moral support

The 70 year old woman's voice filled with disgust. "Stop being such a fucking pussy, John."

• • •

Monica took me under her wing when I was an undergraduate. She was the professor whom grad students avoided. They routinely failed her classes. If you've never been in grad school, trust that you get As just for showing up. She thought that was pure coddlesome insanity. A former Army officer, she was and remains the only woman I've ever known to have fired shots in Vietnam. A hard drinker, a hard smoker, a hard person. She insisted that we address her by her Army rank, not "Doctor."

"Cap'n," I would nod as we passed in the hall.

When we met, I was just struggling to survive school. She saw who I would be before I did, and she took me aside and told me exactly what I was good at. That doesn't happen often in life. It is overstatement to say "I owe her everything," but it's understatement to say that I wouldn't be who I am now without her intervention then. At a time of my life when I needed a nudge, she stuffed me into a cannon, aimed me in the right direction, and lit the fuse with her omnipresent cigarette.

She is my first and favorite mentor.

Craving unconditional approval, I called her this week. "What's wrong?" she barked. I instantly dropped all pretense of calling just to say hi. I whined about my feelings of failure regarding mentoring Darcy. I had wanted to do for someone what others had done for me, and I fell so short that I felt guilty. I hadn't failed just Darcy and myself but everyone who had ever helped me. I couldn't stop thinking about my debt to them. I wanted forgiveness from my own mentor. I wanted absolution. Monica listened for a while and lent some sage advice. And then she called me a fucking pussy.

I lowered the phone and stared at it. Is this why I am the way I am? I wondered.

We chatted some more, and I felt a little better, I guess, in as much as my mentor calling me a pussy can make me feel better. And then she wrapped things up with a bow.

"You know, John, you just might not be any good at this."

older woman

I recently made a date with a woman 7 years my senior. As I am decrepit, this makes her clinically dead. Pony up the credit, critics. I'm looking at you, Katrina.

We ran into one another sometime between when the date was made and when the date was to occur. That's when I noticed her fancy ankle bracelet. The kind handed out by the courts. It turns out she'd recently been arrested for her fourth DUI. Under house arrest, she was "at work" in the bar in which we were drinking.

"Yeah. So. I'm out," I said, or a cowardly euphemism to that effect. I think I went with "visiting friends in Spokane."

But I still want credit.

alcohol helped

My weekend was one deep, long funk. I was already down about the kid, and then Darcy finished me off. Rather, the completely subjugated champion of mediocrity formerly known as Darcy did. After eight years of my expert mentoring, she is a substantially lesser person than she was before she met me. It is impossible for me to imagine this once-brightest-of-all-lights having a future of any consequence whatsoever.

I plunged into a sadness from which I couldn't extricate myself.

Note that I didn't say "depression." I've been depressed. It's different. It's there whether or not you actually have things to make you feel bad. Depression is bad brain chemistry, a medical condition. Nope, I was sad. I had specific things to feel sad about. It was rational.

And I tried to extricate myself rationally. I tried to concentrate on everything that's good. It's a beautiful day. You're done with your chores. You're sitting on your deck, smoking a fine cigar, looking at the snow-capped Cascade mountains tower over Puget Sound. You like your house. You have zero debt. Your job is fine. Health's fine. Money's fine. Dogs are fine. You have plenty of reasons to be hap—

And then it struck me.

Everything in my "pro" column is under my complete control. Everything in my "con" column was something that someone else had controlled and wrecked.

Hell truly is other people.

responsibility

I'm still stewing about the plight of the kid in yesterday's post. Her situation seems hopeless, thanks to parents who exhibit, nay, proudly flaunt several mental disorders.

I adore this kid and feel achingly sad for her. At 14, she's been hospitalized for a complete nervous breakdown brought on by the chaos all around her. She has no adults upon whom she can rely for anything but vitriol and more chaos. I feel like I should do something. That's impulse #1.

Impulse #2 is protecting myself. To involve myself in this probably hopeless cause is to invite that vitriol and chaos into my carefully calm, hermetically sealed life. I'm sure that sounds selfish. I'm sure it is selfish.

