Archive for August, 2013

Living with Family: A Comedy of Errands

So…my brother is getting married tomorrow. I’m still reeling from that concept. My baby brother is getting married tomorrow.

Anne Geddes - Baby Bride and Groom

For the better part of five months, I was torn as to whether or not I wanted to go to said wedding. My “Ego” was decidedly against. My “Superego” was decidedly for. And my “Id”…uh…wanted to bang a bridesmaid. (He only counts as half a vote.) The “yay”-s won out by a fair margin.

The months leading up to the pending nuptials did give me time to reflect on one thing, though. A simple thought occurred to me as the matrimonial rev-up began – completely selfish, mind you. That thought was, I’ve been living with family members for ALL of my post-collegiate life.

A sad revelation, to say the least.

Even sadder since I was booted from my brother’s place to make way for the new bride, and (mostly) forced back in with my sister and niece. This was a move I did not want to make. Again. I say, “Again,” because his had happened a few times before.

Let me start from the beginning.

After graduating college, I had only one place to go. Like a lot of post-grads, I moved back into my parent’s place. I was at a distinct advantage, though, because they weren’t there, anymore. The three-story house they once occupied was now tenanted by my sister’s family. And now me.

I figured this would be a springboard. I’d save up enough money, find a place of my own, and move on with my life as a super-dee-duper famous writer…or something. This was only for a year, right? Or so I told myself.

And indeed it was…but not in the way I wanted. The parents decided to move back to Oregon. Sis, bro-in-law and niece were ousted back to a condo that my sister owned. I followed suit soon after. I didn’t like the idea of being in my late-20s – living with my parents. The move was hectic, but the arrangement worked out. It was only going to be for a couple of years, right? Or so I told myself.

And indeed it was…but not in the way I expected. Sis got a job in another part of the state, took niece-y-poo with her. Bro-in-law and I found a third roommate in the form of a redheaded friend of mine, and the reverse-version Three’s Company began. It was like a sitcom, but I didn’t mind. It was only going to be for a year, right? Or so I told myself.

And indeed it was…in a way better than I had hoped. My brother had returned from college around the same time, and he wanted to move out of the parental abode. We came up with a roommate situation, found an apartment, and figured we would go in together on a house at some later date. It was only going to be for a year, right? Or so I told myself.

And indeed it was…in an even better way than planned. We were both still far too poor to afford a house (or a loan), but the parents decided to high-tail it to Wyoming. Unfortunately, they weren’t able to sell the three-story behemoth. They asked us to “house-sit” for an undetermined period of time. Added bonus: Cheapo rent.

My brother and I ate this s**t up with a spork. Granted, the parents left an added clause in the verbal agreement that they could visit whenever they wanted, but neither of us planned on being around for that long. We told ourselves: It was only going to be for a year…right?

And indeed it was…in the worst possible way. The parents changed the agreement and moved back…while we were still there.

That lasted for maybe three months before the both of us simply had it! We went house-hunting.

I would never in a million years be able to afford a house on my own. My brother would never be able to qualify for a zero-down home loan on his own. But with my name and his financial backing, we both were ideal loan fodder. Especially since this was after the housing bubble burst. My credit score was amazing…at the time.

At…the time.

We found a cozy little place on the fringes of Beaverton. Both of us occupied said small house for three-ish years. In that time, I got a cat; my brother got a dog. I remained single; my brother got a girlfriend. I…still remained single; and my brother…got engaged.

Knowing that a wedding was on the horizon in the next year or so, I made the preliminary strike. There were two vacation trips pending for the summer to follow. Not even during a good financial season would I have been able to afford a move and a vacation.

My brother agreed that we would discuss the “move-out” issue at around midsummer. Well, he couldn’t wait that long. He said, “So…our wedding is in August. I’m not kicking you out right away but…”

Then the panic attacks started en masse.

There was no way I was going to afford a place on my own (as per usual). If I had to move over the summer, then that meant my vacation plans were off. Or so I thought…

Mother came through with the offer of a plane ticket. Sis came through with an offer of a place to live. At first, I was hesitant to live with my other sibling again, having been scarred by this current marital debacle with the other sibling. That…and the deal was tied with my mother’s finances. If I refused to move in with sis, there went my vacation plane ticket.

So, in early July, while sick as a dog, I moved into a new apartment with my sister and niece. The place is quite nice. My room has a great view, and I’m pretty much left to my own devices. It’s not an ideal scenario, but then again…nothing would’ve been.

My idea of ideal is a cobblestone house in the middle of a woodsy nowhere surrounded by trees that emit a really sweet WiFi signal.

Another thought occurred to me in this process. As difficult as the familial racquetball living arrangement game has been, I had to view it from a different angle. I wasn’t the easiest person to live with either. I was slovenly, sloth-like, prone to irritability, and often resistant to change. My family was often putting up with me. It was probably no picnic for them having to shovel me along with all their stuff with every move.

All I can say is, the situation could be much worse. I could have no place to live with at all. And no Internet. And besides…

It’s only for a year…right?

Right?

So, I’m going to enjoy my brother’s wedding. It’s a happy occasion. My “Ego” is picking out ties. My “Superego” is sated. And don’t worry…

I’ll make sure my “Id” uses protection.

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Thursday, August 29th, 2013 Musings 2 Comments

Bandwagons, Bat-Fleck and Bad Miley

Bandwagons, we all jump on ‘em. They’re fun – a roller-coaster ride away from our tepid normalcy. And, boy, has this been a week (or two?) for bandwagons. The Powers That Be (Buddha, Baby Jesus, Baha’i Superman, what-have-you) bestowed upon the comedians of the world a bounty of material. Within days of each other, Ben Affleck was announced as the new Batman in the upcoming Man of Steel sequel, and Miley Cyrus did…horrible things to teddy bears at the MTV Video Music Awards.

