Tuesday, December 24, 2013

A Very Stubborn Christmas

My mom's side of the family used to have these big Christmas shindigs. They were pretty fun. Especially for me. I was just a kid, so all I had to do was show up, eat, and open presents.

That sounds like a successful party recipe today, especially since I wouldn't even have to drive.

For the most part, all I cared about were the presents. There was a lot of boring grown-up talk, then we ate, which seemed to take about a thousand hours, then we were finally allowed to rip open our presents. As mentioned previously, the stress of wondering if I had been good enough throughout the year usually had me throwing up from anxiety on Christmas Eve, so these celebrations were much more relaxed than actual Christmas. I mean, like my grandma and aunts and uncles weren't gonna get me stuff? Come on.

There was tons of food at these things. A turkey, my Uncle Eddie's ham, which might be the only ham I've ever really cared about, tons of side dishes and desserts, just about anything you could think of.

One year when I was about 6 though, I wasn't having it. I don't remember what the controversy was, but for whatever reason I told my parents I was only eating three beans that day. Maybe I thought that would get to the present opening sooner. Maybe I thought I was teaching them a Christmas lesson about gluttony. Maybe I was emulating Gandhi, every little Mississippi boy's childhood hero. Whatever the reason, I had made my mind up.

I can be pretty stubborn. That whole day, with piles of wonderful food around me, I stuck to my vow and only ate three green beans. When I think of some of the lame Christmas dinners I've had since then (many just involving ham), all I can think about are those mashed potatoes with gravy and turkey and dressing and pie and treats I passed up just to prove a point that I can't remember now anyway.

At this point, I could point out that we all have stubbornness and blind spots that keep us from getting all the treats we should be getting, but what am I, Dr. Phil? Just remember however, that if you do pass up the turkey, there's a good chance you'll get nothing but ham Christmases for years after.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Person of the Year, 2013

Many were in the running for the Goo Goo Muck's coveted Person of the Year. Perhaps that new Pope? The President or First Lady? A posthumous award for Nelson Mandela? Or any number of scientists, artists, athletes, or businesspeople who inspired, challenged, or led us this past year? The guy who played Billy Jack (R.I.P?)

All worthy choices. But they all share one disqualifying characteristic. They all did something.

This year's hero is John C. Beale, EPA official, and work-avoider extraordinaire.

While you were calling in to work with your "food poisoning" or "stomach bug," Beale convinced his bosses that he was a CIA agent undertaking secret missions and didn't show up for months. During the time Beale wasn't slaving for The Man, he "spent much of the time... at his Northern Virginia home riding bikes, doing housework and reading books, or at a vacation house on Cape Cod."

Beale was pulling in over 200 grand, which would make lesser men give up the grift and focus on doing a good job. Beale, however, realized those people are suckers.

Plus, once you have your supervisors convinced that you work for the CIA, it's kind of hard to dial back.

My previous working hero was Steven Slater, that flight steward who cussed out his plane, took some beers, flipped the double bird, and slid off the plane on the inflatable slide. But while Slater was a hero for expressing our frustration, Beale is a hero for pulling off the most audacious work-related scam ever. Sure, he's going to jail, but anyone who can pull off a scam like that deserves our respect, if only for the pure outrageousness.

How did it start? How did he convince himself that his bosses would buy his CIA story? How did that first meeting go? Was he nervous? Confident? Ready to pull the "Hey, I'm just joking, I'll get back to work now" card?

Hopefully he will stand up at the close of his trial and give us a breakdown of the entire escapade,  inspiring a nation in desperate need of heroes.

He spent much of the time he was purportedly working for the CIA at his Northern Virginia home riding bikes, doing housework and reading books, or at a vacation house on Cape Cod.
Read more at http://wonkette.com/536714/scammy-epa-climate-science-guy-was-basically-george-costanza#tPwZp9DMpb20tZtU.99
He spent much of the time he was purportedly working for the CIA at his Northern Virginia home riding bikes, doing housework and reading books, or at a vacation house on Cape Cod.
Read more at http://wonkette.com/536714/scammy-epa-climate-science-guy-was-basically-george-costanza#tPwZp9DMpb20tZtU.99
He spent much of the time he was purportedly working for the CIA at his Northern Virginia home riding bikes, doing housework and reading books, or at a vacation house on Cape Cod.
Read more at http://wonkette.com/536714/scammy-epa-climate-science-guy-was-basically-george-costanza#tPwZp9DMpb20tZtU.99
He spent much of the time he was purportedly working for the CIA at his Northern Virginia home riding bikes, doing housework and reading books, or at a vacation house on Cape Cod.
Read more at http://wonkette.com/536714/scammy-epa-climate-science-guy-was-basically-george-costanza#tPwZp9DMpb20tZtU.99spent much of the time he was purportedly working for the CIA at his Northern Virginia home riding bikes, doing housework and reading books, or at a vacation house on Cape Cod
He spent much of the time he was purportedly working for the CIA at his Northern Virginia home riding bikes, doing housework and reading books, or at a vacation house on Cape Cod.
Read more at http://wonkette.com/536714/scammy-epa-climate-science-guy-was-basically-george-costanza#tPwZp9DMpb20tZtU.9

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Talkin' Turkey

The summer I was 18, my parents took a vacation with my sister and left me at home. I had a job and couldn't get off (I didn't try very hard), and was considered responsible enough to stay alone for a week or two. It was awesome. My friends and I built a ramp the second my parent's truck rounded the corner, and I was free to lie around the house, watch TV during the day, and generally get a taste of what life would soon be like with no parents around. Well, in a much nicer house then I would ever have.

I had to make all my own meals, which wasn't really that big a deal. I could cook, and had enough money from my paycheck and whatever my parents left me that I could eat in Bradenton's finest restaurants. Also, I could drink Coke (well, Publix cola) for every meal to give me extra energy for skating and watching TV.

One afternoon I was in the garage, looking for something to do when I decided to check the refrigerator. My sister and I generally stayed away from the garage refrigerator, because it would occasionally give you a nasty little shock if you weren't properly grounded, and really, who needed the hassle?

But today, I would have gladly taken the shock when I saw what was waiting for me in the freezer. A whole turkey, all wrapped up and ready to cook.

Now, I love turkey. Love it. Love carving it up, love sneaking bites while everyone else is looking away, love leftover Thanksgiving sandwiches, just love the stuff. I'd say my turkey love is second to none, but I'm pretty sure I'm way down on that list.

So naturally, I had to cook that turkey. No more Wendy's salad bar buffets. I could save my money and have a Thanksgiving feast for the rest of the week. I bought mashed potatoes, dressing, all the ingredients I could find. I also invited my girlfriend over for the next day. I mean, what is more romantic than a Thanksgiving feast? Nothing. That's what. Nothing.

I was up early the next morning. I remembered that from my parents cooking turkey. I kept the bird in the refrigerator overnight, figuring that would be enough to thaw it out.

It still felt about as frozen as when I first discovered it, so I ran water over it. I thought I remembered seeing them do that. Then I set the oven for whatever the turkey wrapper told me.

Listening to NPR during Thanksgiving drives in the years since, I've learned about the Turkey Hotline, where you can call and get advice on how to cook your turkey. I didn't know about that then, and even if I did, I don't know if they staff the phones in the middle of summer.

So I had to wing it. After soaking it for a while, I set it in the oven. It was still frozen, but the oven would take care of that.

Hours later, the turkey still seemed kind of hard, but I was definitely making progress. I concentrated on the other aspects of my feast.

When dinnertime came around, the inner part of the turkey was still sort of frozen, even after about 9 hours in the oven, but it was just the two of us. We probably wouldn't get that far into the bird's insides, especially after the romance of the roasted turkey overtook us. And yeah, parts of the turkey looked a little pink and rubbery, almost raw, but we could easily avoid those parts. No problem.

Whenever I got hungry over the next few days, I'd take a big hunk out of the turkey with my hands, feeling like a Viking. I did notice a weird smell throughout the house, but I was an 18 year old guy living on my own. I just thought it was natural.

When my parents got home the next week, the first thing my dad said was, "What's that smell?"
I just figured it was me living in my own filth, so didn't say anything, but my parents seemed really concerned, walking around sniffing the air like hound dogs.

They located the culprit fairly quickly. Apparently you're not supposed to cook an unfrozen turkey. But if you must, you have to cook it completely. I didn't even really notice the toxic clouds of salmonella leaking from the refrigerator. I just figured the smell was just me skating all day and being lackadaisical about showers. And yeah, after they pointed it out to me, the insides of the turkey did look sort of black.

