Thursday, February 28, 2008

a disease of perception

I went to an AA meeting the other night, not on purpose. I didn't want to go home and had no where else to be. I was sitting in a coffee shop its last open hour, drinking coffee I didn't really want, feeling low, bored, without direction. Didn't bring a book, so I read a self published 'zine on their bookshelf, an autobiography of a 32 year old single mom who got pregnant during a sex/drug backpacking romp through Europe. She lost her backpack on a train which contained the only contact information she had for the father. Despite how horrific this situation sounds to me, the 'zine certainly took a comical look at single, welfared parenthood in Portland. The last couple pages were just an advertisement selling her woven goods, her main source of income.

There were only a handful of us in the coffee shop and the barista was kind enough to let me have free refills. What's the difference at that hour of the night to her? She's not going to make any more money off the dregs at the bottom of the pot. She won't have to brew a new pot. She's ready to go home. But, she was really pleasant, and I read and waited for her to finally kick me out when a few men started coming in, setting up chairs. The barista left on her bike and people, all men, started filling in. They all knew each other, chatting, filling up free cups of coffee. One guy who sat next to me, who seemed to be a real Pollyanna amongst the other guys (handsome forty something, rugged sort of dude who shook hands with everyone using both hands) turned to me, "Are you staying for the meeting?"

"What's the meeting for?" I asked.


"Sure, if that's okay."

Within ten minutes the little coffee shop was packed with at least 40 AA members, all guys of all kinds. Balding men in business suits. Young punks with expanded ear holes and tattoos on their neck. Wall to wall recovering alcoholics. A cow bell was used to get everyone's attention. We started with a couple minutes of silent meditation followed by a reciting of the Serenity Prayer (God, grant me the strength to change the things I can change, etc...) which I lipsynced. Then a black gentleman started the meeting by introducing the topic: "How we react to the world differently to the world when we are sober." He talked about how angry he was still. He's still in a rehab center and during morning meetings, if anyone pulls down the blinds he'll "fucking bark at them." I guess he really likes his morning sunshine.

I started getting worried when I realized this guy was the moderator of the meeting and was picking people at random to share their feelings on this topic and was debating if I got picked whether it would be better to admit the truth, "Shit fellas, I'm sorry, I'm not an alcoholic. I was just depressed and didn't want to go home yet." Either they'd lynch me for being a fake and belittling something as serious as alcoholism by hanging out at a meeting for kicks, or they'd ask if I drank alcohol and I'd say yes, and they'd insist i was an alcoholic and just can't admit it. The other option was just pretending along and I rehearsed in my head what Alcoholic Armin would say, 'Hey, my name is armin and I'm an alcoholic. Been sober three years now. I think nowadays, I try to focus on the positive whenever I feel like having a drink. Marvel at how well my windowsill green onions are growing. Make lists of things i need to do, laundry, shopping, and praise myself when I get them all done."

Thankfully, it never came to that. I made it through the hour without being called on and only raised suspicion when i thought the meeting was over and started to get my backpack and head out when I was supposed to stand up and hold hands in a circle to recite the Serenity Prayer again followed by "Keep coming back! It works if you work it!"

Biked home and felt a little better than when i started the evening. I can understand now why the main character in "Fight Club" attends all those support groups. There's something very reassuring about a group of people who all suffer and purge together, sucking the venom out of each other's snake bites.

Not much of what the AA members said was worth recording, mostly that their sober selves thought more before saying things to people and they still got really "fucking angry" but could control themselves more. The one thing that stuck with me: one young man referred to alcoholism as a disease of perception, which is really the perfect moniker for all emotional disorders.

A disease of perception. The baffling inability to interpret facial expressions, intentions, or scenarios with any logic. Everyone looks threatening, everyone hates you. In your distorted mind, you imagine you are the anathema of everyone you know. Worse off, once you begin misconstruing all sensory data, it becomes a self fulfilling prophecy.

