Last night you had what sounded to be some sort of Guitar Hero party. How you ever coerced anyone into attending is beyond me. I think I even heard girls, too, so you'll have to share with me that bit of miracle-working as well (I mean, really, cut the crap and tell me: how?!). And it just sounded terrible, all of it. You've got guys standing in front of the TV, pushing the controller buttons that I hear clicking through the walls and the floor and I can just imagine the little plastic guitars strapped to your chests. Not that anything I do is cool, per se, but this is just pure, unfettered lameness. You've got people in the background screaming out as if they've just witnessed a car wreck every time you miss a note on the solos. Seriously? I think one of you is even a doctor. Oh God my head just exploded.
But I have to remind myself that this is likely your way of getting back at me for all those times I turned my amps up to 11 (every time) and the wood slats rattled beneath my feet as a couple of us played awful (but real, mind you) guitar. Yes, you were likely jealous or pissed that we were not, in fact, participating in digital video games, but in life!
As you clicked those final notes last night on "Ziggy Stardust," it reminded me that, while the song and album were written around the completely ridiculous premise that an extraterrestrial rock star has come to planet earth, in human form, to save mankind (right?), it is nonetheless about an extraterrestrial rock star who has come to planet earth, in human form, who plays guitar, not Guitar Hero. Even if Bowie had written this stuff yesterday, I'd like to think it still would have manifested itself in identical fashion, and not be about some guy who uses a joystick and controller to make young, feeble hearts melt. 'Cause that's not sexy, and sexiness is what Bowie has always strived for (obviously).
This morning it hit me, what is surely one of the greatest modern quandaries out there: what did all the drunk people do for emotional release before the advent of the telephone? Drunk-dialing seems so commonplace nowadays, even passé, dare I say, what with texting and any given impersonal communication flavor of the week, but what the heck did all those hoards of inebriates do when they were hanging out and getting wasted in saloons and neared that I-guess-I'm-feeling-vulnerable-enough-to-tell-her/him state in which they thought it prudent to contact some poor sober soul and spill their guts out to him/her, that apparent long-lost lover on the other side of town or the county or the country or whatever?
Did they break away from the barroom brawls and people swinging on chandeliers and other assorted tomfoolery to teeter-totter up to their room, or maybe through the tumbleweeds and down to the general store, and (I'm imagining this by candlelight) scrawl a poorly worded, mostly illegible letter and stumble it, in spurs, to the local post office or mailbox (if they even had those?)? Did they remember to get stamps along the way? OK no. Well wait a minute, what if they couldn't even read or write in the first place? Because that would obviously pose significant problems. What then, huh? Maybe they just grabbed the nearest person who knew how to read and write and straight-up verbalized - probably pretty passionately, with sweat dripping down their brow, with phlegm flying from their mouth that was in no way intended for a spittoon - what they wished to be emoted by ink and quill. But how awkward would that be for the scribe? Psh.
Maybe this is the whole Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs thing coming into play (clever bastard); you know, as you saunter home from the saloon and up your front lawn you're likely to care first and foremost about, say, making sure a wolf hasn't plowed through your whole lot of sheep while you were out hootin' and hollerin' with your drinking buddies before you decide to cruise Facebook at 3 a.m., haphazardly poking your crushes, and even complete strangers, in your e-warpath. It just kinda works that way.
So take all of this, got it?, k, and think now of all that bottled-up emotion - the pent-up sentiments and years of emotional solitude spread out over varying BAC levels (usually pretty high ones considering all of that moonshine and whiskey, or so I've read) - and what've you got? What you've got are barrels full of volatile little man hearts strapped with lit sticks of TNT, getting absolutely plastered in the proximity of women in bustiers and various corralled animals is what you've got. And that's pretty damn scary. Laws (the few that existed) were practically begging to be broken.
Or maybe there were just a lot more face-to-face confessions and confrontations, which would have rocked something fierce to witness. Can you imagine? I barely can, this tarnation. And just think: these people in these impaired hullabaloos were usually carrying guns. My God. Talk about being guilted into love. What if your assailant/lover-to-be was packing eyes full of tears, veins full of booze and a hip holster full of lead?
OK, OK! I'll marry you!
You'd be correct in assuming that Jesus is not a common name. I feel the same way. Especially not at MSU, ya know? Jesus was in fact the only dude named Jesus on the cafeteria-staff lineup. But, for inexplicable reasons, Jesus' name was never ever used without his last initial: B. Sort of like Susan B. Anthony, but with less Anthony and less Susan and a whole lot more Jesus. Jesus B. Perhaps even more confounding, though, was that no other staff member's name was used with their last initial. Nay. On our name tags we were Daves and Dans and Marys and Beths, and it was clear going down the daily task schedule...
- Dave: dishes
- Dan: condiments
- Mary: cereal
- Beth: buffet
- Frank: salad bar
- Ron: milk machine
- Jesus B.: waffle maker
Jesus B? What in the. Well thank heavens they specified, I thought they meant the other Jesus who works here - Jesus A is he?
So I ask you: why did management do this? Was it so they didn't frighten people into thinking that Jesus had risen from the dead and come back to planet earth in the living flesh not to walk on water or cure diseases or end wars - but only to work tiny little miracles of Belgian goodness on a waffle maker in East Lansing, Mich.? Because that's the only explanation I can come up with. A don't freak out he's not really Jesus type thing. Though I guess Jesus C(hrist) would follow our beloved Jesus B, right?
Overall, a good experience. This man basically led me to believe that whoever Jesus C was, he was probably an everyday person just like you and me - one who can wear hair nets and blue latex gloves with best of us.
Here is why.