It's a wonder I wasn't dead or full of food poisoning, but I guess that can be attributed to having a teenaged cast-iron stomach. Now just thinking about that turkey is enough to give me the dry heaves.

You would think that an experience like that would keep me away from turkey for a while, but I'm happy to report that I didn't learn a thing from the experience and am still as deeply in love with turkey as I was as a teenager. Some things are eternal.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Here in My Car

I do a lot of outreach as part of my job. It's actually pretty fun. I go to health fairs and retirement homes and senior centers and tell people about the talking books program and whatever events we're doing that month.

I also do a radio show every Tuesday morning. It's only for blind people who have a special receiver, so it's not like any of my friends can hear me, which sort of sucks, but it does give me a funny little chip on my shoulder I never tire of using.

I'll stop to talk to a co-worker for a while on my way out to the radio station. Then I get to end the conversation by saying something like, "Well, that's nice, but I'm going to go read to blind people. I'm sure what you're doing is important, too."

I don't get invited to many work parties any more.

Even cooler than the fact that I get to read to blind people on the radio, and thus get assured a place in Heaven, I get to use the city car at least once a week.

Walking through the parking garage looking for my assigned car, I feel like James Bond, if James Bond had to drive a Ford Taurus station wagon.

I drive the car so much that it's usually in the same space every time I go to get it; in fact, I get sort of pissed if someone else has used it in between trips and has moved it or adjusted the seat or mirrors. "This is MY assigned secret agent car! Don't be messing with my ejector seats!"

Years ago I had a work-study job where I delivered campus mail in a minivan. It was a three hour job that I had figured out how to do in about 20 minutes. I'd use the remaining time to take the minivan to the record store, help people move, or sometimes just drive home for a much-needed nap.

I don't do that with the city car, because now I am old and responsible and afraid of getting in trouble. They would probably take away my license to kill, and I can't have that at my age.

So I drive the speed limit, obey all the traffic laws and use my turn signals (hey, I'm not an animal), and secretly pretend I'm on a mission to track down a turncoat government agent. Sure, it's childish and kinda stupid, but I think I've sort of earned that right.

After all, I read to blind people.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

A Horrifying Glimpse Into the Future

Back at the old Main Library we had a number of regular downtown residents we encountered on a regular basis. Some we liked, some we tolerated, and some you went on a break and tricked someone else into covering the desk when you saw them.

Kinks Guy was a little of all three. He was a short, stumpy guy with a sunburned face and a big beard who was obviously homeless, and even more obviously, a little off.

He got his name because he would constantly come up to the desk and ask for printouts of '60s groups. He must have asked for the Kinks a lot for the name to stick.

He would go to each floor on the library getting as many printouts as he could, then end up on our floor, the Arts Department, which became a second home. He always wanted information on '60s musicians, which was easy enough to find for him, even if we had a sneaking suspicion he wasn't really reading all those Allmusic.com pages he would glance at then stick in his Santa Claus-sized trash bag.

He quickly went through the major '60s bands, and would ask for more obscure psychedelic groups, usually muttering snippets of criticism while we searched.

"Rable rable "Forever Changes" was clearly influenced by Spanish music along with the brilliant wordplay of Arthur Lee," he'd mutter, while we gave him his allotted three pages.

"You know you can only get three pages a day, right?"

"Mumble mumble mumble The Who's early stage shows were influenced by auto-destructive art. The Incredible String Band was a major bridge between folk and psychedelia. The Kinks' British whimsey mumble mumble mumble."

Kinks guy scared me.

Not that I thought he was dangerous or anything. He scared me because listening to his spiel reminded me of stuff I had said when drinking with friends or writing record reviews, just from different decades.

Who was this guy? A fellow reviewer who went off the deep end? A rabid music fan who ingested too many chemicals during the music's heyday?

Whoever he was, I saw a potential future in him. Was I doomed to follow in his footsteps? Would I show up at a public library sometime in the late 21st century muttering to the employees about music from my heyday?

"Argle argle The Wedding Present's guitar tone was totally influenced by the Smiths. The Jesus Lizard had an amazing rhythm section that combined with David Yow's stage antics for one of the best live bands ever. Tar had aluminum guitars. The Mummies dressed in mummy costumes. Homina homina."

Kinks Guy eventually got kicked out for some sort of infraction, but the memory of him still haunts me. I figure I have another good 10 years or so before I'm jabbering about Man or Astroman or the Minutemen somewhere before I'm led away to be roommates with Kinks Guy.

I guess that's just the price you pay for promo CDs and getting on the guest list.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Thoughts While Sitting in Traffic Listening to New Wave

So a few months ago I'm sitting in Atlanta traffic, listening to a college station. They're playing a whole set of new wave stuff that sounds pretty good - sort of like stuff I'd catch on college radio  back in the '80s or at a new wave club where they'd never announce what the names were.

Then the DJ announces that all this stuff came out in the last year.

"That's pretty cool," I think. "Glad that the kids are getting into the new wave instead of all the other crappy musical styles they could be listening to."

But wait.

"Wouldn't that be the same thing as bands in the '80s aping, I dunno...Country Joe and the Fish or something? College kids should be making music that I find unlistenable and offputting. They shouldn't be doing stuff that makes me remember being a teenager. This is almost starting to annoy me as much as when I finally check out one of those raved-about indie beardy bands only to find I've been listening to a repackaged James Taylor album."

Then a new DJ comes on and announces that her set is all vinyl.

"That's cool, I guess." I think. "Although really, who's gonna know if she isn't really playing vinyl? What if she's sneaking some MP3s in there just to trick us?"

She announces she's starting the set with something off Bauhaus' live album "Press the Eject and Give Me the Tape."

"I played the hell out of this album in high school," I think. "Again, weird that kids today are listening to stuff from what - 30 years ago? Also, I never really noticed this long-ass intro. They're really building up the tension with these two notes. How did I miss this? Damn, they're still milking those notes. Funny how obvious the reggae/dub influence is in their bass. Guess I wouldn't have known anything about that in high school though. Damn, they're really building the tension. Is this an import or something? I know I would have remembered this."

Just then the DJ comes on the air and apologizes for the record skip. I guess they were really playing vinyl after all.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Hanging on the Telephone

Part of my job involves talking to old people and service providers on the phone. This might seem funny to those of you who have talked to me on the phone and heard me doze off after about three minutes or have waited on me to return a call, sort of knowing in the back of your head that it ain't never gonna happen.

But I'm professional and courteous, and get called "Hon" a lot.

One morning I helped one of our customers with his account. This happens fairly regularly - people want to change the frequency of the mailings, or change one of their selections, or want to re-listen to something they had years ago.

After the usual small talk, we get into it.

"Well, I'm looking to see which ones of the Jedi series I've read before. I know I'm about halfway through with one series and WOULD YOU KEEP IT DOWN, YOU BITCH? I'M ON THE DAMN PHONE!"

I was pretty sure this previously nice old man wasn't talking to me, but something had obviously tripped this switch over to Hyde mode.

I don't like being around people getting yelled or yelling. It always reminds me of being at a friend's house as a kid while they got in trouble and you just had to sort of sit there and act like you're not hearing anything. On the funny side, when he screamed, he sounded remarkably like the angry dad  in the D.R.I. thrash classic "Mad Man."

"Just a second, please. I TOLD YOU I'M ON THE DAMN PHONE! WHY CAN'T YOU UNDERSTAND THAT? So, I think I finished all that New Republic stuff, but I can't remember. Could you see what I've read?"

"Uh...yeah...uh..certainly. It looks like you did finish most of  --"

"YOU GOT ENOUGH MANURE IN YOU TO FERTILIZE ALL OF KANSAS! YEAH, YOU KNOW IT ALL, SURE YOU DO! Say, do you have "Dune" on digital yet or is it still only on tape?"

This went on for a few more minutes, him screaming at some unknown person, returning to me as a nice old man, me looking up book series for him, and neither one of us acknowledging the screaming. Should I say something? Should I ask if he needed help? These are were all great options running through my head as I ignored the yelling and finished the call.

I found out later that I did the right thing by ignoring the problem - he's been calling for years and almost always gets into it with whoever he's sharing a house with. As always, my strategy of ignoring problems and having good telephone skills continue to work like a charm.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Quicksand! Dang, Now We Are In Trouble.

