May 2009 Archives

baby, vegas

When 19 year-old Aaron showed me his fake ID, I was intrigued. When he showed me his mother's credit card, I was downright inspired.

Yes, I would take my friend's kid to Vegas.

But only under one circumstance. I tracked down Zoe to ask. "How much would it bother you if I took your kid to Vegas?" I said, causing her to swallow her face and half her neck.

Yes, I would take my friend's kid to Vegas.

Aaron was excited. He was already planning our itinerary. And then he was overcome with generosity. "I'll even pay my own way!" he chirped.

"You have yourself mistaken for a 19 year old chick," I growled. "You bet your ass you're paying your own way."

the magic rock

Zoe has returned to Seattle after a decade's absence, bringing with her her son, Aaron. I was hugely in Aaron's life when he was 7-10, and now he's 19. I hadn't seen him in 9 years until a party a couple weeks ago.

He reminded me of the Magic Rock.

One day when he was nine, Zoe and he arrived home to find the following: a broken window, three chips in the TV screen, and a rock sitting on the sill of the broken window. It defied explanation. It defied physics. Zoe was freaked out. I showed up, and I was stumped too. There was a gravel driveway 100' away, across the street, and we wondered if it was remotely possible that someone had violently spun their wheels over there and caused the rock to sail 100', crash through the window, hit the TV three times, and then bounce back in the direction from which it had come. Which of course it isn't. But off I went anyway in the Jeep, trying to test the hypothesis, furiously spinning my wheels in the gravel.

"That," Aaron concluded, "Was when I realized that not all adults have it together."

war and remembrance

When I was dating the AW, I purchased the 1988 TV miniseries War and Remembrance, soapy historical fiction that follows a family's travails during WW2. I'd hoped to successfully marry 1) my interest in history with 2) her interest in Us magazine, thereby helping her to accidentally learn something.

She saw right through my ruse. Inside of 10 minutes, she was ejecting the DVD.

And so it gathered dust for eight years, until I recently started watching the set. For the most part, it's been an exercise in "What's more implausible? 71 year-old Robert Mitchum as a 50 year-old who marries a 30 year-old hottie, or Jane Seymour as an American Jewess?"

Meanwhile, if there's anything worse to watch while gnawing on baby back ribs than concentration camp footage, I don't know what it could possibly be. And I don't mean re-enactments. I mean actual footage of GIs carrying around mutilated, emaciated corpses and near-corpses.

Yeah. Who else is hungry?

I laughed during one horrible scene, though. Seymour is being coerced by Nazi guards. They're doing so by threatening to rip her three-year old child in half. Clearly, not remotely funny. What made me laugh, then? A guard held the child by his ankles, upside-down, and although we heard the kid screaming in terror when he was off-camera—moooom-MYYYYY!—when he was on-camera, the look of unabashed delight on his face was unmistakable. "Again! Again!" the face said.

dex e. coyote

Dex, as I've previously written, is a complete sissy. She's not the least bit afraid of me, however. If I scold her, she wags her tail and does a little riverdance. No, she's a sissy about unfamiliar things and places. A serious sissy.

The only time she ever got spanked in her brief little life was when she leapt out of the back of the Jeep, without permission, into a busy street. It was six months before she wasn't psychotic about loading or unloading into the Jeep. I would have to pick her up, and she would piddle. Finally, in the last month, she started leaping in and out on command. Finally.

Last week, I told her to load up and opened the back of the Jeep. She complied, leaping through the tailgate and face-planting into the wall of stacked firewood I'd forgotten I'd picked up the day before.

Yesterday at lunch, I went to the only decent restaurant within a half hour of my house. On a 400 square mile peninsula with a quarter-million people, it was statistically inevitable that Sarah would be the one to bring me my pecan pie.

We nearly collided. I was entering the bar as she was exiting it. We stood there and awkwardly regarded the situation.

"Sarah..."

"John..."

"Uh..."

"Uh..."

"Wow."

"Yeah."

"Here? Really? The only decent restaurant within 30 minutes of my house?"

"Yeah, I know."