So the question weighing me down here is: is it one's moral responsibility to incur third-degree burns while pulling someone else out of a burning wreck? Especially when that wreck will just follow her around and consume her again and again, forever? Okay, so it's not a perfect metaphor.

Man, I miss Pittsburgh.

To varying degrees, three friends have come to me this week with parenting problems. Because, you know, if your car breaks down, the Amish are the first phone call you place.

One problem is kind of charming, one is concerning, and one seriously freaks me out. The last parent, naturally, is the one who wants to involve me. That the child in question needs a sane adult in her life is beyond question, but again...me?

"I'd like to bring her up to your place so she can talk to you if she wants."

"So do you just not know anyone else?" I asked.

the magic fleece

Years ago, a buddy who works at Google gave me a Google-branded fleece jacket. As garments go, it's cheap. Holes developed in both pockets pretty much immediately, and any use results in my maneuvering keys and change around its interior, homing in on the pockets, like seals to a breathing hole.

Capture.PNGI'd worn it in Seattle for years, and no one cared. No one here is impressed by someone who presumably works at Google. You can't swing a dead cat without its corpse donning a free jacket branded by Google, Microsoft or Amazon.

Then I wore it in Pittsburgh.

"Do you work at Google?!" said the hot 28 year old, panting.

"Do you work at Google?!" said the hot 28 year old, panting.

"Do you work at Google?!" said the hot 28 year old, panting.

"Do you work at Google?!" said the hot 28 year old, panting.

One nice thing about the consistency of the behavior: I got to copy and paste.

It didn't take me long to learn to abuse the magic fleece. I started texting my Google buddy. "Holy shit, thank you. Seriously. Thank. You."

"Really?" was his incredulous response to my reports. Deep down, I know he was looking at flights. On DuckDuckGo.

I spent yesterday in Bremerton, WA. Although most of you would probably consider it Seattle, it is not. It's a blue-collar navy town, and, well, as I went out the door, my hand went from my favorite fleece to the magic one. Just in case.

"Do you work at Google?!" said the hot 28 year old at the auto dealership.

"YES. YES, I MOST CERTAINLY DO," I said, feigning sheepishness by digging my toe into the ground coquettishly.

And so we talked for a good 40 minutes. Around minute 39, she mentioned her husband. I looked at her left hand again. Nope, still no ring.

Angry about her deception, I excused myself. Some people have no fuckin' integrity.

bad! bad dog owner!

I bought a super-loud siren for my home alarm system. And loud it is. It physically affected me, making my eyeballs vibrate and my inner ear all kerphlooey. My dog Fredo, the pussiest puss who ever pussed, ran full-speed into the back of my couch. No, he wasn't looking over his shoulder. He looked that couch all the way into his face. His body crumpled from the force of the impact, and then he slid face-first to the floor.

I laughed hysterically, causing him to glare at me. His sister, however, was all smiles and wags. She gets it. It was like that time my brother fell down a flight of stairs. Some shit's just sublime.

the lingering smell of stupid crap

I was still basking in watching Ohio State beat Michigan when my sister said an odd thing.

"I always feel like I should apologize to you for your childhood, John," she said soberly.

The topic had been football, so I was taken aback. I would have vastly preferred talking about the future national champions to revisiting my childhood, frankly. But she was clearly feeling something. Not sure what to make of it, I let her.

To be sure, my childhood was lousy. It was brief. When my mom was diagnosed with cancer, I was 14. My dad and older siblings had already made themselves scarce, but they somehow found it within themselves to make themselves scarcer. Scarcest of all was the eldest sister, 11 years my senior, who didn't speak to Mom from the moment she was first legally allowed that opportunity. Since I lived with Mom, that meant my sister and I didn't have much of a relationship. Indeed, I have very few childhood memories of her. Perhaps that's why we get along in adulthood.

Driving home from the game, I watched her grapple with guilt. She asked only a couple of questions about what that time was like. I talked about Mom's protracted physical, emotional and financial miseries. I also talked about my paying the bills at 14, suing contractors at 15, wiping mom's butt at 16. That last part pretty much finished my sister off. I stopped talking. We stared ahead in silence for a while.

"It's amazing how important stupid crap seems when you're 25," she said angrily.

