root cause

I fired two more Pittsburgh contractors this week. Well, maybe that's overstating it. They arguably quit. Can you really fire someone when they don't show up for the appointment?

I vented to Andy, a lifelong Pittsburgher. He was born here, went to Pitt, and started a family here. There is a 100% chance of his dying here. My rant concluded with the phrase that has come to define my 2016: "a culture of low expectations."

"Oh, I don't agree with that!" replied the man who recommended the contractors, who pays triple taxes for half-services, who doesn't understand why I think it's unusual that my garbage guys always leave trash in my lawn.

D'ere's yer problem, right d'ere.

lucy part iii

Part I
Part II

I visited the dive bar last night and found no available seats. Among the seats' occupants was, in fact, Lucy. I smiled as I walked past and said hi. She gagged and managed an uncomfortable nod. Ordinarily, I would have grabbed a stool and had a drink, letting her approach me if she chose. But without an open seat, my only options were to leave or to force the issue with someone who quite probably despises me. So I left.

"YOU JUST MADE THIS SO MUCH WORSE! THAT'S EVEN WORSE THAN LEAVING THE FIRST TIME!" counseled a female friend via text.

Sigh.

yes. really.

Many years ago, I was driving an old friend, Beth, to dinner. Recounting a deep and dark secret from her past, she was in tears. Actual weeping. This is all the more significant because she never, ever cries. She laid her heart bare that day. It was unprecedented vulnerability from a taciturn person.

As I pulled into a parking spot, she was in mid-sentence. A pretty girl in a brown ponytail entered my field of vision. WHAM! I racked my Jeep against the curb.

“Fucking really?” said a throughly disgusted Beth.

pulp nonfiction

Here and elsewhere, I've often wondered if my neighbors ever hear me. Except for lawn-mowing and maybe two instances of "Goddammit Fredo! Fuck!" a year, I have to think it's never.

I don't have motorcycles, and if I did, I certainly wouldn't remove the baffles like a douche. I don't scream at a wife. My dogs don't bark...or else. I don't have kids waging an unending war to drown one another out. I never fire up a chainsaw or leaf blower or jackhammer or, relevant to this moment, a wood chipper. I just sit in my house in silent suffering, trying to do my job through the Italian Wood Chipper Torture, wondering if my politeness makes them assume this house is empty.

flo weighs in with typical nuance

Flo: you SLIPPED OUT???
Flo: you are a dick!
Flo: jesus christ! what's the worst thing that could have happened????
Flo: you don't have to fuck pittsburgh darcy, you can become FRIENDS???
Flo: oh good grief
Flo: you're an idiot
Flo: you'll punch some dude at a super bowl game but run away like a pussy from a drunk girl.
Flo: omg. how many levels of stupid are there in that story?

great moments in me-dom

Maybe I wanted to apologize. Maybe I just wanted to get laid. For whatever reason, I ventured back to the dive bar to reconnect with red-haired Lucy.

And seriously, read the link or this won't make sense. Go on. I'll wait.

Into the dive bar I ventured, and I immediately saw the red ponytail sitting at the bar. The face, however, was not familiar.

"Was I so drunk that I don't remember what her face looks like after a couple hours of embarrassingly gooey conversation?" I thought. I sat ten stools down and peeked at her once in a while while she talked to some dude. "I seriously do not recognize her, but how many redheads can there be at this bar? I need to drink less. A lot less."

Time passed. Another redhead walked in, still not Lucy. "What the fuck. Did I find the ginger nexus of the universe, here?" It was then that I noticed the lighting. There's not a single source of light in that bar that isn't a red light bulb.

I could not have felt more moronic without actually crapping my pants upon meeting the Queen.

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slam

Look at your Facebook feed. Ever notice how the inspirational quotes are never posted by your successful friends?

It's my own personal Rogues Gallery of People Who Don't Reach for the Check.

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ginger snapped

When Risa and Eddie stood me up, I hopped an Uber to a dive bar that had been recommended to me. There I sat, black cloud over my head, pounding down cheap bourbons. It wasn't long before another customer and the bartender were discussing the Walking Dead. They mocked people who stopped watching because Negan is too gorey.

"Not me. I stopped watching because he bored me shitless," I said.

"He bores you?!" they exclaimed, and then I had to explain that endlessly mugging, monologuing, zero-dimensional cartoon characters do, in fact, kinda bore me.

