Monday, December 31, 2007

i can't breath

No, I am not choked up because of the coming new year. I have allergies. The number of cats in my mom's house outnumber the number of humans here 3 to 1. The antihistamines in my body are outnumbered by the histamines like the number of mormons would be outnumbered in Panama City for spring break.

At some point when I moved out of Lincoln Park, my mom slowly evolved into the crazy cat lady of the neighborhood. This is partially my fault. In high school one day, the secretary made an announcement that a teacher was giving away hamsters. I don't know why she had hamsters, I didn't care why she was giving them away. I just wanted one, not even because I always wanted hamsters, but because, as many of you who know me already realize, i just like getting things for free, whatever they are. So I hopped on the bus that day with a shoebox and a fuzzy, blonde hamster I named Buckley after the teacher who gave him away, Mrs. Buckley who was a little crazy herself, but that's for another blog.

My mom found out I had a hamster and fell in love with it. She essentially adopted it from me. I didn't put up much of a custody battle. I liked Buckley enough, but no way could I match her love for this animal. He was quite precocious, like the main character in Shawshank Redemption whose name escapes me. He was always trying to escape. I bought him one of those plastic cages with the colorful tubes in which he could run and he chewed his way out. I couldn't fix the hole so I put an extremely thick and heavy book in front of it. One night I was sleeping and woke up to some odd chittering noise. I opened my eyes and found Buckley sitting on my chest, nose twitching. He actually chewed through five to six inches of a book to escape. If that's not impressive enough, I believe the cage was downstairs at the time and my bedroom was upstairs, so he actually climbed a flight of stairs and somehow knew which room was mine, opened the door, and climbed up my bed to sit on my chest. Perhaps the cage was in my room, I don't really remember. But this was a fairly remarkable hamster. And my mom loved him. She even had my uncle build Buckley a mansion of a cage, a split level with a built in exercise wheel and a ladder connecting the stories. No exaggeration, this cage was the size of a cage you'd use for a large dog.

But, even the remarkable in our world are mortal when it comes down to it. Houdini died, not even in some dramatic way as many rumors claim. So to did Buckley go, in winter, flat on his back in a corner of that giant cage. I'll save you the emotional details. My mom was very sad, wouldn't even let me bury him at first, wanted to hold him and asked me how much it would cost to have him stuffed. She relinquished fifteen minutes later and I dug a shallow grave in hard, frozen clay next to my house. My mom put plastic flowers at the site.

This was in January or February I think. So when Mother's Day came around, I thought it'd be a good idea to get her a cat. I thought it would be free, too, because I assumed strays were unwanted and you were actually doing the shelter a favor by taking them of their hands, like orphans. But it turned out to cost some money to get a fat, tuxedo cat named Hattie that my mom picked out. She didn't want one at first, she said. It still hurt too much. But the women at the shelter assured her cats tend to live longer than hamsters which usually peak at about 6 weeks.

So my mom and Hattie hit it off. I went to college, came back one summer and there was a new cat in the house along with Hattie. Bunso was its name meaning "youngest child" in Tagalog if I'm not mistaken. It also has an American name: Patty. According to my mom, it just ran into the house one day and she couldn't get it to leave, so she just adopted it. Maybe the reason Patty/Bunso did not listen to her was because my mom was screaming at her in Tagalog and she didn't understand tagalog. It's more likely though that Patty didn't listen because cats aren't dogs and don't give a shit about what you have to say.

I graduated college and moved to Baltimore, MD. I'd come back every now and then and there'd be a new cat in the house. I moved to Boston, MA, would come back home and there'd be yet more cats. All of them strays. I don't ever remember seeing stray cats in my neighborhood, or my entire town for that matter, growing up. My mom must have spotted one or two in the yard a few years back, put some food out, and of course, they went forth and multiplied and brought their extended and mangy looking family twice a day to my childhood home to take advantage of the hand outs. Leaving food out for strays will attract vermin, of course, so my mom started leaving food out just for the raccoons, too. I don't talk to the neighbors, but I can't imagine they are thrilled about this.

So at last count, there are six cats in the house: Hattie (who does not seem pleased with the rest of the cats), Patty/Bunso, Whitney, Jake, Kitty, and one other whose name escapes me. Not all of them just ran into the house. At least two of them are missing eyeballs and when my mom found them infected and near death as kittens, she couldn't bear to let them die, so she brought them to the vet for expensive operations and adopted them as well. I don't have this same compassion for animals. Actually, I'm suspicious these stray cats have heard how good they could have it inside my house and are purposely gouging out their own eyes so they have an upper hand in getting picked to be cat #7. They're no better than soldiers shooting themselves in the foot to get out of service.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Marty and her jacket

Let me start off by saying, I might have sounded harsh talking about my roommate, Eleanor, who seemed upset with me the night we played darts. With any retelling of a factual event, some bias is bound to cause inaccuracies or unfounded insinuations, and I'm sure if you were to ask for her account of the event, it would have a different spin.

With that being said, here's a story about another roommate, Marty and her coat. I will try to be as objective as possible in telling it, because unlike my story with Eleanor, I actually transcribed much of the following dialogue verbatim as she was spewing it. A lot of times, I'll be next to a couple of roommates while they are engaged in conversation, but not get involved myself. This is partially because I don't find anything they are saying interesting. But then again, if you're not talking about the Rocky movies or scrapple, I probably won't find anything you say interesting. But moreso, I don't get involved because no one really addressed me. I would answer a question if someone asked me it directly, but a lot of the times, people seem to be jus talking to the air in this house until another roommate responds. I've become the Chief of this Cuckoo's Nest, sans height. I sit and listen and people forget I'm around or that I can even hear them.

So here's a transcription of what happened:

Marty walks into the kitchen. I'm sitting in a little nook attached to the kitchen, trying to write. Claire is cooking in the kitchen. She's probably the sanest and most pleasant roommate of all of us. I'd put myself at second or third... her impressive tolerance and willingness to listen to someone ramble ad nauseum far surpasses my own, so she is very deserving of the "Best Roommate Award" in our house.

"Hi, Marty," says Claire. "How are you?"
"Ahhh! I'm so depressed!"
"What's wrong, Marty?" asks Claire. This is why she deserves the award. I no longer ask Marty questions like this.
"I'm upset over my coat." She looks in my direction as I type crappy sonnets on my computer, "Don't feel guilty," she says to me.
"Don't worry. I don't," I smile.
"What happened to your coat, Marty?"
"I don't want to talk about it."

Marty has a green winter coat she wears all the time with a faux fur lined hood, sort of like the drug dealers wear in movies about the 'hood. It's cute. One day, she was in a rush for work and asked me if I would throw her sheets in the dryer for her. No problem. I put everything that was in the washing machine into the dryer. I saw her coat was in there, but I assumed she also wanted that in the dryer because she did not give me specific directions otherwise. The coat did not shrink and fits her fine, but the faux fur is not quite as puffy anymore. Imagine girls in the 80's with poofed up Aquanet bangs. That's what the fur looked like before. Now imagine the hairdo of a militant lesbian wearing Doc Martens... that's what the fur looks like now. We went to a bar the night her coat was ruined and she shared with me how she doesn't blame me, but is sort of upset because all the charm of the jacket was encapsulated by the fur and now that the fur is ruined, it has lost all its worth. But she assured me she didn't blame me. I assured her I wasn't worried about it at all.

Claire, the conscientious roommate that she is, does not pry. She sprinkles some ground pepper into a pan of sizzling, quartered potatoes. Marty groans loudly. "Oh God! I want my jacket!"
"Nothing can be that big of a deal," says Claire with a cheerful "The sun will come out tomorrow"
"Yes it is! I want my jacket!"
"What happened to your jacket?" she tries a second time.
"I don't want to talk about it."
Claire looks at me, maybe hoping I will explain what the hell is going on. I smile back, then return my attention to a sonnet, thinking "what words rhyme with syphilis?" It's hard to keep my attention on the poem though because I'm also trying to record everything Marty is saying. Much of it, however, is exasperated gasps, groans, and heavy hearted sighs, which do not translate well to print.
Marty continues: "Where am I going to find a jacket? I'm so upset right now!"
"Ooh, this tea bag has interesting trivia. Did you know that in the United States, 70% of pencils are painted yellow?" says Claire, trying to change the subject.
Eleanor comes out of her room and says hi to everyone and asks marty how she is.
"I had the most disappointing Target experience."
"What happened?"
"They didn't have my jacket."
"I'm sorry."
"I'm so upset right now and it's about my material possessions, the dumbest thing in the world to be upset about*."

