Archive for March 2013

Pitching tents

March 25, 2013

***I promised my good friend Brian that I would write something about him for his birthday, but I never told him I would make it comfortable.***

Growing up with a mother who couldn’t decide which man she wanted to nag for the rest of his life meant that we moved. A lot. My earliest memories are of being at a beach somewhere as a very young baby (and not just because I saw the pictures). Flash-forward a few years to fun-and-cockroach-filled times in Biloxi, MS, where you learned early on to always shake out your shoes before jamming your feet into them. Nothing like a greasy, itchy smear on your sock to start the day off right. I have more concrete memories of the time we lived in Colorado, but once we returned to California, I was finally able to start making (and keeping for more than a few months) friends.

Upon our less than triumphant return to California, my grandparents were pressed into service, taking on full-time parenting duties of my brother-from-the-same-mother and I, while their daughter flitted about her butterfly-like existence in pursuit of something. I moved between grade schools for a bit until we settled in one location long enough for me to feel like the world wasn’t going to get up-ended before I could blink. I started to come out of that we never stay anywhere long enough for me to not be the new kid shell and make friends at school. This was about the same time that Micronauts were the kill me if I don’t have this toy for lads. It has relevance, believe me.

Micronauts

They had all sorts of quirky-fun parts that were interchangeable and made these goofy hair-helmet-nauts into some of the coolest futuristic cats in the toy box. And Brian had some.

I spent days cajoling him into letting me just play with one, then came the campaign to let me keep one. It’s how we became friends. Not that he let me keep one, because he didn’t. As any good parent-fearing child will tell you, the doom for giving away even toys you didn’t like isn’t worth the eternal friendship of a thousand gold-coin-spilling leprechauns. You spend eternity packing bags for that guilt trip. But that process began an on-going association that would lead to what I refer to as The Big Deal.

In an attempt to make me pay for my ceaseless (seriously) efforts at scoring one of his Micronauts, Brian took great pains to ensure he sat next to me at lunch and hassle me endlessly about the kind of chips I might be willing to share that day. As all kids know, food trades are fair game, as long as you aren’t giving away valuable plastic ware. Parents are only concerned about the food you are (or are not) eating if it inconveniences them in some way…like a trip to the emergency room to make a withdrawal from the gastrointestinal piggy bank, or where on earth is my Tupperware sandwich keeper?? As long as you don’t mind missing portions of meals they don’t have to watch you eat, neither do they. When all else fails, there’s always the lying.

With the Micronauts becoming more and more of a lost cause, I focused in on another item Brian was frequently showing off: his ant-burning magnifying glass. To my youthful diminutive stature, this thing was HUGE. It filled my palm to overflowing and was beautifully convex on both sides. I didn’t know I wanted it until I was pushed to ask for it during a particularly annoying snack-badgering session at lunch.

The expression MMM, BAAAARBECUUUUEEE is forever etched into my deepest storage banks. Even more than the most annoying song you could ever imagine (HEEEEY Achebeyo!). Seriously, if there are any interrogator types reading this, “MMM, BAAAARBECUUUUEEE” repeated over and over is quite possibly as effective as water-boarding. It was that moment when I learned that I could focus my inner snapping last nerve into a beam of negotiating genius. Luckily, before I dashed myself to the ground under the lunch bench to scream and (you saw this coming) pound sand, my frantic gaze fell on the magnifying glass.

Okay, I’ll give you these delicious barbecue chips (which I secretly hated) in exchange for the preeeeeciousssss.

Suddenly, the badgering stopped and I could see his internal calculations begin. Would it be worth the potential parental pummeling to satisfy that burning need for salty, barbecue(ish)-flavored possibly-potato slices? A few minutes of him being deluged with his own medicine (pleasepleasepleasepleasepleasepleasepleasepleaseplease) and the decision was made: an amalgam of unhealthy chemicals and maybe-food for the magnifying glass. As happens during times of extreme duress, we became fast friends.

At some point, we hung around together so much that people thought we were brothers. We were very much alike back then: wide-eyed, innocent goofball boys who chased lizards and ran from girls. You know, the Great Cootie Epidemic of the ’70s. We even had regular “camping” sleep overs, where my grandparents would put up a tent for us on the grass next to their bedroom window in the side yard and let us stay up all night being goofy.

