Yesterday’s Weirdness

is tomorrow’s reason why

                            Hunter S. Thompson

Spring is teasing us. Last Sunday was 60’s but then we went back to 20’s last week. Today is mid-50’s and sunny. It’s delicious. Tantalizing. But next week is meant to be back in the 30’s. Right up to the brink of orgasmic spring, and then pull back.

But a little climate foreplay is appropriate. It makes the spring bloom so much sweeter when it finally comes.

I think there’s a vague Oscar Wilde reference there, but it’s been eons since I read anything by him. So who knows for sure where I plagiarized from.

Another birthday come and gone. Now sitting by the fire with good scotch and a cigar. So all is well. Family has dutifully called and now I’ve time to relax and daydream about travels and adventures.

I still need to find a year or so to travel all over the US to visit the very best urban and rural libraries so I can write the definitive book of the best libraries in the United States. Obviously it will be called ‘The Library Book.’

I need another year in Namibia to work through perpetuation planning and other structural issues that are long overdue. And of course I’ve still to thru-hike the AT or mountain bike the Continental Divide Trail. Wouldn’t mind canoeing from Seattle to Juneau along the Inside Passage and riding a BMW motorcycle from Cape Town to Cairo and then on over to Morocco and ferry across to Spain and right to the top of Europe. Just need money and time. Those two competing forces that conspire to keep us idle. I’ve had periods of decent money but no time and periods of time with no money. 

Funny about social media. Once in a while I get a request from a name that is vaguely familiar, but I’m not quite sure who it is. Tonight it was from Greg Olson’s daughter, Kodi. I think I’ve met Kodi only once or twice and both times at funerals. She was born after our heydays of rugby in Idaho. But of course our networks overlap due to rugby and she sent me a friend request on Instagram.

Greg and I played together back in the day. 

Greg was a real gem. A heavyweight water-buffalo type from east coast. He was enigmatic and laid back.  Greg played college rugby at Marquette and managed a degree in geology. He was raised in relative wealth in New Jersey and came to Idaho to get his masters and fell in love with it. Even eventually convincing his parent’s to move out in their retirement. But Greg did not fit the mold. The way he lived, you would never guess that he ever had two nickels to rub together. He always had a half-grin and the disheveled look of a guy who was not quite homeless, but was flirting with the possibility.

He played prop and started at Portneuf a year or so before I got there. We were about the same age and so we hung out quite a bit. Greg had a little bit of darkness in him though. We all drank heavy back then, but for me it was about being out and about and chasing women and having fun. But Greg often drank heavy at home alone. Or up at his cabin in the mountains. He sometimes seemed to be a little lost and sad.

20 years later he would die of liver disease. He came to see me at my restaurant not long before he died. He looked terrible. He’d been off of drinking for a few months but it was far too late. He had a pale, pasty look and gone was his impish grin. He was a dead man walking. He was divorced from Kristi and living alone with his cat. He had been close to his father, George, but George had died of cancer a few years before. And Greg’s dog Jack, who was his constant hiking companion, had also died. So I was sad for him.

We joked around and reminisced a bit; talked about the good old days and what times we’d had. I felt I had plenty of times ahead of me, but Greg was clearly taking stock of his life.  He told me his prognosis was not good. I did not ask many questions. The details of his sickness didn’t seem to matter much since the outcome was so certain. A few months after that, we were all gathered in a church for his service, and later at the pub for a wake. 

A few Greg Olson stories then. 

We played a game once on Saturday before Easter. Kristi went on to her family’s house in Howe and Greg and I were to drive over the next day for a big Sunday dinner. Well, we stomped on the terra that night. Really hit it hard. Closed down the the 1st National Bar and then wound up back at my house in the hot tub with a gaggle of the usual suspects and partied most of the night. So we obviously got a slow start the next morning. By the time we got to Howe, massively hung over, Greg was in trouble with Kristi. I felt terrible and badly needed food. But Greg talked me into going on a joy ride with him. Ever the geologist he wanted to show me some formations at the base of the mountains that started just north of Howe. We had his mom’s big dog Rocky in the cab of Greg’s little truck and also Jack. So the four of us piled in and Greg took off driving about 75 miles an hour on this bumpy old desert dirt road. It was all I could do to keep from spilling my beer.