Growing up I thought quicksand was going to be a much bigger problem than it turned out to be.

OK, I totally stole that line from an ecard thingy my girlfriend posted on the facebook, but truthfully, I was fascinated and terrified of quicksand as a kid. It took up a large part of my fears - probably a smaller part than getting eaten by a shark (we lived in Mississippi. The chances were pretty slim.), but still something to look out for.

It seems a large portion of entertainment geared towards kids had people sinking slowly into quicksand, generally British explorers puffing on pipes and uttering something like, "Oh, bother." Quicksand was everywhere in cartoons and old movies - if you were outside, chances were pretty good, at least according to TV, there was a pit of quicksand just waiting for you to fall into.

These old movies also taught me that gorillas and skeletons were somehow the most terrifying things ever back in the old days, but that's another story.

I asked my parents what quicksand was exactly, and they told me it was just water and sand. TV was right! The stuff was all over the place.

A few months later, I had an enemy. I can't remember exactly why we were enemies, just the usual little kid stuff, I suppose.

Wait! I remember! He totally called bullshit on my cyborg story.

See, during this time, "The Six Million Dollar Man" was was a popular television show. The hero was an astronaut who almost died until the government implanted super-strong robotics in him so he could solve crimes and beat up Bigfoot.

Cashing in on that popularity, I had half-convinced a group of kids that I too, had robotics in my arm. Luckily, nobody asked me to lift anything heavier than my 6 year old muscles could handle. Maybe there just wasn't anything heavy enough for me to lift to impress them with, or maybe I got out of it because, hey, kids are dumb.

But this one kid wasn't buying it. He wanted proof. I explained that peeling back the fake skin on my arm and revealing my circuitry would cause an explosion that would kill us all, but he was skeptical. Worse, I could see the other kids were losing faith in my robotics, also.

I don't recall how I got out of my lie, maybe my timing was right and everyone had to go home to eat before I had to whip out my circuitry, but I could sense that the crowd had turned against me.

I couldn't eat my dinner that night. Who the hell did that kid think he was, ruining my story and calling me a liar? The nerve! And he turned all my other friends against me! How dare he slander me like that! I had to get back at him, but how?

I had the answer. Quicksand.

I was able to get out after dinner and run to the back of his apartment building. There was a sandbox outside. I set a hose into the box and turned on the water.

I got the quicksand to a good consistency then went home in the dusk, secure in the knowledge that I was gonna make that kid pay for doubting me. Like a mini Walter White, my enemies would perish due to my knowledge of science.

I had trouble sleeping that night. What if that kid didn't know not to struggle against the quicksand and drowned? There were only about 7 inches of the stuff, but who knows how powerful quicksand is? Maybe it ate a hole in the bottom of the sandbox or something.

What if some other kid went in the sandbox? What if a baby crawled in there? I only wanted to punish my rival for his slander, not kill any innocent babies. And I didn't even really want to kill that kid, just sort of punish him a little. I might have gone a little overboard with my revenge.

My stomach was really churning now, but it was too late for me to go back and fix my trap. All night I was haunted by thoughts of innocent people drowning in my quicksand trap. One after another, they all fell in - a mailman, my parents, my sister, my teacher, friends - who knows how many people would die before the sun came up and I could fix things?

As soon as I could make an excuse to get out of the house, I ran over to the sandbox. In the light of the day, my quicksand trap didn't look all that lethal. In fact, it looked like a bunch of wet sand in a plastic sandbox. I might have poked around just to be sure there were no babies trapped in there, but everything seemed OK.

Walking home I reflected on the beauty of human life, the futility of revenge, and more importantly, the importance of always being honest in storytelling. This was going to be a new start.

OK, not really. I was like 6 or 7 years old. I had a lifetime of revenge fantasies, lies, and exaggerations to go. But I did learn a vital lesson. If called on my bullshit, I could totally whip up some quicksand.

P.S. When doing a Google image search for British explorer in quicksand, about half of the images were cartoons of scantily clad ladies up to their chests in quicksand. You people are weird.

Tales of Rock and Roll Glory

A disclaimer: as with many of the stories here, I can not 100 percent verify the following tale's accuracy. I'm almost positive one of the band members told it to me right after the tour, but my age-ravaged memory could be making that up as well. I don't want to submit it to my usual thorough, hard-hitting investigative reporting, because I really like this story, and want to believe it is true.

Let's proceed.

Panthro United UK 13 were a Gainesville punk rock band in the late '90s/early '00s with a long name. They were awesome.

Jimmy the bass player had been growing a beard on one of their tours. One day out of boredom or funniness, he shaved it all off except for a mustache. The band pulled up to play a show at some little bar in the middle of nowhere. While the opening bands were playing, Jimmy sat silently alone at the bar with his mustache and some aviator glasses, drinking, and occasionally blurting out, "Don't look at me. I'm an undercover cop."

Now I might be a simple country lawyer, but I'm pretty sure most undercover cops don't usually yell out their status in bars.
Here's Jimmy in some snazzy blue pants. Picture by elawgrrl.com.
Most of the people at the bar/show were younger than the band, and they were starting to get seriously weirded out by this older mustache guy. They were pretty sure he wasn't really an undercover cop, but he was still being a big ol' mustached weirdo down there at the end of the bar.

Meanwhile, the rest of Panthro is getting ready to play. The kids are still eying Jimmy, wondering if they're gonna have to do something about this guy before the band starts. Finally, Jimmy finishes his drink, runs up to the stage, puts on his bass, turns around to face the bar, hits a chord, and the kids start gong nuts. Crazy undercover cop guy was a rocker!

I'd like to think that those kids learned a lesson that night. That maybe even the quiet square (or weirdo calling attention to him/herself) might be an undercover star, ready to rock faces off at a moment's notice.

Even if they didn't learn a lesson, they still got to see an undercover cop play bass.


Since I can't completely verify that story, here's another Jimmy story from an earlier tour with Don's Ex-Girlfriend and Highway 66 that is 100% true:

This tour was so long ago we used covered wagons to cross the country, and once we got to Chicago Jimmy was running out of money. We were in Chinatown and he's counting his remaining funds, and says, "Alright, I can't buy any more stupid stuff." Ten minutes later he bought a $15 T-shirt with a big smiling face of Andy Lau, with huge letters saying ANDY. Of course, the largest shirt they had was designed for a Chinese girl, so you could see his lungs working through the thing. He wore that shirt for years, and it was always awesome.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

All We Are is Dust in the Wind

I'm not sure how I ended up getting a minor in anthropology.

Actually, I do. Back in pre-computer days you had to register for college classes manually. By the time the scribe etched out your schedule on your tablets, most of your day was gone. When I got to the front of the line, all the classes I wanted were full. So I ended up in anthropology.

I should have seen this coming -  the same thing happened on my first day of high school. I showed up with everyone else, but somehow my registration wasn't there. The principal said, "Well, it'll probably show up tomorrow. As of now, we have no record of you. Maybe you should just go back home." So I walked back home and missed my first day.

Hey, maybe I was the problem.

Anthropology wasn't too bad once I got over the fact that I wasn't going to minor in art history (where the real money was).  Except for Folk Medicine.

Folk Medicine was one of the classes I got stuck in because nothing else was open. The workload was insane - I still have a suspicion that I somehow ended up in a graduate class. There was a ton of reading, and none of it was what I thought it was going to be - helpful hints like, "to get rid of a cold, take half an onion and bury it at the crossroads at midnight while petting a black cat." No, instead, we read a lot of dry articles about epidemiology and other words I didn't understand.

There was a cool section of the class devoted to a disease spread through cannibalism,which kept me interested in between ...jeez, I don't remember anything else about that class, other than my thinking I was in way over my head.

Speaking of over my head, our final paper was supposed to be 30 pages. I had never written 30 pages before in my life. Just thinking about made me feel like I was supposed to turn in "Moby Dick" or "War and Peace."

Somehow I was able to do it. I have no idea what my topic was. Maybe something about cannibals or cavemen. I was pretty proud of myself. I mean, 30 pages? With an opening and ending and everything? There is no way I could pull that off today. As you've probably noticed, after like 6 paragraphs I get bored and trail off, post whatever I've done up to that point, and go to sleep.

This was also in the days of word processors, where you couldn't save your work. Well, you could, but not that much. Saving a 30 page paper at that point would have taken one of those huge NASA room-size computers, far beyond the processing capabilities of my Brother word processor.

