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Category Archives: Who Am I – Stuff About Myself

That Goddamned List

That Goddamned List

The worst, weirdest, stupidest phone call I ever made was in 2006, when I was a rising star in the world of arts marketing. I called a subscriber to the Chicago Symphony Orchestra to sell a season ticket package. A little kid answered the phone, and I asked him to put his father on. Which the kid, of course, dutifully did. As I began my routine, the father interrupted me: “I have NOT had sex with my wife for MONTHS, and I FINALLY get her in bed, and you JUST FUCKED IT ALL UP FOR ME!!!…” Oh, he started screaming at me at the top of his lungs after that, but I missed everything he said because I was already in the act of placing the phone back onto the base. It was the only time I ever hung up on one of my customers. What I REALLY wanted to do was interrupt him in turn with a short speech about how ugly his wife was – after all, what was the kid doing running around at THAT time if he was interested in his wife? But my supervisor could have been listening, so I ignored the impulse.

I left the Symphony a short time after that to make a go with the Illinois PIRGs. They were a resoundingly shitty organization to work for, had lied outright about their work in order to recruit me, and my once-promising media career was over. To tell the truth, I was a little relieved; working my way up the corporate ladder for the company contracting me would have meant spending more time on the phone. I could rest easy knowing my life wasn’t dependant on calling people and asking for their credit card numbers anymore.

Here I am now, years later, going back into political activism after a long period of inactivity. And just my luck! What does my line of campaign work involve now? Calling people! No one likes bugging people in their private homes, and no one likes being bugged in their private homes, either. Not many people realize this about telemarketers, but they don’t like talking to you. If you’ve answered the phone, they already want you dead. But old experience gets volunteer employers to take note, so in the early days of my new politically active era, I was on the fucking phone yet again. Three phone banking sessions and I started telling people in the campaign that I was absolutely, positively done making calls. I don’t want my candidate to lose votes because my tongue got too loose.

While outright abuse has been thankfully minimal, there’s one little truth about phone banking that needs to be addressed: This “list.” Let’s get a few things clear about the list. The first thing you need to know about the list is that you heard about it through the grapevine, and we all know how things heard through grapevines work. That’s a fancy way of saying ideas about it may not be accurate, and the list is one of those things in which that’s true. The list you want to be taken off of is no more real than the grapevine you heard about it from. What that means is that from the telemarketer’s point of view, there’s nothing to pull your name from, and so you’re just some random name that popped off a screen somewhere. Names come up and the people making those annoying phone calls don’t have a choice. People in call centers have no control whatsoever over who they call. If a name is in there, it’s in there, and no amount of screaming, bitching, or death threats is going to change that. And frankly, if you’re too nasty or threatening, you deserve the harassment.

While I’m on the subject, I need to cover the no-call list that everyone says they’re on as well since I’ve been verbally abused over it. I don’t know what this no-call list is or who’s on it. I don’t know where to go to sign my name to it. What I DO know is that between all the phone work I’ve been forced to do, I’ve never actually seen a no-call list. I think that, unlike the caller list, the no-call list might actually exist, though. When I was doing work for WNED and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, it got talked about an awful lot, even by my supervisors. And the supervisors talked about it in legal technicalities. So even if the no-call list exists – which, again, is something I can reasonably doubt – there are a few factors in play which the people who kick and scream about it don’t take into account. First of all, the no-call list doesn’t apply to everywhere that tries to grab money through phone sales and phone donations. Arts and government organizations are exempt from it. And if a big corporation has outsourced its phone sales jobs to places overseas, the no-call list doesn’t apply to them, either. Frankly, the types of callers the no-call list bans are in a very, Very, VERY specific line of making phone sales, and the good folks behind it apparently aren’t into random inspections. If a place needs to disturb you at home, they can get around your precious no-call list by changing their callers’ official job titles. Why wouldn’t they? Uncle Sam isn’t breathing down their necks.

So this is what it comes down to: You’re assaulting someone who is probably poised to blow their top over a list they don’t know anything about. No, you don’t want to be bugged about some damn ideology at home, but from the employee’s point of view, you’re an asshole who can’t be polite for the two seconds it takes to say, “No.” And I should take the time to point out that there are some telemarketing services that provide employees with the customers’ information.

Since my political work is strictly on a volunteer level, though, I’m not worried about getting threats from people I call. After all, I told them I wasn’t going to bug people at home about politics anymore and that they’ll have to find something new for me to do. There’s one more thing I should remind people about volunteer work, though: If a volunteer calls, there’s nothing that can stop them from blowing up.



The Near-Juror

The Near-Juror

I’m not an anarchist, but I’m damn near. My problems with the idea of overly large and restrictive governments and unregulated corporations (which I consider nothing but governments with money) started with the law when Bush Junior made a national fiasco out of arresting a group of my friends and then turning them into case point A for why Iraq needed FREEDOM! I’m not sure if we can safely say that the legal system in the United States itself is a given. What IS a given is the fact that everyone thinks it’s totally fucked up. The precise WAY in which it’s fucked up depends entirely on who you ask, but it’s a given mess. The strange thing is that for all the complaining people like to do about it, no one seems to want to have any part of trying to clean it all up. I’m not going to haughtily declare myself above the knaves right now and go around shaming everyone. I am, in fact, not that much different. After returning from my holiday visit to my family in California, I wasn’t exactly enthused when I saw a jury summons from the district court of Lynnwood sitting on my bed.