And so it went. We are not inarticulate people, but words utterly failed us here. I can't speak for her, but all of my synapses fired at once, and my mouth couldn't make sense of all the signals from my brain. I have no idea how many people were in the room, but I guarantee that they surmised Oh yeah. These people used to do it. There was no other possible explanation for the reaction. We stood there stammering for three eternities.

Always the more articulate party, Sarah finally managed to gag out that if I was comfortable with this, she was. I was not. But perhaps the Kristin debacle a few days ago was still on my mind, 'cause all I could think was Oh, don't be a pussy about it. Just sit down. And I did.

And so I watched my onetime waitress take my order again. I watched her grab drinks and straighten placesettings again. Full circle. Full, weird circle.

I asked the only thing on my mind. "Are you happy?"

She said she was getting there, although she doesn't know if she would characterize herself as happy.

"Yeah, after all, you're still you."

She nodded and laughed and left the room.

She brought me my pie. It seemed loogie-free, but the whole damned thing looked like a loogie, so how can I tell with any degree of confidence? I didn't really want it anymore, though. We weren't traumatized or angry or hurt or any of the obvious feelings. It was merely discomfort that made it uncomfortable, hers and mine both, nothing more. And man, were those first five minutes uncomfortable. How is this going to go down? we each seemed to be thinking.

"Jesus Christ," I thought aloud. "I have no idea what to tip in this situation."

Sarah smirked sideways as she passed my table. "Either a lot...or nuthin' at all."

She set the pie down. "John, I just have to point out," she said, pointing to my book. "That's what you were reading at Holly Hill the day we first talked."

"I don't think so. Wasn't it Sedaris?"

"No, it was this book." She then quoted my review verbatim from five years ago. This is vintage Sarah.

A woman entered the bar. "I was in here last week..." And before the woman could continue, Sarah retrieved the article the woman had left behind. More vintage. When the woman left, I commented that if she immediately returned, I would not be able to positively identify her. Engagement with people is a skill Sarah possesses and I do not.

"Great," Sarah groaned. "I've got the skills to be a waitress."

"I think that skill is transferable to other industries."

Time passed, and as it became clear that any drama between us has run its course, the discomfort abated. We talked about the waning of the discomfort. We were both relieved. "This is going a lot better than I would have expected," she said. "But when we first ran into one another, my vision actually started to go. How are you with it?" I said I was okay.

When I finished my pie, I immediately started to get up. "Oh, sit down, John," she snapped, correctly guessing I was thinking about her discomfort.

I asked about her dogs and about school. She asked whether Darcy married a Microsoft guy. I tried not to be annoyed that her one question about me was actually about my talented little protege who, frankly, gets enough attention. We showed one another photos of our dogs. We were two exes, sharing photos of their kids at our high school reunion.

More time passed. She worked. I read. She commented that she hoped I was as okay with being there as I seemed. I seem okay? I thought. That's a first. But I was okay. I was surprisingly okay. After a time, she wasn't the nearly mythical Sarah, not anymore. Time moved backward. She was the original Sarah, the one before...everything. I watched her interact with her co-workers and customers with familiar humor and grace. She doesn't think she's particularly funny or graceful, but she's ridiculous degrees of both, even when she's freaking out inside, like, oh, say, now. She dropped by a couple times to complain about work, which was also very much like old times. Somehow, the clock had turned back three years. Past everything, both great and awful. Some switch in my head reset. The baggage disappeared. She was just Sarah again. Funny and graceful and kind Sarah.

And even if this is the last time I ever see her, this is a very good thing. It's healing. It repairs the good memories. I wish such a moment for anyone whose heart has been broken.

I took my leave of her. She again said she hoped that I wasn't just acting comfortable when I wasn't. "C'mere," I said, and gave her a hug. I said I prefer her hair this color, her natural color. She grabbed her ponytail and smiled. "Light brown ponytail," she said. In my imagination, she waved it goodbye as I left.

loser, defined

I fished into my fleece pocket for my ticket to Star Trek. I handed it to the usher.

He squinted at it. "This is...well, it's for Star Trek, but it's for the Regal Cinema in Redmond, sir," he said. "Two days ago." Then I sheepishly handed him the correct ticket.

numbers game

I recently bought my first authentic Steelers jersey. They ain't cheap. In fact they're insanely expensive. So it was with utmost gravity that I selected the player to immortalize on my back.