She spends the next thirty minutes looking online for a duplicate of this jacket, groaning, and shouting, "I'm so fucking depressed!" I don't think she ever explains to Claire what happened to the jacket in the first place.

Two or three days later, marty came home with a brand new jacket, complete with a hood of luxurious faux fur. She was very happy. I was happy for her. But, as you may have guessed, the elation that came with the new jacket was short lived and, as of this last week, she's currently depressed again. "I'm so fucking depressed! I hate winter!" she's screamed on numerous occasions. I'm not one to doubt the physical and mental impact cold and darkness can have on a person. But since she grew up in Alaska, you'd think she'd have some coping mechanisms by now. And I'm not confident that her attitude will change tremendously when the sun comes out, if that ever happens in Portland.

Another thing she likes to complain about is work. Here's another conversation Claire got caught in. Someone please give Claire a Humanitarian award for her patience.

"Okay, let me just tell you about this bitch at work," she starts. Marty works at a residential home for teenage mothers and their infants. Very stressful work... I have all the respect in the world for anyone who works in that field. She started there about a month ago and was very excited when she took the position because it was exactly the kind of job she wanted. She said she loved all the girls who lived there... they were all so sweet.
"Is this a coworker?"
"No, one of the girls. I had just gotten in and she immediately starts screaming at me that we need to call the doctor for her baby. And she was being so mean to me." I'm in the kitchen cooking, but I rush for a pencil to jot some notes down on this conversation. Marty continues, "Now, granted, his penis was bleeding, but I mean, she didn't have to be such a bitch to me. I mean, he wasn't dying of blood loss."

If you are Claire would you say:
A.) Um, if my son's penis was bleeding, I think i'd be a little frazzled, too.
B.) Marty, you did realize when you accepted this job at a residential home for at-risk teenage mothers and their infants that some of the work might involve at-risk teenage mothers and their infants, right?
C.) Nothing and nod sympathetically.

Correct, St. Claire chose C. I stopped jotting down notes after a while because my asparagus and cashews dish burning. It would have been repetitive if I retold it all to you anyway; the gist is that these residential teen moms who have had horrible upbringings and are completely too immature to raise kids on their own are not being nice to her all the time.

Marty isn't always upset. For every ten times I hear her yell, "I'm so fucking pissed off," I've heard her say, "I'm in a fucking great mood." That's not true, actually. The proportion is closer to something like 50 to 1. But it's good to know her crazy-o-meter can tip to the complete other end of the bipolar scale. I need to stop typing this entry now because she keeps saying more interesting things as I blog that deserve to be recorded as well, but when can I finally stop? Her first words coming into the house five minutes ago were "I'm so pissed with the world right now!"
Then, ten minutes later in a more subdued tone, "This is not a good life. I'm bored."

Marty, as long as you're around and there are jackets, work, or boys to give you something to talk about, I'll never say I'm bored.

* I don't want to give you the impression that Marty is this really shallow person. She realizes feeling this emotional about a jacket is rather silly when you consider there are people being tortured and beaten at this very moment. I never got the impression she was really materialistic. It's just interesting me that even though she can rationalize this, she cannot prevent herself from talking about it over and over to roommates she met on Craigslist. But, I've been this way before, too. Many of you may remember a hat I found on the ground at a gas station. It was a black knit hat many sizes too small for me that said "Hottie" in blazing fire colored print. I loved that damn hat. I wept bitterly many nights since I lost it. So don't think I can't commiserate with marty and her jacket.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

radical leftists and a friendly game of darts

I guess I did so well at Koji Osakaya that they gave me a month long vacation. Or, you could argue, they made this decision after I gave them my two weeks notice because I guess it doesn't make sense to train a new employee for two weeks, then have him tell you he can only commit to working two more weeks... and of course, he'll still need heavy supervision and training during that stretch.

But, it was an amicable split and I told them I would call if I could fit a few hours of teriyakiing into my 2008 schedule. So now, I have ample time to do things like play darts with a roommate on a weekday night.

I don't know if there are internet laws against putting people's real names on public space without their permission, so I'll just call this roommate Eleanor, which is her real name, because I'm not creative enough to come up with a pseudonym.

Let me start off by saying that I get along fine with my roommates. They all seem like pleasant, good hearted people. I have never seen any of them carve swastikas in their foreheads or embezzle millions of share holder dollars. We all say hi to each other, invite each other to activities, and at times, even cook for one another. I don't have any of the freshman college naivete to think we're all the best of friends because we live together. But at the same time, I'm very pleased with my living situation.

And this roommate in particular is funny and friendly and I have nothing against her whatsoever. I just want to share with you this story of last night because it's funny to me how little you know about people you meet on Craigslist and how people slowly start to reveal fascinating personal qualities at odd moments.

Since I'm unemployed and Eleanor gets out of work by four, we decided to go to a local bar that has free tater tots during happy hour. She suggested we play darts and seemed very gung ho about the idea "I want to play darts. I love playing darts!" so we headed to another bar to play. I'm pretty sure she also said she's a big trash talker when she plays. So i was assuming we'd have a fun, but competitive, game of darts. nothing serious, a bit of ribbing perhaps, but all for fun.

Before we started playing, she warned me that I could not scream "FUCKKK!!!" every time I missed because this was her favorite bar and she did not want to be ostracized. About a week prior, we had played a gentleman's game of beer pong, and i guess i was loud and profane every time I did not sink a cup.

Admittedly, sometimes I get a bit animated when i play certain games like darts or beer pong. But that's just because i know what I'm capable of doing and want to duplicate the brief moments when I've attained greatness. I'm sure none of us will forget the night at The Last Drop when i stuck 4 bulls eyes in a row to complete an inspirational come from behind win against the heavily favored Robert O'Campo, henceforth to be known as the "Miracle on Cork."

More than even being disappointed, I just get excited. And sometimes, for me excitement manifests itself as screaming or breaking things.

It took a lot of self control, but I did not scream out while we played. However, I did take to pounding my fists into my palms or punching my forearms if I blew a shot. We played a couple games and it was obvious there was a disparity in skill. I am certainly not a great darts player, but I do TRY to hit a specific target. In other words, I don't just aim for the board as a whole, but try to hit one of the pie slices corresponding to the number i need, which she clearly did not like to do. That's fine if that's how you play... I just personally want to try.

After a second shut out win, I asked Eleanor if she wanted to play doubles together against a very nice couple that was putting in the most awesome songs on the juke box like "Midnight at the Oasis" and "Time Bomb." So i thought it would be a nice opportunity for us to make friends... friends who have awesome taste in music, except for their pick of Journey's "Don't Stop Believing." That's right. I hate that song and anything you say to defend it will just make me hate it more.

So I was surprised when Eleanor said no. Then she explained that I took the game too seriously and that I needed to calm down. And she didn't want to play on a team with someone who would get mad at her for missing a shot.

