Wednesday, April 30, 2008

shoot for ignorance

"Shoot for the moon and if you miss you will still be among the stars." Have you heard this quote or seen it written in bold font on a laminated poster behind the desk of a guidance counselor's office? According to my extensive research--I typed the phrase into Google and believed the first website that came up-- this popular quote is attributed to motivational speaker, Les Brown. Perhaps Les Brown has not heard of Copernicus' heliocentric model of the universe or is a member of the Spanish Inquisition.

I'm not an astronomer, but I've learned this much: The sun is the closest star to the earth and it is much further away than the moon. So if you shoot for the moon and miss, you will not be amongst stars. Instead, you will be floating in a black vacuum and you will die quickly in this lifeless, black vacuum because there will be no air or pressure or Little Debbie Cosmic Brownies to sate your hunger. Maybe that's not inspirational enough to laminate and stick on a wall next to your Ansel Adams print, Les, but at least it's the truth.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

getting by is just not enough anymore

A week ago, Nicole and I went to open mic poetry at a hip jazz bar with blue lighting and reformed hippies. A bunch of regulars read their work, lots of explicit sex which is especially uncomfortable to hear coming from a grandma (of course it could be fiction, but the smirk on her face made me feel there was some truth behind it... icky).

Since I've been thinking more and more about applying for programs to earn a Master of Fine Arts in Poetry, I started to question myself... why would I want to voluntarily surround myself amongst people like this? I'm stereotyping, but there is some truth to a brooding, suffering poet. Who else is self centered enough to think his feelings are unique and deserve to be read and beloved by the world? I get along with most people, I think, but whiny bitches are where I draw the line.*

Getting an MFA isn't like going to grad school. You can write poems without the letters MFA suffixing your name. You aren't going to be arrested for writing a book without a degree like you would if conducted surgery without the letters MD. Do i just want to prove to people that I haven't plateaued? That i'm still on course for more than an entry level job that pays a buck and a half more than the absolute bottom the state will allow?

When did we start having to do more than just live? When did surviving become insufficient while all other creatures with whom we share this earth consider survival the greatest form of accomplishment? Without any background in anthropology or history, I'm pretty sure the turning point was precisely when surviving became easy, expected. Once the challenge of gathering food was simplified to a trip to Fred Meyers and the possibility of getting killed by a gila monster or musky, predatory mammal was reduced to nil save for the most unfortunate or the dumbest of the species, our most natural human challenges evaporated. People needed to invent new things to make life more difficult and, ever since we've been seeking achievements, praise, and approval as desperately as our ancestors sought consistent sources of glucose and clean water.

It impresses neither employers nor girls to brag that you've eaten food every day without fail for the last twenty seven years. Nor are guests at cocktail parties particularly wowed when you confide, "I have never suffered from mumps or rubella." My question: is there any way to reverse this inflation that human contentment seems to be suffering? Can I lower the bar and be satisfied with doing less? Maybe no one else wants to regress like me. But, can I personally oppose this trend that demands I do more and be more than I am now? I eat every day of the week. I sleep out of the rain. Homo habilis would be envious of my bike repair abilities. What more do I really need? I'm almost certain that if I were struggling to obtain those basic needs, all the feelings of longing and insufficiency that poison my thoughts would not exist. And if that's true, then it's all a head game: these modern human needs of accomplishment and accolades are invented and not a biological necessity. So that proves they can be controlled, right? And besides having food and shelter, I received the best birthday present possible: Isaiah Thomas has been evicted from both the front office and the coach's bench at Madison Square Garden. That would be enough to make any homo habilis throw his excessively long arms up to heaven in gratitude.