I can't wear Roethlisberger or Polamalu or Parker. Half the shirts out there are one of those three.

I could get fellow Ohio State alum and Super Bowl MVP Santonio Holmes, but I would look pretty ridiculous in his jersey. That goes for all of the little speed guys. No receivers or defensive backs' jerseys. My square build requires at least a linebacker.

No white guys. It bugs me when 80% of white football fans wear the number of the same three white players. Sorry, Heath Miller. You're out.

No one on the offensive line, which in the interests of greater accuracy will now be pronounced with a long o.

The defensive line is 2/3 white, and the third third's nickname is Big Snack. I don't need that in my life.

This leaves the linebackers. Woodley and Foote went to Michigan, and there's no way in hell that's happening. This leaves Farrior, who could retire any year now, and Super Bowl hero James Harrison. It's Harrison. Got to be Harrison.

And thus did I so very carefully choose to purchase the jersey of a man who would, mere weeks later, make headlines by declining to visit the White House with the team. Said he:

This is how I feel -- if you want to see the Pittsburgh Steelers, invite us when we don't win the Super Bowl. As far as I'm concerned, Obama would've invited Arizona if they had won.
If I'd set my money on fire, at least it would have generated heat.

here pussy pussy pussy

1996

Uncharacteristically, I'm sitting in my office working when Katrina steps inside. She's spent her day at one of those morale events Microsoft holds periodically, in this case, bowling. She's wide-eyed. "Oh. My. God. I just met your perfect woman."

"Huh?"

She gives me directions to my Perfect Woman's office, which of course I follow with all due haste. Therein sat a beautiful girl, Kristin. I could see what Katrina was talking about. Kristin was resplendent in a faded sweatshirt and blue jeans, no makeup, her natural blond hair pulled back in an informal ponytail. The woman exuded "tomboy." Pretty tomboy. Very pretty tomboy. We had no real reason to talk, but I gagged out some awkward pleasantries anyway. She beamed and sparkled and offered her handshake.

And I pussied out.

1999

I left that team shortly thereafter, and three years later, Kristin and I are invited to the same birthday dinner. When I arrive, the only empty seat is next to her. Utterly heartbreaking development, that. And so we chat for hours over drinks, and she only becomes better. She sparkles and beams. She listens and jokes. We love and hate the same music and movies. She knows the answer to my Perfect Woman test question. We'd loved the same cartoons as kids and quote them verbatim. She not only loves football, she plays football in a league. We talk about our lifes and loves, our successes and disappointments, and she heaps unusual amounts of empathy on me and everyone else.

Katrina sure knows what she's talking about, I think for the first and last time in my life.

cowardlylion.jpgWhen dinner ends, I walk Kristin to her car. And then I completely pussy out. She was just too...too. My knees wobble.

2009

After ten years of my kicking myself, this weekend Kristin and I are invited to the same party again. No longer a cute 22 year old, she's now a drop-dead beautiful 35 year old. She shows up alone, sans ring. Chance for redemption, coming up!

"I cannot work up the nerve to even talk to her," I text Katrina.

"Do it! You'll hate yourself if you don't!" she replies.

An hour later, I'm talking to Katrina on the phone. She's trying to help me to muster some courage that, with this one woman and only this one woman, has inexplicably deserted me for a sizable chunk of my life. Ten minutes into the call, Kristin spots me. She smiles and waves across the room.

"I gotta go," I said and hung up.

And so I chat with the Perfect Woman again, 13 years later. My buddies were there, and I zing then, and she laughs and sparkles and lightly slaps my forearm. All systems are go! What can possibly go wrong?

"It's official. I pussied out again," I text Katrina two hours later.

"Is it too late?"

"Yes. I'm in the ferry line."

"Sigh."

Exactly: sigh. If you think it's exasperating being around me, you should try being me.

stoned

"Don't smile," barked the guy taking the photo for my new passport.

"Seriously? There are rules against that now?"

"Yep. The gummint uses facial recognition software, and smiling messes it up." Then he softened. "You can smile a little. Like a half smile."

