Monday, October 06, 2008

Should Sarah Palin Shampoo My Crotch?

I thought for a moment that I would call this entry, "Why Sarah Palin Should Shampoo My Crotch," but then I decided my opinion would get lost in what is obviously an inflammatory title.

But then I let my dog out to use the bathroom and I started to think about this presidential race, Obama, McCain, Palin, Biden, the debates, everything that enrages and displeases me about the Republican ticket, and I decided that "Why Sarah Palin Should Shampoo Crotch" is actually not that bad of a title.

This is a hugely important election. I haven't met anyone who is "on the fence" with concern to their ultimate selection come Election Day. In fact, most people I encounter, spit vitriol in the direction of any perceived affront to their selection for the next President of the United States. So why not go with the Sarah Palin title? Republicans in this country over the last fifteen years have played the victim more expertly than Yo-Yo Ma has played the cello. How else could a party that spent the primaries crucifying Hillary Clinton for her "feminist" views turn around and, with a straight face, claim that Sarah Palin is being unfairly criticized because she is a woman? How else could a party that has been in power for the last eight years presume to call itself the party of change? How else could a party that consistently sides with the wealthiest five percent of our nation's populace purport to be on the side of "the people?" It's lunacy.

In the face of this sort of delusion, my choice of a blog title is completely inconsequential. We're talking about a party that has spent the last eight years driving our country into the ground, wheels sparking, engine flaming, bodies burning and still has the audacity to cry foul when the "liberal media" (what the hell is Fox News?!) suggests that the emperor may, in fact, be naked. No thanks. No high road for me. Sarah Palin, you may shampoo my crotch. and give it a nice trim while you're at it.

Dear God, WTF?

There are some things for which God should rightly answer. I'm not talking about big existential questions like, "Why are we here?" Or, "Why, if motivated by love, do You sprinkle a healthy dose of murder and mayhem into the world?" I don't think those questions really have answers, or at least shouldn't. I mean, if you knew the answers to those types of questions, why keep plugging away?

I'm talking about more basic questions like, "What the fuck is with the Duck-Billed Platypus?" Or, "Mormons? Really?!" Petty? Insensitive? Probably, but knowing the answers is not really going to spoil me for whatever comes next, and I think some questioning in that vein could give God a chance to show off his sense of humor. What I'm really turning over and over in my mind at the present moment is the nature and purpose of Poison Ivy. Why is this particularly virulent little bitch of a vine so prevalent in my part of the world? Specifically, my backyard. And why does my dog so desire to eat the chipmunk that lives under the protection of said virulent little bitch? And why, after hunting this innocent chipmunk, does my dog see fit to rub lovingly, almost cat-like, against my legs, arms, or any other area of exposed flesh? A sensitive moment of love between man and his best friend loses all of its touching, age-old warmth when man wakes up the next day to seeping blisters of itching unholiness on the backs of his legs. The STD parallel is just beneath the surface here, but I'm having trouble articulating herba-bestiality...which is probably a good thing. Just know that I feel betrayed and also very, very, very itchy.

So God, what the fuck? Poison Ivy? I mean, really?! Please, in your infinite wisdom, have some higher calling for urushiol. Please let this oily, nefarious resin somehow be associated with a cure for cancer or AIDS. Please have something up your sleeve other than a burning, itching, seeping, unsightly rash.

Let us pray.

Monday, September 08, 2008

Fight Club

I am on my last set of contacts with no back up plan in place. My back up plan (read: glasses) was lost in a massive snow drift back in February. I just received a bill for $93.00 from a dentist I have not seen since last November. Perhaps this is punishment for not scheduling my sixth month cleaning. I recently received a massive paycheck from the 40 + hours of overtime I worked last pay period, but more recently received my car insurance bill and it reflects the utter recklessness with which unmarried men in my age bracket drive. I am nearly out of checks and I have a stack of bills sitting on my desk which includes the aforementioned mystery dentist fee and an angry letter from my cable company in which they threaten to cut off my cable. This is interesting as I have not had cable service since June as I requested it be cut off. Partly this was out of spite for their poor service in repairing the cable after my neighbor's tree nearly crushed my house and partly to save money for a rainy day...or a mystery bill from the dentist. I set up an IRA account last Christmas and began the process of rolling over my Texas Teacher's Retirement account, but apparently the managers of said fund do not want me to do this. Despite the fact that I sent every document they requested and notarized the hell out of each one, I continued to receive vague and frustrating rejections from them in the mail saying that my documents had not been notarized. Today I received two notices that since I had not responded in a timely manner they are assuming that I want to leave my retirement money in their management and have closed my request. Bastards. Also, I cannot get my financial advisor to return my correspondence with her. Today I went to the pharmacist to refill a prescription for Nexium that usually costs me $45.00 and was asked to pay $76.00. Were it not for the burning hole in my stomach I might have balked, but who wants a burning hole in their stomach?

It sort of feels like Alexander and the No Good, Horrible, Terrible, Very Bad Day right now. I could go on and on about any number of lesser things, but the preceding paragraph seems to have encapsulated the point fairly well. I'm tired and feeling more than a little overwhelmed and stretched. Recently, the only times I feel free and easy are when I am playing soccer, and I guess "free and easy" is a little bit misleading. I got my first yellow card for dissent this Sunday (and by "first for dissent," I mean first EVER for dissent) and committed a healthy number of fouls trying to marshal the midfield of the men's league team for which I play. I remember one summer before I went to college playing with some friends in a men's league (read: beer league) in which we absolutely demolished every team we played against. Usually after the third or fourth unanswered goal we scored the challenges started flying and middle aged men with knee pads and rec specs started Kung Fu kicking us as we flew past them. I recall how ridiculous I thought this was. How could balding, overweight fathers with their kids on the side line plummet into violence and profanity in a Sunday league that was competitive in name only?

It started to dawn on me a few years later, when I was asked to play in an exclusively Hispanic league by the guys with which I worked a summer construction job, that ninety minutes on a Sunday was an escape from all of the bullshit I listed earlier. These guys would haul off and punch an opposing player in the face simply because they thought he might get around them. It wasn't so much about reliving glory days as much as it was about running out (or punching out, or kicking out, or slapping out, or spitting out, or gouging out, or cursing out) the frustrations of adulthood and all of the pressures that come with not making enough money and not having enough time.

So here I am on Monday. I had my ninety minutes on Sunday to play like a monster. I have the ankles and the feet of someone who was in a shin kicking contest. I scored my goal and got my yellow card and read about it on the blog our team keeps to report the weekend's result. Then I read it again. And now what? Too many bills to pay, not enough money in the bank, and an expensive hole in my stomach. The thing is, it doesn't get any easier. Marriage. Kids. SERIOUS commitments. I guess manhood is figuring out how to negotiate all of this and manage to keep your head and to cherish your commitments. I'm not their yet, but I have another match on Sunday.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

I Am I Said or Am I Cracking Up?

Something broke for me a few weeks ago and it was a good thing. I've been stuck in a six year rut and I'm finally serious about getting out of it, but that's for another post and a more serious frame of mind. This morning I've been singing Neil Diamond songs and not to no one in particular.

I woke up early with errands to run before heading off to work this afternoon. The most pressing of these tasks was to take Mazzy Pants to the vet followed closely by purchasing the most nuclear strength Liquid Plumber money can buy. I'm tired of watching my whiskers float around in a shaving creamy bog of warm water in the basin of my sink knowing that I'll have to come back later and flush and wipe the detritus away.

It was a glorious morning, cool and sunny. Mazzy Pants gleefully slobbered out the window of the car on our way to the vet, unaware that within the hour she would have a fecal wand unceremoniously thrust in her pooper, multiple vaccines peppered around her shoulders, blood drawn, and that nasty bordetella gunk sprayed up her nose. She performed swimmingly and even showed off for the vet and the grooming ladies who have no idea what a bitch she can be. She has her moments.

At the grocery store I bought my Liquid Plumber and returned to the car where Mazzy was waiting in the passenger seat. As I sat down I eyed the newly chewed lid of my coffee cup and then had the following one-sided conversation with Mazzy. She's smart, but she can't talk.

