Night Moves

So this'll be an experiment.

I don't know how this is going to work, but I'm going to try dictating a post to see how handy Siri actually is. I'm on the drive home from the office and Halloween is approaching so I thought I would impart something freaky that happened about eight years ago. 

Nothing paranormal has ever happened to me but there was one particular time where my veins ran cold. I was living with my sophomore year roommate in college. While we shared an apartment and before we moved in we knew each other well, you only really get to know somebody until you start to live with them. He was a very nice guy and my closest friend but I had no idea until we signed the lease that he suffered from night terrors. He kind of played it off and made seem like it wouldn't be a problem and that it was fairly rare. I had no background in sleep disorders so it all seemed fairly innocuous. I figured it couldn't be any worse than what I dealt with in the dorms. However he told me that sometimes he would wake up and not know where he was, and that if it happened I should keep my distance and CAREFULLY try to wake him up. No approaching, no touching and a wide berth.

We shared a room.

It was a one bedroom apartment with a sheet running down the middle of the room, Odd Couple style. It wasn't optimal for a couple of college dudes, but we made it work in our own weird way. It made us like brothers, in a sense. Goofing off on those carefree nights he introduced me to Bill Hicks and we streamed Nova specials and tripped out over String Theory. It was pretty rad.

One, night, though, it was not rad.

It was early in the fall semester and we had only shared the apartment for a few months. I had been out carousing and celebrating the arrival of the new scholastic year, which happened to take the form of a drinking contest. A sober and reliable friend dropped me back off at the apartment. My roommate had a part time job which required he be up early on Sunday. Knowing this, I attempted to make a stealth entrance to our shared abode and began to contentedly munch on some leftovers. I was out of the dorms and living the college dream!

This dream shattered when I was mid-forkful of lo mein noodles. Dead calm in the apartment, I was jolted out of my stupor by the roomie screaming "Hello? Hello?" There was a rustling of bedsheets and feet shuffling in the bedroom. Hearing his panicked voice made my blood turn to ice. It was silence, then screaming.

Thankfully, I could still remember his instructions. I called his name, carefully woke him up. I talked him down, explained where he was, why he was lost in his own home. He got his sense and then his bearings. We shared a shaky laugh. It was a kind of bonding moment. It freaked my business right out, but I was able to sleep. Hey, beer. 

Not much of a pre-Halloween story, but it's something. Right? Right. I'll keep digging. There has to be something spooky in here somewhere.



Haircuts, man.

I just never get comfortable with them.

I've had a full head of hair my whole life. Providence providing, I'll continue to have one for years. As grateful as I am for a full head of hair, I continue to be exacerbated by it. No matter how I get it cut, or how often, it continues to grow and demands attention. I just want something that stays. As in "You - stay. Don't move. Don't go anywhere. No funny business." Instead, I find myself constantly in damage-control. I have to react and adapt and ugh I just don't wanna. Look, the deal is this - I've never really had a haircut I've liked. It's always been just finding one that works for the time and going for it. Every single time I go in for a cut there is NO PLAN whatsoever. It's always as if I surprise myself. "Oh, haircut? Uhhh...try...this? I don't know..." Sure, I've like some more than others, but mostly they've always been terrible and I look back and cringe. Let's look back at my poor choices, shall we?

Baby - doesn't count.

Toddler - here's where the trouble starts. Big side-swept thing that would set the stage for all future mistakes.

Childhood - epic side part that earned the moniker 'schoolie', a word that never looks properly spelled.

Adolescent - adopted a modified Duff. Parted down the middle and shaved(!) underneath the eaves. Gets worse.

Teen Alpha - long duff, down to shoulders. Tons of homophobic insults and ANGST. Loads of ANGST. Awful.

Teen Beta - crew cut. Copious amounts of gel and uptight micromanagement. A marked improvement.

Teen Gamma - emotional crisis results in razor-blade shearing. My head was smoooooth. Looked crazy, oddly good.

Teen Delta - no cut. grew everything out at once. Referred to by friends as a head cut.

College (Initial) - no more hair cuts, for a year. Super easy to deal with: wash, rinse, hat. Done. Awesome.