*This is the trait I find most salient in my roommate Marty, which is the reason I dislike her so much. Her own bitching isn't so offensive to me as the fact that she reminds me how I can be a little bitch myself and that's one of the things I hate the most about myself. As the band Down says, "I'm trying to kill what's wrong with me." I wish Marty's last name started with an R. That way she could be MartyR which is how she presents herself, maybe a bit more vocal about her suffering though than say St Stephen, Martin Luther King, or Gandhi. Unfortunately, her last name starts with an S.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

everybody plays the fool

It's april fool's day and so I thought it would be appropriate to list some of the ways I've been a fool in my life. My last relationship lasted slightly over one month. That was a year ago and it's still hurting to this day. Twelve months to get over a one month relationship... that's pretty foolish. If you wanted to extrapolate this data, that would mean if I fell out of a hypothetical two year relationship, it would take nearly my life time, up to this point, to recover. But most of this hurt was my own fault. As I told you in a previous blog, I have a hard time interpreting non verbal cues and often misconstrue people's actions and behaviors to mean they hate me. Well, I also make the same mistake assuming based on actions and behaviors someone might love me, which may not be the case. Nothing to pity here, though. That's what the R &B band the Main Ingredient tried to warn us about prophetically back in the year 1972: "Everybody plays the fool sometimes. There's no exception to the rule."
So, I'm not alone. Everybody plays the fool, including you. But--and I'm trying to be perfectly objective here-- I think I've played the fool more times than any of you have. Based on anecdotes and stories I've heard from other people during cocktail parties and various soirées, I think Rodney Dangerfield and I are in a league of our own. My stories are astronomically more embarrassing than anything I've heard from you. Here are some of the less embarrassing examples--if you can believe that--which many of you may have already heard and gotten a good laugh over already.

1. During one summer vacation from college, I was back in my hometown of Lincoln Park and went to a nearby town's library. There was a group of middle schoolers loitering in the foyer of this library and I intended to walk by them without any acknowledgment or further ado. But one of the boys in the group put out his hand as if to give me a high five, and so, not knowing what else to do, I went to slap his hand, only to have him pull away and say, "Syc!"making a dozen middle schoolers, including girls, laugh at me. The worst part was I still had to face them when I left the library and that punk ass bitch tried it again, but I just kept walking. Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me. This may not seem like a big deal to you, but this memory stuck with me for at least three years, and there were plenty of times when I'd call my college friend, Tum Tum, crying about how much I wished I'd just busted that kid's face up for taking my dignity away like that. He ruined what were supposed to be the best days of my life and I'll never forgive him for that.

