“I was in a room of forty people, and I was unprepared to pitch my book. Mostly because I didn’t have a book.” READ THE REST HERE.
In two months, ESPN has lost over one million subscribers. Some say it’s because of their “liberal agenda”, and some say it’s just following the trends of people cutting cable, and I say it’s because they never show any hockey highlights. Whatever the case, ESPN is dying.
I’m fine with this because ESPN died to me a long time ago. It’s not a show about sports anymore, it’s a soap opera.
Soap Opera: a television drama series dealing typically with daily events in the lives of the same group of characters.
At 11AM, you’ll find men arguing with men about other men who they aren’t friends with, who aren’t in the room. This used to be something that men made fun of women for, and it’s called gossip, and it fuels ESPN.
I had something terrible happen to me recently. I checked into a hotel, walked into my room, and the TV was on, and ESPN’s Pardon The Interruption was playing, and the remote had no batteries in it, and the TV had no power button, and the reception desk wasn’t picking up the phone, and I was too tired to go downstairs, so I watched.
Here’s the premise of PTI, a show about sports: Mike Wilbon and Tony Kornheiser go head-to-head arguing about things that sometimes pertain to sports. I was trapped there watching this. Tony and a new guy (Mike was out) debated whether or not someone was out of line when they said that LeBron James’s son was unlucky because he has the pressure of trying to live up to his dad. Cool topic except WHO CARES?!
One of the guys: He was way out of line! You don’t talk about another man’s son!
The other guy: I don’t think he’s out of line! I think he had a right to say what he said!
And so it went, until no decision was made, like all arguments these days, and they moved to the next awful topic. I was watching Kornheiser’s worn out face pretending to care about whatever he’s supposed to be caring about, the life sucked from his bones, and wondering when he would just blow his brains out. What a boring job. Day after day after day, Any good drama? Any NFL players flip out from head trauma and punch an Uber driver or attack their girlfriend? Anyone get caught with drugs? And it’s a world that is ripe for drama. You take young men with brains that are not fully developed, and you throw unreal amounts of money at them, and you hit them in the head a lot, and you make them so freaking famous that they become tractor beams for cameras. All you have to do is sit back and keep rolling. It’s reality TV.
They always have ridiculous hypothetical scenarios in order to waste time.
“What if Mohammad Ali and Floyd Mayweather fought eachother? In their prime? But Mayweather was like…two feet taller…and also weighed more?”
Wilbon: The answer, to me, is obvious — I would pick Mohammad Ali any day of the—
Kornheiser: [Slowly pulls the pin on a grenade. Hugs it to his chest. Looks a his watch.]
“Who would win if Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer, instead of being on the tennis court, were at Medieval Times and they fought using only medieval gear? To the death?”
Wilbon: Obviously because Nadal is left handed—
Kornheiser: [Opens up window, crawls out, quietly falls to his death]
Sometimes I like to say that I’m writing a book about my strong-minded Italian-Irish side of the family, called, “Strong Opinions About Things That Don’t Matter”: A record of passionate arguments over trivial details of unimportant things, like where the entire movie “The Princess Bride” was filmed, and not just some of it.
The same book can be written about every single ESPN show.
I would love, just once, for these ESPN guys to gently lay down their entire stack of blue cue cards and say, “This has nothing to do with sports, and I’m sorry for stirring the pot and wasting your time, dear viewer. Please forgive me, and this organization. I mean — I’m not a psychologist! HA! Look at what I’m talking about!”
You have to force disagreement, which is so American. I hate it. It’s American politics, too. Look for disagreements, find where we’re different first. Never agree! Even if you agree, never agree! The show doesn’t work if these two guys agree, so they have to argue—and argue passionately—for pro or con. They must pick each side for each story, however juvenile, however foolish.
Watching this stuff is like watching a late afternoon baseball game in the 8th inning in the middle of July. The announcers just run out of stuff to talk about, and they drone on about so-and-so’s grandson who has a birthday today, and where they can get the best seafood in Boston, until they both fall asleep, and you fall asleep, and the players fall asleep because everyone stopped caring.
I thought I could fall asleep watching this trash, but I couldn’t take it. It really is trash, and it’s making people dumb. I went down to the hotel desk, asked for batteries for the remote, and the woman at the front desk said she’d send someone up. I stepped into the elevator, and the elevator stopped to pick up a dude who worked there. He asked if everything was going okay, and I said, “Actually, my remote doesn’t have any batteries in it.” He came to my room to inspect it, obviously not believing that I knew where batteries went. He stood very close to me while doing this. Then he went away, picked up batteries, knocked on the door, I opened it, and he came right in, put the batteries in, and hung out for a second, standing even more uncomfortably close to me. He left. Fifteen minutes later another guy stopped by the room with batteries. I told him someone already helped me. He looked confused, as if he was the battery guy. So if he was the battery guy, who was the other guy who was standing so close to me, between the beds of the hotel room, gazing into my eyes, showing me how to use a remote?
Now there’s a debate worth having.
He left and I locked the door with all the locks, and like a million other people, I turned off ESPN.
(Originally published on The Post Calvin)
I’m at a barbershop—it’s the kind where a cool dude cuts your hair and then finishes with a straight razor neck shave and there’s booze in a cabinet and you can help yourself if you’re the kind of guy who drinks hard liquor during the middle of the day. Guys walk in, sit down, and “bullshit.” “Bullshitting,” or “throwing the bull around,” is a phrase that you find on Yelp reviews of barbershops, and it’s very important to people, I’ve found. One guy wrote that this establishment was a good place to “bullshit—you know, tell a couple lies and a few dirty jokes.” I’m glad that he defined it, because I thought he meant that this was a good place to make a bull-sized bowel movement. I’m still not necessarily sure I’m using it correctly in a sentence.
What he meant, and what is important to men, is that HR won’t contact you after you tell that joke. Mary from accounting won’t get offended at your story because she’s not there to hear it. Your wife won’t tell you to stop it already. You’re with the guys. Time to bull some shits. Even if guys disagree with you, this is a safe place to make mistakes—you’re not going to get called out on being not up-to-date on your modern language.
(Part of my role in the construction industry is to tell (mostly older white guys) what they can’t say anymore.
“Yeah metrosexual isn’t really a thing people say.”
“You can’t say ‘Colored People.’ You can say ‘People of Color.’”
“Now we say transgendered, not transvestite.”
I’m very well-liked.)
I was waiting for the barber to finish up with a guy in his early twenties. The three of us bullshat for a while, hearing stories about the barber’s wife getting mad at him, about vacations, lunch spots, and then he finished. The kid got up, paid, walked out to the door, held it open, and said, “Hey Joe—ah, by the way… I got a second date with that girl.”
“Hey alright man! Good for you!” And the kid smiled, nodded triumphantly, and walked away.
This is a theme with guys: if you’re going to be vulnerable, you do it right as you are walking away. When you’re sure that you won’t be asked any more questions, or have more conversation, you throw a little vulnerability bomb in the room and let it gently explode as you are literally walking away.
Guys do this all the time when they are apologizing. Someone will say something offensive or pick a little fight within the first ten minutes of hanging out, and after four hours, again literally as they are walking away, they’ll reconcile.
[Starts walking backwards] “Hey I’ll see you guys later, lotsa fun hangin’”
[at the door, still moving backwards] “and Danny I’m sorry buddy about that thing from before pal”
[door opens up] “no hard feelin’s at all bud, just shittin some bulls”
[slides out the door] “I’ll see ya soon I love ya buddy. So much.”
Because you don’t want to deal with the follow-ups. You don’t want to go too deep. If you don’t walk away, then you’re just sitting in the haze of vulnerability, waiting for the other person to say something. Too risky.
Barbershops are strange because you don’t get emotionally close, but you’ve never been more physically vulnerable. There is a man with a razor blade pressed to your throat—a lot of times he’s a stranger. In any other context this is a nightmare. He spends about forty-five minutes touching your ears and head and cutting your hair, and you fall asleep in his grip and he could kill you at any second. Then, instead of killing you, he pushes a button on a magical machine and warm foam comes out, and he lathers cream on your neck, in the most manly way possible: short, patting motions, nothing lingering. It’s like when you put sunscreen on your buddy’s back.
“Hey ah………..will you get my back?” I sing while slapping on the lotion, like I’m plastering a mud-hut: “Ba-da-da….lad-da-dii …la-da–dyyyeee.” Because that’s the manly way to do it. When you put sunscreen on a woman’s back, it’s an experience, probably. You don’t slap, you slowly move your hands around like you’re a creep rubbing lotion on a woman’s back.
“I did the SPF 15,” you say, seductively. “Stay right there, I will also do SPF 10 and 8.” And when she turns around, as if to say, what the hell are you talking about, that’s when you say, “It’s called layering and people do this and can you please apply the SPF 85 on my back? I’ll need you to reapply after eight minutes.”
After the barber is done with the warm shave, he offers a shoulder rub. In the old-time barbershops, they had this vibrating metal contraption that the barber would slip his hand into, and rub your shoulders with. So I said, “Of course.” The guy next to me said, like a tough guy, “What? No, I’m good.” What an idiot!
After the haircut, I got up, paid the man, tipped him twenty-five percent after googling, how much do I tip a barber at an old-timey-classic-barber-shop?, and said goodbye.
Maybe the return of the classic barbershop is a result of guys needing physical contact with other guys—maybe it came back because of the memory of sports teams and military units and masculine camaraderie. Maybe. Whatever the case, it’s nice to bull a little shit with the boys, and get vulnerable on your way out the door.
I recently asked my friend’s little girl what she wanted to be when she grew up, and she said, “President of the United States”. When I asked her why, she said, “Because I want to give food and houses to all the homeless people.” Her parents beamed like the liberal Democrat chumps they are.
I said, “You don’t have to be president to do that. Just come over and mow my lawn and I’ll give you $50, then I’ll take you to where all the homeless people hang out because we all know where they hang out, and you can give them the $50 towards a ‘house’ and ‘food.’ Except, little girl, we know where that money is going, don’t we?”
“Where?” she asked, because kids are dumb.
“Drugs and Alcohol. Probably needle drugs and cheap booze. Like the stuff you’ll be drinking sophomore year of college.”
She thought for a moment, and she said, “Why don’t you just get the homeless man to mow your lawn? Then you can give him the $50 and he’ll have a job.”
And I said welcome to the Republican party.
Solving our country’s problems is so easy. Look, I just solved freaking homelessness. Most people have no idea how to solve major problems. You just get a team of homeless people, and you get them to freakin’, ah, you get them to mow lawns! You call em’, “Homeless Lawn Mowers LLC”, or something. It’ll be awesome. I want ten percent for the idea and the name.
BRING ON THE NEXT PROBLEM!
And the little girl said, “Wow, you’re generous to give that homeless man a job.”
And I said, “I can’t actually give him a job because he’s drunk and high, remember? PLUS, I only have one lawn, and $50 a week isn’t enough to live on, BUT: if he started his own business, and payed me to rent my lawn mower, he could easily mow like probably twenty lawns a week, and that’s a thousand bucks a month, right? BUT: the freakin’ government taxes the crap out of small businesses even though they are supposed to be the lifeblood of our economy. AND besides all that, these homeless people probably have criminal records. AND even if they don’t have one, I’m sure they have some sort of mental health issue because so many homeless people do. Maybe undiagnosed. Who knows? It’s not my problem. Look at me, I brought myself up out of nothing! All I had to do was go to the local college that all my siblings went to, get my business professor’s friend to give me an internship at his company, and fifteen years later I started my own company without any help from anyone. Self. Made. Man.”
“Wait,” the little girl said, “so what happens to the homeless people?”
“The government gives them money.”
“Really?!” she said, shocked.
“Yes, awful, isn’t it? That your parents and I have to pay for those homeless people to sleep in free shelters at night, and get free doctor’s check-ups? And get free food stamps?”
“Yes,” she said. “The government sounds terrible.”
“Welcome to the Libertarian Party,” I said.
“But if the government doesn’t take care of those people, who does?”
This little girl still had questions!
“The people do,” I said, “with their own money—but it’s not forced.”
“Oh gotcha.” She paused and had the audacity to ask, “Do you pay any money to help those people?”
“You’re a nosy little piece of crap aren’t you?” I said. I continued, eyeing down this little devil sitting across from me with her stupid pigtails.
