Archive for October, 2012

Top 5 Reasons I *SHOULD* Hate Halloween…but Don’t

I’m going to say something absolutely no one will agree with…but I hate the idea of Halloween.

*cowers behind a pitchfork*

Let me explain. I didn’t say I hate Halloween itself, just the idea of it. It’s one of those pseudo-holidays that seems pointless to me. For some reason, I just don’t gel with it. Yet every time I am coerced into the festivities – costumes, candy, coitus (I wish!), et al. – I end up having a ball. So, why am I torn every year it comes around?

Allow me to shed some blacklight: Here are…

The Top 5 Reasons I Should Hate Halloween…but Don’t.

Number #5: The Yearly Slutpocalypse

I can’t claim ownership of that term; it was actually coined – more popularly – by Philip DeFranco. Basically, it’s a reference to the exemption that all women give themselves to skank it up in the most revealing costumes ever. It’s objectionable, demeaning, reverse-misogynistic , pre-feminist, and…

Gods, I love it.

Some of the costumes that come out of the Slutpocalypse do give me pause, though. I mean, I’ve seen outfits of a Sexy Tigger. I should never, ever have sexual fantasies about friggin’ Tigger. But, damn if it ain’t awesome to behold.

Yes, I am a dirty old man.

Number #4: Finding a Costume

One of the worst plights suffered by an average-looking white man is that I look like…an average-looking white man. I am mal-proportioned to suit any sort of cosplay role. Nothing works on me. As a result, every year I’m torn over what to be and – worse – how to afford it.

Most years, I recycle bits and pieces of old costumes. This year, like many years prior, I re-used a kilt that was sewn for me by a friend of mine. The permutation: A Scottish pimp. Complete with “stable” of sheep.

Where are you going?

Number #3: Picking a Party

Everyone and their mother’s kitchen sink throws a party (or the weekend nearest to) Halloween. And – at least, initially – I want no part of any of ‘em. Reason being, I’m an indecisive bugger. If more than one party is being thrown, I’m always worried about offending the hosts by attending another one instead. One year, to avoid that problem, I went to five parties in one night to cover all my bases. That was exhausting.

I know what some of you uninvited readers might be thinking, “At least you had parties to go to?”

My response would be, “Trade ya?”

I don’t like being conflicted. My gut reaction in that sort of dilemma is to opt out completely and stay home watching horror movies. But if/when I am pulled from my hermitic Hobbit-hole to attend something, I usually have a good time. Damn it.

Number #2: Pumpkin-Flavored Everything

Maybe it’s just a Fall thing, but between September and November, the market is inundated with every possible variant of “pumpkin”. Bread, desserts, candies, you name it. With the exception of pumpkin pie, what people don’t realize is…pumpkin is not an agreeable flavor. At all. C’mon, back me up here. Am I the only one?

Okay, there is one statistical outlier – beer. I have no clue why, but pumpkin beer tastes delicious. Hell, I had one in early September that actually floored me (and not in a drunk way). That is the one pumpkin pass I’ll give for the season.

Number #1: Candycorn

@ Hannah Kaminsky

@ Hannah Kaminsky

What can I say about this delectable triangular piece of awesome. It’s absolutely horrible for me. The health benefits are nonexistent. I might as well be eating wax. Actually, I think they are made of wax. And every damn year, I can’t resist their inevitable pull.

I can’t fully describe their flavor other than “orange”-tasting ambrosia. Not the orange fruit, the color. The worst part is, once I start eating them…I can’t stop. No impulse control exists when in the company of candycorn. The zombie apocalypse will begin with candycorn – I’m convinced.

And that’s my list. For those of you who are all dressed up and ready to go, have a ball. And to those sitting this one out, there’s always candycorn.

Happy Pumpkin-Flavored-Everything Day.

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Wednesday, October 31st, 2012 Musings 4 Comments

Get Off My Lawn!: Experiencing Ageism

I’ll be the first to admit it, my diet is horrible. What do I live on? Sandwiches, Pop-Tarts, cup noodles and fast food. What’s worse is I live in a health-conscious, vegetarian state. Some of these vegetarians are friends of mine. Time and again, they look at my choice in meals and cringe.

Seriously, I had this for dinner.

A common commentary is, “Don’t you want to live to a ripe old age?”

My answer, “Why would I want to do something like that?!”

I have no interest in getting old – nada. At the time of this writing, I’m an outta-shape, 36-year-old, unmarried, college educated, and unemployed white male. I have no 401K, no IRA, no other numerically fancy-schmancy accounts, and I’m worried about qualifying for food stamps. Prospects for quality in my “golden years” aren’t exactly the best. Do I want thirty more years of this crap? Hell no.

Compound that with the fact that I’m already reaching the point where my age might be a factor. A couple of years ago, I was attending a job group. I hated every minute of it. Most of the attendees had at least three decades on me. Many had been project managers, office managers, PR reps, and whatever soft-service titles existed prior to the ’08 economic crash. All of them were frustrated because they were constantly being passed-over by younger, cheaper, and more energetic laborers. To them, anyone in their thirties was the enemy. Opinions I possessed were immediately shot down.

