Dancing with the Stars

My grandmother has been about the business of dying for a few weeks now. In our family, death isn’t something that usually brings about a lot of tears. Thankfully most of the deaths in our family have been wind-ups, and the ones that weren’t left emotional barren wastelands that were too dry for tears.

My grandmother was born in New Jersey, and raised there, and as a consequence has a very thick New Jersey accent and also says things people of a certain age say when they are from Jersey. In other words: she is an endless source of comedic inspiration, and it will be a shame to lose her for that reason alone.

But her body is riddled with metastatic breast cancer. It’s in her bones, skin, organs. It’s everywhere and the sublingual morphine a hospice nurse brings to her room only curbs the bone pain. I know a fraction of this pain, and I can only imagine what kind of internal fortitude it must take to fight a hospice nurse on getting IV morphine, something my grandmother is adamantly against. Honestly, I would be asking for Mushrooms, Peyote … anything at this point.

She no longer calls on the phone to ask about the Clipper’s game, or what movie is next on her Netflix queue. But she called the other night and shared a few deeply personal thoughts with my own mother, her daughter. I won’t share them because they are not my words to share, and I hesitated to even write about them, but the impact they had on me was profound.

What are we leaving floating around in our brains day to day? How many times today did I pass up the opportunity to say something silly and sweet, profound, or needed to the people around me? Too many, I’m too damn sure.

What do we make of these unsaid things? Are they like rubber band balls we just build up in the silence and the boredom of the day?

My grandmother never usually spared others of her thoughts and feelings. If you got a little arm fat in your college years, you heard about it.

Going to a liberal college in San Francisco? Watch out for the lesbians (my grandmother is very supportive now, but the early years were a learning curve for all of us).

She once waxed poetic about the beautiful fox trot a mormon celebrity did on “Dancing with the Stars.” She has a thing for Leonard DiCaprio and I’m pretty sure her large print book collection is almost entirely Bill O’Reilly.

She’s a contradiction of terms, and I’m pretty sure we share a lot of the same humor, whether or not it’s intentional (but definitely not the book collection).

But those unsaid thoughts, the ones that count … I’m not sure where those went all those years. But they’re here now, at the end, when it’s too late to do anything with them, except bounce them against a wall and hope the echo makes it over the brick and mortar to the person they are intended for.

You can be funny enough for five lifetimes, but you only get the chance to be sincere in one. I hope I can somehow manage both.

I hope I have no phone calls to make at the end of my time here. Except to check on my Netflix queue and to see how the Clippers did. I hope I say all the things I want to say, in the way I want to say them. I hope I show people I love them in the way it needs to be shown.

I hope in the end, when they inject me with Peyote or whatever boutique drug they have in the year 3420, I will be talking about the Mormon foxtrot with my last breaths, and my loved ones will surround my bed and say,

“Yep, that bitch really said it all. And she really loved us.”

Hug someone today, for me, would ya?

Oh Captain, My Captain …. Or: farewell Ashley and Colin, basement dwellers

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“O Captain! my Captain! our fearful trip is done,
The ship has weather’d every rack, the prize we sought is won,
The port is near, the bells I hear, the people all exulting,
While follow eyes the steady keel, the vessel grim and daring …” -Walt Whitman

 

In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth, and rumor has it that he rested, after all of this construction, on a seventh day. Now, I’m no theologist, but I can tell you up front that this is actually bullshit. God did not rest on the seventh day, he actually hid Easter eggs.

Easter eggs, you read that right. Like the stuff you find on your favorite DVDs or video games, or the little plastic shells filled with half-melted chocolate in your front yard in spring.

But these eggs weren’t in DVDs or games, these were big Easter eggs. Like, the grand daddy of all Easter eggs. You see, God had pretty much set up shop enough to keep humanity floating, so the story goes, for a few millennia, but god realized on the sixth day that he wasn’t running a Motel 6 here. There were amenities that needed to be made, and on that seventh day he decided to add a little sparkle to an otherwise industrious build.