“Well, okay, no, not personally…but I pay taxes so that I don’t have to pay for programs for the homeless. But I would pay money I didn’t already pay it in taxes.”
“So the government is good?”
“But if they do the stuff that no one else will…”
“They are terribly inefficient.”
“What does inefficient mean?”
“It means they waste so much money!”
At this, even the little girl’s liberal Democrat parents agreed. And then we agreed on how hard it is to do taxes! And then we agreed on how annoying it is when you drop your phone in that space between the car seat and the center console and you have to move the seat all the way forward to get it out, and you still have you mangle your own hand trying to fish it out of the greased tracks of the seat. And we called it a night.
A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him, and went away, leaving him half dead on the side of the road. A priest walked past the man and didn’t stop to help him. A Levite walked past the man and didn’t stop. But a Samaritan, who had no business helping this man, stopped and helped him. He bandaged his wounds and took him to an innkeeper and said, “Here, this guy will mow your lawn for $50.”
Life is either so, so simple……………or it is infinitely more complicated than I ever imagined.
When I bought the Schwinn as a junior in college, I thought my dad would be proud because I talked the guy down from $120 to $110. The guy sold it from his garage, along with 50 other bicycles. “Did you steal all of these yourself?” I wanted to ask. He apparently got them from a police auction or something. I keep hearing about these police auctions and I keep never experiencing them, which leads me to keep thinking that “police auctions” just mean “I stole these myself”.
He rolled out a few, and it came down to a beautiful red bike and an ugly old bike, with its grey frame and half-scratched “Schwinn Sprint” label. It was the opposite of pretty — but it looked mechanically sound and it rode smooth. It had a new seat, new tires, and no one would ever steal this thing because you needed a crane to lift it. It was full steel — even the tires and seat were steel and if you sat on it you turned into iron — it weighed about a hundred pounds.
I looked at it severely, and I frowned like you do when you’re bargaining. “Can you do anything for me on the price?”, I asked, like I was buying a house. He thought for a moment, like he was selling a house: “You know, I just put a new seat on there. I can give it to you for $110 if you want the old seat.” I thought he was bluffing because the “new” seat looked like crap. “Yeah, I want it for $110.” I thought he’d say, “Ah, screw it, I don’t want to go through the hassle, just take it!” Instead, he removed the mediocre new seat, and replaced it with a shockingly more haggard original, no doubt from 1983 when the bike was assembled. I’ll buy a better, new one, for less money, online, I thought, like I think about everything that can be bought.
Eight years later, I had new wheels and that same awful seat when someone pulled it out of my garage and rode off. When I came back from a trip and realized it was gone, I looked down the street, half-expecting to find someone lying on the sidewalk after flipping over the handlebars and knocking their front teeth out. I just hope they ride it.
Joe told me to see this guy with the bikes to buy my Schwinn. We rode bikes together all through college and after. I rode with Zach and Henry and Bryan to Founders and around town. I rode with Alex through country roads in Ohio. I rode with my coworkers in Northern Michigan.
I rode around Chicago, up and down the lakefront, and on “hipster highway”, as they call Milwaukee Avenue because of the bicycle traffic. I raced with James on Tuesday nights from Floyd’s to our apartment. I rode home one Friday from the loop in Downtown Chicago when I found myself joining a swarm of thousands, the “Critical Mass” all riding together in celebration of the end of the week. I packed the Schwinn in the Uhaul with the rest of my stuff and drove it from to Boston, I rode from Lexington to Harvard Square, from Magoun to Union, until it was taken a few weeks back.
Yesterday, I bought a bike at Wheelworks. It’s a simple single-speed bike, subtle matte black, with blinding gold rims. “Your name is already in the system. Is this still your phone number?” He rattled off my old house phone. I must have been about eleven years old when my dad said that I could get a bike, but I had to paint the white picket fence in our front yard. The fence didn’t look that long until you started to scrape it and sand it and paint it. Then I realized that I was actually going through what most people refer to as torture. It took me a full calendar year to finish a four foot section, and if I ever wanted to dread the entire rest of my life, I would look down the towards what I imagined must be the end of the infinity fence, and think that I would just have to forget about college because I’d still be here in ten years scraping and sanding and painting.
I finished a fraction of the work after spending a lot of time on it, and my dad graciously bought me the yellow BMX GT bike with tri-spoke wheels. I thought that even Tommy Wisdom would be jealous of this bike. He had a GT with the front and rear pegs for tricks. (Tommy egged houses and did pull-ups in his room, so he knew what was cool.)
I rode my GT with Bryan and my cousin Danny, and then with Anthony. We’d ride through the conservation land and hit the jumps and skin our knees and do it all again. We’d ride to Hollywood Video in the Heights, rent a movie, watch it, rewind it, watch it again, and bring it back. One time we stole a cigarette from his sister and smoked it. One time we stole a peppermint tea bag and little pipe and we smoked that peppermint tea.
During one of our trips, we left the bikes for about 20 minutes and sure enough someone stole my conspicuous yellow GT. A few weeks later my mom saw a kid riding it on the bike path and called the cops. We got it back and it’s been sitting in our shed ever since.
“My number and address have changed,” I told the guy yesterday. A repeat customer almost 20 years later.
I rode fifteen minutes to the coffee shop where I’m writing this. I was cruising down a big hill on the way here, wind stinging my face in the November chill — I’ll never get tired of that feeling. I felt it when I whipped down the hill from Founders on Cherry street on a warm September night, I felt it when the front fork of my Sprint started shaking, wheels wobbling, untested brakes laughing as I pulled on them, still shooting past cars down the steep and winding Northern Michigan road. I felt it in the woods, when I was pedaling as hard as I could on my GT, my buddies watching me hit the jump in the conservation land. How much air did I get? How high did I go? How fast? The feeling of being on the edge of in control and out. Always feels like flying.
“Hello, this is Mike from Uber. We like to record these calls for quality and training purposes — is that okay?”
“Okay. I heard you had a bad experience with Uber Pool and we’re very sorry about that…can you tell me about it?”
[NOTE: Uber Pool is like taking a taxi where you pick up other people. An Uber car-pool.]
“Whenever you’re ready.”
“I’ll just dive in, then. …It was 3AM and I called an Uber to take me back to the hotel, which was about 25 minutes away.”
What I didn’t say to Mike: I selected Uber Pool because it was about $3 cheaper and I’m not concerned about anything bad happening in the city of Chicago at 3AM with strangers.
“The app told me, ‘You will be pooling with one passenger: Ian’” [Let’s call him Ian because that’s his real name.]
“Entering the car, I saw there was something strange about this guy.”
What I didn’t say to Mike: Strange was an understatement. I had just climbed aboard the freak-show express, and I had joined at the point of no return.
“He had dark brown, almost black hair and a black beard. I could tell that he had been talking to the driver about nothing for a while. He was sort of mumbling. Obviously intoxicated, maybe on some harder drugs. And he had about 20 cocktail straws sticking out of his hair.”
“So he was sitting next to you?” Mike asked.
“Yes, I was sitting behind the driver, and he was sitting next to me.
He started telling me that he was from St. Louis and that St. Louis was not a good city.
Then he told me that I have to visit St. Louis because it’s a great city.
I told him that he just told me I shouldn’t go to St. Louis.
He looked agitated, so I asked, ‘You have a good night, man?’
…And this is where it gets interesting, Mike.”
“Okay,” said Mike.
“And we’ve all been around drunk people, right?”
“Mike, I’m not sure exactly how to say what he said to me–”
“–Bart, that’s fine, you can be as specific as you want, and if you don’t want to say it, you don’t have—”
“—No! I’ll say it! I’m not–it’s not–it’s yeah no yeah no, I’ll say it sure. So he told me that his night was going great. And then he told me that he — he went ahead and–you know what, he told me that he pleasured a man in an alley. And then he said that she was gorgeous. And I said, ‘Hm’.”
“Oh no,” said Mike.
“Then he reached his hand over and put it on my upper thigh.”
“I took his hand and put it back on his lap and said, ‘Let’s just leave that there.’”
“And then he mumbled, ‘I’m going to push you out of the car.’”
What I didn’t say to Mike: The hand was warm enough, and high enough on my thigh to make me think that I might have to unhinge this man’s arm. Didn’t he know that I trained with Sensei Frank in 3rd grade? “Sensei Frank said that if I meet weird dudes like you, I have two options. Option one: TIGER CLAW TO THE FREAKING EYES! HIYAH!”
“This guy was moving pretty slow, so I didn’t think he would push me out, but it’s not what you want to hear. So while I’m wondering if he’s going to somehow reach over me, unlock the door, open it, touch my leg, then push me out of the car, he said, ‘Excuse me, please stop the car. This guy is bothering me. Please let him out here—he needs to get out. I didn’t want him in the car in the first place.’”
What I didn’t say to Mike: Oh, I get it. When you don’t want someone in the car, you just touch their leg until they get out. NICE TRY PAL. Try me. Touch my left leg though, that one is stronger, for sure. ALSO: We were on Lakeshore Drive which is essentially a highway, i.e. a bad place to be let out of a car.
“I’m sorry, this is how it works,” the driver said, “we’re almost there.”
“Mike, we weren’t almost there. We were about 15 minutes away.”
What I didn’t say to Mike: 15 minutes with this Leg-toucher is a long, long time. It’s like sitting in a tank with a shark, and the shark is just slowly moving, looking around, and the whole time you’re wondering if the shark just ate, or if all of a sudden, he would turn on you in a fit of rage, and gently touch your leg and push you out of a speeding car.
“It finally quieted down when she sped up. And then…”
What I didn’t say to Mike: I looked out my window and watched the lines on the road blur past, and I thought about that weekend. I was there for Henry’s wedding — he was married earlier that night. We ate and danced and at the end of the night, we went to a bar and danced more and people drifted off home. I went for a walk with a girl and we talked about important things and friends and what it’s like when your best friends get married. Your relationship changes, we said. Because they have someone to process their thoughts with I’m thinking all these things when I feel a warm hand on my thigh because “he touched my leg again.”
“Oh no”, said Mike.
“Oh yes,” I said. “He leaned back and put his hand on my leg. So I grabbed his hand and put it back on his lap and said, ‘Keep your hands. To yourself.’ And then he said, ‘Okay you need to let this guy out. Stop right here and let him out. Let him out, please. He’s really bothering me.’”
“‘We’re so close to your stop! Please just one minute—’, said the driver.”
“‘Just stop and let me out here’, said Ian Cocktail Straws.”
“She was happy to let him out. He left in a huff and she instantly gave him a one-star rating. I asked her what the one star rating is all about, and she said that Uber will contact her and she’ll tell them about the trip. And then you called me, Mike.”
[Uber has reimbursed me the $14.99 and apologized for my inconvenience.]
The end. For now.
Remember your first day of school.
I’m on Tremont Street in Boston and I stop to tie my shoe. A silent wave of Suffolk University first-year students shuffle past, all wearing matching yellow shirts. They are starting the most hyped four-plus years of their lives, and they look like prisoners about to start road work. The shirts say, “2020”. Twenty twenty: time flies when you’re getting older. I can already see the cheeky ocular-themed graduation slogans:
“Seniors 2020, We’re Visionaries!”
“Seniors 20/20: We’re 100% Awesome!”
“Hindsight is 20/20. Shouldn’t have dated Rachel Matthews! She broke my heart and sold my Casio Watch. Whatever. Seniors.”
But that’s four years away.
For now, no one has friends, and everyone is excruciatingly aware of this.
Remember a time when you didn’t have any friends.
At the stop light, one girl stands alone, looking at the ground. I want to go up to her and say, “Everyone is so worried about themselves, they don’t have time to worry about you.”
I make my way to Harvard Square, and sit down at Darwin’s on Auburn. A dad takes his daughter’s backpack off her back, he saves her seat while she waits in line. She’s clasping her hands in front of her, pretending to read the labels on the tea jars. I want to tell her not to get the Green Tea: tastes like soap. I also want to tell her dad to get the hell out of town and let her do this part.
In front of her is a guy with man bun that looks a lot like woman bun hair: silky smooth hair. Looks like a Pantene Commercial: “Hair so healthy, it shines”…and it does.
A girl walks in wearing a black garrison military cap that covers her shaved head, draped over her black short sleeve shirt is a big black scarf. It’s 90 degrees outside. She’s smiling and nodding intently in conversation, hating every stitch on that scarf. I like to imagine that two days earlier, in her hometown, she had a full head of hair, was dressed in a polo and Khaki pants and loved her parents.