Needless to say, I stopped going.

Two years later – as in, now – I found myself once again “touched” by the unemployment faery. Yet I was overjoyed that I had landed an interview with a hotel downtown. When I got down there, I was shocked. I was older than most of the staff by a good ten years. This had never happened before. The hiring manager himself was, maybe, 25. If that. The beard only made him look younger.

It didn’t help that the majority of the staff were also young, fit, and ridiculously good-looking. Downtown Portland, gotta love it. I tried to play up my experience in the field, but that might have been to my detriment. Playing the “old man” card was clearly the wrong approach. As evidenced by my denial of the job a week or so later.

Had I finally reached that point? Was that now a determining factor in my hire-ability? Well, yes and no.

If there’s one thing I try to be, it’s current. Thanks to a wonderful tool called the Internet, it doesn’t take long for anyone to gain a cursory understanding of pop-cultural trends. Music, movies, gossip, tech, and news are but a click away. The problem is figuring out how to apply said stimuli to a real world setting.

There’s no hiding the gray hair, but it is far easier to mask obsoleteness. Buzzwords from the 90s don’t apply in a millennial workplace. Keeping up-to-date on that is key. Words like “social media” or “new media” are very clearly on their way out. After all, social/new media has become the norm. Outdated language can be job-threatening. In this, I have been moderately successful. No, the issue is far deeper.

One thing that comes with age is a sense of privilege – an expectation of what you can do versus what you won’t do. I, for one, think I’m beyond fast food work. That may not necessarily be the case. After all, I’ve seen my regular wage drop from $11.50 an hour to $9.

Another factor is life choices. Instead of building a set of marketable skills, I sorta skated through my 20s and 30s. What do I have to show for it? A useless English degree, and years of customer service experience. And I don’t even like people.

Which brings me to the real issue.

I’m a damned curmudgeon. There’s no getting around it. The older I get, the more pissed off I become. Sure, there are smatterings of happiness strewn throughout my day. However, by the end of it, all I want to do is surf the net then fall asleep. It’s the modern equivalent to retiring to Matlock. I’ve retired from life in my mind.

Is this likely to change? Probably not. One of the best things I can do is stay active, find ways to keep my mind alert, and welcome the inevitable “oldening” with a smile and a middle finger. I just hope one day I can afford a lawn and a porch…

So I can tell young whippersnappers to get the f**k off it.

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Friday, October 26th, 2012 Musings 8 Comments

Weird & Beered

As I write this, I’m currently nursing a beer called “Kill Devil” from the Brothers Widmer – a rum barrel-aged brown ale. I was brainstorming – pint in hand – and itching for something to write about. I happened to be yacking with a fellow Facebook friend, and consulted her on one of three topics to write about. Given that I was already drinking a beer, she said I should choose that topic. And indeed I have. Since I’m currently drinking an odd ale, I figured, “Why not focus on odd ales I’ve tried?”

And here they are:

I “Seaweed” Beer, I Drink It

A few years ago, I attended an event dubbed Fringe Fest at a specialty beer shop called Belmont Station. I encountered some folks with whom I knew mutual people. While I had been there for a particular tea-beer, they recommended another ale from out of Scotland. They had me at “Scotland”.

The Williams Bros. brewing op resides in lloa, Clackmannanshire…wherever that is. All I know is that it has the word “shire” in it, which instantly makes that place awesome! Seaweed was an actual ingredient included in their Kelpie ale, which instantly made it doubly awesome! If I remember it correctly (and that’s debatable), I found the ale to be smooth, light, but sweetly vegetal. Like actual kelp. Whatever the case may be, I remember liking it.

Bacon Beer

I don’t remember in what context I heard about bacon as a recipe in beer, but it had something to do with a brewfest. One that I couldn’t attend, no less; I was in ire of that fact. Some brewery out of the East Coast had concocted a bacon beer. While I’m allergic to the stuff, I have been known to risk life and limb to try different bacoriffic permutations. Beer was my next phase.

A year or so later – after (you guessed it) another brewfest – a friend of mine had the drunken “jeenyus” idea to go to the Rogue Public House for dinner. Keep in mind, we were already three-to-four strong pints in, and I’m a lightweight by genetic design.

Anyway, Rogue had put out a hot pink bottle on the market called the Bacon Maple Ale. And, I’ll be damned if it didn’t taste exactly like that. Sweet, syrupy and…uh…bacony. It also made me sick to my stomach, but that could’ve been the pints prior. We almost got kicked out, for good reason.

Another year after – while enjoying some quesadillas at a specialty shop called Birra Deli – I had the opportunity to try another bacon beer. Instead of risking an entire pint, though, I went for a simple 5oz. taster instead. It was from Uncommon Brewers. I can’t remember what it was called, though. It was majestic…and it didn’t make me sick in my tum-tum.