I put the finishing touches on the paper while visiting my parents in Bradenton. It looked pretty impressive in the front seat as I drove back to Gainesville. I imagined I was a respected and famous author delivering his latest manuscript to his New York editors. "This is your best stuff yet," my sexy editor would say. "Let's celebrate by buying some new leather patches for your jacket for your Letterman appearance. Then we'll drink some martinis and have some sexy, literary sex."

But before that could happen, I had to stop in Tampa to buy records. I was still in the throes of a fairly serious record collection habit, and had to stop in Tampa every trip between Gainesville and Bradenton to get my fix.

I rolled down the windows as I pulled off the interstate, possibly in an effort to sniff out vinyl treats.

I'm sure you can see where this is going.

Out of the corner of my eye, I catch weeks' worth of work fly out of my open window onto Fletcher Avenue. As I watched sheets of paper that I had worked on floating in the breeze like a parade, I had a sudden revelation.

Like Bill Murray taught us in Meatballs, "it just didn't matter." Sure, these pieces of paper represented hard work, but in the long run, what did it really mean? Would anyone remember how I did in some class I didn't care about years later? And why was I knocking myself out in school, anyway? Why not just relax for a few years - maybe I should mellow out and wander through America, having real experiences, exploring my feelings, and communicating deeply with other searching strangers.

Then I remembered that I don't like exploring my feelings or talking to strangers and realized I had to corral that term paper.

I screeched into a gas station and ran out into traffic, frantically trying to grab the floating papers.

I straightened everything out as best I could and tried to reassemble my masterwork. I was missing a handful of pages in the middle, and there was no way I could find them.

I stayed up all that night trying to recreate the linking pages from memory. It would have been easier if it were the beginning or the end where I could pad some stuff, but the middle was a lot harder to figure out.

I eventually came up with enough filler to finish my paper and ended up getting a C+. There were no marks on the paper. I'm not sure the professor even read it.

I don't think I've ever written anything that long since. I never got a sexy editor. You know how you'll have nightmares of being back in school and having to take a test you haven't prepared for? Every once in a while I'll have a dream I'm chasing those papers down Fletcher Avenue in Tampa.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Can't You Hear Me Knockin'

I don't like conflict or confrontation.

I do like sleeping.

Sometimes these opposing sides come into conflict with each other.

I was dreaming hard about 3:30 this morning. I can't be sure, but I'm fairly positive that a wise old ghost was telling me how to find his secret fortune so that I could be set for life. Before the ghost could give me the final location of his riches, we both noticed a bass line snaking through the dream.

"Sorry, I'm outta here," the annoyed ghost said. "But remember, my fortune is hidden directly under a ...."

The bass line that chased my money away was coming from my real-life neighbors across the street. I usually go over there once or twice a month or call the cops in an effort to get them to shut up.

This time I decided to walk over, even though it would mean putting on pants and shoes. This was going to be a simple "Hey, turn off your crappy music" visit and I'd be back in bed within minutes, hopefully tracking down my rich ghost and my phantom fortune.

I'm banging on the door and can see the shocked faces of people inside through the little panes of glass above the door. Then I realize why they look so shocked. Instead of knocking on the door like a normal person, sleep-deprived and newly fortune-less me had been knocking on one of the panes of glass above the door and had put my fist through the thing.
Fist of Fury
So my intended 30 second confrontation escalated into me arguing with a bunch of drunk 20 year olds and now I have to call the landlord to get some glass put in in the morning. I really should have just called the cops.

But even though I have to deal with the landlord and got about two hours sleep which I'm somehow supposed to function on today, I think I imparted a valuable life lesson to the kids.

Old people will smash some stuff up if they don't get their sleep.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

When Animals Attack

I am a friend to the animals. Sort of a St. Francis of the 'burbs. I'll swerve to avoid hitting a squirrel. I'm on a first name basis with all the feral cats and dogs of the neighborhood. OK, so first name basis means Kittycat or Poochie, depending on species, but it proves that I'm interested in their feelings.

Some of my favorite times have been spent in a boat, fishing and checking out river creatures or biking early in the morning on the trail digging the deer and turkeys as the morning chill starts to evaporate.

But do I get any love back from the animal kingdom? No, I do not.

Last weekend my girlfriend and I went to the North Georgia Zoo. It was pretty cool. We hit the Atlanta Aquarium earlier thanks to free passes, so it was a day of animal fun. We bought a bucket of food and started feeding animals. I made friends with an emu, a bird you might recognize from crossword puzzle clues.

The goats and sheep were all over us, due to our magical bucket. Here's one of the few photos I shot, mostly because my fingers were covered with goat spit.

As I was distributing handouts to another group of pushy farm animals, a llama wandered over. I started to say something deep like, "Check it out, a llama," when it looked at me with its stupid llama eyes and spit all over me.

If you've never been spit on by a llama, imagine being dunked in lawn clippings that smell like the inside of an animal's stomach. Add some grit, some liquid, and a little more stink, and you've got the idea.

It was all over my face, my hair, my shirt, inside my mouth, basically everything above the waist. I dropped my glasses on the ground while spitting and coughing. Apparently I was ready to just leave them, saying, "I'll just get some new ones." I'm surprised I didn't just leave my shirt on the ground as well, but my reluctance to display my doughy physique won out.

I spent the rest of the day smelling like the stage of a 1977 Sex Pistols show, and learning a valuable lesson about animals that pretend to be your friend.

I still speak to the stray cats in my neighborhood, but I am a bit more wary and not as cheerful. Will I still swerve to avoid a squirrel? I'm not 100% sure anymore. Some might say that blaming all of animalkind for the actions of one asshole llama is a terrible example of racism, but I'll bet those people have never been covered in llama spit.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Mama Said There'd be Days Like These

You know those mornings when you wake up and can already tell that it would be better if you went back to sleep, took a pass on the day and just tried again the next day? I had one of those Thursday.

I don't know what I was doing in my sleep the night before, but I woke up tired, not the best way to start things off. But who cares! I was only working half a day because I was finally getting a doctor to take a look at my ankle. I'd be home in time to take a nap in the afternoon. Yeah, have fun at work, suckers.

The day started with mandatory training about employee/management relations. I was daydreaming about going home early when the trainer mentioned that supervisors need to pretend to care about employees, even if they don't, or something like that. I have always ruled my departments with a firm, yet gentle hand, so I felt I didn't need to pay attention at that point, until I noticed she was looking at me.


If there's one thing I hate about training, it's group activities or having to talk. Why can't it be like the old days when someone talked and we just took notes or doodled until the class was over?

"What's your name?"

Aw, man.

"Uh...I'm Scott."

"Hello, Scott. And do you have any hobbies?"

What? I thought this was supposed to be about managing. When did this turn into an inquisition? Hobbies? Geez, I don't know. And I don't really want to share anything with my co-workers. I don't know why, but I always feel strange about letting non-friends know about my interests and activities.

"Uh..uh..um, no. No."

"Oh, come on, I'm sure you have something you like doing."

"No. No, not really."

Everyone was laughing. This happens a lot, usually in situations like this when I'm not trying to be funny.

"He rides his bike," said the teen librarian.

This led to more questions about bike riding and if I went out the previous weekend and it was terrible and crappy and it felt like an intervention or something and why can't I just sit here quietly? Funny, I have no problem speaking in front of crowds, which I do at least twice a week, but ask me about my personal life and you're gonna get a whole bunch of this:

After that terribleness, it was doctor time. Insurance switched my doctor to a place closer to my house, which was nice. The day can be salvaged after all. I fill out the paperwork, and notice that the place is pretty swank looking. Then I go in the bathroom and notice this:

I realize this is a crappy photo, but I wanted to prove that I wasn't making this up.

The author asks for $20 for 20 minutes. I thought it was funny that they wrote "asshole" and scratched that out to rewrite the less offensive "butthole." Hey, kids might see it. I felt a little apprehensive that my new doctor's restroom resembled a truck stop, but when I got out some CNN health show was talking about Roky Erickson and mental health, so that took my mind off the fact that my new doctor catered to perverts.

I didn't get a chance to watch too much when I was called back. I got weighed, which proved that, yes, four weeks of almost no exercise and a diet designed by Henry VIII and a kid allowed to buy whatever they want at the store will make you fat.

Then I waited about 3 years for the doctor to show up. 

The doctor was younger than me and sort of brusque, not even commenting on the long, grey beard I had grown while waiting. He asked me about my habits and medical history after I told him about the ankle, but it seemed like he didn't really believe me.

