This song has no title
This song has no title
I’m not sure I really knew Capt. Daniel H. Utley, 33, who was killed in the line of duty April 20 in some place called Bamako, Mali, his latest stop in a distinguished Army career that no one who’d once known him as simply Dan Utley would’ve predicted he’d lead.
The full circumstances of Capt. Utley’s death aren’t clear. And due to the nature of the work he was doing, we might never know exactly what happened that day, when he was among six people who were killed in a vehicle accident in the capital city of a chaotic African country.
It’s difficult for me to comprehend the bravery Capt. Utley surely exhibited during his decade in the military. The guts, the intestinal fortitude. This is because I remember a Dan Utley whose fragile digestive system once became so tangled and twisted by the noxious combination of salted peanuts and Pepsi that he vomited out the back window of my gold Honda Civic as it rolled down Happy Valley Road in Glasgow, Ky.
Salted peanuts and Pepsi. A mixture apparently so powerfully horrible that the guy couldn’t even hang on for the 30 seconds it would’ve taken me to pull into a parking lot.
Who the hell falls violently ill to peanuts and Pepsi? I asked Dan that question repeatedly for years. I don’t recall his answers. I assume, however, that he plucked one of my own embarrassing failures from the painstakingly detailed mental files we maintained of each other’s most egregious screwups and tossed a similarly insulting question back at me.
I knew the real answer, though: Bad asses get sick from peanuts and Pepsi. Because Dan was a bad ass. I knew it then, and I definitely know it now. A lot of years, a lot of life and a lot of drifting apart separated me and the Dan who went on to become an American hero. But he was a hero to me long before that.
Plenty of people knew Dan better than I did, especially folks who met him after he left Glasgow for the University of Louisville and eventually for the Army. For a few years in high school, though, we were usually a package deal.
We shared a neighborhood and a first name. He used the informal “Dan,” even though he did formal things such as tucking in his shirts, combing his hair and completing homework assignments. I’ve always used the stuffier “Daniel,” even though my teenage years were a mess of wrinkled polo shirts, comical disorganization and an overpowering lack of motivation to finish even the simplest academic tasks. Much of what Dan did seemed to be fueled by some degree of forward thinking, purpose or planning; if I planned anything, it was typically in an effort to avoid having to do any further planning. We were, in many ways, very different. For instance, he couldn’t have cared less that I played guitar in a silly little rock band. And I found his pontifications about the political philosophies he espoused excruciatingly boring.
In the ways that counted, however, we were symbiotic. We were smart. We were funny. We were sarcastic. We were self-deprecating. We enjoyed high school, but as an amusement more than anything else – neither of us considered anything that occurred in those days to be a life-altering or life-defining experience. We reveled in a brutal sense of humor that might’ve, at times, been hurtful to people. Dan and I had few sacred cows, and we didn’t think you should have many, either. Little was off limits. In hindsight, I’m sure we crossed lines more than we should have.
I suppose we got away with it because we were clearly harmless. We were goofs who sucked up to teachers, caused virtually no problems and were steadfastly loyal to our friends. We weren’t the most popular guys around, and associations with us scored a person zero points in the teenage social structure. But we carved out our niche and made it work.
We often entertained ourselves in ways that appealed to no one else, save for a couple of our guy friends, Alex and Spencer. A summer afternoon might’ve involved igniting a Barbie doll in a metal bucket, because it’s important to know whether Barbie melts or burns. A slow Friday night might’ve been spent steering his Volkswagen Rabbit along Ky. 90 to Summer Shade and back, simply because we realized we hadn’t been to Metcalfe County in a while, which was clearly a circumstance that demanded immediate correction. We learned the hard way that the county kids who populated the cruise line in front of McDonald’s didn’t appreciate being videotaped by interlopers from the city. I’ve heard rumors that a bull might’ve been struck in the scrotum by a BB fired from a Volkswagen Rabbit, and that the shooter(s) might’ve been wearing sombreros at the time, but I won’t confirm or deny those reports.
Still, as well as I knew Dan, he often seemed alien. He was usually a step ahead – and if not that, then at least a step off to the side. I distinctly recall his decision in our junior or senior year to use “Green Onions” by Booker T and the MGs as the soundtrack to a class project. It’s not an obscure song, it’s not exactly a random song. But it was definitely unexpected in the mid-1990s, and it was a choice that absolutely no one but Dan would have made.