Remember a time when you didn’t know what to wear, how to look, or who to be.
I move to a different table because I can’t bear listening to a guy next to me talk about how his friend taught himself quantum biology or whatever else the Harvard kids are overachieving at these days. He’s leaning back with his elbow on a ledge up next to his head — it looks terribly uncomfortable, but he is giving advice to a first year student and he needs that ledge. The advisee is leaning forward, eyebrows sitting on the top of his forehead, eating this guy’s words.
Remember when you were so much more insecure than you are now.
Starting something new is brutal. It feels like everyone is watching every single move you make. “Do people here do this? Do they do it like this or like that? Do they wait in this line? Or that one?” “I’m going to fit in.” “I’m not going to fit in.” “I’m going to fit in by not fitting in.” “I’ll be the kind of person who doesn’t care about what anyone thinks.”
The most real thing I learned this year is that everyone cares what everyone thinks. It’s human, and it’s actually freeing to walk around with this knowledge. Knowing that people care much more about themselves, and how the world receives them than they care about you — it’s fantastic. When you spill a coffee at the dining hall, and you think, “My life, as I know it, is over, and I will live out the remainder of my pathetic and clumsy days in solitude and discomfort in the mountains of Alaska, I will eat grass and tree bark and I’ll have the option to use heat but I won’t and I will die alone because that’s what I deserve after this”, just know that your life, as you know it, is not over.
Remember a time when you thought your life was over.
When you trip on that same raised slab of concrete in the sidewalk or sneeze and a little snot comes out or you’re doing stand up comedy and you tell a joke and the whole place erupts in silence. No one says, “You’re that guy who spilled! tripped! told a dumb joke!”
Remember a time you wanted to reach out to someone you didn’t know for help, but were too afraid because they might tell all their friends who you also don’t know how much of a loser you are.
I was talking to my friend Alex about trying to connect with a few people who could help me with jobs. He said, just remember, “You’re not that important”. Initially, I thought, that hurts because I’m important. I’m the most important person I know. Once you get over the initial blow to your ego, this is fantastic news. I’m not that important! He continued: “No one is going to go home to their family and saying, ‘You know who emailed me today? You won’t believe this…”.
Remember a time when you felt older and not wiser.
I used to think that I would grow out of it: that one day I would enter a room filled with people I don’t know, and not worry for a second about how I look through their eyes. I still think about it. I’m better at it, but I still think about it. Today I was on a conference call and I started sweating because I didn’t know when to talk, at what volume, about which point, or who I would interrupt. And because it was hot in the office. (And we’re in an open office, which doesn’t help the situation…I did find that if you open up a cabinet and stick your face in, and literally close the door on your own head, you get some great privacy.)
Remember that the worst thing you can do is fail tremendously. (Except for killing people. That’s the worst. Killing people is objectively worse than failing.)
We were about to head out on stage to do 4 minutes of stand-up and the more experienced guy opening for us said, “A little trick I use before I go out: I chant, ‘who f’king cares’ over and over until I realize that the worst thing that could happen in that moment is that I fail.” Boy do I like that advice. Who cares. Fail tremendously.
I started going to our local coffee shop, which is also a bicycle shop. You can get a pour-over coffee, a new set of handlebars, and join a squad of 30 riders for a day trip. And, if you’re lucky, you’ll time it just right so that once you get settled in with your computer and coffee and cup of water, a sea of sweaty people ride in with their suction bike shorts and tiny shirts, aerodynamically packing the entire place, chugging energy goop from a tube, slowly surrounding you, slowly and gently touching their asspads into your shoulders. Slowly, gently.
Anyhow it’s great. I made friends with a barista there who seemed to always be happy to see me. In a place where smiling is not a thing, she remembered who I was, which is wonderful. She is now my friend and she reads this blog.
She and I went out for drinks a while back, and I employed a brilliant comedic tool: I started calling her by her first and last name. They can’t teach you this stuff. “Sarah Reynolds.” I said it once, and she laughed, I slipped it in again, and she was cracking up. Sometimes you don’t know what is going to make someone laugh, and this surprised me. I thought, maybe I’m saying it in a funny way, or maybe she thinks it’s just hilarious that I’m going out of my way to say her full name. Whatever the reason, I kept striking the iron.
“What’s your middle name?”
I was going in for the kill. The grand finale.
“Sarah. Lynne. Reynolds.”
She exploded with laughter, eyes filling, about to cry with laughter. I looked around the bar like a champion, admiring my handiwork. You all see this? It’s not even a challenge. This isn’t my best stuff. I’m just saying her name. When you get to my level, it’s really not that big of a deal because it happens a lot.
I gave her a ride home, went to bed, and the next day I went to text her to tell her that it was fun hanging out. But I can’t find Sarah Reynolds in my contacts. Strange. I scroll through texts and as it turns out, there is no Sarah Reynolds. The person who I have been speaking to is named Sarah Richards.
For the entire night, I called her by the wrong name. She was laughing at me because it was hilarious that I was saying the wrong name. I texted and asked her who, the hell, “is Sarah REYNOLDS?”
“LOL. You were so committed to calling me that, I didn’t have the heart to correct you.”
It gets worse. Or better, if you’re sick and you like seeing me fail. She dropped her debit card in my car, so I found it, and thought how funny it was that our cards looked exactly the same. We spoke on the phone about how great it was that I found her card, and how it looked like my card, and how dumb I felt about calling her the wrong name and I said that I might just spend her money! We laughed.
THAT VERY NIGHT I was with some friends, I pulled out her card and thought, “I better not pay with this card because that would be bad!”, and I put it in my pocket and then I took it out and paid with it. SERENITY NOW!
And I said to her, “I did what I was joking about!!!”
She is now on our coed soccer team.
If everyone thinks you’re killin’ it, maybe you are. Maybe you’re not, but you don’t have to tell them that.
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My friend Dave almost fainted at my house when we were in high school. We were changing Gabe’s high school-inspired sock and duct tape bandage when his shin started shooting blood like a sprinkler all over our island counter. We grabbed the gauze, grabbed the medical tape, and stopped the bleeding. Dave’s face and lips were porcelain white, eyes wide, and my dad told him to sit down and put his head between his knees. That’s all I know about fainting — knees stop fainting.
The first time I saw a guy actually faint was in Thailand. It was at a university food court in the middle of the day, and I remember it vividly because I was eating a really good fried chicken dish, and I thought, even this bro throwing up and fainting doesn’t affect my enjoyment of this food. It was hot, it was humid, the guy threw up, and knocked over a bunch of food at the table with his face. People went right into action doing the things that you need to do when people faint: scream. People started yelling, and they swarmed him, which is helpful, fanning him and doing whatever else people do in emergencies. “Everybody! …Panic!” He got up a few seconds later, clearly out of it.
There’s that moment when someone gets injured, where you’re thinking, “I should do something!” But this guy already had enough people yelling and not knowing what to do, so adding a white dude shouting in a different language, also not knowing what to do, probably wouldn’t help the situation. “He’s down! Quick! Get his head between his knees! Get. His. Head. Between. His. Knees. Head! Knees!”
Fainting sure didn’t look fun. You have to lose consciousness, you fall somewhere, and you have no control over when it happens. (Which is strange, because of the whole, “if you feel yourself starting to faint, put your head between your knees”, thing. My advice would be, “if you feel yourself starting to faint, freaking get to a quiet space away from people who will see you! And find a pillow! And lie down!”
I had some sort of virus when I was a sophomore in college — the kind where you throw up and poop and you get freezing cold and steaming hot all at the same time. I was laying in my dorm bed, shivering, cocooned in the following:
I had been trying to sleep when I decided that I needed to pee.
My room was not set up for easy access to anything: there was a couch, and behind the couch was a tiny study nook. Above the study space, on top of dressers, was the bottom bunk at eye level (five ft.) On top of the bottom bunk bed was my bed (24 ft.) If I turned too suddenly I risked scraping my nose on the ceiling. I could have been dead up there for days and no one would have known.
I started the descent by yelling out, “belay on”, and I answer myself, “climb on!” I climb down, careful to use my core as well as my legs and arms. (I was doing like a 5.12 here. Real technical stuff. I was bouldering. Shredding the gnar. Hot drinks.) I make it to the bathroom, and I think, I better throw up while I’m down here. I kneel next to the toilet to throw up and nothing happens. What a let down. I stand up, and the last thing I remember is my back slamming into our suitemates door that leads to our shared bathroom. I woke up with pain in my butt cheeks, sitting on the ground, with sweat dripping down my face and chest. I frantically took off my shirts and my outer layer of pants and looked at myself in the mirror. Then I turned and saw my roommate Ben and the resident director looking at me.
“Are you okay?”
“I think so.”
We walked down to the nurse and she gave me some crazy new medicine called ibuprofen and told me to call her when I had died, and that maybe I should stop being so soft. She was actually very sweet, and I wanted her to tell me that I had something serious so that people would feel bad for me, but she just said, “It’s probably just a weird virus — you should drink a lot of water”. Nothing sexy about dehydration.
Ben later told me that he came into the bathroom and saw me sitting on the floor with my eyes open. He was talking to me, asking me if I was okay, and I wasn’t responding to anything, or looking at him. “You were just staring off.” He said that he shook me, and I didn’t do anything.
As I’m writing this, I can’t help but think that if you walk into a bathroom where your roommate has turned into an unresponsive lump of human, you might call 911! Or someone with medical experience! Other than the residence director, whose master’s degree in sociology probably wouldn’t be of much use in this situation! 😉 Love ya, Ben. Thanks for being my roommate. Next time, just grab my knees and throw them over my head.
Every Monday around 1:30PM people shuffle into work with red faces, complaining about how they are going to die. Every Tuesday, people walk around like they don’t have joints in their bodies and say things like, “I feel terrible,” “I’ve never been this sore in my life,” and, “please help me.” And the most troubling phrase of all: “You should join us!”
At our company, as part of our health and wellness initiative, we pay a woman named Kerry to come in and beat the hell out of us once a week. Actually, we pay half, the company pays half. Never pay full price for pain.
Not looking forward to Monday? Here’s what you do: you skip lunch and you go to get tortured at noon instead. I saw the zombies who returned from this sick bootcamp, and I wasn’t fooled. In order for me to take part in this, the stars would have to align: my workout gear would have to be in my car, I would have to run into the instructor in the parking lot, and I would have to be digesting a sandwich called ‘The Super Beef.”
I was finishing off the french fries when Kerry said, “hurry up, we’ll wait for you!” So I stuffed the rest of the fries in my mouth, downed my Doctor Pepper, put on my gear, and ran outside.
Joanne, my coworker, who we all call The Dictator, because she’s quiet but you can tell that she’s quietly plotting a hostile takeover of the office, was the only other person who showed up for torture on Monday, and I knew that I couldn’t let her be broken alone. That would only speed her plan for total office domination. So there we were, Joanne and I, running around the building.
I feel great. This is easy.
We made it back to Kerry and she said, “here’s what we’re going to do,” and she showed us how to do push ups into touch-your-toes. Then she squats into touch-the-grounds. Then she did jump ropes. Then Kettlebell squats. Then Kettlebell hip-things. And she said, “let’s do this.”
I started out on the squats. For whatever reason, I always have a hard time doing the exercises people show me. “Touch my right arm to my left foot? Ok. And then My left arm to my right foot?! And then touch the ground in the middle of me??? Just tell me what you want from me!” I couldn’t stop thinking about all the people in the office who must be looking out the window watching me doing these ridiculous squats. I kept thinking, This is so easy.
Nine seconds later I was doing push ups into touch-my-toes and I realized that this was going to be a touch more difficult than I imagined. We quickly shifted to the speed jump rope and the Super Beef in my stomach quickly shifted up and down. Then the squat bells, and I didn’t have time to think about if anyone was laughing at me from inside because I was thinking about all the things in life I still wanted to accomplish. We did the next Kettlebell thing, where I swung my arms around and was told that I was doing it almost right, and then ran around the building.
Have you ever pooped your pants and thrown up at the same time? Me neither, but I’ve heard about people who have, and it’s a real fear for me. I thought, Joanne is going to see me do this double-action nasty, and she’s going to tell everyone about it…quietly.