"Do you smoke?"


"Do you smoke?"

Hey, John Grisham, I've never smoked. And if I did and was trying to hide it, you think you asking it twice would trip me up? This is when I started to think my new doctor was kind of a dick.

"Well, I'd like to go ahead and give you a full physical today."

When I get terrible or anxiety-triggering news, I have a tendency to lose the ability to speak.

"Whu? Ah ah ah ah ah ah ah ah ah dah oh ah ah ah n..n..no. No. No. No. I thought we were just looking at my foot?"

"I think we need a full physical first." 

"Whu? Ah ah ah ah ah ah ah ah ah dah oh ah ah ah n..n..no. No. No. I just had one. Last year. Everyeveryevery Everything's fine. Just want to get the foot looked at."

You can't just drop that on somebody. I need time to get prepared for a physical. I came in with a hurt foot, I didn't plan on getting naked today. He seemed even more brusque after that, probably because he wanted to see my pee-pee, then sent me to get x-rays and come back to his house of horrors.

He came back after another 7 years and said that it looked like tendon damage and he would refer me to a podiatrist.

"So, is that bad?"

"I'm referring you to a podiatrist."

"Is there anything I should be doing for it?"

"I'm referring you to a podiatrist."

Fine, be a dick, see if I care. I asked him another medical question that I had mentioned to the receptionist when making the appointment.

"I thought we were just looking at your foot."

Jeez, this guy was really upset about not being able to make me pass out. I guess I'd be upset, too, if I had perverts advertising their services on my bathroom walls. Anyway, he gave me a prescription and wanted to do blood work.

"How does blood work have anything to do with my tendon?"

"It can show overall blahblahblah and underlying blahblahblah and I really just want to poke you with needles."

"Yeah, maybe next time. I'll get a physical this year, I promise."

It was too late for a nap when I got out of there. I did get some cool x-rays, though - check 'em out:
There's gotta be something I can do with this for Halloween.
Next time I wake up tired, I'm calling, and getting back under the covers. Nothing good can come of a day like that. I've learned my lesson.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Death Comes Ripping

In the near future, every band will have a documentary made about them. I'm eagerly awaiting Party at the Spoke House: Gainesville Bands of the '90s. But I usually end up watching them, even if I'm not a fan of the band in question, so maybe I'm part of the problem.

I didn't have my hopes too high for A Band Called Death. I figured it would be an entertaining hour and a half out of the crippling Florida heat, and I could eat some nachos.

But man, was it good.

Death was an early '70s  proto-punk band consisting of three African-American brothers in Detroit influenced by Alice Cooper and the Who. Black people didn't want to hear them. White people didn't really want to hear them, either. Actually, that's not really fair, they could have had a record contract with Clive Davis if they changed their name, but the band stuck to their guns, pressed a forgotten 7" single and eventually broke up.

35 years after the band broke up, they were rediscovered by record nerds and reunited and repressed a full album.

In between is a fascinating story about family, dedication, the power of creating against indifference, and the rediscovery of long-forgotten music. While I think the music is more hard rock than punk (not that there's anything wrong with that), the vibe is definitely punk in the creativity, drive, and stubbornness, seeing worth in music that was ignored or mocked by 99 percent of the world. (and in the funny/offensive name).

The second part of the movie lags a bit when it gets into the record nerds rediscovering the band (I never did figure out the story of the guy who saw the $800 single on ebay. Did he buy it? And why was Jello Biafra in there talking about weird records if he wasn't going to talk about the band/record in the movie? Do Henry Rollins and ?uestlove pass each other in the parking lot constantly as they get filmed for yet another music documentary? Do they carpool now?), but the ending of the reunited band playing to enthusiastic crowds more than makes up for confusing record nerds yakking.

Funny, touching, and rocking, A Band Called Death gets five stars, two thumbs up. Now I feel bad that I ripped my copy of the album from the library instead of buying it.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Ankle Biters

Nestled among the ads for X-Ray Specs and Sea Monkeys in comic books was usually an ad for a fake cast. The drawing featured a guy proudly showing his cast while two girls consoled him.  "Avoid unpleasant tasks! Gain sympathy," the ad promised.

This was highly appealing, as these were two things I was always on the lookout for. I never broke any bones, so the thought of wearing a cast seemed cool and exciting. Girls would probably look at me differently, my friends could write stuff on it, and best of all, I'd get out of yardwork. Yes, a whole exciting world would open up to me once I broke some bones.

I never ordered the cast because it was expensive and I couldn't figure out how to trick my parents into thinking I had broken my arm and somehow gotten to the doctor's office to get it set without them knowing. I put it out of my mind, except for those days when I had to rake or pick up mangoes and wished I had a fake cast to end the misery and injustice of my child labor.

My luck held and I never broke a bone, even after a lifetime of foolish decisions and risky stunts.  In fact, probably the closest I've come happened last week.

I was out running last Thursday evening. I was feeling good. In fact, I was thinking about running the whole 7 mile trail which I hadn't done in a while. I was pretty close to doing some air guitar/drumming to certain motivational songs, as well as some Rocky-esque shadow boxing.

Then I hit a hole. My foot went in, twisted, then tripped me on to the street. As a man, my first reaction was to get up, pretend it didn't hurt, and keep running, only maybe at a slower pace. Then I got those weird stomach pains that signal, "Yeah, I think that really messed you up. You should probably limp home."

Holy crap, was that a long walk home.

As with all injuries or problems, I figured I just needed a good night's sleep and everything would be all fixed up in the morning.

A week later, my girlfriend noted that I still had "corpse feet," thanks to my swollen and purple toes and ankle.

First night. I used to have an ankle.
It looked bad. So bad that I kept making up "C.S.I" opening scenes in my head.

"Looks like this guy....was defeated," the desensitized detective would say, right before Roger Daltry screamed to signal another episode of gross forensic mysteries, possibly focusing on foot decapitation for creepy sex purposes.

So I started wearing a boot. It's a big, clunky, pre-cast thing that takes about 3 hours to strap into and makes me walk like Frankenstein.

Couple things I've noticed during my recovery:

One, architects love to put stairs all over the damn place. Houses, businesses, you name it; apparently a building isn't complete until a set of rickety or narrow stairs are installed.

Secondly, I don't feel I'm getting as much sympathy and freedom from work as the ads promised a young me. Even though when I'm making a difficult work call or driving around town with a throbbing ankle, I'm saying "Come on. I have a busted ankle," that doesn't seem to have any effect on people's reaction to me.

About the only thing I was able to get out of was mowing the yard, although paying the guy $15 just made me feel like a puss. I could feel Hank Hill shuddering as I forked over the cash.

Since I don't have an actual cast, I also can't have people write on it, so I'm really not getting the full effect here.

I'm beginning to think that ads in comic books have completely lied to me.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Smashin' Trash

One of the apartments I lived in post-college had a dumpster about 15 feet from my door. This was awesome.

It was awesome because we didn't have to put our trash cans out in the street like regular chumps, we could hurl it into the dumpster from the porch like kings. With a regular load of trash, you'd sort of swing it in your arm a few times to get some centrifugal force going,* then watch it fall in an inspiring arc into the dumpster. And if some of the garbage didn't make it in to the dumpster, well, that was some garbage guy's problem. We tried.

Over the winter, my roommate and I instituted "Gin and Tonic Winter." This meant that we bought a huge bottle of Kash and Karry gin and made gin and tonics around a fire that we made by burning sticks and pallets, sometimes grilling hamburger patties that he liberated from his job at Burger King. It was classy and sophisticated.

One of my hazy memories from Gin and Tonic Winter was going around to every woman in attendance (which probably wasn't too many) and saying, "You wanna come inside and see my new widescreen TV?" To which my friend Pat would say, "Hey, you don't have a widescreen TV," to which I would respond with a comical "SHHHH!" This line/routine did not work.

Around this time, Gainesville had become a magnet for the homeless. Not regular down-on-their-luck, Brother-can-you-spare-a-dime homeless, but homeless wrapped up in countercultures. There was a big Rainbow Gathering in Ocala, and several of the Rainbowers stuck around Gainesville for a while, begging for change looking like a costumer took all the dirtiest elements from hippies and punks with a little bit of raver and threw them all together with a little Pigpen dust.

They never seemed to come around our gin and tonic bonfires, probably because the class and sophistication I spoke of earlier would have made them feel unwelcome.