My first thought was the same as everyone else’s when they get summoned for jury duty: Whoever’s on trial, I will see them fucking hang!!! My second thought was also the same as everyone else’s: What excuse to get out of this gives me the perfect balance between plausibility and inarguability? Finally, the rational part of my brain managed to break through. It reminded me of something: If anything, I was getting a chance to be an insider in this system I was always griping about. If I wasn’t able to get out of it, why not embrace the opportunity as a chance to keep a wrong from possibly happening?

And I did want to get out of it. Missing two days of work was going to force me to delay a trip overseas I’ve been dying to make as it was, and if that wasn’t enough, I had also just started looking for a new place to live. (The circumstances surrounding this situation were very unique, and will probably show up here sooner or later.) Yes, the courts promise compensation for jurors, but that compensation is rightfully regarded as a joke. It’s about $20 a day. In other words, it’s lunch money for whatever nice cafe or teriyaki joint happens to be across the street. When weighed against my travel plans and the money I was losing, that just wouldn’t do. So I made a couple of cursory calls to the local justice department, only to find out that I had called the wrong number. I was looking for the city court, not the county court, and I had lost the city court’s number. So, having informed my supervisor – who made sure to photocopy my summons – I sucked it up and went in to Lynnwood court.

Going into the court, I first filled out my information. Then I was hauled into the back, where I was placed in a room with about 17 other people. Looking around, I started mentally practicing my Henry Fonda juror speech as I sat there doing nothing else. I think the court wanted to make sure the jury was free of possible outside influence, because there weren’t even any courtesy magazines. Me and all the others waited for what felt like an eternity, and I tried to ebb the flow of self-doubt questions going through my head: Would I be able to do the right thing if I thought everybody else was wrong? Would I tell a few inadvertent lies when questioned in order to make a last ditch effort to get out of it? Id I really want to involve myself in a case for someone I never knew existed, and would never see again?

When it was time to do the movie and television show thing where we all answered whether or not we had the stuff to be a juror, everyone was taken into the courtroom at the same time. The case was explained to us, and the folks who invented this system clearly weren’t idiots; they’re not going to ask us why we think we’d be good jurors, because probably a few too many people regaled them with that handy line about being able to tell if someone is guilty just by looking at them. So what they did was give us the skinny on the situation and ask the entire group questions at the same time. Answers were a few words, tops. The Judge seemed to be a pretty cool guy. He had a sense of humor about his field, explaining that we weren’t jurors just yet. We were merely members of the veneer, and six jurors would be chosen depending on the way we answered the questions they asked. “Leave it to lawyers to invent a fancy French term for a phrase,” he said. The lawyers weren’t quite as endearing, and I got the feeling that one of them was trying to make his entire case right on the spot.

After the little getting-to-know-you/questioning session, we were all placed into the back room again, and I sat there and soaked up the scenery. The most incredible thing was how prevalent the people who wanted to escape were, and how open they were about wanting to get the hell out. During my second visit to Lynnwood court, there was an old guy there who was griping about the fact that he was asked to show up at all. All the times he had been summoned to the court, and he had never been needed before because all the cases he had been summoned for were settled out of court. There was another, slightly younger than me, who was bragging about the subtle missteps he had taken on purpose in order to get everyone to see him as an unfit juror. He didn’t seem satisfied that they would let him off for sure.

We spent between 30 and 45 minutes sitting there, in all our awkwardness, thinking about whether or not we’d be picked to be on the jury. There wasn’t any discussion about who did what, or any discussion of the case at all, although we did take points away from one of the lawyers for trying to make the case for his client right during the selection process. During my second visit, one of the other possible jurors talked about his experience being a juror previously. It hadn’t been so bad, he said. The entire case was settled in maybe and hour and a half. Of course, a short resolution was expected in a small civil court like Lynnwood’s. The first case I was summoned for was a case of reckless driving. The second was driving while intoxicated. The first was civil, the second criminal. But it didn’t change the fact that no one was going to be acting as a so-called peer in a major murder trial.

After being taken back out into the courtroom, the Judge started making his announcements: Six people were called forward and told to take their seats in the jury’s section. I missed out both times. One of the jurors called the second time was a man who said he had been called up once before, and he ended up serving on both juries. I was waiting with some form of anticipation during the second trial, as I thought I gave an answer which would have shooed me right in, but my name was never called, and I was free to head out. That was really the part of the entire adventure that everyone was dreading the most. I didn’t spot or speak to a single person who was interested in being a part of the jury, and most of them took offense to the fact that they had even been required to show up in the first place.

The look on the old man’s face during my second visit to the courtroom was one I’ll never forget. He had gotten called up as a juror, and lord, did he look pissed.


Sports Fandom Lessons from My Mother

Sports Fandom Lessons from My Mother

Football season is now here, and you know what that means: It’s time for those of us in real civilization to unleash our inner beasts! We’ll get drunk at the oddest hours of the day, get in drunken fights for no reason, and refer to specific teams in the first person as if we have anything to do with their success on the gridiron. At least it certainly seems that way. The truth is, there are good and bad ways to be a decent fan, and the people who get highlighted in news reports just happen to be on the animalistic side of things.

