Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Half-way to Half-way to Half of 240

Three. Zero.

Today, I turn thirty. It seems like a big deal to me. I've always thought of 30 as when you really are who you are. You're an adult. You're in your life. There's no more preparing to do what you want to do, just the actual execution. It probably goes without saying (but I'm verbose, so deal with it) that now that I'm actually here, the view seems a little different. There will still be preparation and I'm not ready to take on all the challenges I want to get to in my life. But still, I'm a heck of a lot closer than I ever was before.

So I figured I'd take this time to share some of the things I've come to realize in my 30 years on Earth. No, I won't do a recap of my life. I did that once before (it's hilarious, go read it if you never have). This time around, I'm gonna share some of the wisdom of my many years...

  • The fight about the toilet seat isn't worth it; just put it down.
  • Your parents aren't always right.
  • Your parents are almost always right.
  • Boiling-hot chicken noodle soup, when poured directly into a lap, will cure a concussion.
  • The first rule of cooking is: add more cheese. Period.
  • Revenge is a dish best served cold. With extra cheese.
  • Techno music is awesome if you're driving long distances at night.
  • So are the works of Louis L'amour, in audio format
  • It isn't ego, it's "self-promotion." All the greats were self-promoters. Mike Tyson, Paris Hilton, Stalin. See? I'm in good company.
  • Moleskin journals are a writer's best friend.
  • I should really keep a moleskin with me...
  • The Godfather. Oh. Yeah.
  • There are some people who truly aren't worth arguing with. They're rare, but they do exist.
  • When facing a budget crisis, don't cut the small stuff. For example, a school shouldn't cut music or art or foreign language or extra curriculars. They should cut math or science. Because the person making that decision might well lose their job, but you can be darn sure there won't be a budget crisis a year later.
  • Related to that, don't be afraid to make the hard decisions.
  • Related to that, Pepsi really is better than Coke. But Cherry Coke is the best of all.
  • Don't mess around with the expiration dates on food. Or, conversely, have a good plumber on speed dial.
  • If you don't like the book, just put it down and don't finish it. There are too many good books out there to waste time on bad ones.
  • Being gullible is one of the most minor sins a person can commit. Being cynical is one of the worst.
  • It happens with surprising frequency that the best thing on TV is a cartoon.
  • If you don't stop making that face, it'll freeze that way.
  • You'll probably enjoy most of the classic novels.
  • You definitely won't enjoy all of them.
  • The real goal of a debate isn't to win the argument, it's to to plant a seed for future change. People don't change their mind on the spot, but they do change their mind over time.
  • Be open to change and the seeds that others might sow. Try them out, see if they germinate.
  • But be strong in your convictions too; don't throw aside a tree just because a weed is growing.
  • Enough with the plant metaphor already!
  • Life is too short to listen to Top 40 radio.
  • Don't buzz your hair when you're in high school.
  • Sweatshirts can be magical.
  • Do not, under any circumstances, fall asleep while driving a 15 passenger van.
  • "Be yourself" is trite and annoying. "Be who you want to be" is better (though probably still a little cliche).
  • The definitive D.C. experience isn't a museum or monument; it's Ben's Chili Bowl.
  • If your pet rat dies, the best thing you can do is throw a viking funeral.
  • Sometimes the best thing in life is a cheap beer and a ball game on TV.
  • Sometimes the best thing in life is a fine wine and an opera.
  • Both of those things are made better by occasionally indulging in the other.
  • Big families are indescribably awesome.
  • Italy is at least at great as you think it is, probably better.
  • Don't buy a dark suit in a poorly lit room. You think you're buying black, but it's actually some weird shade of navy.
  • Baseball is the best sport.
  • Don't accidentally call Stone Cold Steve Austin "Cold Stone Steve Austin."
  • Marshmallows are not the most efficient mode of transportation.
  • Have a sense of humor. Don't be easily offended.
  • Everyone can have a few of things that are off-limits to joking, but no one should have more than that.
  • You don't need to learn to tie your shoes if you can learn to walk without tripping over your shoelaces.
  • Being a husband is the best thing in the world.
  • Being a father is even more so.
  • Squirrels can be evil. They know what they're doing, man.
  • There is an infinite capacity for love.
  • I'm not very good at stand-up.
  • On your first day of school, don't pull your pants all the way down when standing at the urinal.
  • Carry your wallet in your front pocket, it's better for your back.
  • If you ever own a motorcycle, instead of a normal helmet, you should wear a storm trooper helmet.
  • I don't quite know how to put this one into words, but, when someone does something bad to you, be like my dad. If you know what I'm talking about, you know what I'm talking about.
  • Brush your teeth well.
  • Bulleted lists are a really easy way around writing something that's actually good.
  • Listen to life. It tells you what to do.
Now if I just follow some of my own advice, the next 30 years should go great!

And on the radio
We heard November Rain

Monday, May 09, 2011

Phickle Thoughts

So, I've finally started watching The West Wing. It feels like a very epic undertaking. I've seen a couple episodes here or there before, but I always said I wanted to just watch it all at once, to do it justice. 2 episodes in, and I've had to pause the show several times to comment on its awesomeness. Yay.
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Also, it kind of makes me want to be president. I'm not folksy, or good at telling stories that prove a point, or even really insightful like President Bartlett. But I kind of aspire to be that. Sigh.
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So we're halfway through this pregnancy thing. The other night we babysat for neighbors who have a 3 month old. It was a little preview slice of life with a toddler and a baby. The baby was perfect. And I still found myself thinking "what have we gotten ourselves into?"
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I felt the baby kick for the first time the other day!
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I find it kind of hard to imagine how much I'll love the next kid. Mostly because how much I love my kid now has just continued to grow. When he was born, I loved him more than anything. Now, it's significantly more than it was then. It's a pretty cool thing: the heart's unending capacity for love. Looking forward to experiencing further growth.
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Finally, I'm still in this writing challenge thing. I even won immunity this past week. It's just been so much fun, and frankly, a real blast getting to read the cool stuff that other people come up with.