We made it around the building fast enough to jump right back into Kerry’s sadistic world of hurt. I started on push ups and she said, “what sports do you play?” And I tried to talk to her while doing these exercises, “Hockey. Baseball. Soccer–” “–Oh my son plays hockey, where did you play hockey?” I CAN’T BREATHE! Is what I wanted to say. I told her where, and we continued our dentist-patient conversation where she does the talking and I try not to die.
Circuit two complete. We ran around the building again, this time slower. Tiny break, little bit of water, start again.
“Just one more after this”, she said. I became deeply depressed, thinking that I was so far from the finish line. I kept moving my body around the exercises in the same way you might if you didn’t have any bones or muscles or blood when she said, “remember, quality over quantity”. Which, to me, meant, “It’s okay to stop what you’re doing in order to get it right”. Oh thank goodness. Thank G— “Come on! Twenty more seconds keep going, keep going!”
We ran around the building again.
“Last one, let’s go!” I shouted back, “I’m not extrinsically motivated!,” just kidding. I lost the ability to shout long before. I started with the squats again. The sun beating down, my lungs exploding, my body going into Chris Legh mode. Not only am I going to throw up and poop my pants, I’m going to faint, then poop my pants and then throw up.
I made it to the end without doing any of those things, thanked Kerry multiple times for the emotional and physical pain she caused me, and agreed to do it again.
My sister is a great writer.
“Although four o’clock comes everyday it still takes me by surprise. Right around that time at our house somebody is fighting over whether you can get an infraction at school for saying “fart,” and if not, can you get one for actually farting–but what if you fart at someone? […]”
On the way home from a New Hampshire ski weekend, we stopped at the outlets in a nearby town to live free or die. (No sales tax.)
Enter Banana Republic, and three bargain shirts later, I’m at the checkout line ready to exit. A man, about 60 years-old, is behind the counter.
Guy: I love these shirts. I hope this isn’t the last one.
Me: I don’t think so.
Guy: Good, cause I wouldn’t be able to sell it to you.
He wore trendy glasses, a rust-colored three-quarter sweater with a collared shirt underneath, and had a tanned face, probably from skiing. He was cool.
Guy: where from?
Guy: Ah ha
Me: Lots of us up here huh?
Guy: Yep. I used to live in Mass.
Me: Oh great, where abouts?
Me: Our office is in Woburn.
Guy: What do you do?
Me: I work for a construction company there.
Guy: What do you do for them?
Me: Business Development.
He put my shirts in the bag and looked at my card, pointed to my name.
Guy: How do you say your name?
Guy: What kind of name is that?
What is this, 50 questions? He was a nice guy, though, and I was happy to answer.
Me: It’s Biblical. My last name is Italian.
Guy: I know that. My kids are Italian Irish.
Me: I’m guessing you’re the Italian part?
He swiped the card and looked his computer for a moment, then looked back at me.
Guy: You know what they say about us Italian guys, don’t you?
Oh boy. I did know what they say. (Strangely enough, I’ve never heard what they say from anyone but Italian men over the age of 50. They seem to be the only people perpetuating this saying about themselves. You don’t hear any Irish guys saying, “Those Italians, I’ll tell you what. Tough to beat.”)
Me: Ha, they say a lot of things.
Guy: Yeah, you know which one I’m talking about though.
Me: I believe I do.
Pause. I think we’re in the clea–
Guy: –They say we know how to please a woman.
Boom. Said it. I gave him a courteous, understanding nod, as if to say, believe me, I know how to please a woman. You empty the dishwasher. You return the returnable bottles. You take out the trash. I neglected to tell him that I’m also Irish, English, Dutch, and probably every other European nation. Do I still have it in me, sir?
Guy: You know that don’t you?
Me: Yeah. My grandfather called himself the Italian Stallion.
(He seemed to enjoy that.)
Guy: You should meet my daughter.
Stop traffic. The last thing you said was that Italian men know how to please women, and now you want to introduce me to your daughter. After almost any other statement it would have been more appropriate. “Good afternoon, did you find everything okay?” “Yeah–” “–And did you want to meet my daughter?”
Me: Oh yeah?
Guy: Yeah. You on Facebook?
Me: I am.
Guy: Ok, great.
What just happened?
He handed me my bag and I said thank you, and turned to leave and he said, “Wait, wait! Here, write your name down.” So I wrote my name down and he said, “See? You never know who you’re going to meet.” I.E. I’M YOUR NEW FATHER IN LAW.
As I walked out I thought about it. I thought, could I handle this man as my father in law? Probably. I also thought, wouldn’t this be a funny story.
The story is not over.
One day later, I was having coffee with my friend and pastor, Brian, when I recapped this entire event. (Save this for later: There was a woman at the table behind Brian, facing me, laughing silently at the funny parts, and actively listening with understanding nods and pauses and thoughtful faces. She did this for almost our entire conversation.)
He brought up an interesting point: “We don’t think anything of someone finding a significant other on Match.com, but when a mother or father, who have your best interest at heart, recommend someone, it’s suddenly strange.” It’s true — we trust an algorithm, we trust five pictures and a bio, we don’t trust parents.
I really enjoyed Malcolm Gladwell’s book about the power of first impressions and split-second decisions. Blink: the power of thinking without thinking. (It sounds like the lazy man’s guide to going through life. Doing anything without doing it sounds fantastic: The power of cleaning without cleaning! The power of jogging without jogging! The power of crashing your brother’s car into your neighbor’s two parked cars without crashing your brother’s car into your neighbor’s two parked cars!)
While this man didn’t know me, our interaction gave him enough of a window to say, this guy is alright. There’s a lot of emotional luggage about pleasing your parents and doing things to win their affirmation…I think parents just want to see their kids happy. As Hallmark as that sounds. I think this guy just wants to see his daughter with a seemingly normal dude who will write about his entire interaction, put it on the internet, and who won’t buy anything that’s not at least 40% off the clearance price.
Brian and I finished talking, we got up to leave, and the listening woman behind him spoke up.
Lady: So do you want to meet my daughter?
Brian and I looked at each other, laughed, and let out our own versions of Ohhhhh boyyy. Unbelievable. Believable. Lady, I can’t be meeting your and everyone’s daughter. Ridiculous. She only had about a 30 minute conversation to judge me on, and she wasn’t even in the conversation!
Me: How old is she?
“Can I help you with something?”
“Yes, I’d like to buy a knife.”
He walked over slowly, looking at the glass cabinet behind me. He looked to be in his 60’s, thin, blue jeans and a plaid button-down shirt, white hair.
“I’d like this one right here, the Wustof 7-inch Santoku.”
“That’s a great knife.”
“I hope so.”
“Let me get that for you.”
We walked over to the checkout counter, and I thought he would unlock the case, grab the knife, and we’d be on with our lives. How wrong I was. He searched in the drawers behind the counter, eventually pulled out a piece a paper, and walked back to the knives. He scanned the paper with furrowed brows, like he was looking at a complex math equation. Looked at the paper, looked at the knives, back at the paper, back at the knives, then walked about 15 feet away to a cabinet that was holding a display of pots and pans.
He opened the cabinet, started taking things out, inspecting them closely, looking at his paper, looking back into cabinet. Then he walked back to the knives and looked at them. Then he walked back to the cabinet and began his search again.
“Do you need any help?”, another employee asked me.
“Thanks, I’m already being helped.” I wanted to say, “I think that guy needs help. Could you help him help me?”
He walked back to the knives. (Side note about his walking: it wasn’t fast.) He looked at his paper again. He walked to a different section of the store and perused small kitchen utensils that were hanging on the wall — basting brushes, ladles, whisks; no knives. (Perused, as it is used here, means to examine closely, at length.) He looked back at his list, and walked back to the first cabinet and pulled out a knife.
We did it, I thought. We won. He walked over to me, handed me the knife in plastic packaging, and said, “This isn’t the knife that you wanted, but I couldn’t find that one.”
“This knife looks the same, and it’s the same price, but it’s a different model.”
I’m no knifesman, but it felt lighter and looked cheaper than the one I wanted. I pretended to read the German writing on the back, and then said, “I think I’d like the other one.”
“Yeah, the one you want is a much better knife.”
“If you would like, we can ship it to you.”
“Would that be free shipping?”
He went to the computer, started typing, and looked up at me.
“Or I could take another look. It says in the computer that there are three here, and the computer is almost never wrong.”
“That would be great if you could find it here.”
“Okay, let me look again.”
I had nothing to do until 4:30PM that day, and it was about 11AM, so we were in it. I had already sunk the time. I was going to be there for the next five hours if that’s what it took. Outwardly, I was calm. Inwardly, there was an atomic bomb of fury at this guy’s extended expeditions.
About three minutes later, he came back with the right knife.
“I was pretty sure it was here, but I didn’t know if you had the time for me to find it.”
“Thanks for finding it.”
Very slowly, he scanned the bar-code. I gave him my card. He slid it through the card-reader like he was a surgeon making an incision on a baby’s foot. I started to think that I was being pranked. That someone was going to come out with a camera and laugh at me, or that this man was really a professor of psychology and he was doing research to see how long it would take to break a man.
“Would you like this in a box or a bag?”
Ooo good question! That would be a nice presentation wouldn’t it? Ignoring my experience from the past three years of waiting for this gentle man, I thought, I could wrap the box, or maybe they could wrap it for me, that would be lovely… “Let’s do a box.”
At Crate and Barrel, they have to construct the box out of a flat piece of cardboard, mortar, and scaffolding. He took one of these projects, inspected it, put it on the table.
What have I done.
He looked at it, turned it over, put it back. Took out another one. Held the knife next to it, looked at instructions on how to fold the box, took out safety goggles, a reflective vest, a hardhat and a table saw and a tower crane—“You know what, I’ll just get a bag.”
He put the knife in a bag with the receipt, and passed it to me.
“Thank you for your patience.”
He didn’t say this like, “Thanks-have-a-great-day”. He looked me in the eyes for a moment, and I could tell that he was genuinely grateful that I gave him time. All I did was not yell at him. I did the absolute minimum.
Patience: the capacity to accept or tolerate delay, trouble, or suffering without getting angry or upset.
I don’t know if he had some sort of cognitive disability or if he was just having a bad day or a bad life, but it was a good reminder that people are dealing with stuff, and that suffering without getting angry, that tolerating delay and trouble is a worthy practice. Here’s your reminder to suffer.
A few weeks ago I was riding down the bike path that Anthony and I used when we were twelve. I was riding the bike that I bought in Michigan, used in Chicago, and brought back to Massachusetts. I had moved home quietly, I had remained unemployed quietly, and I was spending the days quietly.
There’s something that wears away at you when people ask, What do you do? And you have to tell them, “In the morning, I drink a coffee and I’m wildly optimistic about my life and the opportunities therein. Late morning, I make a hearty breakfast and use the time it takes to eat that food as an excuse to start binge-watching a television series. In the afternoon, I’ll start feeling poorly about the direction life is headed and I’ll commence eating yogurt from the big container. Late afternoon, I’ll switch to ice cream. Old ice cream. I’ll check email, Facebook, and Instagram, in that order, I’ll inevitably see one of my friend’s super cute girl friends, I tap the picture, see her tag, surprise, she’s married, and I scroll through their wedding photos and think about how hilarious it would be to “like” all of them. And I play the 1999 computer game Age of Empires. How about you?!“
“Your full time job should be getting a job” – Some idiot who has probably never played Age of Empires.
My full time job was waiting. I had applied to breweries, magazines, newspapers, online journals, ad agencies, and bars. Being jobless and living at home has a way of making you feel like a freaking champion, which is part of the reason I never texted Alison back. We were on a first date and I thought, If I tell her I’m a freelance writer, that sounds pretty cool. “I put the ‘free’ in freelance.” *Shoots her with finger guns* We switched the date from coffee to brunch, which isn’t a big deal except when you don’t have a job. The date ends and you say, “No—please, let me pay”. Please. Pretty please.
I was unfocused, unstable, and unsure of what I wanted to do. I hated the indecision that had plagued my life, and I was upset with myself for not being able to stick with things. “I want to be a writer”, I told myself. The first freelance project I work on, they tell me that they want me to write it differently. “Make it more boring. Put numbers in it.” This isn’t what I thought it would be.
“It wasn’t as good as I thought it was going to be” – A memoir.