The day after one of our parties I was cleaning up, gathering bottles and whatever other trash was left in the house. These were pre-recycling days. I took my first bag and started swinging. This thing was heavy, loaded up with who knows how many beer bottles, as well as our usual weekly trash. I got it swinging pretty high, but decided maybe I should just walk the 15 feet over to the dumpster and act like a normal person just this one time.

I walk over with my trash and hear a noise before I dump it in. Holding my breath against the garbage smell, I peek in. Looking up at me like Gollum was a dirty face-tattooed dumpster diver who narrowly missed getting brained with a ton of bottles.

I always checked the dumpster before throwing stuff off the porch after that.

*Honestly, I don't know if that is centrifugal force at all, but it sounded very sciencey and smart.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Death Will Come on Swift Wings

I have some weird friends. Actually, most of them are nuts. I'm sort of the normal, all-together one of the bunch.

I don't say this as an insult; I love all my friends' quirks and eccentricities. It keeps things interesting, especially their obscure fears, anxieties, and hatreds.

My own fears are more grounded in reality, so it's nice to listen to them rant about their more esoteric frights. And sure, a big portion of their fears might be affectations or schtick, but I appreciate the effort. At least they're being entertaining.

One of my friends is afraid of aliens. He read that "Communion" book post-high school in one sitting and was then terrified that the aliens were gonna capture and probe him. I have another friend who is scared of Egyptian curses. I'm not sure exactly where this sprouted from, but one of his "proofs" was this '70s book on strange phenomenon that he picked up at a thrift store.

From what I recall, these archaeologists found the mummy of an ancient Egyptian princess and ignored the curses placed upon her, as archaeologists will do.

All the members of the excavation met swift death, courtesy of vengeful Egyptian gods. After decimating the scientists, Anubis went after regular people in the way - a worker transporting the coffin to the British Museum got hit by a car or something, and a cleaning lady who disrespectfully dusted the coffin's face ended up dying in agony.

Also, visitors heard screams coming from the sarcophogus as the princess...I dunno, howled out to Osiris for vengeance or something.

As the death and injury toll rose, the director of the museum finally had enough. He found some suckers in America that would take the cursed princess, so he loaded the sarcophagus up on the next ship headed across the Atlantic. A little ship ... named THE TITANIC!!

The book laid out this scenario in the familiar  "Can you prove it didn't happen" style '70s books and documentaries would use when discussing poltergeists and Bigfoot and the Bermuda Triangle. It was effective, since I remembered the story after all these years, and I wasn't even the one afraid of curses. Sometimes at night while falling asleep, I could picture this mummy case in the hold of the Titanic with an eerie green mist creeping around it, angrily summoning an iceberg to send the meddling humans to the bottom of the ocean. Sure, killing thousands of innocent people seems like overkill, but that was my friend's point: you don't know what those Egyptian curses are capable of, so it's best just to stay away.

In the spirit of investigative journalism, I decided to unearth the truth once and for all. I wouldn't rest until I had combed every bit of Titanic and Egyptology arcana in the...Oh. Huh. One 0.28 second Google search and I of course found out that it was a hoax, although a creepier story than I remembered.
I knew it was a hoax when noted Titanic historian Rudy Ray Moore didn't mention the mummy case

In a way, it's a shame that I can find an answer so quickly now. When we first heard about the curse, we had to take it on faith from the author. What were we going to do, research the Titanic's cargo records? And even though we realized the story was pretty far-fetched, it was creepy enough to resonate all these years later, enough so that every once in a while I'll think of a sarcophagus lying on the ocean floor among collections of wine bottles and plates, waiting patiently for someone to retrieve it to bring down the wrath of Egyptian gods on another generation of humans.

Just like I don't really need to know how much my friends are really terrified of Egyptian curses, babies that look like old people, or aliens, I think I was better off being pretty sure that the Titanic mummy story was made up, but not really caring that much as long as it made an interesting story.

I would close with an Andy Rooney-esque rant on how computers and the increase in available information has taken away something from our storytelling and the mystery of life, but while I was writing this nonsense I downloaded two albums I had been looking for for years, and found my grandmother's address online that I keep losing, so yeah, who really needs mystery?

And even with the mystery of life pretty much swept away, thinking about the aquatic mummy is kinda creeping me out now, even though I know it was made up and I wasn't the one with the fear in the first place.

Monday, June 17, 2013


There's something calming and grounding about a body of water, especially salt water. I grew up close to a salt water river, and about 10 minutes away from the Gulf of Mexico, so that might have something to do with it. Maybe if I grew up in Nebraska I'd be all awestruck over wheat fields.

Every morning I bike by the St. John's River for about a mile or so. It's the highlight of my commute, mostly because I know I'm not going to get hit by a car. Seriously, America. Turn signals. They're not that hard.

I get to see people walking and fishing, and the different colors of the water, and the sun shining off the waves. Every once in a while I'll see manatees or dolphins. It's so much better than sitting on Butler Boulevard, cursing the traffic in front of me as I moved another inch every couple minutes. The physicality my ride combined with the calmness of the water keeps my craziness under control better, and I feel I can be a much more productive member of society.

Morning commute. Driving can suck it.
Plus, the St. John's is home to a sea monster.

Yeah, no crap.

 Or at least it was.

These sea monsters weren't tales from olden days when sailors would mistake manatees for mermaids (as a kid growing up in a city that had manatees posted on everything, I never understood how anyone could mistake a lumbering manatee for a sexy lady mermaid, but I guess if you've been cooped up with a bunch of dudes on a boat for six months, just about anything would start looking like a woman.). No, these were modern people, people from the '70s who had TVs and glasses and a knowledge of the animals in the St. John's.

Seriously, if these look like sexy mermaids to you, you've been on the boat too long.

In the mid-seventies, several different people reported seeing strange creatures swimming in the St. Johns - usually a long snake-like animal with a large head and a spiny backbone. According to the Jacksonville Times Union Dave Green reported the creature as "...quill-feathered, fanned tail, like an eel with a ridged-hump down the middle of it" in 1975. A spoil sport later in the story said that the creature was really a school of otters, even though otters are rare on the St. Johns.

The creature was spotted again that year, described as "a 25 foot long creature with a head the size of a basketball."

Once reports came in, more people reported seeing the creature, saying "...they never reported what they saw to the authorities or to the press out of fear of being ridiculed by friends for drinking too much or being branded 'some kind of nut.'"

The creature slept for a few years, then was reported again in 1977, when it was seen again, and was described as pink and bony looking.

Nothing has been heard from the creature since then, at least according to Times Union searches. Or possibly people have been too afraid of being "branded some kind of nut."

As a kid, I devoured books or TV shows about the unexplained - ghosts, the Bermuda Triangle, Bigfoot, UFOs, everything. It helped that I grew up in the '70s when there were whole industries churning out nonsense about how aliens helped the Mayans construct pyramids to communicate with the ghosts of Yetis by using time-traveling crystal skulls.

I've since heard that men are more likely to believe in weird animals like the Loch Ness Monster or Bigfoot, while women are more likely to believe in ghosts and weird supernatural stuff. I have no idea where I heard that, let's assume it was in one of the many scientific journals I subscribe to, but it works in my case.

If you tell me you saw a ghost, I'll think it's pretty cool, but I'll run down all sorts of scientific theories in my head to explain it. If you mention that you think you saw a Bigfoot, I'll take out a loan to buy fancy cameras and traps to help you capture it.

Especially if you think you've seen a sea monster.

Logically, I know that there's little chance of these beasts actually existing today; just the massive amounts of food these things would have to eat to survive makes it pretty unlikely. Plus, with everyone in the world having cameras on their person, it seems like we'd have some proof.

But still, with scientists finding giant squid over 40 feet long or fishermen finding a previously thought extinct Coelacanth, there's always hope that something's gonna turn up.

And every morning I ride my bike to work, I swear that this is the morning that I'm gonna see it.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Head Games

You know when you get an idea stuck in your head and it rattles around in there like the chorus to a catchy song and you can't get it out no matter what you do? This happens to me fairly often.

Lately I've been thinking about head injuries.

I'm not really scared of getting hit in the head, really, it's more like I have this idea that sometime when I get older I'll get a stroke or dementia or hit in the head with a coconut and have a complete personality change.

I'd like to think I have a fairly good disposition at the moment. For whatever reason people seem to like me, so I guess I'm doing something right.