College (Variable) - series of long/buzz cuts. Blond dyes. Nothing looks right, due to exacerbating obesity.

Post College - pseudo crew. Becomes standard young man's cut. Evolves from fauxhawk into duckbutt/Philip Fry.

Current - greaser. Better half shakes head and calls me hipster. Look like maternal grandfather. Never met him.
You see? 
No matter what I do, it's a reactionary thing. I just wish it could be like a cartoon and I could wake up every day and it would stay the same. Alas, it grows and changes and betrays me. I feel like no other guy obsesses and worries about this like do, but then they're probably not as neurotic as me. 
I can look at this two ways:

One - it's never gonna be solved, and it's never gonna look great. Just deal with it and constantly perform triage. 
Two - lean into the spin. It'll be a fascinating look at back at my narcissism and self-modulation in the 21st century.
Of these two grim options, I'm splitting the difference. I'm going to try to find some illusive, as-of-yet unseen haircut that will arise from trial and error and finally say "Aha! Do this the rest of my life!"
Or until I lose my hair.



This took me back.

This took me aback.

Last post I wrote about how I've (somehow) started enjoying the process of mowing my lawn. Yes, yes - domestication and all that. I don't care. I like me. Moving on. In that piece I mentioned how I no longer listen to music when I do any kind of chores by myself. When it's my better half tackling something with me, we're all about some odd-ball jams. When I'm operating as el lobo solo, though, I'm almost always listening to podcasts or comedy albums. I like the idea of POTENTIALLY bettering myself, either through some sort of instructed or guided dawning moment of insight. Otherwise, to quote Anthony Jeselnik "Life is full of horrible things that will eventually get you and everything you care about. Laughter is a universal way to lift your head up and say 'Not today, you bastards.'"


I made my way through most of my comedy albums over the summer. By the end I had made my way to something I had been putting off. Someone who is known in smaller circles, one of those comedians who gets a lot of praise but never popped like others of his era. Bill Hicks.
My roommate in college did me a life changing favor in introducing me to Bill Hicks. I had never heard such acerbic  intelligent breakdowns on the subtle miseries of life. We bonded over the absurd bits on hooligans in light of American gangs, the heady stuff about LSD on the nightly news and nodded along about the never-ending threat of the world ending. It was a complete game changer for how we interpolated the world around us. We consumed all of Hicks we could and moved on with our lives. Like most things you're enamored with, though, you obsess over it for a while and then just carry it with you. 
I hadn't listened to much of anything by Hicks in the last eight years. So on one of my recent days spent doing yard work I listened to a couple of his seminal works. I weeded, picked up compost, mowed and trimmed, my head cocked the whole time as I digested what I was hearing with a fresh set of ears.

It was...not...as awesome as I had remembered.

Maybe I've softened in the last decade or so. Maybe I'm (somehow, despite what I say) less cynical. Maybe I just bottle it up more. Whatever changed in me, I was struck by how it didn't hold up and how little I enjoyed it. To clarify, I certainly enjoyed choice bits, but more for the wit and less for the bite now. 'Changing the world' seems flatly impossible now. To listen to some grand proclamations to which I used to nod feverishly, I winced and shook my head. It was grating. It was dismissive and vitriolic. A surprising amount of it was straight up homophobic, which was really surprising. 
Listening to Bill Hicks after being introduced to it almost a decade ago, I was struck mostly at how I had changed, as well as how his material ages in light of his reputation. Was a genius? No. But he was insightful and incredibly ahead of the curve. He cut a (very premature) path in the world for others to slip into. But the murmurs you hear about his reputation being better than his material are not entirely unfounded. Kind of a bummer, of course, but also enlightening as to how I've grown and changed in this short span of time.

I'm not saying you should never listen to his material. I'm saying I heard it for the first time in the right place and mindset. You should absolutely hear some of it. There are some real gems in it. Just dig in for yourself and remember it's just a ride


Lawnmower Man

So Fall is here. 

Mixed emotions! 

I say mixed because I absolutely adore Fall. There are way too many reasons to list - the crisp, clear air. The cool, sunny days. Leaves crunching under foot. Making chili and cooking hot meals to warm up. Sleeping with the windows open. Look, I could go on and on. 

