We are Home: A Denver Transplant Story

First of all, may the Broncos prevail over the Cowboys today!

I moved to Denver around three years ago and was a little more than culture shocked.

One aspect that really jarred me was the Native Vs. Transplant battle in which I still remain an unwilling and confused participant. Nothing compared to the anti-immigration environment in which we are living in 2017 today with the recent repeal of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), upending the lives, families and communities around 800,000 participants.

Summed up well in Westworld’s The Mayday Experiment: Dear Denver Transplants, Here’s What You’re Missing… are the sentiments and mutterings you hear at the grocery store and coffee shops. Sneerings for things like not knowing the beer is less potent than when procured from a liquor store or past stadium location, name and history.

I’m just trying to live! It’s important to remember that we’re all human with our own histories and struggles beneath the buzzwords and labels. With that, we can hopefully begin to act with compassion. Here’s my internal narrative of a summer day shortly after I cruised into town in 2013. Go Broncos!


THIS IS THE ‘W’ LINE TO UNION STATION

A jolt, I’m up from my light rail seat, rushing out the accordion door. I look around, hear the mechanical whoosh of the train speeding away behind me and wonder why I don’t know where I am. The parking garage nearby shades the whole area, at the foot of a dark castle.

I got off on the wrong stop.

Adele Arakawa is the voice of Denver. It’s almost impossible to have lived or visited and not heard her voice. Recently retired after 43 years in broadcasting and delivering the nightly NBC news to the Front Range for 23 years, she guides us. To our homes and destinations on Denver International Airport terminals, blurting out the street names on RTD buses and trains, a requirement that’s helpful but also makes me feel nervous and rushed with anticipation.

It’s not Adele’s fault. I get anxious in general, sometimes panicky in public. This leads to sweating, social deafness and racing thoughts like “don’t get off on the wrong stop, don’t get off on the wrong stop…”

And here we are. I check the map and see that I’m about three stops from home and decide to walk rather than wait for the next train.

Approaching actual train tracks, mechanical arms begin to descend, red lights flashing and an urgent tone pulsing as a train blows its whistle. I am far enough away from the tracks to see car after car and caboose after caboose snake their way into the distance. The other walkers sigh collectively, pull out their phone and shift on the hot pavement; it is going to be a wait.

        There is a little queue of us: walking commuters, fresh off a suburban light-rail that wound into the bustling heart of the city; a few travelers on bicycles and one man relaxing in the backseat of his vacant peddicab. In the lucky shade of the overpass, we all settled on the concrete. A couple of strangers near me are chatting in conversational tones and I make sure to turn off the walking GPS navigation on my phone. I can picture crossing the tracks and seeming like a complete tourist when Siri would tell me,“Turn right in 500 feet.”

I start to look around the crowd; a man in front of me finishes a cigarette, throwing it to the ground and stamping it around in high-top shoes. An older woman in a blue, sporty uniform — her hair many shades of gray, black and white like a fine pencil sketch. The train cars go by and by, replicants with the occasional tattoo of graffiti setting them apart for an instant at a time. I glance at the actual tattoos of strangers whose story I will never know. A colorful owl peers at me from the arm of a man balancing on the pedals of his mountain bike.

I relax. The last caboose capps off the train, the arms creak up and the last electric ding of the warning bell echoes against the walls of the overpass. My feet move quick, carried by my legs more used to bicycling long distance than walking. I am excited to be a smarter, savvy commuter that has the sense to bring their bike to the light rail.

So of course it was stolen. Walking around the back of the apartment building to check the tire pressure before going inside, I found only my lock curled around the sturdy metal poles of the bike rack. Confusion bloomed in my brain and anger eased its way from ember into fire in depth of my stomach. They met somewhere in the middle of my chest and I only felt disappointment and a lingering sadness related to losing a favorite toy as a little kid. Nothing floods my brain like losing something. A pen, my phone, a shirt. My life stops and my brain whirls into action until I can locate it or reason myself to stop looking. Here, there was nothing to do.