Once a discouraged, pigeonholed youth, I have known far too well the pain of scoring a lowly 18 on the reading section of the ACT exam, and the labels that come with such a poor performance. An 18, guys. For those of you not familiar with this standardized college-admissions test, each of the five parts - English, math, reading, science reasoning and writing - is scored out of 36 points. And for those of you who flunked the math portion - either out of sheer lack of numerical inclination or the fact that you forgot to bring a calculator on exam day - my reading score of 18 is equivalent to 50 percent. See: abysmal. See: beyond repair. See: half-broken. See: chance.
This was my problem: I was always the slowest reader in my grade, missing reading assignments and deadlines left and right. Regardless of the book or subject matter, I was usually stuck somewhere around page 13, re-reading several times over the 12 that came before it. And this took me days. It was frustrating to say the least. I would fall so far behind that I'd have to resort to relying on things like CliffsNotes, the early Web and simply what my friends and random passers-by told me happened in these acclaimed works. Little did they know they held such power, and every bit of my trust. They could have told me anything. They could have told me Holden Caulfield is a transgendered individual struggling in the wake of a botched sex change, coming to grips with his/her maritime responsibilities aboard the USS Mushroom Stamp. And lest I forget "The Catcher In The Rye" is an autobiographical memoir of J.D. Salinger's mixed-up prepubescence at sea. You see, I would have taken all of this at face value, and failed, miserably. By all accounts, I should probably still be in high school, repeating literature courses in dizzying, merry-go-round fashion.
It's not that I couldn't retain anything I read, my mind just tended to wander and think about other things while my eyes followed strings of words, left to right, down the page, only going through the physical motions, no further. I would catch myself doing this and have to re-read what I had just skimmed past, what I had failed to process. This was my problem, and it became rather apparent on the ACT, where would-be scholars are forced to read a series of passages and answer corresponding sets of questions. A tall order for yours truly, back then. This was the opening of the kimono, so to speak.
Perhaps most confounding about my test results (once my immediate family and I let go of our explanatory theories of miscalculation, results mix-up and severe damage to my temporal lobe) was that I did fairly well on the other sections, somehow managing a 32 for English. A 32! I wasn't sure what a 32 signified, but I knew it was a hell of a lot better than an 18. And I remember wanting to shave a couple points off that score and reallocate them to my valiant attempt at reading. My letters to the ACT board went unanswered, so I assumed this was not allowed.
Thank God the ACT averages your scores from all five areas for one composite score, or I may have never been accepted into a university. If there was no composite score, admissions departments would have just laughed at my applications, feeling bad enough to want to help me, but not bad enough to help me with their own education programs. So they would have sent me another program - complimentary copies of "Reading Rainbow" - instead. I would've felt insulted. I also would've watched all the episodes after getting over it. Every one of 'em. Because that was a good show.
I posted this one over at Harold's Kids.
For those who missed it, yesterday’s Twebinar was all about the importance of listening in building, maintaining and further developing a brand. Which seems obvious, of course, but is certainly much harder to, well, do.
The Twebinar series has been great thus far. Once you get over some of the technical glitches and spotty audio/video, it’s refreshing to hear communications pros discuss the topics-at-hand. This week, the same general tenet was repackaged 70 different ways:
Yes, listening is important, and it’s something all companies, regardless of size, should be doing, what with the myriad new-media tools that are readily available to us (often for free, other times for a nominal fee, such as the one offered by Radian6, the organizer of the Twebinar series [shocker!]). Why? Well, for starters, considering all the avenues consumers have to voice their opinions online, it’s no longer a mystery what your customer thinks, feels, likes and dislikes about your brand, and it behooves you to monitor this dialogue that’s already happening, for it’s a dialogue that will continue to happen with or without you. So participate!
But it doesn’t end at listening. Nay, you should probably do something about all of this feedback, right? Wouldn’t want to look like you don’t care all that much about these folks, would you? So once you’ve monitored and processed the raw commentary that’s out there, take it to the marketing teams, take it to the product teams, take it to all of the decision makers and see what you can do to better provide what people want to buy! At the end of the day, people just want to feel like they’re being heard and valued in some way, shape or form anyway, so isn’t this your big chance? Your big break?! Unfettered access to all of this testimonial — it’s beautiful. After all, won’t that make your brand more successful, if you can provide exactly what your target buyer is looking for? Methinks.
But what do y’all think? I’m all ears…
What follows is quite possibly - no, is the best idea I've ever conceived. I'm rather proud of it, too. It's been my brainchild. My baby. My special little personal pet project that I've been piloting all across this country the past few years. Detroit, San Francisco, Chicago. Some town in Indiana. Most of northeastern Ohio. Unbeknownst to your city and its residents, you have all witnessed this incredible movement-in-the-making in one form or another.
Perplexed, law-abiding citizens could have sworn they saw an apparition take to the streets, amid a loud, amateur recitation of... London Calling? Sleepy souls have been shaken awake by obnoxious hollering in the alley - noise that was somewhat reminiscent of but not nearly as good as Born To Run. Some dude brushing his teeth, getting ready for the early shift at the steel mill, yeah he could've sworn he heard an a capella version of Let It Be last night. You know all those people in the restaurant? In the bar? What they saw those kids thrashing around and losing control of their limbs to was Separation Sunday. They weren't having corresponding seizures. The stomping on the roof? The breaking glass? Southern Rock Opera.
To some of you, namely my parents, this will only further solidify my place in this world as a social outcast. Three square meals a day, clean sheets, a roof over his head, a college education... all that for this?
To others, the below will seem like the most brilliant bit of brain juice ever spilled - the worthiest model ever devised, the most forthright social experiment ever carried out - and these people will burn with envy that they weren't the first to think of such a thing. And then they'll try it out for themselves. In public. And they will love it. It will be obvious. You will clearly see them loving it.
This is by no means a complex thing, so I'll spell it out in the simplest terms...