Worst-Best of Both Worlds

On a random outing for happy hour at the McMenamins Imbrie Hall, a friend and I saw mention of a beer release event. One of the wares being whored was an unlikely combination – a lager aged in a tequila cask. If there were two more unholy ingredients, I couldn’t think of them. I hate lagers, and I loathe tequila. I have a few collegiate “porcelain god” memories (or lack thereof) thanks to “ta-kill-ya”.

When the day finally came, we sampled all they had to offer. All of them were “meh”, save for the darker ales and…*sigh*…the tequila-casked lager. Seriously, it was to die for. It was slightly spicy, incredibly crisp, containing only a partial liquor bite, and deceptively strong. And again, it didn’t make me sick in my tum-tum. I guess – as the old cliché goes – two wrongs can make a right. Or at the very least, a “right now”.

That’s just a smidge of the strange things I’ve sipped and usurped in recent months/years. The pattern isn’t likely to change anytime soon. If there’s an odd alcoholic combination out there, you’d better believe I’m going in once. Like a donkey show.

Hrm…donkey –flavored beer.

Wait…no…

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Friday, October 26th, 2012 Beverage Blog 4 Comments

Steampunk or Steaming Pile?

First off, let me preface that this is not going to be an in-depth or well-informed piece about the behemoth that is steampunk. There already exists a tome that does a far better job of that. All this is going to be is one thirtysomething man’s experience and exposure to the sub-genre, and his opinion regarding its proliferation through other media. Are we all clear? Good.

*Curtains!*

Let us flashback to a simpler, more sepia-toned time known as the mid-90s. I was a wide-eyed lad with a few geeky interests, the predominant of which was anime. At a gathering of like-smelling otaku, I was exposed to a filmmaker’s oeuvre that I hadn’t come across before – director, Hayao Miyazaki. Okay, not entirely true. I did watch (and obsess over) Lupin III: The Castle of Cagliostro, but the rest of his works were a mystery to me.

Laputa: The Castle in the Sky all but changed my life. It was whimsical, thoughtful, epic, funny, and possessed a retro-aesthetic I hadn’t considered creatively. Granted, I’d seen the use of steam-powered devices in other Jules Verne-inspired works, but none of those had the effect that Laputa instilled. I later showed it to my then-snot-nosed little brother, and he was equally floored.

Further proto-Internet digging turned up a whole slew of other steam-inspired wares. There was a veritable sub-genre cooked up around the concept of steamtech and Victorian backgrounds. While Laputa wasn’t strictly within the same vein as these other literary works, it was still the perfect gateway.

In the years hence, the sub-genre has churned, growled, grinded and chugged its way into public prominence. The sci-fi genre is literally glutted with steampunkish stories. But there was something I found lacking in these later additions. The “oh-golly-gee-whiz” whimsy was gone, replaced by a grimy, apocalyptic tone.  At first, I wasn’t quite sure why, but then I observed how the sub-genre splintered into other mediums and came to a Layman understanding.

Allow me to explain.

Movies

Alternate histories, retro-future, or pseudo-Victorian fantasy were not new avenues for cinema. What had eluded moviemakers, though, was mainstream success. Steampunk simply wasn’t selling. It was an unwritten rule that if a movie had a dirigible (read: airship) in it, said film was due to fail.

Go ahead, name a successful film with an awesome airship in it. Go on, I dare you. And, no, I’m not just talking about box office success. Critical reception is also key. I’m sure you could name at least one or two, but they’re statistical outliers – damn it. With the exception of animated movies, steampunk hasn’t quite gotten a grip of live-action movie staying power. Part of that might be due to budgetary constraints. Steam is apparently expensive, I…guess.

At the moment, Hollywood (or any other ‘wood, for that matter) is content with including only smatterings of steam in their works. Case in point: Guy Ritchie’s take on Sherlock Holmes. There were clockwork gadgets galore, and both films were moderately successful. However, they weren’t steampunk in the strictest sense. Well, aside from the period setting.

I’m strangely okay with their cautious, if light, touch. Baby steps, Hollywood. Baby steps.

Music

The birth of the steampunk music sub-genre surprised me. Heck, it still surprises me. How a literary genre translated to lyrical works requires further study, and a blog all to itself. Unfortunately, I can’t say I’m a total fan of its development.

© Abney Park

I first learned of steampunk bands through accidental exposure to Abney Park – a Seattle-based EBM group with a most interesting sound and stage presence. They fashion themselves as airship pirates, and their music borrows from several different traditions – Mediterranean, Celtic folk, synth-pop and more. However, Abney Park are the exception, not the rule.

While I won’t be rude and name specific examples – for fear of steam-powered reprisal – I will give an analogy. Imagine visiting a home populated by five-year-olds dressed as turn-of-the-century hobos and hookers. They’ve discovered where the pots and pans are kept. In addition to banging kitchenware, they’ve also found some Fisher Price instruments…and began trashing those as well.

That’s my unfair summation of the steampunk music genre…but not as a whole.

Literature

It is here where steampunk got its start, and where it seems to be fairing the best. While I’m annoyed at the sheer enormity of steampunk works out there, there are several diamonds in the rough. The most notable example – for me – is the first I ever came across – Gail Carriger‘s The Parasol Protectorate.