There's also a downside, though - it's the end of any measurable light in Minnesota. From now until April it's pretty much dark all the time. I can make peace with that, but there is definitely a physical toll on the body. The cold, unrelenting winter. It's the price we pay for having three amazing (truncated) seasons. 

There's a new reason in the mix this year.

When I was 14 you could not have paid me enough money to mow the lawn. Actually I did not get paid for my own lawn. My dad knew better. Neighbors, though. They paid. Not as much as I wanted, but some. And I loathed it. Owning my own home, now I look for excuses to get outside and tinker with my lawn. What has become of me? Who is typing this? Who is this young man wandering around, picking weed, laughing to himself while listening to oddball podcasts?
There's a certain zen aspect to it, though.

A friend of mine said if she has to mow her lawn, she's having a couple of beers to ease the process along. I heartily agree. Yard work becomes a calming, manageable thing when you nurse a beer or two on a warm Summer afternoon. Now it's a cool Fall afternoon and it's not the same thing. Mowing the lawn has a hypnotic effect, though. You get outside of your head as you follow these little grooves in the lawn. There's the white noise of the mower. After the two-thirds point I can start to feel when the blade hits the grass, with a zing in my hands. It's soothing and eases anxiety the way doodling while on a phone call or putting together a puzzle while having a conversation takes you mind off matters - you distract your conscious mind just enough to let thoughts rise to the surface, free from constraint. What comes to mind is free and accepted. It's not unlike having a brilliant idea while taking a shower or vacuuming - you're free from thinking about thinking.
The joy of mowing a lawn. Man, that's some malarkey. When did I become this suburban stereotype? Did I watch that much King of the Hill? Am I going to be obsessed with my lawn? Give me two years and I'll be out there with a ruler and some kitchen shears, micromanaging like a true neurotic.
It also doesn't hurt that it's a thing that I can put a pin in and call 'done'. I can point to my yard and say "It's not perfect, but I don't have to deal with it for another week." Such a tangible, concrete task in my ADD, screen-filled life is a relief, to be perfectly frank. It's exercise with a definite benefit. 
It's not the end of the world that Fall is coming. I have next Spring to gear up for the whole process. I'll have a driveway to shovel (woof). Also, I'm getting way ahead of myself - after all, the leaves haven't all hit the ground, yet. I need to rake pretty soon.

Now there's some home-owning torture, right?


Old Vinyl

I just sent my mom a bummer of an email.

When I was in high school I entertained these notions of what life would be like when I got older. I'd be this hep cat, cooler than my high school self-conscious brain would allow. I'd read all these books about big ideas, man, and then write some. You know? Simple, undefined ideas of an unrealized self that never has been realized.

Some things did come to pass, although in a different manner than I would have expected. I did live in the Big City for a spell. A couple, actually. I played in bands. I rapped. I wrote a lot of bad free-verse. I started this blog. Acted in an indie flick. I fell in love. We moved into a happy home and learned to cook fantastic food together. Bought a house together, learned the joys of simple things together. Life is great.


There's always a but. This time it was me responding to an email I received regarding what was to be done with my old record collection. A pause. A moment of recollection and head tilts. Right. Those things. I barely have time to listen to music at all, any more. If I didn't block out white noise at the office with podcasts and dubstep, I'd never listen to much beyond the car. Actually, that's not entirely true. The better half and I tend to push each other on to new tunes. 

The thing is...this idealized self that would eventually have a real bitchin' Hi-Fi with a rad old record collection no longer exists. Instead I find myself excited about listening to new episodes of podcasts as I mow the lawn. I want to listen to comedy albums while I cook. I zone out to techno while I run. Who am I? When did my dad's copies of Who's Next no longer become relevant? When did I give up on his copy of Beggar's Banquet? 

I'm more than a bit disappointed in myself. It's not the end of the world though. There's always some new, unanticipated adventure just around the bend. Better than anything else I could have predicted is that I have my best friend and better half to go with on these adventures. Forget what I wanted to be. I'll be whatever happens to us next.

