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What Makes Pistol Pete a Happydog?!

Happydog Guest Blog

Every month, one of my friends, colleagues or students will be a guest blogger, answering the question, "What makes you happy?" Checkout this month's guest post:

Pete Amrhein, Retail Buyer and Rock Band Lead Singer

Sometimes you don’t really know what makes you happy until you stumble over it. You can LOOK and CLIMB for a mountaintop and then not, like, actually DIG BEING THERE after arriving (I remember thinking that finally kissing Monica Horvath in second grade would be Eternal Bliss…it was more like sipping olive oil). Conversely, you can exasperatedly attend some silly old school gathering out of sheer obligation, and then discover it’s a kick-ass bash that you’ve been missing all these years. So today I give a shout out to those who are “happiness agnostics” – those who claim neither that “Happiness Certainly Exists Here” nor that “Happiness Certainly Does Not Exist There”, but rather , “I will know for myself that Happiness Exists If And Wherever I Actually Happen To Discover It.”

I had been taught to believe growing up that Happiness Certainly Existed in the “Upper Class Suburban Neighborhood.” Not the ones with 1,400 square foot homes and lawns that took only 8 minutes to mow. No, Happiness, as I was told, could be found up the hill on the curvy paved road, past the rosebushes, the trimmed hedges, and gated driveways. In the homes where “Louis" or “Bobby” not only mowed your lawn for you, but clipped your garden and swept your driveway. It was in these homes, with libraries, book nooks and separate dining rooms, where the Happy Fellow warehoused his contentment. Presumably, it was after a day managing a bank, or doctors office, or law firm, or some other related endeavor .You would come home in your fancy car, kiss your trophy wife, and sit down to a kitchen filled with children, laughter, and stories of success after success. This was, theoretically, the textbook Happy Life.

Fall, 1980, Ann Arbor, Michigan. I had not ever once signed up for the marijuana-induced idiot fests in college, where privileged boys roared with laughter over kindergarten matters. I would instead retreat to a quiet place, put on my headphones, and let the music of The Doobie Brothers, or Led Zeppelin, or Crosby Stills and Nash escort me to a sad, lonely, dark world where I knew suffering existed. And somehow, when I got there, I knew that this was where Happiness also visited…. frequently. For one cannot fully appreciate Happiness unless they also know Sorrow.

May 1982, West Michigan, Upper Class Suburban Neighborhood, Kitchen and Library:

My father, the very gent who had instilled in me the "tenets of financial success," was motioning to me in sneaky fashion from the reading room around the corner. My mother was on the phone telling Mrs. Snodgrass -who needed to know, apparently, how my college graduation ceremony had gone and that I was probably now going to interview with Advertising Agencies in Manhattan or on Wilshire Boulevard in LA. But my father had a look in his eye I had not seen before. It was Peter Pan-like, yet urgent. He really had something important to cover with me. So I quietly snuck behind the little swinging doors, John Wayne saloon-style -- and sat down to his private father-son huddle to listen to his next play call.

Friday night, 11:27 p.m., November, 1986, Frontmost 12” of the Thrust-Stage V-ing out into the wall-to-wall crowd at The Whiskey A GoGo, Sunset Strip, West Hollywood, Los Angeles, California:

I am head-tilted-back-banshee yelling into the microphone, as a lead singer of a popular rock band, in the chaotic roar of a steaming, humid, brightly lit rock and roll stage, while simultaneously quietly reflecting philosophically on life. A dichotomy, for sure, I realize, yet still true. I run through an inventory of feelings. I find my thoughts crashing like a jet on the runway intersecting my Really Frickin Happy Right Now euphoria with the Somber, Secret Advice a father gives to a son behind his mother's back, behind closed doors, behind the judgmental ghosts of countless ancestors before him. “I think you should do something adventurous with your life,” my father’s voice says, echoing up from Memory Lane. “Before LIFE sinks its teeth into you.”

Here and Now:

Jumping ahead another almost 30 years, my father’s words from that private meeting that day in Suburbanville still ring true and clear. He was telling me that, yes, he knew he had dutifully raised me right, and told me everything proper about college, work, responsibility, success, fatherhood, and the like, but wait! Hang on! Before I left for my engraved date with The Big World, there was this one thing….this REAL thing…..this thing he hadn’t really been able to say until NOW….that he really wanted me to know. He was essentially saying, “I can’t tell you where to find happiness anymore. I don’t know. Only you can find it, and even you wont know where it is until you look. A LOT. Don’t be afraid to look…….EVERYwhere. And that’s the best piece of advice I could ever give you. I’ve waited since you were born to say it…..and now……I’m saying it……so Good luck, my son……”

I had decided that day, the day he gave me his parting advice, that Happiness may occasionally visit Suburbanville, but it’s permanent address was somewhere more magical. For me, it would not be found reflecting on my portfolio in my home, one hand in my pressed wool slacks, the other quietly holding a glass of bourbon, fingering my yachting maps, as though others suffering in the world did not exist. No, for me, it would be where I eventually truly did find it, on those thumping stage floorboards, in front of the thousands of broken children of Rock and Roll City who were weeping inside their souls, where the “Kids Who Had Not” seemed to need me, a college graduate of privilege, to “rock with them” – to pantomime, to dance, to dispense exuberance, to act out Happiness for them. It was as if I had studied to be here my whole life - by listening to those albums, by watching my father, by being the thinking, quiet boy studying the poor-but-smiling children in Mexico, Brazil, and Aruba on family vacations. Happiness was not about HAVING things to yourself. Happiness was about DOING things with others, THINKING things, CREATING things for others, SAYING and WRITING and SINGING things to others…and sharing with others.

The final confirmation I received on my philosophy of Happiness came over the course of two untimely deaths. At the first, a very wealthy acquaintance of my father ended up receiving just a handful of us at his funeral, and it struck me how little his finances made any difference to anyone there…or not there, as the case was. The second funeral took place for a guitar player friend of mine, who had dropped out of school in eighth grade, but played guitar so well he could scrape by. In his short life, he had nothing materially, and didn’t care, because he was so HAPPY, and GAVE of himself to others so much, both musically and emotionally. At his funeral, the line to get in stretched around the block, because several thousand people had lined up to get in and say goodbye, but there was no room.

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