I didn’t know about these Easter eggs until I graduated college and came home to a room filled with boxes upon boxes of books and stuffed animals, and no true future with the English degree I had chosen. So I picked up an apron and a visor and I began blending smoothies for a living. My days were much of the same: blend, shower, nap, repeat. Blend, shower, nap, repeat. I remember flopping down one day on my twin sized bed after work, and I looked up at the only piece of art I had on the wall at the time: a garage sale portrait by a local artist and writer who sold it to me at the age of 10 for 20 bucks. A steal for such a lustrous painting of a man with a sensitive ponytail and distant look in his eye, illuminated by these neon green spots on the homemade frame.

My mom happened to wander in and made mention of the fact that the artist wrote for the weekly paper in town, and she had been in contact with him about my recent graduation and the fact that I still had the painting, and lets be honest, that I didn’t really have a Lindsay Lohan shot in heaven at finding a job locally that could have me out of their home on my own in under three months. This writer graciously suggested that the paper was looking for interns to do their unpaid bidding and that I sounded like a good candidate. So, without much thought to it, I called and setup an interview with the managing editor. That painting? Easter egg number one (thanks, big man upstairs).

I picked out what I thought would be appropriate to wear to an interview: button down shirt, scarf, and a jacket from The Gap with those professorial elbow pads that reeked of overreaching intentions.

I got lost on the way there because the instructions were to show up at a building on the corner of Marsh and Osos Streets in downtown San Luis Obispo, but when I came to this corner all I found was a defunct investment building. But I saw a rack of papers around the corner, and I realized that I must be close so I jogged around the corner, afraid of showing up late to the interview. It was then I realized why I couldn’t find the New Times office: it was in the basement. Easter egg number 2.

I trotted downstairs, breathless, where I was met by a fellow Irish man manning a small, underlit desk.

I told him I was there for an intern interview and he said that Ashley, the Managing Editor, would be back at any moment, that she had gone out to get breakfast. Then he gave me a look that assured me I was an idiot for not bringing reading material because she was likely to be more than a little late since it was breakfast time, and I would later learn, Ashley’s most important, sugar-fueled meal of the day. I also happened to notice that I was severely overdressed for these basement dwellers, and that in all honesty I should probably just pack it in because I smelled like yesterday’s Mango smoothy and I didn’t have the trappings of a serious writer (and I still, thankfully, don’t.).

It was a little while later when Ashley appeared with Colin Rigley in-tow, and they slowly ascended the stairs to the basement with leftovers in hand and a look on their faces that affirmed the outfit was a bit much. Still, Ashley ushered me into her office and shut the door. I tried to find a spot on the old leather couch covered in past issues of the magazine, old boxes of cereal and half-finished books, but ended up shifting uncomfortably on all of it. There was a large lamp outfitted with a knight in uniform standing guard over the hoard that is Ashley Schwellenbach’s dungeon office. She may remember things differently, but I remember her looking at me like she wasn’t quite sure what I was doing there, or what she would do with someone that wears elbow pads in her editorial room. I wasn’t sure how to answer either of those questions, so I was grateful that she didn’t ask. She also didn’t ask for my credentials, she just told me to keep showing up and they would see what “I had to offer.” At the time, I was pretty sure what I had to offer was a vast, working knowledge of Vitamix blenders and their maintenance, and some bent-up Penguin paperbacks.

But I came back. And back. And back.

I was eventually given a sort-of desk. And I met Anna Weltner, arts editor who would be come my coffee confidant and friend, and the person I most enjoyed sharing smuggled wine with in darkened movie theaters. She also had a friend named Ogo. Easter egg number 3.

Then there was Nick Powell, who wrote an article about Jewish Meerkats so moving and fucking hilarious I was drawn to him immediately. We would later bond over Live Action Role Players (and our foiled attempts at engaging them in warfare, which apparently required a ton of paperwork; picture above), poop jokes, and his inability to let go of his 80s era Libertarian values (it’s okay to let go, Nick). Easter egg number 4.

