use our personal knife, not an axe. When the leaders found us,  we had already chopped through half of it (the tree wouldn’t survive after that). They compromised by saying we could use it as long as we didn’t use the hatchet anymore. Maybe they thought we’d give up. But instead we had one of the scouts climb up as high as he could and the rest of us rocked it back and forth until it broke and he fell. As I said, we did not get that merit badge.

Birthday Tea from Me

     It was coming up to be my birthday. Some people don’t like to celebrate their birthdays, but I love to make a big deal out of it.

     I was turning 22 or 23 (it doesn’t really matter after 21) and I decided that I was going to have a tea party. I had been doing self-taught calligraphy and buying weird old tea sets from thrift shops in the area. Therefore, I had all the makings for a fancy tea party with fancy invitations.

     My band mates, I, and another musician, lived in a tiny house on a tiny street. There were 4 of us total. Each of us had our own room. Mine was the back room with the water heater. It was so small I put up ceiling corner hammocks (normally used for extensive stuffed animal collections) to hold my clean and dirty clothes.

     The Lincoln house, as it was called, was a great place to live. It wasn’t unusual for us to be drinking, smoking pot, or jamming (that means playing music). And so this tea party was obviously going to be more than just drinking tea–especially since it was going to be my birthday.

     I bought some fancy cards to make the invitations, and did all the invitations by hand with my calligraphy pens. On the back of all of them I splattered ink so that when you put all the invitations on the floor together they would all fit together like a puzzle. I also gathered my European and Japanese tea sets.

     I invited. I think,  8-10 people. It wasn’t going to be a big party like we normally had. And I wanted to make sure that people didn’t come that weren’t invited. This gathering was going to be a bit different. It was crucial that I knew exactly who was eating these scones and drinking this tea. Because… I baked hallucinogenic mushrooms into the scones.

Birthday Tea from Me (part 2)

Everyone was to dress in formal attire. Everyone did. And we all looked fabulous in that old boxy house. There were at least 2 girls and 6 guys in attendance.

I had to make sure that each guest ate a scone and that nobody ate 2. I announced that everybody had to at least try the scones because I made them myself for the party, and it was my first attempt at baking scones. There were 2 flavors, just in case someone didn’t like one. One was orange and honey and the other was cinnamon raisin.

No one suspected the scones.

Everyone at least tried a scone and most of them ate the whole thing. I ate one too. After about maybe 15-30 minutes people started feeling weird. Some looked curious, but most were beginning to furrow their brows in confusion. I had decided to keep my cool for as long as possible before I let everybody know what happened, or better said–what I had done to them all.

I went upstairs to the restroom. My good friend Jordan followed me up there to inquire privately about what the crap was going on. Josh came as well. They inquired along the lines of,

Hey man, what’s going on here? Because something obviously is.

I told them what I did and they were relieved to realize that they weren’t going crazy. Although they had incorrectly assumed, still, that I had put something in the tea.

“Not so my friends,” I said “nobody suspected the scones.”

Jeremiah came up at that point and saw our smiling faces.

He looked right at me.

“You son of a b***h”

We busted up laughing

“This is awesome, but… you son of a b***h.”

Continued in Part 3

Birthday Tea from Me (part 3)

As the evening went on I was pretty proud that no one had a bad trip and that I pretty much kept track of everybody. Jordan was arranging tea sets and taking pictures, I carved a jack-o-lantern to look like it was puking out its pumpkin guts…

That was of course until Scott threw open our front door and it slammed against the living room wall.  

“What is happening to me?” He shouted, slurring. “I can’t get drunk!”

Oh no. Scott.

Apparently I had not noticed that soon after eating the scones Scott had left and went to a couple keggers around the neighborhood. I guess he had been drinking all night and in his heightened or elevated mental state he became under the impression that alcohol was having no effect on him. Obviously I felt bad. I still do. As he stood in the front doorway Jordan and I quickly explained that there were mushrooms in the scones. As soon as the information sunk in he leaned back against the corner of the wall, slid down until he was sitting, and promptly fell asleep or passed out.

Other than what happened to Scott, and that this weasel kid sneaked in and stole the rest of the scones, the party was a success.

The Closet and the 300 lb Dog Part 1

I once lived in a room that was a closet.


It was about 8 feet long 4 feet wide and 10 feet tall. Even though it was technically a closet, the door locked from the inside, there was a window, a lightbulb, a light switch, and three shelves under the window.