She isn’t strictly a steampunk authoress per se, yet she does borrow very heavily from the usual tropes of the sub-genre. At least she has the common decency to weave those elements with some semblance of originality – thusly making them her own. That and her books have something that is sadly lacking in others of her ilk. Whimsy!

I’ll admit that my exposure to steamlit is still in its infancy. There are plenty of other authors/authoresses that should be mentioned in this, here, missive. Some good, some mind-numblingly terrible. For the sake of brevity, though, I’ll say just go read for yourself. Annoying, though the genre prevalence is, there are good works out there.

One thing, though: If you – fair reader – run into a book that features a Brass Jesus and a man falling in love with an ape, run…don’t walk…away. Yes, I’ve read it. No, I won’t speak its name. Just trust me on this.

The Culture

And now to the crux of the issue.

Steampunk – as I mentioned earlier – has emerged as the new “thing” in counterculture. For better or worse, it’s here to stay. I’m still torn on where I stand on the issue. I’ve reflected upon how I feel about it in terms of media, but I have resisted coming to a conclusion about it as a movement.

And, yes, it is a movement. Possibly a bowel movement.

Who’s responsible? Two words: The goths.

This is an oversimplification, but the goth subculture has largely identified itself as quasi-social. Goths like to congregate, but only with other goths. They have stuff they’re into, just like any other group. One of those things “was” vampires. I say “was” because their favorite biters have since been visited by the taint of ‘tween literature. You know what book series I’m talking about – the sparkly kind.

Goths – I suppose – needed something else to latch onto. An aesthetic not too far removed from their former creatures of the night. Luckily, they found solace in a whole new (or old) time period, and they didn’t even have to toss out their pseudo-Victorian wardrobe. Just add goggles!

(A sidenote: Steampunk fashion, keep doing what you’re doing. Seriously. Dayamn.)

© Steampunk Couture

© Steampunk Couture

I suppose that is where the dystopian element I so loathed came from. Once goths embraced The Way of Steam, it was only natural the dark sensibilities came with it – post-apocalyptic drudgery and all. There is hope, though.

Goth culture sometimes intermingles with geek culture. And if there’s one thing the geeks are known for its whimsy. (And, no, I won’t stop italicizing that word.) They, too, have embraced the Victorian vehicle, but have taken it in a different direction – one devoid of dreariness.

I shall give an example – a personal one. I have a half-sister – whom I adore – that is as geek-fueled as I am, if not more. She’s into everything from Harry Potter to Doctor Who, and can even trump me on some of the finer facets of geek culture at large. She fell in love with a musical group called Steam Powered Giraffe. And they are awesome! Whimsy personified. To sum them up: Imagine Dixieland, jazz, and a mime school were put in a steam-powered blender. The result would be Steam Powered Giraffe.

Examples like them give me hope for steampunk’s future – retro or not.

Artwork by Laney Norman

Artwork by Laney Norman

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Wednesday, October 24th, 2012 Musings 8 Comments

Tea Pairing with Job Hunting

The idea for this entry was suggested by my mother, as great ideas often are. It never occurred to me to pair tea with job hunting until she posed the idea after reading my tea-fueled rant. This reflection has – in no way – any science to back it up, just anecdotal “evidence”. Trial and error, hypotheses, and conjectures also played a key role in the missive. Oh, and oolong. Lots and lots of oolong.

Let’s begin.

Getting Started

As an unemployed person, one of the most difficult tasks is literally getting out of bed. Let’s face it, joblessness is depressing. Why does someone want to get started when it feels like their world is ending? The key is a self-fueled kick in the pants.

I’ve personally found that having a morning routine helps to motivate one away from the comfort of a ‘lectric blanky. Getting your day going as if you already have a job puts you in the right frame of mind to look for one. Shaving helps, too (for either gender). And for the love of God, put pants on!

Possible Tea Pairing:

Caffeine is required – lots of it. You need something that’ll give you an extra oomph! My personal recommendation is Assam. Better yet? Assam with some Lapsang Souchong sprinkled in. Nothing says, “Wake the f**k up!” like a caffeinated kick o’ campfire.

Writing a Resume and Cover Letter

If you – fair reader – are anything like me, you hate writing about yourself in a clinical manner. The urge to self-deprecate is a strong one. Same with wanting to sell yourself short. Some have a magical grasp of inflating their accomplishments; I am not one of them. Plus, I’m not very good at summarizing my abilities and accolades (whatever they are) concisely.

The importance is to consult others that have some expertise in these areas – people who’ve either submitted several times, or have a surefire approach. I’ve learned that submitting a resume or cover letter blindly, without having someone looking it over, is like turning in an obituary.

However, you don’t want to be too wired while you’re doing it. I’ve found that these two exercises require a lot of patience, or rather “calm wakefulness”.

