As promised, here is the follow-up to the Top Ten Ways to Go (which you can read here). The first list is useful; this list is essential. Be aware.

 

Top Ten Ways Not to Go

Number 10: Choking on vomit

I think choking to death on anything would suck: you can’t breathe, your eyes are bulging, you’re swinging your arms and half bent over. It’s an awful spectacle. But vomit, jeez. And yes, I mean your own vomit, I’m not being Spinal Tap cute here. I’m talking about that late night pass-out moment at the end of what had been a thoroughly righteous ten hours of moveable feast, right up to the point when your body makes the unfortunate choice of deciding it doesn’t want ribs and baked beans and bourbon and ibuprofen swirling around in its belly any more and gives not the least little fuck about the fact that you are flat on your back and breathing through your mouth. Um, hurl.

 

Number 9: Listening to the band Bread

. . . on repeat. Okay, who hasn’t had the experience of a new-ish friend scrolling through your iTunes library, pausing, looking you in the eye and asking, “Bread? Seriously?” Yeah, motherfucker, Bread. Seriously. I confess, I’m a risk-taker, a tempter of Fate. I wave my private parts at Death on a regular basis: I listen to Bread all the time. Sometimes I put on some Bread when I climb into bed, and I start my prayers, “If I should die before I wake,” and then I chuckle, roll over and fall asleep. Take that, Grim Reaper.

 

Number 8: Getting your ass stomped to death by a gang of midgets

Just picture the last thought that would go through your mind. That is all.

 

Number 7: Wearing skinny jeans

Guys, I don’t know who is going around telling you those pants look good on you, but whoever it is, punch that person in the face because she or he is a filthy liar. Nobody looks good in skinny jeans. Everybody who wears skinny jeans looks like an asshole, and you know what they say: if it walks like a duck . . . which you do, in your skinny jeans. It is a horrible way to go through even a brief period of your life, and a worse state to be in at the very end. Don’t take that chance.

 

Number 6: Making flan

Statistically, this is extremely rare. Don’t be the one who skews those numbers.

 

Number 5: Thrill-seeking

By comparison, this is statistically quite common: skydivers’ shoots don’t open, parasailors crash into waterfront high-rises, world-class skiers go off marked trails and crash into trees bearing signs that say “Don’t ski here” (which I realize is technically ironic, but come on). If you’re so remarkably stupid that you need a regular fix of this kind, go with God. And tell him I say hello.

 

Number 4: Suicide

Unless you write the most profound suicide note ever – and you won’t – don’t do it. I write pretty good, and I couldn’t pull it off, so do yourself a solid and don’t go there. Stick around, make fun of people, eat weird foods, find out if Ryan Gosling will finally be named People’s sexiest man alive.

 

Number 3: Being named People’s sexiest man alive

. . . and having the magazine come out two days after you’re dead. Gross. Ironic and gross.

 

Number 2: Fucked to death in all the wrong ways

I don’t just mean the obvious bad fucking, like unwanted prison sex. I’m thinking more about those relationships we’ve all had that have run their course and grown stale, but you keep going through the motions, even going so far as to have the expected amount of bland, uninspired sex, and while you’re doing it, the thought crosses your mind, “God, what if this is the last person I ever have sex with. Like, what if I get hit by a bus tomorrow, or . . .” and then you die. Bad fucked to death.

 

Number 1: Cast into the sea

Getting beaten up and thrown off the back of your yacht in the middle of the night by your drunken-ass jealous hack-actor husband because he thinks you’re banging Christopher Walken: that should never happen (again).

 

Dream Residue

By Uche Ogbuji

Poem

Can’t believe I stayed asleep to give
Honey slope après ski GPS,
Real life need-to-piss bringing the cock-block;
Her black greek letter accent fading fast
With harem eyes under bright bluebird skies
To duller daybreak wink of bluing chalk…
Damn! I planned to smash that like Thor’s hammer.
The ferry over cream slides cruel to dock.

2/2 The Road to Jackson Hole

The roar of the V8 under my feet feels very American as we climb through the foothills of the Northern Rockies, yellow/green grass, red/pink rock plateaus like specialty cakes crafted by time and erosion, off to the left deeper foothills, browner, dotted with conifers, the path we drive through treeless, only scrubby brush and hearty grasses, a perfect cross between prairie and western plateaus.

The road is flat and mostly straight, speed limit 75, black cows munching on grass–content to chew and flap their tails–rarely will you see a lone cow stray from the group–sad in a way that I can see them now as something natural and beautiful, soon to be only cling wrapped, sliced pieces of flesh, dredged through terrible cutting machines, consumed by somebody with an appetite for meat but never able to appreciate the beauty of a lone cow chewing on the pale grasses of the plains.

Entering Wyoming, moving Northwest, tree cover here is thicker–low, dense conifers, stout and hearty. Trees say a lot about a place–tropical trees sway with long, loose branches and naked trunks, like a scantily clad, dreadlocked island native. The trees here are short and tacit–little mountain men.

We have sliced through the initial barrier of the foothills and are nestled in a flat line between them and bigger hills to the left. Passing large ranches, ‘real’ ranches, hundreds of acres in size. I imagine working the land here, waking up to bacon and coffee and pancakes and working all day, stopping only for lunch.

