old math

I was playing with a retirement calculator. You type in when you expect to retire, your saving plans, how long you plan to live, and your anticipated living expenses in retirement. It doesn't take long for you to intensely resent your future self. What a goldbricking mooch. So I cut him off.

"Screw Old John," I muttered as I massaged the numbers until I got something attainable. "If he lives past 82, he's on his own."

From Cheryl Strayed's (so far) insipid memoir Wild:

"I got an abortion and learned how to make dehydrated tuna flakes and turkey jerky"

shower thought

The San Francisco 49ers desperately need to name their cheerleading squad the Gold-Diggers.

butt stuff

My being back in Metamuville is horrible for this site. No social interaction = happy John = crap content.

In Pittsburgh, I instantly had multiple circles of friends that in several ways crushed my 20+ year circle here. I was about to allow that my Seattle friends are predominantly parents and therefore less accessible, but then I remembered Stephanie in Pittsburgh saying "Let's go out for an adult evening! We'll get a babysitter."

Specifically, I remember thinking, "I have never heard that sentence in my life."

People in Pittsburgh were curious about why I would consider leaving Seattle for a city with no ocean, no mountains, worse weather, worse jobs, and—unbefuckinglievably—fewer days of sun. And I was never really able to explain it to their satisfaction. No matter what angle I used to explain the social repression here, no matter how many colorful metaphors I found for Seattle people having their heads intractably shoved up their own asses, they were confused.

"But you're such a nice guy!" I heard more than once.

"Immaterial. I am not the problem there."

Once, I was chatting with a pastor (something that would never happen in Seattle) who'd befriended me (also something that would never happen in Seattle. I'll stop saying that, but you should mentally place it after every phrase that follows). He was explaining his faith, and I was explaining my lack of same. It was all very cordial, and we genuinely liked one another—despite his not understanding where I think good and evil come from and my not understanding why he thinks they come from an invisible, mind-reading zombie-Jew in the sky. We had a spirited conversation, and soon it drifted into football, food, and Seattle.

"What's the racial situation there?" asked the pastor, a black man.

I considered the question. I thought about d'Andre's assessment that in Seattle, even the brothers are whiney white guys. I thought about the squabbles I've had with young Seattle blacks who'd corrected me on what white people think and feel. I thought about how I had an integrated circle of friends the moment I set foot in Pittsburgh, and how I'd felt the sudden shock of missing that more than I'd even known. But how to explain all this to the pastor?

"Well, I'll tell you one thing," I said. "This conversation would never happen there."

"Why's that?"

"Because white and blacks ignore one another like they do everyone else. Because this level of trust between strangers does not happen there. Hell, this level of trust between friends seldom happens there. But mostly, it's because no one cares. People aren't remotely curious about things not up their own butt. To ask that sort of question, you have to think outside the butt."

And yes, I told that whole story just to share my perfected metaphor.


upsell this

I cut it close, but I arrived at the theatre five minutes before my movie's start time. My local theatre long ago got rid of their kiosk, making interaction with humans an unwelcome cost of admission. Now they've upped their obnoxious game.

"Purchase tickets at the concession stand," read the sign in the booth.

I was greeted, of course, by a long line. One eye on my watch, I squirmed as I watched each customer get the hard sell. The long, hard sell. The staff managed to fritter away 10 of my minutes. By the time the elderly woman in front of me was paying for her comically large bucket of popcorn, I was steaming. Waste my money, waste my heart, but do not waste my time.

She took her sweet time getting out of line, so I tried to expedite things. "Medium unbuttered popcorn," I said to the employee who'd gotten everyone else's popcorn. She nodded and did nothing. Another eternity passed. Finally, the old woman left, and I put my M&Ms on the counter.

"Would you like to upgrade to a large for only 75 cents more?" chirped the employee.

It was all I could do not to lunge at her. I closed my eyes.

"Yes. In fact, make it a small. You talked me out of it."

"Uh, okay. You can combine that with—"

"No."

"—a large soft drink for—"

"No."

"only $1.25 more."