But all that could change with one future accident.

Would I become belligerent? Racist? Would I turn into one of those guys waving misspelled placards and screaming about the government? The worst part would be overhearing people say, "Yeah, Scott's kind of a dick now, but he was a great guy before that coconut fell on his head."

And that's the greatest tragedy of my future personality change; nobody I'd meet since my accident would know how awesome I was before. It's pretty sad when you think about it.

Of course by then I would have alienated all my friends and family, and would only have the staff at the poor people nursing home to scream at.

The funny part about all this is that I know that the odds of something like that happening to me about equal to winning the lottery or getting eaten by a shark, and I realize that this is one of the dumber things taking up space in my head, but it still bounces through my head every once in a while like the chorus of a classic rock song.

And again, I'm not actually really worried about this happening, but if I'm wearing a helmet the next time you see me, try to understand.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

If I Strip For You Will You Strip for Me?

I'm biking to work Tuesday, cruising down the Riverwalk and just digging the water and sky and thinking how much better life is without sitting in a car every day when for some reason the story of the disintegrating shoes sticks in my head.

When I started working at the library I dressed up - tie, nice pants, the whole deal. It was my first real job and it felt like the thing to do; a real coming into adulthood. Sure, I could have dressed more casually, but I liked feeling professional, like I wasn't a college student who could get away with wearing shorts to work anymore.

I wore my one pair of nice black shoes every day. I don't know when I got them, maybe my parents bought them for me, but I know I hadn't worn them in years - once in a while for a wedding or job interview, but they mostly lived in the closet.

One day while helping a patron, I noticed my gait was a little off. I also noticed black chunks of something or other all over the library. Not being that bright, I didn't think much of it. As I walked out to lunch I noticed I was definitely wobbling.

I don't know what material Stacy Adams uses for the bottom of their dress shoes, but the Florida humidity had slowly dissolved it, and after years of fighting against the climate, the soles of my shoes were finally giving up the fight, leaving big chunks everywhere I walked.

I made it through the rest of day on my wobbly shoes, then finally threw them out when I got home

"That was pretty funny," I was thinking, as I made my way into work. "Luckily those days are behind me and I don't have to deal with those sorts of problems anymore."

About two hours later I'm at the radio station. "This chair feels funny," I think. But I continue with my broadcast because I am a professional. Sort of like Dr. Johnny Fever to the county's blind radio listening residents. Walking to the car later it's almost like I can feel the breeze on the back of my legs. Weird. I guess that's just the feeling of good radio.

Hey, wait a minute.

That's when I discovered a sizeable hole right at ass level. I had noticed a smaller hole in the back pocket from my huge public servant wallet rubbing against it a few months earlier, but didn't do anything about because I'm cheap and lazy and it wasn't too noticeable. But this hole must have just sprung up. Right? I mean, how long could I have had my ass hanging out like this? Did they see at the radio station? At work?
A pin-up nobody wants to see
Luckily, I was able to go home and get another pair of pants before being arrested for public sexiness.

I learned a couple of things from Tuesday's incident. One, as soon as you think you have everything all figured out, that's when you need to watch out. And secondly, if you even think your clothes are getting worn out, donate them immediately.

Friday, May 10, 2013

You're One of Them Little Fancy Lads, Aren't Ya?

You know what was cool about growing up as a skateboarding punk rocker in the '80s? Being able to look at old pictures without cringing. No neon Spuds McKenzie shirts or acid washed jeans for me, no sir. Just jeans or old man shorts and a T shirt, Chuck Taylors or Vans on my feet, and possibly a flannel. Yep, even though we were weirdos, the basic outfit is a basic classic American look.

Foot high mohawks? Yeah, there were a few of those, but they were generally worn by posers - people who worshiped English bands like GBH or the Exploited and wore leather jackets in Florida's 90 degree heat and humidity. And how the hell could you skate with all that hairspray and extra clothing?

Or maybe my friends made fun of those guys because we had jobs and parents who wouldn't let us get funny haircuts.

So yeah, no reason to be embarrassed by my fashion choices at all. Other than gaining a few pounds since high school, I could totally rock an outfit from the '80s and still ...oh wait. I'm forgetting about the blazers.

My friend Curt and I were at a track meet. As distance runners we had hours to kill until we were needed or missed. We'd pass the time by wandering around whichever school or city we were in, walking to 7-11 to get something to eat, stealing road signs, looking for record stores, whatever.

Today we found a garage sale. We were probably going to buy something anyway, just to show up to the track meet with some crazy stuff to further cement our reputation as the team weirdos. But then we saw a rack full of suit jackets.

I don't remember which one of us actually expressed the idea, but we decided that we needed to buy a jacket apiece. We would start a new punk fashion statement.

"We'll be like the Buzzcocks or the Jam," I remember one of us saying. "All those old bands dressed up and they looked cool."

And we had just the occasion to wear them.

The Buzzcocks, before punk became synonymous with bum.

The Replacements were playing that weekend in Tampa on my birthday. We had never actually heard them, but we understood them to be more rock and roll than the stuff we usually listened to. This would be an excellent time for us to debut our new suit jackets. Soon after, all of Tampa and St.Pete would be dressing like us. Maybe even those Replacement guys would start wearing suits. "It all started in Tampa," one of them would say. "We saw these guys wearing the crap out of some suit jackets and it just all made sense."

I can't speak for Curt, but I definitely felt a little self-conscious that night. Not only were we younger than most of the concert-goers, but we were dressed differently. Of course, years later, this would be the official dress of rich guys - blazer, jeans and a T-shirt, but at the time, we were young fashion pioneers, lost in a sea of T-shirts. It didn't help that some drunk guy kept asking me, "Hey, you're in that one band, right? The drummer? That's you, right?" I couldn't tell if the guy was legitimately confused or messing with me.

But no matter, the real test would come Monday. We were both going to wear our new jackets to school.

But if regular old guy jackets were cool at the punk show, we had to do a bit more at school to shock the squares. I spent most of Sunday night decorating mine - safety pins (I still don't really understand what safety pins have to do with punk), buttons, painted slogans, anything I could attach to the jacket, I did. I even made up a card that said 'Property of Funeral Home' in spooky Gothic script. The lame conformists of Manatee High were gonna have their minds blown when they saw my radically reworked suit jacket! And you know, maybe it would open some minds, get some people thinking about the conformity we were pushed into. Maybe, just maybe, the youth would feel my message. It would be like one of those 7 Seconds songs about unity.

I got to school early and waited for Curt. It was already sort of warm. People were definitely looking at me. Hey, this thing is really hot. Uh...yeah, people are definitely looking at me. I mean, yeah, that's totally what I want - to show that I don't follow their stupid fashion rules and ...man, this thing is really hot. Yep, everyone is staring at me, all right. Hey, isn't there a law that says schools have to provide air conditioning?

I can't remember if Curt didn't go to school that day or did go and didn't wear his jacket. I do know that two guys in suit jackets was a lot cooler than a single guy in a modified suit jacket, no matter how bravely I tried to pull it off. I also know that the jacket only lasted past homeroom when it was stashed in my locker for the rest of the day.

I have since learned that if you want to wear something different, like an old hat or, I dunno, a pocket watch or a cane with a wolf head, you have to own that stuff - act like it's the most natural thing in the world. Your self-confidence will make it work, sort of like that Emperor in that story about the awesome suit. I can't exactly remember what happened in the end, but I recall the whole town thought he looked dope in his new clothes.

Of course, that was way more than my fragile high school self-esteem could handle. And if I'm being honest, probably more than I could handle now. No wonder I've worn the same stuff basic outfit for decades.

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

You've Got Grit

"Alice" was a popular TV show back in the '70s and '80s. From what I can recall (hey, this ain't IMDB), Alice, the star of the show, moved from ...somewhere. She moved from the rat race, I suppose, to start a new life out west with her teenaged son. Once there, she took a job as a waitress in a diner where she learned many important lessons about life and love and the importance of following your dreams. I guess. I haven't watched the show since I was a kid.

Actually, they show reruns here in Jacksonville on one of those channels you only get if you don't have cable. A friend of mine saw it for the first time and was telling me how depressing he found it, which I found strange since the show was a comedy.

"No, it's terrible," he claimed. "She's got this kid and they live in this crappy little apartment and she works this shitty job with a screaming boss and weirdo customers. There is no way that show is funny. Maybe in Russia or something."
Keep smiling and they won't notice how depressed we are.