Sure enough we hit a massive bump at speed and all hell broke loose. Dogs, rock samples, empty beer cans, rugby balls, and a pint of Old Crow flew around the cab for a few seconds along with Greg and I. When we finally got stopped, half on the road and half in a ditch, I had Rocky on my lap but he was face down with his ass sticking straight up in my face. Beer was dripping from the ceiling of the truck and Greg was bleeding from a cut on his forehead. Jack, who was a very serene dog, was sitting peacefully between us as if nothing had happened. He was more used to Greg’s driving than the rest of us.

We got ourselves sorted, got the truck clear, patched up Greg’s head and finished the geology tour and finally got back in time for a massive Easter dinner of smoked ribs with homemade bbq sauce. Best meal I think I’d ever had.

A couple of years later, Greg and I traded vehicles in the spring. He wanted a motorcycle and I wanted a little truck. So we just traded. But here’s the thing. We never actually filled out any paperwork. He just started driving the motorcycle and I took charge of that beat up little red truck. He was a married to Kristi by this time and the trade didn’t go down so well at home. Finally, late in the summer, we traded back. I wanted my motorcycle and I think Greg wanted to get reacquainted with the marital bed.  Since we had never finalized the sale, there was no getting new tags or anything. 

A few months later, Greg was pissed off because he went to register for some classes at ISU and he had to pay some old parking tickets. He never connected the dots though. I had gotten those tickets and decided not to pay them because I knew they couldn’t trace the truck back to me and I didn’t realize at the time that the exchange was not final. I finally told him a few months later and we had a good laugh about it. 

One year, just after spring finals, Greg, Shawn Forney, and I met at Joe’s Pitcher Inn on Center Street to celebrate end of school and beginning of rugby. We sat there and drank from around 10:00 am until late in the afternoon. All we had to eat was some pickled eggs and pretzels from those little bags they used to sell in bars. So we were pretty well drunk. We decided to go to Spunky’s. Greg had walked over from school, so he got on the back of my motorcycle. I popped the clutch a little as we were leaving and Greg rolled right off the back of the bike onto the street. Joe’s is literally across the street from the police station and there we were. Drunk as hell and clowning around on the motorcycle on the street. But he got back on and off we went to Spunky’s. 

Interesting side note. Spunky lived in a ‘house’ that was really a shed someone built illegally on their property. It had a dirt floor and an outhouse, but was right there in one of the little streets in the neighborhood not far from the old library. But it was a great place to sit in the shade and drink beer. He told me he bought the house for $1,500 and a case of Jaeger he stole from the bar.

One year, later in our rugby careers, we traveled to Sun Valley to play Snake River. The Snakes were our arch rival. We hated them and they hated us. They were really the only team we felt that way about. They were mostly cheaters and dicks.

But I was actually refereeing this match. I had started reffing a couple of years before and there was no one else to call the game on this day. The Snakes had won the Division II National Championship just a few months before so they were pretty chuffed. But we always played them well. The Snakes had an evil fucking prop named Glenn who everyone hated. He was like the Ted Cruz of rugby. Except Glen was an exceptional player. But he was also a very dirty player. Greg was matched up against Glen. It would seem like a mismatch, because Glen was a superb physical specimen. He was a heavy weight lifter and had achieved some fame in college as a Greco wrestler. Greg was short and pear-shaped and had never seen the inside of a weight room. But Greg was actually a very skilled prop. He had learned from Lowell and he could hold up against most anyone in that part of the country. 

Glen was a sneaky mother fucker and he was constantly head-butting Greg when the scrums came together. He would also reach up underneath and grab Greg’s jersey and try to collapse the scrum and other times, when they lost the scrum, he would  grab the flanker’s jersey to keep him from pursuit. This move I knew because he had tried that shit on me when I was playing flanker. I normally just punched him in the ear and fought my way free. Lots of refs gave Snake River all the breaks because they had gained national attention.

Anyway, I caught Glen cheating a few times and penalized him, but he was very good and I didn’t catch him all the time. The game got super intense but I was not intimidated and penalized the shit out of them. Their coach, Kevin Jensen was hollering at me; they were all screaming at me. I knew them well from playing against them so many times. But they pushed the envelope at every position and cheated as much as they could. They won the game but there was no after-party. We all just got in our cars and left. It was not a good day for anyone. Every person on both teams was pissed off at the other team. Probably the worst overall rugby experience of my career.