Me: I am, I said! [That's right. The Neil Diamond song]

Mazzy: Confused and slightly alarmed look.

Me: I am, I cried!

Mazzy: Whimper.

Me: Mazzy, no one wants dog in their coffee. No one goes into Starbucks and says, "I would like a grande bold with room for dog." That just doesn't happen.

Mazzy: Stares

Me: Oh, you're out of Verona? How about Golden Retriever? Do you have any of that?

Mazzy: Shifting in her seat and looking out the window

Me: No one hears not even the chair!

I took the lid off my coffee cup and finished the rest sans dog slobber, but I didn't let up on the Neil. Mazzy, embarrassed, stuck her head further out the window as I launched into "Sweet Caroline," but she couldn't escape. I was on a roll and I was cracking myself up.

This is the most ridiculous post ever.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Laying Pipe

"You-a see that? Be-a careful near it, it-a can kill you."

These were the first words of advice my Bosun, Sal Piscneri, gave me on my orientation tour of the drill ship I would be working on for the summer. Amidst all of the pipes and, machinery, and endless noise, I wasn't quite sure what he was nodding toward, but I didn't have time to clear things up because he was already moving on to the next death trap.

"That-a thing over there? It-a can kill you. Keep-a your eyes up."

His heavy Italian accent added to the unfamiliarity of my new workplace and the short, terse sentences he employed left me wondering if perhaps something was being lost in translation. Like, how, exactly, I would meet my demise if I was ever caught on deck and unaware.

"You see that-a rope ova there?"

"Can it kill me?"

"Absolutley. Don't-a get-a caught between it and the railing. It'll cut-a you in half."

Finally some detail, although now I wasn't sure if I had really wanted it. Our tour continued in this macabre manner moving aft down the entire port side of the ship and then back forward up the starboard side, a journey that even at a brisk pace with no stops would easily have taken fifteen minutes. Everything could kill me and there were certain areas I was absolutely forbidden to go unless I was accompanied by a senior crew member, my very presence alone in those areas enough to result in sudden, gruesome death.

It was the summer after my first year in grad school and as all of my classmates were spending their time doing research in libraries and foreign countries, I was floating in 9,000 feet of water in the Gulf of Mexico trying not to get killed. My father has made a career of negotiating the perils of various drilling installations and the previous summer had offered to try and get me hired on as a summer hand but retracted his offer when another summer worker was, you guessed it, killed. A year later his faith in the safety of the profession had been reestablished - or at least he thought I was no longer dumb enough to get myself killed - and after a few phone calls to old buddies, I was on my way to Houston to complete paperwork and pass a pre-employment physical.

The paperwork hinted at the possible dangers of the job, but in a much more officious way than Sal would once I got on the ship. The physical was comprised of the usual hurdles - a drug test, a blood test, and a health screening - but it also required that I spend a day in a Houston office park lifting all manner of bulky equipment while climbing up and down stairs and crawling up and over and through various obstacles while my heart rate was monitored and I tried to look unstrained by the heat and the weight. There was even mechanism that tested my back strength and required me to strap into a contraption that most closely resembled the crazy forklift suit Ripley from Aliens uses to fight the queen alien at the end of the movie. I managed to look not nearly as tough. After all of this, I had no idea what I was getting myself into until I met Sal and we embarked on our journey around the ship.

The Discoverer Spirit was huge and floated over an hour by helicopter off the coast of Louisiana. Looking down at the water at the beginning of the flight, I could see hundreds of drilling platforms, pipelines, and gas wells. The depth of the water was clearly visible as one shelf dropped onto another and the gulf changed from a sandy brown to a chocolate brown to an earthy green and finally a deep and radiant blue. Gradually, there was nothing but water in every direction, the depth and the distance too large an obstacle for all but the most advanced operations. The helicopter droned on over the shimmering expanse until I could finally make out a ship looming in the distance. As we neared, the ship grew larger and larger until our helicopter lit upon it like a fly on a horse's back, it's full scale dwarfed only by the flat desert of the gulf.

I followed the other crew members out of the helicopter, grabbed my duffle bag off the deck from beneath the whirring blades above my head, and hustled my way into the heliport's waiting room where I would be logged in and given instruction on what the hell I was supposed to do next. Oil field workers are an interesting put it mildly. They come from all over. Some are educated. Some are not. Some have families. Some don't. Most have nicknames and all can curse more creatively than anyone you'll ever meet.

I expected a lively bunch, as I had grown up hearing about guys with names like Bigfoot and Bama. I'd heard stories of macho smartasses eating roaches in the galley of the rig to get a laugh and piss and vinegar Scotsman climbing towering derricks in gale force winds singing "I'm From Glasgow" as if it were a summer day. There were other stories about sharks, practical jokes, fights, and storms.

One of my favorite stories came from a work buddy of my dad's, a burly ass-kicker of a man named David Arp. David lives in Colorado and once walked up to a buddy of mine who had just moved there, having never met him but intending to invite him to dinner as a mutual friend, and said, "You Ross?"

When my friend answered that he was, David responded, "I know a guy in Texas thinks you're a big pussy."

And that's David Arp.

David's story has as it's main character a guy called The Liar. This story allegedly occurred in Saudi Arabia as a crew of workers was waiting for a helicopter to take them out to a rig located in a particularly remote corner of the country. A helicopter safety video was playing on a TV nearby and The Liar started to tell everyone that he was on the helicopter the day the video was made. Used to his antics, everyone humored him as the helicopter weaved through the desert terrain and a voice-over related the specs and safety information of the helicopter shown. As The Liar was really hitting his stride, the chopper on the video slammed into the side of a cliff and disintegrated into a roaring ball of fire. There was a one beat pause and The Liar said, "Yup. I was the sole survivor."

Having heard these stories, having worked construction jobs before, and having met guys like David Arp, I assumed I would be ready for the characters who were about to enter my life, but I really wasn't. In most jobs, one works with maybe three or four truly interesting people. In this job, everyone had a story. Everyone was a story. After a few nights spent not getting myself killed, I began to relax enough to start actually listening to the conversations happening around me in the break room. Drilling is a 24 hour a day operation. Each hitch I worked was comprised of two weeks on, 14 days of work, 12 hours a day. During each shift, we had two fifteen minute breaks and one thirty minute lunch. The break time is really all the time anyone has to catch up on the two weeks spent not on the rig, and catch up they do. There were stories of benders, strip club fights, and cheating wives. Tool boxes, cars, and livestock were discussed along with an ongoing and incredibly well-reasoned debate about whether the Big XII or the SEC was the better football conference. All of these stories were punctuated by the word "fuck" in all of its forms.

"You know what scares the fuck outta me?"

"What's that?"

"Motherfucking spiders, man! Them motherfuckers are fuckin' sneaky little fuckers. I can't motherfuckin' stand the motherfuckin' thought of those motherfuckers climbing all fuckin' over me!"

"Yup. Spiders are fuckin' scary motherfuckers."

"Fuck yeah, they are!"

"One time I was driving my truck down 85 at about harvest time and one of them big motherfuckers - you know the kind I'm talking about? - Those sumbitches with the green on 'em and those big motherfuckin' legs?"

"Fuck yeah, I do! Those motherfuckers are motherfuckin' huge!"

"So I'm driving and notice one of them motherfuckers climbing on my motherfuckin' windshield. I just about fuckin' shit myself!"

"You stop and smash that fucker?"

"Fuck no! I started swerving and swatting at that motherfucker, but I couldn't hit the motherfucker! I ended up pulling the motherfuckin' truck into the motherfuckin' ditch and jumping the fuck out! The bitch of it is I hate motherfuckin' spiders so motherfuckin' much, I didn't even put the motherfuckin' truck in park. Bent up my front end!"

"Holy fuck! What happened to the motherfuckin' spider?"

"Motherfucker was actually on the outside of the motherfuckin' windshield."

I couldn't make this up and I apologize for the profanity, but that's just about as accurate as I can make it. The best part is that the two guys having this conversation were both well over six feet tall and also muscle bound from years of manual labor. Just as they finished their conversation, another massive rough neck of a man sitting across the room chimed in with, "You know what I motherfuckin' hate? Snakes."

