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.