"Still no."

"And if you add your candy—"

I grabbed my candy and put it back on the shelf. "You're really good at the upsell," I observed. "Let's move this along."

"Do you have a Regal card?"

"No, and I don't want one."

"Do you want one?"

"No, I still don't. I want to see the beginning of my goddamned movie."

We stared at each other, and I realized I wasn't going to enjoy the movie. I began my 30 minute drive back home.

You know that guy at the car dealership who you have to talk to, even if you're paying cash, about financing and undercoating and warranty extensions? You know that desperate, trapped-animal feeling?

I was preparing to take the dogs to the park, and that half-assed idiot savant Fredo was waking the neighbors with his customary shrill yipping. Vibrating, he poised behind my tailgate, ready to leap into the car.

"I wonder if this moron is moron enough to fall for a hand-fake?" I thought. So I pantomimed opening the tailgate.

Pow. Faceplant into the back of the car.

highlight of my day

For work, I'm building a web site with someone else's content. I just let the following sentence slide. Why? Because it delights me.

"Jesus knows deeply our competitors."
And it's because of that sort of gem that my postings here have been subpar lately. I knocked out 312 hours in March. Among other revelations, I discovered that I'm not 28 anymore.

10 more years

Dex and Fredo are going to be my last dogs for a while. Yep. They broke me.

Oh, they're fine companions. My problem is that they're perpetual companions. I literally cannot shift my weight in my office chair without instigating a panicked, swirling, competitive scramble for affection. Mind you, I don't pet them when I'm working. This is all in their imaginations. If I get up to get a drink, or to relieve said drink 30 minutes later, I am stalked. Sometimes I'm pre-stalked, as a dog will walk right in front of me, stopping every two feet to look back and recalibrate my direction. If someone visits, they get excited like any dog does, but with a pathological flair: they bound back and forth from the visitor to me, poking me with their noses to say Hey! (poke) Yes, we're happy to see this other person (poke), but we just wanted you to know you're still foremost on our minds every fucking second of the day! (poke poke poke)

They drive me bloody insane. I'm starting to book dog-free vacations where the "dog-free" part eclipses the "vacation" part. Am I happy to be traveling next month? Mildly. But I'm counting the days to when I dump the dogs at the kennel.

Fredo was so shadowing me on a bathroom run that when I stopped and locked my knees together, I trapped him between my calves. He's an inbecile, so where other dogs would consider this play, he was just confused by what mysterious force had arrested his momentum. "Superfreak" was playing on the stereo, and I pivoted on my feet to make Fredo dance. He was miserable, so naturally I whipped out my camera and recorded the event at his face's level. I was going to share it in this post, but that ain't happening. It looked exactly like I was vigorously violating my dog.

So instead, I share this almost-published typo.

Capture.PNG

culture clash

We ended up hiring an English developer with a very Italian name, which made me nervous until I heard the posh accent pouring voluptuously out of my speakers. Score! That led to the following exchange, perhaps the quintessential Anglo-American interaction:

English developer, trying to say that SharePoint sucks without offending: "Well, it's generally considered that SharePoint, in point of fact, isn't the, er, might not be, er, the highest quality of product."

Amy: "Ya THINK?"

the ugliest american

We're in over our heads at work, and we needed to bring in outside help. Amy and I were discussing bringing in a freelance developer when she said "I almost hate to say this, but I sort of don't want to bring in a non-native English speaker. I mean, I feel bad, but I have to be able to understand them."

As the exhausted person paying by the hour for people to go What? Can you repeat that? Huh?, I am less ambivalent. "I'll be the bad guy," I growled in agreement. "We will not hire any damned foreigners!"

It was then that I realized that my Mexican housecleaner was five feet behind me. Thankfully, I have ample evidence that she doesn't understand a thing I say.

interactive left

I've had several questions about the second Pittsburgh left, so here's an interactive explanation. You need to go straight toward that YMCA building and make a left on Pawlowna.