After the summer was over, I had to bite my tongue to keep from saying "motherfucker" in polite company. My girlfriend, not qualifying as polite company, wanted to sew my mouth shut.

"Hey Baby, want to cook a motherfuckin' meal tonight or motherfuckin' eat out?"

The work was actually not that difficult. My job title was Ordinary Seaman (yes, that joke's been made) and I was responsible for all of the odds and ends on the whatever anyone happened to need me for at the moment I was walking by. There was a lot of painting, inspecting life boats, inspecting fire extinguishers, inspecting fire hoses, helping the welders, tying up supply boats, untying supply boats, and, on one particularly unlucky night, cleaning out the shaker room.

*****MORE LATER******

Monday, April 07, 2008

The Fainter

My family is prone to embarrassment in glorious and impossible ways. I'm not talking about the crushing, public humiliations of a nasty divorce or a DUI or an out-of-control gambling addiction that results in bankruptcy and foreclosures, but the comic opportunities for embarrassment that present themselves on a daily basis and that most people are able to avoid. My mother has mooned an Easter procession in England and an entire upscale French restaurant in Chicago, both accidentally (she is adept at this, the mooning thing). She also wrote, distracted and flustered, on a disciplinary referral in her first year of teaching, "Student asked repeatedly to spit out cum," when she meant to write "gum". My father has fainted in a Subway sandwich shop and at a driving range, the second time requiring stitches from the fall, and my sister and I have managed to expose our asses AND faint in public on multiple occasions, thankfully not at the same time...yet. Come to think of it, our public embarrassments seem to revolve around either faintings or moonings.

My first brush with this family proclivity occurred when I was in sixth grade. We had just moved to a small town in Central Texas and I was having my first experience as The New Kid. Students in this town attended one of two middle schools and there weren't a great number of new kids in any given year. I was a novelty and attracted the attention of everyone simply because I was a fresh face in a social landscape that had remained largely unchanged since kindergarten. It was the second day of school and our teacher, Mr. Catlin and nurse, Mrs. Zenner, thought it would be a good idea if Elsie, the token diabetic, demonstrated to the class how she checked her insulin level and gave herself injections. Sixth graders are cruel and I'm sure it seemed a good idea to them to educate us all on Elsie and her condition so we didn't turn her into the Piggy of the sixth grade.

Elsie stood bravely in front of the whole class and began to explain diabetes to us and how it effected her life as we huddled around and looked on with morbid curiosity. She pulled out her small kit of syringes, vials, and blood testing equipment and launched in to her daily routine. She had a small and timid voice and it was obvious she was nervous, perhaps sensing the speed with which sixth graders can become monsters to the unfamiliar.

"First, I have to prick my finger," she said as she pulled out what looked like a small desk stapler. She positioned the lancet over her index finger.

THWACK. A small bead of blood rose to the surface of her finger as she continued.

"Then I have to dab the blood onto the insulin meter." As she said this, the small bead of blood transformed into the LARGEST TORRENT OF GORE I have ever seen flowing from someone's finger.

"Oooh. Sometimes this happens. I need a tissue please," she blushed in her tiny pixy voice.

The gathered crowd pressed closer as Mrs. Zenner and Mr. Catlin explained to us how often Elsie had to prick her finger during the day and rhetorically asked us how much we would like it if we had to do what she had to do on a never-ending basis. I started to feel odd. I imagine I was like most 12 year old boys in that blood and guts didn't really bug me. In fact, I had spent the majority of my childhood enthralled by war movies and Indiana Jones movies and all manner of other things in which people met with untimely and gruesome deaths. Moreover, through years of soccer and bike riding and general rambunctiousness I had experienced many cuts and scrapes and busted teeth and was often more impressed with battle wounds than disgusted. Lightheadedness was not in my experiential context. I pushed closer, ignoring the spreading weirdness in my head.

Now the blood was dripping all over Elsie's diabetes kit, arm, and desk. The room started to narrow and the voices of the other kids sounded like an old recording, tinny and distant. I began to realize what was going on. I was going down. I was torn though. Should I return to my desk at the back of the classroom and appear as though I was shunning Elsie and her diabetes? Should I announce, as the new kid no one knew, that I was going to faint and needed to lay down? Or should I soldier on, flex my legs, and hope like hell that I was able to hold on? I managed to do none of these things. By the time I realized there was no escape, it was too late to make it to my desk.

I came to pressed uncomfortably against the wall with a lump on my head. The crowd that had encircled Elsie and focused all of its sixth grade judgement on her and her bleeding finger was now hovering over me with a bemused look of incredulity. As it was the second day of school and I was the new kid, no one knew my name, not even Mr. Catlin. Mrs. Zenner was gently tapping my cheek to bring me back around and warmly repeating, "New kid. New kid." I was mortified. My eyes finally focused on Elsie peering over the backs of the other students with an expression I can only describe as victory. There was a kid weirder than her. I tried to explain it away by saying that I had not eaten breakfast that morning, but the damage was done.

The rest of my sixth grade experience did not fair much better. The very next day at lunch, sitting by myself and trying to ignore the hushed whispers and stares of my classmates, I pierced a stubborn packet of taco sauce with my fork and succeeded only in having it spray me directly in the eye. The laughter was deafening. I also got braces that year, tried unsuccessfully to fake my way through a Christmas band concert because I had not practiced my instrument and, for the first time, had to shower in a shared locker room as one of the later bloomers. Oh, and I was The Fainter. Elsie flirted with popularity.

It should come as no surprise then that, when the following year my mom and dad told my sister and me we would be moving to Saudi Arabia, I greeted the move with anticipation. A fresh start! The day I fainted I had made a fantastical wish to move as far away as possible and now it seemed like that wish was coming true. Yes, I was nervous about being the new kid all over again, but I had learned from my first new kid experience and I was reasonably confident that I could negotiate the discomfort and carve a niche for myself that did not involve being one of the pariah. How much worse could it be?

We arrived in Saudi Arabia in the middle of the summer and had a couple of weeks to try to acclimate to the ridiculous heat, harsh sunlight, and utter unlikeness of the new culture we found ourselves in. The American school my sister and I were to attend operated on a trimester system and classes were set to begin in early August. Eighth grade. New beginnings.

I remember walking to school that first day drunk on an exciting mixture of anxiety, hope, and reservation. I coolly made my way into Mrs. Snakenberg's English class and immediately the room went silent. Our small town in Central Texas didn't get many newcomers, but Dhahran, Saudi Arabia was positively starved for fresh blood. My face did nothing to betray the nervousness I was feeling as I made my way to a desk and sat down. I was a cagey veteran at the new kid game and I was not going to wind up in the same position I had found myself in back in Texas. Namely, I was not going to wind up pale, clammy, and prone on the floor.

I took notes and ignored the curious stares of my classmates as Mrs. Snakenberg explained the interdisciplinary project with which we were going to begin the year. We were charged with inventing a product that would benefit us in our daily pursuits and we would be required to complete a portion of the project specific to each of our core classes. In addition, we would be given time at the beginning of each English class to be devoted to the actual construction of whichever product we decided to create. This was already a better start than witnessing the self-mutilation of the class diabetic and I walked home after a catastrophe free first day of school hopeful and excited about my new social potential on the other side of the world.

That evening at home I decided I would invent a headlight system for my skateboard ( I was a skate punk, replete with long, shaggy hair and baggy pants. Sue me.), and I marched off to school the next day, skateboard in hand, geared up for day two of the new me. I settled down in the corner of Mrs. Snakenberg's classroom and began cutting strips of Velcro in an effort to determine the best way to attach two small flashlights to the sides of the skateboard's deck. A couple of other kids strolled in just before the bell, sat down at the table with me, and started to ask me questions about where I was from and what my dad did for the company. This was good. This was normal. I easily fielded their questions, made a few jokes, and felt genuinely comfortable in my new school. I was easing into what I imagined would become a good time. Then Brad, the Canadian kid across from me, poked one of the wheels of my skateboard with the Exact-O Knife he was wielding and asked, "What's that made of?"