Football was one of those personal hand-me-downs from my mother to me. She was the true football fan in the family, and the one who taught me how to be a good fan. Here are some of the things I learned about being a good sports fan that came from her.

1 – Your love for a team should spring from a love for the sport itself. Sports are ultimately entertainment, so your civic pride doesn’t mean a whole lot if you’re forcing yourself through a sport you think is a screaming bore.

2 – Yes, it’s perfectly okay to be loyal to more than one team. In fact, it’s the far more sane option if one of your teams is going through a rough patch. It doesn’t matter which team it is, either; mom was loyal to the Buffalo Bills and New York Jets for her whole life, as a Long Island native who settled in Buffalo. Just make sure you abide by that key word: Loyalty. No stopping your fandom for one just because they’re bad, and no adding the team of the moment just because they’re good.

3 – It’s okay to skip a game if you don’t think it’s going to be much of a contest. In fact, this is another great way to keep ahold of your head during a rough patch. At the very least, you can find another game to watch which will hopefully be better.

4 – Along those same lines, it’s okay to flip off your own team’s game and do something else altogether if the contest gets out of control. If the game is boring, or over after ten minutes, or both, what’s the point in trying to sweat it out and endure? My mother admitted to having a soft spot for the Baltimore Ravens a few years ago because, “They’re the one team I’ve never seen give up in a game.”

5 – Even if you hate a team with every fiber of your being, if they’re truly good, show them a little respect. This goes back to the previous rule about loving the sport more than the team. Really, it’s what fans will sometimes say about hating players, but loving them if they’re on their team.

6 – Watch the game with a sense of objectivity. Really, there’s little in sports fandom than having the mindset that the league is against your team. A lot of blown calls by the “refs against your team” are in reality the result of your team blowing a play. Much we all hate to admit it, football fans all know The Forward Lateral was simply a lateral and that it was the result of piss-poor kickoff coverage. I’m MUCH harder on the No Goal fiasco of the 1999 Stanley Cup Final, but even I’ll admit that Brett Hull makes a few points in its defense.

7 – Tempting as it may sometimes be, don’t hold grudges for bad things other teams did to yours ten years ago. That’s just immature. (Mom never quite got over the Wide Right game, but she never held it against the Giants, either.)

8 – Perplexing as it may be, other people might not necessarily be fans of the same team that you are. Although I myself am of the idea that opposing fans should not be allowed to get too settled in at your team’s stadium, that doesn’t mean they should ever be personally assaulted. As a corollary, they should be treated like guests again once the game is over.

Car Search

Car Search

It’s hard to believe I had basically closed on a car way back in November. All that was left was to write out the check and drive the thing – a white 1992 Nissan which I hadn’t bothered to christen yet – back home. Unfortunately, a family tragedy closed that deal off when I had to spend my car proceeds on a trip to Buffalo. But here I am now back on the car market, wondering why the hell everything just can’t be as easy as it was last time.

Last time, I lucked out. It was my second or third viewing, and an immediate fit. I didn’t think I would end up getting that lucky again, but the whole process of searching for the right car is getting frustrating. I keep thinking of giving up, then the next day, I roll out of bed again, eat my breakfast, walk out the door three hours before I’m supposed to start my shift, and then remember why I need a car in the first place. Up, down, around trying to get back and forth and having my journey stretched out to an insane length…

See, I’m doing pretty much all of my searching on Craigslist, vis the recommendations of my Father and one of my housemates, two people who know. And their Craigslst methodology received an added boost by the fact that I visited a couple of used car lots and was told that if I ain’t buyin’, they ain’t sellin’, please get lost.

Craigslist, of course, limits my options. But then again, so do used car lots, and I’ve noticed that Craigslist tends to have better offerings than the standard used car lot choice of either paying a truckload or buying a fixer-upper. My housemate and my Father have both chimed in with their own two cents; the short list of cars they say I should be looking at includes the Ford Focus, Honda Civic, Toyota Corolla, a type of Nissan I’m always forgetting the make of, and a couple of others. Long-term reliability is the name of the game here, and much to my surprise, I’m finding that Craigslist is pretty accommodating with the brands I want. I browse the car sales list every day and can usually find a couple on my desirables list.

After I find something I want, though, the hard part comes: I have to initiate some form of contact. Since a system of blinking is clearly out, that usually means I’m sending out a short email to the seller. Then the wait begins. Half the time, I don’t get a response. The times I do aren’t always a good response. One person told me he had already sold the car. Another kept sending me nearly dodgy, single-word responses to my questions. (Those were tough questions: Where is your address so I can view the car, how do I get there, you know, things no one would be expected to know about a car they were selling.) Finally, he got around to admitting that if I wanted to, you know, move the car I would have bought to my home, it would have to be towed there.

Creating appointments to look at those cars presents another problem. Since I don’t have a car, it’s tough for me to cover a wide-reaching area in search of someone selling one. My preferences tend to lean toward people in North Seattle or Snohomish County. Anywhere south of Downtown Seattle and I may be looking at a day trip. So my appointments have to be scheduled for weekend days, when the busses are being sent around less. Then we’re going into negotiation and debating over terms.

