Saturday, April 15, 2017

Too Stupid For Flirting, Too Nice To Get Arrested

Way back in the winter of 2004, I had my apartment to myself. I was taking a long break from relationships, and my roommates were gone for the week because they were prone to having lives, whereas I wrote and, after another fast wreck of a relationship, wasn't really big on human interaction.

But being a hermit only goes so far.

It should also be noted that, back then, I smoked cigarettes. I had a second story apartment in an old brownstone from the 1800s. When I smoked, I would walk downstairs, stand outside, and just observe people. I could figure out who the regulars were in the neighborhood, patterns, and schedules. When people left and came home from work; who had "Casual Fridays" in the office, by what they wore throughout the week; who walked to the gym; who stumbled back from the bar at 4 am - the list goes on.

During this particular weekend, it was snowing. the gently, thick snowfall was piling up, and I would go downstairs to shovel off the porch and our stretch of sidewalk, to avoid fines from the city. My weekend consisted of writing, reading, and watching the occasional movie. As stated, my roommates were gone for the weekend, so going over routines and bouncing around ideas was not in the picture.

By Sunday, I was going a bit stir crazy. A live conversation was beginning to look like a pretty good idea. Maybe someone other than the cashier at my grocery store. I was winter. There are no places nearby in my location. Even meeting up with friends at "the restaurant next door" involved a long walk in inclement weather.

So I put on a nice suit, gathered all of the social skills I could muster, and...ordered a pizza.

Everything else went as planned. I picked out a DVD (this was 2004, after all), the pizza arrived, and the snow had finally stopped. The pizza was still incredibly hot, so I let it cool while I went back downstairs for a cigarette.

While I was smoking, a young woman walked by. I'd seen here walking around before, and we would smile and exchange polite-yet-meaningless pleasantries. Today, she walked by, smiled, and then slowed down to ask a question I had never expected.

"Hey, what are you up to?"

I responded with the truth. I had a pizza upstairs, and I was going to watch a movie. The second question was more forward than the first.

"Would you like some company?"

Possibly? I mean, I wanted human contact, and making a new friend was not a bad idea. I invited her upstairs.

I fetched some plates from the kitchen, and brought them to the living room. I apologized for being rather boring with my pizza topping selection, and asked her if she had ever seen Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Idle, but friendly conversation.

Then the conversation started to get awkward.

"So what do you like do do?"

I was eating pizza and watching a movie. I have the entire apartment to myself. I guess I like making new friends, writing, and playing games. She hadn't taken a flirtatious tone, so I was trying to keep the conversation friendly and harmless. It just seemed like an odd question, at the time.

I started the movie and told her to help herself to the pizza. I also let her have seating on the futon, while I took the chair. Her plate remained empty. She wasn't even really watching the movie. Then, after another few minutes, she asked me to hit the pause button.

"Look, you seem like a nice guy, but nether of us is going to get what they want," she said, as she pulled out her police badge. She continued.

"Someone in this neighborhood is paying for sex, and we've been trying to find out who it is."

I had to respond.

" pizza and a movie? No making new friends?"

She smiled and shook her head, "Not tonight, but thanks for not being any trouble."

I let her out, watched her leave, and tried to wrap my head around what just happened.

I'm too nice to be a threat. Too boring to make friends. But hey, I had (at that point) cold pizza and the futon all to myself.

I never did see the police officer again, so I'm assuming she caught the right person, or they put someone else in her place, because she was recognizable. Either way, it felt like the world had given me a backhanded compliment.

Thursday, February 02, 2017

Order Now! Time Is Running Out!

As is human nature, when we lose someone close to us, we begin to take stock of our lives - where we are, what we're doing, and what really matters. In my teens, this meant clinging to minutiae and diving headlong into distraction. Now that I'm older, a still no wiser for the wear, it's about passion. I have quite a few, some of which are even allowed in most stated of the Union. It's accounting for the other things - those little things that use up my time, and what can be dropped from the list.