Grab someone who likes to rock out. This could be anyone. A friend. A friend of a friend. An acquaintance. Someone you don't even particularly care all that much for. A stranger, even. The bottom line is that this is the most important component of the plan, so whomever you choose, just be sure that you've seen him/her rock out, heard he/she likes to rock out, or get the vibe that he/she is capable of letting go of all inhibitions for one reason and one reason alone: the sake of rocking out. Got 'em? Great. (Secret: once you have mastered most everything in this post, you will come to view a companion as an enhancement - something that is not entirely necessary to execute and enjoy all of this, but rather a great add-on. Yes, you will come to learn how to do this alone, free of embarrassment, I swear.)
The next necessities are far from immaterial materials. They are requisites, and critical ones at that. Without these, you will just look even more stupid than you're already about to look. So make a list, check it twice. Two (2) iPods. Two (2) sets of headphones. One (1) good - and I mean really, really good - rock album. Any of the aforementioned albums are fine choices. Prime, credible choices, if I may say so myself. Lastly, one (1) public place. It can be anywhere. Just get out there.
You see where I'm headed with this, don't you? I told you it wasn't rocket science. In fact, it's really just a better version of those long car rides or first few dates where you were so bored or incredibly in love that it compelled you to share a musical experience with someone - with a lone music player and a single pair of headphones, one headphone in each of your ears. That poor person. That lucky person! How cheesy. How romantic! What could be worse? What could be greater?! It either meant nothing or everything. The other person either understood just how important the song was to you, or he/she crushed your hopes by not listening to the whole thing or deeming it "nice," or worse - "good." Perhaps that person didn't get the guitar solo coming out of their allotted headphone?
Now for the synchronization, which is just a really big word for the fact that you'll be listening to this crap at the same time. Though I've deemed all above components to be the most important component, this is seriously the most important component. You've got to hit "play" simultaneously. So, at this point, calmly hand both devices to the person with the steadiest hand. This may or may not be the most sane or sober individual, so screen with caution and choose wisely.
To reiterate: do all of this - every last bit of it - not in your own home. Do it out there, in public. The underlying premise here is acting a fool. Play your part. Step it up. Be a rock star. It feels great. Earth seems small, life seems manageable and you seem larger than anything that ever lived. I swear! Or at least that's what it does for me...
To give you an idea, I have done this seated at (nice-ish) restaurants, at bars, walking on sidewalks, running in streets, in alleys, atop roofs, on fire escapes, in deserted dead-ends - usually between the hours of 11:30 p.m. and 5 a.m., for effect, and 10 times out of 10 at max volume. Turn it up to 11, don't be shy. Pretty soon, you and your compadre will, or should, be screaming along with your favorite crooner and playing air instruments like it's nobody's goddamn business. The high hat and snare. The cymbal crash. Ripping those frets on the six-string as if your hand was a spider. Plucking those big, honking bass strings with bent-over tenacity. Throw in the occasional keys from the piano or sax for good measure and, of course, do not forget the flashy, "Diamond" Dave Lee Roth jump kicks and relentless head-banging. Also, run everywhere the night takes you. Don't walk. Be urgent about these things, please. Apply liberally, as necessary, and if done correctly, you should awake the next day with a sore neck from all the antics and whatnot.
You will garner stares. A whole mess of 'em. People will laugh (insecurely). Dogs will turn their heads, cock their ears and whimper. Couples will stop dead in their happy tracks to marvel at your collective, anti-social display of disheveled derelict-ness. At your exquisite exhibition of reckless abandonment, at your disregard for almost all set social norms. At all the excess going on in front of them. You are amazing. You are a novelty. You are practically anything you care to be...
And every last one of them will die a little inside (minus the dogs), wondering if they ever experienced such a feeling in their youth. 99 percent of the time that answer will be "no," and they will smile and look at each other to pacify the ounce of pain that's stirring inside them. Now, why in the name of Bowie didn't I do those things when I was young, agile and able to? For the love of freaking Freddie Mercury, at what point did my life become such a stinking pile of crap? You know, because you certainly can't be acting this way forever. 45-year-old wedded men shouldn't be trying this. They'd just look silly. Not that we don't or anything. I'm just saying. It usually comes to a crashing halt when you have those little things called children.
*Individual results may vary. Please do not consult your physician to determine if iPoding Together is right for you. It is (ridiculous) (for everyone). If carried out properly, with maximum humility, with minimum composure, iPoding Together will help you begin to view life, and the world in general, in vivid, bursting colors. In vast crescendos and arpeggios. In distortion and feedback. In the very stuff dreams are made of, where stuff = double kick drums. Due to the very nature of the iPoding Together ensemble, common side effects include, but are not limited to, heightened senses of: coolness, stardom, actual musicianship, self fanfare and other fleeting feelings, as well as non-fleeting feelings, such as broken shoes.
This small statement - one that used to make me laugh but now only mocks my every step - has more or less summed up the past four months of my existence. By observing repair persons not repair this cursed, perplexing device, it has become all too evident to me that the escalator is the motorized equivalent of a Rubik's Cube, be it an equivalent that's a whole lot less colorful and amusing. So a lesser equivalent, I guess. Or a non-equivalent. Whatever.
Repairing a conveyor-transport apparatus is apparently the ultimate task slash science experiment for mechanics in 2008. For one thing, it's impressive that there is actually a career track for escalator-repair persons. But what's even more impressive is that these trained persons do not seem to have the slightest clue as to what they're doing when faced with a lifeless escalator. These individuals break down themselves. "Experts" flock to 233 N Michigan Ave. in herds when ours is out of service, which, unfortunately, is rather often. I finally stopped counting the number of times the stupid thing has crapped out, as I usually count with my fingers and lost track when I ran out of fingers and hands to count on in just the third month. I tried carrying the count over to my toes and feet, but I can't see them while wearing shoes, which sort of defeats the whole purpose of physically tallying something and turns it all back into a mental game, which, again, I'm no good at. So that was that.