Possible Tea Pairing:

I’m taking a page right out of Lindsey Goodwin’s recommendations by saying the best tea for writing is oolong. Sure, it’s caffeinated. And – depending on the sourcing – it can be strong. Yet I feel it truly gives someone a time-released dose of wake-up-call. Enough to instill a sense of focus. I turn to a good oolong – gongfu-ishly-styled – when I’m in the middle of a writing project. And believe me…resumes are a project.

Pounding the Pavement

As much as I hate to admit it, networking is the lifeblood of the job search. Talking to people, keeping your ears open, going from shop-to-shop, doing informational interviews, and putting yourself out there are mandatory. Ever hear that phrase, “It’s who you know…”

I’ll be damned if it ain’t correct.

Possible Tea Pairing:

Anything aged. In my experienced, teas – whether they’re oolongs, pu-erhs, black teas, or whites – that have at least five years on ‘em are eerily soothing. Sometimes they might actually taste as old as they are, but one thing can’t be denied. They make your brain feel like it’s sitting on a park bench feeding pigeons. Even when you’re doing something as socially uncomfortable as talking to people.

Just resist the urge to yell, “Get off my lawn!”

Interview Hell

Congrats! You’ve made it to an actual interview. Someone has taken the time out of their busy schedule to interrogate you for thirty minutes to an hour. But you don’t want to come across as a complete tool. (Unless they’re looking for someone useful.)

There are tips and guides aplenty on how to prepare for an interview. I’ve personally found that dressing to the nines doesn’t hurt your prospects. Where I’ve tended to fail, though, is in the verbal delivery. You don’t want to talk too fast or sound too deliberate. That and you want to have answers to questions prepared – in your mind, anyway. (Note: Do not bring cue cards.)

Some unorthodox methods for confidence and relaxation I’ve heard are: (1) Doing push-ups before an interview. Sound – if odd – advice from my brother. (2) Giving yourself an affirmation speech in the mirror. I do this. (3) Talking to someone before you leave for the interview. I’ve found that parents help. (4) Having a theme song. Okay, I made that last one up. Still, that’d be pretty sweet.

Possible Tea Pairng:

Gotta go green or white here. I made the mistake of having a pint of Earl Grey before an interview. At a tearoom, no less. The result? I was a motormouth, talking a mile a minute. My posture was equally off-putting – hunched over, feet tamping nervously. In other words, the less caffeine, the better. If you want to split the difference – a heartily brewed Bai Mu Dan should do the trick.

Rinse and Repeat

Your day is done. You’ve talked to people, made the rounds, applied for new jobs, and now all you want to do is relax. A cup o’ something herbal will work wonders. Pat yourself on the back…because guess what?

You get to do the whole thing again tomorrow.

Acknowledgements

I’d like to thank my mother for this idea. Do me a favor and like her career advice page on Facebook – Careers/College Not By Chance – HERE. She is an invaluable resource.

Much obliged.

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Tuesday, October 23rd, 2012 Steep Stories No Comments

Tech Fails & Travails #2: Darjeeling & Housekeeping

Blogger’s note: This is a companion piece. To read it’s sibling for further understanding first, go HERE.

Sunday was to be the day.

The day that I would change out one computer to a newer one. That didn’t go quite as planned. Inevitably, I stuck with the old one to get work done. I had two blogs I wanted to write: one revolving around tea and job hunting, the other…a- about the complacency of the porn industry, put as a nursery rhyme. Yes, really.

However, the only writing I ended up finishing was a tea review for a fabulous Turzum estate Darjeeling put out by Thunderbolt Tea. Seriously, it was perfect. Put simply, it was like a Yunnan Jin Cha and a Taiwanese Ruby 18 made sweet-sweet love and produced a cocoa-flavored Indian offspring. (Er…I left that out of the actual review.) I had three pints of the stuff over the course of the day, and it remained strong throughout each steep – even in terms of caffeine.

After giving up on one attempt with the new computer set-up, I hooked up the old one long enough to attend a “meet-up” of sorts. TeaGeek.net (aka. Michael J. Coffey) was hosting a meet-up via Google+’s “Hangout” function to discuss Dan Cong oolongs. I wanted to attend since a blog of mine on the very subject posted the week prior.

My first attempt to connect via phone succeeded, but the sound was garbled. Whole chunks of speech from the various participants simply didn’t show up. To correct this, I also connected on my computer. However, this created an echo effect toward the other members in the Hangout. I tried to mute my phone, but the volume wouldn’t turn off all the way. To correct this little fluke, I logged off and tried to again. My phone registered the Hangout as having ended. That was simply not the case since my computer was still logged in! I gave it at least ten tried before finally giving up.

I was pissed. Tech fail after tech fail had me all red-faced and gritted teeth. I needed an outlet, something to act as meditation. But I couldn’t relax, the three pints of strong Darjeeling wouldn’t let me. Movement, something that required movement!

I know! I thought to myself. I’ll clean the f**king house. ALL of it!

I vacuumed the living room, emptied the dishwasher, dried and folded towels, took out the trash, swept around the litter box, and cleared off the kitchen counters. Once all that was done, I braved my room. My private man-space hadn’t been gutted and cleaned since…uh…The Before Time. Actually, in real terms, not since the mate de coca/flea plague incident of 2010. So, two years. Wow.