Besides, vinyl pops and clicks anyway.


Irrational Fear

I'm an idiot. 

Not all of the time. 

Just some of the time. 

You see, last night before I went to sleep I was reading an article on the game Slender. It's a free-to-download PC game that has the player running around a park at night collecting pages of a book, avoiding the titular Slender Man, a meme that plays on our fear of the unknown and undefined. You look at him too much and you die. That's it. Sounds simple, right? It sure does, but according to almost all who have played it, it is supposed to be pants-fillingly terrifying. Something about the premise, setting and execution have made a simple yet disturbing game. Needless to say I'm stoked for it. It's sitting on my desktop but I'm waiting for Halloween. Or at the least, the month of October. My terror induced diarrhea must be timely. 

That's not why I'm an idiot, though. At least, not this time. 

No, the thing was that in the article was a link to this video from a series of YouTube clips about...something. I don't even know, really. However, that short clip was so effective in its use of framing timing that I was unnerved to the point of continuing anxiety. I had to put it out of my mind to sleep last night, and all during my run (in the dark, natch) this morning I would get these bolts of memory that would jar me and I honestly found myself looking back over my shoulder just...because...you know? 

Look, I'm no scientist. But! I majored in Logic and Philosophy in college. I spend most of my brain power working out the rules and systems of the world around me. When given a game to play, I love looking for ways to break the system, to test the boundaries of a pre-established world. That we, as a species, have worked out the cosmos from the multiverse down to subatomic particles astounds me and makes me marvel at being alive. But I don't believe in the supernatural. I know a few people reading this will be disheartened to hear that as much as I love Mysterious Universe, I don't think of it as a journalistic endeavor - it's more a source of entertainment. Much of my ability to deal with the horrors of the world and the cruelty of fate stems from the cold, hard logic of science and how cause and effect operate, coupled with a good ol' dose of Chaos Theory. There's a lot of math I don't understand, but even cats can use an iPad even if they'll never build one. 
The point is - I know this stuff is pure, Grade A baloney. Noises in my house are the house settling or creaking in the wind or my cat being a little unhinged. No one chases me during my run except my thoughts and the local rabbits. Despite knowing these things...I still get the creeps. The willies. That little tingle up the spine that lingers from an evolutionary holdover in which was originally supposed to warn of large animals watching from the bushes. 
I'm not saying there's not danger in the world. Of course there is. Cancer. Car accidents. Random acts of violence. Super volcanoes. But I only control my own self and how I react to things. So why can't I control getting creeped out by stuff like that video late at night? Why do I love to torture myself, especially non-stop in October? Maybe I'm a glutton for punishment. Or maybe I like to pretend there's more out there. See how the other half lives. Who knows. 

I'll just glance over my shoulder every now and then to be sure. 


Social Situations

We give some people way too much power over us, don't we?

At the end of a fantastic week I found myself stalking the produce section of a grocery store I don't frequent. Rather, I used to haunt this one, but a closer one opened up to my better half's office and now we go to that one. Thing is, at the end of a pretty great week I was on the hunt for a couple key ingredients for some curry we planned to make as soon as I came home. I was a bit disheveled. Nothing drastic, just a bit rumpled and more than a bit greasy after a productive day. Tie loosened, collar unbuttoned. My alleged hipster hair flopping down into my eyes like the 11th Doctor. I turned the corner around the vidalia onions and there he was.

This dude I used to know.

He was a cool dude. We didn't know each other that well, but he had been a tangential social connection in college who had done me a few favors when I needed them. We always got along just fine but there was a clear social dynamic - he was cool. He was the alpha male. I was not cool. I was the clear beta. He still possesses this unspoken confidence and carries himself very well. I still slouch and second guess every single thing I do. I don't even know if he recognized me, but neither of us acknowledged the other. 

I pretended nothing clicked in my head and went about my business, keeping an eye peeled and watching for any recognition from him. None came. When he checked out and left before me, I relaxed a bit. There was no bad blood between us, so why the anxiety? Simply because it would be awkward to reintroduce myself to someone I knew, and I guess to explain who I was? That sort of makes sense, but it doesn't make me feel better about it. Just being surprised by him threw me off balance and the old dynamic reared into being. Years have passed since I even spoke to this dude, yet there I was, all nebbish and strange as though my years of personal growth and accomplishments vanished due to proximity. 