Anyway, yesterday I was greeted by eight professionals examining the miniature escalator in the lobby that carries us diligent workers no higher than 15 vertical feet. That's like the shortest escalator ever, people. It's also one of those narrow ones, with the tiny steps that can accommodate only one depressed, corporate-American soul. So if there were eight workers for roughly 15 vertical feet of moving stairs, at about two steps per vertical foot, that means there were enough of these brainiacs to focus on just three-and-some-change steps, each. Each! A cake walk. But for the lowly lives of these dolts, they can never figure the bloody thing out. Too much responsibility, perhaps. Instead, they stare at it like it's something they've not seen before, but have only heard second-hand accounts or seen amateur sketches of, like a mass murderer on the loose, or a cold, dead body - but unlike a cold, dead body in that these burly men look like they've certainly seen their fair share of cold, dead bodies in former, less-noble lines of work, such as mass murdering.
So wherein lies the problem? Shouldn't the one and only test for escalator-repair persons be just that: repairing a frigging escalator? "No," you say, Mr. Escalator Repair Person?! Let me see your syllabus and hall pass, I don't believe it.
The (semi-) funny thing was that trip duration did not seem to affect our lack of cohesiveness in any noticeable way, which should definitely be considered abnormal. We were usually in shambles, and could set each other off just about anywhere - on a seemingly harmless jaunt to the gas station for a gallon of 2 percent milk, or on a non-stop trek from Michigan to Florida that was treated like an Olympic race yet called a "vacation." The odds were the same. The odds were pretty damn good.
Dad instigated a lot of it, he who never let anyone else drive anywhere. In his world, a man's place was on the road, behind the wheel, and a woman's place was, while not necessarily in front of a stove or a sink, it just... wasn't on the road. It was somewhere else. And he would drive them there, the women. On paper, it actually didn't seem like a half-bad idea when he first drew it up for my brother and me late one night at the dimly lit kitchen table. Bringing the chauvinistic plan that sat scrawled in lead in flow-chart form on a yellow legal pad to fruition, however, proved to be a bit more difficult and, obviously, downright shitty for mom.
If dad didn't volley the hot potato mom fired into his court, my brother and I would reach out our hands. I guess you could compare our behavior to that of malevolent little catalysts, or good-for-nothing provokers. If foul language was used, we repeated it loudly and proudly to support mom's point that we were creatures learning by example, wanting nothing more than unfettered access to the dirty dossiers of known naughty words. If the driver-in-question turned out to be a woman, we found much pleasure joining in on the name-calling and applauding various theories that reached far beyond our mental grasp - ones that heralded men as superb road warriors and ostracized women, the other half of our species known as "dingbats."
This was a seminal time for our kindred unit.
If neither of these techniques garnered a satisfying response or escalated the seriousness of the argument at hand, my brother and I resorted to punching each other in the arm. Whatever it took to keep the momentum going, to introduce behavior that could be labeled as deviant, the blame of which falling upon that of our caregivers. We sought cheap entertainment, and our two favorite actors just happened to be seated directly in front of us at all times, rehearsing heated scenes in a moving contraption with their backs to their two biggest fans. What could be greater? Methinks nothing. So break a leg! We're taking this show on the road!
"My children, please, come close. Closer. Closer still. Ah, yes. There you are, your pretty faces. Children, it is in my final moment that I beg of you: do not take life too seriously, for you never know which day will be your last. Too many are the things we take for granted, such as the very clothes on our backs and modern orthodontics. Speaking of which, would you be a dear and fetch my dentures and personal effects from my cell? I want you to break me the hell out of here, right now. I would rather die by the side of the road than rot in this prison."
The fact is that anyone who has ever frequented a nursing home of this caliber, let's say more than once a month, has witnessed and made mental note of enough absurd material to take a crack at penning a decent anthology about people who forget their own names, are spoon fed and sleep away the better part of an afternoon drooling on themselves. People who use a variety of wheeled contraptions to traverse carpeted hallways, and who poop their pants and hide the soiled trousers where they please. People who might smile one moment, and haul off and kick a resident or pet the next, for reasons that have long since escaped them.
Before she died, our grandma had a good stint at Sunrise, sleeping somewhere in the neighborhood of 20 hours a day in her "golden years." In addition to the unopened Christmas gifts and get-well cards and dusty picture frames and baggy, old clothes that no longer fit her scaled-down, 85-pound frame, she left behind grandpa, her husband, who still bides his time, albeit unknowingly, in the lower ward of Sunrise where they quarantine residents who have mentally checked out of life altogether. It's easier that way. For them. For the staff. For all of us. To sort of corral them into one area like that so they don't wander the halls and alarm virgin visitors who are not privy to the sedated, senile underbelly of Sunrise.
Out of sight, out of mind.
When grandpa was lucid, typically in the small window between a pill wearing off and before another had been administered in one of those small paper condiment cups, he became increasingly occupied with knowing the whereabouts of his "bride." We realized we had come to a crossroads. Should we tell the man the truth, which would surely devastate him? Or should we fabricate, "with good intentions," a soft story and quickly change the subject as we wait for the next pill to kick in? We pondered this for a while before realizing that no matter what we told him, no matter how accurate or far-fetched the tale, he would not be able to remember any of it.
For all he knew, grandma was on holiday in the Alps, taking to the black-diamond slopes in the morning and, later in the afternoon, carving up the moguls and half pipes. She was giving a series of award-winning seminars to prestigious universities across the country on the implications of global warming, and how we can all do our part to better the environment by reducing our carbon footprint. She was on tour with Coldplay. She was here just a second ago, and now must be in the adjacent room, or the garden, tending to that ol' rose bush that was in desperate need of pruning...