Anyway, this week's challenge was... rough. Basically, you had to write a story in which a miscommunication caused things to have a very different result than they otherwise would have had. Limit was 1200 words. It was a tough challenge because, especially when you're writing, it's tough to have the reader both 1. know what Character A intended in the communication and B. why Character B didn't understand. Plus, let's be honest, miscommunications don't really make for compelling plot arcs.

But I was pretty happy with what I came up with, so I'm gonna share it here. Enjoy!
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There was an energetic heat in the air that summer. We were all “Surfin’ USA” and my attic apartment smelt like ozone. I kept the fans blasting, so the computers wouldn’t overheat. It was a miracle that I ever managed to keep those old boxes running. The fans drowned out the sound of the Cubs, but that was just as well in ’63.

We’d moved ahead quickly in previous years: the great leap forward. They were primitive by today’s standards, but we could hardly believe what a computer could do. Sure, the Commies beat us into space, but I downloaded nudie pictures of Sophia Loren and a pirated version of Please, Please Me. Here’s to the triumph of Democracy.

I would stay up late almost every night that summer, my room glowing out into the dark, while Mr. and Mrs. Kaspersinski and their three little rotund dzieci rolled off to sleep. The dog, a white, yapping ball of fur during the daylight hours – poked and prodded by fat, sticky fingers – would find its quiet way to the top of the stairs, scurry into my room, and sit himself on my bed. He’d stay there, watching as I typed away at the keyboard. When finally I would pull myself across the room and sink down into the depths of sleep he would still be there, laying at the foot of the bed. His nightly sojourn away from the family was our little secret. Back then, the dog was the only one who got me. I was always on my own. Mom died when I was little and Dad wasn’t big on parenting. I’d started renting when I went off to school in the city, and hadn’t been home many times since.

In those days maybe a tenth of the country had a computer, and of those, maybe one in a hundred were using them for anything other than solitaire. We were on our way, but the technology was new. For me, computers opened up a passage, leading to little enclaves of new reality, sheltered from the world of heavy manufacturing and rubbery bratwurst – the world of the Kaspersinskis. Mrs. Kaspersinski would ascend the stairs once a week or so, broom in hand, pretending to sweep the little hall to the apartment I had rented. Her eyes bulged at the lengths of wire running like vines across the floor towards their vital energy sources. They hadn’t even thought to charge me for utilities, but I pitched in; juice was cheaper back then, but I used a lot of it.

The Kaspersinskis might never have understood, but I was connecting with a new breed of people. Chat rooms and instant messenger were the future and there was an elite group of us exploring the digital frontier. We even developed our own abbreviated language: “IMHO, LOL, L8R.” Most of us were men. There was a fair mix of suburbanite dads looking for an escape, ex-military technophile types, and students, like myself. We spent days discussing Ursula Andress and episodes of The Twilight Zone.

We all had handles at the time. No one knew who the others really were, and we liked it that way. So long as you had something to share – music, games, witticisms about the flaws of Dr. No – you were good in our eyes. You could be whoever you wanted, say whatever you wanted. It was the Wild West piped into our rooms, and we were fast on the draw. It was a world with impunity.

There was one week, towards the end of the summer, when things stopped moving. It was hot. The air was so heavy that the few insects that summoned the energy to fly found themselves suspended, heavenly bodies in the aether, a mere fraction of their regular wing speed required for flight, far greater energies expended avoiding the forces of combustion. Even the traffic online had ground down. All those suburbanites had taken their families to the lake. With the lack of material, I quickly ate through my usual forums, and started surfing around for something new. I stumbled onto a site recommended by one of the military guys. Most of it was too political. Stuff I didn’t get and didn’t really care to. But some of it was true slice of life for a guy like me. People who didn’t belong, searching out other lost souls.

I spent a day chatting with one guy. The Kaspersinskis were staying with a relative up north of Milwaukee, and I’d had the home to myself. I had set out that morning to buy some groceries, but only made it as far as the station on the corner. It was far too hot to go any further. I stocked up on cherry soda and chips and headed back to the attic around 11. Things started casually enough. He called himself LeeO, kind of like the lion. You could tell he was new to the world. He didn’t catch a lot of the lingo the first time through, and I found myself explaining most of the abbreviations to him.

He was married and had a kid, with another on the way. You might think a guy like that had it put together pretty well, but he seemed more desperate than that. Something was incomplete in his life. I knew how that felt, so we got to talking. Honestly, it felt good to open up a little. And he helped me see things weren’t so bad, provided some real perspective. Sure, I may have been a loner, but he was seriously dark. It was like a game of reverse upsmanship: every bad thing that I threw out there, he came up with something worse. Eventually I joined in, trying to out-bleak him.

“I’ve only got one parent, and he doesn’t even know I exist,” I wrote.
“Could be worse,” he replied, “He could die and leave you with the funeral costs.”
“LOL. What you got?”
“Here’s depressing: nobody knows I exist.”
“You could always make a name for yourself,” I suggested, “Shoot someone famous. jk.”

He just typed a smile, and our game was done.

If I had to pick one point in my life where things started to turn around, it probably would have to be that conversation. I started school again soon afterward, and with that healthy dose of perspective I began to make some real friends. We started up a computer club, and I got along with a bunch of the guys. We bonded over the tragedy that fall, and I still keep in touch with some of the group. I never heard from LeeO again, but I owe him a debt of gratitude. Sometimes a stranger can come into your life for the briefest of moments and it can have all the impact in the world.

If everybody had an ocean
Across the USA