Now I can commiserate with this feeling. I've played fourth grade kickball and been relegated to far right field and screamed at for missing a pop up fly. I've been chewed out for not grabbing a rebound. I've watched people who I consider super competitive and hate playing games with them. I have never considered myself that far on the spectrum. But i guess, by her standards, I was.
"I never get mad at teammates who miss shots," I tried to explain. "I don't care as long as you try."
"But i'm not going to try."
"Oh, okay. I just thought it would be cool to make friends with these people who also love 'Sailing' by Christopher Cross."
"I just don't understand why you get so mad about something like darts. Sports are not something worth getting upset over*"
"I'm not mad, per se. I'm just disappointed because I know what I should be able to do. I've played enough times to be better than that."
"I'm not good at darts even though I've played 500,000 times. And that talk of how you can get better if you practice is bullshit."
"So you don't think people can get better at sports?"
"Not really."
"Well sometimes, I think if you feel you should be able to do something and have done it in the past, but can't do it the next time, you feel disappointed. What's something that you are naturally good at?"
"Standardized tests."
"So say you did badly on your LSATs. Would you be disappointed in yourself?"
"That would never happen."
"You can't hypothetically picture yourself doing badly on a standardized test?"
"No, I can't imagine it. But I'm not good at math and I said a multiplication problem out loud and Malex [our other roommate] got the answer before me, but that's okay because I got it a second later**."
"Fair enough." I had many other questions for her, but wanted to end the interrogation because she seemed to be getting upset.
"I just don't understand people who care about sports. I mean, it's fine if people do--I can respect that--as long as they respect that I don't care. My husband won't watch sports."
"So sports have no value in this world?"
"No. People should not be paid millions of dollars to play a game." I was not arguing this point; i was just trying to clarify whether she really thinks sports (not professional sports) are worthless in this world, especially after she had been raving about how much she loves darts. "People should take jobs that help others... not for money."
"So no one should be a writer, artist, or musician?"
"No, those things are important. They make you think."
"But sports do not make you think? Sports don't inspire?"
She admitted she was biased towards art and music.
"So no one should take a job to make money?" I was baffled by this statement so I asked it again to make sure I understood her. I assume she meant sports stars shouldn't be paid millions of dollars to play a game. "Is it wrong to take a job as an accountant or a lawyer to make a living?"
"I'm not going to be a lawyer to make money. I'm going to help the environment and make less than $25, 000.***" I knew she was applying to law school but i did not mean that as a dig. I was just throwing out jobs that people to do, not because it's the most fun thing in the world, but because they need to feed dependents. It just seems impractical to me for everyone to do a job they are passionate about because we really just don't need that many cowboys and ballerinas in this world.
"Well I just spent the last week working with a woman named Gladis who cooks at a japanese restaurant not to help people, but because she needs money to feed her kid. Is there anything wrong with that?"
"Yes, she shouldn't have to work. The whole system is screwed up. That's why I don't like getting into this. I'm very radical****."
"So what will fix our society?"
"Not using corporate merchandise."
"Like computers?" Now that I did mean as a dig because I've definitely seen her use a laptop which I assume is not organic or sold at a farmer's market. She admitted she's at fault, too, because the system has been built in such a way in which we cannot help but contradict ourselves (my words, not hers). Then the conversation spiraled into her apocalyptic rant of how we as a society are doomed, a massive creature swallowing its own head (i don't think she actually said that, but that's the impression I got as she got more and more upset with me).
"That's why I drink and go to bars, because I don't want to think about it." she said at last.


"I don't like showing this side of me," she said. No shit, honey.

We played one more game. I was much more subdued so as not to elicit more wrath. It was another rout and she seemed rather unhappy. Thankfully, another of our roommates had just joined us after she got out of work, offered Eleanor a cigarette, and I bid them farewell.

I am certainly not arguing that she has to be passionate about competitive games and sports. Nor am I saying that my self abusive behavior and yelling is within the realm of ordinary or even acceptable. What I am saying is it seems her intense aversion to my passion is masking her own fear of competition.

I am in no place to presume facts about her life since I barely know her, but I just get the impression that she had a lot of pressure to do well in things, so if there's something she's not good at naturally, she'll revert to the "I don't care, I'm not even trying" attitude that perfectionists tend to adopt. How could you say you failed if you never even tried, right?

But then again, this could be a time to break out Ockham's Razor because maybe I'm missing the obvious: I might just be really obnoxious to play darts with.

I'd like to hear other people's opinion on this. Have I misinterpreted everything? Are sports useless? How do they rank in importance amongst literature and art? For anyone who's played a game with me, am I a more competitive person than i think? Am I irrationally competitive? Am i unpleasant to play with? Is there anything wrong with doing a job to make money to buy things such as food and hot water?

*soon after saying this, she lamented "I wish i was playing someone who was at my level, but no one ever is," which makes me feel like she would have liked to win, or at least have been close in the game. If you really felt sports or games were not worth getting upset over, would you care who you played or how badly you got beat? She also said, "I'm playing a fantastic game, but when you hit yourself it makes me feel bad because you're beating me."

**This statement is interesting: she's trying to use this anecdote as an example of a time when she didn't mind doing badly, but she put in the caveat "I'm not good at math" which makes it safe to fail, and also said, "I got the answer one second later" to show she really didn't fail all that badly.

***a quick search on Yahoo! of "environmental lawyer salary" puts her earning somewhere at $60K-90K. The lowest figure I saw was $40,000 for a government job.

****my political viewpoints, while fairly wishwashy and lacking conviction, have been leaning more and more to the left since i graduated college. but being around people like Eleanor make me realize how incredibly middle of the road I am and completely undeserving of the label "liberal."


Q & A

Q: I don't touch the california roll. Is it really even considered sushi?
A: Since they can charge something like $7.00 for what amounts to a few tablespoons of rice, a strip of carrot and cucumber, and a couple avocado slices with fake fish, I guess you could call it sushi.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

domo very much, senor roboto?

I took the time to think back to all the jobs I've had since I started working at age 17. All in all, counting part time jobs, temporary gigs, anything for which I received payment, I counted 17 different jobs. And since Monday of this week, I can add one more to the list, one for which I'm completely unqualified: Japanese cook.

I was about to write the name of the restaurant for which I was hired, but realized that might be a bad idea because if people know where I work, that might directly result in people NOT going to my restaurant. That's bad for business. But anyway, I was hired for a new branch of a restaurant opening in December, but since I have no experience, I'm spending this week and next week training at an established branch of the franchise.

The biggest challenge of learning the job is that the supervisor, Tori, speaks Japanese, but he does not speak English well. And the woman training me in the kitchen, Gladys, as well as all the rest of the kitchen staff, speaks Spanish, but does not speak English well. And I speak Japanese and Spanish much worse than either of their attempts at English. So, of course, what do I revert to when people do not understand me? American Sign Language, which I also do not know that well, and they most certainly do not understand at all. And really, does it help at all to sign the phrase "I like big sea turtles?" Maybe at the beach, but not at this job. I get many blank stares, and in the case of Tori, a constant look of disgust because he has to babysit me. Sometimes, while I'm struggling for a word to explain what I want to say, I'll accidently use Tagalog, the national language of the Philippines. Pretty much I'll say whatever I want to say in three or four different ways including pantomime and drawing pictures until I think they understand me. Sometimes I accidentally say "Domo" (thank you) to Gladys and "Gracias" to Tori. Sometimes I say "Tamagotchi" (japanese virtual toy pet) instead of "yakoniki" (japanese rib eye steak). Sometimes, when I'm really desperate, I break out the lyrics to "La Bamba" just to get a glint of recognition from someone's eyes. As you could imagine, conversation is limited.

The one phrase I can always understand any of them say to me is "No good," usually in regards to something I've cooked, cut, or otherwise come close enough to somehow ruin. It's a direct translation of what they are thinking without any of the euphemisms one usually hears to make the connotation less stinging such as, "not quite, but good try!" or "you'll get it next time, tiger!"

Despite the language barrier, me gusta el trabajo mucho. I'm getting paid to learn how to cook. I deep fry tempura and grill salmon teriyaki. Today I learned how to prepare the heads of prawn for some unknown dish. Don't know if this is common knowledge, but it was news to me: if you deep fry a giant prawn, you should first squish its eyes because the water inside will explode in the oil and possibly burn you. Tori was trying to explain this to me in broken English; I just copied what he did and squished an eyeball when he squished an eyeball causing a fine mist of black eyeball juice to spray all over his apron. He ignored it, but said soon afterwards, "How long did they say you need to train here?"

Usually, I would hate a job if my boss knew I sucked at it, take for instance Fed Ex. But, I think I'm less discouraged by Tori's completely disregard for me, probably because he is an old Japanese man and I assume, therefore, he is wise and must treat all seekers of truth this way. Everything he says seems like it's slathered with the brilliance of Confucius, "Armin, you did not wash your hands after using the bathroom." Oh, and some guy delivered bags of rice and to say thank you, Tori slapped him on the ass, just as Lao Tzu was known to do many centuries ago*.