The other customer's name is Lucy. She's a chain-smoking, red-haired barfly at what was quite correctly billed as a sticky-floored dive bar. We talked Walking Dead for a while, and then we somehow transitioned to transformational grammar. Turns out we're both geeks there, too, and she's got fistfuls of degrees as credentials. Not exactly expecting to meet such a person at this bar, I immediately went Full Dumb Guy.

"Gosh, she's pretty," I thought, right before laying way, way, way too many drunken compliments on her. She didn't seem to mind. She moved over to sit next to me, and the arm touches were coming about once every five minutes. I looked down; yep, I was wearing the Google fleece.

Ever since I started mentoring red-haired Darcy, however, I've had an aversion to redheads. It's like being attracted to someone who looks like your niece. It's not wrong, really, but once you notice it, it's hard to unnotice it. But I gamely soldiered on. Then she blurted out her age. She's the exact same age as Darcy.

"Yeah, that killed it," I said, waving at the bartender. "I'd like to cash out, please."

prescription for what ails me

I decided to drag my mopey ass out of my house, so the other night, I made plans to meet Risa and Eddie at a restaurant. The appointed hour came and went, and to absolutely no one's surprise, Pittsburghers were again no-shows. I'd only taken a $40 Uber to meet them. It's not like I'd walked or something.

"You coming?" I texted Risa from the restaurant 40 hours ago. I've yet to hear back. I cannot emphasize enough how typical this experience has been for me here. Perfectly friendly people, perfectly wasting my life. I tend to think it's them and not me, but it's hard not to question myself. How can everyone possibly be this disdainful of everyone?

I need a new doctor, so I just scoured the Internet for local recommendations. I found this on reddit right away.

My wife has really bad anxiety and is getting really low lows from depression and she's really getting worked up that these doctors either A.) Don't return phone calls, or B.) don't show up. She's getting worried and really wants to get help and somehow in a city this big we can't find ANYONE reliable.
Diagnosis: innocent.

i bore even myself

Listless, I've spent a lot of time watching TV lately. Sometimes I run out to get M&Ms. That's as industrious as I've been getting. Judge away. I deserve your scorn, and it's about to get worse.

I just watched Grease Live!, the live musical that aired last year. It's set in a 1950s American high school with black head football coaches and black Pink Ladies. In other words, a utopian 1950s America that never came close to existing. I'm of three minds about this choice:

  1. Does every pop confection have to be historically accurate? Is color-blind casting not progress?
  2. Somewhere, a white kid who's never heard of Selma now thinks there were black head football coaches in the 50s.
  3. I found these casting choices and the moral questions they raised so distracting, I couldn't concentrate on the damned show.
This was probably for the best.

pulling rugs on shifting sands

What my life needs right now is just a little more uncertainty. Let's see. House chaos? Check. Job chaos? Check. National chaos? Check. No idea where I'll be six months from now? Check. No less than four people trying to steal from me? Check. Retarded dog snoring next to me, always, always, always? Check and mate
.

hear my prayer

Dear invisible mind-reading zombie-Jew in the sky,

Please let this election be over today.

Best,
John

the siren song of the knife drawer

My business's books are often off by a few dollars, but this year they were off $2500. So I spent all day Saturday slavishly reconciling every sale and every expenditure against the checking account. Now they're off by $4500.

Personally, I cannot think of a worse use for a sunny Saturday. If there's anything I hate more than doing math, it's doing math counterproductively.

aha

Risa is my realtor and cigar buddy. It was her inspector that missed 100 grand in repairs. That I'm still speaking to her is a testament to how hard I'm working on making friends.

I just typed four paragraphs about all the things wrong with this house that have led me to having zero confidence in anything but its capacity for draining my bank account, but then I decided no one could possibly be interested. You're welcome. Suffice it to say that Risa stands alone in thinking not only that this house isn't a dumpster fire, but that it's somehow the house of a lifetime. So strong is her desire for this not to be, well, what it is, she easily and immediately dismisses the concerns of multiple contractors who declined to do repairs because they felt success was unattainable .

Yep. I’m tapping out. I broached the subject with Risa yesterday.