I reflexively swatted at his hand, fearful of him cutting the wheel, and wound up making direct and forceful contact on the tip of my middle finger with the tip of the ridiculously sharp knife he was holding. The resulting slice was surgical and deep and began bleeding profusely. Fuck. I gripped my finger and ran out into the hall to a water fountain to survey the damage. The inch long cut on my finger was pulsing blood with my increasing heart-rate and the warm water of the drinking fountain only caused it to bleed more. The sickening feeling of queasy faintness began to creep up on me.

I collected myself and walked back into the classroom to Mrs. Snakenberg's desk where she was answering a question from another student. Whatever the student had asked, the answer was taking forever and I began to dance nervously from foot to foot as the situation crept closer and closer my nightmare scenario. Finally, the student accepted whatever had been explained to her and Mrs. Snakenberg turned to me. She must have realized something was wrong because her expression changed from a gentle and open smile to poorly concealed alarm.

"Mrs. Snakenberg, I....".

I came to on the floor gazing up at a ring of students eerily reminiscent of the ring that had gathered around me back in Texas. My head hurt and as I sat up I felt something hanging from the mop of sweaty hair on my head. As my classmates chuckled, I realized it was a hot glue gun. I had fallen over backwards and landed directly on top of the Egyptian girl who was sitting Indian style behind me. My dead weight had pinned her upper body across her lap and onto the floor. In some pain, and quite rightly more than a little perturbed, she had forcefully rolled my limp body off her back causing my head to crash into the hot glue gun she was using to construct her project.

As Mrs. Snakenberg set to work cutting a chunk of gluey hair from the back of my head, she ordered a student to go get a glass of water and began to ask me what happened. I was relieved this time to have a gruesome injury to blame for my fainting and I held up my hand sure that the gaping wound on my finger would be more than enough to explain why I was in my current position. I was surprised, therefore, when the displaying of my hideous, gushing stab wound did not produce the squeamishness I expected among the gathered crowd. I looked down at my finger to see what now looked like a completely bloodless paper cut. Shell/core effect had withdrawn all available blood to my vital organs and my hands were now pale, cold, and, to my disappointment, bloodless. No evidence of the carnage existed.

As the other students snickered and made their way back to their projects, I leaned against Mrs. Snakenberg's desk and tried to disappear. It was sixth grade all over again. I was The Fainter. I was sipping on a box of fruit juice the Assistant Principle had stopped in to give me (I had tried again, in an effort to mitigate my embarrassment, to use the old 'I didn't eat breakfast this morning' excuse), when a beautiful blonde-haired classmate with infinite blue oceans for eyes crouched down next to me and put a wet towel on my forehead.

"Are you OK," she asked as she stroked my forehead.

"Um, yeah. I'll be OK. I'm just embarrassed," I responded.

"Oh, don't be embarrassed. I saw the cut when you walked out of the room. It looked really bad. I would have burst into tears. It really must have hurt."

Wait a moment! This was different! In spite of myself, I had managed to parlay my unmanly and highly embarrassing fainting habit into an intimate and tender moment with the hottest girl in the eighth grade. My luck was changing. I could see it now, we would fall madly and deeply in love and my time in Saudi Arabia would be spent in the delirious throes of teenage romance with this gentle and angelic being of God's perfection!

I started to smile and say something else, and then, in keeping with millions of years of evolution and survival instinct, my body decided that the contents of my stomach were no longer important to digest and that the devotion of energy thereto could be better utilized in facilitating my recovery.

I threw up into the trash can next to us.

I heard a chorus of "ewwws" from the rest of the classroom and, through watery eyes, I saw the calm and caring expression of my desert angel transform into a contorted face of disgust as she dry-heaved, dropped the wet towel on my forehead, and retreated back to her project. I was no longer just The Fainter. Now I was The Vomiter too.

The rest of eighth grade was largely forgettable, which, given the standard I had set for myself in sixth grade was probably a good thing. I kept my head down and escaped into soccer, skating, and the knowledge that I would leave Saudi Arabia for boarding school after ninth grade anyway (all western teens were required to do this). Mostly though, I learned to laugh at myself, which I have discovered is an essential component of maturity. Sixth and eighth graders are more than adept at laughing at other people, but it's an older person's ability to laugh at himself that makes him tolerable. Ninth grade was much better. I wasn't the only one who developed a more philosophical outlook on life's embarrassments and the shared burden of knowing that my classmates and I would soon be shipped away from our family's and each other softened the edges and cultivated genuine camaraderie. I'm still in touch with some of the people who saw me faint and vomit on that day.

Still though, it would have been nice to stop at fainting. I could have done without the glue gun and vomit.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

A Pain In My Ass

It's time for baseball and there's nothing I can do to stop it. Even now the TV echoes in the other room with the squawks and bleats of Baseball Tonight. The summations of today's games, the tiny sprouts of season making and breaking story lines, and the way-too-soon speculations on October are all blasting forth from my television. I join in out of habit more than anything else. I have already called my father a thousand miles away to discuss the Astros' first game and the brush with which it has painted the next six months of our lives'.

Baseball is like a girlfriend I can't break up with and can't bring myself to marry. Baseball is my common law. Whether I like it or not; whether I secretly watch the NFL draft; whether I will always and forever lust after and cherish my first love, soccer, she owns a part of me. I typically roll my eyes at sports pundits and legitimate writers who wax philosophical about baseball and its place in American lore. I tire of the sepia-toned nostalgia that is invoked to lionize America's Pastime as if there was an age when things were perfect and simple and pure. If baseball ever inhabited the realm of perfection, it was only in the minds of kids who didn't know any better when a dad coached your Little League team and your biggest concern was not catching a fly ball with your eye.

For me, the opening of this season has been welcomed with what I can only characterize as reluctance. I did not follow spring training. I did not follow the Astros' roster moves or rotation adjustments or farm team development the way I used to. I woke up yesterday wishing the Astros weren't opening their season for another few months. This is partly due to geography. Away from the local press coverage and easy familiarity of scores of fellow fans, I have been able to view the sport and my team from a perspective I have never before experienced. But why reluctance and not pleasant surprise? Why uneasiness and not excitement?

Baseball has all the same problems of every other major world sport. The athletes are spoiled. The owners are greedy. The advertisers drive and buy and pervert anything organic. Drugs cast doubt over the legitimacy of the whole thing. These are givens in modern sport. They are the laws of the land and no amount of wishing will bring back the smell of freshly cut grass and the mystery of a pack of unopened baseball cards. What has me down is the information, the constant, infinite barrage of information.

Baseball, more than any other sport, is driven by information. There are percentages to calculate, averages to be mindful of, and tendencies to consider. There are streaks and match-ups, from the pertinent to the ridiculous. There always have been. This off-season the information, usually delivered in tight jabs and crisp hooks, was composed of massive upper-cuts and wild hay-makers. Did Roger Clemens knowingly use performance enhancing drugs? Did Andy Pettitte sell him out? Is Miguel Tejada in serious trouble? What is the legacy of Barry Bonds? Is baseball doomed? Is ______ a Hall of Famer? It left me punch-drunk and weary and led me to view the whole American Spectacle with bemused disgust. Still though, I checked on my Astros, albeit with considerable less frequency, on the internet and in the newspaper.

And then it caught my eye: Anal fissures. Kaz Matsui, the Astros new second baseman, was going to miss the first part of the season after undergoing surgery for anal fissures. Seriously? The indignity! I checked multiple sources just to be sure I had read correctly, and there it was on every website and in every newspaper. Kaz Matsui - 15 day DL Reason: anal fissures. Of all the things the whole world could know about Kaz Matsui, the thing that has launched his career as an Astro is the unhealthy state of his anus. It finally hit me. I do not need to know this. Moreover, I do not need to know 90% of what is written or speculated about in the world of sport. Call it voluntary ignorance or delusional naivete, but our sports culture suffers from a disease of information. We care deeply - too deeply - about our athletes and their lives. Sportscenter is Us Magazine and People for jocks and has-beens. It intrudes on the perfection of our memory and the sanctity of our youth and diminishes the beauty of human competition with updates and soundbites and anal fissures. Goodbye to all of that.

