Helping You Get the Most Out of Your Misery
Wednesday, August 31, 2005
Aries: Now that you've gotten older, it's time for you to find a better way to spend your time than surfing all day. Face facts: you live in Salt Lake City and you haven't caught a wave higher than a foot and a half in ten years of trying.
Taurus: Special One-Time Only Optimistic Hairshirt Horoscope for Taureans: Everything's going to turn out well.
Gemini: You're going to have to face some unpleasant realities today. Sorry, I misread the stars for a second there; actually, you're going to face some unpleasant realtors today. Might want to apartment hunt on Craig's List instead.
Cancer: Don't let your poor performance at the box office this past weekend weigh too heavily on your mind. Yeah, it probably means you'll get put back behind the concession stand, but you'll get another shot, someday.
Leo: You're feeling naughty and a bit sexy at work this morning because you decided not to wear underwear today. Then you realize that you also forgot to wear pants. Oh, Leo, Leo, Leo.
Virgo: It's good of you to want to donate something to victims of the hurricane, but they probably don't need your Precious Moments figurines.
Libra: The next time you feel like kicking yourself, just go ahead and do it. Go on, give yourself a nice little boot enema. Let's see if you can put a really interesting bruise on your own ass.
Scorpio: If you don't get some breath mints soon, the EPA is going to declare your mouth a Superfund site.
Sagittarius: This year, you will celebrate Labor Day by working.
Capricorn: Tonight, you will awake at 2:00 AM in a cold sweat, horrified by the realization that you actually prefer raspberry jam to strawberry.
Aquarius: You can say that it's part of your protest against the war all you want, but the truth is that there's just no good reason to wear socks and sandals.
Pisces: You are practically trembling with excitement about the opening this weekend of Transporter 2, starring Jason Statham. You're just a little bit retarded, aren't you?
Tuesday, August 30, 2005
Eat, Drink and Be Maury
Doing laundry today at my neighborhood laundromat, I was forced to sit through an episode of The Maury Show (apparently, he's dropped his last name, as it was confusing to his target demographic). As they went into a commercial break, they did one of their pleas for people to appear on the show. This one seemed a little more specific than the usual "Have you cheated on you wife and now you want to confess?" pleas. I managed to record it with my cell phone. Here it is.
Monday, August 29, 2005
So a thought just occurred to me and I'm curious:
I know that, normally, when a disaster strikes a state, the national guard steps up and helps with relief efforts. Is the war in Iraq diverting troops that would've been available to help in the Gulf Coast? Do states have enough National Guard troops to take care of this? Again, I don't really know much about this and I'm genuinely wondering.
Edit: And now I've found an article on Salon that addresses this issue.
I've been to New Orleans twice. The first time, I was ten years old and didn't understand why all the nice people were vomiting in the street. The second time, I was twenty-six and I vomited on a ten-year-old in the street. It's a gorgeous town. The architecture in New Orleans is unlike anyplace else in the country. It's as close to a European city as you can get in the U.S. It's also the best place in America to indulge yourself.
The greatest meal I ever had in my life was in New Orleans. We went for my sister's thirtieth birthday. She was, at the time, working as buyer for a trucking company, which meant she dealt with a lot of vendors who liked to give her free things. One of the things she got was a free dinner at a three-or-four-star restaurant. This place operated differently than any other restaurant I've eaten at--which, I must admit, are mostly Stuckey's. In addition to our waitress, there were two sort of "floating" waitrons whose job was to watch every table like a hawk and swoop in if they needed anything. My wife looked behind her at one point to see a painting or something along those lines and, before, she could turn back around, one of these guys was by her side asking if she needed her water refilled or a new knife or a foot rub.
The service was spectacular, but the food was better. I'd just attended a wine-tasting/lesson as part of a fund-raiser for a theater I was working with, so I actually had a clue when ordering the vino. I chose one of the best Sauvignon Blanc I've ever tasted. I'd never had before, nor have I had since, a wine that went so well with a meal. I ordered the coconut tiger prawns, which came with the shells on. By the time I was finished, I had coconut sauce smeared all over my face and I felt a satisfaction I'd never known.
I have such fond memories of that meal and of that trip. I am very worried this morning for the people and places of New Orleans.
Now, I don't believe in "God", per se, but I do believe in the power of positive thought. So I'm going to spend some time this morning sending my most positive energy to the Crescent City. I'm hoping other people do so, too.
And, while we're talking about sending positive energy, my wife's father is undergoing surgery tomorrow. I've been with my wife for eleven years now and I don't think I could've asked for a nicer guy for a father-in-law. His family is going to be right there with him , and I know he's going to come through it just fine, but it never hurts to have a little extra help. If you would, please send some good thoughts his way tomorrow.
Sunday, August 28, 2005
The New York International Fringe Festival closes today. For those of you who are unacquainted with what a Fringe Festival is, allow me to briefly summarize: it is the theater-world version of a clusterfuck. In most Fringe Festivals, you've got upwards of a hundred shows from local, national and international theater companies (although "international" usually means there's a one-man show about duck-raping from Wales and that's pretty much it). These companies--and I should pause to mention that we are not talking about, say, Steppenwolf or Blue Man Group when we say "company"; many of these groups are gotten together solely for the purpose of this one show and many of those groups will never produce another piece together because they'll want to drown each other in pig shit by the time the festival is over--are assigned a fairly random venue and get usually about five time slots to put on their shows. Most festivals are nice enough to give each company at least one decent slot, say 8PM on a Wednesday, but usually you get stuck with at least a couple slots that are more like 12:30AM on a Monday. The venues are sometimes as much of a hindrance to ticket sales as the time slots. Theater space in most cities is limited, so a lot of times, you'll get stuck performing in a second-hand livestock auction tent or in the un-air-conditioned storage closet of a larger space. With venue, it's really the luck of the draw, unless you don't mind blowing a few festival organizers. Groups then have to haul their set down to the venue and, if they're lucky, they get a three by five foot section of floor in which to store it. Then it's a rushed two-hour tech at which you usually find out that the "complete sound system" your festival contact person promised you is, in fact, a Radio Shack turntable circa 1973 and a Yamaha amp.