There is writing. Writing has always been my passion, and only recently has it become a means to keep the lights on and a roof over our heads. For the majority of my life, writing was why I needed other jobs. It was the reason I worked. When asked what I did, my response would usually be, "What do I do, or what do I do to pay the bills?"

It's become a bit of both, lately, but getting soured on writing isn't going to happen in the foreseeable future. Writing, even for those projects I dislike, is how I synthesize the concepts and world around me. If you asked me three years ago how loans work, my response would be that you receive finite money, accompanied with greater debt. Now, because of my job, I can comfortably navigate various loan structures. A similar thing happened just prior to this job, when I was writing technical articles on digital cameras. Before that, it was networking systems. The list goes on, and I would never have chosen to research any of these topics on my own, but because I "make words go," I've ended up learning quite a bit, and maybe someday it will be applicable. Writing for myself is something I would like to do again, beyond this blog which gets updated tri-whimsically.

There is music. Music has always been an integral part of my life. Whether playing or listening to music, I cannot remember a time when it was not present in my world. Unfortunately, the former has taken a back seat for many years. Now It is time to revisit that side, even if no one ever hears a single note.

There are fast cars. This is not a passion of mine, so I'll leave that to the folks who can afford to have a midlife crisis. I still have to grow up before I can have one of those.

There is reading. I'm doing this less frequently, these days. Juggling between three and five books at a time has become one or two. Even still, the time for reading is a rather elusive beast. I should clarify: The time to read for pleasure is elusive. Technically, I spend most of my days reading and researching for work, but my employer wouldn't take kindly to my scheduling tasks such as "Researching primal gods and forces" or "FTL drives and alien starfaring cultures."

Games. Oh do I enjoy games I'm a nerd. But lately, the thought has crossed my mind that perhaps I need to be more discerning about which games I play. The thought struck me while I was playing a game (Elite: Dangerous) that claims to have a 1:1 representation of the Milky Way. That's a lot of space. To date, I have put 390 hours into this game (you know, because I don't have time to read or play music). Somewhere around hour 388, I started to question what I was doing. There is no end-point. The game is absolutely beautiful, and I used to play it as a way to unwind from stressful days, or when the thoughts in my head simply would not stop. I'm not going to see every star or nebula, and software does have a finite life span. I'm doing a thing to do a thing, and not in a "climbing Everest" sort of way.

Making friends. This is a newfound passion, and one I'd like to continue. I was very content with a core group of people, and that core has expanded lately (well, minus one, but that's kind of why I'm assessing things) to include some amazing individuals - and there are many more I've yet to meet. People are more fascinating (to me) than flying some virtual space chariot from the same desk I use for work.

Exploring. I need to explore more. Reading through previous entries, I know I "rubber band" between states of utter solitude and never wanting to return to my home, but there's so much out there (to write like a 12-year old idealist) to see and be a part of. There are places which could use help (possibly even my brand of help), and there's a lot of fighting to be done to not let our country or species fall back from the progress it's already made.

Life. Living is a big passion of mine. I've had a very aggressively passive relationship with it in the past, but there is a bigger picture at play, now. I have a wife. We have a cat. We also have goals for owning a house, helping those we love, fighting for progress, and supporting our immediate and extended family. My appetite for self-destruction has gone by the wayside, over the years, despite keeping the profession of "writer." However (and this is the important part), living does not mean denying myself the things that I enjoy in the name of longevity. I see no point in living to a "ripe old age" if I'm existing solely on yoga, cardio exercise, and celery. Stoicism (as my late friend embraced) is not the answer. Denying pleasures does not make them more pleasurable. I live in a city full of Earthly Delights, and there is no reason to abstain from sampling what is available. This does not mean one should live fast, die young, and leave a pretty corpse. I'm not smoking ten cigars at a time, eating deep-fried steaks, and downing shots of tequila at a strip club while saying, "THIS is living! Gotta go sometime!" Which leads me to the next point, and it goes along with living.