I've been thinking about this weird encounter all night. It shouldn't bother me, but it's going to linger like a bruise, I can tell. It's foolish. It's not like I'd send him a text and say "Hey! How's it going?" at this point. Waves in the ocean. I'll cross paths with people like this again. I need to remember not to let it sway me. I like who I am. Dynamics change. Relationships grow and wither. People don't care as much as we think they do. I'll shrug it off.

Ah, well.


Sir Limpalot

This machine will break down. 

This morning I got up way too early and pounded the pavement. It was the longest run in the last few years. I make myself do it three times a week at the least. The guilt is overwhelming if I can't carve some time to go running that often. The sad thing is I feel guilty even when I do hit the self prescribed minimum. Despite forcing myself from the comfort of bed when it's still dark, injecting relentless tunes into my skull and working up to a decent pace around a conveniently close-to-home loop, I feel guilty that I'm not doing more. My knees crack and my hips pop. I'm wearing through another pair of shoes. Still, there's a nagging feeling that I'm not doing enough. 

This machine is relentless. 

I chug on and on, huffing and puffing away for no discernible reason other than my own unending drive for more. More what? Punishment? I'm not trying to lose weight. I'm not training for a marathon. I'm not training for the military. It's as though there's some invisible meter in my body that builds up energy over time and I feel this urge to discharge it. When I finish, gasping as I punch in the code to raise the garage door, it feels like a pressure valve has been opened over the previous hour. It vents anxiety and frustration. I can feel the pressures of life easing as I run laps around the mile and a half loop in my neighborhood. 

This machine is working for me. 

The pressures on my mind ease as the wear and tear increases on my body. It's a tipping of scales. I used to take the amazing mechanics of my body for granted. I'd sit on the couch doing nothing, gorging on poison without a second thought. The tide turned a few years ago and now I'm bound and determined to run this thing right into the ground. I realized soon after the practice became habit that there was an energy exchange occurring. The higher the mental energy, the more I could burn while running. Stressed? Overwhelmed? Hard day? Give me an hour and my shoes and it's gone. It takes the starch out. It bleeds the poison from my mind as I wear out the joints and beams. It was made over the course of thousands and thousands of years of evolution and is the most elegant, efficient system we could have. I'm already wearing it out. 

This machine won't last forever. 

I'm already having to hack the system. I'm using a brace on one knee, and I can feel the other starting to creak. Special foods and recipes designed to make the most of the fuel burning process. Doing all the necessary stretches. Utilizing BPM tracking on music to push me. Running in loops around my home in case my bad knee suddenly locks up on me, out of the blue. My better half tries to find opportunities to talk me out of wearing myself down, finding reasons to sneak me a cookie or experiment with homemade ice cream. Telling me to sleep in, to take days off. She knows I'm running the machine too hard, too often. I hope she doesn't worry, but that probably won't stop me. 

I'm going to run this whole contraption right into the ground. Sooner or later, something will give. A ligament tearing. Heatstroke in the summer. Slipping on the ice in winter. Dodging distracted drivers at intersections. Maybe I'll trip over one of the countless startled rabbits that don't expect me at that ungodly hour. Back pains. Bad knees. I can't run forever. As long as the machine works, though, I'm not stopping. 


Donor Card

I donated some blood the other day. 

Not a lot. Just a pint. 