The Internet went – well – bat-shit.

I’m not one to usually use this blog for commentary on contemporary pop-culture. Reason being, said subject matter(s?) would be dated within minutes of the post. I prefer such entries to withstand the test of time – “Internet years” or otherwise. However, sometimes, there’s a special case. Let’s start with the first and most “comic”.

The announcement of Batman’s casting in the as-of-yet-untitled Man of Steel sequel left many a jaw agape, including mine. I was still reeling from the July announcement that Batman was going to be in it at all. Yes, there was a love/hate bromance between Batman and Superman. It was canon in every DCU permutation out there, but I felt it was too soon to make that introduction.

True, Warner Bros. was probably on a time-crunch to set up the preludes for the proposed Justice League movie in just two short years. Unfortunately, the new Superman hadn’t been given enough time to fly on his own two feet. Returning to the time-tested Batman trough showed very little confidence in the “super” source material.

Then came Ben.

Everything about that announcement just didn’t bode well. Affleck semi-retired from acting after a string of terribad films, but reinvented himself as a character actor and director in subsequent years. Gone Baby Gone and Argo were nothing short of spectacular. (Seriously, a Matt Damon-penned/Ben Affleck-directed movie would bleed Oscar worthiness.) Affleck donning a mask again, though…um…

Daredevil tried. It really did.

Just picturing Affleck “bro”-ing up Bruce Wayne invited a million yucks. I dished out a few of my own. Then I read a status update by the ever-petulant Patton Oswalt. I won’t post the whole thing, but this paragraph best illustrated the point he was trying to make:

“A Batman portrayed by someone who’s tasted humiliation and a reversal of all personal valences — kind of like Grant Morrison’s “Zen warrior” version of Batman, post-ARKHAM ASYLUM, who was, in the words of Superman, “…the most dangerous man on the planet”? Think for a second and admit that Ben Affleck is closer to THAT top-shelf iteration of The Dark Knight than pretty much anyone in Hollywood right now.”

And that’s when I realized that I had blindingly boarded the bandwagon. I didn’t stop and think for a moment that maybe there is something more to this casting than meets the eye. Let’s be honest, too, he does have the chin for Batman.

Now, on to Miley.

I didn’t watch the VMAs. For me, they haven’t been “a thing” since the late-90s. MTV is about as relevant today as…oh…awards ceremonies in general. Sometimes, though, there are things that happen at the VMAs that grab public attention. The last occurrence that caught my aged eye was the Kanye West/Taylor Swift debacle of a couple o’ years prior. Since then, I hadn’t paid them any heed. I’m in my late-thirties, I have a bedtime now.

Rumblings of Miley Cyrus’s performance surfaced first on Twitter, followed by a smattering of updates from friends on Facebook. Then the ridicule poured out like a deluge. What had happened? What had she done now?

Yes, I was aware that her attempts at an image reinvention were a mixed bag. “We Can’t Stop” was one of the worst pop songs I’d heard in ages. Say what you want about her teeny-bopper stuff; at least it was catchy. That compounded with her makeover into a pseudo-Pink just struck the collective public consciousness as a cry for help. But then…that happened…

A whole new level of “WTF?!” I half-expected Sean Connery to pop out of one of the dancing teddy bears? Don’t get that reference? Well, you should, damn it. Sean Connery in a bear costume is hilarious.

The things she did with a foam finger made me never want to put my hand in a foam finger ever again. I would always wonder where it’d been. And the tongue stuff. What was with the tongue stuff? Not even Billy Idol in his prime used so much tongue. Teddy bears, I can accept. White girls twerking? Pedestrian. KISS tongue? I start pondering.

A day passed, and I had a moment to think on it. Was her performance really that bad? Sure, it was laughable, but was that the point? Was that simply the reaction that her new puppet masters were hoping for?

I thought back to Lady Gaga’s introduction back in ’08. She came across in much the same way – brash, borderline offensive, asexual and…gross. But her shtick caught on like wild fire, pumping her to the top of the charts like her possibly-fictional penis. There’s also that. The penis rumors reeked of “plant”.

Gaga’s meteoric rise differs from Miley’s in that she seemed smart and talented enough to exhibit some control over her image. I’m not so sure that Miley asserts that much authority over her own career. All of this shock-‘n-schlock smells manufactured – drastic, even. But for the moment, it appeared to be working. Until the VMAs.

Given time to think on it, I don’t think her performance was terrible. Quite the opposite in fact. She sang quite well. What the performance was, though, was uneven. Miley was not in tune with the performance around her. Compare it to Russell Crowe in Les Misérables. He didn’t sing particularly badly. He was just bad for the performance that was required of him.

Several years ago, I remember trying to karaoke “St. Elmo’s Fire”.  I was three beers in, and I thought I could handle the extreme octave change toward the end of the song. Boy, was I wrong. It was tragic. Epically tragic. Just like Russell Crowe. Just like Miley. I was not in tune with my performance; it was not within my range.

Being a rebellious wild child is out of Miley’s range.

I still think she has a lot to offer as an artist. She’s trying to show that she’s a mature, sexual presence, but hasn’t quite figured out how to convey it. Y’know…like a college sophomore. And guess what? She’s about the age of a college sophomore – not a coincidence! There’s real talent there, and a beauty to boot. She just needs to ditch her current handlers. They make Disney look like a harmless petting zoo.

In summation, before people go with their gut reaction about a particular performance, news article, meme, or story, it is best to take a moment and reflect. If everyone is voicing the same opinion, there must be something wrong with it. The world doesn’t revolve (or evolve) around a herd mentality. But don’t take my word for it…

I’m writing from the backseat of the bandwagon.