I watched Netflix and I chilled and I hated myself for it. I wrote posts, but struggled because what do you write about when you do nothing all day? (Nothing.) Apparently I wasn’t as passionate about this writing thing as I kept telling people, because I had a lot of time, and I did nothing. My dad says, “If you want something done, ask a busy person to do it.” I say, “If you want something mindless and menial done, ask an unemployed person to do it because they are so happy to do freaking anything.” I wrote a song called “Wasting Away”, that’s really good.
Knee deep in a job that’s killing me
In love with mediocrity
From great to good it’s all understood
Life don’t give you what you thought it would
I was waiting to be chosen for some noble cause, or some adventure. I felt as if I was right back where I was two years ago, thinking the same things that I did when I wrote This is the way; walk in it, about endless possibility, endless energy, and no direction. Thinking the same thoughts as when I graduated from college. No progress, just wasting away. What I should do, is move. That will solve the problem. I should move and radically change my life. I should move to New Hampshire, California, Alaska. I should be a Lobsterman in Maine. I should get a dog. I should try to be an extra in a movie and start a career that way. I should get married and really start solving my problems.
I’m here now.
I was riding my bike on the path and I said aloud, “I’m here now”, which took me by surprise. I don’t know where it came from, but it felt good. I knew that I had to start life and stop complaining about how things hadn’t come together for me the way I thought they would. Is that what people mean by disillusionment? I just turned 28, and I haven’t hit milestones that I thought I would hit by 23. Whoever wrote “How to be Successful” left out that chapter titled, “How to fulfill all your unrealistic expectations by birthdays that you see fit in the timeline that you’ve created for your predictable life”. That asshole.
I’m here now.
I know that thinking about what could be next is crippling. I don’t want to put down roots because I could be leaving. I don’t want to start dating this girl because I could run into someone in the next few days. I don’t want to start this job because I could have some producer pick up my pilot and read it and be like Oh my GOAHHHHHWEFOUNDHIM!
The lie I tell myself is that other people know exactly what they are doing. The lie I tell myself is that everyone else has gotten to where they are by calculated planning and careful execution. The lie I tell myself is that no one else can relate to this because everyone else has it figured out.
I prayed a lot and other people prayed a lot and I simplified things. I realized that I loath writing when other people tell me what to write. I realized that I enjoy meeting new people and working in a team on projects that matter. I realized that choosing an open path isn’t cowardice–sometimes it takes grit. So two weeks ago I started working for Tocci Building, doing Business Development. (My friend Molly rightly said, “Business development is another word for sales”. I say that “Admissions counselor” is another word for “college salesman”, so I’m not completely in over my head. Just mostly.)
I’ll tell you how I got here.
I went apple picking with my brother, his wife, her two sisters, and her friend, who is also a girl, in September. It’s not important to note the genders except that men don’t go apple picking unless their wives go. Or their kids. Or there is alcohol involved. You know how many groups of guys we saw just there for the day? Takin’ the orchard in? Zero groups.
I like the idea of apple picking. You walk through trees, you experience the crisp, clear air. You take in the scenery and leaves changing colors. You navigate around a thousand screaming children and dogs and wedding guests and it’s really beautiful. We went to a place called Nashoba Farms.
The sun was out, and so was every person in New England. The apple orchard, which is also a vineyard, which is also a distillery, which is also a brewery, lures females ages 4 to 50, who then lure men ages everything to go along.
“Sweetheart, you’ll enjoy it.”
“Fine! I take pride in not liking many things as well as my dependency on alcohol to have fun!”
Like a lot of things in life, liking the idea is different from enjoying the actual thing. Picking apples sucks. It’s really fun for the first two apples, then it’s boring. After the first two, you realize you’re just doing someone else’s job, and you’re paying to do it. It’s like paying a landscaper to let you cut the grass: “I know you were gonna do this, but I’d like to make a pie with this when it starts to rot later”.
We could have just walked in the woods for free. “But you get to eat so many apples!” Have you ever eaten so many apples? You end up destroying some poor toilet because too many apples = soup poop. “Oh but you get to take a thousand apples home!” So you can eat them in one week before they all go bad? “But you can cook with them!” I don’t want to give myself homework. (I really don’t complain this much in real life.) (Do I?) (Maybe I do.)
But it’s a quintessential fall activity and I’m a sucker so I went. Twice. The first time we went, as I said before, there were a lot of people there and there were a lot of apples there. Remember that for later. We picked apples, we took photos for Instagram, and we took other people’s photos for Instagram, which, as my friend Carolyn said, is the only reason people go apple picking. We sampled wine, beer, cider, brandy, whiskey, and I forget what else.
The second time, it was different.
This past Saturday, me, Grace, Kaitlin, and Carolyn paid a discounted $20 for two half-peck bags (about the size of a lunchbox) because it was being donated to charity. You may notice that we saved $10 (I’m thrifty), and that it was a charity event (I’m caring), and that I went with all women (I’m an idiot).
(Carolyn told me later that what I experienced was called, “a girl hangout”. It’s when you wander around aimlessly and slowly, constantly interrupting each other until it’s time to leave.)
Here’s what happened: I called and asked if they still had apples. The woman on the phone said that they sure did, but that today was going to be the last day they would sell apples. Which has got to make you wonder if they have enough apples. So we’re wandering around the orchard, in search. It’s a wasteland. The trees are barren. They are more empty than our aptly-named half-peck bags. We see a couple with overflowing big peck bags of Golden Delicious. We need their help.
Me: Where did you guys get all those apples?!
They looked at me like I was freaking insane. Because in theory, it was a weird question — we were in what should have been the best place on the planet to find apples. But again: wasteland.
Guy: We picked them.
I understand the concept, Guy. I know what you’re supposed to do. Just give me a directional finger-point. Everywhere we walked was the same. We were so desperate that Kaitlin climbed a tree for one. We shook the trunks and limbs. We jumped into the trees. Each tree had about three apples clinging on to the highest branch, two of those were rotting.
Guy: All around, look.
Me: Yeah we’ve been walking around–
Girl: –We’ve gotten a lot from the ground, we’ve been eating some–
Me: –You’ve gotten all those from the ground? You’re eating them from the ground?
Guy: Yeah, you can eat them.
I know you can eat apples off the ground, but let’s agree: that’s not the preferred method. “We went apple picking! We picked the apples off the ground and put them in a bag!” Now you’re doing a squirrel’s job. There are supposed to be apples here on the damn trees! I called the lady!
The guy had a Russian accent. He also looked like someone who you don’t ask directions from. “Oh we should ask this—never mind. Hunny, RUN!” His head was shaved and his beard had some sharp lines, like a hitman in one of those dangerous movies.
Me: Ok, I just thought there would be more here.
Pause. Guy steps closer to me. Looks around. Looks back at me, concerned and serious.
Guy: Are you fking serious?
I realized that he believed this was a good opportunity to start fighting. I thought, here I am, at a charity event, backed up by my three female friends, about to throw down with a Russian man in an apple orchard. I looked at him as if to say that I was absolutely fking serious, where are all the damn apples?
His girlfriend, who seemed to be used to apologizing for him, touched his arm and said something, and they started walking away.
Later, I told my friend this story and she asked if I was, “being a prick”. I was not. But that guy sure was rotten. Boom. He was a real bad apple. Double boom. He was trying to spoil our afternoon. Boom. He was an unappealing character. Boom. Talk about being thin-skinned. Boom. A real saucy response. Boom. He provided us with a lot of commentary throughout the day; really low-hanging fruit. Boom. I guess we were just two different people — apples and oranges. Boom. Jokes about this guy are ripe for the picking. Boom. If this guy was traveling in a group, and the group was off-putting, and it seemed like he was the one causing that, you might say that one bad apple spoils the bunch. Boom.
Eventually, we found a ton of non-Golden Delicious apples in the back corner the orchard. (If the orchard was a house, we would have found these in the attic.)
I went to the Head of the Charles Regatta in Boston last weekend with 400,000 other friends. We watched what can only be described as NASCAR for rich people. I suppose it could also be described as “too many people in a small area”, “mass confusion”, and “who won and who cares”.
It’s the largest rowing event in the world, and apparently Boston’s biggest event (bigger than the marathon) with competitors that Unreliable-guy-on-the-internet called, “the world’s most physically fit athletes”.
For someone unfamiliar with competitive rowing, it looks like people rowing a boat down a river. For someone familiar with competitive rowing, I have to assume it also looks like people rowing a boat down a river. It’s a craft the size of a pencil and eight massive people sit in it, rowing, while the ninth guy, the coxswain, who is no bigger than a carrot, and who has the easiest job in sports, sits in the back and screams obscenities at the eight. That setup is called the Coxed Eight, and I couldn’t make that up if I tried. Believe me, I tried. The coxswain is responsible, mostly, for steering the boat and confusing people. (I’m not just saying coxswain, OK? I’m not that immature. Coxswain is the word. Rowers call them cox. Probably.)
Because the coxswain is so far away, he or she has to use a microphone while yelling.
Now that you know what one of these crafts looks like, back to Boston!
Spectators lined the banks of the river and cheered for 9-person boats, 4-person boats, 2-person boats, and one-person boats, presumably. I didn’t stick around long enough to see. The boats are called shells, the people in these boats are called rowers, probably. They are called scullers if they are using two oars at the same time, like a normal person. If you’re like me, you can remember this because you sneaked into a movie in the year 2000 called, “Skulls”, with Paul Walker and Joshua Jackson and you remembered that it’s generally about Ivy League guys who are rowers.
ANYHOW, some of the spectators seemed to actually know the rules, which startled me. We were watching this race when people started going nuts: “You’re going out of bounds! You’re going out of bounds!” After I made sure no one was yelling at me, I thought, surely, if there is any sport where you can tell if someone is going out of bounds, it should be rowing. Excuse me, I mean crew.
(WHY WAS J-CREW NOT SPONSORING THE EVENT? *Intern stands up at important J Crew meeting* “It’s so simple! Our name is already in the sport!”)
Joking aside, the sport is amazing and all that nice stuff you’re supposed to say in case someone who is a competitive rower stumbles upon this blog. Watching the boats glide through the water is very pleasing, and thinking about how they aren’t tipping over is fun to do. These athletes are large and their backs are very large. Glad that’s done.
Joking not aside, the people-watching was great. The volunteers were decked out in Brooks Brothers. There was a Brooks Brothers tent that was selling official rowing gear. A sweater with “HOCR” (Head of the Charles Regatta) stitched into the back. There was a Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse tent, selling Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse food. Anderson Windows was there, selling a better quality of life via windows. Mazda was there, and people hated them for it. “You’re for average Americans! Only the elite is allowed! Beat it! Scram!” Untrue.
After trashing this sport, I went on Youtube and looked at videos from the coxswain’s perspective, and 25 minutes later, I’m converted. They cruise! No one knows how fast. Some guy on the internet say 2.5 knots, but he’s an idiot. Another guy said 10-15 mph, and that seems more accurate. Whatever. If I haven’t sold you on rowing, that’s probably a good thing. The boat costs about $40,000, the attire is goofy, watching it is tedious, but at least you know what a coxswain is.
I almost got myself into a 100 mile bike ride back in September. I thought, I haven’t ridden my bike longer than 60 miles, over three days, why not try 100 miles in one day? I contacted the people running the event, asked if they wanted media coverage, which sounds really official, and the guy said, “Let me see if we have any demo bikes available”. And I thought, This oughta be a great trip! The guy said that they didn’t have any more demo bikes, and I thought, That man just saved my life.
My friend Jeff told me a story of running a 25K without training in order to win a bet with his brother. Jeff said that he could do it under 2.5 hours, and he prepared by having some beers the night before. Carb-load. The story goes that he was making great time, on pace to finish ahead of time, and then the last mile came, legs going, arms going, and he collapsed and got trucked off in an ambulance. Turns out he was fine, albeit dehydrated, and ever since I heard that, I’ve been interested in performing extremely grueling tasks with no training or experience.
Wouldn’t that make a great TV show? I would climb a big mountain with no experience, slight significant issue with heights, extreme distrust of ropes, wary of carabiners. I would participate in a triathlon, complete with my hatred of any kind of swimming that can’t be called floating. Complaining to the whole time, miserable, talking about what a mistake the whole thing has been, and could someone please stop this. Oh it would be funny. I would run a marathon without training for it, looking like Chris Legh in that Gatorade commercial when he does that fun dance move 20 seconds in. “My boody jist shut deane with 50 meetas lift.” “It was like watching a train wreck in slow motion…”
Remember the first guy who ran a marathon without training? He died. Legend has it that Pheidippides, the guy who ran from Marathon to Athens, got there just in time to say, “Joy to you, we win!”, and then, good noight. Curtains. (He died.) (As I said above.)