I'll continue to follow my teams in whichever sport they compete and I'll celebrate their wins and bemoan their losses with the same passion I always have, but this season will be a season of rehabilitation for me. It's back to simplicity. Not the simplicity of a time that never existed or a veneration that borders on obsession, but a stream-lining of information and a perspective that extends no further than the lines that mark the field. I'm trying to cure the malaise. Get well baseball. And get well Kaz Matsui.

Monday, March 31, 2008

Fort Dwayne

A few weeks ago I was on a road trip with some friends and our pre-mapped route provided us the underwhelming privilege of experiencing Fort Wayne, Indiana. I'm sure Fort Wayne has something going for it, and I have even thought to call Mayor Tom Henry to ask what exactly that is, but I've just not gotten around to it. Wikipedia tells me that Fort Wayne is defined partly by the geographic anomaly of being nearly equidistant from Detroit, Cincinnati, Chicago, Indianapolis, and Columbus. This is sort of like being the asshole of the Midwest. The city in which my Alma Mater is located has the similar distinction of being located almost exactly between Austin and Dallas. The result is that the city -and I use "city" loosely- has been confined to a history of mediocrity and underdevelopment. I remember thinking upon my arrival at the campus that the city seemed to be shingle-tacked together with things that fell off trucks making the trip between Austin and Dallas. Downtown was dead and the leaking urban sprawl blazed all the glory of a melted wad of gum in a hot summer parking lot. Most of the sensible people who grew up there had long since scattered to one of the big cities. Fort Wayne has the same sort of atmosphere...but more so.

It was in this state of observation that I realized Fort Wayne is not accurately named. At least, the name does not seem to fit the character of the city. Wayne is a classy name. It's Old English and means "wagon builder." I don't know too much about Old England , but I'm sure the wagon builder was a solid member of the community and a staple of the emerging gentry post Dark Ages. Sort of like a precursor to Ford back when that name meant something. John Wayne. Bruce Wayne. Wayne Gretzky. There are some pretty important and culturally significant Waynes out there. An Academy Award winner. Batman. The greatest hockey player of all time. Wayne is a good name. Too good for Fort Wayne, and certainly not in keeping with the character of the present populace, which is why I am proposing a name change.

Ladies and gentlemen, I submit for your approval: Fort Dwayne.

I love it. I love it because it fits. "Dwayne" is Gaelic in origin and means "swarthy". If there's one thing Fort Wayne is, it's swarthy, and I'm not talking about demographics. It just seems to be a dirty city, as if the accumulated exhaust from all of those trucks on their way to Detroit or Cincinnati or Columbus or Indianapolis or Chicago has tainted the whole city and left with its character. That, and the guy in the gas station we stopped at who was looking at porn and chewing on a massive wad of tobacco looked like he could be a Dwayne. Is there anything more perfect?

So, let's make this happen. All in favor of Fort Dwayne, stand up and be counted! Get on the horn to Mayor Tom Henry and demand Fort Wayne, in the name of justice, truth, and progress, rename itself Fort Dwayne. If they (or he) ask you why, respond, "You live there, right?"

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Dusting Off the Letter Jacket (Not Really)

I am officially old.

I knew this was coming. I knew it when my knees started to hurt after long runs. I knew it when gray hairs started to sprout like weeds in places that had once been a dark, golden brown. I knew it when my hair line began its slow withdrawal from my forehead. I knew it when, after playing a soccer game, I became sore the day after the day after the game. I knew it when my feet hurt, and my back hurt, and legs ached...for no reason. I knew it when I didn't want to sleep with every attractive girl I met. I knew it when I started to say things like, "Hey guys, it's almost ten. I have work tomorrow. Take it easy."

Mostly though, I knew it when I got an invitation this week to my ten year high school reunion. Ten years. It doesn't seem like it's been that long. Now, I know the trendy thing is to groan and roll my eyes and talk about how much I don't want to go and how ridiculous high school was and on and on and on. I have to confess though: I had fun in high school. Lots of fun. Big amounts of fun. I want to go to the reunion. I'm not saying I want to go back and do school all over again, but I am curious to see how people are doing...and what they look like (another confession). Who got fat? Who got hot? Who is married with ten kids? Who is wildly and deliriously successful? Who is half drunk and belligerent? Who do I wish I had know better? Who am I embarrassed to have held in high esteem?

So far, I have only spoken to a few people about their intentions to go to the reunion. Two of those people are ex-high school girlfriends who are now both married and trying to make babies. I can't help but think those interactions may be a little awkward.

"Honey, I want you to meet the guy I used to sleep with in high school!"

I'll also be going alone, which could make the preceding even more awkward and casts my reluctant aging in stark contrast with where I thought I'd be at this point in life. That's another entry I don't feel like wrapping my mind around at the moment....

Maybe I won't go? It did occur to me that I would have neither the time or the money to make a trip to Texas for a high school reunion unless the reunion was somehow magically scheduled for the same weekend I will be appearing in the wedding of a friend of mine. I'd just have to wait for the twenty year reunion. This would allow me time to settle and be well and truly on with my life before I had to meet any exes' husbands or worry about why I didn't quite feel like an adult yet. Well, you guessed it. The scheduling genie nailed that one. I really have no excuse.

Probably for the best. I'd be almost forty at a twenty year reunion. God knows what my "This is how I know I'm old" list would look like. More gray hair...everywhere? Sagging belly? Buick? Rampant conservatism? I'll go and feel awkward and physically old yet practically immature. Could be fun.

Friday, February 22, 2008


Yesterday I helped interview candidates for my position at work. I'm not leaving, this is just something we do from time to time when the main office sends us a stack of applications deemed interview worthy. Colleagues move up and on or out and need to be replaced. Turnover. Sounds like someone agitating a compost pile. So there I sat, on the other side of a conference table helping to interview potential employees and doing my dead level best to look like I had the authority and experience to sit where I was sitting, despite not really believing I yet had either.

It was a disquieting experience mostly because I was amazed and worried by the candidates and their "best selves". The very first guy was a no show. This was not an interview for a summer job at the Dairy Queen. This was an interview for a career. A sought after, prestigious, well-paying career. My boss called just to make sure there was no misunderstanding. No Show's response? "Oh......sorry."

No explanation. No apology. No misunderstanding. I imagined him sitting on his mother's couch in his underwear playing X-box. There was a bowl of cereal next to him. It was from yesterday. I tried to put a face with his name and the only face I could find was the face of a 19 year old kid I met when I was 24. His name was Jeremy, and he was helping to interview me for a job I had no intention of taking. I use the word "helping" loosely. He really did little more than follow my main interviewer around with the hopeful, dopey grin and air of forced seriousness that only the hopelessly disillusioned can affect for any substantial amount of time.

Recent college graduates may recall a letter they received every summer that promised an exciting and challenging job in a field like "Sports Marketing." The letters were from companies with names like Horizon Promotions or Vortex, although I suspect they are all the same company. No experience is necessary. $20.00/hour is on the low end of what you can expect to make. You have to call right now to schedule your interview before all the positions are taken! Clearly, this is bullshit. As a 24 year old, I honestly knew better, but I was desperate. I had left grad school (I say "left" because I didn't finish my degree plan and it sounds better than "quit" or "dropped out"), moved in with my parents, and was flailing violently to salvage a decaying engagement in which a central issue was my inability to take on the responsibilities of adulthood. When I opened that letter, ashamed to still be receiving mail at my parents' house, my exact thoughts were, "It's come to this." I did not, I thought, have the luxury of being picky, much less patient.

So I called. My first interview lasted maybe three minutes and was held in an office in a half empty building that had the feel of something just thrown together the night before. I would be surprised if the secretary's phone actually worked. The magazines in the waiting room had been gathered from somebody's house, the carpet had not been replaced or even cleaned since the previous tenants' occupancy, and there was a whole room devoted to broken ceiling tiles, light fixtures, exposed wiring, and dusty chunks of dry-wall. The note on the door to this room said, "Pardon our mess. We're remodeling!" Right. It was a boiler room. A pyramid scheme. Am-Way. I had a resume no one looked at. The interviewer was a nervous fast-talker with cheap clothes. Mostly, I got the sense he was trying to decide whether or not I was naive enough to be taken advantage of. He asked lots of yes/no questions no one trying to get a job would say no to. "Do you like to work hard? Are you a team player?" No sir, I am allergic to work and I try my best to hang my teammates out to dry whenever the opportunity arises.