I've only been training three days so far, but I think I've already gotten on Gladys' nerves. Mustering all the English she could, she said very clearly, "This is my side of the counter. That is yours." Oh, and when Tori was laughing in contempt when I overcooked the tamago (japanese omelet) because it was burning my fingers too much to flip it over, I heard Gladys say to him, "Temporary," I assume referring to the fact that I'd only be training with them for another week and a half and then i'd be the new restaurant's problem. Then there was the time that I asked her where the chicken was, "De donde esta pollo?" She said, "Wrong one," because it turns out I was talking to Flor, the dishwasher, who other than being short and Mexican, does not look anything like Gladys. I pretended my eyes were burning from onions, "Muchas cebollas!" and hid in the corner for a half hour.

I have only three more days of work at FedEx and I'm going to assume there will be no going away party for me the last day. But, I'm confident I'll often think back to the good friends and everlasting relationships I made in my three weeks there. I'll never forget Bill who liked to drink coffee. Or Brandon who was a Caucasian. Oh, and who could forget that guy who wore the baseball cap on his head. Good times.

* I realize neither Confucius nor Lao Tzu were Japanese. Neither is the California roll... is that going to stop you from eating it?

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

the ever evolving Armin

"breaking my back, another day, another dollar"

I did not send that previous resignation letter to FedEx, though I had planned to send a more professional version of it to my boss earlier this week, having been told by Northwest Airlines that I'd start training in the middle of December. But, joy of joys, I found out NWA made an "embarrassing mistake," in the words of a Minneapolis HR lady. When they told me I could start working in December, they really meant Portland Airport cannot hire any new employees until January or even as late as mid-February. On top of that, they cannot absolutely guarantee me employment until that date. So, if I just got fed up and decided to quit work and cruise until 2008, I wouldn't even have the security of knowing a job was waiting for me*.

So, I'm still handling packages (stifle your giggles). And as I work in these trailers, tossing packages with reckless abandon, I try to think how I ended up here because Armin at age 5 probably would not have guessed that the 26 year old version of him would be this gosh darn successful.

In an old blog, I reflected on that ubiquitous, yet clearly misleading, childhood sentiment, "You can be anything you want to be when you grow up!" The big caveat that we NEVER tell kids is that your choices of what you can be diminish every single day that you live. I wouldn't be surprised if people disagree, but it makes sense to me. Also, I've been reading Dianetics, and while I don't agree with any of it so far, I do enjoy L. Ron Hubbard's gall--the utter balls--to make preposterous claims without any evidence. I'm going to start doing that, too.


Postulate: Your life is finite.

1. If life is finite, then the number of decisions you make is finite. This number may be humongous, but it is not infinite. Scary to think, but before you die, you will have made one last, final decision. I hope it's something like which Playboy bunny should i sleep with tonight instead of which of my kids should i call to untangle my catheter.

2. Every decision you make means there was a choice you did not take.

3. With every choice you make, your life is presented by new decisions that often branch off from some previous choice you made, not unlike a phylogenetic tree, the diagrams they use to explain how organisms have evolved from common ancestors. The more time that passes, the more decisions you make based on previous choices and the harder it becomes to go back and reverse a decision that was made in the past.

Is it impossible? No, just more difficult, unless there is congruent evolution. Bats and birds can both fly, but do not have a recent common ancestor and developed wings independently of each other. Similarly, maybe at one point in your life you had the choice of being a surgeon or a ninja. You chose ninja and many years down the line, you started thinking, well I wish I chose surgeon, in retrospect, because ninjas have horrible retirement plans. But you realize the awesome sword handling abilities you developed translate well to a scalpel and you become a mob doctor. That's congruent evolution.

4. I was going to draw a phylogenetic tree on Paintbrush to illustrate my point, but it's pissing me off that the lines do not look straight. But hopefully, you get the idea already. It could also be likened to a Choose Your Own Adventure. Unless you're a damn cheater, it's not possible to go back and switch choices once you've made a decision.

5. I broke down and made the phylogenetic choice tree after all, but only one branching. Let's say this imaginary girl's name is Armin. And at 8 years old, Armin could have taken gymnastic lessons. Instead, she stayed home, watched TV and overate. Had she taken the lessons, perhaps her choices at age 14 would be whether to do a Wheaties commercial or a Nike commercial after she sweeps the summer olympics. But, statistics show that girls who do not participate in sports are more prone to drug use and early pregnancy. So based on the choice at age 8, maybe we can say Armin has another choice at age 14 between doing homework or having unprotected sex. For fun, let's say she picks the latter. You can imagine all the choices that come about from this series of choices, and had I more patience, you would see that her tree ends with deciding whether or not to bring her fat, fat baby onto Maury Povich's day time special "Help Me, Maury! My 8 month old baby is 113 lbs!"

Could she at age 21 decide, "I want to be an Olympic gymnast when I grow up?" I think even the most rosy eyed of us could agree, perhaps her Olympic ship has sailed off already.

6. Therefore, since life is finite, the number of decisions you make are finite, and the possibility to go back to old decisions and take the "other choice" is inversely proportional to the passage of time, it can be assumed that the choices of what you want to be when you grow up become smaller and smaller each day. QED.

This all comes up because, believe it or not, I did not graduate from college with a B.S. in package handling or FedEx studies. Actually, I studied chemistry and made a conscious decision to not pursue that career path. This is a big concern for my father who thinks I should get back into it, or really, any profitable industry. I, of course, shrugged off his advice as I do advice from most people. In this case, it's not pride that makes me ignore him; I really don't feel like being a chemist and don't feel I need to take a job just to make a good salary.

But, lately, since things have not been going perfectly as planned, I've been starting to doubt all of my decisions more and more. For all my cocky, trendkill** bullshit, acting like I'm so indifferent to the standards society sets for us--I don't walk to the beat of a different drum... I don't even have a drum, motherfucker!--when I have to prove that I can do any job for any shit money and still be happy, i fold like... well, like the "New Armin's" laundry which he folds immediately after it's pulled from the dryer because he's amazingly productive and disciplined nowadays.

I don't regret not being a chemist or not going to grad school after college. But, even if I wanted to get back into the field, I'm pretty far removed from chemistry at this point. Not impossible, but tougher. I'm like a coelacanth at an evolutionary dead end: "But look! I have lobed fins! If you just gave me a shot, I'm sure I could evolve into a land dweller."

With Northwest not working out this week, i took a punch to the gut. Not so much because it was my dream job or that it was the choice that would branch my phylogenetic tree into the perfect evolution of Armin. But, it was just what I imagined for myself at this point, and after I heard it wasn't happening, or at least not yet, I had that horrible feeling of "What now?" What was I qualified to do now? What did I want to do? It felt like all the choices were exhausted, not unlike my body.

These moments are good, though, because they force you to be honest with yourself. The last couple years teaching, I was able to say, "This is a good job, the money is more than adequate, I like it well enough." But really, was that what I dreamed to be? So i have to admit that any decisions I make have to lead towards a career in writing, or at least, enough free time to allow me to write recreationally, because that's all that's ever been interesting to me all my life.

So here's a pic of at least two writers who are not on strike. No, the one on the left is not Hunter S. Thompson, though I know he looks a lot like him with that very Hunter S. Thompson-ish hat. And yes, the one on the right is Matt Damon, your choice for the sexiest man alive.

* I did find out last night I was hired as kitchen staff for a new sushi restaurant in Portland. Jobs are all about the benefits, in my opinion, and while this job does not have the benefit of free flights around the US and select international points, it does have the benefit of not risking suffocation in an avalanche of fallen packages inside of a FedEx 18 wheeler. I still won't quit FedEx until i go to my first training on Monday; after the false promises of NWA, i'm a little dubious of any employment until i actually get a day of work in. God I hope no one asks me prepare Fugu.

** I use this phrase "trendkill" quite a bit. I did not coin this phrase. I got it from Pantera's breakthrough 1996 album "The Great Southern Trendkill," though I don't know if that's the first time the phrase had been used. As you would assume, it refers to the quality of being against trends that exist for the sake of being trendy.
"The trend is over and gone forever/ Waste of time, pantomime, circus doll, at the local mall/ Exterminate, it's all fake"
-"Sandblasted Skin" from Great Southern Trendkill
The problem with being against the trends because they are popular, though, is that being against trends as a principle becomes a trend in itself, doesn't it? If you like to wear Gap, but you refuse to wear it because it's popular and your equally anti-trend friends would make fun of you for wearing it, that's just as stupid. But it's a kickass album and for a sixteen year old kid who hated everything in the world, that's about as cathartic as music gets.