Appreciation. It's not always about going for the gusto. It's appreciating the pleasures that present themselves, and the people who can share in those pleasures and adventures. I appreciate when my cat decides to take a nap with me. I appreciate going to the convenience store with Gwyn, because there's always something interesting at the store, or along the way. I love having conversations over dinner with my close friends and extended family, and I appreciate their passions. I always look forward to the spontaneous conversations with my brother, and my core group from back east. And while I have not necessarily lived a life devoid of regrets, I deeply appreciate the wonderful experiences that happened along the way, those which led me to this point, and the ones which are yet to come. Hell, I appreciate the feral cats who live a few blocks from me because I get the occasional slow blink. Appreciation could easily be a list that would go on forever with each passing year, but I'd never get anything done.

Learning to be better. I grew up in a very isolated area. Very few people in my age group "got out" of the loop which relegated people to working in family businesses, or resigning themselves to an ever-decreasing job market in a post-agrarian region, with nothing to fill the once-prominent industries. After traveling (not that traveling is ever over), and being exposed to different philosophies, that old punk mentality of challenging the status quo remains at the forefront. Not so much raging for the sake of raging, but looking more to how we can progress as a whole, and how I can become more open and understanding. It's an interesting dichotomy. Allowing myself to get angry while feeling overjoyed with victories - not necessarily at the expense of others, but in the hopes that the larger tapestry is more vibrant and complete.

In short, America is a land of many contrasts.

Monday, September 12, 2016

Spitting In The Face Of Change

You are about to head down something that is not so much a rabbit hole, but more of an ant farm - with twists, turns, dead end, and alcoves. The words are an attempt to find the queen, and with the proper mixture of metaphors, we might break even.

For the longest time, I loathed change. Growing up secluded (for the most part) on a farm, in a house filled with books, I had the perfect environment full of constants. If change came into my world, I would lock the doors. Friends moved away. Lust gave way to indifference. Love was ephemeral. Goldfish died. Fluidity and dynamic interaction were not friends. If anything, they were met with anxiety. These three elements would dance until they collided in a meltdown. I strove for non-variables.

And it sucked.

Flux could go take a flying leap.

(I wonder if they've found a link between those who are seasonally-affected and their personal resistance to change?)

Lately, I've found myself on the other side of things, and I enjoy change, evolution, development, whatever the hell you want to call it. Not chaos per se, but the ability to embrace information, thoughts, and emotions that may not have been there before, and watch them grow. No More than watch - to actively experience.  

We have the ability to be agents of change, without laughing maniacally or becoming comic book villains. We also have the ability to change our feelings or points of view in light of new data, rather than try to synthesize everything through our personal simulacra of what life, love, beauty, and success are supposed to be. My cat freaks out at change, due to impressions of the very abusive household she was in before she was rescued. My cat is also a bit of an asshole, for similar reasons. My mantra is to not be like my cat on at least two counts.

I live (for those who haven't encountered me when I've turned into a one-person tourism department) in New Orleans. The people here are an excellent reflection of the architecture of this city. There are run-down shacks. Grand mansions. Building that are centuries old, with two or three facades slowly crumbling, to the point where even the original structure doesn't know what it is anymore. And there are shiny new places, with the best heating, wiring, and plumbing - as were all of these places (probably) at the time they were built. (We'll circle back to this in a bit.)

The city also exists simultaneously in a realm of tradition and ritual while embracing change - even if that change is brought about by entropy. A building crumbles, and (eventually) a new one takes its place.

Recently, I walked into my local watering hole after being away for a month or so (possibly longer - work is a run on sentence, punctuated by sleep) to try and look at the place with fresh eyes and figure out why the hell I started going there in the first place. And there they were - all of the houses described above, lined up at the bar. The difference is that, with "dive bar culture," there is no change.

And that was it.