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Tuesday, August 27th, 2013 Musings 3 Comments

Beer. Earl Grey. Cold

Before I moved to my current location, I resided in a quaint little ‘burb on the outskirts of Beaverton, OR. All the houses dated back to the late 1940s, and were small familial dwellings. I didn’t associate much with the neighbors. They only saw me on the rare times when I walked my brother’s dog or came out to get mail in my pajamas. Yep, I was “that guy”.

However, one particularly social neighbor – the one that gifted me with some Ethiopian tea a few months later – put it upon himself to host regular neighborhood parties. My favorites? The monthly beer-themed bro-parties. Each month had a theme, and the attendants were tasked with bringing beers matching that theme for the rest of the class. The result? Well, naturally, some drunkenness.

The exception to the thematic rule was homebrewers. If you were awesome enough to brew your own beer and share it, you could bring whatever the heck you wanted. A friend of my neighbor’s was one such guy. Since I’m not sure how publicly he wants his name known, I’ll simply refer to him as JK. (Those were his initials, honest.)

I don’t recall what beer theme it was the day JK showed up, only that he brought a few of his homemade wares. The first of which he introduced rather bashfully as, “It’s a weird one. I used Earl Grey tea.”

That mention made me sit up instantly.

For the next hour or so, as he was passing the bottles around, I picked his brain on the process he used. It was a beer he called “The Kaiser of Earl”, which consisted of Pilsner extract, East Kent Hops, and Crystal Malt. In short, a pale ale recipe, but with the added benefit of 2oz. of Earl Grey tea leaves. More leaves were also added to a secondary fermentation process.

What can I say? The beer was gorgeous to look at. The liquor color wasn’t just amber, but crimson. The aroma was crisp and citrusy, the head was foamy and thick, and it poured beautifully. On taste, it was…well…criminy, it was an Earl Grey beer! I’d tried two or three different Earl-infused ales before. None of them ever retained the bergamot – not a one. This had the sour citrus rind throughout the palate. It was like drinking a pale ale infused with Earl Grey concentrate.

For what it’s worth, I resisted for a good four hours before I played the “beer blogger card”, and asked if I could do a feature on it. JK was happy to oblige me by saying he’d provide bottles for sampling the next time we met. Such an opportunity wouldn’t come about, though, for a few months.

In the interim, I’d forgotten all about the offer he made and continued my tea-beer quest as best I could. It seemed no matter how hard I tried, I was always one week off from seasonal tea-beer availability. Pyramid had a Chai wheat…but I was too late. Stone Brewing had two different sencha seasonals, but I found ‘em nowhere near my berg. The only available tea-beers were ones I already tried.

In the Spring, JK showed up to another party. Again, I forget what the theme was. (Stupid beer brain.) He gifted me with three bottles of the Earled brew. I caressed them lovingly, and stuck ‘em in the back of the fridge, waiting for a special time to break ‘em in.

I guess the special occasion I settled on was “Shitty Tuesday at Work”, and I broke open the 22oz. bottle with zeal. It tasted just as good as I remembered, if not more full-bodied. Not sure why; just more citrusy somehow.

In true me-like fashion, I delayed doing a write-up on the Kaiser of Earl. Weeks turned to a month. A month turned to…several months. Before I knew it, the summer was almost over. Even after all that time, though, I still remember that beer rather fondly. Like stupefied – but approving – Picard.

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Wednesday, August 21st, 2013 Beverage Blog 4 Comments

Fear and the Friend Zone: A Tale of Two Blondes

To tell you the truth, this blog entry was going to be something entirely different – it would’ve been about beer – but then I saw something that changed my focus entirely. I saw a video on YouTube that compared people who’ve claimed “Friend Zone” status to proto-rapists. The vid was of a poet (a man) relating his experiences with being sidelined by women he liked. Said vid was forwarded via Facebook by friends of mine (all men). The video…angered me.

I’m well aware that taking offense to anything on the Internet is about as futile as herding cats (who own the Internet). Normally, I’m quite immune to the oft-inflammatory rhetoric that clogs the superhighway “of tubes”. Religious debates, political debates, celebrity gossip, and gaming-related gripes – I’ve avoided all of these with seasoned couch-potatoed aplomb. But this…wow, it ground my teeth.

Instead of countering the post and kicking off an epic flame war, I chose the next-best (and cowardly) approach. I took to this here blog. How better could I textually illustrate my disagreements with this hyperbolic prose than with my own mealy-mouthed musings? This might as well be called: “My Life in the Friend Zone”…but that would span volumes. Instead, I’m going to highlight two shining examples of my Friend Zone familiarity.

My first…and my last.

The “Dawn” of an Era

When I was a ninth grader in junior high (yes, I know I just dated myself there), I joined a boy’s fraternity group. It shall remain nameless due to its wanton need for pseudo-secrecy. There were also sister organizations to this fraternal group – yes, gurrels! And dances were often held. My initiation was supposed to be fairly straightforward – ceremony, banquet and dance to follow. I was among several other barely-pubescent boys in the state who’d all just been initiated.

It was my dumb luck that on the day of this particular dance, a certain girl ended a year-long relationship with the State Junior Councilor of my order. She was a junior in high school – two or three years my senior. She also had the unfortunate condition of being drop dead gorgeous, and extremely well-known to everyone in my organization. You can probably guess her name based upon the title of this sub-section, but for the purposes of this diatribe, she’ll simply be known as Blonde-1.

Over the course of the evening, she’d asked me to dance twice. Being new to the whole “woman” thing, I hadn’t even caught on that this was abnormal. My first thought was that it was a “pity dance” – a charity case made to make a newbie feel welcome. It wasn’t until a couple of weeks (and another dance) later that I found out differently.

A male friend of hers came up to me and said, “You know that girl?”

Ninth grade me said, “No.”

He replied with, “You’ve danced with her twice already.”

“Oh yeah, her,” I beamed slowly. “What about her?”

“She likes you,” he teased.

My worldview – and my balls – dropped. Simultaneously.