She was running for president.
Each of these seemed viable. More viable, in fact, than the harsh truth that grandma had passed away. So we ended up alternating our approaches, as if we were holding a recurring, redundant press conference where a lone, forgetful reporter asks the same question over and over and over again, with us family members huddled behind the microphone, covering it with our hands as we consult each other before giving a smattering of responses, sometimes building and playing off the assorted stories and plots and individual bursts of creativity we enacted.
As awful as this all might seem, it's a real quandary, and can only be fully understood when you've been in the situation yourself. And grandpa's case is just one man's example of the greater struggles being featured daily at Sunrise.
Take, for instance, the man confined to a dilapidated bed on wheels, who always screams for Henry. Nobody even knows who Henry is. There is no Henry. When he is not parked in the corner of the room by himself, screaming for Henry, he is stationed by the fireplace with his visiting family members, screaming out for Henry some more. Interrupted, his family jumps back at first because of the sheer loudness of his random outbursts, giving way to a slow shaking of their heads, as they've been duped like this millions of times before, yet, somehow, after all these years, still do not have a single clue or lead as to who the hell Henry is. Given the urgency of his cries ("HENRY!") and the mumblings surrounding them, it's become obvious to me that this is some sort of military flashback. The only other words I've heard him mutter are the seldom "DUCK!" and "INCOMING!" Granted, he has also been known to rip a huge fart and laugh hysterically after these signals.
Or how about the stalker woman who cameos as a kleptomaniac? She's rather speedy for a gal her age, as none of us can ever seem to shake her. She's also ubiquitous, and has that entire lower ward down like the back of her veiny, little, thieving hand. She particularly enjoys spending time with our family, too, which is another harrowing concept I've yet to elaborate on: the simple fact that these lonely people crave attention and interaction with young, warm blood so much that they'll satisfy their urges with just about anyone, regardless of who that person may or may not be. So we see a quite a bit of her, usually when she's rifling through mom's purse directly in front of her. And this also awkward. How do you politely tell this woman not to steal from you? She's smiling the entire time she's doing it, by the way. Ear to ear. What does a person do here? Slap her wrist? No. Grab her arm and push it back toward her torso? Probably not. Quickly retract your purse? Sure. But then she looks so damn disappointed. You almost have to let this woman steal from you, and then track down the lifted items at a later time. They're not going very far anyway, and there certainly isn't a black market in the lower ward where hot objects can be pawned for dime bags. Colostomy bags, maybe.
But the piano savant is quite possibly our family's favorite. A real diamond in the rough. For knowing not what she does, she does it pretty well. We discovered this person, or rather she discovered us, last Christmas when she found us on the couches helping grandma and grandpa unwrap their gifts. The savant helped, too, which was weird, waxing on in Mad Lib form where blanks are populated with randomly selected words from the dictionary and sentences turn into one big chunk of undecipherable code. Once she was through with us, she took to the piano bench. Before we had a chance to brace ourselves for the careless clunking of keys, she launched into a chilling holiday ballad that took us all by surprise. By the time she reached the chorus, we sat with our jaws dropped, in agreement that this woman was on fire. All of this coming from someone who blinked a lot, whose hands trembled and shook with a force that would make for an excellent drummer rather than a pianist. But somehow, someway, this woman was a sage on the baby grand. Her fingers fluttered past black and white keys, her feet in Darco medical shoes steadily working the pedals. Surely the biggest surprise of 2007.
That same day, we were warmly introduced to the overly affectionate woman, who gave my dad gifts in the rare forms of hugs, kisses, shoulder massages, physical gestures and sweet-nothings whispered directly into his ear. Such unique presents. Aw, poor dad. We could tell it tickled, mostly because she is a heavy breather, and having someone breathe a hot, heavy breath into your ear is, um, tickly-ish. And straight-up creepy. From what we gathered, he somewhat resembled her deceased husband in his prime, which made bidding her adieu practically impossible. She wasn't going anywhere, and we didn't want that kind of guilt hanging over our heads on baby Jesus' birthday. So she just kind of hung out and we had ourselves a little senior mixer of sorts, trying our best to mitigate her passionate advances on my father.
Somewhere amid all the calamity, you will find at Sunrise the youngest life-form by 80 some-odd years: a lone feline named Smokey. Smokey is an overfed, overstuffed cat - gray, chunky, mean and lazy. I'm not kidding when I say she could very well be the infamous I Can Has Cheeseburger cat. Or a miniature bear with cat-ear transplants. Smokey bulked up to her plump size not by hitting the weights or raiding the medication room late at night for steroids, but by eating all the food that these poor people are unable to get into their mouths that ends up on the floor at three different points during the day. You'd think there were regular food fights considering some of the unruly residents, and vivid scenes of seniors up-ending tables and hiding behind trays and wheelchairs as they chuck handfuls of mashed potatoes and sandwiches fill every guest's head. Sadly, it's not that exciting. It's simply a case of coordination, or the lack thereof. It's also a dirty job, and some organism's got to do it. Sunrise doesn't even need a vacuum cleaner this way. They have the Smokey 5,000, and Smokey 5,000 has Sunrise. Meow.
Fifth grade. Winter time. Recess.
Gearing up in the coat room, us boys struggled by our cubbies with our snow suits for the second time that day, the difference being that this time our mothers were not present to help us hoist and shimmy and pour our pudgy little figures into the insulated torture device. Or maybe that was just me. My grapefruit-sized calves never seemed to fit into my snow boots properly, and by the end of March they always ended up looking like salt-stained wind socks or tarps.