Greg was beat to hell after the game. One black eye, cuts above both eyes, and huge bruises on his back from getting booted and raked over in the rucks. But he was tough.

We were all camping at that beautiful Forest Service campground outside of Ketchum just before you start the climb up Galena Summit. So later that night, we stood around the campfire and cussed at the Snakes and drank whiskey and sang rugby songs until nearly dawn. We got drunk and jumped in river and damn near froze to death.

One year Greg and I and Mickey were selected  for the Inland Pacific rep side and had to travel down to Arizona to play. So Lowell, Mickey, Greg and I took off in someone’s van and drove all night to get there. Of course we were stopping every couple of hours to visit a bar and Lowell was telling stories. I had fallen asleep but was violently woke up when the brakes locked up and the van came screeching to a halt. Greg was driving. We were on some lonely two-lane road and the first light of morning was just coming around. Greg just started backing up the road. Finally, he backed into a parking lot and we got out. It was a rockhound shop he’d spotted as we passed by. Of course it was closed, but soon a light came on and an old man opened up. In we go and Greg spends 30 minutes talking rocks with this old timer and leaves with a bag of stones. And off we go. 

We were staying with my sister and her husband in Chandler. We played our match a couple of days later and afterwards were out partying in some local pub with some other players. I was sitting at the bar when Greg came up behind me and decided to drop an Apache Nose Drag on me. It startled me of course and I pushed hard against the bar with my feet and I went tumbling over the back of my barstool and Greg and I went down in a pile. So, we were kicked out of that bar.

One year, when I was bartending at Buddy’s, we decided to go skiing at Jackson Hole. But we only decided to go at the last minute. So we agreed to leave as soon as I got off work. Around 9:30 or so I think. We figured we could get to Jackson in time for last call, get a cheap room and ski the next day. Off we go in my shit little yellow Honda. Me and Greg and Jack in my car and a couple of other guys in another car. It was of course winter and cold and snowy as hell. When we got to the pass coming up out of Victor and headed over the top, my little car was sliding all over the place, but also starting to freeze up. It was late and there was not much traffic and soon my car just died. We got out in what seemed like a damned blizzard, freezing and half drunk. Neither of us particularly good mechanics. Finally, we figured out that the intake was freezing the carburetor. So we stuffed some t-shirts in the air intake vents and breathed on the carburetor to warm it up and sure enough that little Honda fired up and took us over the pass into Jackson. 

Back then, it was still possible to get a cheap room in Jackson Hole. This was before the movie stars moved in and it turned into a yuppie town. So we got two rooms and then headed out for some drinks. We met some girls at the bar and invited them back to party and to swim in the little heated pool at our hotel. We had noticed the pool was closed and had a cover over it. But we snuck out real quiet like and got in. But of course we did not remain quiet and soon the cops come and we were evicted from the pool. But it turns out the pool was closed for a good reason. It was getting a chemical cleaning of some sort. One of the girls with us was blond and when we all met up for breakfast the next morning, her hair had turned green. Like, really green. We all had a good laugh and I wound up dating that lady for quite a while until she moved back to Washington.

Anyway, Greg Olson stories. There’s more of course. He’s gone now along with Lowell and Abel and Spunky.

Generally speaking, I have few regrets in my life. We make the choices we do at the time and we live on. But……..if I were a younger man, and knowing what I know now. I would embrace rugby even more completely than I did. And I would endeavor to play with the vigor and flair and enthusiasm of Brian O’Driscoll. He was genius. A magician. A brave warrior. 

In a match against Australia, after O’Driscoll threaded the Aussie defense to score an amazing try, a commentator famously said “They call him God, but I reckon he’s a better player that that.”

I got to see two of his matches in the 2003 World Cup in Australia. I was living in Namibia but had saved up my time off and flew to Sydney for 3 weeks to catch as many matches as I could. I stayed with Joe and Sheila and if we could not get tickets, we just watched at the local pub which was almost as much fun anyway.

I was living in London in winter of 2013 and 2014 and got to see his last match against the All Blacks and then his final international match in the 6 Nations against France. They lost a heartbreaker to New Zealand after leading most of the game, but beat France to win the 6 Nations title.

Because I am a freak for this sport, I must include a couple of video links here.

It’s rugby man. 

We’re back in the office at work so I got in a little stroll around town at lunch. Something about the sun on our face that feels like life. 

No other news of note.

Humbly submitted.

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