Under these circumstances, even the best shows might come off a little unpolished. The thing is, there are usually very few best shows. These things mostly work on a "first-come, first-served" basis and so, often, shows that have no earthly business being in front of an audience--unless it's as part of Abu Gharib-style interrogation technique--slip through the cracks and get a slot.
Now, because of the sheer number of shows, these festivals do not go out of their way to promote individual shows. Companies are expected to put up their own posters and pass out their own fliers, which is great for young, motivated troupes. It's not so hot if you're a bunch of thirty-ish slackers who'd rather be drinking, but that's neither here nor there. What the festivals generally will do for you is to include you in the Fringe Guide. The Fringe Guide is simply a listing of all the shows in the festival, their dates, times and venues, usually a logo or picture and a brief description. Each company is in charge of writing their own description and--except in rare cases when a show has word of mouth--it's up to you as a festival-goer to decide which shows you want to see based on nothing more than the description and any posters/flyers you may have seen.
My first bit of advice for anyone attempting to pick a show is: don't be suckered in by a title or a poster that promises sex. Once groups started to see that nine out of the ten top shows had "whore" or "naked" or "naked whore" in the title, they started calling their Kabuki exploration of agrarian economics in 10th century Scotland The Cum-Slurping Slut's Guide to Life. Likewise, be careful with posters. Don't be fooled by that flyer for The Belle of Amherst that features full-frontal Dickinson; I'm betting she doesn't make out with Jane Austen onstage.
I would also suggest that anyone trying to choose a play not do so based on how far the company has traveled. I understand that you might feel obligated because they've come from another state or country, but you really needn't. They're not going to sit down with a phone book and send letter bombs to everyone in town who didn't show. Nor should you assume that these companies are touring internationally because they're so good that the world has to share in their greatness. Often, they're performing here because back home people know to avoid them and they had to leave their own time zone to find an audience.
Truthfully, there is no way to pick a guaranteed winner when going to see a Fringe Festival show. There is, though, a pretty good way to handicap which shows in the guide are going to suck so hard that the lighting implements will be ripped from the ceiling and hurtle toward the stage. Just keep an eye out for certain words or phrases in the self-penned descriptions of these shows. Once you know the vocabulary and what it portends, you know which shows to avoid like Wendy's chili.
Start by crossing out any show that admits right in the ad that it's a "one-person show". Yes, this means that you might miss out on the next Swimming to Cambodia or Tru, but more often it means that you'll be missing out on a two-hour onstage jerk session. Most often, these people are performing shows about their "journey" through life to place of better understanding. Trust me, you do not want to understand them.
Also, you should be sure to skip any show that says in the credits that it was "written by the ensemble". This usually means that a group of actors who just graduated with their BFAs last year and haven't learned how to live without their acting instructors got together and "explored their emotions" for three months before ending up with a sprawling narrative about the persecution of Wiccans in the south, told through the writhing movement of Butoh. Ten minutes in, you'd be willing to trade your child's eyeballs to get out of the theater.
Many shows don't know how the hell to describe themselves and so just write a list of all the various "wacky" elements that find their way into their narrative. Don't even bother to look at the performance dates if the show's description reads something like: "Ice cream. Dead spiders. Leiderhosen. Nuns. Hookers. Miracle Whip. Jesus. Anal probing."
Avoid like the plague any show for which the description contains the words/phrases "a place of healing", "hilarity", "metaphysical", "exploration", "challenging", "confessions of a...", "audience suggestion", "...the Musical!", "harrowing", "yearning", "the seducer and the seduced", "myriad", "autobiographical", "modern day fable", "infatuation", "renewal", "endurance of the human heart" and "Grandma Belly dances to techno."
Armed with this knowledge, you stand a decent chance of not seeing a show that makes you want to rip off your leg and beat the producers to death with it. This is, of course, not to say that you'll see something great. Unless I've got a show in the festival, in which case, you're in for a harrowing celebration of the endurance of the human heart.
Friday, August 26, 2005
Wife Go Bye-Bye
Deep, heavy sigh.
My wife's leaving town again. I thought, then, that it might be a good idea for me to make a promise. For the eleven days that she's gone, I will do my very, very best to not turn into a whiny little bitch. In the past, I realize, I've made it something of a habit to grouse about how completely lost I am when on my own here. Not this time, though. I will keep my chin up and my beard neatly trimmed. I will see the apartment as half full, not half empty.
Before this promise kicks in, though, let me just say that I'm not alone in this. I have a number of friends who experience the same mysterious loss of mental coherence when their spouses temporarily vacate the premises. Why the hell is this? I'm not talking about schizophrenics whose women have to struggle to keep them on their meds. I'm not talking about twelve-year-old boy grooms who married Mary Kay LeTourneau. I'm not talking about doddering old men whose wives have to change their Depends.
I am talking about smart, relatively together guys, all of whom got along just fine for years and years before they got married. Why, then, do all of us become ghost men, shambling from room to room in a fog and forgetting where we put our coffee? Why do we get so anxious for their return that we take so sleeping in their nightgowns? (That one's not me, it's my friend Deni.) Why do we turn into fucking Eeyore?