Q & A

Thank you Tum Tum for answering the DTMFA question, thus making the Q & A section of this entry utterly useless. I hope it makes you feel good taking food out of a starving writer's mouth.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

letter of resignation

Dear FedEx:

Please accept this letter of resignation effective 12/4/07. Due to a change in my day schedule (i.e. I have been hired for day time work, as in, work when the sun is up, which is what normal people do) I will no longer be able to work the sunrise, 3-8 AM, shift any longer.

That is not totally honest. I may have day time work with Northwest Airlines (yes, I will be a member of NWA, but no, I do not plan on dying of AIDS like Eazy-E... let us pause and pour a 40 on the curb for our fallen brothers) barring some discovery of a felony I do not remember committing. And since I don't know what my schedule would be for this job I haven't officially gotten yet, I really can't say for certain that I'm busy at 3:00 AM to 8:00 AM... I really just don't like working those hours.

And since we're being honest with each other, FedEx, I have to say that since I've seen my coworkers and myself violate the Purple Promise of which you are so proud, that is, the promise to a customer that a package will arrive on time without having been thrown, smushed, or stepped on as a foot stool in order to shove even more packages at the top of the pile, I have to admit I'm a little suspicious of whether I can trust you anymore. All those times you told me you loved me, did you really mean it? All those times you said you had to stay late at work, you were never able to explain why there was lipstick on your collar. I just can't live with this doubt. I wrote to Dan Savage and, predictably enough, wrote DTMFA!

Beyond all that, FedEx, you really didn't make me feel special. Maybe I'm being unrealistic with my sense of entitlement, but I assumed I would be hot shit come day one. And to realize, hey, I'm really not that good at this job and have to work harder to become better at it, well that's a little much for my fragile ego to take, don't you think? C'mon now, I'm from the freaking suburbs. I'm used to being coddled. The last three years, I worked in organizations where males were the minority (no, it wasn't phone sex). I've been used to being the Golden Boy, the only young male in overwhelmingly female dominated workplaces, untouched by criticism and reprimand although I was constantly fucking things up. Female coworkers would worry if I was eating right. Has anyone at the sunrise shift asked me if I'm eating right? You know the answer is no. And, even though you didn't ask, I've been eating very healthy, vegetarian chili and assorted fruits mostly, so you should be very proud of me and pat me on the back like my old coworkers used to do.

Maybe it didn't have to end this way FedEx. For instance, if the job was more like a choreographed musical and we loaded boxes in sync with the music of Leonard Bernstein, I wouldn't be so rash. But I'm not getting any younger or more handsome and, as I age, I'm certainly not becoming more enamored with lower back pain. So, I think it's best for both of us to make a clean split, but just as with any relationship, if it turns out that I can't meet someone new within a couple weeks, can I come back at 3:00 AM begging for you to take me back?

I will always love you,

Sunday, November 11, 2007

it's a living

"we've got to move these microwave ovens. Custom kitchen deliveries. We got move these refrigerators. we got to move these color TVs."
-dire straits

This week, I started my new job, a package handler for FedEx. Sunrise shift, 3 AM to 8 AM. Trucks back up into a giant cargo bay. Each handler is responsible for a couple trailers which are connected to chutes down which the packages slide. Our job is to check the labels, make sure they are going to the right zip code, and stack them as tightly as possible into the trailer. Lift with your knees, work fast, work carefully.

It's robotic and uncomplicated. It's a job whose goals are clearly defined and measurable: 100 packages per hour the first week and the productivity rate should increase by 100 packages every week until you're averaging 400/hr... roughly the equivalent of a full trailer per hour. It fills me with all sorts of ambivalence. It's a "for now" job, but I'm hesitant to quit it even if I do get better work. A couple reasons for this:
1. During orientation, the trainer, a chubby fella with a goatee who had the unpleasant habit of picking bean burrito out of his molars with his pinkie told us that "There's a hundred dollar bonus after a month because a lot of people quit the first week. They realize they're too lazy for this type of work." And so if I quit this job, the chubby, goateed, bean burrito tooth picker trainer will look at me like I couldn't hack it, college boy doesn't want to ruin his manicure loading boxes.

I think most people want to think there's something special about the work they do, that you need to possess special qualities, either through hard work or natural talent, to be in their field. Have you ever dared tell a teacher that her job must be so easy because she gets out at 3 PM and has summer's off? I swear she will jump on your ass with stats on how her "free time" is riddled with holes from lesson planning and calling parents. That's natural, right? The intrinsic desire to feel special, skilled, and valuable? To feel as if you suffer more than others and you are invariably tougher than the common ilk... you are woven hemp pants in a world of delicate lace blouses. You wouldn't last a day in my job.

Package handling is a proud industry, honest work completed each night by hard working folk, and they have a right to be proud because it's true that not everyone can hack it. The ones who stay at this job have a work ethic that you can't buy for $30,000 a year in college. I want to believe I do have the heart for this, and that self conscious side of me wants everyone at FedEx to realize that if I quit, it isn't from lack of inner strength.

2. Another reason I'm tentative to quit: this may very well be my dream job. I told a friend once how one of my favorite tasks of all time is envelope stuffing. The repetitive motion, the challenge of going faster and faster, the pure, unadulterated joy one can only attain from folding a piece of paper into perfect thirds without guidelines... it's freaking christmas day for me. She didn't agree and thought of me when she had to stick labels on a thousand pill bottles one day.

This work is similar, except replace the risk of paper cuts with hernia and horrible lower back pain. So therefore, I should probably love this job once I get into a rhythm. And I'm very excited to sing "Daylight come and I want to go home" as I work, but right now I am paired with a more experienced person and she may not like my singing.

3. Isn't there something delightful about working when no one else is? Like you are some fascinating nocturnal animal about which the boring, predictable diurnals have no understanding, lording over a mysterious, black night world, feeding in the dark with specialized eyes? Does no one else think going to happy hour at 8 am sounds kick ass?
Why then am I even thinking of quitting? A few reasons FedEx may not be throwing a retirement party for me in 40 years...

1. As much as I hate admitting it, I do care what other people think. I try to pretend I'm so trendkill, so self assured and unfazed by other's opinions of me, but that's bullshit. It's hard for me to meet new people, tell them what I do, and not throw in an explanation: "I just moved here and am looking for full time work," or "I used to be a teacher, but want to try something new," or "But really, I'm fucking brilliant and interesting and just took this job to show you, perfect stranger, how secure I am in myself." The worst part about this sort of shame in what I do is that no one has actually judged me, as far as I know. I only assume they'd judge me because I'd judge them if they said they were FedEx graveyard package handlers. Not that I'd say it to their faces, but I'd immediately create an impression of them: stupid, dull, unambitious. It's horrible; I hate to admit that's what I think, but probably, deep down, I'm sure part of me is judging.

Not to pass the blame, but part of that probably comes from my parents: the awe they have any time they talk about a friend of the family who's become a doctor or a lawyer, and the disgust they hardly hide when they mention those in the family who dropped out of college and decided to work instead. I guess you're supposed to feel like you're a better person if you work behind a desk instead of with your hands making $10/hr.

2. As much as I'd like to think I can maximize every hour and would be so productive during the day time--writing, exercising, volunteering--past experience has proven I may waste that entire time. It's very likely I will spend the day sleeping, checking email excessively, and making excuses of why I can't be more productive because I have a hard time getting things done before I have to go to work, and if you work at 3 AM, that's a lot of time not getting things done. That's very Un-AmeriCorps of me.
3. The fringe benefits suck. Maybe I get discounts if I want to send packages through FedEx; I haven't checked. But, after watching first-hand how packages are handled, I'm tentative to send anything through my company (note: though I only worked one shift so far, I did not observe anyone treating a package that said "Fragile," "Glass," or "This Side Up," any differently than packages without those labels, and I certainly do not mean that all packages, regardless of labeling, are treated with the utmost care and concern. Also, many employees do not speak English, and so they may not be able to read those warnings on the packages anyway).