We were already choosing teams for football before we even reached the field. One of my closest friends, Tom, also one of the smartest people I knew at the time, selected me. I always thought Tom was particularly bright - a prodigy even - not because he could multiply double-digit numbers, do long division, give exact change when working the school cafeteria (contrasted with the many times I erred in assuming there were 60 cents in a dollar and gave change thusly, for in my head there were 60 minutes in an hour, which, after all, were the two elements the world valued most - time and money - so they must operate on the same metric system for good measure), pass physical fitness tests with flying colors, return library books on time, or talk to girls without stuttering or tripping over his own two feet and hating every inch of himself for it... but because he always seemed to pick me first or second for football games, and this ranked him pretty high in my book. Tom saw through my doughy, girthy exterior to note my true athletic prowess on the miniature field.
Truth be told, it was because of Tom that my social and athletic standings (often directly correlated, often the exact same thing) went up at an alarming, exponential rate. Dave was picked first?! That means something right there. I don't know what it means, exactly. But there's something there. But it is also because of Tom that I now walk the streets at 25 looking like I'm in between classes at Hogwarts (I don't read the books, really, this is just what people tell me).
At the peak of the game we were up big. So big, in fact, that we tried showboating a bit to impress the couple of girls who had strayed from the larger pack of girls who were busy doing girly things during recess, like being cold or not playing in the snow, much too occupied to watch us champions in snow suits on the grid iron.
Tom called a huddle. We were going long. I was going long. A Hail Mary. The sweet, saccharine stuff dreams are made of in fifth grade (though now I know some guys grow up and never relinquish this fantasy). I had barely heard him yell "hike" before I was running haphazardly down the snow-covered field, flailing my arms as if I had no control over them. Then the pig skin was in the air, and I was sprinting straight ahead, past my ADD-riddled opponent, toward the end zone, with my head turned back over my shoulder to look for the ball.
I caught it. I freaking caught it! Mom would've been proud. But in the short seconds between making that catch and turning forward in my stride, I ran face-first into the goal post. My forehead met the corner of the wooden beam, and I stuck there for a moment with it wedged in me. It cracked me open the way a fresh cantaloupe would look if someone took an ax to it. I fell backward, onto the snow, blacked out and came to only to find faces looking down on me as it started to rain. For as far gone as I was, I could tell something wasn't quite right about the rain: it was thick and clouded my eyes and tasted weird and the only place it seemed to be raining was on my face. Then I rolled over to feel what felt like a garden hose protruding from my forehead, squirting my livelihood all over the snow like some cruel holiday arts-and-crafts session gone horribly wrong, where you're only provided cotton balls and red glue and told to "make something beautiful for your mother." Next came a lot of high-pitched screaming. I guess the girls had decided to brave the snow after all.
When I managed to bring myself to my knees, the crowd's reaction can only be compared to that of people witnessing mauled bodies come to life again as they take to the streets as zombies of the living dead. None of them were willing to help me, and they all stared and shrieked as if I were about to hunt them down and snack on them and turn them into zombies, too. To this day, I have not seen a pack of people disperse quite like that. Pandemic pandemonium. Though I wasn't a zombie (yet), I sure sauntered and staggered around the playground like one. My only goal was to find one of the lunch ladies who supervised recess. Upon finding two of them, they gasped and shouted even louder than the little girls had. Ha-... Halp?! My head. It's. My head is. Ahh! Somehow they got the picture.
What happened next was, and still is, confusing and irritating. I started to lose control of my legs, I'm guessing because I had lost the liter equivalent of a couple 7-11 Big Gulps of blood, or maybe because zombies need to rest a lot because they have such stiff legs and never seem to bend their knees. You know, people can faint that way. Anyhow, with my limp body semi walking, semi being dragged by their arms, I started to give way and turn gray (even more zombie-like!). This was simply unacceptable to one of the women, who insisted I "stand up straight and stop getting blood all over the clean halls." Oh, right, 'cause I can do that. Thanks a lot, lady. Die in a fire.
I had never heard our principal swear before, but I got to that day. With the three of us barreling into the front office and me fading in and out of consciousness, I stuck around long enough to hear her say, "Oh, holy SHIT! What in the... Just what in the hell is going on here?!" It must have been a sight. Then the ambulances came and they strapped me to a wooden board, which I thought was used for unruly patients, which confused me because I surely wouldn't be putting up much of a fight, but I soon found out it served the purpose of keeping my body on the board and off of the parking lot floor. They shined bright lights in my eyes and asked me questions like, "Who is the president of the United States?" and "What is our state's capitol?" and "What is 10 times 10?" and posed challenges like, "Recite every other letter of the alphabet" and "Count by odd numbers," which annoyed me because I never got any of those things right on tests anyway. I needed Tom. But I gave it my best shot, with whatever part of my brain that was still in tact and not stuck like gum to the wooden goal post. Apparently these were ridiculously easy questions, and served as some sort of barometer to escalate the severity of patients' cases if they got X number of questions wrong. I think I passed, or failed, depending on the way you look at it, with flying colors. I went to the front of the line and got right into the emergency room.
The next thing I remember, I was being told that the 45 stitches in my face would come out in due time, and that the crimson, lightning-bolt scar of raw flesh would mend and turn out to "not look that bad." Well there's a vague diagnosis. My mom was pretty strict back then, so you know what she did? After scolding me in the car for playing in the snow so carelessly, we passed the very road we lived on. Where could we possibly be going? I needed to go home. I needed to rest and curl up in blankets and eat Popsicles and chicken noodle soup like all the other kids who smashed their faces in. I needed to learn our state's capitol and what odd numbers meant other than the fact that certain ones were funny or confusing to me. Maybe we were going out for ice cream and Novocaine? Yes, of course! Why didn't I think of this earlier?! We were going for ice cream and Novocaine. To my dismay, we pulled back into the crime scene. Beneath the flag pole, my mom dropped me off at school where I had busted myself open no more than four hours earlier. "Now. You go in and get the homework you missed," she said.