A while ago my friend David asked why I hadn’t been writing as much. I told him, “Not enough bad things have happened to me”. And he said, “That’s a bit masochistic, isn’t it?!”. And once I looked up masochist, and discovered it wasn’t just sex stuff, I thought, yeah I suppose it is a bit masochistic.
[Masochist: a person who is gratified by pain, degradation, etc., that is self-imposed or imposed by others.] [i.e. Runners]
One of the things I’ve thought while writing this, and explaining my masochistic reality TV show, called, What a Mistake This Whole Thing Has Been, is that I want the start and the finish. I don’t want to train for months, I don’t want to put in the leg work, I don’t want to read the instructions, to follow steps one through ten. I want to open the box and go to ten, and then tell people about the mistakes I made by skipping the important stuff.
Maybe I had to quit my job and move back to Massachusetts to figure that out. So now that I understand that, I’m all done! I learned the lesson! I can be done now! All finished!
The last two days I have run 4.2 miles, and I’m really hurting. To be fair, it didn’t take me two days to make the run — I ran 2.1 miles each day. The first day I only stopped three times to “tie my shoe”, and “stop for traffic”, and gasp for air. I’m not a runner.
The last time I ran was in Chicago, 0.7 miles to the gym, and sometimes, if I was “feelin’ it”, I would run the 0.7 miles back. One day last January when it was -30 degrees, I was running back from the gym on snow and ice, desperately trying to breath and probably crying, when a man, who was waddling past me in a parka, yelled, “How many miles?!” It must have looked like I was on mile 25 of 26. “POINT…TWO!”, I shouted back. He gave me the go get em’ fist pump and I ran home before my eyes froze, a champion.
4.2 miles. I am in pain today. It hurt walking up the stairs. My calves feel as though a small human has been striking them with a hammer. My quads, which haven’t been used since 2011, are screaming. My Tibialis anterior muscle wants to actually come out of my leg. My back hurts. My shoulders hurt. “How old is this guy”, you may be thinking. I’m 27, which means that I’m far too young to complain about my body, and it means that someone older than me will always let me know that. “HA! Wait till you’re 104, then you’ll have some real problems!”
In other sports, you get injured and you know it. A broken arm, a cracked rib, a fractured vertebrae, I get it. The running injuries can’t be as bad, can they? [Insert the objections from a hundred runners ohhh you’d be surprised because there’s, well there’s Runner’s Knee, for one…]
Regardless of how painful they are, they all sound horrible.
Except Runner’s Knee. Easily the most uncreatively-named injury that sounds more like a part of a human than an injury, you get runner’s knee when you have pain behind your kneecap. Which actually does sound pretty nasty.
You could have Achilles Tendinitis, or Plantar Fasciitis, both of which sound exactly like what they are: a dictatorship ready to conquer your body.
How about shin splints? In college, people on the cross country team talked more about shin splints than about cross country. Shin splints sound like someone is stabbing wooden stakes into your shins, which is actually what shin splints are. Stress fractures were also really popular to talk about. “I have a stress fracture in my femur.” It’s when you tell the femur that they need to get an A on the next test or else. That was the dumbest joke I’ve ever told, and I’m sorry.
How about Iliotibial band syndrome? (IT band) Just like all these other injuries, it’s serious inflammation, hurting the outside of your knee, and it happens when your IT bands catch on fire. Inflammation—what a strange term for swelling. “I don’t want to scare you, but your hamstrings ARE INFLAMED! GET OUTTA HERE NOW!”
All these injuries don’t have to be in your legs, you can also get a nice pair of side stitches. You know what these are, and I love getting them.
Sweet old lady: I can do a chain stitch, a lock stitch, a straight stitch, and a side stitch.
Me: Side stitch, please!
Sweet old lady: Okey doke! [Stabs me in the side with a needle. Begins stitching.]
I say all this, because now that I’m a serious runner, and now that I’m a part of the running community, I can make fun of runners and their injuries. And yes, I do think that running two days in a row makes me a serious runner. Look out, people on the sidewalk everywhere.
Volkswagen’s stock has dropped 23%, and they have admitted to what 1970’s backroom-accountants with green-plastic visors call, “cooking the books”. Sort of. They found a way to cheat the EPA’s emissions test, so that when their TDI (Turbocharged Diesel Engine) cars are tested, a chip kicks in and, to put it technically, it passes the test.
I probably wouldn’t care so much about this if I hadn’t been burned. Remember Toyota a while ago? It wasn’t so bad—apparently the accelerator would get stuck to the floor and keep accelerating. They had some other problems too, I don’t know, I don’t drive a Toyota. Who cares. Remember when Firestone Tires started catching on fire or turning into stone or whatever horrific thing they were doing? Wasn’t old enough to drive, didn’t care.
I purchased a new TDI Golf two years ago, so I find myself caring about this one. I bought the car based on a few things that now are under question: fuel mileage, longevity, resale value, and it was supposed to be good for the environment — better than those unleaded gas cars that most of you neanderthals drive around. Before I bought the car, I wrote a letter to Volkswagen asking them for a new car, specifically, a new TDI because I was going to tell my friends about it and be a grassroots marketer and all that, and they said no. I should have known then that something was terribly wrong.
There are certain consumer tribes that are so excited about their product, and identify so much with it, that they don’t need any incentives to purchase or promote. Like people who shop exclusively at Whole Foods, or people who only buy vinyl records, or people who eat cottage cheese. This emissions thing, for those of you who don’t understand, would be like Whole Foods saying, “Oh for the past seven years we’ve been giving you Chicken with growth hormones. Totally our bad. We put a computer chip in the chicken so it would pass the test.” What I’m saying is, VW pissed off the wrong tribe. Someone should write about this.
I bought the car, like a sucker, and I’ve been preaching the gospel of diesel to anyone who rides in it, like a sucker. Anytime someone sat in the car: “…And you know what, it’s a diesel. Which means not only do I get great mileage—” “—Bart, if you tell me about your car’s mileage one more time…”
I found out that I was led astray. I was fed lies masquerading as facts in professional marketing booklets and on real signs and official websites and legitimate forums. I believed them because that’s what you do when someone tells you something with supporting statistics. I’m not going to double check their work—that’s someone else’s job. (I mean, I would, it’s just that I don’t have the time—I’m the kind of guy who if you gave me a wrench and a team of mechanics, I can fix anything.)
Volkswagen has a loyal following, and my family is part of that: both of my brothers own Volkswagen GTI’s—the TDI Golf’s sporty relative. When I bought the car, they gave me a VW hat and a VW bucket and I loved them for it. I was now a VW Golf guy, which meant that I became cooler than people who drive Saabs, but less cool than people who drive old Toyota Land Cruisers. It also meant that I became a liar. I’ve been telling lies that I believed were true. I don’t want to be over-dramatic, but as I sit here, weeping into my computer, I can’t help but think about everyone who bought a “Clean Diesel”.
I used to start up my Golf and feel pretty good about myself. I’m doing my part in taking care of the world, and I’m having fun doing it! My car has the word “clean” right in the title! TDI users were told that they were being, on average, 18% more friendly to the environment than gasoline-using friends. We get to park in alternative fuel spots because we’re doing less damage.
The emissions test found that these engines can emit 40 times the legal limit. And if you’re like me, you know that 40 multiplied by anything is important. I’ve looked at some graphs, and I’ve concluded that the Nitrogen Oxide is the real problem, and if I only had my tools, and my team of mechanics, we could sort this out.
It’s funny when you think you’re helping and you’re not. It’s funny when you get a little smug about it, and you look down on other people, and say, “if everyone did what I did, we’d be in a much better spot!”. Well thank goodness everyone doesn’t do what I do, or what I say.
If Volkswagen found a way to cheat, so did other companies. Maybe it looks different, maybe it’s smaller, maybe it’s more undetectable, but if people at the top know that they are lying, they are building on a trembling foundation. Perhaps other companies taking shortcuts which is called lying, will learn from this and change. Maybe they’ll focus on making a good product, doing a good job, and telling the truth. Maybe they won’t.
“Everything that grows begins small…”
My last night at Floyd’s we talked about a Chinese woman who got caught in an escalator, not in a funny way. (She died.) Then, to lighten the mood, we talked about Japanese game shows. We saw a video of a guy sleeping in bed. The bed was attached to a slingshot. The slingshot was connected to two massive cranes. The man woke up when he was being rocketed through the roof of his house, into the air, with fireworks shooting from his bed frame. Then we saw a video of people walking into an elevator, the elevator floor dropping out, and the people falling to what they think is their death, but wait! It’s just a pitch black slide! LOL! They’re fine. They’re all fine. Of course they can’t go in elevators anymore, and that guy hasn’t slept in four years since the bed-launch, but it’s fine.
We thought a clever idea would be to have this happen on the 90th floor of a building. The elevator floor drops out, they slide down about two floors, then they realize it’s a prank and they are safe. Then they go to walk up the stairs next to the slide, and they say something like. “Oh they really got me.” They’re brushing away tears as they say, “I thought for SUREEEEEEeeeee”—and the stairs open up and they fall through again! And when they go to get up from that slide, they walk to the elevator, and because surely this can’t happen three times in a row, they go into the elevator. The floor opens, and they fall into darkness, until they hit water. It’s a swimming pool! YAY! And then they go to swim out and the water drains and they get sucked down the drain! But it’s just a water slide! But then the slide opens up and they keep falling! In between body-rattling sobs, they would say, “P-P-Please s-s-stop! Please I can’t do this…please let me out!” And then someone with an official “staff” t-shirt comes over, gives them a blanket, opens a door for them, and pushes them out of an open window into a foam pit.
* * *
I’ve been finding things to distract me. Something to distract me from leaving my friends in Chicago, something to distract me from moving, writing, applying, thinking. Back in June I resolved to either get a job in Chicago by the end of August, or move back to Massachusetts. To steal an analogy from my friend, Chicago felt like the girl who you realize you’re not going to marry, but boy is it hard to break up. I could have given a lot more notice to people in my life about where I was going and what I was doing, but that makes everything more final. I started writing this back before I left, and here I am, in Lexington Center, looking at the leaves turning.
“I feel thin, sort of stretched, like butter scraped over too much bread…” — Bilbo Baggins. Maybe I’ll move again, maybe not. I know that I’m tired of building friendships and learning a city and leaving. I left Massachusetts nine years ago to go to Australia. I spent the next six years in Michigan. The next two in Chicago. I talked to a man who lives in Chicago and Indonesia — both for six months at a time. He said that it’s hard to make friends in your fifties. He said that, because I’m young, I’ll have no problem making friends.
“Any luck with the job search?”, he asked. I told him about my most recent decision to start working for the Boston Globe. Name it and claim it. I then told him about my other decision to work at a brewery in New Hampshire. “Do you like adventure?”, he asked. “Yes”, I said.
He told me that I should go overseas and teach English in Asia. I’ll make good money and, “who knows, maybe find a bride!”. I went home and researched teaching in Asia, and started filling out an application, because I was going to do that. The next day I said, what the hell am I doing.
Then I met a woman who was an assistant for someone you know in Hollywood, and she told me that she could connect me to people in LA if I wanted to work out there for a while. That’s it. The rest of the day I thought about what my new life in LA would look like.
I remember being eleven and wondering what I would look like when I was eighteen or twenty, what I’d be doing, where I’d be living. I remember thinking, I’ll have it figured out. I remember being here not too long ago. Stopped at a four-way intersection, sprinting one direction, stopping, turning, running, stopping, turning, jogging, stopping, turning, walking.
My sister showed me this quote, “Everything that grows begins small, it is by constant and progressive feeding that it gradually grows big.” No one seems to know who said it, but it’s a great reminder to take slow, even steps. I did some hiking this summer, and I kept thinking about our guide in Nicaragua who was about 50 years old, and never grew tired. He wasn’t fast, but he was consistent. He marched at the same pace — whether it was up steep inclines or on level ground, he went the same speed, one foot, then the other, steady. I tried to match his pace, but I didn’t have the patience for his slower speed on the level ground, and I didn’t have the legs or lungs to keep up on the steep inclines.
Takes practice to be steady on the level ground, and to keep moving through the steep sections.