I'm interviewing for NorthWest Airlines next Tuesday. Now that's a job with fringe benefits. Free flights. Perhaps free peanuts. If FedEx said I could stow away in an 18 wheeler to see my family for christmas, maybe I'd be more inclined to stay.
Regardless of how long I stay at FedEx, I always think working is better than not working. I'd much rather be a beast of burden, a mule or a camel, unglamorous and smelly, than a prissy house cat sleeping, eating, and stalking moths in the kitchen, dreaming of days when its kind were the fiercest hunters in the jungle.


Q & A

Q: Does the New Armin still sip rum drinks while wearing a straw hat?
A: Any incarnation of Armin will ALWAYS think rum drinks and straw hats go together like rama lama lama ka dinga da dinga dong.

Sunday, November 4, 2007

the new armin

You must start anew,
Don't you know what you must do
Hold your head high,
Take a deep breath and sigh
Goodbye to Sandra Dee"
-Olivia Newton John

Sunday, Nov 4th has become the official start date for the implementation of an all encompassing program that has been incubating in my mind for the last four months. We are talking about a drastic overhaul of my lifestyle; a gradual, but steady, sloughing of bad habits and development of good habits to create what I like to call "The New Armin." Not unlike wars in which we police the world, I have no real timetable for this plan, but I'm fairly certain I can completely phase out "The Old Armin" by winter of 2009, provided insurgent bad habits don't begin revolting.

It's been said that if a Neanderthal were alive today and scientists gave him a good Mach 3 shave, fitted him for some Armani, and gave him a bus pass, we wouldn't give him a second glance. Similarly, on the surface, the Old Armin looks very much like the New Armin. So here's a handy guide to tell if you are dealing with the Old Armin or the New Armin.

Grocery Shopping

Old Armin: generally, goes through the supermarket looking for foods that are least expensive per pound or grams. Thus, his shopping bag is mostly filled with instant foods that contain flavor packets and no FDA approval. Or large chunks of animal meat he tries to cook in a rotisserie until the dripping fat starts a grease fire.

New Armin: buys foods based on how green and leafy they are. New Armin thumps cantaloupes, mimicking the old lady next to him, to see if they are fresh. He follows thin people wearing athletic wear (i.e. Under Armour, cross trainers) to buy whatever they put in their carts (yes, I do need Platex Gentle Glides, Miss Cashier, so just keep on scanning, bitch).

Dental Hygiene

Old Armin: flosses right before his dental check up because he doesn't want to be judged by the dental hygienist, under the completely erroneous belief that flossing is like cramming for a test

New Armin: flosses every night and pretends he's rocky when he spits blood into the sink.


Old Armin: had two closets, one to keep dirty clothes, one to keep clean clothes. When he does do laundry, brings it to school and gives it to his disabled students under the guise of a lesson plan.

New Armin: does laundry EVERY WEEKEND, folds the laundry right afterwards, stores folded clothes on shelves in logical categories--underwear, t-shirts, fuzzy sweaters--completely flouting the law of entropy.
And this is just the beginning. There will be other tell tale signs of the New Armin. For example, New Armin will not use the same sponge to clean plates that he uses to clean the toilet. Sorry to old roommates who had to live with Old Armin. New Armin will consider paying for your hospital stays if you've acquired E. Coli when living with me.


Q & A

Q: Do you find that you're surprised when you meet good people?
A: Not necessarily, because I'm friends with many good people. I guess I'm more surprised when I meet good people who are complete strangers but look out for my ass. That's what all west coasters say is different here: people don't ignore each other just because they're strangers. I don't have categoric proof that people are much friendlier out here, but one example: I was driving in Portland on a Saturday morning when i got to a stop light and the car next to me stalled. I pulled over as quickly as I could to help the woman push her car to safety, but as soon as I was able to park and run to her, there were already three other guys helping her, one of whom was a guy in the truck behind her who didn't even think about parking his car first like I did. He realized this was dumb and finally moved his car, but that's sweet of him in a really dumb sort of way.

Q: Stephen wants to know whether you ate all 100 nuggets and if so, what was the next morning like???
A: I ate all 100 nuggets in less than 24 hours. I can't say how the next morning was necessarily because there was no morning on this trip; it was just a series of driving blocks and napping blocks. I can say, I felt like hell some point during the end of the nuggets or perhaps when they were all finished, I think around 4:00 AM. But that's probably a combination of no sleep, lots of mountain dew (to the point where it feels like it's coating your teeth), and 100 chicken nuggets. The problem with buying foods in bulk for me is that I generally eat food until it is gone or I'm close to vomiting. To pace myself, I ate based on how many nuggets it took to finish a sauce packet. My guess, I ate about 10 nuggets every hour for ten hours. But I really didn't count the nuggets before hand and it could have only been 87 nuggets. I know, I'm a pussy.

Q: Stop cheering for the Knicks. Aren't you from Jersey? What, are the Nets not good enough for you?
A: If you remember that Kerry Kittles was the best player on the team, it would make sense that I was not a Nets fan as a kid. As most in our generation, Tim, I was a Bulls fan. Once they disbanded and all us frontrunner fans had to pick some team to whom we could pledge our allegiance, geography ruled as it usually does and I went for the Knicks. Now of course, I should have picked the Nets, but I don't know if they were technically part of the NBA at the time, or if they were playing exhibition games against HS teams. Now I am too loyal to my team to switch, despite sexual harassment claims, horribly immature, selfish players, and ugly ass jerseys. I can't say the same for the city of New York though; when I got out of Port Authority a few weeks ago, I was greeted by a giant billboard of the Nets. Disgraceful.

Q: i hope you get to sleep in a real bed really soon.
Thank you as always for your concern and well wishes. I slept in my very own bed, courtesy of Ross, yesterday and the feeling was indescribable. This must be how the Queen of England feels when she sleeps on a full sized futon using a bundled up hoodie as a pillow.

Q: let's start a movement-social workers at mechanics. it'll be brillaint and so helpful.
A: at the very least, all mechanics should be required to have on-site counselors to deal with the patrons' post traumatic stress disorder after reading the estimate.

Q: clearly you felt so guilty about the bagels because we jews are gods chosen people, and the bagel is our chosen food, making bagels the food that is closest to god. that makes sense right?
A: makes sense, but it wasn't manna from heaven. Let's see if stealing gefilte fish makes me feel the same.

starving writers

"you want the good life. you break your back. you snap your fingers; you snap your neck."

This Halloween, I dressed as a starving writer*. If I had it to do again, I'd have picked up the bass at a young age and been a starving musician. Every band's looking for a bassist and you never even have to be all that good. But you still get groupies and free beer from the bar. Even a starving artist probably gets free cheese and wine at those gallery openings, not to mention all the nude models.

But what does a starving writer get? Caffeine shakes and carpal tunnel. Isolation and self loathing. Disappointment and more disappointment.

I have this brand spanky new lap top that has this fun gadget, essentially a Post It pad on my desktop. I guess it's for notes, but all I have written on it is a question I ask myself every day: Where's your heart, fighter? As long as I can still answer that question, I know I'm not done yet.

*Actually, for halloween this year, I dressed as a swimmer getting eaten by a shark. I sewed a stuffed great white to my beater, spread some fake blood on the shirt, then bought some swimmies for my arms which cut off the circulation to my fingers. the problem with Halloween is that it is often cold, at least wherever I've lived, and so your kickass costume is usually covered by a parka. but, i was able to wear swimming trunks and a Hawaiian shirt because I was at a party with a bonfire, so i was plenty warm, but the plastic swimmies did feel like they were melting and the temptation was too great for me not to throw my stuffed shark into the fire.

Friday, October 26, 2007

are you fucking serious? vs. rejoice! rejoice!

My very good friend Cal is an atheist, at best a lukewarm agnostic, and he tells me he thinks of me as someone who's pretty religious, I guess because he is so absolutely un-religious. Personally, I don't think I'm that spiritual... i don't have stigmata or see dead saints in the swirls of pastry frosting. I don't go to church regularly, I don't associate myself with a religion, i frequently use the Lord's name in vain and always forget to remove the vowels when typing in point.

But I do have moments when I think very strongly there is some greater force acting in my life, best illustrated by this drive across the country.