Yes, this is a process which would drive a lesser person insane. Hell, its got me halfway there myself. But between the labyrinth I have to navigate to get back and forth to work and the times I’m always getting up in the morning, I figure getting my hands on the car of my dreams – which, right now, is something I would describe as “something that runs reliably” – I think this will all pay off around the time I go shopping for my straightjacket.



My little sister got hitched and I took on an insane onslaught of new experiences in a year which was already full of them.

My sister’s engagement went for awhile, so I had known there was going to be a wedding somewhere down the pipeline. But the where and when didn’t pop up until earlier this year. Now, between my schedule and current location, I never let myself fall into the mindset that getting to my sister and brother-in-law would be easy. But when my sister revealed the location during one of our online conversations, my heart dropped a little bit. It was going to be in Sebastopol, a little resort village in California. Wanting to be the well-prepared traveler, I immediately started looking up any information I could find on Sebastopol. A few pieces of key information popped up: Two hotels, both too expensive for me to stay in. And Sebastopol was some 50 miles out from San Francisco and Oakland, ruling out my usual travel routine of a nice hostel and the learn-as-you-go method of navigating the public transit. Santa Rosa was a more reasonable ten miles down the road, but there were no major travel hubs there, and the lodgings weren’t going to be any better.

At some point, I wondered what kept the two of them from having their wedding in a more convenient location, like Antarctica. Was McMurdo Station all booked up for the summer?

The problem of where I was going to stay wasn’t even the first obstacle in front of my face. The first was reserving the necessary time off from my brutal work schedule, which turned out to be much easier than expected after I told them what I was missing Prime Week for. The main problem was that I didn’t want to be returning home only to have to force myself through one of my 15-hour nighttime workdays right after my arrival. I got around that by placing the entire working week on hold, but that presented yet another problem: Doing that left very little wiggle room for me to, you know, arrive there, because it meant I would still have to work for the whole week leading up to the wedding. My options for outbound travel were left between the frying pan and the fire: Either finish up my final shift of the week and make a bum rush from work to the local terminal, or wait for the next day to arrive in the nick of time, save the day, and be the big damn hero. Given the travel times, it looked like I was going to have to drag my luggage to work. Then a chat with my brother-in-law finally spelled out the truth: My preferred method of travel was always the train, and that was too slow and unreliable in the time crunch I was facing. There was only one way to get me into Sonoma County in time for the festivities, and it entailed leaving the ground.

I’m a seasoned traveler. I’ve seen a pretty wide area of the country, and I have somewhere between 20,000 and 25,000 travel miles under my belt. Not a single one of them was by air, because the prospect of air travel was pretty scary to me. You get pressure-locked inside of a giant sardine can flowing with one of the most flammable liquids ever created and suspended 30,000 feet in the sky. If evolution had the sense to create birds the size of tractor trailers, it might make a bit more sense to domesticate them, but it didn’t. One of my goals for the near future is international travel, so I always knew I would have to face my fear of flight, but that didn’t mean I would be Spartan about it. Brother-in-law said this would be just about perfect for my first real experience with air travel.

“It’s just a two-hour nonstop flight from where you are,” he said.

I finally had to concede. “I’ll have to get over it some time, so I guess now is as good a time as any. Besides, I’ve already been doing a lot of things for the first time this year,” I said.

“That’s the spirit!” said my sister.

Also, I would have to rent a car or rely on a three-hour bus route – best case scenario – and several busses being on time in order to get there. That presented yet another obstacle: Either hope I get on all the right busses and that everything arrives on time or face the California freeways without a navigator.

My first step was to secure a place to stay. I wasn’t keen on throwing a ton of money at a hotel, but my sister found some airbnb links to spots to stay right in Sebastopol. I liked what I saw, opened an account with airbnb, filled out my information… And learned that my computer and the airbnb website just don’t care for each other very much. I never got to the reservation confirmation screen, or received a confirmation email, and when I brought the issue to the attention to airbnb customer service, they said I didn’t have an itinerary to speak of. So I couldn’t make the booking on my computer, and I’m obviously not going to fill out the information they needed in the middle of the public library. Fortunately, my sister found links to a similar site called VRBO, and once again, I found a place I liked. And it was booked solid. So once again, I found another place on VRBO that I liked, and lucked out when I saw that it was not only available, but a double booking had given me a cheaper price when the people running it said they had to put me in their camping trailer rather than their cottage. They didn’t accept credit cards for the site, either, so I would have to send them a check, which they would return when I got there with the proper cash. Booking took days because I had to use snail mail, but it went smoothly. Unfortunately, I waited until the booking was confirmed before making my flight and car reservations, which left me with higher prices to pay. The flight and rental car websites both took my information without any weirdness, although I was on the phone with my sister the whole time because I didn’t want to get slapped with a charge for something I didn’t actually buy.