Here’s the math. 18 months ago, this house sold for x. Five months ago, it sold for x again. I have put about 13% more into unsexy stuff like realty fees, maintenance and repairs, so naturally, my dearest dream is to recoup as close to (x+13%) as possible. But I’m wary. The house will be listing for the third time in three years. To any buyer, that’s a giant flapping red flag with red glitter and a red spotlight on it. Realistically, I just don’t want to take too big a loss.

“I’m thinking it will go for 180% of x,” Risa said matter-of-factly.

“The fuck are you smoking, there? It’ll be for sale for the third time in two years. No one’s paying that.”

“You’re thinking like you. Look, John, I know you’re in it so you can’t see how great everything is, but that house is going to go for that.”

“It didn’t before, or the time before that. What’s changed?”

And then she rattled off a bunch of stuff like the school district that most definitely hasn’t changed. And this is how I realized that my friend's grip on sanity, if it ever amounted to much, is long vanquished.

fashion statement

This morning I left the house wearing one red sneaker and one black. This was not on purpose. As I rolled my eyes at my now-serial capacity for leaving the house in an embarrassing state, I wondered if mismatched shoes would ever become a fashion statement. We do weird things for fashion. Expensive jeans come with pre-tattered holes. Every square inch of facial real estate has been pierced or tattooed. People wear socks with sandals. In that context, wearing two different shoes seems a plausible choice. The zit cream? Not so much.

pretty fly

Without a doubt, one of the best parts of living in Pittsburgh is my return to what I call "Black World." A definition is elusive, but I know that Columbus and Pittsburgh are in it and the whole of the Pacific Northwest is not.

"In Seattle," d'Andre once observed, "Even the brothers are whiny white guys."

It is where I am from. It's somehow in my DNA. And now I've returned to this land where the word "diversity" never seems to come up in conversation, possibly because we're too busy actually being diverse. I don't think of it very often, but every once in a while, something slaps me into perspective. Like when a Seattle person corrects my use of the term black.

"So last night, I was in a black bar on R&B night, and the band played Sara fuckin' Smile..."

"Is that unusual in an African-American establishment?" Seattle white chick replied haughtily.

Two decades of my life with these people.

That night in the African-American establishment, the owner greeted me by slapping my back. "Hey, man. Good to see you. Still crusading against Hall & Oates?"

"Damn straight."

He laughed and added that on that particular night, I was "lookin' fly."

Affirmation from the coolest brother in town. I don't care if he was pandering to his customer. In my mind, I've already framed this compliment.

I texted the story to Allie. "What's 'fly' mean?" came the response.

Two decades of my life with these people.

full venkman

I'd like to express my gratitude to all who saw me walking around this morning with a huge glob of white zit cream on my head and didn't say anything. That was one fun mirror moment.

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left eyeball, twitching

In my dotage, I became a snorer. When snoring came, it was otherworldly. I hear. I do not know this first-hand. Indeed, I'm not a whiner, so I slept peaceably through it, without complaint. But the Approval Whore, Sarah, Bubbas 1 and 2, Dirt Glazowski, and others pointedly complained.

Pussies.

By the first time Sarah and I overnighted together, I knew exactly what to expect. I could recite our impending morning conversation from memory. "Here, put these in," I said, handing her earplugs. Love in her eyes, she laughed and said that wouldn't be necessary. The next morning, her eyes shone with another feeling altogether. Her right eyeball was twitching from all the murderousness.

"John, I've never heard anything like that," she said, shaking her head gravely. "I thought you were dying. You, like, would stop breathing and then gasp for air like you were being waterboarded. You need to see a doctor."

"Bitch, bitch, bitch," I replied.

Eventually it started to shatter my health. I never slept for longer than two hours, and usually much less. I was exhausted all of the time. At the grocery store, I would sit at the blood pressure machine just to catch my breath. I was sickly yet bloated. Edema set in, swelling all my extremities except for the one you'd want. My skin developed sores, permanently scarring my shins. I would nod off at my desk. I had a cough for two years. My cognitive functions declined precipitously.

"If you don't get a sleep study done," my doctor told me, "Don't come back here."

Whiner.

On a whim completely unrelated to the mounting criticism, I got a sleep study done. I was on the ferry home when the sleep doctor called me. "Come back," he said. "I don't want you going another night without a CPAP machine." Back at the office, he showed me a chart on which his thousands of patients were plotted. "You are not on this chart," he said. "Because you do not fit on it. Your case is the worst I've ever seen out of over 11,000."