My dad was a little more lax. After being assured that his first son was not dead, the next words out of his mouth were: "Well, did he catch the ball at least?"
Running into Bon Iver and King Khan. What did these two dudes have in common? They put on two of my favorite performances, and I saw them both at the festival's record fair. But, more importantly, what did they not have in common? Quite simple: Bon Iver was fully clothed when I saw him, whereas King Khan was wearing only a Speedo, a cape, and a helmet. Obviously.
Sebadoh saying something along the lines of "Rush sucks." And then seeing a pissed off guy in a Rush shirt head for the beer line. Boy, do I ever hate when that happens.
Supremely intoxicated bikini girl. With throngs of thousands abound, what were the odds I would run into this same person multiple times a day, two days in a row? Apparently pretty high. She was loaded on Sparks, which is where you probably encountered her, too - waiting not-so-patiently in the drink line to fade one shade closer to complete blackness. (Have you ever had Sparks? Just one of 'em? My lord. They make you crazy. She must have had a dozen cups of the alcohol-infused, orange energy elixir each day, and behaved accordingly.) The only things she seemed to savor more than Sparks were, not the artists, but rather her own body, her flesh-toned bikinis, bumblebee antennas and lots of... body glitter? And her blue JanSport backpack, which seemed to contain nothing. She deliberately rubbed up against anyone, male or female, who looked her way, her lone motive to acquire more drink tickets. Or cigarettes. And then a lighter. In that order. (I know this to be true from first-hand experience.)
Guy with "Straight Edge" tattooed across his back. Question: what made this noteworthy? Answer: he was smoking a cigarette. (Please see Wikipedia entry if punch line is not inferred.)
Thousands upon thousands of nerdy white hipsters (falsely) feeling funky-fresh, getting down to the bombastic beats and revolutionary rhymes of Public Enemy. (Needs no further explanation.)
Mud fights. I mean, honestly, what's cooler than hoards of strangers rolling around in a mud pit together? This always makes me feel warm on the inside, and little less dirty than I actually am on the outside.
Growing up, the only types of cards guaranteed to be found in our household were (maxed-out) credit cards. And perhaps the seasonal greeting card or occasional - occasional - Uno deck. But even that was a stretch. So where am I going with this? Ah yes: I never learned how to play a single card game. Not one. (Some might argue Uno to be a real card game, but when you are approaching 25 and the only quasi card game you are able to play somewhat proficiently with small and large groups of people involves brightly colored cards with enormous letters and numbers and a recommended age of "5 and up" printed on a Mattel box... you have officially proven your loserdom to both yourself and society.)
From the wholly inane (Go Fish) to the common-man's game (Euchre) to lucrative, strategic puzzles (Blackjack), I hadn't a clue. Ignorance is bliss, and I was pretty damn blissful all throughout my youth. While this provided me with ample time to engage myself in other activities (like painting plaster statues of dragons, for example), the number of social interactions and camaraderie I missed out on is a number with even more digits than pi itself.
Yes, for a long while I rode the social bench, so to speak, watching from the sidelines as friends and significant others engaged in the games. It was a lonely time. In the early stages I struggled with math problems in grade nine that involved probability and what-if scenarios where we had to calculate the odds of drawing a certain card from a shortening deck. It was nuclear physics to me. I recall labeling one of these scenarios as "impossible" on a test, in frustrated capital letters and pencil-lead smudges, and I had to stay after class because the teacher thought I was mocking him. Afraid not, sir. On the other end of the spectrum, I even contended in college with drinking games that involved the very presence of a deck of cards, which is torment no one should have to endure.
So as my friends continue to settle down and get married and have kids and further disappear from my life, it is with great conviction that I recommend the following to you bastards: keep decks of cards in your homes. Lots of them. Keep them everywhere. Hide them, even. Help your kids. Help them understand. Full-blown 10-deck Las Vegas style blackjack shoes, books and literature on card counting, clay poker chips, automatic shuffling machines. Cover your kitchen table in green felt, I don't care. Just please: do whatever it takes to set your child up for success with the values, mores, personality and general knowledge of card games that he or she deserves. They will love you for it down the road.
As for me, I guess the skill just wasn't in my cards.
Let's start with that same sport. There was this one specific game that, close to halftime, showcased me in all my b-ball glory. A career argued by some to be headed straight for the pros. There was even talk - murmurs in the bleachers, rather - of me forgoing college to enter straight into the NBA draft. And all of this at 16! It was a lot for a 5-foot-8-inch nerdy white kid to handle, what with my ability to dribble skillfully with my right hand, and poorly with my left. (It was fine, I just stuck to right side of the court and, voila: problem solved!) Who wouldn't have wanted to scoop up such hot, budding talent?
Before the half, I guess I fouled another player "egregiously." I think I elbowed him. But then a weird thing happened. In the way Bruce Banner busts through his clothes to become the one, the only Incredible Hulk, a rage wave overcame me. The ref called for the basketball, and instead of obeying him I turned in the opposite direction, lifted up the smooth, orange ball, dropped it and punted it down the court. It hit the gymnasium's ceiling, all eyes following its ascent, closely watching it ricochet like a pinball among the rafters until it finally landed in the upper rows of the opposing team's stands.
That poor ref. Those poor people. Everyone! Aww. What in the hell was I thinking?! The gall! The ref didn't even know what to do. Guy probably had a steady day job, refereed on the side because he loved the game that much and had now spent several years supervising uncoordinated suburbanites as they launched three pointers and drew nothing but backboard. And now this little punk has done drop kicked the ball the entire length of the gym? You've got to be kidding...
Amid incessant boos from the entire gym - opponents, opponents' parents, teammates, teammates' parents and, obviously, my own parents - both refs decided, rightfully, to eject me from the game. This was a town/city/district first (hence the confusion regarding the punishment). I couldn't play in the next handful of games, and they were a bit reticent to let me play again at all, the first reinstatement game of which we had the exact same ref.