My sister gave me a rundown of what to expect when you’re new to flying, which was helpful when the big day arrived. I arrived at the airport about two hours in advance, and learned pretty quickly that my sister had made everything sound more complicated than it actually was. The process of getting to my plane was easy:
1 – Print ticket.
2 – Hand baggage over to baggage people.
3 – Go through security.
4 – Find gate.
5 – Find food and coffee, sit down, and relax while waiting for boarding to begin.
I called my sister, per her request, once I was on the plane. Things were smooth right up until the plane reached the beginning of the runway. That was where the engine started revving up for the flight, which in turn caused my heart to rev up like Pepe Le Pew’s whenever he spies his weekly l’amour. As the plane then sped down the runway, I was glued in place by some combination of g-forces and fingernails digging into the armrest. And… The plane left the ground. THE. PLANE. LEFT. THE. GROUND. I couldn’t seem to distract myself from that, so during the flight, I kept myself occupied with my iPod and a Neil Gaiman comic book my sister and brother-in-law gave me. I also made a habit of glancing at the flight attendants; not because of the typical reasons, but because they made their careers on airplanes and likely had experienced everything a typical flight could put them through. It stood to logic that if they weren’t panicking, there was nothing to panic over.

Everyone has heard a million times that flying is safer than driving. Whoever said that had to be from California. Of course, anything would have to be safer than driving in California. Trying to stick to a set of directions I had hand-written from Google Maps, I began my drive to Sebastopol by getting on the I-880 in the wrong direction, zipping past two or three exits, and getting off to ask directions at the closest gas station. Returning to the I-880, I had a brief flashback to my first visit to St. Louis, when my friend Kevin handed me his Dad’s car keys with the instructions to take the car several miles down the road – at night, in a place I had never seen before and had been in for less than a day – to grab a handful of stage props he left in his wife’s car. I performed flawlessly, but that was a straight shot down the road for five miles. This was 50 miles of twisting and turning through express traffic and semi-rural scenery. After getting lost five times and stuck in traffic three times, I finally arrived in Sebastopol.

By the time I got to my VRBO location, the rehearsal dinner had been going for two hours at someplace called the Hopmonk Tavern, so now I had to get back in the car after a drive that already ran nearly six hours and push for another half hour, the last ten minutes of which was spent trying to find a parking spot. I think I was the last one to show up. After missing a phone call from my concerned mother just as I got there and greeting her and my sister, I put together a plate of food and dug in with gusto, as my food intake for that day so far had consisted of a breakfast bagel with coffee before my flight and a small bag of mini-pretzels courtesy of Alaska Airlines. The rest of the night was a rousing round of who-are-you. My sister had friends coming in from quite a few different places, many of whom had met me before in pasts both distant and not-so-distant. I’m horrid with names, and sometimes I can be pretty bad with faces, but I did remember everyone who said they already met me before. They had all heard right: Why yes, today WAS my first-ever airplane flight!

Wedding day started with a nice walk through downtown Sebastopol, where I looked for a nice joint to eat a decent breakfast. After finding Hole in the Wall, I took a walk for a few blocks of Main Street before returning to my VRBO place to rest up for the wedding. My hosts were excellent with giving out directions, but their sense of time seemed to be a little off. The wedding was going to be in Armstrong Woods, a state-sanctioned redwood forest just outside of a nearby little town called Guerneville. Between the way my sister talked about it and the way my hosts told me how far away it was, I figured that “nearby” was the Buffalo definition of the word: Hamburg being two towns south. I didn’t count on Guerneville being nearly an hour down the CA-116. After failed phone calls to my parents, I headed out at nearly 2 PM and arrived at Armstrong Woods just on time, but faced a three-quarter mile hike to the wedding spot. Fortunately, my new in-laws spotted me and gave me a ride into the meadow where the wedding was taking place.

My sister and I aren’t big on tradition. And weddings, well, the whole idea of a church wedding in front of a community is a relic of the ancient past, and not a good one; to me, the whole idea comes off like something a community would believe is done for it. Weddings, to me, have always been personal expressions of the couple getting married, and that’s what my sister and brother-in-law went for. Both of them love being outdoors, so being in a meadow, among the trees and animals they both love, seemed appropriate. The ceremony was simple – the Minister of the ceremony made a funny and touching speech about why the two of them are perfect for each other, they exchanged rings, said their I Do’s, and just like that, I had new family members. There was no communion, no bridesmaids, no best man, none of that silliness of someone being given away, and I think I spent more time admiring the redwoods than watching the ceremony. Even the flower girl forgot to throw the flowers.

There wasn’t any more tradition at the reception than there was at the wedding. The bride and groom didn’t give their own table any prominence above the others. They stood up and greeted the audience, but that was it. Again, there was nothing there to make the party any more complicated than it had to be: Garter removal, first dance, first pieces of cake – hell, cake itself – honorary toast, and bouquet toss – there was no bouquet either – were axed, and everyone let their hair down, socialized, and enjoyed themselves. I ended up hitting it off pretty well with my new in-laws, especially the husband of one of the sisters, because he was an avid soccer fan. A lot of us took turns swinging on a large rope suspended in a tree for no particular reason. When the party was over, it still didn’t seem late enough, so the group of us that was left walked back to the Hopmonk Tavern for drink, music, and more general merriment. There was a reggae/ska band called Pacific Soundrise playing, and it was here that I discovered that having a sister who was the bride could mean all access. No one paid anything to get into the show, and several of us stood up, listened to the music, and kept on dancing the night away. A few people noticed my outfit and wondered why I looked like such a professional.