We got acquainted over the next few weeks, saw each other at other fraternal events, and talked for hours on end on the phone. Keep in mind, this was all pre-Internet! It might as well have been a long-distance relationship. She lived all the way on the other side of Portland. A whole two hours away by mass-transit.

Not only was it my first (kinda) relationship, but also the first time I ever dedicated a song to a girl. To this day, I can’t listen to Metallica’s “Nothing Else Matters” without thinking of her. This was pre-Napster battle, mind you. Metallica was still cool, then.

A break-up was bound to happen sooner or later. The fact that it happened later is still the cause of some debate. The phone call came as any high school-ish “Dear John” would. Blonde-1 uttered the common cliché, “Let’s just be friends.” And fifteen-year-old me held her to it. All the while hoping that there’d be some rekindled romance.

By “friendship”, I should explain. Usually, when a teenage boy thinks of friendships, he thinks: “Someone to play videogames with”…or…”Someone to talk about movies with.” Or at least, that’s how it was for teen geeks in the 90s. A friendship with Blonde-1 was un-delightfully one-sided. It mainly consisted of me hearing about her latest break-ups and/or flings. Keep in mind, my adolescent brain was still trying to process what a relationship even was.

This continued on for a good two years.

Sisyphus picture from http://ssifo.blogspot.com/

Sisyphus picture from http://ssifo.blogspot.com/

We lost contact for a while. She resurfaced when I was a junior in high school, and I joined her and some friends to a place called Council Crest. I had no idea that it was a popular make-out spot. Nor did I have any clue that she was showing signs of interest…again. In reality, she was on the rebound – just like when I first met her.

Since I failed to make a move, we fell out of communication for another year or so. On one random weekday during my senior year, she gave me a call. That sparked a renewed dialogue, and the hours-long phone conversations resumed. As my senior year drew to a close, I even invited her to be my date to prom.

Then a jaded part of me woke up.

Why are you taking her? That bitter part of me asked. She strung you along for years .You owe her nothing!

And, you know what? I listened. I dropped her like a bag of dimes, and ended up going to prom with another girl. One that actually was a friend. Well…except for the fact that there was a mutual attraction, and two years later we…uh…that’s another story.

Blonde-1 wouldn’t talk to me after that. And why should she? I had let her down because I was bitter. I didn’t feel good about it, but I felt justified.

One day, while I was in college, she called the old homestead at random. My stepfather joked that she was calling to string me along again. I chuckled at the thought. I grabbed the phone, metaphoric armor donned. And…

She simply called to tell me that she was getting married, and that her first child was due in three months. That and she hoped I was doing well. The phone call was short but pleasant.

We never talked again.

The Scholarly Groupie

In 2006, I – like everyone else – was addicted to myself…and Myspace. And I – like every guy – used it for one tool above all others (and like a tool). To meet girls.

A common, cowardly tactic for getting a girl’s attention was to simply add her as a friend. No message, no “Hi”, no nothin’, just an add. We let our profiles speak for us and hoped for the best. Problem was, I wasn’t a particularly good-looking or dynamic personality. Er…not like am now. So, my luck was…oh…I averaged about a date a month. If that.

One particular girl showed no interest whatsoever, but we developed a dialogue anyway. We met at a concert. One of her friends was a musician. I brought along a couple of mine, and the evening went mostly okay. Later on, I was perusing her friend’s list and came across a rather striking blonde. (We’ll call her…uh…Blonde-2? Yeah.) I did what I always did, I sent a friend request. No response.

Damn, time for another tactic. Now, I actually had to find out what type of person she was. *LE GASP!* One night I overlooked Blonde-2’s profile and noticed she kept a blog. A very surprisingly eloquent blog, at that. I read one of her poems while working a night shift, and left as insightful a comment as I could. At 5AM, a friend request was sent to me.

We finally met in person a few months down the line at yet another concert of the aforementioned band. At this point, I was weary of several bouts with the Friend Zone, so I decided to beat her to the punch. I made myself the friend from the outset. That’s right, I put myself in the Friend Zone, thus avoiding any heartache. And I almost believed that was all I wanted from the interaction.

She’d shown interest in the keyboardist of said band, and – over the course of weeks – I offered what little advice I could on the subject. All the while, continuing my futile search for Myspace love. We both often lamented in paragraph form about our mutual lack of luck in the love department. That’s about when my resolve shattered. I realized, Crap, I do actually like this girl.

In true wuss-like fashion, I told her. In true out-of-my-league fashion, she didn’t return those feelings. In true Friend Zone fashion, we maintained the status-quo. I tried my darnedest to not hold on to false hope. An eventual slip into radio silence was the result.

In March of ’09, I followed everyone else in the Great Exodus from Myspace to Facebook. One of my first self-appointed tasks was re-adding anyone else I knew from the old era. This included Blonde-2. After almost a year of no contact, she seemed genuinely happy to hear from me. My heart melted. (Stupid heart.)

There was an obvious change in our interaction, though. Our missives, even the public ones over each other’s Walls, were noticeably more…flirty. I had no idea how to deal with this. So, I played along. Heck, it was the most interest someone of the opposite gender had shown me since…uh…the beginning of the year? (Hey, I’m not a complete square.)

When the innuendo-enriched dialogue had reached a crescendo, I did what any red-blooded male would do. I confessed that I liked her. Again. She…took it about as well as could be expected, given our history. The flirtation dialed back considerably. Dialogue was sporadic at best.

I saw her on special occasions – birthdays, concerts, friendly gatherings, and the like. It was an acquaintanceship at best. The distance was actually helpful for me, as it made me maintain clarity when in her presence. By Buddha, she was lovely. And smart. Totally not fair.

Not sure how it happened, not sure why I didn’t notice it, but our interaction began to climb back to that faux-flirty status. This time, though, others were taking notice. Someone even remarked, “I dunno what’s going on…but she seems into you.”