Do we suspect, on some level, that they won't come back? Do we worry that, with nobody else in the apartment for days, we'll become trapped under a potted plant and die from internal hemorrhaging before they get home? What in the name of hopscotching Christ is wrong with us?
Thursday, August 25, 2005
Birth of a Nation
Well, today's the big day in Iraq. After delay upon delay, today is the day they're supposed to have a version of their new constitution ready for a vote. This is not an easy task in a war-ravaged country so deeply divided, but they're working through their compromises. According to David Brooks in today's NY Times, they're doing a bang-up job and president Bush should be lauded for his help in drafting this tricky document.
Now, I'm not the biggest fan of the Bush administration, so when someone tells me that he's done something great, I sort of need to see it for myself. Which is why I contacted my sources in the Iraqi Parliament and had them fax me a copy of the final draft.
And all I can say is...wow. I've read a lot of constitutions in my day, but this one makes them all look like The Articles of Confederation. This constitution balances the needs of diverse ethnic groups. This constitution finds a way to please both those who are looking to establish a theocracy and those who want a western-style democracy. This constitution, put simply, rocks.
I don't have the time to analyze the entire thing in-depth, but here's a quick list of some of the highlights:
Wednesday, August 24, 2005
Hairshirt Back-to-School Horoscope
Aries: Not one, but two awesome frats want you to pledge them! Which means you're twice the status-sucking brainless jagoff, I guess.
Taurus: Thanks to No Child Left Behind, you will spend your entire fourth grade year nauseatingly anxious about a standardized test. Thanks, George Bush!
Gemini: Your worries about the shifting interpersonal dynamics within your peer group are unfounded, if understandable. Be comforted by the fact that your common educational purpose will tend to override any conflicting worldviews. Third grade is going to be awesome.
Cancer: After you're dumped by your girlfriend from last year, your parents try to comfort you by reminding you that, when you get to college in two years, you'll meet all kinds of girls who'll appreciate you more for yourself. They're full of shit. You won't be getting laid much in college, either.
Leo: Faced with the prospect of having to find a job when you get your BA next spring, you decide to spend every day of your last year in college stoned. Good call!
Virgo: You spend all night trying to come up with a great response to that fifth-grade bully's teasing. May I suggest calling him a "fat poophead"? If you think about it, it works on a number of levels.
Libra: The highlight of your seventh grade year will be when you forget to bring a change of shoes and have to walk around all day in your moon boots. That's right, I said that would be the highlight. Seventh grade blows.
Scorpio: Strangely, nobody will "get" the hilarious comic strip you write this year for your high school paper. That's probably because there's no "humor" or "wit" in it. Because you "suck".
Sagittarius: You get a good indication of what life is going to be like in the dorms in your first week, when your roommate spends two hours speaking baby-talk to his girlfriend back home.
Capricorn: When the cliquishness at your high school gets to be too much and you can't stand to be around a bunch of phony posers, it's good to know you can always find comfort in binging and purging.
Aquarius: Your first year on campus will prove exciting, but confusing, as exposure to new ideas and new people challenge your preexisting viewpoints. Hang in there, professor, you'll be tenured soon enough.
Pisces: Now that you're a high school senior, you make a vow to party like crazy and just enjoy this last year with your friends. Which would be a great plan if it weren't for the fact that you're going to get mono in about a week and end up in bed for a couple of months.
Tuesday, August 23, 2005
Pat's Will Be Done
God is responsible for so very, very much.
He--that's right, "he"--created our planet, as well as putting those funny little dots of light in the sky. He designed us humans, and very intelligently, I might add (thanks for the penis, O Lord!) He's caused 40 day floods and plagues and famine and all sorts of other great stuff when we've pissed him off. He's guided football players to victory and singers to the Grammy podium to pick up their shiny metal maquettes. He's been there to carry people down beaches when the going gets tough and to forgive televangelists when they fuck underage Laotion transexual prostitutes. And now he's performing a new function.
God is apparently serving as Pat Robertson's hitman.
I'm sure everyone's seen Pat praying to the Almighty Mobster to shiv a Supreme Court justice (preferably that Jewish broad). Pat, you see, doesn't like the direction the court's taken over the past few decades, what with the reasoned debate and the thoughtful interpretation of the constitution and all. And now that Cooter's in the White House, it's a perfect time to load up on sensible people who'll put prayer back in schools, women back in the kitchen and fags back in the closet. The problem is, it's a tricky political process to get the right person on the court. ("Right person"? Get it? Huh?) And there's no guaranteeing that the opportunity will come up while the Grand Old Party has control of the White House and the legislature. Fortunately, Pat's got a major deity on the payroll , so I'm thinking one of those judicial lefties is goin' bye-bye.
Perhaps He'll see to it that John Paul Stevens chokes on a piece of popcorn shrimp. Or maybe Ruth Bader Ginsburg will overdose on heroin. Stephen Breyer could, possibly, choose this week to take a trip to Mosul and stroll around in assless chaps, a yarmulke and a "Fuck Allah" t-shirt. But however it's accomplished, you can bet that one of these judges is not long for this world.
Because Pat Robertson is powerful, man. He's in charge. Not only does God do what Pat tells him, but so does the U.S. military. This week, Pat decided he'd had enough of that Venezuelan asshole Hugo Chavez. This South American prick actually has the gall to go to Cuba, make kissy noises with Fidel Castro and badmouth the U.S. of A. He's just asking for it. Which is why Pat, in his infinite wisdom, has suggested that we need to take this bastard out. Pat has directed either the Army or the CIA to fit this fuck with cement shoes and take him fishing. Which means it's just a matter of time until it happens.