Three months later, I still don't know exactly what was on her mind or, more importantly, why now, all these decades hence. I'm grateful it's not on mine.

sometimes, it's just one of those days

The crappier my week gets, the more this climbs my list of favorite photos ever.

XzeOzmv.jpg

millenninfantile

The list of top baby names came out last week. And what's more popular than the names Lily and Anna and Emily?

Katniss.

I would ridicule millennials for this, but I don't want to be accused of bullying their triggers.

acclimatization

I'm still in Pittsburgh mode—or more accurately, socially healthy mode—which means that I smile at strangers and attempt to make conversation. Just as when I arrived in Seattle 20 years ago, things quickly get awkward. It's hard to describe the discomfort such efforts cause here. The locals clearly regard social grace as some adjective, but which? Rude? Invasive? Creepy? Mentally ill? I'm not sure. But my attempts to engage another human being are comically unwelcome, and said human being invariably evokes the cat in the Pepe LePew cartoons. So desperate to flee, they can think of nothing else. 1331421440_1.jpg There's a perverse satisfaction in torturing the deserving just by acting like a normal person.

hillary clinton: public health menace

Capture.PNG

Let's handicap the GOP response.

10:1 "The data showing that vaccines prevent diseases isn't clear."

7:2 "Greedy doctors are just trying to scare up vaccine money."

3:2 "If God had wanted babies to live, He wouldn't have invented whooping cough."

There are a lot of things I'd like to say to Seahawks instafans today. But no treatise about brand-new jersies, about fans celebrating themselves instead of the team, or about their team's appalling lack of class in both victory and, now, defeat really sums up my feelings quite like this simple statistic:

The Super Bowl had higher TV ratings in Pittsburgh than in Seattle.

trophy shot

A scant 2610 miles and 77 hours after I left Pittsburgh, I pulled into Metamuville. Not much of note happened during the trip, which I suppose is a very good thing. Unannounced, I stopped in Minneapolis for an hour to have a cigar with Dirt Glazowski. From his perspective, he was watching TV inside with his buddy when he saw a dog taking a crap in his lawn.

"There's a motherfuckin' dog taking a crap in my lawn!" he snarled to his friend. "And some asshole is takin' a picture of it!" He was putting on shoes to pummel the photographer when he recognized Dex. "Oh. Of course."

the gentlemen

I'm preparing for my drive back to Seattle, so this is perhaps my last moment to mention something I saw during my drive here. Somewhere in rural Wisconsin is a "gentlemen's club" named Cruisin' Chubbys.

Points for honesty, I suppose. About a mile from my Pittsburgh pad is Cheerleaders Gentlemen's Club. I reckon there's only two things wrong with that name.

butt

As I entered the humidor, I held the door open for two clergymen. They were at the cigar bar for a bible study group that sometimes meets in the back. We chatted about smokes for a bit, and then we heard a roar of laughter from outside. I exited.

"What happened?" I said as the chortle continued to work its way around the room. I had missed the following exchange:

Risa: "Two priests and John walk into a humidor..."

Liz: "...and three atheists walk out."

gay bash

I entered the downscale cigar bar and was greeted by the usual gang, plus one.

"This is Dina," someone said. I introduced myself to Dina, seated next to me and visiting Pittsburgh for the day. In her mid-30s, pretty, and teaching her way through a doctoral program, she was also quite clearly gay. Clear to me, anyway. I might not have the most finely honed gaydar in Seattle, but I have to guess I'm close to taking that honor in Pittsburgh. We chatted about teaching, and she challenged me to a game of Jenga. Seeing this, Earl muscled his way into the game.

The three of us played, and I got a front-row seat to Earl obtusely hitting on a lesbian. Not content to merely flirt, he made one impossibly crude come-on after another. Slits and fisting both worked their way into the conversation, each followed by Earl's cackling laughter. "Just the tip!" he said as she pulled out a Jenga tile. "I bet that's not the first time you've heard that, HAR HAR HAR."

"It's a good thing you added the hars," I said. "Otherwise we wouldn't have known to laugh."