So, again, I broached the subject to her. And again she shot me down like a headlight-frozen deer. After that, I was just about done. Another few months went by, and contact was sparse. Until one day, for some evil reason, she started up with the vague, suggestive comments again.

After four years of this B.S., it was time for an actual move. Not a confession, not a roundabout admission, no…Actual manning up. I sent a simple message asking her what days she had off, then I told her to pick a day. I ended with, “We’re going to tea, no buts.”

Later that week, we had tea. And it was wonderful. It felt like an actual date. There was even a twirly hug at the end of it. I’d always wanted to do a twirly hug.

While we were out she admitted there was a tea she’d been looking for, but she could only find it online. I made it my mission to find it for her. Lo and behold, I did on a random perusal of a local Asian mart. I sent her a snapshot of said tea, and she replied with glee. (Whee! That rhymed!)

Then…nothing.

She wouldn’t return messages, texts, or nudges. I wondered when I could drop off the gift to her, and she gave me a short, noncommittal answer. Something about “having a crazy busy week.”

What did I think? Something about me must’ve creeped her out. It was my greatest fear, being the one considered a creeper. I’d gone my whole life trying to avoid that stigma. It was enough that I was a male that wore glasses, I didn’t need that greasy moniker applied to me.

At the end of the week, I returned the tea to the store…then deleted her as a friend.

Blonde-2 sent me a friend request the following week with a message attached: “I miss you.”

And I fell for it. Dialogue resumed, things got flirty, rinse-repeat, same ol’ tennis match. I deleted her again.

She replied with a, “It kills me that you keep removing me. I miss you.”

Again I accepted. The interaction was as torturous as ever. This hopscotch friending/defriending lasted for a good half a year. Eventually, I had to outright say, “Look, I can’t have anything to do with you. I think I’m in love with you…and not the good kind of love.”

It didn’t work, if anything, that further renewed her resolve to keep me in her life. There was no other way. I had to be frank. So, I lashed out with a…”Go find another pathetic nerd to play with. We’re through!”

And…she accepted that.

But I weakened my resolve and re-added her sometime in December of ’12. By then, she’d found herself a boyfriend, someone who gave her the attention she craved and deserved. My presence on her page was borderline pathetic…and hilarious. I removed myself again.

This time, she blocked me. Around the same time, Gotye came out with “Somebody I Used to Know”. Fitting.

We haven’t spoken since.

*****

The poem that set me off was done by a talented lad named Dylan Garity. He’s insightful, funny, witty, and thought-provoking. He closed his “Friend Zone” poem off with the following phrase:

Well, Dylan. I’ve seen the beast within…and he’s a baby hedgehog. Weak, scared, overly-defensive, and kinda prickly on the outside. On the inside, soft, doughy and nugetine.

In a common/geeky turn-o’-phrase, “Mostly harmless”.

That’s not to say that there aren’t men who transfer their rejections into acts of violence against women. They are very real, and everyone has a dark side in them. However, making a blanket statement that the Friend Zone is a playground of soon-to-be violators is appalling. I’ve known Friend Zoners, I’ve known those who’ve Friend Zoned. Hell, I’ve done my fair share of Friend Zoning. I’ve also known rape victims and rapists.

There’s a fuzzy line between fear and control. Those of us who’ve known the Friend Zone are well within the realm of “Fear”. We’ve never sought to control the unfortunate focuses of our affection. If anything, we’re too cowardly to even view them in a lustful light. Speaking personally, the idea of sex scares me. Always has.

It’s not their fault for putting us in the Friend Zone; it’s our own. We put ourselves there. In a way, it’s safe, noncommittal, and totally Limbo. Rape is about control. The Friend Zone is about handing off that control to someone else.

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Monday, August 19th, 2013 Musings 3 Comments

For the Love “Of the Taco”

I don’t know what this says about my childhood, or the current state of my life, but I grew up falling in love with a fast food restaurant. My family had it for as long as I can remember; it was a part of my life. The tastes are so ingrained on my palate, that I compare other, fancier foods with it. For the sake of this write-up, though, this nostalgic place will not be named. (Mainly for fear of libel and need for laughter.) So, I will call it by its English translation: “Of the Taco.”

When I was a wee lad, my father worked out of town. My mother would always drive my sister and I to see him return from the train station. Immediately after reintroductions, our next stop was always Of the Taco. Their green sauce practically defined my juvenile taste buds – for good or ill.

Image Owned by the Responsible Marketing Blog

Image Owned by the Responsible Marketing Blog

We carried on like this even after my Dad’s work became more centralized. Mom didn’t cook much, neither did Dad. Regular outings out were…well…regular. Sometimes daily. Of the Taco drive-thru might as well have been our living room.

That changed after the divorce. Mother, sis and I migrated northward to Oregon; Dad stayed south in Of the Taco country. I went through most of my adolescence wondering if the chain even went past the California border. Until one day, I ran into one in the middle of nowhere. Can’t remember where I found it, probably next to an A&W…and a unicorn.

Image Owned by Haxx

Image Owned by Haxx

By age 23, I’d finally moved away for college (about three years too late), and somehow ended up in Reno, Nevada. On a drive home after a long, collegiate night of drinking, we chanced upon a beacon of late-night eats. Mere blocks from the university was an Of the Taco. I was reacquainted with its magical green sauced burritos once more. And many times during my “higher” education stint, since.

Once I was all “gradumatated”, I returned to Oregon somewhat victorious. I had a little piece of paper that said I was somebody…who spelled good. For some reason, I went straight into the hospitality field. Not one of my better decisions, but one I stuck with.

In 2010, I took some vacation time and spent a week in Southern California. The latter part of my trip was spent in Orange County. I had two missions: (1) To meet a fellow writer (a female) with the same birthday as me. For the first time. And (2), to reconnect with friends in the area.