Pat Robertson, you see, is all-powerful. None can resist him. Last week, he told me to shave my nuts and then douse them in Aqua Velva. And I did it. Trust me, you do not want to say no to the P-Man.
Where will Pat go from here? Sky's the limit, baby. He could start telling the sun to shine just a little less harshly when people are tanning. He could tell time to go backwards so that none of us get old. He could tell gravity to stop so we could all fly around for awhile. There is just nothing Pat can't do.
Okay, well, he can't get me to watch American Idol, but other than that, he's solid.
Monday, August 22, 2005
I come from a family that is largely Swiss. When thinking of the Swiss as a people, one might assume that they'd have to be at least somewhat optimistic. Eating all that chocolate and cheese, it would be safe to assume, should leave them with a sunshiny outlook. Their actions during World War II also seem to indicate optimism. I can just picture them thinking, "Hey, the Jews are gonna come through this whole 'ghetto' thing, we better keep their money and artwork safe for them until they get back." Oddly enough, then, optimism doesn't come especially naturally to me.
As a kid, I didn't bother to clap to bring Tinkerbell back to life because the odds were that Peter Pan was just going to shit all over her anyway. When I was single and dating, I had an uncanny knack for imagining the myriad ways that a girl in whom I was interested could cut me off at the ankles, a very effective way to talk yourself out of asking someone out. I kinda figured that President Douschehose would get re-elected last year and I was fucking right.
And yet, despite a tendency toward pessimism, I try. I believe optimism is important. I believe you really have to try to see how things could go well, no matter how bleak things look. Because the alternative is to give up crawl into a sack of cat turds.
So I'm going to try to be as hopeful as I can. I'm going to fight my impulses. The Indians just swept a series with Baltimore, they're only eight and a half games back of the suddenly slumping White Sox, they're gaining ground in the Wild Card race and they've got stands coming up against Tampa Bay, Toronto and Detroit. The Tribe has a pretty good shot at the Wild Card now and they could even conceivably win the AL Central. Sure, this is usually when they'd go on a twelve-game losing streak and fuck themselves right out of contention, but I'm going to do my best to assure myself that that isn't going to happen. They're going all the way, baby!
I just read a story this morning on Salon about a group of Democratic money-men (sorry, "money-people") who have set up a fund that will give grants to think-tanks and other organizations who will work to train young liberals. The GOP has been doing this shit for decades and it's paid off big-time for them. They've out-thought the Democrats pretty much since the '94 congressional elections (Clinton's '96 re-election had fuck-all to do with the Democratic party; he was just cool) and it's come time for us to do something a bit different. A pessimist might see this as too little, too late. Not me. I think that Bush has just fucked up too much too visibly. I think that this is the time for Democrats to seize the momentum. I think that money put toward teaching a young generation of liberals--who might otherwise waste their time smoking pot and listening to Coldplay on their iPods--how to stop a charging Rove is money well-spent.
There's a new Terry Gilliam movie opening soon. This opening has, I believe, been bumped back a couple of times. The film stars Heath Ledger and Matt Damon. But I'm not going to assume that it sucks. I'm not going to buy into that line of thought. I'm going to assume that Gilliam's vision as a director will trump any script problems or the shortcomings of his leading men. I'm going to march into the theater on opening weekend and enjoy the hell out of it, perfect or not.
Cynicism is funny. And it's cool. But if I took nothing else from years of Star Wars movies and Justice League comics, I took at least the notion that it's good to believe that things can turn out okay.
Sunday, August 21, 2005
To Boldly Not Go Where We've Gone Before
The Space Shuttle Discovery returned to Florida today, riding the back of a Boeing jumbo jet in a fashion that looked disturbingly sexual. The return was delayed by bad weather, this after being delayed in the first place when it couldn't land in Florida after this month's mission. Apparently, a stiff breeze would be enough to knock this multi-billion dollar space ship disastrously off course.
This has not been a great month for the space shuttle. The launch was delayed and delayed. When it actually did go up, another chunk of foam, which they'd spent two years figuring how to keep from falling off, fell off. A guy had to walk in space and pull a piece of cheesecloth off of the craft's belly. And the next launch has been delayed until March amid a flurry of agency in-fighting. There's talk of scrapping the shuttle program all together and--with no new space craft ready to take its place--going back to Apollo-style capsules. One small step for man, one enormous fucking leap backward for NASA.
I am, as I've said before, a big fan of the space program. I believe in its importance and I want to see it continue. But come on!
As always, though, I stand ready to help out my fellow scientists at the space agency, by suggesting alternatives to the horrifically flawed shuttle program. They could try:
Friday, August 19, 2005
The World According to Me
I'm a re-reader. I can't explain it. I just am.
If I like a book, I will read it again and again. According to some people, (cough-cough *wife* cough-cough) this keeps me from discovering new books that I might like just as much. To me, though, re-reading a book is like visiting an old friend who you really like. Unlike old friends, though, books you've loved never develop a drinking problem and call you up at three in the morning to cry at you for an hour.
I have read Richard Hooker's book M*A*S*H probably ten times. I've read Nobody's Fool by Richard Russo about four times. I'm up to at least twice on the great bulk of James Ellroy's stuff. God help me, I've notched about five go-rounds on the Lord of the Rings trilogy. That's not to mention the trade paperback collections of comic books I own, which require much less commitment and can be re-read in an afternoon. I'm not saying this because I'm proud of it or anything. I mean, it's not as if I'd been twice through Ulysses or Beowulf. I'm just saying that there are books and authors I latch on to and, since they can only write a finite number books in one lifetime, I run out of new material to read. The exception to this is John Grisham, who apparently can pull a book fully formed out of his asshole every eight months or so. Too bad I'd rather gargle hot tar than sit down and read him.