Everyone hates me, you say, so you avoid everyone. Then no one calls you up because you never come out anyway. So that proves they hate you, right? They don't call, they must hate you. Horrific... you are actually eating yourself up, causing all the misery you predicted. You look like a goddamn prophet.

I remember having just moved to Boston, none of my roommates were around yet and I still had a few days before I could move into my apartment so I was sleeping out of my car on Commonwealth Ave. It was very hard to sleep since my car was stuffed and I couldn't recline my seat, so I'd occupy myself by taking the train back and forth through Boston, reading a borrowed copy of "The Catcher in the Rye" until I felt tired enough to sleep. Was trying to save money so i wasn't eating much, but broke down and hopped into a cheap chinese restaurant. I remember waiting for my order and looking at a man and woman who were also waiting and I could have sworn they were making fun of me. I thought they were this biker, Harley Davidson couple and were cracking jokes about me. I kept watching them from the top of my book feeling threatened until I realized they were laughing at the restaurant owner's toddler daughter who I assume was doing something amusing. And when I looked more closely, i could clearly see they were not biker couple--not to say they didn't ride motorcycles or attend Sturgis once a year-- they were not dressed as bikers as I originally perceived, but were very neatly dressed, professional looking people and I had just thought they were bikers because the gentleman had a beard and was wearing a black leather coat.

This happens to me a lot, the inability to process sensory input logically. Maybe more AA meetings will help, but drinking to the point of alcoholism just so I can join a support group to help me with depression doesn't seem like the most logical course of action, even to my perception diseased mind.


Q & A

Q: the sad thing about blogging is their inevitable demise. please prove me wrong armin.

A: When Rob Zombie released "The Sinister Urge" my junior year of college, a much hyped second solo album with glitzy pictures and packaging to distract from the completely hollow, rehashed lyrics and unimaginative guitar riffs, I felt much as I imagine Moun'ain Girl feels now... betrayed and, perhaps, a bit gassy. So good for you for calling me out on my half assed attempts to keep this blog up. Yes, the quality AND quantity have diminished in 2008; neither my photography nor my ukulele playing can compensate for crappy blog entries. I had been considering retiring the blog the last few weeks--undoing the last knot if you will--because I don't have much left to say. That's not entirely true: I don't have anything funny and entertaining left to say, and the serious things I have to say... well I don't know how to say them right and that's hard to stomach. But goddamn if I don't respect your opinion, Moun'ain Girl, and for you will give it another try even though I haven't seen any updates to since october.

Monday, February 18, 2008

strumming on the beach

wanted this to look like one of those laid back Corona commercials. instead it's just me singing badly.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Waikiki? Waiki-not?

Earlier last week, I had planned on writing a fairly somber piece on the cumulative effects of depression (not caused by Valentine's day, but perhaps exacerbated by it). But having just returned from Honolulu, that would be pretty brazen of me to talk about depression, don't you think? So here's another fluffy entry with pretty pictures and no substance, not unlike People Magazine. Oh, and I already forgot to bring the damned stuff dog with me.

The highlights:
1. Flew first class both ways, drank whiskey, and became teary eyed watching Mr. Maggorium's Wonder Emporium. For those of you who have not seen the movie, it's a beautiful story that teaches you to believe in yourself.
2. Watched Art in Motion, a live performance of a Hawaiian guy spray painting scenes of the beach while dancing and lip syncing along to crappy techno and Christian rock. Waikiki is filled with street performers. There was one guy who had a little karaoke machine and was singing Air Supply... a group of Japanese tourists found his karaoke to be embarrassing, even by their standards. And there was a chick hula hooping with a ring of fire. I did not stay to see the whole show, because after the initial awe of seeing someone hula hooping with fire, it's really just watching someone hula hooping and there's a reason that fad died out. I couldn't watch some apply a snap bracelet with fire for hours either.
3. Have you ever seen products with ridiculous warning labels like Superman costumes that say "Costume does not give wearer power of flight?" Do you ever wonder who is stupid enough to require these warning labels? I'm that person. While wading in the ocean, I kept sticking my hand into rock crevices, trying to catch crabs, assuming that if there was anything dangerous in the Pacific Ocean, they'd put up a sign to warn me. Saw the jaws of an eel in one of the cracks I had just put my hand through. I still have all my fingers thankfully.