I had never considered how time alters our perceptions. Sort of like when I noticed a Dave Dudley 'best of' comp at work a few years ago. He was a country star back in the '50s and '60s, probably best known for "Six Days on the Road," a song about a trucker driving around 'taking little white pills' and racing home after a delivery. Dudley also had some drinking songs, like "Two Six Packs Away," a funny song about the troubles a drinking man can find himself in.

Of course, that's how it played back then, when America had a much lighter view of substance abuse and drunk driving. Listening to it now with 21st century ears, you think, "That poor man. He's causing himself so much trouble. He really needs to stop drinking."
Damn, country singers looked a lot cooler back then.

But back to "Alice." Alice worked with another waitress named Flo. Flo was sassy. When their boss said something Flo disagreed with, Flo would answer back with her catchphrase, "Kiss my grits."

This phrase would absolutely slay the studio audience, and was featured all over the place back then; T-shirts, bumper stickers, whatever wasn't already plastered with "Who Shot J.R."

This was all very confusing to a young me.

I mean, I got the gist of what she was saying, but it still didn't make sense. I knew what grits looked like, and they didn't look like any part of the body. If her phrase was "kiss my melons," or "kiss a hot dog" I would  have understood, but grits? I had sneaked enough peeks at Playboy to know there was nothing naked ladies had that could be confused with grits. And I certainly didn't have anything like that. So what was she talking about?

I knew it was somewhat dirty, so I couldn't ask my parents. And because it was dirty, I couldn't ask my friends. You couldn't just mess up your rep as a sophisticated elementary schooler by asking your friends what Flo was talking about. As with other dirty jokes I didn't really understand, I had to just laugh and pretend I got it.

 I kept that silent confusion up for many years. In fact, if I'm being honest, I still don't exactly know what she was talking about, other than using grits as an acceptable way to say "kiss my ass" on TV.

These are the problems that faced a generation of children back in the '70s and '80s. Some call us the Greatest Generation. I am inclined to believe them.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

I Have Become the Worst Thing in Showbusiness. I Have Become a Ham.

Mid '90s: It's about 2 AM and I'm walking home from a sophisticated social engagement. It's a nice fall morning, and I'm slightly drunk, doing what will later be termed my "gay walk," which is sort of a lumbering, shuffling, pigeon-toed Frankenstein gait that comes out when I get drunk or really sleepy or tired of wandering through fabric stores.

Even though it's easy enough to get a ride home, it's always nice to sneak out alone from a party or show and walk home alone through the cool night air with my ears ringing, my head spinning, thinking up ideas and plans, feeling alive and young and at one with the universe, thinking that I've found exactly the place I need to be at, here in Gainesville, Florida.

I'm shuffling down the sidewalk a few blocks from my house. I'm thinking of a Radon or Spoke song and kicking stuff out of my way. "Out of my way, trash! I'm walking here! Out of my way, stupid can! Look at that big piece of burnt driftwood in the sidewalk. I'm gonna kick the hell out of you, just for being in my way, and because I'm young and drunk."

I connect with pretty good force, but the driftwood doesn't fly away. Instead, making a gross "thunk" sound. Hey, this isn't driftwood at all. And, come to think of it, why would there be driftwood in the middle of a sidewalk in Gainesville, miles from the ocean? Oh, this driftwood has teeth.

Holy crap, that was a burnt pig head.

I look at it, all black and burnt. I'm pretty sure it starts crying at me. I'm sort of grossed out, but also bewildered. Why would there be a burnt pig head in the middle of the sidewalk?

Early '00s: I spend early Christmas Day morning in my in-law's guest bathroom reenacting Evil Dead 2, at least the parts that deal with fluids exploding out of a sweaty, sleepy body. "It was the ham," I think. "That evil, evil ham."

The ham had been sitting out for a while the night before, and I thought that it should have been refrigerated. Guess I was right, but winning doesn't feel so good.

So if you invite me to your house and serve ham, I'll eat the leathery, salty, inferior-to-turkey meat. But I'll be thinking of sad burnt pig's heads and terrible Christmases.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Better Homes and Gardens

I spent a lot of time dreaming about my future house. Before falling asleep, or during long rides in the car, I'd fantasize about all the different rooms and passageways the adult me was going to enjoy.

This was in the old days before smartphones and back-seat DVD players, so I had a lot of time to design my future digs. Come to think of it, even if that stuff had been invented back then, most parents would probably have banned them on the theory of, "Why should I be bored driving when the kid gets to watch his Space Wars foolishness?"

While I admired the all-around design of the Addams Family house, or Disney World's Haunted Mansion, I felt my house should be more normal looking on the outside, only to BLOW VISITORS' MINDS once they got inside. Plus, a big creepy, Psycho-looking house might give people the wrong idea. I didn't want to be a villain or a creep, just a dude with an awesome house.

Exposure to kid mystery shows and books made me realize I needed hidden chambers behind bookcases and hidden passages to different rooms. Ideally, the house would also be over a secret cave I could firepole down to and ... I dunno, plot and stuff.

I didn't really see the need for those oil portraits with the eyes cut out where you could watch people, but figured I had to have them as part of the overall decor. Plus, I'd probably get a deal on them if I installed a firepole.

I definitely wanted a secret laboratory, even though I didn't really know that much about science. I would have to keep a gorilla down there, since based on old movies and comics, gorilla brain transference operations were pretty routine in secret laboratories.

I'd probably want a Tor down there as well.

But while secret chambers and labs were cool, what I really wanted was an outdoor room.

I have no idea how I came up with this plan, but I really wanted a bedroom that was full of grass with a pond in the middle. Maybe some boulders scattered around, also. To make myself fall asleep at night, I would concentrate on the carpentry and stuff I'd have to do to accomplish this.

I'd have to saw the door about a foot from the floor, then make some sort of liner to accommodate all the dirt. I was also going to stock the pond with fish, so I could catch some every once in a while, or maybe just look at them while relaxing in my outdoor room. I think I might have actually written some blueprints for this room at some point.

While the outside room was going to be my home's shining architectural achievement, I had a second act - an upside-down room, where all the furniture, outlets and everything would be up near the ceiling. While the outside room would have been functional (sort of), this would have been just for weirdness' sake. When friends came over I could casually say, "Oh yeah, you can stay in the room down the hall," and watch as they caught a debilitating case of vertigo.

I thought about this stuff for years. When I got older I didn't think as seriously about having an outdoor room or an upside-down room, since that stuff seemed sort of outlandish, but I did fantasize about having a living room that was a huge half-pipe, as that was much more grown up.

I think a lot of this came from hearing about the Winchester House, with its stairways leading to nowhere and false doors and ghost traps and whatnot. Plus, a lot of TV shows at the time, like Real People and That's Incredible celebrated weirdos who lived in crazy houses or drove cars covered with lightbulbs or whatever. So I was really sort of in tune with '70s culture.

I never got a chance to design my cool house, but there are places in my hillbilly shack where you'll probably go through the floor if you stomp, and my ancient windows let in about as much heat or cold as standing outside, so you could say I'm fairly close.

Monday, April 1, 2013

April Fools Cancelled

So I was going to make an April Fool's Facebook post in the style of all those forwards you get from your creepy family members that say stuff like, "I was standing in line at Publix and the woman in front of me had a new cell phone and fancy shoes and gold teeth and was buying steak and lobster stuffed with caviar and booze with a food stamp card and I could only afford three beans because I work for a living. Then the cashier gave her $700 cash."*

Then I thought better of it. Who needs to get into a big political thing on the internet now that it's springtime and things are blooming and the weather's nice? Plus, what if I had friends contact me saying things like, "That's right! That totally happened to me, too!"**

It'd be all unsettling and weird, like when my friend Pat owned a record store and had weird 40 year old polo shirt wearing dudes from Ocala acting all squirrely asking if he had any Skrewdriver records behind the counter.

Would I have to weed out my friends? Would my friends think I had turned all teabagger and weed me out?

Then I thought how annoying April Fool's Day is after you grow up anyway. Gullible and trusting people like myself have to be on guard against the internet or NPR trying to trick us. Again, who needs the hassle. 

So instead of an April Fool's joke that probably wasn't that funny anyway and might lead to fights on the internet, here's a music video where monsters dance around.

Isn't that much better?

*And I'm not saying these things are racist, but isn't it strange how all the cultural signifiers used always point to African-American women?

**Hint. These stories did not happen to anyone. Tell your racist aunt.