The author I have read and re-read more than any other is John Irving. I own very nearly everything the man has ever written--"nearly" because a friend of mine told me last night that she has some story he apparently wrote on a cocktail napkin of which they published five copies or something, so my notion of completism has been devastated--and I've read and re-read all of them to death. Hell, I've even been two times through The Fourth Hand, and I hated it. Both times.
I don't think Irving is perfect or anything. The Berry family in Hotel New Hampshire had their quirkiness ironed on their shirts; he has a weird thing about cops getting involved with the people whose cases they work on and...damn. I can't come up with a third thing I don't like about his stuff at the moment. Interesting.
I love his sense of humor. I love the characters he creates. I love the sense I get when I read his books that he's not going to leave me hanging about even minor characters I've come to care about; he's going to tell me exactly what ends up happening to them. I love the themes he writes about. I love how many of his characters are motivated by a sense of fear. I love his stuff.
The World According to Garp is my favorite novel of all time. There's so much about Garp to not like. He cheats on his wife. He's resentful of his more successful mother. He makes stupid decisions based on anger. But every time I read this book, I feel for this character. I'm devastated by every loss he suffers. I want things to work out for him.
Last night, I got to go to a reading that Irving did of his newest novel, Until I Find You. It was so fucking cool. He did a short reading, which was great. It's interesting to hear how an author reads what they've written, the words they emphasize, the tone with which they speak their characters' words.
And I got to ask him a question. To be a complete geek, that was just awesome. I talked to John Irving. He looked me in the eyes. He answered my question. It's like we're best friends. In fact, I'm going to find out where he lives and go there so we can continue our conversation. And then he'll write a book just for me.
Okay, yeah, that's going a bit far. But (sort of, in a way, quasi-) meeting one of one's heroes is a great experience. I highly recommend it. Unless your hero is dead, in which case that's grave-robbing and you should think twice.
Thursday, August 18, 2005
There are many reasons why people don't like themselves. Some people think their noses are too big. Some people feel bad about posessing what they perceive as overly large asses. Some people think their voices make people want to rip out their ears. These are all perfectly fine forms of self-hatred. As for me, I really kind of hate my mind.
I have what you might call very specific low-level panic attacks. They're specific because they only happen when I'm driving on a highway. They're low-level because I don't hyperventilate and/or pass-out and because they're not as debilitating as I imagine full-blown panic attacks to be. (I'd hate to claim that I have panic attacks just to have some irate person give me a three page dressing down because I "...don't know what real panic attacks feel like, you glib fuck.")
It goes something like this: When I'm driving at high speeds on a highway, I begin to fear that I will lose control of my actions and suddenly jerk the steering wheel to one side, crashing into (or off of) whatever's beside me and killing myself. This fear takes root in my head and I can't get it out. I physically start to tense up and my breathing becomes rapid and shallow. It builds and builds. Finally, I feel the awful sensation of everything sort of closing in on me and I feel like I'm about to black out. Generally speaking, this is where it suddenly ends and I recover my senses and feel shaky and afraid. It hasn't ever ended with me actually jerking the wheel to one side and wrecking the car, so I suppose I should be thankful.
This problem goes back about nine years or so. It first happened when I was working for a nursing home. I was driving a group of residents from the Tulip Festival in Puyallup, Washington back to the home in the southern part of Seattle. I don't know what precipitated this. Maybe I was depressed that I had a job that involved driving people to the Tulip Festival. Whatever happened, though, I had to pull off and have my boss--who was also on the trip--drive the rest of the way.
The problem persisted for a few months and I was unable to drive on the freeway at all. Then it went away. Poof. Suddenly, I was fine. Don't know what happened there. Maybe the Neurosis Fairy came while I was sleeping and took the panic attacks away, leaving me with a shiny quarter under my pillow. I resumed my old driving habits and everything was hunky-dory. Probably more dory than hunky.
A year or so later, they came back. This happened while I was working at a different nursing home. This time, I was driving a resident from the home on the north side of Seattle to his apartment downtown so that he could pick up some of this things. I was driving across the Ship Canal Bridge, which is a very tall structure spanning a canal that connects Lake Union to Lake Washington. The panic hit me (WAMMO!) and it felt like I came very close to taking this guy with me off the bridge and into the water. This episode was a little easier for me to understand, because this was a truly odious little man. He was this wheelchair bound dwarf fella who felt justified in making everyone else around him suffer. Not that that justifies the impulse to drive a wheelchair-access van off a bridge.
This time, the panic stayed with me for a good year and a half. I could not make myself drive on the freeways. My girlfriend could not make me drive on the freeway. I just avoided it, taking longer routes, having someone else drive. It's actually pretty easy to avoid things that cause you panic if you really try hard. And oh, I did. My girlfriend didn't appreciate that. She felt like it was intruding on her life. I didn't see what the big deal was. She had to drive. Big whoop. She didn't see it that way, particularly the time when she had her wisdom teeth yanked out and the anesthetic wore off in the car and I wouldn't take the freeway home to get her prescription filled. That was a fun ride. We got in screaming matches over this. But I wouldn't budge.
Finally, I agreed to see a shrink. I saw the shrink every other week for maybe seven months. (Maybe less. It's a little disturbing how that sort of shit becomes indistinct as it recedes in time.) The shrink didn't really do a lot for me. Maybe she was a lame shrink. Maybe I wasn't up to being honest enough to open up and tell her what she needed to know to help me. But probably, what the problem was was that I didn't listen enough to what she told me.