Finally! After a lifetime of mediocrity, I'm #1.

He gave me my CPAP machine and a plea. "People hate them at first, but please stick with it. You literally can't live without it."

I strapped on the Alien face-hugger at 9:30 that night. I woke up at 4:15 the next day. That would be 4:15 PM. I had slept through an entire work day, including client meetings. Did co-workers Amy and Katrina panic? Did they care? Did they even notice? No, they did not. But I digress.

The CPAP had miraculous and immediate affects. The nagging cough disappeared straight away and never returned. My mind was much sharper. My energy was vastly up; I would no longer drive past the grocery store if a premium parking space were unavailable. My extremities halved in size. Indeed, I experienced 60 pounds of water-loss in a month. And of course, I was no longer passing out. I used to wake up at my desk, my hands still on the keyboard, and on the screen would be thousands of lower-case Qs.

No more.

It's three years later, and I'm healthy as can be. Even my hearing is perfect.

This is lamentable, for Fredo has become a snorer extraordinaire. He stalks me around the house, plopping his carcass next to me and letting it tear. His guttural lung-ripping is the background noise of my life. He's slowly driving me insane. I'm annoyed by this obvious karmic payback. There are a lot of people out there now entitled to call me a whiner.

But most of all, I’m annoyed by how much the little goldbrick sleeps.

they should have fucking bells on their collars

Last night, I was reminded of why I moved to Pittsburgh in the first place. I had a glorious three-hour long conversation with two strangers very much unlike myself. Dan is a 40ish Jewish dude with fistfuls of degrees, and he teaches kids with autism. Robert is a 65ish black dude, a grandfather, and a pastor. And then there's me, a pointless blob.

We talked about parenting, about autism, about the role of religion in politics, about the first times we encountered racism and antisemitism, about the causes of the Trump phenomenon, about how Hillary wants to kill lots of babies (Robert brought that one up), and about what an obvious pussy Donald "I'm very very tough!!!" Trump is (me). And then we talked about our occupations.

"You're a pastor?!" I winced. "Shit. How many f-bombs have I dropped tonight?"

Pastor Robert waved his hand graciously. "Don't worry about it."

"A lot," Dan said, eyes wide.

pearls from a carpet-cleaner

Thanks to the magical deuce that has come to define my October, the rug-cleaning guy returned yesterday. For those keeping score at home, Fredo's indiscretion has now cost me $1370.

I hired this guy because he's the only cleaner I found who uses the right equipment. But like a lot of solitary contractors, he's lonesome, and I hesitated to bring him back just because it's impossible to disengage with him. But I would suffer through it in the name of not smelling poo.

I told him the situation. Instead of finding the humor in it, he saw an opportunity. "Might I make a suggestion?" he said with an import appropriate if he were saying "Buy Apple stock" in 2002.

"Crate the dog?"

"No, no, no." He pointed to the stairs that lead to the room in question. "A gate."

He even made a little swinging gate gesture with his hands so that my feeble mind might grasp the concept.

"Well...yeah. But then he's just trapped with the carpets upstairs."

"It's just a suggestion!" he said, hands up. He certainly hadn't meant to so overtly insult my lowly intelligence, his body language said.

As he took his check, he couldn't resist another attempt at condescension. "So, you know your lesson here? Don't use a Roomba. Roombas and dogs don't mix."

"Right. Or just turn off the automatic cleaning. Which I did."

"Whatever, fine, more work for me." The evidence of my stupidity was overwhelming.

I will never understand this blue-collar impulse to condescend to customers in their own home, but you know who's never once done it to me?

Women.

thinking with the wrong organ again

We had just returned from a long car trip. As I danced on my toes and implored Fredo to pick a shrub and get on with it already, I got to wondering. Why is it okay for my dog to relieve himself in plain view, but not for the person who actually owns the shrub in question? It's a world gone mad.

epilogue

The lesson I took from Fredo's fateful deuce was that I was stressing my dog out. I've made a point to cuddle him during the week since. Yes, cuddle him. While lying on the floor. Yes, that floor. For hours.

scraping bottoms

I now long for those sweet, innocent times when my dog Fredo eating my credit cards and $350 in cash was the worst thing he ever did to me.