Through fits of curses and grunts – manly high-pitched grunts, mind you – I raised the bed, took out old boxes, washed the sheets/comforter, tossed old files, and removed old shoes. How so much stuff had accumulated in my ever-so-small space was beyond me. Over the course of three hours-to-four hours, I practically deloused the place. Hopped up on Darjeeling-fueled determination.

By the time I was finished, I looked at the clock. 7PM. I hadn’t even showered or changed out of my pajamas. That and I had to pick up my brother/roommate and his girlfriend from the airport. I did one last vacuum-run of the kitchen, checked on laundry, then rushed into the bathroom like a military cadet. I was out the door in fifteen minutes. At the airport in twenty. (It was usually a thirty-minute drive.)

All tasks completed, and bad mood abated, I returned to my comfy, pajama-clad self. The thought entered my head to make a Joy’s Teaspoon Lemon Zest latte. I whipped out my IKEA-made milk-frother, but promptly remembered that it had no batteries. I asked my brother for some AAs…and found they didn’t fit. I asked for AAAs. Those were too small. My brother gave it a try with the AAs – he fit ‘em in perfectly.

I gave up on technology for the night, settling in with a teabag of mint instead.

The animals were so scared, their eyes glowed in defense.

The animals were so scared, their eyes glowed in defense.

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Monday, October 22nd, 2012 Steep Stories No Comments

Tech Fails & Travails #1: Komputer Karma

Bloggers note: This is a companion piece. There’ll be a link to the other blog that goes along with this at the bottom of the page. Happy reading.

Sunday was to be the day.

The day I would finally – and bravely – change out my computers. I had some good times with the ol’ Samsung. Blogs were written, movies were watched, naughty sites were searched, viruses were cleansed (sometimes in tandem with naughty sites)…and ideas were made manifest. It had served me well for over six years, and remade at least two times with a little help from techie friends. But now it was time to say goodbye.

I had received a new computer as a kindly donation from my grandfather. My brother (also kindly) transported the thing from California to Oregon. It took me a year to muster up the courage to make the grand switch-out. There was never a need. That is, until the inevitable death of my old Samsung. Cause of computer-coma? Cat hair. Seriously.

Reluctantly, I started to make the grand migration to a new platform. The problem, it only came with a monitor and a box. No chords to speak of. That and my ancient ergonomic keyboard and mouse used PS/2 connectors. The new computer required USB. Also, I couldn’t hook up the new monitor without a DVI cable. Don’t know what any of this means? Neither did I. In Layman’s terms it was a “square peg/round hole” scenario – Freudian giggles and all.

Thanks to some last-minute donations from a tea pal and my stepbrother, I received the necessary chords and equipment to set it up. Then – by some stroke of divine comedy – my old computer decided to up and work again. So, I delayed the inevitable migration for a few more days.

Then came Sunday. There was no putting off anymore. I migrated over any necessary writing files I needed for future projects. Ported over photos. And prayed. The new monitor didn’t work. I was, apparently, missing an AC adapter for it. Double-argh!

Somehow, someway, I found an old-school adapter amidst a pile of old computer parts in my room. What was I doing with old computer parts? Um…science? I have no clue. I tried to plug the new adapter in. The monitor turned on for a second – a mere moment – then went black. Either I shorted out the monitor, or the AC only had enough current left in it for a sputter. Still no life. Reluctantly, I switched back to the old monitor.

That seemed to work fine…but…

There was a password lock on the computer. One my grandfather put on. And I didn’t have his number. I began calling around for anyone who might know how to contact the grandparents. My mother still knew it by heart (I think?). After a brief convo with the family patriarch, I was finally in to the actual computer! Just one task left.

Internet time. In moments long past, I’ve had problems getting wireless antennae to work, especially the temperamental Belkin I still use. Installing drivers was – for some reason – an arduous chore for me. The first problem I had was getting the network adapter to bloody fit. The four USB connections in the back were too close together. It took a lot of squeezing to fit the adapter in with the new mouse and keyboard connectors. After some finagling, I somehow succeeded.

The new hardware was detected, now it was time for the network adapter’s drivers. Everything was smoothly installing, and then the computer prompted me to restart. I clicked “OK’. I seriously wish I hadn’t.

Paperweights, anyone?

Paperweights, anyone?

While the computer did restart…there was no monitor picture. I tried turning it off and on. Still no picture. On the fifth try, the monitor sprang to life; just time for the second attempt on the drivers. Same thing happened – no picture on the restart. On the fourth cycle, I finally had the bright idea to attempt a password on the blank screen. If the computer chimed in, then “it” was working – except the monitor. The desktop background came on, but not the actual desktop. Swell.

Livid, I gave up and put the computer off to the side like the paperweight it was. My only theories were either: (a) Something was wrong with the Belkin drivers, or (b) aspect ratios between the monitor and computer were skewed. Whatever it was, it was beyond my mere computer karma to figure it out.

How did I handle that conclusion?