Eventually, my girlfriend had oral surgery on the other side of Lake Washington and needed me to drive her there and back, as she'd be under anesthetic and might not be the best at steering. Now, the only practical way to get from Seattle to the east side is to take one of two bridges over the lake. You can drive north and go around the lake, but that adds a good two hours to the trip (give or take). So I had no choice but to suck it up and do it.
I was helped by heavy morning traffic, which allowed me to feel safe on the freeway. (You can jerk the wheel all you want to when you're driving two miles an hour and it's hurting nobody.) When traffic started to move, I just told myself that I only really had to make it as far as the next exit. When the exit came, I told myself that it hadn't been that bad and maybe I should try getting to the next exit. I repeated this until I'd gotten us to the doctor's office. This success didn't make the problem go away, but it gave me enough confidence to keep trying.
Gradually, the problem sort of eased off and I got to the point where I was driving normally. I remembered, maybe a year or so after I stopped seeing my shrink, that she'd told me to monitor my breathing when the panic started and I realized that she'd been absolutely right. Go figure. The panic never really went away. It's not there all the time. I have long drives on the freeway when I'm perfectly fine and don't even think about it. Other times, I come very close to just pulling off at the nearest exit and checking myself into a Motel Six for a month so I don't have to deal with it. I try not to let my wife know when I'm having a rough time (because neuroses are really fucking annoying when they're not yours) but she's usually able to help me when things get truly hairy.
So when I went to Ohio a couple of weeks ago, I was a little apprehensive. It's an eight hour drive, entirely on the freeway, and I'd be doing it solo, as my wife still had to work for a week before she could join me. It was just me, my dogs and my panic across all of Pennsylvania. And I did fine. Sure, there was a problem here and there. I had to change CDs a few times when this song or that was talking about death and I was worried it would set me off. My younger dog tried to get into the front seat a few times and it was a pain dealing with him and the steering wheel. But mostly, I was okay.
Then coming home from Ohio this past Monday, I drove for a few hours (splitting the drive with my wife) after having literally twenty minutes of sleep the night before. We'd been, you see, on the bumpiest fucking flight ever from San Francisco to Pittsburgh, which brings up even more neuroses which I won't get into at this time. Oddly enough, the fatigue trumped the panic and the greater danger was that I'd fall asleep before I got the chance to drive off the road on purpose.
I guess I'm trying to take as much positive from my stupid, defective mind as I can. I can be positive about the fact that I'm dealing with it instead of using avoidance. I can be positive about the fact that, if I'm going to be psychotic, at least I've got the same psychosis that Christopher Walken had in Annie Hall, which always gets big laughs. And I can be positive about the fact that I never have jerked that wheel.
Negatives, I guess, would include the fact that anyone who reads this is going to be very hesitant to ride in my car from here on out. (I'm okay, guys, I swear. Just bear with me if I occasionally have to pull over to the shoulder and puke.)
And anyway, things could be much, much worse. For example, I could be a complete idiot who gets his country into a war and then goes to his "ranch" for a month and a half while people are dying. Man, that would suck.
Wednesday, August 17, 2005
I'm the Master
About two minutes ago, I received official notice from Mercy College that they had conferred upon me the Degree of Master of Science in Elementary Education. Here's a picture of how I looked upon receiving the news. As you can see, a degree from Mercy means that one's problems in life are at an end. Every door has now been opened for you. My friend on the right was just as happy for me.
Return of the Hairshirt Horoscope
Aries: Try not to spend so much time this week riding the velvet hippo through the purple redwood forest. Oh, and take less acid.
Taurus: Setting aside any argument about the "cuteness" of a particular pair of shoes, you need to ask yourself if it's in any way a good idea to wear something that makes your feet bleed.
Gemini: Your ambitious summer reading program seems to be a bit off track. Don't beat yourself up about it; just start giving yourself credit for your non-traditional reading. For example, you've read enough porn mags in the last month to sprain your corneas. Celebrate that!
Cancer: You get a call this week from an old friend you haven't heard from in awhile. I'm using the word "friend" in a loose enough context to include people who work at collection agencies.
Leo: You're frustrated this week that IMDB won't give you an acting credit for that time you walked by when they were filming a scene for Elektra and you could see your elbow in one shot. That was cool.
Virgo: The world is not ready yet for your awesome new high-speed ass hair-removal system.
Libra: Despite your daily letters to the network brass, that talk show you feel Donny "Ralph Malph" Most so richly deserves isn't on the fall TV schedule. Keep writing, chief. They'll listen to you someday.
Scorpio: You need to re-think your whole "getting laid" strategy. Apparently, inviting a guy over so the two of you can cry to Edith Piaf records just isn't sexy enough. Maybe if you fed him a fruit and cottage cheese blend?
Sagittarius: Jesus loves you. But in a friend kind of way.
Capricorn: That protesting mom outside of Bush's Crawford ranch is really pissing you off this week. I mean, what'd she do that got the press interested? Her son died; big whoop. Breaking the world record for most Ravioli-Os eaten in a one hour period like you did? That's an accomplishment.
Aquarius: Tonight, you'll have that awful, awful dream wherein you show up at your Philosophy 101 class not realizing that there's a final you haven't studied for. Then you'll wake up in the crack house and be incredibly relieved.
Pisces: This week, you invent a fantastic new cocktail. The only real hitch is coming up with a hip name for bourbon, grapefruit juice and Sanka.
Tuesday, August 16, 2005
My wife and I just got back from a trip to Seattle and spent our first night back home dealing with our cat, Sven.
Normally, our friend who lives upstairs from us stops in once a day, but this time he was on a cruise and was unwilling to cancel his plans so that he could feed our cat. How selfish. My wife solved the problem by buying one of those automatic cat feeders. So you just fill this thing to the brim with cat food and it drops into the dish. This is bad for over-eater cats trapped on the binge/purge cycle, but Sven seems to have adjusted well.