My first time, I had zero idea what to do and made the leap of faith.

well, i'll be

I just noticed that "Funky Cold Medina" and "Wild Thing" are actually two different songs. Who knew?

just divine

During last year's downturn, most of my business's best people left for jobs elsewhere. Now work is heating up, and I'm left staring at the C- through D-lists. It ain't pretty.

Anita Phakename was a pretty good worker. Above average to good. I ended up phasing her out because she was flaking and unreliable, albeit understandably. Her husband had not only cheated. He hadn't just left her for another woman. He not only did it in Australia. He was her ride home. They had sailed there, and they'd intended to sail back. She worked as crew on some transport to get back to the States. Always a sucker for hard luck stories, I gave her a job. And she repaid me by being really good for while.

Alas, Anita's emotional roller-coaster manifested in serious boy-craziness and mood swings with a chaser of disappearing without notice for weeks at a time. I wanna help, but only to a point. I stopped giving her assignments. I don't think she noticed. A year or so later, I heard she had a kid.

Well, now I need to think about hiring back up. I got to wondering if she'd pulled out of her precipitous dive into flakedom. Perhaps motherhood sobered her up? So to social media I went, where I found out she's attending this on Sunday:

"The Tantric Mother and Sacred Parenting."

grindstone

If I haven't been posting much lately, that's only because I've spent every waking second sitting at my computer, typing. Last week, I hit a 40-hour work-week by Tuesday night.

It's been a long time since I've had to knock out these kinds of hours. I can't say I'm still a fan. It's doubly difficult because 2014 was such a leisurely pace. It was pleasant, frankly. Now hard work feels morally wrong.

So this is what it feels like to be every boss I've ever had. Huh.

advanced ethics

My boss of the last five years called me, cringing. He is not normally even a smidgen deferential to me, so I was confused. I soon realized that he was dreading hearing my whining.

"John, I just got a mail from HR. We all need to take the corporate ethics class."

The ensuing few minutes are a blur to me, indistinguishable in my memory from similar HR-inspired rages that have flared over the years. But then I calmed down and did what needed to be done.

I paid someone to take my ethics class for me.

i got yer pittsburgh left, right here

Distinguished Stank Troll CJ had warned me about Pittsburgh lefts, and sure enough, I found them extraordinarily useful.

But there was another kind of left that drove me insane. The "Oh My God, They Can't Possibly Expect Me to Understand This" left.

For instance, you need to go across this bridge. What do you do? I just about plotzed when I was sitting at this light.

left.PNG

Answer: you turn left, then right at this "no left turn" intersection.

I've jumped off cliffs that took less courage than this next left. Do you see it?

pittsburgh left 2a.JPG

Of course you don't see it. That's because it's both invisible and subterranean. Your path would be like this.

pittsburgh left 2aa.jpg

The red dots indicate where the other picture was taken.

pittsburgh left 2b.JPG

• • •

Katrina visited me in Pittsburgh, and Uber was driving us around when she did a double-take.

"Holy crap," said Katrina as we went through a five-way intersection. "We just crossed the intersection of 6th St and 6th St. That's...insane."

"That's Pittsburgh," said the Uber guy. "If you can drive it here, you can drive it anywhere."

mulling evil

My niece is getting married. I briefly considered attending the wedding. After all, she's the only relative of whom I'm not ashamed. Indeed, I'm actually proud to be related to her. Look, everyone! That girl and I are composed of essentially the same genetic material!

I haven't attended a family function in 20 years. There's a reason for that. They're wretched people. And at that wedding, I was a focus of attention, mostly of the unwanted, negative variety. I don't want to similarly detract from this bride's day. Plus, again, I hate these people. So my skipping is a win-win.

I perused her modest bridal registry. Few items are over 50 bucks, and nothing has been purchased yet. And then I had an idea. I had a wonderful, awful idea: buy the whole schmear.

Enjoy coming up with gift ideas, everyone!

Pro: fucking over my relatives
Con: three more nieces are in the chamber

What to do...

karma, schmarma

A friend once had a workday that was out-of-body horrible. I drove into Seattle that evening and delivered her a bottle of chocolate liqueur. I had no know idea if she would like it, but that was hardly the point. At least she knew someone noticed.