We drove to Glacier National Park, just under three hours North of Missoula. Once inside, we took the only road that runs through the park: “Going to the Sun Road”. We didn’t go to the visitor center because that’s for chumps. We spent the next two hours lamenting not going to the visitor center.
We ended up here:
Then we stopped to go hiking here:
From my last trip to Montana, I know how to deal with bears: you take bear repellent. It’s so simple! We didn’t take any. We didn’t have a bear bell, either. These are bells that you wear so that you don’t surprise bears. It’s like a dinner bell that rings when you walk, it’s really great. For the bear. Upon reading some boards, we learned bear bells don’t work as well as yelling every 90 seconds or so. And when you tell my family that we are to yell every 90 seconds or so, we will yell every 90 seconds.
“It’s so nice to get out into nature and finally leave the people and trappings of—” “—YEEEEOW!”
“The trappings of—” “CHEP CHEP CHEEOWWW!!!”
“The trappings of—” “EEEEEEEEHAP!”I was in front when I came to this beautiful little pool overlooking the result of a forest fire. It was also overlooking a naked dude with long gray hair. I stopped short, turned around and started walking the other way. My sister-in-law, Sarah, ever aware of bears, turned and immediately started cruising back down the hill. “Is it a bear? Is it a bear?” “It’s a naked man.” Which can be a bear, I think. Yep, I looked it up on Urban Dictionary: gay men will call a large hairy man a bear. This guy wasn’t that large or hairy, though. So the guy eventually covers up, and we walk past him, and my dad says, “Guy has done a lot of acid in his day. That was a big thing in the 60’s. Some people couldn’t stop doing it. His brain is fried.” Shortly after this, we turned around and walked back. Past the naked dude (who was naked again), past the “careful for bears” signs, and we get back into the car. We drove the Going to the Sun Road, which takes you high in mountains, and is actually terrifying if you have any issue with heights. And if the person driving keeps looking over the edge at the mountains in the distance. It’s a massive drop to the bottom, but thankfully there’s a knee-high stone wall guarding you.
I couldn’t decide on one caption. So here we go.
“We stick to the code!” “What’s the code?” “Those who fall behind…are left behind!”
“I am gonna make it through this year, if it kills me!”
There’s a trail that runs for 46 miles, snaking through the Bitterroot Mountains separating Idaho and Montana. The Milwaukee Railroad used to run the same route operating from Chicago to Washington. Now, the tracks have been ripped up and in their place is a smooth 14-mile dirt trail for hikers and mountain-bikers. There’s placards with bits of fascinating rail history on them — information about the rise, expansion, and eventual fall of the Milwaukee Railroad Company. The bridges are still standing, and you can look down into deep gullies and imagine the horror of falling off, or you can think about nice things instead.
The trail takes you through tunnels that the train ran through, pitch black and 30 degrees colder than outside. Each bicycle requires a light for this reason, and it’s for this reason that turning your light off is not a good idea. You can’t see your hand in front of your face if you turn off your light. You almost hit the little kid in front of you if you turn off your light. I wouldn’t know from experience. You can feel drips of water coming through the concrete and rock, and you feel your tires flicking the water up your back.
In those tunnels, you have an idea that you’re going the right way because you’re moving forward. It’s uncomfortable and obscured by darkness. It’s ominous and vast, overwhelming. You see only as far as your small light shines, just enough to make the next decision in direction. You know that the end of the tunnel is there because people keep telling you it’s there, but when you’re riding down there, you lose track of distance. When you’re in the darkness and cold, 1.7 miles starts to feel a lot longer than you remembered. It’s not until you come out of it that you say, “what an experience”, or “that wasn’t so bad”.
Along the trail, mile markers are still standing to let you know how far you are from Chicago. “1751.” 1751 miles East, and you’re there. I’m moving away from Chicago on Wednesday, headed back to Massachusetts. Another thousand miles East, another city change, another tunnel.
Missoula Montana houses one of the largest Smokejumping bases in the United States. The base isn’t that big, probably because there aren’t many Smokejumpers. About 65 of these maniacs around the country have earned the title, and their job is to jump from an airplane into forest fires. (Not quite into — more around.) It’s still nuts.
At the base, there’s a visitor’s center with a tour that Yelp says is pretty dang good, so we checked it out. The tour-leader was a woman whose husband is a Smokejumper, and she gave us the general premise:
These people parachute down to the earth and try to keep these wildfires under control by digging ditches and cutting down trees, etc. She told us about a retired Smokejumper who hangs around the Missoula base telling a story about how his parachute didn’t open, and his reserve parachute didn’t open, and he nailed the ground like a dart hitting a dartboard, rolled down the mountain exactly the way a dart wouldn’t, suffered a broken ankle, and when his teammates found him, he was sitting on a log smoking a cigarette, and he said, “What took you guys so long?”. So he’s there, presumably, to scare the poop from the recruits with his worst-nightmare real-life story. You come out of the program looking something like this:
Also, judging by Google images, there are some romance novels with steamy Smokejumper guys. Except, why would they jump into a fire with no shirts on? Who’s to say.
To become a Smokejumper, you need at least two years of firefighting experience, you need to be above 120lbs and below 200lbs, and you need to be clinically insane.
Smokejumping is much more sophisticated than it was 60 years ago. The jumpers used to wear jeans and flannel shirts and I imagine that they hated themselves. Now, jumpers wear hockey pads that they sew into flame-retardant suits. They sew all their gear themselves — turns out they are pretty good at it. They have big rooms with sewing machines where the men will work in what they call “the sweat shop” in the winter. They wear helmets with cages so they don’t get hit in the face with tree branches, and they have rope in case they are caught in trees on their dissent. They have about 120lbs of equipment on their person when they reach the ground, including the parachute. Everything they bring to the fire has to be carried down the mountain.
One of the most terrifying pieces of equipment is a body-tent. It looks like a small aluminum foil tent, and it’s used as a last resort. (I think it’s funny to talk about a shelter as a last resort. Like it’s a resort getaway. Like Sandals…I know, I’m mad at me too.) If the fire is surrounding you, crawl into the tent, zip it up, and wait for the fire to pass. I can’t imagine waiting it out in that tiny thing, wondering if you’ll be okay or if you’ll be cooked like a burrito in a camp fire, or if you’ll come out of it safe and sound surrounded by a freaking forest fire.
My cousin is a forester, and he works around forest fires when he’s needed. He’s a boss. He got called to the fire a few days before his wedding, and he told me that it had spread to the modest size of 43,000 acres. When so much of the Northwest is lit up in fires, the smoke settles in the mountains, creating a haze that is difficult to see through. It smells like smoke and at times you can see falling ash.
It creates a surreal, apocalyptic environment. At times it felt like we were in Cormac Mccarthy’s book, The Road. If you haven’t read that book, then just be content with how I described things earlier.
On the East Coast and in the Midwest, we get road closures due to accidents and snow. In the Northwest, long sections of highways are closed because of forest fires.
“I’ve had four hip surgeries, a broken femur, surgeries on my knees, shoulder problems, and I broke my finger so badly that I can do this…”
The twelve year-old boy sitting next to me grabbed his finger and started to show me how it would turn it in all the wrong directions.
“Ohhhh don’t do that.”
“Yeah, it’s not doing it right now.”
His crazy finger wasn’t doing the trick he taught it. He liked playing basketball, snowboarding, and breaking his bones.
We were on a ferry coming back from Monhegan Island in Maine. It was cold on the water — I was wearing pants, shirt, long-sleeve shirt, sweatshirt, jacket, hat, parka. This kid was wearing shorts and a sweatshirt.
“One thing too, is that my feet are very big.” I had noticed this kid’s giant feet.
“These shoes are way too small.” If we sank, we could have used his shoes as life boats.
“My toes are cramped.”
He wasn’t irritating. He was a sweet kid, too fearless to be aware of his own mortality, too insouciant to worry about talking to a stranger. I was genuinely interested in what he was saying. When I asked if his parents were both tall, he said that he was adopted, and he rattled off his biological parent’s heights.
“You just keep on going after all these injuries huh?”
“Yep. I love snowboarding.”
“You’re crazy, man.”
“I’m a Mainer.
Mainers are tough, apparently. That’s the New England mentality — little emotion showed, little pain felt. Don’t get too excited, don’t get too upset. His identity was Maine. Kid might never leave, and who could fault him.
I remember that: being fearless. In the winter, I remember flying down the New England mountains on skis. I didn’t know what “carving” was, and I didn’t know how to “turn” or “slow down”. I would rocket down the mountain, get annihilated by a sudden drop or unseen patch of ice, yard-sale, laugh like a maniac, collect my gear, and then repeat those steps for the rest of the day.
I remember Maine and New England. I miss the ocean, the sea breeze, the smells, the way the salt coats your skin. I miss seeing other people eat lobster (because I can’t be bothered to do all that work). One night at the Marshall Point Lighthouse, James and I talked about growing up in New England, identity, and being proud to come from the same stock as these rugged people who mirrored the rugged landscape.
I watched the lobster boats in the morning, saw the men pulling one pot, then another, and I did that thing that people who aren’t used to manual labor do: romanticised their work. I would love to do that. I’d love to wake up at 4AM or whenever they wake up. Do a hard-day’s work, come home to my coastal house, chop wood, build something. I wonder if they have an internship program. Lobstermen internship? Probably not. I probably wouldn’t like doing it for very long. I bet it would start to get to me. I bet everything gets tiring after a while.
Go to Maine if you get the chance.
I wrote this. It’s historical fiction about the worst alcohol anyone has ever consumed.
It’s easy to romanticize traveling. When you post pictures of the best views, the most gorgeous sunsets, and other superlatives, you can forget the long train rides. You can forget the people who literally and figuratively drove you to drink. You can forget sleeping in airports. You can forget the desperate need for a bathroom, finding that bathroom, and then having to pay .70 Euros for it, realizing you have a 1 Euro coin and that they don’t give you change, being too cheap to use that bathroom, and then going into Starbucks where the bathroom is locked to the public, and then running back to that same freaking bathroom and paying a Euro. Actually maybe you can’t forget about these things.
“Some people just aren’t cut out for life on the road”
I’m sure you can relate: the first night in my own bed was a very special thing.
There’s a guy pointing to my hat and his forehead, clearly trying to get my attention.
We’re in MuseumsQuartier in Vienna, walking through statues and between buildings. It’s grey outside, but it’s our last stop on the trip so grey feels fine. In the last 29 days, it has rained two times while we’ve been awake — the first day we were in Dublin, the second was Vienna. (If you go to Dublin and it doesn’t rain at all, you’re in the wrong Dublin. You’re in Dublin, Ohio.)
This guy is walking towards us, indicating my forehead now. I’m wearing a Ford hat and I think he likes Fords. We stop, he comes over and says, “I can tell—I can tell by your [touches his forehead] head—you have very good sign.” He doesn’t care about Fords. He’s wearing a pin that says “something something fortune teller”.
“Oh ok, thanks.” We turn to walk away.
“Wait! I can tell, you’re going to have great fortune, great things will happen this next month…”
“Hey how about that?!”
“Yes, good things. …But–”
“–Okay, thanks bye!”
We turn and walk away before he could say what terrible thing I should be worried about.
Our tour guide was a sweet woman, early fifties, who led us and an ever-decreasing group of forty people from our hostel. She would stop the group every 9 steps or so to speak for 45 minutes about Vienna’s history. She made a habit of stopping right next to construction crews, trains, generators — really anything that would make listening to her impossible. So here’s what I gathered.
Hitler was really into painting, and he tried to get into the Vienna Academy of Fine Arts. He was rejected, and became Hitler.
“Hitler said: ‘if I can’t do art, something else will come up'” — Tour guide.
I think I like art, mom. Or genocide or world domination. I can’t make up my mind!
We took the overnight train and some wine from Venice to Munich. We were in a second class car with a couple from the Netherlands, so after a few pleasantries and some wine, they cuddled up on one seat, Henry took the other, and I slipped into my sleeping bag liner and threw myself out the window because I had HAD IT WITH THIS TRIP! Just kidding. I laid down on the floor and put my hood on. The rumors are true: the floor of a train is pretty nasty. Also, other rumors were confirmed: Germans don’t believe in air conditioning.
I know. I know. I know. I know. I know. I know. I know.
I believe in air conditioning so much. The German theory is that it’s not good for your body to experience that drastic temperature change…so…one has to wonder about winter. And heat. I didn’t ask.