We’d compose grand melodies about the girls we liked (“They’re just my two little cutie-pies…”) and fart until neither one of us could breathe. One time, we made the fatal mistake of zipping Rocky the poodle in there with us, and woke to the consequences of conducting chemical weapons testing (methane) on small animals. It looked like someone had mashed up Fruit Loops, oatmeal and carrots and left them in not-so-neat little piles all over our sleeping bags. We never made that mistake again, and Rocky was deemed canis non grata at all future camping excursions, side-yard or other.

As the years rolled on, Brian became more popular and well-adjusted, and I became more awkward and shy, so our paths began to diverge somewhat. We’d see each other at school and were friendly, but we weren’t as chummy as before. I know it sounds all teen-genre-movie, but it really wasn’t. We were just people who knew each other and traveled in different social circles. I could embellish it into something big-screen worthy, but you’ve seen it before.

It wasn’t until our senior year of high school that we would get to hang out again for more of what made us friends in the first place: shenanigans. We took a group trip with more of our original grade school friends to Ensenada, Mexico and stayed (with adult overseers, of course) at a beach campground. We had more VD-free fun than kids should be allowed to have, including bartering our meager belongings for hand-crafted carvings and shiny things for girls back home, as well as which sub-street level doors not to enter if you didn’t want to vomit uncontrollably (seriously, lady, inter-species nightmares for years). We also found two items which wound up making this trip one that none of us would ever forget: cheap, plentiful fuegos artificiale and an abandoned hotel under perpetual construction. We were in singed-eyebrow heaven.

Brian getting his shenanigans face on.

It’s a wonder we didn’t spark an international incident, as we were not terribly scrupulous about where we aimed or launched our massive bundle of fireworks. There were bottle rocket ambushes down half-constructed chimneys; there were M-80 I hope we didn’t really hurt anyone retaliations; there were string-of-Black-Cat diversions and more near misses than should have been possible, considering our lack of regard for our own, or our compatriots’, safety. We exited the battlefield not knowing who won and not caring one bit. It was to be our last bit of crazy fun before we all ventured off to the futures that awaited us.

Brian would go on to become a missionary in Chile, and then become (of all things) a fireman back in the U.S. I would go on to join the Air Force and come home for the infrequent visit. We never did get another chance to hang out and get silly, but I never forgot my friend, or the bonds we forged as goofy, fearless kids befouling a tent with the by-product of musical fruit.

Happy birthday, Brian.

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Writer’s Rape

March 22, 2013

Let the bashing over the title begin…

Let’s be honest, you either “get” something or you don’t. You find what you want in each and every aspect of living this life and you cling to it like a toddler to plague. Some people even bring out the industrial strength backhoe and dig industriously in each moment of their life for what probably wasn’t there in the first place. These people I’ll call “The Bristly“. This next statement is for them:

Hey The Bristly, don’t get your thorns in a bunch over the use of the word “rape”. Just know that it’s often used to over-sensationalize something bland to get your attention. In other words, take the imaginary gun that’s making you read this away from your temples and go champion some other online cause.

Moving on.

Last year, my good friend Katie over at Domestiphobia got me motivated to start writing again. Her blog is fun, insightful, adventurous and funny. She recently had an excellent article on choosing to be childless published at the Huffington Post. You really should go check it out here: Katie’s Article. While our styles differ somewhat, she really knows how to capture a moment and make it engaging, even when she references girly-girl shows that interest me like a bath full of live scorpions. When she and my sister, another talented writer, began blogging together, I did everything but beg to guest-post.

Here’s a tip for the men: we often complain bitterly that we can’t read womens’ minds, but they can’t read ours either, apparently. Unless we’ve done something wrong.

Katie and my sister embarked on a 3-month working adventure to Costa Rica, and my jealousy started a war on two new fronts (in addition to the writing one): they quit their day jobs, and were working off the grid in COSTA-FREAKING-RICA! I stewed for a month at least. But then it dawned on me, nobody was stopping me from doing my own thing. Writing that is. I mean, I’m sure there are at least a few people that would stop me from moving into their billion-dollar mansion, eating all the snacks and clogging all the plumbing.