And on it went, him getting more and more brazen, her shooting me one helpless look after another. I wanted to apologize for my gender, but then again, screw that. I'm not owning Earl's stupidity. When she left, he demanded a hug. As he planted his mouth on hers in a surprise goodbye kiss, she looked at me, wide-eyed and horrified.

E-fucking-gad.

oh come, let's sing ohio's praise

I almost went to Columbus to watch the championship game, and now I rather wish I had. 40 fires set on campus, mass tear-gassing, armored personnel carriers....I have to stop. I'm getting all homesick.

My favorite of the stories: students broke into the dormant stadium and tore down the goal post. These are my people.

fog warning

I went on antibiotics and now I'm upright, more or less, mostly more. Although I'm relieved that the pneumonia is behind me, I'm more relieved that my Friends marathon lasted only 4.5 interminable, jackhammer-kind-of-repetitive seasons.

Why Friends? Because I was incapable of watching anything that required thought or following a plot. Thanks to low blood oxygen, my brain was hypoxic. I couldn't concentrate or pay attention. More than once I found myself staring at the Netflix timeout screen for an hour or more. Work emails came in, but I couldn't really understand all of them. I was so concerned about my impairment that I had Amy sit in on a meeting Friday because I was afraid I wouldn't be able to field any questions.

After the antibiotics kicked in, so did my brain. I went to bed stupid, and thoughts jolted me awake at 3am. A lot of thoughts. Pent-up thoughts, perhaps. My brain was back and the crushing stupidity, gone. I felt a wave of gratitude, along with a newfound empathy for those people who stand up in the middle of plays at games.

pneumonic device

Sorry about the lack of updates, folks. I've got pneumonia. Energy (and anecdotes) are in short supply. Hopefully, I'll be upright again soon. Actually, hopefully, I'll die of this and won't have to do the drive back to Seattle.

black sheep

My sister chided me at the Ohio State/Michigan game. "I cannot believe you're booing the Michigan band," she said, face in hands.

"The only reason I'm booing is because I don't have any 9-volt batteries," I explained.

15 minute pass

Lizzie and I met for dinner before the game. "Oh boy, do I have a surprise for you!"

Do tell!

She had told a reporter friend about me, and now local TV and newspaper wanted to publish my story. A "lifelong Steelers fan relocated himself, his job, and his dogs for five months just to spend a season here" sort of feel-good story. It would make a good puff piece. I would watch that. I would read that.

"Pass," I said, using my hand to flick the stupid idea from the air in front of me.

"Wha- what?!" Lizzie was first confused, then aghast. She restated the offer, for surely I hadn't understood it. The next day, everyone at the cigar bar threw wadded up balls of paper at me.

Not for the first time in my life, I had to explain that I detest that sort of attention. I feel less than zero inclination to see myself on TV or read my name in print. I would pay to avoid the former.

It took me back to my arguments about fame with my actress friend Kristin. It came down to this: I said didn't want to be famous, and she insisted I was lying.

"Everyone wants to be famous, John." That is the sum of her evidence. Since I am a part of "everyone," I am a lying fame whore.

She couldn't wrap her head around my distaste for being put on display. Eventually, I gave up trying to explain it. What's to be said? Some of us accept a chance at fame as payment for making out with Vanilla Ice. And some people would pay serious money to avoid both.

drunky brewster

I'm over drunks.

I bought a pair of club seats for this football season, the idea being that I would treat new Pittsburgh friends to a game and thereby purchase their affections forever. The reality, of course, is that half of my tickets went instead to freeloading existing friends. And precious nil went to hot 22 year olds with brown ponytails and daddy issues. It's a world gone mad.

The other half did, in fact, go to new Pittsburgh friends. Prior to yesterday, the last two went to strangers who got plowed. Not just happily buzzed, but "(Nudge nudge) Watch me fuck with these people who just want to quietly sit here in their $500 seats and watch the game. (Obnoxious fuckery) That was awesome! I am awesome! High five!" obnoxious. In other words, I have subsidized the kind of fan conduct I truly despise, and they have repaid my kindness by ruining the good time of all in their field of view. Which unfortunately included me.

"Who are you taking to the final game?" asked Lizzie, a recovering alcoholic who's one-year sober.