Train tracks dip in and out of the landscape, sinking off into the distance. Something about trains is fascinating–long, ugly steel beasts, and yet beautiful, mythic, invoking a sense of timelessness–sameness in a changing world–romantic–reminiscent of the great American work ethic–so large and yet stealthy–creeping through the land with a steady chugga chugga and at times a lonesome whistle that at night pierces, shrill, into your room, into your head like a Blues chord, as if to say, “Don’t be lonely, everything is OK, the train is still going–everything is still relevant.” While other machines are left discarded by the side of the tracks the train keeps on–same old cars and smoky engines–unflappable, as though my grandkids will someday see the same ones–they have an air of immortality, like the mountains forever a part of the landscape–but I know this to be untrue, they will someday crumble, mere wreckage, and then dust.

We crossed the continental divide some time ago and now too are flowing downhill towards the Pacific. But we won’t make it that far. I have trouble believing the Rockies resume close by as I stare out across the prairie but I know they remain hidden behind the clouds to the West, rise up like a fortress–beautiful but also sinister. A mountain ages like a man–slowly creasing and sagging and breaking down–worn away by time until finally gone–dust.

The snow and slope of the land gradually are getting steeper until the mountains that a while ago appeared painted on the horizon are all around. The rancher’s fence that lined the farmland is here, except now rolling up and down with the rise and fall of the land and almost buried in snow. The familiar pointy, tall, skinny conifers and thin, wispy Aspen of the Rockies have returned. We have entered the Teton National Forest, and two mighty moose trudge through deep snow, diplomats to this pristine land.

Driving provides a lesson for life: keep moving and things will change–no matter how far off what you’re going for appears–stay on the path and it will happen–all of a sudden you’re there and it’s surreal because for so long the road was somewhere else–passing through countless points until at last it’s the one you want.

2/3 Reflections on Jackson Hole

One of those times you see somebody else that looks like you–and momentarily they are you–and I see upon their face my own expression–eyes ablaze with joy looking up on steep slopes surrounded by rocky cliffs and trees and the outline of skiers and boarders descending dark against the white background. It snowed all morning but later the sun burst free and as it did felt like a privilege–which is what I see in the eyes of the stranger that is me–humbleness, wonder, thanks for the deep snow and vertical drop and sun–a religious experience, deeply spiritual–but somebody in line jokingly moos and I see the other side–we are cattle, each of us no more important than the other–perhaps some better stock but all doing the same thing–standing in line, gear in hand, telling stories that are just an attempt to stay relevant. It’s why I write this story, to tell that I was there, I skied Jackson Hole, I descended its steep rocky slopes, the sun was out the snow was deep and I’ll never forget it or the looks on my friends’ faces as they laid and rested in the snow, only their grins discernable behind thick clothing and bug eyed goggles–looking like spacemen on the moon, adventurers on their own strange, alien planet and as I remember their faces I also remember mine–my face on another–the face of joy we all wore but was no more important to the mountains than cows being herded through machines and packaged and sold. A mountain is indifferent to all.

2/4 The Return Voyage

Each portion of mountains has a distinct look even among a large chain–the Rockies of Wyoming have a different look than those of Colorado–but they do appear similar, as though cousins. The fairly blunt tops indicate the toil of millions of years of erosion–these are old mountains, some of the oldest in the world–but once they were never here at all–and so it will be in the future–mountains to dust–dust back into mountains–someday a great sea may cover this land, with the top of Jackson Hole an island jutting up through the blue depths–the descendants of cowboys and ski bums making a living, diving to explore the decaying remains of a chairlift.

But for now we are above sea level and it is a glorious sight–rolling along through a valley, the sun breaking over a peak and flooding the land with a blast of light–everything covered with a film of frost– and when the sun hits the land it sparkles and the branches of trees stretch outward like hands straining for the warmth of the sun. All living things reach for the sun, the only certain God.

A fog rolls over the valley, clinging to a river that winds through the trees like a serpent of mist. I imagine myself as a great adventurer starting a day of travel on foot–seeing this same view–taking a moment from his quest to enjoy the vista–I am alive–this is real–no mission is so great as not to take time to enjoy the moments of beauty, such as the epic landscape laid out before me–this is the adventure–everything in between.

Towns proudly display population signs of one and two hundred–horses outside in stables–steam coming from their nostrils, matching the smoke rising from the chimneys of houses that are all warm and snug inside. Few things are more satisfying than a roaring fire on a cold day, the feeling of triumphing over the elements. Men here have beards and cowboy hats and denim and drive trucks–tough and silent and grizzled and yet possessing a simple kindness–a traditional way that keeps them human. Here they are sheltered from the terrible world not too far away–this is a sanctuary–wildlife and mountains and rivers and pure white snow–hidden from the world of man–cold, dirty, greedy, loud, crowded. Living here is a firm stand against the society that cheapens it–fouls it–destroys it. Staying here is a decision to stay human and as I drive through Wyoming I briefly regain the innocence the world has taken away.

If you discount the dodgy crosswind twin-prop landings, the post-lunch deep-sea swims, the near-misses out on the autoroute, the closest I ever came to dying was in deep midwinter at Sugarloaf Mountain in Kingfield, Maine. Every winter my family traveled there for a week-long ski vacation, and in my eleventh year we rented the holy grail of all condos: the slopeside villa.

I probably shouldn’t be writing this right now. It’s only January 15.

But I did make it through the darkest month of the year, so I’m going to risk it.

I’m feeling bold.

I have a theory; I have a plan.