I was humiliated.
Many years before the famous b-ball-punting crisis, my parents tried to get me to take up golf. People who know the current version of me are probably already laughing at this. I know I am! Well, early one summer morning I attended my first golf match. The grass was still freshly dewed as us pre-teens lugged our heavy bags around the links. Before hole nine I decided I greatly disliked a certain player in our group. He was a big bragger, and made it a point to verbally coach each shot he took, squeezing in even more boasting in between our own shots. He was actually pretty good, which only further pissed us off since the rest of us were pretty pitiful players.
Again, I reached that point, that crux where people gasp at what you're about to do or do do. Said kid hit an ego streak, and as he stood there jabbering no more than 20 feet away I instinctively grabbed my driver from my bag and hurled it boomerang style toward his head. He ducked, but the implications of what I had just done were not lost on anyone. I even scared a Canadian goose away, and those things are pretty nasty! By this point we were in view of parents, who all came running over to scold me. This was supposed to be a gentleman's game, for crying out loud! Awwwwww. No gentleman here.
Needless to say, I walked over and picked up my weapon, putting it back into my bag for the last time ever.
Soccer! Well this was bound to happen, if not based off of statistics alone. I've played more soccer games than any other sport, and I wasn't half terrible at it either, which sorta made it more enjoyable! This anecdote might be the most embarrassing of the three since I was the oldest at this point in time. I think I can introduce these quicker now: heated game, opposing player I didn't like (either very talented or a big talker) and me being really ignorant. That's the recipe.
There we were, but this time it was worse because I physically did something to someone. Ugh. The guy was very small - he could have been a walking stuffed animal. Very compact in every which way. After a verbal assault on my playing, I approached the boy and picked him up. I picked him up! He didn't stop me from doing this, which surprised me. I had no real plan in mind after this, as I hadn't expected to get close enough to him to cause harm!
I had him in the air, his stomach sort of by my face and him yelling at me to put him down, put him down, etc., so I threw him to the side, sort of like forest adventurers throw brush over their shoulders while safariing. I tossed him up and he fell down, down, down to the ground and hit it kinda hard. He said, "Ow!" and by that point the whole game had stopped and I was labeled an ass (yes, rightfully so) and removed from the field at once. Awwwwwwwww.
Don't you learn, boy?! Geeze. What was wrong with me? I remember listening to a lot of Wu-Tang Clan back then, reciting popular hooks like, "Cash Rules Everything Around Me/CREAM, get the money/Dollar dollar bill, y'all," so maybe that contributed? But I am better now, so no worries.
I used to play basketball (though not very well), and as a second-string member of our high school's junior-varsity basket ball team I relished the rare occasion I was put into a game. This usually only happened when we were winning big (rare), losing by a whole hell of a lot (more common) or had several injured players and simply needed more bodies on the floor (the most common). This particular game found me on the court in the latter scenario.
Energetic and uncoordinated and wearing my pristine, never-been-sweat-in uniform, I took to the hardwood doubting my every ability to successfully contribute to our team's well being, what with the intense level of the tied competition. A real nail-biter, in the sense that any match can possibly be when it's just a big collection of below-average to downright-awful players. We were a sporting crime scene of short, white teens who haphazardly threw an orange ball toward a towering basket (we're talking season-high scorers with a whopping 15 points, games where two teams collectively could not break the 30-point mark and MVP candidates pretty much wrapped up by the end of the first practice). So it should come as no surprise that what happened during my 30-second stint in the game rendered me the next injured teen - my primed body, my blossoming spirit - on the (end of our) bench.
After a missed free-throw by the opposing team, I threw myself into the key for the rebound, along with seven other pimply kids. I had clear sight of the ball, and behind it, my own teammate coming toward it with outstretched arms. We both missed it (shocking!), but where I retracted my arms he did not, and I now had clear sight of the tip of his dirty index finger coming right into my eye as if he were ringing a doorbell. Blinking is a reflex that's done pretty quickly, and I didn't even have time to do it before he was fingering my cornea, then my iris, then my pupil, as an optometrist would later theorize.
So off the court and onto the bench for medical attention, where I loathed for my scraggly self and pondered some of life's greatest questions: like if I would be kicked off the team for doing so poorly or if the dozens of girls I had crushes on who were in attendance would ever talk to me in class again (further analysis concluded they were actually not in attendance after all, and were likely out doing something much cooler).
My right eye. It was broken. It/I/eye couldn't see anything, and I had trouble walking and making out faces. Here's the kicker: our family was going on a skiing trip the very next day, and we were to fly out of Detroit into Salt Lake City. For those unfamiliar with the snow sport, it's one that requires functioning eyes to have any shot at being preformed safely and successfully. A visit to the emergency room saw me into the night donning a humongous, makeshift eye patch. They were fresh out of the cool pirate ones, I guess.
I had white gauze running diagonally around my head, and a thick foam pad over my eye (some cotton balls in there, too). Fastening the patch to my face were two pieces of tape, laid across each other in a giant X. My head resembled that of a mummy. And I was expected to get on a plane the next morning? Come on...
I pretended I wasn't keeping track of (19) or wasn't noticing or didn't care all that much about the stares and finger-pointing and giggles and mockery (hand covering right eye, walking like a mummy) I garnered at the airport. Try it sometime. Or don't. Pure humiliation. I couldn't even look at (not able to/didn't want to even if I could) napkins, tissues or toilet paper. We landed in Utah, where a second optometrist rid me of my cursed mummy wrap, trading me it for a pair of those cool ultraviolet (UV) sunglasses that are popular among senior citizens and persons with cataracts. I looked great on the slopes with those boxy beauties.
High school was the best.