Let's consider his year for a moment. His sister and entire world died in the spring. In an effort to cheer him up, I took him to the dog park, where he was viciously attacked by a pack of dogs, one of whom punctured his chest nearly to the lung cavity, resulting in terror, pain, and several weeks in a cone. Then I moved him across country. Then I spent every day getting fucked by the new house and town, making me angry and edgy and vibrating with stress. Last week, Fredo had enough. He stress-pooped in the basement bar area. I discovered this only after having tracked it around a bit.

"I want to kill you," I cooed pleasantly up the stairs, where Fredo was hiding from me. Several hours later, I was using a rental steamer and several gallons of Nature's Miracle to clean everywhere he'd pooped and I'd walked. The next evening, I could swear I still smelled it. Ditto a week later.

Would I really have to pay that guy to clean my carpet a third time in three months? Or could I just live with the smell, my house's odor now befitting the structure itself?

I got my answer when I went to clean my Roomba, one of those robotic vacuum cleaners. It was caked in dried poop and moist insects. Yes, Fredo had dropped that deuce during the one hour a week the Roomba is set to run, and yes, it "cleaned" my carpeting by smearing fresh dog poop all over every square inch of it. Here's a photo for the morbidly curious.

Having officially bottomed out, I'm looking forward to the ascent.

about 1:1

He was easily the best looking man I've ever seen in Pittsburgh. When I round a corner, spot a dude, and snap to a stop as though a rope were tied to my neck, you know it's a pretty great looking guy. 6'5", 250 pounds of muscle, blond hair, and dimples.

Based on no other information than that, I asked Risa "Is that Aimee's husband?"

Yep. What are the odds?

the eddie effect

Newly minted trophy wife Aimee was passing around her wedding photos. Among them were some bathing suit pics that very proudly featured her perfect butt. "There's no cellulite on that thing," she pointed out light-heartedly. "I worked hard for that."

"And I wanna thank you," cooed Eddie, not looking up. Aimee giggled and swooned.

That is the Eddie Effect. Women find the guy irresistible. He's decent looking, but the interest he generates exceeds his aesthetic merits. Women find him charming. Hell, I do too. We all do.

"I want what you've got," I said to him after she left. "If I said that line, I'd get a drink in my face."

"It's all in the delivery," he offered. He even said that smoothly. His every word is warm butter. Christ.

As I drove home, I practiced channeling Eddie. "And I wanna thank you. And I wanna thank you. And I wanna thank you." Ugh. Each attempt was creepier than the last. On the charm scale, I never really exceeded Drunk Molester Uncle at a Wedding.

spade! spade!

Yesterday I spotted a beautiful woman from afar. As she walked toward me, the first thing I noticed, of course, was the long brown ponytail. Then I noticed her be-spandexed goddess-like physique. Then I noticed that she was dripping with diamonds. Never a fan of the spandex and diamonds crowd, I disliked her by the time she plopped in the chair next to me. My mortal enemy.

"Hi! I'm Aimee!" she said, shaking my hand.

Aimee was bubbly and charming, but she was clearly a trophy wife who'd never worked a day in her life. Being hot is her sole occupation. She does it well, and she is handsomely compensated for it. I later learned that she's a former Miss Pennsylvania. But as I said, she's actually very kind and affable, so eh, live and let live. Within five minutes of meeting her, I was looking at the photos from her recent wedding and pretending I was riveted.

I asked her about married life, and she was shockingly frank about her insecurities. She doubts her ability to be a good enough wife to keep her husband. The odd phrasing is hers. Maybe I'm a sucker for the honestly, but I felt sorry for her. Then she cut to the chase.

"What I'm most worried about is that someday, he'll trade me in. You know, for the proverbial younger model? Like, when I'm in my 50s or 60s?"

What do you say when you're thinking "That doesn't seem unlikely"?

I said nothing.

"But hopefully I'll have substance by then," she sighed, absolutely not making a joke.

It was insensitive of me to explode in laughter, right?

backlashers

I haven't written about the anthem protests because, well, they don't much matter to me. Prior to Colin Kaepernick sitting down, all I really knew about the guy was that he sucked at his job. But hey, if he wants to use his platform to protest police shooting unarmed black men, more power to him. I'm not sure what the exit strategy is—you're going to protest until racial inequities go away?—but that's his problem to hash out, not mine. Whether or not I agree with his chosen medium, he's just exercising his rights. Peaceful protest is as American an ideal as apple pie and cops shooting unarmed black men.