At the end of the interview I was still no closer to knowing what, exactly, I was being interviewed for despite asking, "What, exactly, am I interviewing for?" When the interviewer hedged on the question, I told him I thought it was a little suspicious and inconsiderate to schedule an interview with someone, take only three minutes of their time, and then try to schedule a second interview without even telling them what they would be doing. This was met with more nervous laughter and more vague descriptions of the "street level marketing promotions" through which I would be making obscene amounts of money. I would be able to buy a boat! Could I come back tomorrow? I could. What else was I going to do? Starbucks was my next viable option, which is great for college STUDENTS, but not so much for college GRADUATES. Coincidentally, that's where I wound up working for the next year, and no, the fiancee did not stick around. Thanks for asking, Ass.

I showed up the next day at 8:00AM with the life philosophy of my friend Barrett echoing in my skull. When making any important decision, Barrett believes one has to ask one's self two questions: 1.) Is this decision in keeping with my life goals and aspirations? If the answer to question #1 is "no," then: 2.) Is story value for the opposite course of action high? If the answer to question #2 is "yes," one must immediately abandon one's initial decision and proceed boldly with the opposite course of action. This is how I once found myself with Barrett in Shreveport, LA playing balckjack at 8:00AM, drunk, and after a six hour drive. Barrett is a poor man's Confucius, but I digress. I entered the office with several other sheepish and unconvinced applicants. We made small talk about how odd/sketchy we thought the whole situation to be, but when it came down to it, we were all sitting in the same office unable to find the work we thought our college degrees had promised us.

It was at about this moment, in the middle of an awkward and coldly sobering silent group realization, that the doors to the "team room" opened and a cacophony of whoops and shouts and the fleshy slaps of high fives poured out. We were invited in and assigned mentors for the day. It was explained to us that we were about to experience the privilege of participating in one of the "street level promotions" that had been un-described to me the previous day. This was all done very hurriedly and before I knew it, I was following Jeremy, the dopey faced 19 year old who claimed to be Dillard's number one salesman from the year before (Do they even keep track of that?), and Johnny, my boss for the day, out to a white Pontiac Sunfire.

Johnny was a piece of work. He was probably thirty five, well over six feet, and had the manner and machine gun pattern of speech most usually associated with meth heads. He had short red hair and a floppy walk that accentuated his comically large shoes and ill-fitted clothing. Every time he lit a cigarette I got the feeling that if he could have any wish in the world it would be to become Don Johnson from Miami Vice. And his name wasn't Johnny, it was Johnny Recon. Johnny Recon explained to me that he had, previous to his career as a marketer, been a proud member of Marine Force Recon. He told me he didn't like to talk about it and then proceeded to talk about it for the next thirty minutes. I had twice previously met ex-members of our nation's special forces and on both occasions information regarding their previous employment was not volunteered, much less bragged about. They had the steely confidence that must come from operating at a highly polished, unblinking level of proficiency in a world where failures are measured in deaths. If Johnny Recon was ever more than Johnny Who Cleans the Head, then I'm a monkey's uncle.

The next thirty minutes of our commute to the other side of the city (For those keeping score, that's the thirty minutes after Johnny Recon described to me what a badass he was) was comprised of Johnny Recon trying to pump me up by describing the day's "promotion."

"You look like a hard worker. You're a hard worker, right?"


"College boy?"


"That's good, but you can either do this job or you can't. I seen a lot of college boys not up to it. You're up to it, right?"


"Cause if you're not up to it, I can turn this car around right now and no one loses anything."

"I'm up to it."


This caught me off guard. I even jumped a little. "Juice," was the least logical word with which to continue our conversation, but Johnny Recon had said it. Actually, he had yelled it and now he had his hand up in the air as if to give me a high five. I just sat there a little confused. If he had yelled, "Fuckin' A right!" I might have known how to proceed, but "Juice?!" Before I could say, "Excuse me?", one of Jeremy's pudgy hands snapped up from the cramped back seat of the Sunfire and tagged Johnny Recon's still raised palm with a resounding high five and a "JUICE!" of his own.

"That's what I'm talking about! Juice, man. It's what we say to pump ourselves up!"

"Why 'juice'?"

"Join Us In Creating Enthusiasm. J.U.I.C.E. Get it?"

"Oh. That's clever." [This is NOT clever.]

I knew I was in for it. Then Johnny explained what we would be doing.

"So we are going to saturate a neighborhood with a marketing promotion today."

"For one of the area sports teams?"

"No, man. Better. Papa John's."

"I was told this was a sports marketing position."

"Well, it can be, but not today. That's not the point, man. We're doing a high quality saturation for a major corporation. There's a lot of money to be made today! JUICE!"

[Another "JUICE!" from the back seat and a series of high fives that I now hesitantly and self-consciously participated in]

"So, what do you mean by 'saturate a neighborhood'?"

"Well, were going to go into this neighborhood and sell this awesome promotion to the residents. Check out these coupons!"

[A stack of coupons is thrust into my hands from the back seat]

"So, we're going to go door-to-door to sell coupons?"

"We're going to go door-to-door in a high quality market saturation! JUICE!"

[The JUICE! ritual is repeated]

"But we're going to sell these?"




"How is that not door-to-door sales?"

"It's...well...because it's a marketing saturation. It's just- it's not-....JUICE!"

[Again with the JUICE! and the high fives]

When I said before I knew I was in for it? That may have been an understatement. We parked the car, divided the coupons, and set out on foot in business clothes through a hilly Central Texas neighborhood in the middle of June. Johnny Recon asked Jeremy if he was up to the challenge and told him he thought he was ready to spread his wings. Jeremy responded with gleaming eyes and took off on his own, his shirt already sticking to his love handles and his pants losing their continual struggle to stay at waist level. It was just Johnny Recon and me for the next 15 hours.

No one answered at the first five or six doors we knocked on (It was a Wednesday) and this gave Johnny Recon a chance to talk about the job and how much money he would soon be making and the boat/car/house/TV he would be buying. I was reminded of Louis Anderson's monologue in Coming To America. "I started out where you guys are, mopping floors. Now, I'm washing lettuce, soon I'll be on fries. Then, the grill. A year or two and I make assistant manager. That's when the big bucks start rolling in."

We finally came to a house with cars in the driveway, but there was a "No Soliciting" sign on the door. Johnny Recon showed no intention of moving to the next house. I thought maybe he hadn't seen the sign.

"Johnny, this one says 'No Soliciting'.

"We're not soliciting. This is a market saturation."

An middle-aged woman answered the door and Johnny Recon launched into his Papa John's pitch. Before he was two sentences in the woman interrupted him.

"Are you trying to sell me Papa John's coupons?"

"No ma'am. We're doing a market saturation and-", she interrupted him again.

"Do you want me to buy something?"

"Yes, ma'am. These Papa John's coupons are-", she interrupted him again.

"Did you see the 'No Soliciting' sign?"

"Yes ma'am, but-"

The door slammed. I wanted to crawl into a hole.

"Bitch," said Johnny Recon.

Four hours in we sold our first sheet of coupons for $16.00. At $2.00/hour for the two of us I couldn't see how a grown man had fooled himself into thinking he would soon be making "the big bucks." Johnny Recon's reaction to our successful market saturation?


The day was a continuous string of rejections and disgusted looks from housewives trying to go about their daily business. At one house we woke up the baby. Another house swore never to eat Papa John's again. The worst interaction of the day involved a man playing with his daughter in the sprinklers of his front lawn. There was a Volvo station wagon in the driveway with an "Impeach Bush" bumper sticker on it. The man was wearing hemp sandals and had the disheveled look of an activist with enough money to spend his days at home thinking about the issues. I knew, more than I've known anything in my life, that this was not the type of man who would buy Papa John's coupons from Johnny Recon, much less let us slither off after a polite, "No, thank you." Johnny Recon pressed on. The warrior spirit I suppose.

"Excuse me, sir. We're with Vortex Promotions and we are doing a market saturation for Papa John's-", the man interrupted him.

"I know you. You were here a month ago trying to sell me passes to a minor league hockey game."