"You. Definitely you."

brushes with greatness

I've bumped into a few celebrities in my life. Alec Baldwin, you know about. When I was a chauffeur in college, I drove Jerry Seinfeld around for a weekend. Perhaps the unlikliest was childhood hero Terry Bradshaw. I've met many of my childhood Steelers, so that part wasn't remarkable. It was where I ran into him: a grocery store in remote Poulsbo, WA. Imagine a Steelers fan running into a Steelers great here, and you can imagine my surprise.

"Here?!" I eloquently said.

Pittsburgh friend Risa has met 'em all, and she's smoother than me. She was walking down an alley on her way to the downscale cigar shop when she came upon Denzel Washington, leaning up against a fence and smoking during a break in filming.

"Say," she said. "Has anyone ever told you—"

"Yeah," he nodded.

"—that you can't smoke here?"

He laughed, and they chatted. Pointing at the cigar perpetually bobbing on her lower lip, he said he really respected a cigar-chomping woman. She invited him to the cigar shop, where, she promised, everyone would leave him alone. He joined her, and they smoked together, and people left him alone. He probably mistakenly attributes this to the coolness of the customers. But I know it's because they were so engrossed in telling the same goddamned alimony stories for the umpteenth time, they didn't notice specifically who they were boring.

I missed meeting Denzel, naturally, but I showed up two hours later. Risa was lingering in her seat, her eyes still awash with estrogen.

I grabbed my normal seat next to her.

"Don't sit there," she snapped. "Not today."

glory days

This recent photo of my old basketball court features a steel beam too intimately acquainted with my left knee.

I was in the best shape of my life. Through hard work and my innumerable natural gifts, I had elevated my basketball game to "not always a liability." We were playing four on four on that old asphalt court, the threads of chain nets hanging from the now-gone rims. This was a brutally rough court. Blood flowed freely, not all of it mine.

On this day, I was leading a fast break.

Ahhhh. Let me type that sentence again.

On this day, I was leading a fast break.

One more time. Pardon my indulgence.

On this day, I was leading a fast break. I passed back and forth with the guy on my wing (who I'd like to say was d'Andre, but let's face it; the man was no doubt standing doubled over behind me, hands on his knees, gasping). I decided to lay it in myself. I beat my guy off the dribble, leaped for the rim, and for some inexplicable reason entertained the notion that I was capable of changing hands while mid-air. I was going for exactly this:

What actually happened was that I sort of schlubbed the ball in the general direction of the rim and, still at full sprint, rammed my extended knee into the solid iron pole. It didn't make the resounding GOOONG! sound a hollow aluminum pole would make. It instead made the exact same sound as a cantaloupe being dropped 20 stories on to pavement.

I could not stand, not that I tried very hard. The boys carried me and my broken patella home, depositing me on my couch unceremoniously and returning to their game.

"Did I make the shot?" I asked, hopeful.

Such a cruel, cruel laugh ensued. I had hit the bottom of the backboard, and the ball had ricocheted off and hit my head.

meow

After a number of celebrity near-misses these last three months—Emma Watson, Alec Baldwin, Vin Diesel, Jodie Foster, Will Smith, and countless Steelers—Mr. Baldwin plopped next to me at the upscale cigar bar. We nodded at one another, but I otherwise left him alone.

Remember when he was kicked off a plane for refusing to stop playing Words with Friends? You guessed it. He played all night on his gigantic iPhone 6, the use-case for which is now more clear to me. A little.

Cinematographers' framed shots are the man's friend. He's maybe 5'7" in heels, and his head is enormous. Gone in my memory is barrel-chested corporate titan Jack Donaghy. In his place is a shop teacher who ran out of water pills two weeks ago and hasn't had a chance to get to the store.

old world, new world

I was telling a neighbor about my recent visit to my old apartment complex, but I didn't get much traction. As soon as I mentioned entering my old building, she interrupted me.

"Wait, how did you get in?"

"The door to the building isn't locked."

"Wha-WHAT?!"

"It's not exactly a luxury complex. Which like I was saying, there in the hallway was—"

"I just don't understand. They just let anyone walk right in?"