When my sister and Katie returned, they had all sorts of stories and memories and mental stuff to weave into brain catching tales. I badgered them both for a while, asking all sorts of questions about their travels and the writing…always the writing. My sister returned to a more scholarly bent and went back to school to advance her degree (not because of my badgering…hopefully), so she opted out of the team-blogging deal. I contemplated petitioning Katie for a chance to step in as her gender-opposite new partner in literary shenanigans. Several email exchanges later, that idea fizzled. I could tell she was doing fine on her own and didn’t need me to muddy the waters for her readership. Pestering her about starting a blog would continue, however.

Katie gave me some pointers, offered some advice on hosting, page layout and content, but essentially let me know that this had to be mine. Between her, and Chris Hardwick’s book, The Nerdist Way, I was feeling more motivated than ever. The Awesome was simply gushing out of my brain. I promised myself that I would write at least one article a week, intially, to get my bearings and smooth out my style. The thing is, sometimes it doesn’t feel right.

Anyone who’s read here from the start can probably tell when I’m writing to fill the weekly objective, when the inspiration simply isn’t there, but I go through the motions to keep my ego happy. Those articles don’t grab you by the junk and make you giggle, gasp or groan. They probably make you wonder if you left the stove on, or if those darn kids are on your lawn again. Believe me, I feel your pain.

Any time I sit down without an idea burning in my mind, it feels like I’m forcing myself to jam something into this space, and that’s not fair, to me or to you (because really, who writes in a blog just for their own benefit?). All of the experts will tell you that you should keep writing, no matter what: write, blog, jot, scribble one-liner notes to yourself about that guy air-drumming his heart out in the car next to you, anything. Just write.

What I’m finding is that you can’t force it. When you do, it serves as an example of how you could have simply gone back to mining digital asteroids on your day off from work, or whatever distraction keeps you from creating. Holding yourself to a self-imposed deadline can take the fun out of this process, and that’s not just The Lazy talking. Sometimes focusing on meeting a contrived deadline can make you miss that tiny blip on your creative radar, external or internal. So while the experts say to write no matter what, an upstart like me would say to write when it’s right, and let your mind be clear and receptive to new ideas the rest of the time. Observe, soak everything in, and keep an eye out for the quirkier moments in your life, because those make for excellent (embellished) stories.

And to the lady in the car next to me who looked ready to call the nearest mental-mobile, it was a long stoplight and you can’t pass up the chance to pretend to play drums with Jack White…unless you’re The Bristly.

 

How to go bald in 5 easy (Japanese) steps

March 15, 2013

Back in September of 2002, I started down the path of least humiliation regarding male baldness: shaving my head. Here’s how you can join in on the fun in your own backyard…

STEP 1: Get signed on to a Japanese television production depicting agony

Not that my part-time wanna-be acting life has ever been truly stellar, but gigs were a bit more sparse back then, and I hadn’t transitioned from my old representation to my current excellent agency. Plus, I still had amazing hair. Amazing in that I still had plenty of it.

A friend of mine, and former agent, asked me to venture back to Spokompton, WA (single, meth-head-mom capital of the world) after recently uprooting my entire life from there to move to North Carolina. While I was reluctant to return so soon after seeing that place compress to a singularity in my rear view mirrorthe opportunity to be on location for a shoot was too good to pass up. Plus, it wouldn’t really be shot in Spokane, but in a nearby small town that would turn out to have a significantly uninformed local newspaper (they said I was a stuntman from Universal Studios in Orlando, FL). Toss in free airfare and lodging, and I was sold.

STEP 2: Walk unknowingly into a situation where you’ll have stuff cemented to your head

The role I would be playing was that of erstwhile former pizza delivery man, Ezra Bias, who took a length of rebar through the skull in a freak accident on the way home from his last delivery. For reals. Apparently an oncoming car or truck kicked up the offending rod from where it lay, plotting just such an attack, and hurled it into the air, through Ezra’s windshield, into and through his noggin and lodging in the headrest of the car seat, effectively pinning him there. He would be found by another driver as he was still conscious and trying to remove the bar on his own. Imagine the crap you could talk if you yanked that sucker out yourself and survived! Paramedics would eventually convince Ezra that his temporary new horn would be best left in place until professionals could handle all the gooey grossness that would ensue once it was removed.