We asked another friend of ours to stop in a couple of times just to make sure that Sven was okay, but for the larger part of a week, he was here by himself. Think of the mental strain that has to put on a cat.
If a cat is an indoor cat, then the house or apartment is his entire world. He's not meeting with other cats. He's not going downtown to check out the new show at the Met. He's in this one apartment and that's it. It's him and his owners and the dogs and maybe occasional guests. Then, when his owners are gone for a week, he is the only one in his world.
I've heard that there have been studies which found that cats have a completely different take on things than us. This report said that cats are basically like people on acid. They perceive things differently, they get fixated on objects and, I would assume, they listen to a lot of Pink Floyd. So, if this is the case, then you can see how completely freaky it would be to spend a week tripping your balls off and have absolutely nobody else existing in your world.
You'd start to wonder if the people you normally live with were ever real or maybe just products of your own imagination. You'd maybe begin to doubt that you yourself exist and you'd stay up for days at a time in case you'd stop existing while you slept. Time would cease to have any meaning and you'd imagine that you'd been in this same apartment for ten thousand years, making you an immortal. You'd invent your own languages and then forget them. You'd spend Tuesday through Thursday looking in the mirror. If the phone rang, you'd have no idea what it meant and you'd hide in the closet for an hour, striking up a friendship with a pair of corduroys.
Think what a relief it would be, then, when your owners finally do come home. It would free you from your nagging doubt that you're maybe just a dream that the couch was having. You'd cling to your owners as you cling to your sanity. You'd be simultaneously grateful and pissed. Maybe pissed enough to, say, take a dump in their luggage. You'd yell at them all night and crawl on their heads and show them the great job you did sharpening your claws during your stint in solitary by repeatedly piercing their skin.
But it beats the shit out of trying to travel with a cat, which sucks to high heaven.
Thursday, August 11, 2005
I've been watching The Amazing Race too damn much.
I can tell this because it's starting to creep into my day-to-day thinking. When my wife and I got to Sea-Tac airport on Monday evening, I chuckled at how clever we'd been to not bring any bags that needed to be checked and I felt sure that that would give us an advantage over the other teams.
I yelled at our Shuttle Express driver to "Go! Go! Go!" I told him to not let other cars pass us.
Last night, we were driving around a Seattle suburb and I saw a "Detour" sign. I automatically thought, "A detour is a choice between two tasks, each with their own pros and cons."
I'm hearing the theme music in my sleep and I keep thinking I see Phil and his mat around every corner.
I get itchy if I go a day without seeing an episode. I'm thinking of buying one of those retarded Foreign Legion hats so I can run around barking orders at people and pretending I'm Ian from Season 3.
DVR was meant to free us. It was meant to allow us to do things we want to do and not worry that we had to be home to watch a television show. Instead, it's forced me to sit on my couch for hours to catch up on all of the shows I've taped.
I know now. I must destroy DVR. I must rid the earth of this scourge, before it wipes out humanity in a blaze of potato chips and ass-dents in the cushions. Don't try to talk me out of it. I know my duty and I embrace it. If you don't hear from me again, you'll know that I was no match for DVR. But match or not, I will do my best. Look out, DVR. I'm hunting for you.
Tuesday, August 09, 2005
And Now a Word from Our Sponsors
I just got a fucking spam to my blog comments. What the hell? When the hell is this shit going to stop? When the hell are these assholes going to realize that people don't want to be marketed to every fucking waking minute? I mean Jesus!
It just doesn't make sense to me. How many times have you received an unsolicited e-mail advertising penis cream and thought, "Say...I've never considered buying penis cream before, but now that this golden opportunity has just landed in my lap, why not?" No, it's a nuisance. It's a pain in the ass, not delightful way to be exposed to new products.
So who the hell are the marketing people who sit down at their work desk and think up this shit? Are they retarded? 'Cause that would explain it. "I smear dog poo on your face, then you buy my fake Rolex! Yay!!!" Putting ads where people don't want them isn't genius strategy. It doesn't create new selling opportunities. It creates pissed-off consumers.
I've known a number of marketers in my life. I haven't liked any of them.
One nursing home I worked at hired a marketer for a time. She swanned about the morning meeting in a hideous suit and said annoying things. I don't think she increased the business any, but she did make sure that we all had an endless supply of cheap pens with the business name on them. A few years after I'd stopped working there, I was sitting in the hallway of a Seattle theater complex that rented rehearsal spaces, waiting for my sketch group to arrive. A woman walked by who looked vaguely familiar. She looked at me and I looked at her and we both knew that we should know each other. So we asked the questions required to get to the bottom of such a mystery. We ruled out school or previous shows we'd done. Finally it clicked and I was hit with that disturbing revelation, "Oh, shit! I remember now! I fucking hate you!"
Those are the kind of lasting feelings inspired by marketers.
So here's my proposal: we should have an open license to kill marketers. If you get spam telling you that you should call now about a graduate degree in plumbing; if you go to a movie theater and have to sit through a commercial telling you about the awesome legacy of the Marine Corps; if you receive a phone call from a recording talking up the merits of time-shares, you should be allowed to hunt the person responsible down and gut them like a trout.
Leave my blog alone, you miserable dripping fuck-bags. And hey! Blogger! You had best find a way to stop that shit from happening.