And Colin Rigley, the cranky sweet bastard who, under all of the ironic t-shirts and groans (he’s a male Tina Belcher), could make you feel so good about the shittiest piece of writing you could give him (and I gave him plenty) he deserves some sort of canonization.

And Matt Fountain who doled out life advice over cheap beer and the constant fog of cigarette smoke in the patio of McCarthy’s Bar. I miss that bastard too. And Glen Starkey who let me write movie reviews and facilitated my initiation into the basement by selling me a painting of himself when I was ten years old.

I remember the first time I said something that the editorial staff deemed universally funny. Ashley emerged from her office with a pencil and scribbled it down (I don’t remember what it was I said now) on a post-it and smacked it up on the wall. I would later contribute, along with everyone else, to some of the most depraved, politically-incorrect quotes ever uttered in a professional work environment.
Then there was Ryan, the Executive Editor who could talk you down from the ledge of writing something silly or useless or inadvertently offensive (I once almost published an ethnic pejorative in a title piece about legos. Thanks for saving me, Ryan).

Then there was Anna and our coffee dates, and her friend Ogo with tickets to a concert and this friend that she worked with

that didn’t really want to go with a bunch of strangers, but went anyways. And I bought Ogo’s friend a beer and two years later, Ashley Schwellenbach would marry that friend of Ogo’s and me, and Colin would take our engagement photos at an Ostrich Farm.

And that friend of Ogo’s? Loves. Meerkats. There’s four or five statues in their likeness sitting on the stairwell to our apartment.

There were dozens of others that made my time in the basement … my time. I can’t begin to imagine a world without these people, and now that they are all gone and off to do other things, including myself, I can’t help but think it was all one big Easter egg from the universe.

Ashley and Colin have moved to Seattle, Anna, Patrick, and Nick to Oregon, and Matt has moved on to be an esteemed writer at the daily paper in town. Glen is still around because I’m pretty sure he is actually immortal because he works for both New Times and the local college and he doesn’t seem to be looking any older.

But the point is that I found my Easter egg. And now … it’s off elsewhere in the universe doing good for other people. I hope I can find something like it again some time soon, but I am immeasurably lucky to have found it at all.

So, farewell Captn’. I’ll see you soon

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And it Stoned Me

It’s Saint Patrick’s Day and normally I would be ankle deep in beer about now, but I’m home watching “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia” with my red-headed wife, while the sun casually flips over the shoes hanging from the telephone wires outside our window, and somehow this feels more celebratory. I’m going to try and write about this as little as possible, because I’m determined to not let my strange body determine how I trudge and shake through life, but I have to admit: life has been magnificently, bizarrely different in the last few months. It started with headaches, then a strange, terrible sensation when I got a routine shot at the dentist with epinephrine. Then, dizziness and that time I passed out in the bathroom. Then the inability to eat, palpitations. It seemed like a breaker had been tripped somewhere in my body and my brain and my heart were trying desperately to keep the whole operation running, in the dark. Doctors shuffled me around, concerned but unsure what could cause all of this to happen. Finally, an ENT got it: Dysautonomia. My autonomic nervous system has partially malfunctioned: some parts works, some parts don’t. Specifically, my heart has developed a funky electrical beat, and it races when I stand. Sometimes my stomach just clocks out at dinnertime or lunchtime and I’m not always sure if I’ve left my keys in the fridge or if I’ve said something more than 6 times already. It’s foggy inside my head when I’m on my feet, and strangely … clear when I lay down. My connective tissue determines if today will be a 4 Tylenol day, or a 2 Tylenol day. My flesh suit sometimes dictates if I leave the house. My doctor says I can get better if I follow the plan: heart meds, compression socks, too much salt, too much water. But this will be with me forever, this thing and this experience. People have been so genuinely wonderful: coworkers, parents, relatives, Aileen, doctors, nurses, friends. I asked Aileen today if I had become more quiet since all of this started, and she thought about it for a minute and said: “Yes. You seem more focused.” It was strange to hear, because I’ve felt cluttered and fractured, but she’s right. I feel determined. I feel wrong and sick but the same Irish genes that have tripped this breaker have also filled me with the desire to get up off of the floor, off of the couch and ask Aileen to dance in the kitchen to Van Morrison with me when my shoulders and hands feel broken. It’s the same desire that is getting me dressed and to work in the morning when my heart flops around in my chest. It’s the same desire to find a way to thank all of these amazing people who have helped keep me off the floor. I don’t know if I’ll be able to repay the universe for the opportunity to be this person, or for giving me the distinct pleasure of having all of these amazing people in my life, but I’m certainly going to try by never giving up the ghost. One of my favorite authors summed it up perfectly, “Sometimes in life, it’s not necessarily important to be strong, but to feel strong. To measure yourself at least once..” Thanks for reading. I hope life gives you as many lucky days at it has given me.