As is His custom, God punished me for my kindness. On my way home, an 18-wheeler hopped the median of the 520 bridge, and I was sitting on that bridge for 8 hours, well into the night. With a dog who deeply, truly had to go.

That's my most spectacular example of the "God punishing me for kindness" phenomenon, but it's hardly the last. I swear, if I hold a door open for someone on my way to a job interview, they'll step on my foot and break my toe, then get the job because they weren't wincing in pain during their interview.

Allie credits this unerring principle with her not being an atheist. "I used to think religion was just made-up crap. But the evidence that there is a God and that He's out to get you...it's kind of staggering."

• • •

A few months ago, Anna (1, 2) asked me if she could earn some extra money doing chores for me. "Sure," I said. "The only thing I'm planning on farming out is gardening."

She was up for it, we agreed to pay her $25/hour, and yesterday it finally happened. Kind of. She showed up with her Mom, who helped, in air quotes. For about 3 of the 10 hours Anna worked, Mom helped. The other 7 hours, she sat in my deck chair and ate my food and shouted criticism at her daughter.

Yet when the bill came, it was for 20 man-hours.

"Seriously?" I said. They had no idea what I was talking about.

"Yeah, two people, 10 hours, that's 20 hours."

I waited for them to volunteer that maybe this accounting wasn't entirely fair to me, but no such acknowledgement was forthcoming. I looked at my table, where among the empty cups of my yogurt I saw my plate holding the discarded bones of my ribs. I guess I'm just grateful that she didn't find the humidor.

Because the idea was to help get Anna money, I chose not to argue. But she also isn't going to be allowed to finish the job, nor is she ever getting another lick of help from me. This is how you know you're a fuckup. For a mere $175, she cheated her way out of a source of aid and revenue. Forever.

As I gave Anna her fraud money, I heard Allie in my head. "You know what you did wrong, right? You were being nice, and wham."

because it's important to have standards

My sister and her adult son were bickering.

"I cannot believe you sent me to that Wal-Mart of yours," he sniffed. Hailing from Seattle, where haughtily sneering at Wal-Mart is the default setting, I naturally assumed that's where the kid was coming from. But no.

"That is the most ghetto Wal-Mart I've ever seen. The stupidest people ever. My Wal-Mart is way better."

so close this time

"John!" a woman's voice called behind me as I walked across the parking lot.

Turning around, I saw no one I knew. This happens all the time when you have an incredibly common name, so I moved on.

"Yo John-NIE!" I turned around again and saw a young woman bounding happily up to me. I had never laid eyes on her in my life. I know this because she's a porcelain redhead with enormous, Disney-character blue eyes. My confidence in my memory is nil, but my confidence in my shallowness remains intact. I would not forget this person.

"Uh, hi....you."

I'm also super-smooth.

"Ashtyn! I worked at the ice cream place during high school."

"Oh, right! How are you?" I seriously had no idea who this girl was.

Like all women, she correctly assumed I was lying. "You used to come in and get the peanut butter chocolate chunk, like, every day?"

Now I believed she had the right person. Faintly, a memory flickered.

"Did you always have your nose in a book?"

"Yes! And you made me read Watership Down!"

This was totally me. We chatted for a bit. What a vibrant, super-sweet woman that little bookworm had become. And then she got serious on me.

"You know, you said something to me once that I think about all the time."

Fuck. Here it comes, I thought. You ruined another kid's life with crap advice. You really do need to learn not to talk to people. Like, ever.

But no. I'd implored her to go to college, to ensure that she was never dependent on someone else, lest she get stuck in her hick little peninsula town. That's commonplace on my peninsula: uneducated women trap themselves into dependence on crap men. (Unlike in Seattle, where highly educated women trap themselves into crap men's dependence on them.) But not Ashtyn. She got her degree from the college where I once taught. She got a job and moved to the city. She just wanted me to know, I suppose. Delighted, I asked what she does for a living.

Modeling.

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.

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