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Category Archives: Who Am I – Stuff About Myself

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.

Sebastopol

Sebastopol

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.

Sincerely,
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.

 

As Seen in the Buffalo News

As Seen in the Buffalo News

I’m guessing a few of you who are stopping by over the next week are new here and dropped in because my name turned up in The Buffalo News, so first of all, here’s a quick explanation: I became a victim of the economy a few years ago, which forced me to move from my adopted hometown of Chicago back to my native Buffalo. I started this blog as a personal journal for my friends back in Chicago. I still write posts like that sometimes, but this blog slowly turned from that into a running cultural commentary, so I went with the gradual transformation. (My life, by the way, is almost back on track – I just have a couple more humps I’m trying to get over. They’re big ones, but not insurmountable.)

Second, I’d like to thank The Buffalo News for the mention, and Stephen T. Watson in particular. The few things I’ve said about The Buffalo News here haven’t been especially nice, but for this, I can give them high marks for real professionalism.

Third, between schoolwork and my ideas running a little dry at the moment, this inspired my next post – it will be an explanation of what I would knock down and replace if I was the Mayor of Buffalo. So check back for that in the next few days.

Fourth, here’s the article Watson mentioned:
https://windynickel.wordpress.com/2013/09/19/buildings-in-buffalo-that-look-like-they-could-be-found-in-star-wars/

And here’s a more in-depth attack on Main Place Mall:
https://windynickel.wordpress.com/2013/10/06/the-commercial-death-star-the-worlds-most-useless-shopping-mall/

You Know What’s Worse than Working?

You Know What’s Worse than Working?

We take employment for granted in this country. We’re apparently under the impression left in our heads by all those Warner Bros. cartoons we watched as kids, that finding work is as easy as walking into the first store with a “hiring” sign, yanking it out of the window, telling the manager “Here I am!” and getting put on the job immediately. Every job has a single applicant, and employers are so desperate for help, they don’t even bother with an interview.

To what little credit I can offer this overly simplistic viewpoint, I have seen – and even worked – jobs which have operated in this very same fashion. Unfortunately, the only jobs that work in such a way are commission-based, door-to-door sales jobs which force you to work 12 hours a day, six days a week, on the hope that the mathematical law of averages swings into your favor. In other words, they’re scam jobs where the returns on your investments are practically nonexistent. Any real job, in which you can make an actual wage and maybe have a few benefits, requires going out and doing the legwork – filling out applications and hoping you get called for an interview, after which you’ll be made to wait a week or two for your potential employer to give you any kind of word. I regularly read job-hunt books, and most of them say the same thing about that scenario – if the employer says he’s got a bunch more interviews, you’re on the backburner; he’s already hired his guy, and he just wants a few people as backups in case the person he hired decides not to show.

I like to believe most people in this country are aware of this, at least on some level. Unfortunately, even then, the Warner Bros. version of the typical job search tends to prevail in the American imagination. Even in the job search books I’ve read, almost every author makes one of two assumptions: Either that the reader is already working and just looking for an improvement, or that a part-time job is growing on a nearby jobby tree to be easily plucked. Since I returned to Buffalo, I’ve been forced to say no to three jobs I was offered that were totally in the bag, offering reasonable pay and benefits, due to distance. Now that I’m a student, such packages don’t come along every day, but I’m still in the hunt for a part-time position because I want to pursue my career schooling full time. I’m having a difficult time finding a proper part-time position which can get me an income and help me pay off my debts.

I find something a little disturbing in the fact that finding a position like this is so difficult. Finding part-time work shouldn’t be hard. There are people, after all, who are able to find long-term employment after being out of the workforce for years. I managed to go to plenty of interviews, but they all ended with the same message: “We’ll call you back no matter what.” In other words, they’ve made their desired hire and I’m never going to hear from them again.

There has to be some kind of trick to getting whatever job you happen to be interviewing for at the moment, and the people I envy the most are the people who have managed to figure that trick out. You know those people: They’re the ones who are able to hop from job to job, staying on whatever job they’re working for two or three months, then quitting, then, when you talk to them, tell you about how they didn’t like this or that store policy or how their manager was a major douche, so they quit their job and found work someplace else literally the very next day. The jobs they’re constantly drifting in and out of aren’t even skill jobs which require training or education, either; they’re regular, ordinary part-time jobs with a wide glut of people competing with each other to get into. I don’t know what’s more amazing about the people who are able to do that; the fact that they’re able to so callously go in and out of work so easily, or the fact that employers, even after presumably looking at their work history and seeing there’s a better-than-even chance they won’t be around for a very long time, still hire them, apparently convinced they’re the magic employers who have found the secret formula to taming the common job players.