The next day brought the final event of the wedding weekend: Brunch! Taking place at a park, it was another stripped-down event. I talked to more people and walked around. A few of us went on a short walk on one of the paths. I was invited to see a couple of other places, but I got lost pretty early on and my phone is crap for reading directions by text message. So I spent the day with my parents in downtown Sebastopol again, looking at musical instruments – including a $10,000 custom guitar whose maker let me play it briefly and an enormous bongo drum that stood up to my chest – and books. Afterward, we met my sister and brother-in-law for dinner before visiting the house where my new in-laws were staying, watching the scenery, watching baseball, and playing endless games of corn hole – you know, getting to know each other better.

That was it for the weekend. I raced back to Oakland the next day to get my rental car in and ended up catching my flight just in time, while my parents headed back to Buffalo and my sister and brother-in-law went to Hawaii. It had been one hell of a weekend.

Welcome to the family, everyone.

Letter to 12-Year-Old Me

Letter to 12-Year-Old Me

I’m sure a lot of us, when we were kids, had to do those cutesy little school assignments where we wrote letters to our future selves. After reading reading the popular blog Hyperbole and a Half, I decided to take a page from writer Allie Brosh’s book and offer a response to my young self who wrote a letter to my older self. However, I can never remember exactly when I wrote those letters and at what age, so I’m going to simplify this whole thing by writing a single response to myself at one of the most defining – and worst – ages of my life. My 12-year-old self is probably where I started to fall into a rocky road mentally because it was where the mental obstacles I faced probably hit their apex and where I could have used some real advice and guidance by someone who understood what was happening, and the fact that I was extremely impressionable and clueless.

Dear 12-year-old me,

You need to quit worrying about how to suddenly make yourself cool to your classmates. They’re assholes. Every last one. And at least half of your teachers aren’t any better. Hell, last year the teachers at Follow Through let one of your classmates get away with blatant physical assault. I know that part is finally over, but let’s look at the roster of people you are forced to interact with every day in school: There was the one kid, Tim, who was actually one of your good friends until sixth grade, when he decided he enjoyed making fun of you with a group he fell into and left you out of. There are those two who you think were decent friends once upon a time, but they sort of led you down the path. It’s not good-natured ribbing when they make fun of you – it’s them trying to make you jump through hoops for their own amusement.

Your best bet is to transfer to a different school. I know that’s a scary prospect, but you’re going to be doing that in a couple of years no matter what happens anyway, so why not? I know you’re worried about your social life, but that’s not exactly storming the beaches these days. So get the hell out. Make a fresh start. Considering what you’re going through, the evil you don’t know is a far better option than the evil you know. The deck is stacked against you there, and like I said, even the teachers don’t give a shit.

Speaking of terrible teachers, I can’t stress this enough: Quit listening to Pastor B in confirmation class. Nice man, well enough; but all he’s doing is selling you a bevy of half-truths and outright lies in an effort to scare you and warp you into his own way of thinking. Don’t worry about the prospect of more parent/minister chats. Fuck how much they annoy your parents. You don’t owe either of them jack shit for making you go through this. If anything, you should be doing MORE to piss off Pastor B and force more private conferences. The man is a walking boob who is selling snake oil, and what’s more, Mom and Dad both KNOW he’s a walking boob who’s selling snake oil. To this day I still haven’t the slightest idea of why they believed shoving me through confirmation class was so important. It was a waste of their time, an inexcusable waste of my time, and you ended up coming out all the worse because of it. In fact, a better thing to do is just refuse to keep going to confirmation class until they give you a satisfactory answer to the question of why you are being forced through it. “It’s traditional,” “It’s what young men do,” and “because I said so” don’t fucking count. Your parents were great, but sending me to confirmation class was a stupid thing to do back then, and considering what you’ve gone through since, in hindsight it’s a galactic fuckup. And they both know it.

Confirmation class will only have bad effects that will hurt your social development. It’s going to fill you with a sense of guilt and self-unworthiness which you’re STILL trying to get over; it’s going to make you feel a sense of shame whenever you realize you have romantic and sexual feelings toward a woman, which will take you years to expunge; it’s going to turn you into a homophobe, which will also take years to get over. It will act as a suppressor to your inquisitive personality and you’ll start trying to swallow your questions and ideas. You’re going to notice the rift between religion and basic science and let it tear you apart. You WILL eventually meet a new minister who is going to act as your guide through the tricky aspects of religion and take your questions seriously without offering the usual platitudes about reading more Bible or Just Believing, but that won’t be for another 12 years. Right now, you can spare yourself a lot of self-resentment by embracing your doubts and questions. Challenge Pastor B, stand up and demand answers to his propaganda statements, and don’t be afraid to walk out of class when the situation calls for it. Again, your parents royally fucked up by sending you there, and it’s vitally important that you drive that point home right now rather than in another 20 years.