To simulate the presence of the bar on my own head, without adding to previous attempts to crack open my brainbox, the Japanese film crew would affix an old-school rebar-through-the-skull gag appliance to me and drizzle syrupy redness all over the place to indicate essential fluid loss. What they didn’t tell me was that the method of affixing would turn out to be how they keep automobiles from falling apart and buildings from crumbling back in Japan. Seriously, if they had used this stuff to stop Godzilla, there might have been only one movie about him: Godzilla, the Cementening. In other words, if you never want something glued permanently to all of your DNA, don’t use this stuff. Unfortunately, I don’t read kanji, so I wasn’t able to understand the warning label.

STEP 3: Finish filming and begin panic relieving meds when appliance refuses to detach

Between the stunt driving, the ambulance ride (where a real-life EMT contemplated flashing me while I was strapped securely to the teflon torture board in her ambulance) and the hospital scenes, it was certainly the most interesting and fun role I had in that era of my life, even though we were depicting a rather freaky tale of chaos & survival. Since we had shot the hospital recovery scenes before they molecularly bonded me to the appliance, the last of the shooting meant I could finally remove the fake rebar from the front and back of my head…with the help of Hercules, the Hulk and Doc Manhattan. That thing had put up a white picket fence and was contemplating the children it would raise on my face.

We tried scissors. My sliced scalp was unimpressed.

We tried rubbing alcohol and other potential solvents. My sliced scalp was filing divorce papers.

We tried giving up and searching the Internet for traveling carnivals looking for a rebar’d talking monkey. Nothing worked.

STEP 4: Give it the old high-school yank

Once it was determined that, barring some radical and rapid advances in teleportation-related fields of science, I would have to take matters into my own hands, I shooed away anyone who could talk me out of scalping myself and set about creating impromptu skin grafts.

It took three, vision scrambling, tries at each end, but I was finally able to remove copious amounts of skin and hair as the appliance reluctantly ripped free from its moorings. I went to the after party with the crew (at a small-town pub that must have thought we were crazy space a-leens, from the looks we got) with patches of skin and hair missing from both the front and back of my head. It looked like I had perhaps recently escaped from a cult and was starting my new life as that white guy with all the Japanese people. I may have worn a hat at some point, I don’t know. The pub had drinks and the production company was buying. We may even have re-enacted Dragon Ball Z scenes at some point in the night. I would only remember my newly acquired head wounds as part of the morning-after malaise.

STEP 5: Have Achebeyo tell you a full head of hair is wishful thinking now

I returned to NC and told Achebeyo everything about the shoot, including the uber-coolness of hanging out drinking with a crew that spoke almost no English , and how that doesn’t matter when you’re REALLY connecting with people. When Achebeyo’s eyes began to show signs of rolling from impatience, I lamely wrapped it all up with and now I’m back home. I always have trouble with my endings.

After taking some time to inspect my wounds, she speculated that I should start getting my hair trimmed down to decent lawn care standards. A few months into that plan and she recommended simply shaving it all entirely, as the newly developed helicopter landing pad on my scalp was showing signs of buying up the adjacent properties.

I gave up my hopes of growing the rest of my locks long enough to coil up into a hair turban on the top of my head and began the painful and messy process of learning how to shave just the hair from my head and not the anchoring skin as well. It took a while, but I finally incorporated this grooming process into my routine…mostly (you know, The Lazy).

So there you have it. Any time you want to experiment with pain thresholds and bonding agent strengths, just ask any Japanese person what they use to hold steel girders together, and I’m sure they’ll hand you a tube of Super-fun-crazy-molecule-bonding-salve in response. Just don’t get any on your crotch.

Paint ’til you faint

March 6, 2013

***I promised my friend Katie at Domestiphobia that I would write this to show her that if I can do the artsy stuff, she can do a video game review. Go pester her to hold up her end of the unknown bargain.***

A few weeks ago, Achebeyo started making noises about wanting to try this:

Now, let’s forget for a moment that I’ve failed to detail here the number of times I’ve tried to get her to reconnect with her inner Picaso (or whichever artist worked best with charcoal or oils), and let’s also forget that she re-gifted all of the art supplies I bought for her early on in our relationship. Can we do that? Let’s hope you can.