It took me two days to drive from NJ to Houston, TX, delayed slightly by a flat tire, which seemed uncanny after a summer of biking across the country and getting substantially more flat tires than either of my co-bikers.

After spending a weekend in TX, I continued north to Portland, stopping at a Ramada Inn first to steal continental breakfast. Now, to begin, I know stealing is wrong...hell, being in the backseat of a cop car in 7th grade for shop lifting is a good reminder that stealing is frowned upon. But I always think of eating continental breakfast without actually staying at the hotel as a victimless crime, not unlike stealing a wireless signal or bombing people in countries that are too far away for you to worry about.

Anyway, this spread was amazing: scrambled eggs, sausage, canadian bacon (known as ham in the US), biscuits with gravy, and home fries, along with the usually breads, pastries, and fruits. And most importantly, there were no employees lording over the food... this is what we in the scavenging circles call a "free for all."

So I loaded my plate with hot food and repeatedly made trips back up to fill my pockets with non-perishable Nature Valley granola bars and bananas. Then, I saw there was a bag of Lender's bagels and I shoved it under my coat. As I ate, I began feeling more and more guilty about the bagels, like it was horribly hypocritical of me to be thanking God for all the good graces He's bestowed, then go and do something so blatantly wrong.

For some reason, I only felt guilty about the bagels. Not the plate of eggs and biscuits (they'll have to throw that out anyway, right? completely ignoring the fact that they have to cook more because of my share), not the granola bars or bananas (normal people would take a couple, or in this case, a dozen Nature Valley Granola bars to go, too).

Well it got to a point where I threw my fork down and started yelling in my head, "Fine! Fucking fine! I'll put the damn bagels back already. Just get off my back!" I only mention this whole bagel thing because I thought by putting them back, I'd made things square with God, but realized I hadn't when I filled up my gas tank in Little America, WY (one of those tourist traps that is advertised via billboard for 100 miles before you get there and then you realize it's just a gigantic souvenir shop, and what do people do with those two foot long pencils anyway? They don't even fit in pencil sharpeners). When I tried to start my car back up, it wouldn't turn over. Mind you, before I left Jersey, I spent $350 to get a check engine light to turn off, so I assumed everything underneath there was back in working order. And usually, I can laugh a lot of shit off, but after the flat tire one driving day earlier, I was pretty fed the fuck up.

A kindly gentleman helped me push the car into a parking spot, and if there was a bright spot, at least my car died in Little America which had its own mechanic. I walked across the expansive parking lot the whole time bitching, "Really, God? You shut off my car for a plate of crappy scrambled eggs and bananas? I even returned the damn bagels!"

Turns out the mechanic shop only worked on big rigs, but they could provide towing to the nearest town, about 35 miles back east, for about $130. I spent the next half hour on the phone with AAA trying to find out if it would be more affordable to join AAA and pay the registration fee to get their member discounts, or just pay the towing fee straight up. But having a new jersey address without planning to live there, planning to live in OR without an address, and being stranded in WY, there was quite a bit of of holding and transferring.

Anyway, it made no sense to sign up with AAA because I'd have to register in NJ, and though they said it would take effect immediately, the AAA of Wyoming said there would be an additional service fee to get it to work that moment. So I broke down and asked Shauna in the repair shop for a tow. Though I had been in there at least three times to discuss options for my car, she had neither the empathetic tone of voice or understanding smile I like to see in service people when you are bleeding money onto their company's floor. Not her problem, I guess. The tow truck wouldn't be ready for three hours, coincidentally, it too needed work and had to be brought to Salt Lake City, which didn't give me much confidence. If I was being towed by a tow truck and it broke down, would I have to pay for the tow truck that comes to tow it away?

So, to bide my time, sat on the hood of my car in the parking lot of this enormous souvenir shop playing my guitar. I thought for a moment that I could put out a hat and maybe raise enough money in coins to pay for the tow and the subsequent repairs, but realized I'd lost my hat a long time ago, and that made me even sadder. So I just sat on the car strumming Beatles songs when a hippie Arkansas couple walked into the souvenir shop and smiled at me. When they came back out, they asked me about my guitar and we started chatting.

"Where you heading?"
"No where, " I said. "My car's dead. I'm just waiting for a tow."
"You got any car repair knowledge?"
"No," I say as my manhood shrinks in shame.
"Pop the hood and i'll give it a look."

So he takes out a ratchet set and pliers and a pocket knife and starts cleaning my battery connections for me, which my dad had warned me about two weeks earlier, but I'd ignored because I didn't want to waste the money on a ratchet set, whereas I've had no qualms spending money in other places, say for 100 chicken nuggets at McDonald's.

As the guy, Milo, was cleaning my connections, his girlfriend, Melissa, I think, asked me a question, but because of her Arkansas twang and my general prejudices towards people who travel across the country to follow jam bands, as they were doing, I thought she said, "Do you want to buy some weed?"

I got all flustered and tried to think back to my 4th grade DARE training and was ready to scream at her, "I'm not a chicken, you're a turkey!" Instead I asked her to repeat herself and it turns out she wanted to sell me BEADS, not WEED. So I bought a bead from her, and though I don't normally wear jewelry, I wear this bead every day because it reminds me there are people looking out for me.

After about fifteen minutes, my car could start again. I didn't know how to repay them and they certainly didn't ask for anything at all. Finally asked if I could buy them lunch, and again, miscommunication occurred when I thought she said, "Well, I would like some E," which actually was, "Well I would like some MEAT."

So this latest car debacle which I expected to cost me $130 for towing plus who knows how much in repairs, parts, labor, ended up actually costing me $5 for a bead and $5.85 for four chicken fingers and a beef and bean burrito. I am eternally grateful to them.

Back on the road after that 2.5 hour delay, I felt refreshed... alive. Felt joyful and apologized to God for assuming He shut down my car just to teach me a lesson about the continental breakfast (though I was too scared to try it again). Clearly this car malfunction wasn't a punishment, but a chance for me to see the goodness in this world.

I was able to laugh about it all at this point, driving through Utah and the late afternoon, even thinking, at least it gives me something to blog about, but as horribly fatiguing as the flat tire and the breakdown were, it just doesn't translate to paper well. It doesn't sound horrible enough. Maybe if I had one more problem... problems look more impressive in threes.

At dusk, in Idaho, my dumbass wish was granted when I felt a familiar thump, thump, thump, thump and pulled over to find another completely shredded tire; this time the front right.

What can you do at that point? What's funny is that any time I try to look on the bright side during these situations, something else always craps on my face. Like with this tire, i started changing it and thought, "Hey, at least it's quick and easy to take off a flat tire on a car than on a bicycle." Then I spent twenty minutes trying to pull off the tire after taking off the nuts, which for some reason was just stuck, cutting my fingers on the exposed steel wiring.

Mandy helped me get the numbers for tire repair shops, but unlike the flat in Louisiana, I was much further away from rescue (about 15 miles), and it was nightfall so places probably wouldn't be open. I spoke to a guy named Chris who told me where his shop was and just let me know it would cost $90 per hour for service because it was after hours. Told him that I would just take it to the shop now and wait till morning to fix it.

Found the place at about 7:00, my donut held up thankfully and planned to just sleep in the parking lot the whole night. I did not look forward to this. I'd been sleeping in my car on the road the whole time, but I'd only sleep for two or three hours at a time because, as you might guess, it's sort of uncomfortable to sleep in cold car that's stuffed with all your belongings so you have to sleep sitting upright. A whole night--the place opened at 7:30--seemed pretty daunting. I thought about breaking out a gift bottle of whiskey i got as a going away present from an old roommate, drink enough to just fall asleep, but worried that I'd have less wiggle room with a cop if he came and found me drunk in a car.

So I just listened to Delilah on the radio and tried to sleep when I saw a pickup truck pull into the driveway. The guy I'd spoken to, Chris, was back to take care of some paperwork, found me sleeping in the parking lot and felt so bad for me, he fixed my tire right then (about 9:00 PM) at this point without charging me the after hours fee, or even a service fee. "I couldn't let you sleep out there all night," he said when I tried to tell him it was okay, I could wait until morning.