THIS IS THE ‘E’ LINE TO EMOTIONAL COLLAPSE.

Sometimes, one sadness is linked to another in a web that arches into intricate clusters of experience and heartache. My arms, my face, my back are scarred from tripping and limping and falling from that web. I know all I can do is sleep and wait to be untangled again.

***

I wake up to the sounds of excited voices. I don’t need to look out the window to know they’re probably wearing football jerseys and hats. My friend’s studio apartment sits on the corner of a busy intersection down the street from a NFL stadium. It’s game day.

I just moved to the city and I’m crashing, my bed docked in the corner of a living room like a life raft with baskets of my clothes buoyed nearby. The rest of my possessions are tucked away in closets and in the basements of friends’. Spread out enough that I’m not sure where certain things are but sure they’re somewhere. I don’t have things, but I do own things.

This neighborhood is changing, new cubelike houses and renovated buildings sit beside and between the old stack brick houses and complexes that boast their charm and character more than modern animinities. It’s a juxtaposition that can cause heated conversations about gentrification from locals. These people understandably don’t like the cost brought by these boxy homes and the transplants like me that cause them. Their bumper stickers yell NATIVE and GO HOME in opposition, even though the Cheyenne and Arapaho tribes claim to the title and land makes actual sense. These are often the same descendants of immigrants that now oppose immigration with no better medium for expression than their bumpers. It’s must be hard, always being under attack.

I moved my rat race to Denver and I suppose I’m somewhat sorry. But as a broke, indebted boy and invader myself, saving for a rental deposit, I just wish I could afford any place. Even a boxy home would do.

There’s honks from outside and a rumble in the basement of my own stomach. So I pick up my wallet and keys, piece together a pleasant picture bed with smooth covers and symmetrical pillows before the door closes behind me. The grocery store is a few blocks away and I know all these streets, at least.

Up ahead, there’s a lively gathering outside a house with one man dangling a rope from an upper window. I’m curious, but anxiety turns my feet and angles my path across the street in avoidance. I can still watch as I pass from there.

The house is flat, gray brick with red and green stones set into the corners of its walls and windows. The effect is sturdy and — with the trees offering their shade, vines climbing, virile up the walls — somewhat magical. Having made progress down the street, I could see a boy, grinning, blindfolded and clutching a small bat in front of a pinata. The man in the window looked to be tying his rope now and I heard voices speaking Spanish for him to hurry: Andale! Andale!

The crowd on the sidewalk bristled and fidgeted in excitement while, I could now see, the birthday boy took some practice swings. There were older relatives in the backyard looking on from tables and chairs and picnic tables. I notice for the first time that it really was a great day. The wind was slight and cooling with the sun adding only enough heat for a good summer day. The pinata was a paper mache circle with spikes, a little newsprint still visible beneath blue paint and red and green tissue paper. Matriarchs and patriarchs both stand sentry with cameras in hand.  

I’m not sure I remember exactly, or if my memory has been enhanced by photo albums of a birthday of my own: my mom letting me cut strips of newspaper and feeling special about the trip to the craft store to get paints, glue and a big pack of balloons. She used one large bowl, the bow usually reserved for the exalted task of Frog Eye Salad preparation, to create the cast for a dome in what would become the top of an R2D2 robot from Star Wars. My mom passed away around half my life ago now but she still manages to find me when I need her.

THIS IS OUR FINAL DESTINATION

At the party, everyone talked about my R2D2 pinata and I was proud and happy. I remember my mom’s floral dress at my party and the little plastic bags she gave out for everyone to collect candy when I’d broken open R2D2 with a mixture of excitement and loss, my robot friend spilling his guts.

Like losing something favorite, special. The surprise ending seeming far off and complicated from the innocence of being a kid. Loss, an ignition into action until, forced inert, I can face why the lost shines in me. Finite, gone, yet reckoning I have everything I need to thrive.

The day brightens in me. I glance down, I smile and miss her, hearing the first hack of a bat against hardened paper and glue from down the street. I am home.