If adulthood were pants, I would be wearing Jeggings

You can tell a lot about a person by the pants that they wear. Most people with jobs wear something tailored; they wear things that require the purchase of an ironing board. This is how you can determine an adult from a not.

I am not an adult. I once owned an ironing board but I found it was better suited as a makeshift dining room table when I lived alone in an apartment so small that you could pee and answer the front door at the same time.

No, I am not an adult. All other signs might suggest otherwise. I open the bills, feed the cat, go to work, but I just recently learned from an episode of Sesame Street that these are the things adults are supposed to do. I wish I was kidding about the “recently” part.

I am what you might call a jeggings adult. I look really great on you about four days a year. I am the kind of stretch pants that, in just the right lighting, you would swear were almost real pants.

But eventually we all see through the Jeggings, metaphorically and, unfortunately, literally.

A few days ago I dropped off my girlfriend at the airport for a two week visit back East to see her family.
I promised her as we unloaded her luggage from the car that I would eat the fruit in the fruit bowl before it rotted. I made a similar promise to my parents who had left town for Hawaii a few days prior, to eat all of the leftover homemade chicken noodle soup.

I also promised to behave and wear the appropriate clothing to work, and this all should have been a real big red flag that real adults don’t need these reminders, but I am not good at social queues.

So I drove home and purchased some new skinny jeans and a pair of Tom’s slip ons that are sure to make my feet smell because I apparently I am a fourteen year old boy from the ankles down.

I was proud that I had managed to make a fashion decision without intervention, but as I tried everything on in the dressing room I began to have doubts,

“Wait – green goes with everything, right?” I apparently said out loud to which, thankfully, the gay dress room attendant responded,

“Sweetie … no.”

I mine as well have asked for a pair of jeggings in size 14.

Not to be deterred, I purchased some jeans that the attendant insisted on (I would have asked if it was a commission thing, but I am pretty sure he had reached levels of martyr-like patience during my visit).

Then I went home, put a pair of pants on and walked out the door to work. I nodded at people. Smiled at babies in the grocery store. Made small talk with the check stand clerk. All the while, the price sticker to my jeans sending out the alert beacon from their perch on my left ass cheek that said “I do not belong in public unattended.”

The zipper was also in the down position which is something I’ve seen toddlers remember to correct before stepping out into public view.

Everywhere I went I was surrounded by people willing to step in and fill the gaps.

Even the vending machine at work refused me the second strawberry Poptart I tried to purchase for dinner.

Maybe these people are guardian angels and eventually they will lead me to my path.

Or maybe they are just here to gently remind me that Jeggings aren’t right for every occasion (but I still maintain lime green is right for every occasion).

All I know is that I found an app that converts a text message into cat speech and I’ve never been more excited about Jegging adulthood.

Also, is it time to pick up my girlfriend from the airport yet?