Yes. Yes they do. Now kindly pull your silver spoon out of your ear and listen to my crappy story.

wiseguy

Longtime Stank Troll John and I had plans to see the Steelers-Ravens game together, but his wife fainted at work, and he felt compelled to stay home and watch her not faint again. As John's reward, Roethlisberger torched the Ravens for six TDs. Because Ben's a dick like that.

John's game ticket went elsewhere, but John felt compelled to ship me a bottle of bourbon anyway. When I thanked him, he replied, "I just try to stay good with made men."

For good measure he added, "Well, it is a well known fact to anyone who's ever watched The Godfather or Wiseguys that mobsters are neat freaks."

home alone

IMG_3267.JPGMy eyes were still stinging with imaginary pinkeye at 4am. I groaned, resigned to watching movies on my iPad until everyone else woke up. Or...White Castles for breakfast! 15 minutes later, I was inhaling the cheeseburgers of my youth. God bless the guy who thought of the 24 hour drive-through.

I had a lot of time on my hands, so I drove around Columbus, my hometown. I left Columbus shortly after I graduated from Ohio State, and I rarely visit. My sister and I had visited our childhood home the day before, so I set off for the homes that followed. My homes.

Post-parental divorce, I grew up poor. My go-to illustration is that in the sixth grade, I had four shirts. On Fridays, I had to decide which shirt to repeat, and I carefully repeated on a rotation, as if I would be more ridiculed if I wore a shirt four times in two weeks instead of merely three times. I remained poor until I left Columbus for grad school.

I knew this, of course. I knew solvent people didn't write personal checks against one another in a ponzi scheme to delay needing the rent money for as long as possible. But until last weekend, I don't think I fully felt it.

Everywhere I went, I saw perfectly unremarkable places that once had metaphorical "No Johns Allowed" signs in their windows. This included restaurants and Ohio State games, sure, but also mundane places. That's the expensive doughnut shop, I thought. I couldn't afford to go there. That's the car wash where people with nice cars went. That's...

You get the idea. Everywhere I went last weekend, I was reminded of just how poor I'd been.

The dogs and I went to Maddie's and my old apartment, the place where I balled with d'Andre and Mason. A crumpled box of Newports laid amid the filth in the hallway outside the apartment, and at some point, they gave up replacing the rims on our basketball court. And weeding it. We awkwardly used one of the cracks as the three-point line.

As I left my old neighborhood and slowly drove back to my present life, I was a bit numb. I was surprised how surprised I was about all the reminders of my poverty. I felt sheepish. And then I went to that doughnut store and bought my sister a dozen.


i need a black light in here, stat

I dropped a taco on the table at my downscale cigar bar. "Well, that's done," I said as I scooped it off to the side.

"Oh, she just wiped the table down a few minutes ago," said Risa. "It's fine."

No, it most certainly isn't fine. This shithole is home, but I'm not eating food off its table. I might as well lap water out of the toilet bowl.

"Eat it! It's fine!" she implored. I glanced over at the woman wiping down the tables with a revolting, tattered brown rag that used to be white, and I tossed the taco into the garbage. Risa was disgusted with me. "Okay, princess. Jesus Christ," she snarled.

Allie says I'm a germophobe. Her evidence:

  1. I wash my hands before eating, and
  2. I get a little woozy when her daughter wipes her butt, glances at the sink in passing, and then puts her hands all over my face.
If that's a germophobe, then I suppose I'm guilty, but to me this is just basic hygiene. Perhaps having poopy-kid-fingers in your mouth all day dulls a person's sense of remedial cleanilness. I am not so dulled.

When the dogs and I arrived at my sister's house, we were greeted by my sister and her four Labrador retrievers. Dex immediately christened the back yard, and when I asked for a shovel, I was told to just let it ride. This caused me to survey the backyard, the surface area of which was about a 60:40 grass-to-excrement ratio. The dogs ran around as dogs do, rooster tails of crap in their wakes. Then we went inside, and I was shown to my room. My sister's dogs gleefully leaped on to my bed and walked all over the pillows upon which my face would soon rest. I threw up in my mouth a little.

That night in the dark, as I combated psychosomatic pinkeye symptoms, I imagined Risa and Allie mocking me. "It's just a little dog shit in your face. Jesus Christ, princess."

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