Stop Saying Beards are Over. Facial Hair is so Fetch.

There’s no denying what a torture chamber the modern bathroom can be.

Hold the psychologist jokes and copies of Everybody Poops. I’m talking about brows we tweeze and wince; the scraps of plastic we pluck onto our irises; teeth of combs digging into our scalps; the blemishes you’re not supposed to squeeze; soap in our damn eyes, man.

My least favorite, the series of razor blades, a precise little potato peeler, dragged across the skin and the little cuts and gouges we greet with mock surprise.

How did that happen?

I don’t think I’m alone. Just look around at the unshaven masses resisting what some great forces are trying to end, calling for the death of this great shaggy era.

Everybody Shaves Something is an anxiety-saving book I wish existed. It would follow a puberty-age figure with a branded name and have pictures of their journey discovering proper maintenance of various hairy parts of the teen body. If Gillette bites, we’ll go with Gil for a name.

In my Coming of Age, Sex Ed pamphlets did the job summing up condom use and basic anatomy, but not really how to avoid the kind of embarrassing razor burn that delays plans of inviting anyone from taking a closer look.

Maybe our friend Gil would spend a page or two advising on the mainstream standards of beauty that promotes the idea that hairless equals desirable, but that wouldn’t be very good for razor sales.

The hashtag #beardporn is a thing and only the tip of beard-related obsession…

There are undoubtedly some skills that carry over from learning to shave the face, but that’s assuming you ever learned that properly. My dad was generally getting high or watching professional wrestling when he wasn’t at work.  And really, to this day I still feel too awkward when I’m in the bathroom with anyone else to breathe more than an, “excuse me….” before darting out with wet fingers.

I imagine that other’s experience starts over a Sunday morning breakfast, a square-jawed and perfectly-shaven father notices my light stubble saying something like, “why, Eric, you’re becoming a man before our very eyes!” Flash to a white and blue-tiled room, equipped with razors, creams and lotions; little bubbles of advice floating over my shoulder.

“You don’t need to run the water the whole time.” “With the grain first, son.”

That’s the advice I got from commercials and the internet. A few drinks at night with friends that grew up poor, with a single or divorced parent generally has this effect of self-raising. When my parents were not at work, they were relaxing or hustling the shopping and gifting to keep three kids well enough so that other people mind their own business. Sometimes I wonder if  there’s a glow of understanding that draws me to scrappy friends like me that taught ourselves to drive, pay bills and express ourselves only when plied with substances.

Luckily for a good number of my friends, recently hairyness is next to godliness. You can order a mustached dildo if that’s your thing, the hashtag #beardporn is a thing and only the tip of beard-related obsession. In this market, a desperately sweating and suddenly hip Gil starts pushing pomade and beard soap.

There are definitely other shaving dudes out there, but I’m not friends with those type of guys: dudes with MBAs, accountants and dudes that work in finance. I’ve fallen in with friends that generally have tech jobs, student debt and interesting hobbies.

It’s a sign of the changing times, and I’m in favor of it. Ideally, there are less ideals that support systemic oppression out there influencing these standards. There was a time when my friend John, whose long hair and chest-length, curly beard would never have gotten a professional gig. Finally, it seems like what you can do might matter a little more than what you look like.

Being white still helps a lot.

The climate is now more Not Everybody Needs to Shave Something. Gil promotes different facial hair styles and cautions against the neck beard. He tells knowingly of trimming armpit hair to ease in applying deodorant; how a little shave below should always involve every shaving product available, that fucking capitalist. Almost alone, I’ll be buying in as my friends grow out their facial freedom.

Somewhere, a group of grumpy elders gather in arm chairs, regretfully discussing how they failed a generation due to someone unknown loss of power.

“All it used to take was a, “get a job, hippie” but now… I don’t know…”

They don’t know, which is why the headlines keep coming up announcing the end of the bearded era. Like computers and internet being a phase, like pants for ladies or being gay.

Sorry, facial hair is here to stay…. even if I can’t grow much myself.