Meanwhile, there’s me, and I plan on staying wherever I get hired for at least the next couple of years so I can finish educating myself. I’ll stay on for longer if I find a job in a media industry – which encompasses my old degree – or the health industry, which is what I’m currently pursuing. I work very hard and haven’t been properly fired since 2006. I’m perfectly capable of leaving my nonconformist tendencies at home whenever I’m on the job. I’ve been praised for being friendly and professional nearly everywhere I’ve been, and the ultimate testament to friendliness and professionalism is that I managed to reel in over $7000 while working to solicit donations from people who watch PBS in Buffalo. These were phone solicitations too, which basically meant I was working as a telemarketer to take these donations. I’ve been able to fit in and get along with every co-worker I’ve ever had, so it isn’t like there are any major issues that anyone should be worried about.

I’ve pinpointed interviewing as my trouble spot, and that’s partly because I’ve received so much conflicting advice over how to deal with interviews that, at one point, I tried following all of it. As you can probably imagine, that didn’t work out very well. So I recently ditched around, oh, say, probably 90 percent of the interviewing advice I’ve ever received and started just going strictly by the basics: Keep my personal life out of it, research the company, avoid asking about salary or benefits, things of that nature. Still, I want to be one of those people who can get any job on the planet and hop from one to another with no trouble. I’m not saying I would hop from job to job at the slightest inconvenience. I’m just saying I hate not having an income and am in search of any infallible secrets which could help me attain one. I have a life I really want to get back to living, you know.

Depression and the Blue Collar Ethos

Depression and the Blue Collar Ethos

If you’ve been living somewhere among the outer planets during the last couple of days, you might not realize that iconic actor and comedian Robin Williams recently died. That means in the coming weeks we’re bound to be subjected to runs of many of his movies, both the good ones and the ones that are not so much. I’m looking forward to seeing the runs of Good Will Hunting, the 1997 indie blockbuster in which Williams won his very deserved Oscar for playing Sean McGuire, the court-ordered shrink to Matt Damon’s titular title character, Will Hunting.

There’s a kind of sad irony in the fact that Williams gave perhaps the greatest performance of his career in maybe the best movie of his career as a psychologist. The official ruling on Williams’s death was suicide, and I’ll spare the platitudes about depression and everything non-sufferers don’t get about it. They’re trickling in at what has to be a record rate, and depression in and of itself really isn’t the point of this post anyway. Good Will Hunting might be my favorite movie from the eccentric filmography of Robin Williams, save maybe Aladdin. Although the movie takes place in Boston, there’s a serious element of Good Will Hunting that really clicks true in Rust Belt cities, and it results in a movie which is able to attack one of the dominant aspects of Rust Belt life while avoiding the kind of condescension and elitist views of the blue collar class which is typical of Hollywood directors. (And the insufferable Robert Altman in particular, whose death I continue to view as addition by subtraction.) The South Boston/Rust Belt commonalities are many and very minute, if Good Will Hunting’s portrayal of Southie is to be believed.

Many American cities like to view themselves as tough, take-no-shit kinds of places, living by examples of bootstrap-pulling toughness even in the worst-case scenario. I can’t think of a single place in the country that tries to exemplify this kind of ethos more than the Rust Belt. The Rust Belt is so hopelessly obsessed with this image that many of the people who live on it will place it before any and all personal progress, bringing the whole toughness thing into every decision they make, be it in family or career or anything else they consider living for. This leads to some very destructive contradictions: Rust Belt people are branded from birth with the idea of lending a hand to anyone in serious need, but when in need themselves, actually accepting such help is considered emasculating. The people who offer the help are always dead serious about it, too; if someone should take up our help offerings, we’ll drop everything in an instant and see our promises kept through right up until the very end. That makes it very bewildering and sometimes tragic that most people prefer to turn down the offered help and make the situation even worse.

Therefore, Buffalo is a strict adherent of the “just” culture. That’s the beloved idea always spouted by Fox News pundits that, whatever the problem is, you can turn your entire life around by merely going out and doing the opposite. Are you poor? Why, just go out and get rich! Are you sick? Hey, that’s easy – you just have to get healthy! It can be summed up rather easily with a single, very famous line from the popular sitcom It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia: “Oh, get a job? Just get a job? Why don’t I strap on my job helmet and squeeze down into a job cannon and fire off into job land, where the jobs grow on jobbies?!” If only it were so simple, right? What’s unfortunate is that in most of the Rust Belt, people really do think it’s that simple, and the lower classes which are truly affected are too busy blaming each other to ask themselves why the higher classes – those always being touted as the ones who create the opportunities for the lower classes – have been creating rather less opportunities as of late. Of course, if asked, the higher classes will probably spout the same bullshit comments about pulling ourselves up from the bootstraps. It’s a well-rehearsed routine.

