February 2015 Archives

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.

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.

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