Nothing changes at any given bar. The archetypes are all there, but the depth of the personalities make any Billy Joel song on the matter seem like a cheap Whitman's Sampler that you'd pick up for someone you really didn't care about on their birthday, because happened to be passing the local pharmacy, and don't want to be a complete jerk.

The people at local bars are fantastic. The minds you will encounter, conversations you will have, and the stories you will hear are amazing - and you get to participate. They are the easiest relationships to maintain, because all you have to do is show up. The magic is always there.

Yet there's another side to this.

It's the part you don't see because you are participating in, well, whatever is happening at your regular bar - which, cosmically speaking, isn't a hell of a lot. The debates about "the best whatever" or the wistful reminiscing that happens when someone plays a song on the jukebox, or the spats that crop up between people - those were happening before you showed up, and they will continue long after you've gone.

But this isn't happening just in my bar. It's happening in every single one that has repeat customers. It's Bukowski's paradise. An eternity of 80 proof comfort. Your best support group. The ultimate cable package where there's always something on, and the channels change as people enter and leave. The dysfunctional family gathering you can walk away from without feeling an ounce of compulsory guilt.

And that was my revelation.

The conversations hadn't changed, regardless of the calendar. People still had the same problems. I guess in the long run, people either resign themselves or figure this is an existential war of attrition, where the victories are Pyrrhic, at best. After all, if people didn't have problems, the bars would be empty. The regular patrons of a bar don't enact change. If I leave, there will be another person to fill my spot. I've never been good at playing an archetype, anyway.

I met a wise man a few days ago. He's been a regular for over 25 years and counting. When we first met, many moons ago, he asked me why I was at the bar. It wasn't one of those, "You're not from around here are you?" questions. Simply put, he said this place was filled with wonderful people who are ultimately miserable. He pointed out that I have a lot of positive things in my life. I know how to dress myself. I know how to use words. I'm functional. So he posed the question again.

I tried to sum it up: I am a deeply flawed and broken individual.

He laughed. That was it. We are all freaks under the same tent. Whether it's the person who is too afraid their estranged relationship; the musician who can't quite establish himself as a ukulele virtuoso on the local circuit; the person who peaked in life while playing high school lacrosse; or the professor who doesn't quite grasp talking with the outside world. Like a commune of hermits. It's a very interesting biosphere. But again, the kings and queens of any bar, are the ones who have been there the longest. At some level, there is an awareness of being broken, and "gooble gobble" bring in more regulars - we'll all feel better that way.

Time to shift gears for a bit.

I've never "belonged" to anything. I tried the Boy Scouts for a few years, but left once I had knot tying down pat. (Most teenage boys in rural areas knew how to start fires, so a lot of what the manual taught was redundant.) Hell, even in my own group of writers and creative types, there is rarely structured collaboration. I just never had the need, nor felt the desire to belong. (I'm also fairly certain this is a mutual feeling modern society has toward  me, so it's not like it is a one-sided relationship.)

Once you transition from patron to "regular" at a bar, you belong. And that was a problem. One of the most successful television shows of the 1980s and early 90s was Cheers, and I do not recommend anyone with fond memories of the sitcom to go back and revisit it. It is not funny. It does not holdup. Odds are, your local bar is funnier, and possibly more dramatic. But it's still a bar. No one "hangs out" at McDonald's to have great experiences with the other clientele, stumbling in late at night and reeking of fries. No one goes to a hospital lobby to blow their money on the vending machines, hanging out with the malady flies. Only at a bar - where nothing changes but the faces.

This is why I've disengaged. The change is not fluid, but rather glacial at a place where "everybody knows your name. A bar is a great place to get a drink. A bar can be a great touchstone in a hectic and chaotic world. A bar is not a good place to make your home, because change can actually be fun and character-building (in a positive, non-dice rolling sort of way).

Now that I've managed to hijack my own blog post, I'm going to go outside and do something.

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