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By Brian Dunkleman

I spent the majority of the first half of my life living here in Ellicottville. I’ve spent most of the second half of it living in Los Angeles. For those keeping track, that’s a total of almost 45 years, although I can clearly still play mid to late thirties, with a clean shave and a fresh coat of Just For Men.

Life throws us all curveballs from time to time, however sometimes it feels as if life is aiming directly for my head. I’m sure most people feel the same way at one point or another. Maybe that’s what life really is, we all have our own individual pitchers throwing the next phase of our futures at us. Some people’s pitchers seem to lob them nothing but meatballs right over the plate. Mine is starting to feel like Wild Thing from the Major League movies.

Ok, this analogy is going too far, and I don’t even like baseball.

The latest wild pitch has knocked me back here to the town I grew up in, at least for the summer, maybe longer. Along for the ride this time is a 3-year-old version of myself named Jackson. The coolest thing about having a son is that you get to experience life all over again, from scratch, through their eyes.

We’ve been here just a little over a month, but already it’s so clear to me that over the years, I’ve taken for granted what an amazing place this is to grow up. When you’re in the process of growing up, you don’t stop and think to yourself “wow, what a fortunate environment for me to have been born into.” You have no frame of reference, and you’re too busy having fun.

So here’s a list of some of the things I appreciate the most about this place after being gone so long.

10. THE QUIET.

Los Angeles is an unending cacophony of awful sounds – helicopters, sirens, garbage trucks, leaf blowers, the shattering of dreams. Sitting on my sister’s back porch at night listening to the orchestra of crickets and toads for one hour is equal to six months of therapy.

9. THE GIN MILL’S WINGS.

Crispy. Medium sauce, not too sloppy. Perfection. I’ve been all over this country and it’s amazing to me how many places screw them up. And get the hell out of here with your ranch dressing (no offense to any other establishment in town who serves wings. I will gladly shove yours into my face as well).

8. NO TRAFFIC.

It’s amazing to be able to have to meet somebody at 2:00 and leave the house at 1:55. In LA, a drive to the grocery store takes a minimum of 20 minutes, two hours if you don’t hit the lights right.

7. NATURE.

In the first week here, my son fed chickens, rode a horse, saw pigs, goats, cows, deer, elk, buffalo, alpacas, and touched a dead turkey’s eyeball. Did I say dead? I meant sleeping.

6. JOEY DIPASQAULE’S OUTFITS.

They were amazing back then, they are amazing now.

5. STORY TIME AT THE LIBRARY WITH MRS SIGNORE.

She was teaching kindergarten when I was my boy’s age. He loves having her read to him and the other kids, and she always has an awesome craft for them to create at the end.

4. THE LIZARD GAME AT TIM AND BONNIE’S.

It might be my son’s favorite thing he’s ever done. It’s frustrating to watch, because he’s so bad at it…the hand-eye coordination hasn’t kicked in yet. I always have to play a couple times, you know, just to bump up his ticket count so he can get a higher grade of plastic crap. I remember so vividly playing in the game room at Rainbow Lake as a kid, and it’s amazing to watch how much joy it brings him.

3. SEASONS.

It’s only been five weeks, and we’ve experienced three of them.

2. THE PEOPLE.

They look you in the eyes when they talk to you, not at their phones. When they ask you how you are, they actually want to know. There hasn’t been one person we’ve interacted with that didn’t make my son feel important – like he was part of this community. Because that’s what this place is. A community.

FAMILY.

Not just for the love and support they’ve provided me with for my entire life, but for what they’ve provided for my son – books, toys, clothes, food, stroller, car seat, minivan, a home. But most importantly, they’re providing for him an example of how to be a good person.

When I first left this town at age 23, I thought that I never wanted to be content. I never wanted to be satisfied, I never wanted to stop striving, to stop achieving, to never think things were good enough.

Two decades later, being content is literally the only thing I want.

Out of all the places I’ve been, that has never been more clearly on display than here in Ellicottville.

Editor’s note: Brian Dunkleman is a self-described “comedian, actor, TV host, bartender and local.” While he takes a break from his hectic Los Angeles lifestyle, he has kindly offered to write an occasional column exclusively for the Ellicottville Times.

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