Now let’s concentrate on something your folks did get right: Man, you need to find something to do besides school and confirmation class that gets you out the door. Yes, I know video games and books are your escapes right now, but you need human contact. You also need something challenging to try so you’ll be more willing to develop the talents you have. You recently taught yourself to play the piano. By everyone’s accounts, you weren’t too bad at it, either. Maybe you could keep going along that route and become the master of an instrument it’s widely believed to take ten fingers to master. Django Reinhardt messed his fret hand up in an accident and still became arguably the greatest guitarist who ever lived. Rick Allen played drums after his goddamned ARM was ripped off in a car accident!

No, your hand is not an excuse. There are several things which may cause you trouble, but you won’t know what you can and can’t do until you actually try them. You’re creative, so act like it. If something requires fingers that you don’t have, find a way to improvise.

Lastly, don’t let yourself fall into a self-destructive mental state. I’ve been there; it’s not fun. You’re awesome. You aren’t some freak show – you deserve dignity, respect, and the right to a life. You deserve to be around people who like you for who you are and don’t care about some arbitrary birth defect which you can’t change. You’re going to realize all this someday; but that someday can come a lot sooner and make your life a bit easier if you start taking the advice I just gave you above.

Yours Truly at 34

The Breaker

They’re words, Nicholas. Just words. You know words. You like them. You’re great with them.

Yes, but those words can have a heavy impact.

What’s the difference between these words and any other word he’s said before?

He’s spent years carrying a torch for the person he’s saying them to.

So it’s a girl. Nothing he’s never done before.

This isn’t like the girl he asked out after a booze-inspired baseball bar argument or the receptionist he bailed on an assignment to go out with. This is someone he knows, values as a friend and a person, and wants her to continue thinking highly of him…

The idea of a crush is such a simplistic thing, isn’t it? It’s when you have some sort of attraction to a person. But there are different kinds of crushes. There are those crushes from afar, where you see the other person and become infatuated with them, but aside from occasional pleasantries, you don’t speak to them very much and are therefore free to superimpose characteristics onto them based on both your own preferences and the little you do know about them. I know those crushes and like them because it doesn’t take a lot to ask the other person out. You ask, and ideally, they say yes; if they don’t, it’s easy to return to your regularly scheduled lives.

Unfortunately, the kind of crush I usually specialized in developing was the other kind: The ones that gradually develop on people you meet and who become parts of your regularly scheduled lives. Those are vicious, because with these people, you know you’re not superimposing – you know them pretty well and you’ve fallen for the entire package: Personality, beliefs, ideals, and yes, looks too. These crushes eat you alive because these people are close to you, and you’re glad they’re close to you because your friendship means something to you both. But this friend doesn’t feel the same way about you, so you get left with a front row seat to them not knowing how you really feel.

For years, I’ve had a surefire way of dealing with that second kind of crush: I’d let it fester and grow, dreaming wistfully of the girl in question while chickening out every time I had some sort of opportunity to ‘fess up. Then the girl would fall out of my life in some way or another and I would pummel my heartbreak into a nice, concentrated little rage ball, shoving it down into the part that I reserve for my deepest and darkest secrets. It did its job, and eventually, I would forget about my crush without ever having to say anything. Sure, I would always end up regretting it and hating myself that much more in the end, but it was all worth it in order to avoid the prospect of being gently turned down by someone who still liked me, respected me, and wanted to be my friend no matter what.

My last one began the same way many of the other ones did – innocuously. I wasn’t expecting it or looking for it. It wasn’t some love-at-first-sight thing. I’m trying not to give too many details about her away because I’m pretty sure she’s going to be reading this, so that makes it a bit tricky, but… When I glanced at her for the first time, she was another newcomer that I would be saying hello to. Nothing unusual, although her Amy Pond-like profile warranted a second glance. Other than that, I wasn’t thinking about her in any other way. Welcoming the newcomers was something I just did, and besides, I was trying to mentally flay my previous crush out of myself. (I know, I know, but that one was one of the very rare cases where my excuse was actually valid.) In any case, I did talk to her and welcome her to the club. And I talked to her regularly when she decided she liked us enough to keep returning.

Somewhere along the line, it became one of my hobbies to help people I barely knew move. That was something that happened in this case. She was looking for a few good people to help her put her things onto the truck, and I was more than happy to lend a hand. It allowed us to have what was probably our first extended chat, a moment where I was able to have my first glimpse of her intelligence, quirkiness, and depth of character. I knew afterward that she was someone I could get to like, and slowly but surely, that’s what happened. Before I knew what hit me, I had another new crush to suppress. And when my previous one sort of dropped out from the area, the new one supplanted her and started wringing out my heart. So what did I have to do to face this one? Well, again, I didn’t do anything. My return home was imminent and I would never have to face it. In Buffalo, she drifted from my mind – though never quite managing to escape it, she was out of sight far enough for me to believe my crush on her had floated itself into submission.

Matters of the heart frighten me because it’s so difficult to understand them. Part of that is the feeling of sheer worthlessness I’ve struggled with for years; I’ve often wondered what, if anything, I would ever be able to offer as a boyfriend. Indeed, sometimes even as a person. Another part of that is because I tend to be analytical – I don’t believe in problems that can’t be solved with the right information at hand. When dealing with attraction and love, though, I don’t have any control whatsoever over the outcome. A girl will feel for me what she feels for me, and there’s no magic combination of actions and words which will ever change that. So it feels to me like gambling against the house – there’s an outside shot, but I can’t do very much about it. So I was less than enthused when I got out west and started reaching out to contacts, saw her picture, and felt my heart flutter. This crush wasn’t gone. It had merely been dormant.