See? I was blessed a second time by excessively kind people. I made it to Portland, OR by morning, and though I'm continuing to have car problems this week (seems to be a radiator problem this time), at least I'm not stranded in Wyoming or Idaho. Based on all these car issues, and getting bailed out of them each time, the religious side of me starts getting a little more vocal. Instead of just accepting that maybe I have a shitty car and I bought cheap tires, I have this odd feeling that these are all tests of my will, that something much, much more terrible will happen to me in the future. As if all these incidents were meant to give me a catalog of memories to remind me when this yet-to-be-determined-very-worst moment strikes that bad things have happened before and I've always found a way out of them.

This really isn't a gutsy prediction, as far as prophecies go. Very bad things happen to everyone all the time, what with diseases, frequency of car accidents, and the Knicks perpetually sucking year after year. I can predict that you'd probably be less inclined to read this blog next week if I keep making each posting this long.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

going back to Houston

Moving to Portland, OR... more on that in another blog post. Thursday was the first day of my drive to the Northwest with a short detour to Houston, TX to see an old friend.

On my 12th hour of driving I was somewhere in VA, buzzing on soda, at that weird hyper-energetic moment that precedes complete exhaustion and body collapse. I stopped to use a bathroom at McDonald's. Walked into the bathroom, looked around, and thought it odd that I didn't see any urinals. I dismissed the thought and let myself into a stall where next to the toilet I saw a trash can with a label "For the disposal of tampons and sanitary napkins ONLY!"

Good, I thought. They're making trash cans with universal labels so that people can't complain that the men's bathroom is sexist and unconcerned with women's needs. I unzipped, and began whistling "Danger Zone" by Kenny Loggins when a nagging voice kept tugging at my brain. Wait a second, Armin! Wait a damn second! Don't start peeing yet! Nothing adds up here. The lack of urinals, the trash can for feminine waste, the pink walls, the lilacs in a vase, the mysterious triangle dress on the usual plain slacked man-symbol on the door... it's all wrong!

I was in the women's bathroom, that's what I'm trying to get at here. I realized my mistake before any of my horrible male urine hit the bowl and found my way to the comfort of the men's room where I could pee in a urinal on a familiar urinal cake which I like to pretend is the polar ice caps and my pee is Global Warming. And I like to pretend the customary dead fly on that urinal cake is an endangered walrus that I am pushing to extinction.

blowout in the bayou

Been driving the last two days from new jersey to TX. In Louisiana, a few miles west of Baton Rouge and the mighty Mississippi river, I had one of those "what the fuck?" moments when my right front tire mysteriously blew up. I didn't hit anything as far as i can tell, unless an armadillo was hiding in my tire well and got its claws dug into the sidewalls. I'm not talking about a nail sized hole... i mean the tire was literally shredded.

So I pulled over to the cozy shoulder of the busy Route 10 during Friday after-work traffic. Thankfully, I had learned to like country music earlier this summer (which came in handy when i was surfing stations in VA through TX) and not ten minutes before having this blowout, I heard a song called "Jesus, Take the Wheel" by a little lady name Carrie Underwood.

For those of you have not enjoyed this twangy piece of molasses ear candy, the song tells the story of a single mother driving home on a snowy night (Christmas Eve, no less) and she's pissed off probably because she's a single mom, so she's driving too fast, hits a patch of ice, and starts spinning out of control. Now if you grew up with nor'easters and blizzards, you would probably have pumped the brake at that point. But perhaps the single mother in the song, like Carrie herself, is from Oklahoma because her safety instinct at that point (with a baby in the backseat) is to throw her hands up and yell "Jesus, take the wheel!"

So, what the hell, I gave it a try too. I stepped out of the car, waiting for the 18 wheelers to blow by first, threw my hands up in exasperation and yelled, "Jesus, fix this tire!" After about fifteen minutes of humming to myself and waving to passerbys--Don't worry 'bout me! Jesus is on his way!--I realized, maybe Jesus couldn't get my spare tire out of my trunk since I had all of my worldly belongings crammed in there. "Okay, Jesus. How about I just get this started and you can take it from there?"

Carrie underwood will never be singing about my life because no one wants to hear a song about a guy fixing a tire by himself while Jesus was probably busy being copilot for some minivan. But, I am very thankful that I was only about 2 miles from Grosse Tete (like, Disgusting Hooter) and a gas station where a toothless man with big ears fixed my tire.

An isolated tire blowout isn't so strange, but following a summer bicycling across the country and experiencing a significantly higher incidence of flat tires, it just seems I'm cursed. I'm a little worried about walking right now for fear I might blow out an ankle... and there's no donut or patch kit for that.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

I changed my mind

I told my sister I'd update this blog by Sunday. I have fifty solid minutes to meet this deadline, and with the Mountain Dew giving my fingers tremors, I feel like I'm back in college, spending half the time typing, the other half praying for a snow day. Such pressure. Especially because this is the first posting on a blog that doesn't really have any focus or real purpose. Many blogs out there have a theme or specific topic deemed important by the authors. A quick search on Google BlogSearch on the following topics revealed

Dinosaurs-1,143,379 Posts
Sports- about 139,198,727 posts
Dougnuts (Spelled properly) - 261,529 posts
Dougnuts (spelled d-o-n-u-t-s) - 799,657 posts
Satanism - 140,518 posts
Jesus Christ's New Line of Evening Wear - 2362 posts (i'm suspicious these blog searches are not very accurate)
Naughty School girls - more posts than sports yielded, but could not record the actual figure because ads began popping up like the zits on the faces of the young teenagers who are supporting those very sites at this exact moment.

See? All those blogs have a direction. I, on the other hand, am blogging without a road map and one of my front headlights out. I'm just trying to get through this first post so I can relax until I have to think of a topic again next week for the second post.

Anyway, the following is what I came up with for my very first posting on this blog. If I had to do it again, I'd probably add some more pizazz. Give the reader what he wants. More dinos and donuts if you will. Make uneducated and biased predictions on all of next week's football games (Boston College will win next week because they believe in Jesus, and through Jesus, everything is possible). Add cute, yellow emoticons to illustrate feelings that you are supposed to experience in case the words themselves do not convey them properly (insert winky face here).
Oh god, I hope this blog does not get cancelled before that Caveman show does (insert pouty, crying face here).

and without further ado...
Armin's first posting on All the Knots Undone


The Austrian philosopher, Ludwig Wittgenstein, was considered a genius for the ideas he put forth in his first book, Tractatus, but later in life recanted, revised, or completely denied most of what he originally believed.*

Similarly, the writer and existentialist, Albert Camus, an unwavering atheist in war-weary France, is said to have professed his faith in God on his death bed.

What's the point? We can all change our minds. I, for example, used to think blogging was the embarrassing, self promoting habit of the attention addict. And, actually, I still think that's about right. But, that doesn't stop me from starting this blog now, which, like millions of other blogs out there, will be self centered and bombastic because its author believes his experiences and thoughts are somehow of universal importance, when to be perfectly honest, there's many people out there who could say it better and have said it better already. But blogging is free and since there are absolutely no prerequisites or qualifications necessary to start one, even the dumbest of us bloggers can have our voices heard.

And fortunately, blogs are free to read as well, so you are free to read this and enjoy it, or piss on it, or promote your own blog through the comments section.

Here's a poem that occasionally rhymes, but otherwise, has no discernable pattern.


For my birthday this year,
I'd like a jar.
Nothing fancy,
But big, large as my head.
Big enough to hold
two pints of formaldehyde
and my brain when
I'm dead.
Now I know what you're going to say
that people only save the brains of the
your Einsteins and Whitmans
so we can scan them with lasers
and stick them with needles
poking for secrets until we can figure
out the mystery: "Why were they more special
than me?"
So I understand if you don't
keep my brain around for more
than a month
and use the jar instead to hold
peppermint candies or raspberry jam.
But for now I'll see that jar on the table
and know just how special
you think I am.

Where was I going with this? Oh, yes, all this to say that you have a right to change your mind. So don't feel bad about making the waitress cross out your original order, because it's not your fault that the person with whom you are dining ordered something that sounded so delicious you had to order it too or else you'd spend the whole meal staring at his or her plate, but demurely refusing any time he/she offered you a bite .

*this is actually not a footnote because my research is sketchy and, quite possibly, inaccurate. Facts in this blog are often distorted so as to fit whatever revelation I want them to support.