There were 3 other roommates in the house: Derek, JC, and Alex. Derek was a punk rocker in a local band, JC liked classic rock like Led Zeppelin but wasn’t in a band, and Alex had a girlfriend so he didn’t need to be in a band.


They were already living together and I was looking for a place to stay. They had previously mentioned that the hall closet wasn’t being used for anything and that I could live there. I think they were joking but I took them up on the offer anyway. We decided I would live in the closet and just pay the utilities bill, which was about 90 bucks a month. It was a pretty sweet deal.


People liked to hang out in my room more than the rest of the house even though It was real small and you had to sit on a mattress. But it had a space heater in there. Plus, any time there was more than 1 person inside it would heat up pretty quick. It was really cold that winter in WI and nobody wanted to sit around our cold living room for very long, even if they were drinking booze.


In other words, after acclimating to the temperature in my room guests didn’t like to leave. Or maybe people wanted to hang out in my closet room because I was the coolest roommate. Probably both.


One time when Derek and Alex came home they found the house empty, except for me and 8 friends crammed in my closet room, drinking and having our own little party in there. It was odd to feel their slight envy of my situation, since they were the ones doing me a favor in letting me live there.


One night we finally all got drunk together outside of the closet my roommates included. They had some sort of principle against hanging out in their rented closet of their own house. However, my closet parties helped my housemates realize that we should have more people over and needed turn up the heat a little bit. They must have supposed that if people were willing to party in the closet, they would be willing to party in the house itself as well.


Continued in part 2…

The Closet and the 300 lb Dog Part 2

After a bunch of beers, Alex, JC, and I decided that it was time to steal some lawn decorations. I had recently seen some concrete wolves that would make a good addition to our living room; so, we went in search of them.  


We found way more than wolves at that abode. The house was across the street from a full service Citgo station. It had eight foot tall evergreens fencing in the garden of statues. It was like the ice Queen’s statue garden from Narnia. Luckily the wolves looked light enough to swipe. We took two. Unfortunately we weren’t done yet.


Further down that country road was a quaint house with a statue of a german shephard. This statue was much bigger than the wolf statues but we figured that the three of us could handle it. Unlike the hollow wolves, this statue was solid concrete, with a solid concrete base, and was probably about four and a half feet tall. I’m not great with guessing weight, but i’d wager that that dog was at least 300 lbs. It was obviously not meant to be moved without the help of a jack or dolly of some sort. (And even when I was able to use a dolly later on, it bent the dolly.)


If we hadn’t been intoxicated we would have thought better of our plan after we trying the initial lift. But we did no further thinking. We were able to lift it enough to drag the a corner of the base across the lawn. While lifting I felt like my belt had somehow stabbed into the side of my belly, According to my doctor I most likely weakened a spot in my abdomen and will maybe have a hernia there some day. But we managed to get it into the trunk of JC’s car and head back to the homestead.


Once there, Derrick and somebody else helped us get it up the stairs. It was not as bad carrying it when there were five people–but the same could be said for a piano. The next day I started to feel pretty bad about what we did. Especially because the dog had a hand print, signature, and (I think) the dog’s name on the bottom (we didn’t see that till later). So, it was likely made special for the owner, by someone they knew, in remembrance of a family dog that had died. That really made me feel like a douche. I knew I had a bad habit of stealing weird things when I was drunk. The sign from a chiropractic center, lawn chairs and paintings of fish from a retirement home, a Hardee’s sign. They all tended to be large and mostly useless items. I don’t drink anymore by the way and that’s a good thing for everybody.


Anyhow, I started feeling pretty bad about the whole thing. But there was no way I was going to be able to return it myself. I had to convince my roommates to help me. I was able to recruit my good friend and drummer of the band I was in to help me return the wolves. Scott was a good guy and understood that I did stupid things when I was drunk. Together we got those wolves back where they belong. But they obviously weren’t a personal as the dog. That’s the one I really felt bad about taking. And Scott and I were not going to be able to move that without at least 2 more people.


For the next couple nights my roommates were busy or just weren’t up to the arduous task. Then one night they got some beers and watched “The Warriors”. It’s a classic gang film. This got them pretty pumped about, well nothing really, and by the time I got home they had spray painted warriors graffiti on 2 of our doors and on the german shepherd. They put mardi gras beads around the dog’s neck as well.