I know there's a certain squick factor here, but I rather enjoy the whole bizarre process. Being fortunate enough not to have a fear of needles, that's reason enough. I also happen to be the picture of health - no diseases, allergies, pre-existing conditions of any sort. I've never even broken a bone. So the least I can do is make good use of a healthy specimen and donate some blood to someone who might need it. Does it alleviate the guilt of having all the advantages I do and not doing much to make the world a better place? No. But, it does a small bit of good. Someone needs it. I guess it goes bad after a while, so fresh, healthy stock is needed. So why not?
It's a weird process. The more you think about it, the more unusual it becomes. There's this viscous goo inside us that we donate, and you feel really dopey and light headed afterword. Any other time you lose blood like that, you're probably terribly injured and at least a little traumatized. This time, you're okay, just have a cookie and relax for a minute. People can joke about oil and being a pint low and all that, but really - that there's this operating substance in us that can be siphoned out is so bizarre. It makes you reexamine your sense of self - there you are, draining out of your arm into a bag. It is both marvelous and humbling. We are a sum of parts, yet so much more.
Additionally, there are health benefits to donating as well. Apparently most Americans (possibly others, but I can only speak for my country of carnivores) have diets that are much too high in iron. These iron particulates, when unabsorbed in the bloodstream, behave as free-radicals, which are rarely a good thing. There is a saturation point at which our bodies fail to process all of the excess iron and it can build up to a detrimental level. Donating blood both removes some of this excess as well as allows the body to freely generate and replace the missing pint with its own fresh supply, thus redistributing the remaining amounts. 

So I probably sound like as ghoul, dissecting all this. Eh. It's a fascinating thing, one that more people should do if they're up for it. Gives me a break in the day and makes me appreciate the wonder of a functioning, healthy body. Good gravy, how's that for a glimpse under the hood, eh? #NoVamps #Twitterjoke 


Baby Sat

So I watched the Jonah Hill comedy The Babysitter recently.

It wasn't very good.

It was, however, a memory jogger for me. I had pretty much forgotten about the fact that I used to do a fair bit of baby-sitting in my pre-driving teenage days.

I don't really know why it strikes me as so odd to have spent as much time as I did taking care of other people's kids. I guess it strikes me as weird, and it must have struck others as weird too, just from the context. Some kids at school raised an eyebrow. A boy baby-sitting! Defying gender stereotypes! Imagine what the papers would say! It didn't even register for me at the time. Now I think back and laugh at the odd choice for me. I mean, yeah, I got paid for it...but I was never that big on kids.

You know how some people do really well with kids and can play with them and entertain them and be patient? Parents and kindergarten teachers, i think they're called. Not really my deal. I didn't dislike kids and I still don't, it's just as a 14/15 year old, they were mostly just noisy and distracting. Their parents always told me I was a good sitter and that their kids liked me, but I just kind of shrugged and thought "Okay, so I hang out at your house, make sure your kids are fine and you give me money to watch TV once they go to bed? Deal."

One time the parents said their kids liked me because I treated the kids like they were peers instead of kids, but really they weren't that much younger than me. I guess I was 15 and they were like...10ish? I don't recall, exactly. I remember thinking that it seemed like the right thing to do. Why talk down to them? Maybe that was it - I didn't really patronize them. Maybe not the best tactic as a babysitter, but then I don't recall any difficulties either. Kids listened when I asked them to go to bed after a night of goofing off. It's not like I fed them junk food and let them run wild, but in hindsight, what was I doing, anyway?

I think I started down that path because some family friends were in a bind and I was socially (and generally) awkward, which meant my weekends were open. Once I equated the money with the loafing around, I was down. Basically it was watching kids for a bit, then I could simply sit and watch TV or read a book I was way into while getting paid for it. On top of it (and I suspect this was the crux of it) I was in a new school and feeling super anxious about anything social. It was an easy out for a Friday/Saturday night - sorry, busy making money, can't hang out! I didn't feel like as big of a loser as if I was sitting at home doing nothing. I was making money!

My secret favorite part of it, though, was the walk home after the parents returned. It was always people in my neighborhood, so I could walk. In the winter, it would be super late (in my teenage mind 11:00pm was late to be wandering around the West Hill) and cold and dark, but the moon and streetlights would reflect off the snow, giving the quiet nights this strangely serene, isolating quality. I would walk home in the cold, money in my pocket, the whole town asleep. It was this secret little adventure I would go on by myself. That's what I thought of when I saw that mediocre movie.

Winter is never far off in Minnesota. When it comes, I think I'll have to have a redux on these weird walks, only now I have the benefit of a better half and a glass of wine. It's only August and I'm thinking of winter all because of a bad comedy. See what we put up with here?