14 June 2010

Sam Gronning: In Memoriam

For the past ten years that I have known Sam Gronning, he has always wanted three things: 1.) To fuck Heather Locklear, 2.) To live forever, and 3.) If he had to die, he would die while fucking Heather Locklear.

Needless to say, to my knowledge, Sam never did get to fuck Heather Locklear, even in his death, which occurred this morning, at the age of 67.

Sam Gronning was a locksmith by trade, but he was also an avid skydiver, a published author, a former gravedigger, a French food connoisseur, and the narrator of the independent film Stagbunny. He was a staunch Republican, a fiercely funny storyteller, a harshly honest judge of character, and one of the best friends and most trusted mentors I have ever known.

The Sam you see in this picture is the Sam that I have known for the last decade, the entirety of my adult life. Always armed with his vest, packed with his unfiltered menthol cigarettes, his cell phone (which constantly vibrated with new jobs), and a pocket-sized copy of the U.S. Constitution, Sam could be found drinking coffee at a table at Dori Lou's or The Flying J, and ready for hours of conversation about life, love, movies, politics... whatever his table-mates, who were often my friends and I, wanted to discuss.

Politics and world events were frequent topics of Sam's debate and conversation. I was sitting at coffee at the French bakery with Sam on September 9, 2001, when Sam predicted the terrorist attack that would occur two days later. I was sitting in his living room the day that President Bush landed on that aircraft carrier; I remember saying "That bastard's going use that footage to get re-elected, isn't he?" to which Sam replied "I certainly fucking hope he does!" Sam was a staunch conservative, and his television was tuned to FOX News twenty-four hours a day. We never saw eye-to eye on anything remotely political, but somehow I still found myself sitting on his couch, sometimes for hours at a time, watching The O'Reilly Factor and bumming smokes, debating the issues, listening to endless stories, and learning. Sam is responsible for much of my education as a human being.

If there's anyone that I could call an adopted father figure, it's Sam. He once loaned me 50 bucks so I could pay a speeding ticket on time. He was critical of almost everyone, sometimes to hurt feelings. He once called me out for "smoking too much dope," and he was right. When Gina Giles broke my heart at age 19, it was Sam that I called, bawling like a girl. "Come on over, bud, we'll talk it out," he said. He called everyone "bud," especially when he didn't know someone's name.

I loved going on jobs with Sam and watching him open cars and collect checks. Sam taught me how to get into locked cars, but every time I lock my keys in, I can't get it quite right without his golden touch. I was there when Sam first saw Transformers, and famously claimed that "Shia LaBeouf is the new Heather Locklear," to riotous laughter and ribbing. I once asked Sam to play me one of his favorite songs, then watched in amazement as he cued up Cyndi Lauper's "She Bop," dancing along in his chair and singing along to every word. Sam promised me that he would take me skydiving, and I regret never finding the time for it. Sam is the very definition of living life to its fullest, living every day exactly how you want to, and never looking back.

I lost touch with Sam over the last few years when I moved to Laramie, but I was lucky enough to get to meet him for coffee this last April. He had lost a lot of weight, and his instantly-recognizable voice had faded, but he retained the wry, wise spirit that I knew and loved. I'll never forget the last piece of advice that he gave me, in a conversation about the theory of the quarter-life crisis: "That thing that all guys go through at around 25," he said, "It's not a crisis, it's an epiphany." Goddamn, Sam. Bing-fucking-go.

Sam Gronning was one of the smartest, wittiest, wiliest, and most genuine men that ever walked the face of the earth. For many years, he was like family to me, and I will miss him more than can be expressed in these words, and I know I am not alone. There are hundreds of like-minded 20- and 30-somethings out there who have spent many an hour receiving an education from Sam Gronning, and there are thousands of stories out there like the ones I've been thinking about all day. Sam may not have died in the arms of Heather Locklear, but I'll be damned if he didn't achieve immortality, in the hearts and memories of the countless young people that sat and drank coffee with him. In that sense, Sam will indeed live forever.

There will always be an empty seat at the table for you, Sam. We love you, and we'll miss you.

Rest in peace, bud.


  1. Thanks for writing this- Sam was my landlord and protector and critic and friend for the short year that I lived in Casper and the world's going to suck even more without him in it. You maybe have already read this, because I know Sam always had copies of his stuff on hand to give to people to read, but I thought if not, you might enjoy it:

    Part Hawk, Part Dove

    Women I'm with
    There's safety in numbers, I like them
    Though some are hunters

    Those scare me the most, pretty ones
    with velvet arms
    Seemingly a host with most deadly charms
    Choose one of the best
    to share love and maybe the seed, Forsaking the rest
    is that what I need?

    Each one was the one,
    I thought they were better and best when it was done
    I put their picture with the rest

    Women I've had took a piece of me away
    Is there any not bad?
    Do any stay?
    Pieces are left, that's true, Only
    Are there enough?

    If I only knew
    Another bite would be rough, my heart
    seeps blood From many a deep slash
    Am I a dud?
    The pain will finally pass

    Born to the Gate, I tried guarding it well
    behind me the knife, made me wonder-
    t'is Hell
    walking alone, I can't, but I must, Once and again
    I need to be able to trust

    Maybe a dream
    Bright and lovely and fair
    A hint of a sheen In her lovely heart and her hair
    She's out there?

    Just maybe she's not
    Looked everywhere. Should I accept this lot?
    No, I don't think that I will, I have much more to give
    At least, this pain doesn't kill
    I think I will live...

    This I know
    I have friends that I love, strong women among them
    part hawk and part dove
    No life without them, They mean so much to me
    Without them
    I would cease to be

    -Sam Gronning-

  2. Thank you so much for sharing this... I think I read it years ago, it seems familiar. I've been looking for my copy of "Sunday Bloody Sunday" (autographed, of course), but I can't seem to locate it.