I find the backlash much more concerning than the protests. People shriek about disrespect to the flag, military and war dead, projecting hyperbolic nonsense upon the protesters' clearly explained, very narrow agenda. As soon as I see one person attempt to recast the motives of another, I reflexively ally with the other.

The backlashers make me uncomfortable for several reasons.

  1. They make me defend a simpleton who kisses his own bicep.
  2. They seem to think that acts of patriotism should be compulsory, as if that's not the pathetic opposite of patriotism.
  3. They are stunningly more shrill about this wholly invented controversy than they are about cops shooting very real unarmed men.

foreshadowing

In the movie The Freshman, our protagonist is an innocent college freshman whose life spirals out of control the moment he arrives in New York. Within days, he's embroiled with the mob, the federal government, and PETA, and a mob boss's sociopathic daughter is telling everyone they're getting married. While all this is coming to a head, our hero stops to look at a beautiful sunset. In voiceover he observes, "There's a kind of freedom in being completely screwed."

It was a well-earned line. 25 years later, I remember how hard I laughed.

I've thought about that line a lot in the last week, as I total how much repairs would cost on this house. Counting the remodeling I originally wanted to do, we're talking 75% of the value of the house. I am not keen to do this. And those kinds of numbers put some rather dramatic and unconventional options on the table.

No matter what, I've pissed at least 50 grand away. That's the bare minimum, sell-the-house-for-what-I-paid best case. This does depress me, but I've reached acceptance of that reality. I can't control that. That's money's gone. What I can control is 1) not spending more money and 2) what outcome I get for that 50 grand.

The outcome I want most: getting my money back.

I was chatting with a small group of men when one identified himself as a Redskins fan. I asked him what he thought of the controversy with the Redskins name. He scoffed.

"I'm part Indian," said this lily-white dude, in that unconvincing manner in which people say "I'm not racist, but" or "True story!" "And it doesn't bother me at all." He looked smug, as though he'd just won the argument in a rout. If he'd only had a mic, he would have dropped it at my feet.

skinsidiot.jpg"People need to stop being so uptight," said someone else. Everyone agreed, and I once again found myself in the wholly unfamiliar position of being the bleeding heart at the table.

I allowed that far too many people parse every utterance for offense, for the pretext for demanding an apology. I hate that crap. Those people are not only an annoying scourge; their constant wolf-crying makes people deaf to more legitimate complaints. Legitimate complaints like, say...

"We're really cool with making a race's skin color a mascot? I'm the only person who thinks that's gross?"

"IT'S AN HOMAGE! REDSKIN MEANS HONORABLE WARRIOR!" someone yelled in my ear.

"See, when you have to say one word means completely different words—words that have nothing to do with the first word's etymology—that's got a whiff of self-serving bullshit to it," I said, making friends. "Give me one other example where redskin was used to mean honorable warrior."

This being the age of Trump, they answered my question with hostile irrelevance and at least three classic logical fallacies. "Are we supposed to get rid of Indians, Chiefs, and Seminoles, too? What about the Fighting Irish? Wah, Buckeye trees might be offended too!" They laughed. This was great stuff.

"And when you mock an argument I did not make, the bullshit smell only gets stronger. None of those mascots are based on a race's skin color. My point remains that Redskin is obviously different. Obvious to me, anyway."

"It's no different!" said the Redskin fan, using volume instead of a logical premise. And then the already-surreal conversation took a dive into the Abyss of Dumbfoundedness.

"People really need to stop being so damned sensitive all the time," said Earl, a middle-aged black dude.

Yep. I thought of all of the things you just thought of. The hypocrisy, the lack of empathy, the parallels, various racial analogies. ("It's an homage, Earl! Really! It means regal philanthropists! You need to stop being so sensitive.") I drew a breath to say these things. And then my gaze met Earl's. He's both a friend and a dick, and he couldn't wait to pounce on my next utterance. I double-dog dare you, motherfucker, said his look. Yeah. Go there.

"Well, I guess I'm wrong. Making a vanquished minority's skin color our sports mascot is obviously an homage to their entire race's warrior prowess."

I texted Stephanie and quietly showed it to Earl.

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The top story, Atlantic?

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