The dog wasn’t a solid color statue like the wolves were. It had been painted with great detail and the hairs were carved into the concrete as well. Basically, I couldn’t imagine a way to get that red paint out or paint over it well enough. And that is when my last glimmer of hope to return the world’s heaviest german shepherd died.


When we moved out of the house the roommates did help move the dog, but only to the attic. It was only 5 stairs to get there and we just slid it as far as we could to the back and just left it there. Most likely it would eventually fall through the ceiling on a humid day and kill a family. But that’s not the end of the story.


The Closet and the 300 lb Dog Part 3

A few years later, upon realizing that my life sucked, I decided to repent and make restitution of all the things that I had done wrong in my life–as much as I was able. I remembered the dog that I had stolen. I wondered if it was still in that attic. I borrowed my dad’s dolly and drove my recently purchased minivan ($75) to that old house.


I tried the door. It was open. It looked like no one had lived there since we left. I let myself in and looked around. Oh the memories. Up in the dingy attic, almost all the way in the back stood the silhouette of a proud german shepherd just waiting to cause injury.


I got him on the dolly and tied him down. I’m not sure why I let myself do this by myself. My habit of not thinking things through didn’t go away when I quit drinking. But, I got him down the stairs and out the back door of the house without disaster, although I could see that the dolly has bent. I opened the sliding door of the van and I figured that I could tilt the dog against the van and just hoist and slide it in there on its side. Which I did. But as I did there was that knife in the belly again. This time real sharp. And with my limited medical knowledge I figured that I had given myself a hernia. (I hadn’t)


So I returned the dog and everything was great.

Not really. Not yet anyway.

The dog still had red spray paint with warriors tagged all over it. Back at my parent’s house my brother Ben helped me get it out of the van.

“You moved this by yourself? What were you thinking?”

I thought about the knife in my belly.

“Whenever you need to move this again you call me ok?”

I agreed.


Now I just needed to get the red paint off and finally get this dog out of my life. I didn’t want to use any chemicals because I figured that would remove the original paint as well. At first I tried to scrape it off with a flathead screwdriver. I’m not sure why I thought that was a good idea. But I ended up chipping part of the nose. I figured that I would spackle that part later or something like that.


I decided that chipping wasn’t the best idea. So, I got my dad’s pressure washer out of the garage and started spraying. I assumed that the red paint would come off easier than the real paint and I was right. Although, I had to be really careful so as to not take off too much. I started on and around the nose that I had chipped. I watched as the pressurized water caught the lip of the chip I had created earlier, and caused the majority of the nose and snout to pop off and fall to the ground.


The noseless shepherd was hoisted back into by minivan and remained there for several months while I procrastinated finding a solution. Fast forward to me seeing a place from the highway that had hundreds of lawn decorations next to a barn.  On the side/ roof of that barn was painted in all capital letters: HEAVY CRITTERS. I called them up and asked if they could fix the dog and how much it would cost. They said they could fix it and that it would probably be $90. (They actually ended up doing it for free. They never said why. Probably because they are awesome.) But before they could start they needed a picture of the dog so they could make sure to get the repaint job correct. I didn’t want to tell them that I stole it so I just found a picture of a german shepherd on the internet that looked close, printed it out, and brought it there with the statue. I came back a week later (maybe, I don’t remember how long it took, this was like 12 years ago) and picked it up. It looked great. The nose was back, the paint was correct. And the time had now come to get that 300lb albatross out of my $75 dollar minivan.


I wrote a note to the owners. I don’t remember what it said. Probably stuff about being sorry for being an ass. We, Ben and I, put the dog in the owner’s front yard by the door. I put the note partially under the statue so there was no way it could blow away. My mom had advised me not to apologize in person. I think that was a good decision. I drove by the house the next day and the dog wasn’t there. I assume they brought it inside so safe keeping. Otherwise some other dumb drunk teenager and his roommates have stolen it and have started their own weird stupid journey with that heavy dog.


Here is some info from the webpage of HEAVY CRITTERS, the people that made the restitution part of my repentance process more possible.


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HEAVY CRITTERS specializes in unique, exciting, and unusual items. Designed for both indoor and outdoor use, our statuary is of the highest quality. HEAVY CRITTERS is known for its life-like wildlife items and its gorgeous airbrushed stepping-stones. Our products have been featured in Better Homes & Gardens, Country Women, Plow & Hearth, Country Sampler, and McCall’s magazines.


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