The original plan, of course, was to ignore it and let it run its course. When I first started reaching out to her, I didn’t intend to say anything. Here’s something about me, though: I’m mental. I have a variety of weird junk running around in my head that manifests itself in ways that aren’t especially good for me. Here’s another thing: My Mother knows that. And when New Year’s Day came along, she made me promise to do something for her: Learn to love myself. That was going to be some trick; I had no idea how to do that. When I contacted her again believing my time here might have run out, it occurred to me that a sizable chunk of my problems happened because I was too much of a coward to say anything to girls I liked. Sure, I had been on blind dates, asked out girls after bar arguments, and once ditched an assignment to go out with a receptionist, but those were entirely different – even the receptionist, a person I interacted with regularly, was another superimposition. So once I suggested we meet, my brain started making wild suggestions: Hey, you know, you should tell her you like her!

Often as I threatened to stab my brain with a pencil for saying such outlandish things, there was something about the idea that I couldn’t get around: Suppressing my feelings wasn’t exactly making me dance through flower fields. It was a ritualistic pattern that was hurting more and more as it went on, and even though the prospect of looking my friend in the face and telling her that I liked her was one of the most daunting things I ever faced, I knew I would have to do it… Well, sometime. Within the next two crushes. Three, maybe. No more than five. After I was finished being overtaken by panic at the thought of doing that, I figured out exactly how I was going to drop this little bombshell: Just say it, no fuss, like ripping off a Band-Aid: RRRRIIIIIIIPPPPPPP!!!!! Surely she wouldn’t even notice! With that now settled, I immediately started coming up with about two dozen romantic comedy speeches for the occasion, at least between all the times I wasn’t deciding to chicken out or asking myself, Do I have to?

It felt like I was coming to a new decision about this every hour. Yes – you don’t know if you’ll ever have a chance to do it again. No – what sort of goddamned sense does it make to be a romantic, anyway? Yes – this ridiculous pattern of mine has to go. No – you might get stabbed in the throat… And so on. At the same time, I was also trying to manage my expectations. I figured around even odds for her either stabbing me in the throat or swooning into my arms, begging me to run away to Vegas with her on the spot to elope. Both of those reactions would have freaked me out anyway; although I admit that in the latter case, my attempt to talk her out of it never would have made it past the third sentence. I figured the two most likely reactions would be a soft rejection in which she told me she didn’t want to be anything more than friends, or some sort of sign that told me it would be okay to follow up by formally asking her out. Really, though, the thing I was hoping for most was that she wouldn’t be angry or upset with me, because no matter what happened, I valued her as a friend and liked her company.

Finally our coffee meeting came, and I sat in a Barnes and Noble reading in a corner and debating with myself about whether or not to actually go through with it. No. Yes. No. No. Yes. Yes. Next thing I knew, I peeked up and…

“Oh, it IS you!” There she was, and there was no way in hell I was saying anything. I choked on a yelp and somehow averted the sudden urge to dive behind my chair and deny my linguistic abilities. I managed to calm down, though, and both speak with her and internally fight with myself. No. No. Neil Gaiman. Yes. Maybe? Nomadic Matt. Huh? I must be stupid. Portland is awesome. Yes. Sure yes. Changed my mind again. If she stabs you in the throat… She’s not going to stab me in the throat… Yes. Double yes… There’s no way in hell I’m gonna be able to keep this in.

Finally, on the way off, I screamed it. It didn’t have the regular tone, pitch, or feel of a proper scream, but that didn’t make it any less of a scream.

Much of what was said next is still a bit of a blur to me. A lot of it was an odd combination of rambling, trying to say more but not quite getting it out, saying things the wrong way, and trying to justify my existence. All those romantic comedy soliloquies flew out the door. She took it gracefully, saying she only ever thought of me as a friend – albeit being very flattered – while also saying how much courage it must have taken me to come clean. (It did.) My world didn’t suddenly careen off its axis and fly into the sun. I hadn’t lost anything from my mind that was there before, and the pattern that I had been locked into was finally broken. Although I’m not sure I said anything good in the ensuing conversation, I knew that this wasn’t going to scar me for life. Being turned down wasn’t wonderful, granted, but I finally declared out loud that I believed I had something to offer a significant other.

It’s not the first time I’ve had to live with friendship. It was the first time I essentially chose it by acknowledging what I felt instead of letting my feelings keep hurting me. She wasn’t mad or repulsed or, really, she didn’t react in any of the ways I feared. Hell, I’ll take her friendship over being cut from her life; after all, she did seem to grasp the fact that, in my context, this was monumental. She was the one I decided to break up a self-hating pattern that was hampering my personal life.

As I drifted to sleep that night, I conjured her images – replaying the events of the day, and events from our past. It was a little haunting, but somehow also comforting to watch her float by as a formless version of Led Zeppelin’s “Thank You” wafted in from a place that only I knew.