I gutted my room.

Image Owned by Allie Brosh

Image Owned by Allie Brosh

You can read about that HERE.

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Monday, October 22nd, 2012 Musings No Comments

Late-Night Lattes and Gelato

© 2012 Affogato

Earlier in the week, I was invited to a couple’s house for dinner. I’d known said couple for several years. The wife is a zany interior decorator, and her husband is a homebrewer. Their son – the new arrival to their little nest – was the most expressive toe-head of a baby I’d ever seen. Cute as a button.

They succeeded in accomplishing an amazing feat that night – getting me to eat an entirely vegetarian meal. That and eating everything that was on my plate. If it hasn’t been made obvious, I’m the very antithesis of a vegetarian. Meat is delicious.

If someone said to me, “That will kill you someday.”

My response would be, “The sooner the better!” All the while gleefully OM-NOM-ing my way into happy oblivion.

Both had prepared a wondrous meal of cooked barley and kale salad. The only thing not a vegetable was the goat cheese, which was also fantastic. And something I hadn’t had before. But the day o’ firsts didn’t end there. Ooooh no.

Following a mediocre outing for beers (and rude waiters), the couple suggested we stop off at a gelato place for dessert. I’d never had it before. They described it as “ice cream made with egg and milk…and awesome!” (paraphrased slightly). Only time I’d ever heard of it was in Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World.

The location in question – known as Affogato – was within walking distance from their fair ‘burb in St. John’s, a very distant fringe of Portland. The gelato/espresso place had only been open for six weeks. Both of the owners were brothers, and – aside from the gelato that they made themselves – they also (as I was told) made/boiled/blended a mean masala chai.

Yes, it's a bad picture, but - trust me - it was delicious.

Crappy picture, I know. But delicious.

I had determined to only stick with the gelato. My cup was a hybrid of “Milk Chocolate Chunk” and regular chocolate. It was the stuff Care Bear Heaven was made of. I gleefully devoured it with very little poise or posture, making a mess the entire way. What I wasn’t expecting was how filling it would be.

@ 2012 Affogato

@ 2012 Affogato

While I was inhaling my dessert, I queried Simon (the co-owner) about their chai some more. He informed me that they did all the blending and brewing themselves – just like everything else in their shop. This made my ears perk. Then he informed me that they boiled the spices for multiple hours. I drilled him for ingredients. He told me their signature blend contained orange pekoe, ginger, cardamom, cloves, anise, nutmeg, peppercorns, honey, orange zest, cinnamon, coconut sugar, and…lastly…

Vanilla beans!

I ordered the chai latte.

To be honest, I’m not usually a masala chai sorta guy. When I do have it, I prefer the spices to be balanced with the milk, sweetness, and black tea base. It’s easy to make masala chai and the latte variant, but it’s also easy to mess it up. This was perfectly balanced. On the spice end, ginger definitely took point, but it was reined in by the vanilla presence. That and texturally it was fluffy but full-bodied. These brothers knew what they were doing.

I left with a tummy full of warming awesome.

Now, all I’ve gotta do is convince them to make a masala chai gelato.

*Cue evil laughter*

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Wednesday, October 17th, 2012 Steep Stories No Comments

Doing the Job Hunt Jig

In case it hasn’t been obvious – from my increased output on this here site – I am going on Month #2 of unemployment. The joy of that? Plenty of time to write. The bad? Plenty of time to wallow in self-pity. But between the navel-gazing and Neanderthalic attempts at prose, I have made progress on the job front. As in, I have some opinions about the entire process.

This is going to be more of a reflection than a rant – going over what I’ve learned and/or observed in the last few weeks of hunting gainful employment.

#1: Everyone’s a Critic

The moment I informed the social media masses of my loss of job, the outpouring sentiment has been…mixed. I think some of that has to do with the fact that this was becoming a pattern. Replies ranged from the standard “I-have-a-sad”-s to the oft-shouted “Grow-the-f**k-up”-s. Both ends of the gamut have their validity. And between the outcries of sentiment and shame came the advice.

For the most part, the words of wisdom imparted by friends and family alike have been quite helpful. However, every once in awhile, I get something asinine. Someone feels like they have something gem-worthy, but it turns out more like…um…

“Why don’t you work at Taco Bell?”

Or…

“Sign of the times, man. Gotta pay your dues.”

Or some combination of the two.

These people need to be “duly” launched out of a taco-shaped cannon.

The rest? I thank you for thinking of me.

#2: Networking Is Hard

A common bit of advice I get when on the job hunt is to learn how to network. As in, solidify social and professional contacts that may have tips towards potential jobs. Problem is? No one has any solid advice on how to actually do it. To someone prone to social awkwardness, this is nerve-wracking.

I suppose the first step is to – guh! – talk to people, but it’s like pulling teeth…with a monofilament whip…attached to a crane…affixed to an AT-AT. A couple of years ago, I even attempted to attend regular job groups to solidify contacts. It was like going to an AA meeting – never again.