Meeting up with the old Internet “flame” took place at – you guessed it – Of the Taco. While sparks didn’t fly on the initial meeting, it was nice to chat with someone in the “meatspace”, after having known them for a year. Sort of. Sometimes, I still think about her when my face is nose deep in a burrito.

On that same trip, the friends I met up with decided to drag me to a bar. There posse was a mixed group of men and women. All geeks. All my type of people. One particular lass caught my attention. Must’ve been the midriff and the bellydancing. After a few hours and a few drinks, we were lip-locked. Only taking breaks to karaoke.

By the end of the night, one friend asked said girl, “So, are you taking him home?”

She looked at me and said, “So, am I taking you home?”

And so…uh…I went to her home.

The next morning, we ended up at Of the Taco.

Around the same time, I reconnected with a couple of old high school friends via Facebook. Both lived in Camas, Washington now, and threw parties on the regular. To get there, I had to occasionally cross into Vancouver for food. One of those friends told me there was an Of the Taco along the Camas/Vancouver border. For the longest time, that was one of my regular contributions to parties. That is, until it closed. R.I.P.

Two years ago, I ended up at a hotel in the upper burbs. On a rather pissy drive home looking for a bar, I came across it. Like a beacon of light, the only local Of the Taco. It became my continuous, cathartic stop after a shit day at work. Why go to a bar when one could stuff their face with chicken soft tacos and green-sauced burritos? Such a better feeling! By a hair.

That went on for a good long while…until one fateful day two weeks ago. I was running errands with my sister, and one such stop-off was going to be an hour wait. Instead of remaining seated, I chose to wander around for a spell. After a couple of blocks, I realized I was within a ten-minute stride of Of the Taco. I acquired my “breakfast” there.

This day, however, it tasted off. Way off. I didn’t understand how “way off” until I got home. My stomach churned, my head pounded, my muscles weakened, and all I could think about was sleep. For a good eight hours, I passed out. The next morning, I was literally sick to my stomach.

You guessed it: Food poisoning.

After three days of combating that, I vowed to never eat Of the Taco again. We were through. It’d been a bittersweet decision, but one that needed to be made. For the sake of my health.

That decision lasted only two weeks. A couple of friends and I went to see Elysium a day before this writing. One said he was “a might peckish” and chose to drive-thru Of the Taco. He offered to get me something as long as it was cheap. I broke down and asked for two green-sauced bean burritos. I might as well have called them “break-up sex burritos” for all the fortitude I had.

I guess I’m not through with “her” just yet. What?! Memories are hard to erase.

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Wednesday, August 14th, 2013 Musings 6 Comments

Airport Adventure Time

The best vacation of my summer – nay, life! – had just ended one day prior. It was now time for me to return to the not-so-gentle burlap blanket of reality. My World Tea Expo/Las Vegas Tea “Party” was drawing to a close. What I didn’t expect was that I would have to contend with some rigors trying to leave the maverick gambling city.

After parting ways with the friends I was staying with, my first order of business was returning the car I rented. I figured the quickest way was to simply use Google Maps to guide my compass-less arse to the airport rental car island. Yes, the McCarran Airport required its own friggin’ rental car island to process all the cars. Problem was…according to my GPS, said island didn’t exist.

I went about it another way, looking up the specific rental car company and triangulating my position from there. After locating what I thought was the right one, I headed out. On the highway, I witnessed a couple of signs for a rental car port, but they were pointing in the exact opposite direction I was going. When I finally arrived at where my “jeepus” told me to go, I was next to an abandoned building on the outskirts of downtown Vegas.

Frantic, I piped a call through to the tea friend I’d stayed with all week – Lady Joy’s Teaspoon. She did her best to keep me from hyperventilating, got on her own computer, and located the cross-streets I needed. Confidence slightly renewed, I burned rubber toward the airport. This time, I finally found the island. (Might as well have been the f**king LOST island for how well I found it.)

What was unclear, though, was how one was supposed to turn into said island. Let me backtrack for a second. Calling it an “island” is a bit of misnomer. It was more of a…um…penal colony for cars. Several rental car outlets were attached to this – what I can best describe as a – mega-garage. My first thought was that it looked like a zombie apocalypse compound. Finding the goddamn entrance was just as difficult, too.

The first two times, I nearly went into a wall. The third time, I almost went through an exit. On my penultimate try, I found my way to the bloody service entrance. A mostly-patient security guard pointed me in the right direction. And by that, I mean going around the block another time. By chance number five, I went through the right one. Only to be greeted by the jaws of life.

When I tried to turn down the right route for my rental company, I came in contact with warning signs galore and…teeth! Rows upon rows of sharp protrusions in the road warning ingress traffic away. I did what I always do when confronted by sharp things, I turned tail. In this case, I put the car in reverse, ducked out of the turning lane in the garage, and parked off to the side with the warning lights on.

I had no clue what to do, and my flight was in an hour and a half.

Running out of options, I resorted to calling the rental car company’s roadside assistance. I think my message came across like this:

“ICAN’TGETTHROUGHTHEREARETEETHINTHEWAYMYFLIGHTISINANHOURI’MSTUCK!!!OMGWTFBBQone!!!111”

Calm like a Zen monk, that’s me.

They put me on hold for about twenty minutes, got a hold of the parent location – i.e. the port I was parked at – then got back to me. The answer to my predicament, they said was simple. Just drive over the teeth. Apparently, they were in place to prevent unwanted traffic to get through. However, cars could easily go over them. Well, I felt like an idiot.

Once that hurdle was driven over, I sped my way to the…end of a really long line of people returning their cars. My flight was in an hour, at this point. Cursing under my breath, I made sure that my return tickets and paperwork were all in order. Then waited patiently. Or as patiently as a man could wait while muttering, “F**kf**kf**kf**kf**k” could.