That’s what I loved about Dan. He was impossible to pin down. He was a sweet guy who regularly laughed to the point of physical incapacitation, but who could also unleash gloriously profane and poetic rants. (If you were a dude who happened to be on a date one night with a girl Dan wanted to be on a date with, be thankful you couldn’t hear him besmirch your character. For hours and hours.) Dan was a force, and it was a challenge to keep up. He was always tinkering, exploring, scheming, learning. I don’t know whether the breaking point was his fascination with the folding shovel, or the CPR dummy, or lounge music – but eventually I stopped being surprised by whatever attracted Dan’s focus. I just tried to keep up.
We went separate ways after high school, and within a few years, I realized I wasn’t keeping up at all anymore.
Then, one October – I’m almost certain it was Halloween night – my phone rang. It was Alex and Dan, calling from Louisville. Dan was tired of law school, he was angered by 9/11, or something like that. In any event, he was joining the Army. I’m pretty sure I called him a dumbass, told him he’d be blown apart by terrorists. I think he agreed. We all laughed. They hung up. And that was the final time we shared a moment that felt like the old days.
I saw Dan once or twice after that call, and we emailed off and on for the next decade. At the time he died, though, I hadn’t really spoken to him in a few years. He was always somewhere on the planet doing ridiculously awesome things, while I was doing far more normal things, never too far from home.
Since word of his death came Friday, a lot of us who ran in Dan’s circle in Glasgow have lamented that we weren’t more diligent in maintaining contact. Of course, I wish I’d tried harder. At the same time, though, I don’t know that either of us felt the need.
I’ll forever believe that our paths crossed at a time in our lives when we needed each other the most, and in a few short years we squeezed more out of our friendship than many people do in a lifetime. I’m crushed that he’s gone, confused about why it happened and sad that I’ll never hear from him again. But my life was absolutely enriched by his presence in it, and I am proud to have been part of his. We all have a list of people who are most special to us, and Dan has permanent residence on mine. I hope that somehow he knew that.
Dan and I spent a lot of time in cars. And we listened to a lot of music. We didn’t agree on much musically, but we found a sort of unofficial theme song in “Windfall,” by the band Son Volt. I went for a drive Friday night after hearing the news and listened to the song. I thought about Dan. Even without taking into account our history with “Windfall,” it just seemed to fit.
So here you go, man. For probably the thousandth time. And for the last time.
“Windfall,” Son Volt
The record shall be called “Skaggs Creek.”
1. “Giving Up,” Daniel Pike
2. “Sunny Morning,” Daniel Pike
3. “Buck Up, Back Out,” Daniel Pike
4. “You’d Be Wrong,” Daniel Pike
5. “Better Offer,” Daniel Pike
6. “The Strangest Year,” Daniel Pike
7. “082908,” Daniel Pike
8. “Loaded Guns,” Daniel Pike
9. “Wooden Boxes,” Daniel Pike
10. “On a Sunday,” Daniel Pike
“Still Be Around,” Uncle Tupelo
“Two Days in February,” Goo Goo Dolls
Welcome back everyone. First, apologies for not having any new photos to share – I realize those are the main attractions offered by this blog, but as the family has fallen into a sort of routine over the past few days, the camera has been less of a priority. Years from now, I’m sure we’ll regret not snapping as many shots as time would allow. Wow, simply typing that sentence inspires me to begin documenting again.
Anyway, I’m writing from work, my first Friday night in the office since Anne Rhoades was born. It’s tough to be away from home at night – tougher than I thought it would be – because I’ve grown quite fond of whiling away the evening hours with Amy and Girly, which for some reason is the nickname I’ve suddenly started using for the baby. (Although it’s better than “Kitty.” Explanation: I have a ridiculous habit of wandering around the house and addressing my pointless pronouncements to our cat, Battier. For instance, I might walk into the TV room and say, “Kitty, I need new guitar strings.” It happens so often that for the first few days of Anne Rhoades’ life, I found myself inadvertently calling the baby “Kitty” when making random announcements. It’s been corrected.)
In any event, Kitt– eh, Girly, has been performing nicely in her role as a sleeping, eating and crapping machine. There’s a real level of excitement when she breaks from this cycle and graces us with an hour or so of pleasant liveliness. Today, for example, she engaged in a bit of hilarious kicking and gyrating as I flipped through the digital music channels on cable. This thrills me completely, because her innate musicianship means she’ll soon be ready for the intense mandolin lessons I’ve planned. On the other hand, she did sleep through the final few episodes of “The Wire,” which means two things: 1) Her taste in television isn’t fully refined, and 2) I now have an excuse to watch the entire series again once she’s old enough to handle adult themes.