Depression tends to get treated in such a manner on the Rust Belt too. Feeling blue? Just cheer up! This is partially the result of the city’s piss-poor education system, which just this last year brought its high school graduation rate up past 50 percent for the first time in decades. (And even now, the current 53 percent graduation rate isn’t exactly worth writing about.) It’s also because Buffalo also runs around sporting a real 50’s mentality, which means you do your brooding in secret and pray your ass off to a very specific god until you magically turn happy again. Ask anyone from Buffalo, and they’ll tell you that’s all depression is – eternal sadness. Therefore, all ou have to do to cheer up is toss a funny movie into the DVD player or read the daily funnies in The Buffalo News.

The problem with depression on the Rust Belt is less that the people who live on the Rust Belt don’t understand it, but more the fact that they are very adamant in refusing to try to understand it. Being a good Rust Belt citizen means clinging desperately to the ways of the olden days, even though this adherence to the old ways is clearly contributing to the downward spiral of the region. The Rust Belt locked itself in and insulated itself against forward progress as soon as the steel industry started bailing on it, and the whole area is still under the mistaken impression that trying to pretend everything is like it was during the apex of the postwar boom will actually make the various cities prosperous again. The same revitalization that turned Pittsburgh and Philadelphia around came when those two cities finally recognized that the region will never be an industrial dynamo again. Change like that requires the entire populace to start thinking differently, and Pennsylvania’s two biggest cities have apparently performed admirably. Buffalo, not so much.

Unfortunately, this old time mindset leads the Rust Belt to treat mental problems like they’re paper cuts. Those of us who suffer from depression while living on the Rust Belt are therefore forced to deal with the isolation and loneliness through the rather dangerous method of pretending they don’t exist. It’s hard to say we can deal with it through other means; we’re not taught any other means, and if we are, it’s so we get the strict impression that those who do resort to those other (smarter) means are wusses who just aren’t the tough joes we are. Trying to explain your personal depression to people is a quick way to get an angry brush-off statement.

Depression is also easily compounded by the dominant way of life on the Rust Belt. With the 50’s mindset still gripping peoples’ thoughts and lives with an iron clasp, there’s a very strict script creating that terrible illusion known as “normality.” I give the region a lot of shit about its general lack of curiosity, but it’s hard to tell just how much curiosity actually exists here. That’s because anyone who holds any sense of curiosity, intellectual or cultural, tends to keep their interest on the down low. Science in Buffalo is treated the same way they treated witchcraft in Salem, and most people who believe in any kind of religion adhere to the toxic forms of it which propagate exclusivity and teach the idea of self-unworthiness. This adds up to the fact that any freethinkers who live on the Rust Belt have to bottle themselves up and wear their more socially acceptable masks in public. That’s basically a form of mental self-suffocation, and those who are forced to do it for too long tend to fall deeper into depression. Many end up crawling to the bottle and contemplating suicide. I’ve done the latter at least three or four different points in my life sometimes.

That’s why I love Good Will Hunting so much. We see Will Hunting trapped in the Rust Belt tough guy mindset, trying to live by a certain code which has been drilled in since childhood but is clearly against his better interests. Sean McGuire is successfully able to break through every mental defense Will erects against him, finally breaking Will down. The Hollywood ending, with Will quietly leaving Massachusetts to reunite with the girl his mental defenses stupidly made him ditch earlier, is a gratifying one for all. For me and others who go through depression on Rust Belt blue collar terms, the big reward is in seeing the moment when Will is able to change the way his head is programmed. He awakens to the fact that what his blue collar culture instilled in him doesn’t work, and his departure to follow Skylar is not only the right choice for his heart, but a subtle form of rejecting his old culture and his bad habits.

Sadly, Will Hunting’s end doesn’t happen for enough people who live by the rough and tumble blue collar ethos of the Rust Belt, because we don’t have a Dr. McGuire or a Chuck, a best friend who is able to muster enough realism to tell Will he probably would be best off someplace else. Anyone who gets depressed to the point of suicide living on the Rust Belt will likely have to gather enough courage to admit it to themselves before acting on it. And when (if) they do, fortunately, there’s a National Suicide Prevention Lifeline they can call at 1-800-273-8255.