4. Drank $1.50 Mai Tais and ate eggs benedict with a side of fried rice at 10 am because a moose with sunglasses told me to go to his restaurant. I'm not one to argue with moose.

5. After drinking several of the aforementioned Mai Tais, I crashed a ukulele lesson of about 30 people, mostly elderly. When the instructor asked if anyone wanted to play a solo, I raised my hand. She said, "who are you?" I said "armin" and began to play a spirited, if not off key, rendition of Buddy Holly's "Oh Boy!" None of the elderly ladies recognized the song. Thankfully, I did not play Marilyn Manson or Avril Lavigne, because if Buddy Holly is too contemporary for them, I doubt they'd have "Sk8er Boi" on their IPOD shuffle.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

bigger and easier than wherever you spent Mardi Gras

This is a squishy toy dog that I haven't named yet. I am open to suggestions. He is my travel companion and I plan on taking him on all my flights. I acquired him at the Krewe of Orpheus Parade in New Orleans, shamelessly jumping in front of old ladies and small children to catch whatever crappy trinkets were thrown from the floats. I snagged enough beads from the outstretched hands of disappointed children that actually wearing them all hurt my neck.

Though my trip to Chicago was thwarted last week, the gods of standby flying could not thwart my indomitable desire to make use of these free flying privileges. Planning ahead, I decided to fly out of Seattle instead of Portland this time and checked the weather forecasts for all the layovers. Had about 12 hrs to kill in the Detroit airport. I tried to sleep on a couch in the Westin attached to the airport since the chairs in the Detroit airport aren't the most ass-friendly, but was woken up by an employee who said, not without a hint of aggravation, "Sir, the Westin has a no sleeping policy because we encourage people to pay for hotel rooms."
"Oh, i understand. I'm sorry," I said shoving a handful of courtesy mints for customers in my pocket before leaving. I'm so low class.

I intermittently read, journaled, slept, watched CNN, made origami owls, until I was called up for the flight to New Orleans and realized, for the first time, I was actually flying somewhere I wanted to go. Not Minneapolis.

My original plan once I got to New Orleans was just to wander the French Quarters all night until morning, munching on andouille sausage and jambalaya and drinking caffeinated beverages to stay awake, then sleep on a park bench once it was daylight. Thankfully though, I was able to find Mike, an old friend from my baltimore days who had a couch that was much comfier and safer than any bench on Bourbon Street. We watched the parade, ate traditional Louisiana chinese food, frequented bars, talked to christians handing tickets out for god (as elton john once said), danced our asses silly, and found our way back to his condo.

While i was sleeping at his place, I woke up horrified to see an ostrich pecking my chest. What I perceived to be an ostrich's beak turned out to be little more than the scissored legs of his cat walking on me, but it was startling at the time. But, if that's the worst that happens to you in New Orleans on mardi gras, then you got off easy. Next day, I had gumbo and gator sausage, repeated questions I had already asked Mike the night before, and flew back to Seattle without any issues whatsoever.

So, is flying standby really more affordable than just getting a plane ticket? Cost of trip aside from food and alcohol (which I'd rather forget):

-$30 for gas to drive to Seattle and back

-$7 for a six pack of beer to give to Mark, another northwest employee who works at the Seattle airport and let me park my car at his place (he also picked me up from the airport when I got back at midnight and cleaned the inside of my car for me while I was gone... a little bizarre for a guy I just met during training)

-$2.00 bus fare to get from the airport to downtown New Orleans, which included, free of charge, the spectacle of a drunk man passing out on the back steps of the bus, the driver cursing out loud as he called for help, and the drunk man sneaking out the back door and wobbling down the street towards downtown

A $39.00 bill for flying round trip to new orleans during mardi gras. Better than Orbitz could get you, I dare say.