Obstacle cleared, I mad-dashed it to the shuttle terminal. Oh, did I forget to mention that? Yeah, I did. McCarran airport is so stinkin’ large that there’s a shuttle running from the rental car island to the port proper. Thankfully, they arrived and departed in a timely manner. Panting heavily, I made it in time for a shuttle that was within inches of departing.

Five minutes later, I hauled my suitcase over my shoulders and ran. I’m not a very fit man. Running is not my strong suit. You will never find a doughy man like me in a marathon. That said, today…I…was…running! Forrest Gump-style and just as “speshul”.

I went to a check-in terminal, mashed the touchscreen with my stubby fingers ‘til it did what I wanted it to. Then continued my epic barely-above-a-fast-walk to my allotted gate. Only to find out…

My flight was delayed. By two hours.

What could I do but laugh hysterically. I called Lady Joy’s Teaspoon and told her the situation. She informed me that her cousin, Lady Earl Steeper would be at the airport shortly as well in an hour. I texted Lady Earl with a thought toward drinks to kill time. She obliged.

Until that time, I settled in for a wait by the intended gate for my flight. Over the P.A., I heard, “Hugh Johnson. Paging Hugh Johnson. Please meet your party at Baggage Carousel 6.” Or something like that. Heh. “Hugh Johnson.” I chuckled.

In the interim, I also texted my sister, telling her of the delay. She was meeting me at the airport back in PDX. I didn’t want her to wait in vain for two hours. Speaking of “in vain”, what was I gonna do for two hours?

Answer: Drink.

If the day had shown me anything, I was in dire need of a beer. I went to the only outlet that was open, some FOX Sports themed dive on the outskirts of the gates. Complete with overly-rude mulleted/mustachioed bartenders. Classy. That and the beers were $10 a pint. Didn’t care; needed beer. To avoid the wait in line, I ordered two. Double-fisting, baby.

Lady Earl Steeper arrived twenty minutes later, and we shot the shite for a spell. Drinks downed, we called it quits and returned to our respective gates an hour or so after. Finally, I was somewhat satisfied. Must’ve been the buzz.

Shortly thereafter, I boarded the plane, finally saying my final final farewells to the City o’ Sin. I wasn’t particularly looking forward to the flight home. The seats looked entirely too cramped for me and my duffel bag of a suitcase. Pleasant surprise, though. I was the only one assigned to my row of seats. No seriously, here’s proof.

I had the window seat, and no one occupied the others. Pure WIN!

The flight to Portland was uneventful. I slept through most of it. Touchdown occurred without any hiccups. I texted my sister once I had cell reception again. I got this reply…and had to promptly tweet it.

She’d mistyped “here”.

I was home.

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Monday, August 12th, 2013 Musings 7 Comments

Writing with My Inner Child

As most of you may (or may not) know, I sometimes take myself way too seriously. I hide it well enough through silly antics, but I – like many under the “artiste” label – are prone to moments of melancholy pretention. This often contributes to my lack of consistent updates. That has been changing recently, however. And I owe it all to my “inner child”.

Let me be more specific. I’m not talking about that quasi-psychological, metaphoric concept touted ad-cliché-nauseum. Rather, I’m referring to an actual person who might as well be my inner child, given his unwavering ability to remind me not to take myself too seriously. That and he is my informal partner-in-creative-crime. You heard right, this blog is going to be about someone other than myself. Er…for once.

My cousin – Jason Norman – is a talented artist I first started collaborating with back in ’07. Before that, I didn’t think I had it in me to work well with others. It’s not that I’m unwilling to compromise; more a matter of not wanting to share. In that vein, I’m kind of a miser. I guess that means I’m a writer or something.

To collaborate was originally his suggestion. He had the idea to put a webcomic together. Over the course of two or three really late nights, we came up with Random Access – a simple, focusless exercise where I would write a script (that he had no say in changing). In turn, he would draw the comic (which I had no say in changing). Hilarity often ensued.

For several reasons, though, we never stuck to the project. I think it was mostly because we both knew that there was no money in webcomics. Well, unless we focused entirely on videogame humor. That and my inner hermit got the better of me, and I decided to fly solo with another webcomic – Fred & Red.

The less spoken about that, the better.

Jason, however – ever the cheerleader – took a liking to the concept, and thought of a retooling. His version, which borrowed from my original concept, was light-years ahead of mine. We never launched it, but we did crank out a few test-scripts for future use.

Fast-forward a few years. Jason and I had several other brainstorming sessions about other projects. None saw the light of day due to never leaving the planning stage. We played off of each other rather well, though. My cynicism tempered his exuberance, whereas he fueled my often-spiderwebbed creative gears.

Over a year ago, though, something changed. Jason asked me if I could give him feedback on an old children’s book he did when he was wee lad – Bobo the Flying Hippo.

I looked it over, and imparted my two cents worth. He came back to me later with a proposal – a children’s book for iOS devices. A mutual friend of ours had dabbled with app programming, and my own brother had a cursory understanding of sound editing.

We did what we always did when we had new/potential projects to discuss. Junk food was procured, beer was swigged, and notes were jotted. Over the course of one evening, we had a story plotted out. Jason delivered me a rough storyboard after a week.

Now, it was my turn to write the narration.

And that’s where the problem began.

I’m not a good self-starter. (Look at the title of this blog, for Chrissake.) It took me a good month, maybe longer, to crank out anything of value. And that wasn’t much. My cousin was patient with me throughout when others would’ve pulled my hair out. One day, he just casually suggested, “Hey, let’s go to Starbucks. I’ll buy you tea.”

Not sure how he did it, but over one London Fog and three hours later, we had the narration for the app done. I typed it up a day later. A few months after that, Riverbottom Tales: Bobo Takes Flight went live. It was the first time I’d been published. I mean, published published, not just blog-published. I’m still reeling from that.