2. A couple years back while I was teaching in Boston, I was on winter break and decided to do a good thing by de-icing the refrigerator in my apartment. we had never done this in the two years we'd lived there and there was a solid three inches of ice that had accumulated on all sides of the freezer. So i got out a Stanley screwdriver and began chipping away*. Yes, I knew that you are never supposed to use a sharp implement to de-ice a fridge. I just assumed that warning was for imbeciles who had no motor control; the same as the warnings to not use a Q-tip within the ear canal or warning labels on cups of coffee announcing in several languages that the hot coffee is served HOT.
I was doing great, chipping away all those years of frozen accumulation. I even found a ribeye steak that was dated to nine months before we had moved into the apartment. I felt like an archaeologist. I was uncovering layers of ice that may have even preceded the existence of refrigerators.
I had gotten almost all of the ice removed and was standing in a cold puddle that represented my victory over the years of neglect this poor Kenmore had received. There was just one little patch of ice left on the back wall of the freezer. I'd chipped away all of Greenland and Antarctica and all that was left was little, old Nova Scotia. No problem. So i began my delicate technique of tap tap tap, scrape scrape scrape, when suddenly I felt the screwdriver dig too far. Then, horrible smelling freon was splashing on my shirt. Fuck.
I called a refrigerator repair man. Contrary to what I assumed, duct tape would not fix this problem. Once you puncture a hole in a refrigerator, it becomes a Chinese wife who can't produce a male son-- fucking useless**. My options: pay the repair company $500 for a new refrigerator or search Craigslist for a free refrigerator and figure out how to transport it back to my place. There was no question i would go with the latter. This happened the first day of winter break and i had this horrible vision of me spending every day of that vacation answering ads for free refrigerators... and that pretty much came true.
Of course, the obvious challenges to choosing to find my own refrigerator instead of just paying to get it replaced: 1) how are you going to transport it? 2) how are you going to get it up the three winding flights of stairs into your apartment, and 3) is it going to fit in the apartment and the empty, dusty space the now defunct refrigerator used to occupy?
I found a refrigerator on Craigslist for $50. Not free, but significantly cheaper than the alternative. Remember, time was a factor here. i couldn't just wait around until a better deal came. I needed to replace this refrigerator so my roommates and I wouldn't have to pack food in the dirty melting snow outside. So i bit. Fifty dollars is a small price to pay when you fuck up.
As for transporting this refrigerator, I had a plan, surprising as that might be. One of my fellow teachers had a giant fifteen seater company Dodge van parked outside of his classroom. Since I worked for this teacher the year before as an aide, I knew he was lax about company policy and would have no problem loaning me the keys for the van to pick up a refrigerator, especially during winter break when no one was using it anyway. I'd even make sure to fill up the tank before I dropped it back.
This is the fine art of human problem solving. This is what separates us from the worms and other lesser coelomates. I was representing the apex of vertebrate evolution with my evolved and clever mind. So, recruiting my roommate and good friend Adam, we stole the company van and drove to Cambridge where a $50 fridge was waiting for us.
A kindly older lady who worked as a professor at Harvard University (pronounced: Haaaavaaad) had this old fridge sitting in her basement. Worked perfectly well, she said, but she didn't need it anymore. Turns out she taught high school teachers how to better teach their students and she had even done seminars for the organization with which I worked... the same organization from whom I'd stolen the van. So we hit it off right away and I paid her the fifty dollars and the only concern was how to get refrigerator out of her basement. It was humongous. It looked much bigger than the one I had destroyed, but with my tape measurer handy, it met the space requirements for my kitchen. So adam and I removed the hinges of her basement door, forced this ugly brown fridge up the rickety basement stairs, perched the refrigerator onto a dolly and tried to roll it down the stone path from her house to the street. Dollies are meant to work only on flat surfaces; as far as I know, they have not invented all-road dollies yet, and if they had, they were not at our disposal when we needed them. But, regardless, we made it the fifteen feet to the street where the glorious company van was waiting, gutted of its seats to fit this monstrosity.
Then we drove the ten minutes home and began hefting it up the three flights of winding stairs to the apartment. No problem. Adam and I are young, twenty something males. Healthy, strong, at the peak of our virility. How many kegs had the two of us lifted up these very same stairs over the past two years? Just take it one step at a time.
But, by the fourth step of the first floor stairwell, we realized this might actually be impossible. Not only was it very fucking heavy, the refrigerator didn't even seem like it could fit around the turns of the stair case. We were covered in sweat and our hands ached. We couldn't even hold onto the refrigerator after a while, and it would slide down the couple of stairs we managed to get it up. And worst of all, if we couldn't get it up the stairs, we'd have still have to figure how to get it back out of the stairs at least, which also seemed fairly impossible. Out of sheer desperation, we called Mandy, our other roommate and good friend, who weighs in at about 100 lbs and could probably fit inside of the vegetable drawer of the very refrigerator we were recruiting her to help us move. Understandably, we were desperate at this point.
Somehow, by the graces of god and the combined will of all three of us, we were able to push and yank and drag that refrigerator up all those stairs to the doorway of our apartment. With a few more heaves and more damage to the walls of the apartment, the replacement fridge was standing in front of the spot occupied by the old fridge. But, despite all my careful measurements, it was too big to fit in between the cabinet and the wall. Off by centimeters. The thought of tossing this refrigerator after the hour we spent getting it up the stairs was not inviting. We somehow figured how to dig the cabinets deeper into the wall to give us the necessary couple of centimeters to get our behemoth new refrigerator into place. And finally, there it was in place, plugged in, and I couldn't have been happier that day.
And i wish so much that's how this story ended. But, the next day, mandy, with the inquisitive nature of a mature Nancy Drew, concluded that the refrigerator was, in fact, not cold. It was not producing the customary humming or frigid air that you associate with this particular appliance. "Give it another few hours," I explained. "Refrigerators need to warm up before they cool down." But as always, I was wrong. The refrigerator that cost me $50 plus countless future chiropractic visits for me and my roommates was a lemon. A dud. An excessively heavy and ugly cupboard. I sent a very curt email to the harvard professor who sold me this refrigerator: "The fridge does not work." No reply. I swore if I ever had the chance to meet her again I would shove my entire fist down her throat.***
Then it was back to Craigslist and Freecycle and other websites to try and find a free refrigerator. My time was running out. I was sure someone from the landlord company would just stroll into the apartment to do something routine like bug spraying and find a gaping hole where a refrigerator should be and charge me $500 for a new one plus any subsequent penalties for trying to hide my misdeed.
But towards the end of this vacation week, which turned out not to be a great vacation because of this situation, i found another person giving away a refrigerator, a free one this time. So at least if it didn't work, i didn't have to throw away any more money. And just like if you suffer from a lot of flat tires (another subject about which I know more than I care), when you keep trying to move refrigerators, it becomes sort of routine. So i knew the drill: steal the company van, take out seats, pick up fridge, injure lower back, bring fridge home, force roommates to help move fridge even if none of this was their fault, cry when fridge doesn't work, lather, rinse, repeat.
So I drove to the school where the company van was being stored. And this is the part where I start realizing I am more of a fool than any of you. The company van is mysteriously missing. There is no way I can transport a refrigerator in my tiny Ford Escort. I need that fucking van.
I gave a quick call to the main office of my company to inquire about the whereabouts of this particular vehicle which should have been right fucking in front of me.
"oh, paul took it for some maintenance," said Anne, the secretary. Kindly, old Paul. A seventy something year old retiree who, out of the goodness of his heart, helped the organization out by maintaining their fleet of vans. And logically enough, he chose winter break to do maintenance because no one was using them at this time, except for idiots who needed to move refrigerators at low cost. So I thought of alternatives with my advanced mind: 1) Rent a uhaul, 2) rent a pick up truck from Home Depot, or 3) try to call Paul and see if I could get the van from him. Again, fearing that this refrigerator would not work even if I did have a van to pick it up, I opted for the cheapest method.
"Hi, Paul. This is armin. Do you know where van #15 is?"
"Hi Armin. I just took it for an oil change. Do you need it?"
"Yeah, ummm. I just left some papers in the back seat and need them to prepare class for after break."
"Oh, okay. I'll bring it back in 30 minutes."