Friday, August 05, 2005
While staying at my parents' house this week, I took the time to dig up my Sophomore and Junior yearbooks. The reason I wanted to find them was to show my wife what a friend of mine she recently met looked like when he was in high school. It threw me, you see, when, during a discussion of my friends, she said, "Now, wait...is that the bald one?" I haven't hung out with this guy since college, you see, and so the predominant image I have of him in my head is that of a guy with thinning--but still there--hair. So when my wife said that, I had to stop and think for a minute before saying, "Um, yeah. The bald one."
Once I found these yearbooks, I sat down with them and looked them over. I noticed the same things that I notice on those occasions when I look through my Senior yearbook, mainly how sweaters in the late 80s looked like Kandinsky paintings reproduced in yarn and how truly awful hair was in Ohio when I was a teenager. I swear to god, some of these girls had their locks teased a good three feet above their skulls. And mullets! Sweet merciful Jesus, the mullets. If my high school had an official haircut in 1988, it was the mullet. A whole bunch of guys whose necks never got cold.
But apart from the fashion, or complete and utter lack thereof, I was struck most by the inscriptions people wrote in my yearbook.
Now, I don't know how it's done at most schools, but at my school, my Junior yearbook was the one that had all of the signatures in it, because we didn't get our senior yearbooks until the following autumn, when they'd developed and laid out all the exciting pictures of graduation. It takes time to do it right, you see.
I read through everything people had written in my notebook and I thought, "Huh. Interesting. People didn't really seem to like me that much, did they?" Depressing!
I imagine most people get stuff written in their books like, "You are awesome! Always remember the time we drank that bottle of bourbon and kidnapped the sea lions from the zoo and set them loose in the school pool! You are my friend and my brother forever!" or "I wouldn't have made it back from that field trip to the bologna factory if you hadn't given me CPR when that chunk of braunschwieger lodged in my throat. I owe you my life, dude." Not me.
I got, "Although you started coming here in 7th grade, I'm sorry but I don't really remember you being here until high school" and "Try not to get too defensive, everyone isn't against you." They wrote, "You're not an asshole, just an obnoxious guy." My "uniqueness" was remarked upon by a number of people: "You've got your own style" and "You're definitely one of a kind" and "You're the only guy who continuously calls me 'Tex'--and I don't know why." Other guys had girls write things like, "I always had a crush on you, but never told." About the closest I came to that was, "The one thing we do well together is disagree, but I'll always respect you." Hot!
There were also a couple of people who made reference to my girlfriend, who I'd begun seeing in late May. They wrote, "I hope things work out between you and Julie" and "Julie's a really great person. Don't blow it!" She of course dumped me before graduation.
Now, I've never been one to look at high school through rose-colored glasses. I thought it mostly sucked. I haven't kept in touch with anyone who graduated with me; I didn't go to my ten-year reunion. I always thought--and rightly so, in hind sight--that I'd make closer friends in college. Still, it's kind of comforting to think that maybe people were fonder of you than you realized. I guess I can now strike that notion right the fuck out of my head.
This is only marginally less depressing than being in Jacobs Field for the one game of a three-day home stand against the Yankees that Cleveland lost. Have I mentioned how much I fucking hate the Yankees? Bastards.
So, yeah. I'm gonna go drink myself to sleep now.
Tuesday, August 02, 2005
Ohio--The Heart of it All!
Greetings from sunny Ohio!
I'm taking advantage of my summer break to spend some time with my family in the Buckeye State. For those who are unaware, Ohio is called the Buckeye State because during the Civil War, Union colonels looking to motivate their troops decided to pay the soldiers for every rebel they killed. The bonus was two dollars per dead rebel. Acceptable proof of the kill was both of the rebel's eyes. Rumor has it that the Kennedy family's fortune started when JFK's great-grandfather, Ezekiel Kennedy, found a bag of eyes lying in the forest and claimed them as his own.
Ohio has three world-class cities: Cleveland, Columbus and Cincinnati. Pretty odd that they all start with "C", right? Actually, not a coincidence. In 1895, the state legislature decided that Ohio's largest cities should put on a unified front. They figured the best way to do this was in an alliterative manner. The state senate voted 109-0 to change the names of Nincinnatti and Bolumbus and the rest is history. Many scholars believe that the state legislature drank a lot in the 1890s.
Ohio is the only state to have had a chimpanzee as governor. This was during the "Chimpanzee Fad" of the 1950s. Bobo ran as a republican and trounced democrat Michael DiSalle. Sadly, he was impeached midway through his term, after it was found out that he had misappropriated funds.
A fact not too widely known is that Ohio was not officially a state until 1987. The paperwork necessary for statehood was thought to have been completed in 1803, but it came to light in 1986 that someone had forgotten to fill out the back of one of the pages, on which Ohio needed to have listed three other states as references. Apparently, Ohio meant to complete it, but had a couple of beers while trying to figure out who it should ask and then just forgot about it when it was time to mail it in.
Many people born in Ohio have gone on to international prominence, among them Steven Spielberg, John Glenn, Bob Hope and Adolph Hitler. Hitler never actually lived in Ohio, he was just born here while his parents were on a trip to Amish country near Orrville.
Ohio is home to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (in Cleveland), the Football Hall of Fame (in Canton) and the Dirty Hippie Hall of Fame (in Yellow Springs). Additionally, an executive order from Governor Richard Celeste in 1983 mandated that every town and city with a population of over 4 had to have its own hall of fame. I am in the Berlin Center Hall of Fame in recognition of the time I found twenty bucks in a parking lot. It's not that exciting a place, Berlin Center.
Not many people know that Ohio is the porn capital of the midwest. More watersports films are shot in Ohio than in every other state in the union combined.
So, if you get a chance, come see one of the most underappreciated states in the country. And make sure to stop in at Chillicothe, home of the world's largest litterbox, capable of taking the dung of 1000 cats at a time!