Seriously, though, fatherhood so far is even more amazing and rewarding than even I expected, although I know the really good – and really hard – parts are yet to come. I’m sure Amy feels the same way. It’s fun to eagerly anticipate each day in a way I’ve never experienced before, and I only hope that we’re up to the task of being good parents for Girly.
It’s Day Six of the Great Parenthood Experiment, and so far all’s good. It’s pretty incredible each day to watch Anne Rhoades gradually change. She looks less like a newborn and more like a real person each morning, she’s increasingly more aware of her surroundings, and she’s already learned that her dad is the funniest person she’s ever met.
She’s made two excursions in recent days with Mom and MeMa Sittler. On Tuesday, Dad’s first day back at work, she traveled to K-Mart, which I consider a perfectly appropriate first destination for a native of small-town Kentucky. On Wednesday she went to the doctor, who reconfirmed her parents’ belief that she’s the most flawless child ever birthed (those weren’t Doc’s exact words, but I won’t quibble over semantics). Anne Rhoades now weighs a full seven pounds, which means two things: 1) She’s eating well and has reclaimed her birth weight plus a couple of ounces, and 2) she seems fully capable of the rapid weight gain for which many blood members of the Pike family are known.
Meanwhile, life’s good. Mom is recovering nicely, losing weight and gathering momentum each day. Baby’s sleeping like a champion, and Dad’s wishing he didn’t have to fool with work ever again, but understands that someone has to earn some money.
Below are a couple photos. First is the result of Tuesday night’s bath. There was a time when I would have vomited at the thought of dressing a baby as a duck. My, how thoughts quickly change. Second is Anne Rhoades heading out the door Wednesday morning for the doctor’s office.
One final note: Kudos to Uncle David Pike, who astutely noted that Anne Rhoades’ official birth time of 1:04 nicely mirrors one of the cornerstone moments in recent Pike history. The final score of the 1992 “Christian Laettner” game was Duke 104, Kentucky 103, meaning Anne Rhoades is a born Blue Devil and is eager to experience all the glory and joy that comes from Duke loyalty.
Welcome back, folks. The Pikes are now home, and Anne Rhoades is getting acquainted with her new digs.
Below are a handful of new photos – Anne Rhoades with each grandparent, and then a shot of Anne Rhoades in her bassinet, which will be her short-term bed before upgrading to the crib and full nursery.
Good Saturday morning everyone. It certainly is that around here, despite the fact the Pikes are still held captive at The Medical Center. Amy’s carrying on beautifully, chattering on the phone and learning which positions are – and are not – comfortable, now that soreness from Friday’s ordeal has begun to set in.
Fully exhausted last night, we took the advice of several folks and allowed the hospital nursery to keep an eye on the little girl overnight. It was tough to watch an unfamiliar nurse wheel her away, but then we collapsed and cherished the silence. In fact, I’m writing this at about 8:45 on Saturday morning, and we still haven’t seen Anne Rhoades except through the nursery windows. Amy called and asked for her about an hour ago, but the pediatrician hasn’t yet come around, and the doc apparently wants to take another look at her before sending her back to us. No problem, we don’t think, but Amy’s getting a little antsy, naturally.
Once she comes back around, we’ll take more pictures and post them here. We plan to just hang around the hospital today and allow folks to wait on us hand and foot, so I should have plenty of time to add some stuff later. And I’ve shot some video of the little girl, so I’ll see if I can’t figure out how to get that up here later.
Well, mom and dad are nearly beaten, but everyone’s doing well. Heaven knows what to write about this right now…I’m too fried to really concentrate. Biggest day of our lives? Of course, but how do you adequately condense such a thing into words? Especially after getting up at 4:30 a.m.? I won’t even try at the moment.
Before going much further, we must express our absolute gratitude to all the friends and family who have sent their thoughts and prayers. We appreciate it more than you know, and we are eager to introduce Anne Rhoades to all the people who have been so important and special in our lives.
Amy’s doing fine and her spirits are impossibly and unexpectedly high considering the activities she’s been involved in today. In, fact she is far more coherent than me at the moment. (The epidural is a miracle procedure, apparently, because four hours later Amy’s still going strong with no pain). My job – which I performed beautifully, of course – was ludicrously simple, consisting only of rubbing Amy where directed and of predicting when I should and should not open my mouth. But Amy’s the real champion. I have no idea how women do this; I once endured an extremely, well, “personal” surgery, but my agony never approached what Amy experienced at times before receiving the pain medication.
I’ll write more tomorrow, once our early thoughts have developed. For now, here’s a selection of the first photos of our little girl – the finest newborn in all history, as far as we’re concerned.