Phew! No big deal. Just thirty minutes delayed but the whole plan was going smoothly. Soon Paul would come, we'd shoot the shit for a couple minutes, he'd drive off, and I'd joy ride to a New Bedford for a new used fridge. And so I waited, and though it took closer to an hour and a half, he did come with van # 15.
"You know Armin, that (name of teacher in charge of van) doesn't take care of this van at all. I mean, just look at the inside. It looks like shit."
"Oh, I'm sorry about that, Paul."
"No, it's not your fault."
Then Paul drove off and I hopped in ready to commit my crimes when i looked at the console between the driver's seat and the passengers seat. my heart dropped. GODDAMMIT!!!! You stupid old motherfucker! A cute little flip phone Nokia was sitting next to the armrest. Paul's cute little flip phone nokia. And he was already on the road headed home to his wife where she would probably ask him, "dear, where is your cell phone?" And he'd say, "Oh, I must have left it in the van. Silly me. I'll drive back and get it." But then he'd find the van was gone and he'd worry and call up the cops and they'd arrest me in New Bedford with a used refrigerator in the back.
At this point, I was feeling less pride in my problem solving skills and my alleged superiority over other coelomates and creatures that don't even have a spinal column. But my choices were obvious: 1) wait for Paul to realizes he left his phone, comes back to get it, then steal the van, whatever time or day that might be OR 2) somehow get the phone back to him.
"Hello, Mrs... um Paul's wife?"
"Yes? Who is this?"
"Hi, sorry to bother you. My name is Armin. I work with (same company as Paul) and just noticed he left his cell phone in the van here."
"Oh! Thank you so much for calling! I don't know where he is right now."
"well, I'm on my way home now. I can just drop it off at your place."
"Oh! that's so sweet of you!"