In that picture above, you’ll notice what appears to be a Sesame Street “which one of these” conundrum. Typically, if those three words are together, it’s because someone (usually female…or the same sex equivalent) has dragged you to a pretentious show where the main redeeming factors are the copious amounts of fermented grape juice and some flimsy snacks to cram your face-hole with. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy art, I simply cannot abide the snobbery associated with it.

Getting back to that sign, were it to be missing one element (not hard to imagine which one), I might have begged off to immerse myself in endless asteroid mining for imaginary profit online (EVE). However, the element of tighty-whitey loosening beverages was enough to get me to readily agree. Well, that and wanting to spend some time with Achebeyo out of the suburban cave doing something new.

Luckily for us, two doors away from this alcoholic artist’s dream is a wine shop with unique and varied wines I’ve never seen in any of the fine grocery store shelves I’ve perused previously. Some I just wanted to buy for their fun or funny labels (here’s where a picture of those labels would have really cemented this into reality for you), and some were necessary to ensure my paint-pimp hand didn’t commence with erratic and definitively inartistic canvas-slapping.

We opted for a wine called Electra:

If you’re the type of professional wino who prefers to have their mouth assaulted with sharp, dry wines that drive you to act as if you’re having cake when you’re wishing you were having cake instead, this isn’t the wine for you. This is more like dude, we totally spiked the grade school fruit punch. Make a note, teachers: nap time will never be more quiet.

We walked in to a clean, tidy room with everything already waiting for us…

plus the smock wall (who doesn’t love the word smock? Those who don’t, it’s only one letter away from physical abuse, so get back on board, will you?)…

and walls covered in the kind of inspiration I’d need to attempt even a basic, monochromatic jab at covering a canvas. We were set.

At some point while we sipped wine and waited for everyone else to arrive (I loathe getting anywhere “on time”, which I call “almost late; this is a frequent point of contention between Achebeyo and I), talks began of trying this again, perhaps on the uber-challenging paint your pet (or as Achebeyo called it after a glass of wine, pet your paint) night. I told her I’d have to wait and see how this session turned out before I’d commit to making a greater fool of myself.

Once everyone was situated and ready to rock and/or roll, our guide began giving us basic instructions…which I promptly lost track of while taking this establishing shot of my canvas:

Thankfully, the patient guide happily reiterated her instructions: we would be painting an impressionistic version of a waterfall, tree and multicolored mountains of varying distances. My painting would require quantum physics to explain some of the irregularities in the terrain, it turns out.

Using acrylic paints, we started brushing on colors, and mixing colors and watering down colors to the sounds of the party music coming from the back room where a private group was holding creative court. I got this far before the giggling couple behind me began to make me feel self-conscious:

Understand that they weren’t laughing at me or my frantic efforts to get it right, dude! They were having their own fun with their own canvases. But when you walk into something like this already digesting failure pie, innocuous giggling can make you twitchy. Oh, and the wine was no help after all, because I became so engrossed in what I was doing that I forgot to drink. It felt like sacrilege.

With all of my focus on not screwing my painting up, and not snapping on the giggling couple behind me, I also forgot to take additional in-progress pictures. You’re left to figure out on your own how we got to the point where mountains can exist both in front of and behind each other:

Achebeyo would later (lovingly) comment that my tree reminds her of an ant. Apparently a genetic abomination of an ant, with no head and disproportionate appendages. Her painting is better, but she made me swear, on pain of permanent guest room sleeping, not to post hers. Take my word for it, she’s the artistic one of the two of us.

After we finished, we wandered around to see the different takes everyone had on the project. Most were similar to ours with subtle variations that might indicate precise personality differences, if one were inclined to analyze them. One guy had apparently just returned from Mordor, because his painting reflected a recent terror-ridden flight from Mount Doom. Still pretty cool, but I wouldn’t want to see how long it took my skin to dissolve in his waterfall.

Even though I entered this adventure with some trepidation and anxiety, I actually had a lot of fun painting with Achebeyo, and will likely try it again. Just not on kindergarten skills aren’t going to cut it night.


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