(We stayed in a hostel with three Germans in Rome, and one of them swore that the AC made her sick. This was very disappointing for us, as our room was the temperature of fire. So, needless to say (which actually means that you need to say it), the train to Munich didn’t have air conditioning. This was our only complaint about Germany. Everything else was great.)
One of our German friends from the Rome hostel came to visit us in Munich, which was fantastic. It wasn’t a short trip for her, but she did it, and we had a blast. It’s so nice to have someone show you around who speaks the language and knows where she’s going. Having said that, the Germans in Munich are very nice, and speak English better than any other non-English-speaking country we went to.
Things we liked about Munich: English Garden, Biergartens, Bier, sausage, cheese, extremely attractive German women, bread, pretzels, outdoor markets, etc.
Shout out to Andrew Knott (AKA Rick Steves) for writing up instructions on what to do.
We were walking on a path much like this one, when a guy came up behind us. He was trucking along, hauling a big cart behind him, and he started hissing at us to move.
“TSSST, TSST, TSSSST!”
Sensing the urgency, we hopped out of his way. For all we knew, this was a real Venetian emergency. He flew past us and came to a screeching halt upon seeing a cat in the doorway. He dropped his cart, knelt next to the cat, and started sweet-talking it, whispering sweet somethings in Italian.
Who arrived, saw the cliffs with treacherous sharp rocks at the bottom, and said, “Let’s farm”? Apparently not many people, because a lot of em’ left. And then came back in the 70’s when Rick Steve’s started travel-blogging. Now everyone who watches PBS, and their brother, enjoys Cinque Terre.
Imagine that same walk, except completely vertical. That’s the walk that Henry and I took to our hostel.
Hostel people: We’re only a three minute walk from the train!
Us: Wow, this place was really easy to get t—
Hostel people: Here’s the key. Take a left, walk up this cliff-face, scale that wall, hold on to these ropes, by the time you arrive next Tuesday, we’ll be ready for you to check out.”
He couldn’t care less what he’s supposed to be interested in — he’s interested in water. The boat is the cool part of the trip for him. “Billy, what was your favorite part of your trip to ITALY???” “The boat!” “Dammit Carl, we could have saved $1500 and done that in NEW HAMPSHIRE!”
No matter how many things we saw on this trip, we knew that we’d come home and people would say, “did you see _____?!” Because they saw _____ and loved it. And when we say, “You know, we probably did because we walked 900 miles, but I can’t say for sure.” They say, “okay.” And when we say “yes”, they say, “So cool, right?” And when we say “Nope, we missed it.” They say, “How could you miss it?!”
We didn’t miss it. We saw what we wanted to see.
We went to Florence not knowing much about Florence. I’ll put up some pictures of Florence, but the coolest thing I remember is the dinner we had.
We arrived at our hostel around 6pm one night, set our bags down, and started walking around the city. We didn’t make it into the heart of Florence, we skirted around it to stay fairly close to our place in order to find food. Near the end of the walk, we found a place across from the Nelson Mandela Forum packed with people sitting and eating outside. We followed our “this place has a lot of people in it, so it must be good” instincts, and we asked for a menu.
The guy barely spoke English, and he indicated that there was no menu, but we could sit down and he would bring us food. Jackpot. This is what we had been looking for: a place where they don’t care what you want. They’re making one dish that night, and that’s what you’re going to get. We had a Spritz, which is Prosecco, Aperol, and a little soda water over ice with a orange wedge. (My sister-in-law Sarah makes a great one. Sarah, if you’re reading this, you make a great Spritz. Don’t stop making them.)
The server brought out the drinks, and soon after brought out two bills for 12 Euros. AH CRAP! Did we just get a 12 Euro drink?! I knew this was a bad idea! We should have found out for sure how much this was, we should have learned Italian before this trip, we should have researched everything—Then he brought out bread that tasted at least two days old. AH CRAP! I knew this was a bad idea! Why did we just follow the herd?! What are we even doing here!!!—Then he brought out two huge plates of amazing food. Lightly fried bread balls, melon and prosciutto, salad, some phenomenal potato thing, fresh Mozzarella, and other stuff I couldn’t remember.
It was so good. If it’s going to be expensive, at least it’s worth it. When we finished that dish, he brought out pasta and served us that. Then we asked the people sitting next to us if it was finito, and the ITALIAN GUY SAID, “I DON’T KNOW, I’VE NEVER BEEN HERE BEFORE”. Jackpot. Then later the server brought out more pasta and served us that. Then later an old Italian woman brought out more pasta and served us that. I think if we had waited for more, more pasta would have come.
When we asked the server if we could get the check, he pointed to the 12 Euro receipts on the table and said it’s right there. Then both of our heads exploded and we went and had gelato.
If you’ve been to Rome, you’ve probably seen the Colosseum, Pantheon, Roman Forum, and countless other old things. Which are truly amazing. You’ve probably eaten pasta and pizza, which are truly amazing. Maybe, though, you haven’t seen a magician named Guarda.
We met up with my friend Brendan from high school, who has been living in Rome for seven years. He tooks us to an area of Rome called Trastevere, where we ate homemade pasta. Then we went to an Italian craft beer spot that was overflowing with people watching Barcelona vs Juventus, then to a piazza where we sat. There are steps that people sit on and drink beer and talk and sometimes, if you’re lucky, a magician named Guarda makes an appearance. Brendan explained earlier, “he’s the best worst magician you’ve ever seen”, and boy was he right. Guarda means “watch”, or “look” in Italian, and it was literally the only thing that this man said.
We were the lucky ones that night. Guarda walked up, and started taking things out of his bag.
“Guardaaa” (Completely monotone.)
He pulled out a card and turned it into an old cell phone. People cheered.
He pulled out a rubber rabbit and showed it to people, then he put it back down. Not as many cheers.
He started making a big show out of coughing something up, and then he pulled string out of his mouth for a long time.
He did all of these tricks completely void of any emotion. No matter the trick, his face was stoic. The coughing-up-string trick was him with a straight face bending over multiple times.
His finale was holding onto his hair.
He tugged at it. No emotion.
He tugged it again. No emotion.
Then in a feat of emotionlessness, he pulled off his wig and we loved him for it.
Later, Brendan took us to an area where locals go, and I forget the name, but maybe he’ll remember.
Here’s how Tuesday goes:
We go to the beach with great people, and we hang out for a few hours. This is a beach in Spain, where tops are not necessarily mandatory. So I was shirtless the whole time and it felt amazing. There were also women there who were topless, and I’ll tell you what, to say that boobs are ruined for me would be going too far. But to say that I saw a 75 year-old woman with one boob hanging out of her bathing suit, walking around like she owned Barcelona, would not be going to far. Because I saw that. And so did my friend AP from Montreal. She was in the beach bathroom while another woman tried to tell the boob-out woman that her boob was out. She tried and tried, and settled on pointing at her own boob and yelling, “LA TETA! LA TETA!”
Anyway, the beaches in Spain are not like those in the US. (On account of the boobs.) There’s something about seeing boobs just out there that makes them less amazing. Admittedly, this is weird for me to write about. I saw a woman put her top back on, and I thought, Wow! I know what’s under there. I saw a woman who had been sitting near us on the beach, sans top, clothed next to us at a beach restaurant later. Just be cool about it, man. This is Europe. Gotta be cool. “I ah…know WHAT YOUR BOOBS look like! HA!” .
Also, I feel like I need to say that I wasn’t out there with binoculars scanning the beach and taking photos and all that. (I was using my collapsible telescope. It’s much more discreet.) This is just stuff that happens around you.
I left the beach feeling like boobs are just a body part and butts things that everyone has. Everybody poops.
We went out that night.
(Before we go any further, I need to give you a short aside: I hate Heineken beer. I don’t know why, I don’t know when this started, but I really, really hate the way it tastes. I think it’s overpriced, and it’s pretending to be classy. I vowed to never buy it again a long time ago, and I’ve stuck to my guns. Back to the story.)
We had heard stories about Barcelona — you don’t go to bed until 7AM here. You sleep all day and party all night and it’s supposed to be a real blast. Naturally we had to learn what everyone was talking about it, so we went with a big group from the hostel (about 35 people), and grabbed a ton of different taxis. I should have known where the night was leading when the dude who was taking us (cool guy named Robin) said, “Ok, here’s the first taxi — who is going?!” There was a pause, and I said, well, if no one else is going, and I walked up to the cab. An American girl (American girls in big tourist/travel groups are terrible people) said, “Hey! Um, actually I think we were in front of you.” “Not anymore, beat it, scram, get outta here!” And then what I really said was, “OKKkkkkkkk”. We taxied all the way to a club called Opium. (Of course it’s named Opium.)
Opium wasn’t bumpin’ enough, so we went to another club called Shoko. There are about six clubs in a row, and they are all underground. You enter through a small cube-building, and then go down the stairs where you are greeted by loud music, and the most terrible people you’ve ever met.
Henry described it best: it was like a business transaction. People weren’t there to have fun — guys were there to bring girls home, girls were there to be approached by guys and to say no to them but then to say yes to them around 5AM. The guys were not dancing. Not smiling. Not enjoying themselves. They were here on business.
We danced, I did my crab move, and one girl laughed. Big mistake, one girl. I went over to her a little later, and started talking to her friend. Big mistake, me. We talked the night away for about 3 seconds.
This is what we screamed at each other.
Me: WHERE ARE YOU FROM?
Her: Liverpool, England.
Me: THE STATES.
Moved away from her, started dancing again. Small amount of time passes — maybe a song-length. They still haven’t moved away from us, which I take as a great sign to keep talking. I’m anti buying-random-girls-drinks. I’ve done it twice in my life and regretted it immediately upon seeing the bill. But you’re only in Barcelona once a year.
Me: Hey, can I buy you a beer?
Her: OK sure
Something must have been lost in translation in our vastly different cultures, because in the US, that means, “come get a beer with me.” In the UK, it must mean, “will you allow me the privilege and the honour of fetching you a beer, like a dog?” She allowed me. I walked to the bar, and she stayed with her friend.
Me (screaming at bartender): WHAT BEER DO YOU HAVE?
Me: WHAT ELSE DO YOU HAVE?
Bartender: [shakes head]
Me: THREE HEINEKENS. (I got one for Henry.)
Bartender: 21 Euros
Me: I LOVE MY LIFE!
When I Golden Retrieved the beer for her, she took it and we talked for about 15 more seconds and then I said, “the beer is seven Euros”.
That’s not true, but I sure wish I had said that. (I should say the next time at a different place was a lot more fun.)
LATER THAT NIGHT
We took a taxi back to the hostel, where a new guy had arrived in our room. I started clearing my bed of clothes and gear, and I had built enough trust with my fellow roommates to leave my $160 laptop on my bed. That laptop was now missing. I started doing a light panic, where I rechecked my bags and locker to make sure that I hadn’t put it somewhere by mistake. I turned on my flashlight and started searching around the room, under the bed, between sheets, until my flashlight made it to the new guy.
He was sitting on his bed, working away on his computer. I shined the light on him for a second, and I realized that he was working away on my computer. It was resting in his lap, like this was something normal that normal people do.
“Ohh… and that’s my laptop.”
He didn’t even look up. I walked over to him and said, “That’s mine.” And he said, “I don’t speak English”. You know, because if you don’t speak English, it’s ok to take other people’s laptops and fart around on them for two hours without asking permission.
I said, “Ok, give it back.” Remember this is happening at about 3AM. At this point he had jumped out of bed and was standing next to me, holding the laptop. He was passing it to me, and then he pulled it back quickly, and deleted my name from the facebook login, and the password that he had apparently tried to figure out. I finally took it back, and looked through to make sure he hadn’t done any damage. Henry was in this guy’s face, saying things to him that made me think that somebody was going to wake up dead the next morning.
After an uncomfortable night’s sleep, I woke up and checked the internet history.
2:14AM: Facebook Privacy settings and tools
2:15AM: Facebook Privacy Basics
3:11AM: Welcome to Facebook – Log in, Sign up or…
3:25AM: Google contacts (redirecting)
3:25AM: Gmail search.
I clicked on this one because I thought this dude was trying to get my information from gmail. I was sure he was trying to steal account info or really important and revealing emails from 2005. He had searched for his own name in my gmail. [guy’s name].
3:30AM: Facebook in Spanish
3:35AM: Tus notificaciones
3:42AM: Bart Tocci facebook
I changed all my passwords.