So i drive to paul's house and drop off the cell phone with his wife who praises me and tells me what a nice boy I am when really I was just trying to commit unethical deeds and would have just as readily murdered both Paul and his wife if that was the easiest way to get out of this quagmire of shit I'd created for myself.

Then I was driving to New Bedford and the refrigerator was still waiting for me and, much to my delight, looked much smaller and more manageable than the one i had purchased two days earlier. And it seemed a sign that everything was getting better when adam and I were able to lift it up the stairs without mandy's help and when we plugged it in, it made a familiar and comforting "whiirrrrr" and was cold on the inside. Joy of Joys! Beowulf has torn the arms off Grendal! Sir Lance-a-lot has slain the dragon! Armin has procured a refrigerator that works! So after that, Adam and I brought the two busted refrigerators down the stairs that were being stored on our porch at the time, and even though that was probably very tiring, I don't remember because the joy of having a working fridge (and the help of gravity) made it easy to get the two of those out of our lives forever.

And best of all, I did not get into any trouble for stealing the company van. After all the refrigerators were moved to where they belonged, one in the kitchen, two on the curb, i drove the van back to its resting place at the school with no one the wiser. until, of course, I got a call from Paul.
"Armin, I just went back to the school and the van is missing!"
"Oh... yeah. Um... I just took it to get it cleaned because you said it was messy inside."
"oh Armin, that's so sweet of you. You're such a good kid." he may have actually been crying on the other end, so moved was he by my consideration. So then, my dumbass had to take this giant van to the car wash and spend five dollars in quarters vacuuming out the inside so it would actually look like I took it to get it cleaned. The whole rest of the year Paul and his wife thought I was a saint.
But in the end, we had a working refrigerator and our landlords never knew because I still got my security deposit check back. So that means they also never noticed the poor spackling job i did on hole I punched in the hallways wall when I missed a shot in beer pong.

3. There is a third Armin Plays the Fool story to share, one that I'm pretty certain i've told to only one other person in this world. but it will have to wait till the next blog because I didn't realize how long and involved that refrigerator anecdote was. Suffice it to say though, i think I've made my point and if you think you could challenge my foolishness, i'd love to hear it.

* you know what's really not helpful? When you do something stupid and then after it cannot be undone someone tells you what you should have done. "Why didn't you just use a hair dryer to de ice the fridge, Armin?"
"Why don't you just shut your damn mouth?"

**I'm joking. Since it is the father who carries the Y chromosome necessary to produce balls, this joke doesn't even make sense.

***Amazingly enough, I had the opportunity to do just that. The summer of that same year, the organization i worked for asked me to take an enrichment class that discussed effective ways to teach math to high school kids. It took place in Harvard. The overseeing professor of this program: none other than my very own used refrigerator saleswoman.
After the first day, I came up to her and she said, "You look very familiar." It was hard for me not to look familiar back then since i had a mohawk.
"You sold me a refrigerator back in February," I said coldly.
"Oh, yes! How is it?"
"It didn't work."
"Oh, I'm sorry. I should give you a refund."
But for some reason, i broke down and let her off the hook, "Oh no. It's okay. Buyer beware, I guess! Laissez Faire!" And that's yet another reason I'm a douchebag.