And this, my friends, is how you look completely baked in your passport photo.

weird science, part ii

Thanks to uber-geek troll Jennifer for sending this article about the science gaffes in Star Trek. If for no other reason than now I've been introduced to the word spaghettification in its proper context.

weird science

I don't generally demand actual science from my movies. If spaceships screech as they go past the camera, well, perhaps that's what they sound like from the inside. And if Star Trek wants me to believe something called "red matter" can create black holes, I'm so there. The problem isn't with the red matter, whose science I don't understand. It's with the black holes. It's with ships escaping them, emerging from them. Huh?

In the woeful Generations, we had a guy make a star go nova in order to alter its gravitational effects. Except that gravity has to do with mass, and the star's mass would be unchanged. But at least we saw the star's explosion in real time when it should have taken light 20 minutes or so to reach the planet. So there's that.

Titanic's active fourth boiler notwithstanding, the one that bothers me most was in, of all things, Superman II: an astronaut on the moon tries to escape the bad guys by firing the lunar module's descent engine, not its ascent engine. Is this a nit? I say no. Anything that knocks me out of the reality of the movie into regular reality is a failure, no? You surely don't want my brain anywhere near reality when I'm listening to people talk on the surface of the moon.

late for my funeral

It could have been any given Sunday when I was a kid. Six uncomfortably attired family members would be piled into the station wagon, awaiting the seventh so that we could go to Mass. The seventh was always Julie. It was hard to get mad at her dawdling, what with my hating church and all, but then again she was pissing my parents off, and that was all of our problem.

My dad would yell for her out the window and lean on the horn. Mom would berate her thoughtlessness. And then Julie would finally appear, close the front door, and vacantly stroll down the sidewalk in a direction that was only nominally car-ish. She would pause and reflect on something known only to her. Sometimes she would reverse field and re-enter the house, which would send my parents into orbit.

"I swear to God, Julie," my mom invariably snapped whenever Julie finally climbed into the car, "You're going to be late for my funeral!"

Happened every single week.

CUT TO:
EXTERIOR - CEMETERY - DAY

Maraca (blue).jpgIt's ten years later, and we kids, emotionally exhausted from our mother's funeral, are standing beside her coffin. Julie somehow hasn't completed the trip from the church, so it's only four of us. The casket is about to be lowered into the ground, and the priest is conducting a graveside service. He hands Linda, the eldest, a Catholic maraca thing and instructs her to spritz the coffin once and pass the maraca to the next sibling. And so she does. And so does my brother. When it's Nadine's turn, we become aware of Julie's approach. We watch her stroll aimlessly through the cemetery, pausing to reflect on the occasional tombstone or butterfly, walking in a direction that was only nominally Mom-ish.

When she finally deigns to arrive, I hand her the maraca and tell her to spritz the casket. And boy, does she ever. She pumps the maraca with urgent, repeated thrusts, as if Mom's casket is on fire. She drenches the thing.

It's at this point that I hear Linda stifle a laugh. That's pretty much when I lose it. Soon, four kids burying their mother are on the verge of exploding in laughter, each of us thinking of the same Sunday morning ritual. It is perfect, really. It is exactly the service Mom would have chosen for herself. It is oddly beautiful. I cry for the first time.

dex's first swim

The Portuguese Water Dog is, surprisingly enough, a swimming breed. To Dex's misfortune, by the time she was of swimming age, the water was about 3 degrees. Not wanting the first encounter to be negative, I'd put off introducing her to the water.

Not to tip off the punchline, but my hot tub is 3 feet below a corner of my deck. This morning I was reading therein, relaxing to the sunrise over Puget Sound, when Dex came galloping around that corner and lost her footing on the slick deck. Well, they say you should go in the water with your dog the first time...

Terror ensued. Hers, too.

empathy v. sympathy

I'm soon attending a party that's essentially a high school reunion: a group of people with whom I worked 12-13 years ago. This got me reading old emails. One in particular left me dumbstruck. I wrote this to Jenn, nine years ago to the day.

"I'm so sorry. I cannot imagine anything more painful than someone you love demonstrating in such appalling detail how little regard they have for you."

Yep. My imagination still fails me here. Epically.

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