#3: Thinking Positive Works…Or Else

I used to be a big believer in the Law of Attraction (read: The Secret -type bullshit), but I since grew out of that phase. There is no way you can “will” a unicorn into existence just by thinking positively about the outcome of one. No actual science supports the claim to “happy vibrations” pulling and pushing the Universe at someone’s whim.

That said, there is something to thinking positively so as to welcome positive outcomes. Case in point (albeit completely anecdotal): For the better part of three weeks, I made it a point to be as upbeat as possible. Result? Increased traffic to my two blogs, and good times all around.

Problem is, when you’re a chemical depressive, that doesn’t necessarily last long. The pendulum will eventually sway in the other direction. And it always seems to happen when I’m idle enough to dwell on a certain topic. That being, how much I suck as a human being.

I start to ponder on my encroaching debt, mounting bills, bill collectors wanting to mount me, un-returned job prospect e-mails, etcetera ad nauseum. The moment those thoughts took reign of my brain, lo and behold my world became a tiny territorial bubble of shite.

My car almost broke down, my computer did break down (culprit: cat hair), debt collectors threatened me, and friends/family were mad at me. Luckily this only lasted for a weekend, but it certainly scared me into “happy-fun-times” submission. Lesson learned: Don’t worry, be happy, or Fate will teabag you!

#4: There Are Some Jobs I Simply Won’t Do

I’m not going to say what job this was from, but one time I had to help an old man. A poor 90-year-old gent who missed the toilet. For three hours I had to keep him company in a stinky bathroom while he attempt to clean himself – occasionally replenishing his supply of towels, cleaning solution, and sheets. Eventually, he was free and clear.

And after that, I thought to myself, No job could ever phase me again.

That was until I worked in an in-bound call center for only a day. I would sooner work fast food again. Apparently, I have some pride left. Just a smidge, though.

#5: “…With a Little Help from My Friends”

The last thing I’ve been able to reflect upon is how grateful I am to the disparate circle of people that still talk to be – both friends and family alike – during this ordeal. I will admit to being woefully imperfect, prone to horrible decision-making, and probably a downright barely mediocre employee. Yet some still see a bit of potential there. To those, I am beyond touched.

I’m not the easiest to deal with, but I am easily prone to loyalty. I mean, after all…

It is the sign of the times, and I must pay my dues.

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Wednesday, October 17th, 2012 Musings No Comments

F**k Flavored Matcha

First, let me go on record by saying: “I am not against flavored tea!”

As a well-versed/rehearsed Earl Grey drinker, I can’t say I’m above a little dash of something extra. Some of the best teas I’ve tried have fallen under the “flavor”-ful moniker. Granted, I’m more prone to traditional(-ish?) approaches to scenting teas rather than the addition of gobs of extract. (And if it’s aged in an alcohol barrel, I’m all over that shit.) However, there is one recent abomination that I have to draw the line on.

Flavored matcha.

I noticed the trend back in the fervor of my reviewing days. It seemed like something that would be a passing gimmick. The first I ever ran across was a strawberry-flavored matcha. It was…vaguely strawberry-ish, and even possessed strawberry seeds in the powder. Did I prefer it to regular matcha…oh heck, no. The second one I tried was a blueberry matcha, and it had no flavor at all.

But it got worse.

In the ensuing year, other flavors began cropping up. Caramel, banana, lavender, cheesecake (!!!), chocolate, vanilla derp-dee-derp and…maple syrup?! That was the final straw. Maple syrup-flavored anything is a gateway drug – one that leads to bacon. Yes, folks, you heard this prediction here first. We are a mere flavor agent away from having a bacon matcha!!!

Granted, to some of you, that doesn’t seem like a bad thing…but ask yourself this: Do you really want green tea with your bacon?

That is my limit. I can’t take it anymore. Matcha is a ceremonial beverage, one that induces a feeling of calm when it’s prepared. It doesn’t necessarily have to be prepared correctly – just to the drinker’s liking. As long as it is still matcha, then I have no qualm. But I’m putting my snobby foot down at flavoring the damn thing.

Tea leaves are universally known for being able to pick up flavor from either (a) the surrounding environment or (b) surrounding ingredients. Rose-scenting, jasmine-scenting, osthmanthus-scenting, masala-ladening – these are all very common and ancient practices. But have you heard someone say, “Do you know what this powdered green tea needs? Cheese. It needs cheese.” The closest thing we have to natural dairy tea is milk oolong, and it should bloody well stay that way!

I’m willing to give a pass on the existence of matcha blends, though. Case in point: Green tea powder blended with goji berry or acai. Those fruits can best be had in powdered form, anyway. Even better? Matcha blended with actual useful herbs like Gymnema sylvestre (the “sugar-destroyer” herb) or lemongrass. Those work! I’ve had ‘em.

In the end, I guess I just want one thing that’s left untouched. One thing that is still sacred and sucrose-less. If I have to, I’ll horde the good stuff to make sure that it remains pure. Because some powders are worth saving.

Fuck flavored matcha.

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Monday, October 15th, 2012 Steep Stories 1 Comment

I work for tea money.

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