"Yes sir! That was one of our most successful promotions."

Here it came.

"Don't you know sports are just a way for hard working people to care deeply and passionately about something that means absolutely nothing?"

Johnny looked at me for support in disagreeing with the man, but I had to admit, he had a point. I just shrugged my shoulders and stared back.

"Well, sir, you may not like hockey, but everyone loves pizza!"

"I'm not going to buy anything from you. You're part of the problem. And you," he said turning to me. "You're along with him for an interview aren't you?"

"Yes sir," I said.

"They didn't tell you what you'd be doing did they? You've got a college degree?"

"Yes sir."

"What are you doing here? This is not where you need to be. You have a responsibility to do something else. Don't buy into this snake's BS. Don't waste yourself selling crap people don't need so some other guy can get rich, sit in an office, and play nine holes at lunch. Do more."

I wanted to hug the guy. I wanted to ask to play in his sprinklers and sit in his lawn chair. I wanted him to call my fiancee and tell her the ridiculous situation I had found myself in. I wanted him to tell her how hard I was trying to become an adult and how I was really a good kid who would eventually be a good man. I wanted to yell, "JUICE!", and give the guy a high five. Mostly, I wanted to ask him for a job. Instead I forced a smile and didn't say anything as Johnny Recon and I continued to the next house.

"Asshole," said Johnny Recon.

As the sun started to set, Johnny Recon put the hard sell on me. He told me he could tell I had talent and that we would make a good team. He told me he could use a guy like me to get to the next level and that once he was there he would pull me up immediately. He told me that Jeremy was a good kid but that he didn't have my natural ability. I listened politely but I was screaming inside. That, and my feet were bleeding from blisters cut by the shoes I had bought for the interview the day before. I felt like I was at the end of a bad date, a date that had somehow caused me to sweat profusely and bleed from both feet, and was floundering to extract myself gracefully from the situation without suddenly finding myself on another date. Let me check my schedule. I'll call you.

We met up with Jeremy, still full of misguided enthusiasm. Johnny Recon asked him how many coupon sheets he had sold.



They exchanged high fives, but Johnny Recon was considerably less emotive than he had been that morning. Maybe it was his three daughters and wife at home. Maybe it was the cumulative effect of hearing "no" and what a sleaze he was for 16 hours. Maybe it was his commute to and from work; lonely, quiet, and bursting with panic and doubt. He had sold $96.00 dollars in coupons and half of that went to the top of the pyramid when we got back to the office. $46.00 for 16 hours of work. There was no boat in Johnny Recon's future. At the office I told them I would think about coming back. I would not think about coming back and really just wanted to avoid telling them so face-to-face.

On my drive home that night I was not reflective. In fact, I'm pretty sure I beat the steering wheel on multiple occasions and yelled in an incredulous tone, "Are you fucking kidding me!" I felt like I had been kidnapped by a cult of door-to-door salesmen. How was I going to answer the "How'd it go" questions from my fiancee and parents? I felt lost. I felt more adrift from any sort of professional direction than I had ever felt. I wanted to cry and laugh and break something and pray and drink myself into oblivion all at the same time. I wanted out. Right now.

Eventually, I did get out - not gracefully, or painlessly, or without leaving a part of myself behind, but out. I'm now three years removed from my experience in market saturation and I have a steady and rewarding job. I think about Johnny Recon, Jeremy, and the guy in his front yard often. That June day was a comedy of desperation with a cast of three players. Jeremy was too young and ignorant to have tasted real failure and I wonder if he still attacks his job with the same delusional glee he did on that day. They used to advertise for working hover craft in the back of Boy's Life magazine, something made of plywood, a car seat, and a vacuum cleaner motor. Clearly, this was a scam, but I guess an 11 year old boy, full of GI Joe fantasies and imagination, would have a tough time figuring that out. I wonder if Jeremy ever got his hover craft? Does he still believe he'll hover off into the world of the super rich? Johnny Recon was old enough to know better and the collapse he feared was just below the surface, peeking out around the edges. I imagine him hanging out in Miami wearing a pastel suit, zipping around the coast in a luxury speed boat, and regaling buxom women with stories of his self-made life; the Good Life. But I know better and I can't help but wonder when the fall came.

As for the guy in his front yard? If I could go back to his house today, I would say, "Thank you and Johnny Recon was right, you were a little bit of an asshole, but sometimes an asshole is just what you need."


Yeah, right.

Thursday, February 21, 2008



I just ate a hamburger for dinner. This was no ordinary hamburger. I would never normally waste your time with a recounting of my dinner, but since you're reading this I assume you have time to waste. Plus, I think you'll agree, this was one fucked up hamburger. A list of those ingredients that formed the structure of the now-in-my-belly burger:

Meat in patty form.

Cheese. Glorious natural cheddar.

Bacon. Crispy.

One halved donut.

Yes, that's right, a donut assumed the role of "bun" for this evening's hamburger. This is the culinary equivalent of Will Ferrell being cast in place of Russell Crowe in the movie Gladiator, or Ron White reading Byron, or Shaquille O'Neill driving a Miata, or Eskimos sunbathing. Honestly? It was terrible, but it must be documented. This is the closest I will ever come to the gastric delights of the Super Fans of Saturday Night Live fame. What about the tomatoes, pickles, and onions, you ask? They were there, but they were not part of the party. They were all piled neatly, along with their friends lettuce, ketchup packet, and mustard packet, opposite the donut burger. It takes a true talent to make simple, piled condiments look positively gourmet, but whoever came up with the donut burger managed to do just that.

I call it the "donut burger" to try and salvage some semblance of dignity for my choice of menu item. In actual fact, the "donut burger" is named the Bada-Boom Burger. I couldn't make that up, and yes, I too have images of a sleazy guido in a way-too-expensive suit making dinner for the kids and having nothing but donuts to step in for the missing buns. "Hey, Giacomo! Here's ya burger...with a do-NUT. Bada-Boom! And stop your crying!"

So why order this melange of tastes? I can offer no better reason than the following: Boredom. Sheer, American boredom.

Sweet, Jesus. A hamburger with a DONUT for a bun.


Sunday, February 10, 2008

A Woman Asks Me For Money

I was at the ATM today, braving the cold to deposit a check, check my balance, and get some cash before going on yet another emotionless date when I got hit up for money. This is nothing new.

After six years in the my university's town, I came to the conclusion that a full twenty percent of the town's population was comprised of pan handlers. The approach is usually the same: 1. Find target likely to have money (i.e. someone going into or coming out of a restaurant or bar...or at an ATM machine) 2. Make sure target looks naive or at least capable of feeling guilt. 3. Rattle off well-rehearsed hard luck story that involves the pressing need for whatever cash guilty/naive person can spare. 3a. Make sure said hard luck story cannot be solved by any means other than cash. 4. God bless.

I used to piss off my Republican buddies by obliging most pan handlers with spare change from the car or a dollar. They would always scold me for being so naive, so liberal (this was an epithet to them). I always responded by saying that regardless of whether or not the guy I gave my change to really needed it to buy gas to get to his first day of work after turning his life around and getting out of jail, he clearly needed it more than me. I mean, he's a pan handler, right?

I eventually toned down the giving of change when a particularly hinky pan handler asked me for change and then became irate when I did not give him more. I did not help the situation by rhetorically asking him, and I quote, "Are you fucking serious!?" And then following up such wise words with, "Give me my fucking quarters back and get the hell out of my face!" Luckily, the guy walked away a little taken aback, but my friends delicately pointed out to me that aggressively confronting a seemingly cracked out man over a few quarters was probably not the smartest thing I could have done. This turned out to be a significant under statement as we noticed a large knife in the man's back pocket as he walked away. I never said I had the best judgement in all situations. Which brings me back to today....

Midway through my transactions at the ATM I became aware of a woman hovering at a polite distance to my left. I could tell she was waiting for me and I knew she was going to ask for money. I was taking long enough that she finally spoke up.

"Excuse me, sir," she said.

She was was probably in her mid thirties, but looked older. At one point she had clearly been an attractive woman, but she had not lead the type of life that prolonged that privilege. She had on a ridiculous shade of lipstick. It was lavender and entirely too glossy and the contrast with her inexplicably tanned face was frightening. She stood mostly on one leg as if she'd stepped on a nail and she was dressed from head to toe in black clothes turning blue from wear. She looked profoundly, crushingly lost.