Click the image to buy the app!

Click the image to buy the app!

Which brings us to the present. My cousin has another project in the pipeline. He invited me one night to help him with the copywriting on his Kickstarter campaign. It was the first time I’d worked on any such project. Ever the cynic, a part of me didn’t think he’d get it off the ground. Color me corrected when the Kickstarter for Where’s Walter went live today (Wednesday, August 7th) – mere hours before this write-up.

Click the image to go to the Kickstarter.

Click the image to go to the Kickstarter.

I hope something comes of it. Such youthful exuberance needs to be rewarded. So does bringing out the child in others.

Oh, one more interesting tidbit. My website banner? Designed by him. Just sayin’.

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Wednesday, August 7th, 2013 Musings 2 Comments

Like a Boss

Back in the zenith of 2012 – the penultimate month of November – I somehow landed myself a supervising job. I say “somehow” because…I didn’t remember actually applying for it. Later, I found out that I hadn’t. Rather, my mother had applied in my stead because I was too chickens**t to do so. Even after thinking I’d botched the interview, I still landed it. Given that this was the first time I’d ever landed a leadership role of any kind (with pay), I went in with a few preconceived notions…and a few unrealistic goals.

One of those was to be “the cool boss”.

You, fine reader, know the type I’m talking about. The manager that everyone likes and respects, from the top-tier down; one of the guys but still manages to get the job done. All without ever losing their cool. I had no idea how to pull this off, but I’d seen enough movies to garner a rough idea. I thought…

For the first couple of months, I seemed to be pulling it off. It was a hectic gig, but one where gratitude was bestowed. I answered to a departmental head, and – in turn – took over their duties whenever they were absent. The staff appeared to like me well enough, and when I was in charge, I kept things a little more informal. A balance of sorts was struck.

By the third month, the unthinkable happened. I was nominated Employee of the Month. Whatever I was doing, it was apparently working. Staff and superiors congratulated me. It was the first time I’d ever earned that coveted prize. In all my occupational “glory”, I was often quite far away from that lofty goal. Not anymore.

There was only one drawback to this apparent success. I was exhausted physically, mentally and emotionally. When I returned home, I simply collapsed and vegetated. Other responsibilities took a far-flung backseat to blissful decompression. No job, to my knowledge, wiped me out to such a degree.

It hit me about a month later what the problem was. Granted, supervisory/managerial work was more complicated and occasionally more difficult, but was it supposed to be the job of three people? Two months later, I got a talking-to about not meeting some of my core responsibilities. I was flabbergasted. How?! And where was I supposed to find the time to improve?!

Another thought occurred to me. In my pursuit of being the “cool boss”, I’d lost sight of the ability to delegate responsibility. If something extra was added to our department, I tried to take care of it myself. If an employee missed a task, I attempted to rectify it myself instead of sending them back. So fearful was I of stepping on anyone’s toes that I’d lost my stride.

I brought up my concerns about meeting my responsibilities within the right timeframe to my general manager. Compounded with that, I also outlined what I was doing to make the jobs easier for those on my staff. He simply laughed and said, “If I’d known that, I would’ve slapped you long ago. Your job is not to do their job.”

“I just don’t want to be the bad cop,” I replied.

“It’s not about being good cop or bad cop,” he corrected me. “It’s about being indifferent cop. Firm but fair. The important part is that they respect you, not like you.”

Whoah, maybe I’d been going about it all wrong. I thought it was important to be liked. Everyone has at least one boss they’ve liked. I’m one of the lucky ones that can name three or four. They were examples I tried to emulate, but was I really earning any respect?

The following week, on a particularly busy day, I tried to put this to the test. The day ahead promised to be exceptionally busy. There was no way I was going to make quota if I tried to do everything myself. I huddled everyone together in a little powwow, and explained how the day was going to progress. If certain tasks weren’t completed to specs, I would be sending them back. Not completing it for them.

This…backfired. Horribly.

Three employees outright lied to me about tasks being completed, I counted at least fifteen times when I had to send people back (sometimes twice), and two people outright snapped at me over the request to redo certain assignments.  Something about my approach wasn’t working. Was it that they weren’t used to me expecting them to complete their jobs themselves…or was it something else?

Respect. I didn’t have it. I hadn’t earned it.

My own staff didn’t view me as an authority figure. Hell, I barely viewed me as an authority figure. I wasn’t a boss. I was “like a” boss. All of the responsibilities, but none of the authority.

This came up during a birthday party for a friend. The conversation went like this:

Friend: “Can’t you write people up?”

Me: “Nope, don’t have that authority.”

Friend: “Do you make the schedule? Could you shorten the hours of problem employees?”

Me: “Nope, don’t have that authority?”

Friend: “So, you have…a badge, and that’s it?”

Me: “That’s it.”

Friend: “I’d stop caring if I were you. Just try to be their friend.”

That was directly counter to what the general manager had advised me to do. But given that I could issue no consequences short of “…or else”, what “else” could I do? Could I get by on not giving a damn?

For your information, the answer is “No.” The inner dilemma all came to a head on Sunday (the day before the time of this writing). One employee called out sick. Two were due off the schedule by noon. My immediate manager couldn’t make it in to assist. Our tasks had grown by thirty percent. And I was caught in the middle. I ended up pulling a fourteen-hour day.

That’s when I said to myself, “I’ve had it.”

In closing, if you have – or if you are – one of those magical/mythical beasts known as a “cool boss”. Hug them or yourself. Time with them will be fleeting. They will either cripple under the pressure, or realize they are worth more than where they are. Or they will succumb to dick-bossedness by sheer necessity.

Me? I didn’t succeed. I didn’t fail. I’m simply postponing any direct conclusions by looking at cat pictures on the Internet…

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Monday, August 5th, 2013 Musings 4 Comments

I work for tea money.

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