She started to speak and then stopped. She looked into traffic for the words and when she looked back she was crying.

"I'm trying to get to my mother's house in Cincinnati. I have to take a Geyhound and I have no money for the fare. I have been standing here for five hours. I just had my boyfriend arrested for domestic violence and I...."

She trailed off and couldn't finish. This is always an awkward moment. I'm a sceptic. I'm standing on a street corner with sixty new dollars in my wallet and all I want to do is get in my car and drive away. People call the police for things like this. It's a disturbance. It's unsightly. People say to themselves, "I would never do that. What happened to these people?"

As I passed her I handed her one of my new twenty dollar bills. I do this stone-faced and as she is about to begin another sentence. She bursts into tears and calls me an angel, but I still don't make eye contact. As I get into my car I finally look back to see her walking away. I can still hear he crying.

"Take care of yourself," I say, and then I get in the car and drive to the gas station where I can only get half a tank with my newly depleted funds.

I'm not sure if her story was bullshit or not. Logic would say it was. Logic would also say I have been lucky. Some people use the word blessed. It's funny how a person can seem a world away standing on the same street corner at the same point in time as you. It's funny how you can see yourself in that something that seems so far away. When I said I haven't always exercised the best judgment, I didn't mean in the decision to give the woman money. How many decisions away from her am I really?

I've been distracted all evening.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Human Party Favor

I am sick in a way I have only been sick on two previous occasions. This is a type of sickness that occurs, mercifully, only a few times in a person's life. This sickness appears suddenly, ruins your life for a day or two, and then vanishes to wreak havoc on the stomach/lower intestines of some other poor bastard.

I know, I know, you're thinking, "Sounds like a stomach flu, or your average 24 hour virus. What's the big deal?" The big deal here is that with this particular strain of virus, one's projectile vomiting is accompanied by one's inability to, while experiencing the unpleasantness of projectile vomiting, control the muscles in and around one's hind parts. In short, each retching heave is accompanied by an explosive propulsion of diarrhea. Dignified, no?

The other primary attribute of this type of virus seems to be it's inability to infect under private circumstances. By this I mean, one will never contract a virus in this particular strain on a three day weekend at home when they have no plans and no place to be. This virus not only seeks to destroy your digestive system, but your dignity as well. The second time I was afflicted with this scourge, I had just met a lovely young woman, fallen unhealthily in love with her, and made plans to grow old with her. We were having people over to watch the Superbowl and have some drinks and some fried food and do what college kids pretending to be adults do. The evening went swimmingly, everyone had a good time, and the two of us were off to bed. At about 3AM something didn't feel right. I went to the bathroom and vomited a thick clump of near undigested food. I went back to bed dreading what might come next, and for good reason. I spent the next two days waylayed by this freakin' virus, unable to move except in mighty efforts of puking and shitting.

The special lady friend was left to fend for herself, which was bad because I was supposed to take her to a doctor in Dallas to get a shot in her spine that Monday morning following the Superbowl. Seriously. Her spine. She had to drive the hour-and-a-half all the way back to our tiny college town with a largely numb lower body to her charming and attractive boyfriend who no longer seemed so charming or attractive...then she got the unholiness. There's nothing like seeing/hearing your morning angel vomit and shit and yell for water to bring you back to reality.

So what are the circumstances now? Well, I am at work. I am in a hotel. The hotel has thin walls. My coworkers are in rooms on either side of me. I spent all night vomiting and shitting and fighting a fever as my orchestra of bodily functions kept my coworkers awake. This afternoon, one of the guys I work with brought up some tortilla chips and a liter of Sprite. I asked him if I had kept him awake and he responded with a feeble, "I thought I heard some...coughing." Bless him. How do you tell your coworker you heard him getting straight torn up late into the night? Right now I feel better. I think the virus has moved on to the next poor soul. And thank God. I have to drive two hours back home tomorrow. Can you imagine puking and pooing your way across an entire state?

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

An Open Question to Blogdom

To tattoo or not to tattoo, that is the question.

Now, before I get into this, I know tattoos have become ubiquitous. Like, to a ridiculous extent. I would say near fifty percent of the people with whom I went to college - and a full 90 percent of the women I have dated (Which should be another post altogether!) - were inked up in some form or fashion, and that was at a small, conservative, private Christian school in the Great State of Texas. Most of these tattoos, and apologies to my friends who may recognize some of their own skin art in here, were cuffs around the ankle, Christian symbols on the inside of the wrist, or flowers/butterflies/Thumper (Yes, Thumper of Bambi fame) on the small of the back...Oh, and Chinese characters. What's with that? To quote Inigo Montoya,"I do not think that means what you think that means." These little acts of rebellion were just that. Little. Most of the tattoos were picked off of walls during a drunken outing in Dallas or Austin, few of them were larger than a silver dollar, and all were easily concealed from polite company...or bosses.

My sister and I have, from time to time, discussed pulling the trigger on getting tattooed, but have always stopped short because we couldn't imagine committing anything to our bodies for time everlasting. And thank God. I can't imagine what my eighteen year old self would have chosen to permanently brand my body, but rest assured, my twenty seven year old self would have remembered my eighteen year old self not-so-fondly as a massive douchebag every time he looked at whatever God awful design said teenager had chosen.

So, why do I ask? Well, obviously I'm thinking about getting one (A tattoo, not a douchebag). We're going on two years now and the thought of what to get and where has not changed. I have devoted some serious thought to this, but I'm still on the fence. The salient points: This tattoo would be VERY visible in short sleeves. My father would lose the rest of his hair upon seeing his only son besmirched with vibrant ink colors and do the disapproving, dimpled smirk that my family knows all too well. My mother would let out the same forlorn sigh I remember from the time she woke me up on a Monday morning when I was still in high school to discover that I had dyed my hair an electric shade of red dubbed "pretty flamingo". My grandparents, well, they might catch on fire. Seriously.

But the tattoo would mean something. It would be in memory of a friend and it would remind me to embrace life and love and would also hurt like hell, cost more than a few dollars, and remain into old age, illegibly shriveled on my forearm, presented brazenly to the scrutiny of my future grandchildren (should I be able to convince a woman to ever sleep with me again).

So, thoughts? Questions? Advice? Dire warnings? It's open season, let me have it!

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Blog Like Ike

I am a bad blogger. It's true. A day passes, then a week, then a month. Sometimes more and it gets easier and easier to not write anything or to think there's nothing worth writing. I say "worth writing" in a relative sense. Clearly, there are billions of people out there who could care less if I write or not, but that's not the point is it? It's sort of a release, a way to make sense of things or just preserve the details of a funny story so they don't get too cloudy or overly-embellished. Well, scratch the "overly-embellished" part.

I have a ton to discuss. The holidays happened. I was home in the Great State of Texas for the first time in way too long. I attended a wedding with 632 other guests (Yes, 632!). I got to see my ex-soccer players all grown up and doing well. There were visits with the grandparents and the parents and ensuing thoughts on mortality and aging gracefully. A good friend's dog shat on my sweatshirt...while I was wearing it. Romantic misadventures were had as was reaffirmation that, after nearly a year-and-a-half, I still have no business being in a relationship. I caught a severe knock in an indoor soccer match and then had to spend part of Christmas day in a tiny emergency room in Nowhere, West Texas where, among other discomforts, a nurse pulled out a toothy plastic brush and worked over the gaping hole in my shin, scrubbing out every bit of infection while I looked on, jaw clenched. My own dog had an awful 48 hours in which she graced the ONLY RUG IN MY HOUSE with a greasy, puddingesque pile of scat and then the following day jumped through a screen door a la Cujo and then sprinted a quarter mile weaving through traffic to let me know I should not go running without her. Life happened.

So, where to start? Let's call this "Beginning to open the package of events that have happened in the last few weeks" and leave it at that for now. I feel like Ike to my blog's Tina. Baby, please. It's Pancho, baby. I did not mean to neglect you for all these days. Take me back, baby. It will not happen again...until the next time it happens. Cheers.