Monday, March 31, 2014

pieces of work

The summer after I graduated from college I worked as a rental agent at a brokerage that catered to the mostly young, mostly motivated subsection of the populace that wanted to live in Beacon Hill, generally due to its proximity to downtown.  I typically woke up five or ten minutes before my first appointment, threw on some clothes, tucked in my shirt, and sprinted down the street to my office, in order to earn enough money to pay my rent, pay back a loan from my dad, and pay for my plane ticket to Japan.  It was the second best summer of my adult life, which meant it was ranked two out of four.  (I didn't know it then, but after college, summer basically stops mattering.  It follows then that that particular summer is still probably the second best summer of my life.  The first, incidentally, was also spent as a rental agent, a vocation which was also abandoned, along with summers, once I graduated.)

I spent most of my free time that summer hanging out with my best friend from college, who was recently my roommate, and my girlfriend, who was recent in general.  As a rental agent, I could make my own hours, and I soon fell prey to that common affliction, dawdling, which every independent contractor knows all too well.  I forsook my work in favor of late night crosswords in the girlfriend's air-conditioned pad, canoe trips, all-expense paid trips to the Virgin Islands courtesy of my girlfriend's rich parents, and a 4th of July Party with my roommate on the rooftop of our (non air-conditioned) Comm Ave apartment.  As a result, by the end of the summer I had only saved about 40% of the funds recommended by my Japanese language school for starting out in Japan.  This paltry amount, approximately $800, was supposed to last me the six weeks before my first paycheck from my full time job arrived in my UFJ bank account.

The bitter pill that every long-term expat has to swallow sooner than later is the realization that life abroad, when you are fresh-faced and few in fine threads, is lived much more frugally than the study-abroad in college which most likely was your first medium-term stay in another country.  For someone who began his expat adventure with such a shortage of funds, this realization kicks in rather quickly, especially when living in the city ranked "2nd Most Expensive in the World" at that time. After a few days of modest indulgences - ordering the extra egg in my ramen, buying iced coffee from the vending machine, etc. - I stared at the six or seven remaining 10,000 yen bills (about $100 each) like a gambler with too much in the pot contemplating a questionable hand.  As they say in Japanese, my situation was "dame".  In other words, it was a bad scene.

When my dad called in the debt payment I had failed to make over the summer, I became aware that the situation was more like "arubaito ga nai to hontou ni dame" (If I didn't pick up a part time job, it was a seriously bad scene).  Fortunately, one of two things happened: either the universe sensed what I needed and provided, or I picked myself up by my laceless Japanese boot straps and provided for myself.  (Feel free to choose whichever version suits your political worldview. I'm ambivalent... and a Green either way).

Considering the circumstances of how I found my first part time job in Japan, I'm of the opinion that it was a combination of universe and hard work.  A few days after I decided to look for additional work, while waiting in line to order a 100-yen teriyaki burger at McDonalds (a strategy I had learned from my frugal days in Boston, sans teriyaki) I happened to meet a woman with an elementary school aged daughter in need of an English teacher.  That part could only have been the universe in action.  On the other hand, agreeing to commute thirty minutes each way to her home every Tuesday night for a one-hour lesson that paid 2,800 yen (about $30) was most certainly propelled by my bootstraps.

With extra money coming in, I was free to engage in that most established, customary, practically sanctified tradition among English teachers living in Japan: going on dates disguised as language exchange sessions.  For me, these sessions consisted largely of sputtering over two or three Japanese words with a very patient woman who inevitably spoke nearly fluent English, before switching back to my native language so I could try to seduce her with more than the Japanese names for the three food items she had just taught me (and that I likely had already forgotten).

Let's not go into the outcome of those dates.  Let's just say that fortunately for the appetite that I was succesful in sating, the menu had pictures.  More fortunately, I knew a hip spot near the Dotonbori river in the center of town where every item was 280 yen, inclusive of tax and tip, which meant I could pay for exactly ten items with my Tuesday night earnings.  If the "language exchange session" was going well, the majority of those items would hopefully be beer, the Japanese word for which I knew very well.

When I got a call from my mom letting me know the credit card bill was coming in, I took on a second student, and then a third.  My first student, the single-mom entrepreneur I had met at McDonalds, kept me on for about three months.  Eventually I think that her drive, from the train station to an unfinished apartment in a nice part of town she maintained for her daughter's school district eligibility and apparently also for english lessons, was probably too much for her.  The second, a die-hard Elvis fan who showed up to every lesson with cowboy boots, a plad shirt and his hair slicked back like the king, stuck around for about a month before telling me he needed a teacher with Saturday off, which was a luxury a first-year teacher at my school could only dream of.

The third was a delightful woman who attended a Shakespeare course at Oxford every summer and who was perfectly satisfied to talk about Hamlet for an hour every week (Romeo and Juliet and Othello, the other Shakespeare plays with which I was familiar enough to discuss, were of no interest to her).  We would sit in a coffee shop, sipping slowly at small, rapidly-cooling cups of coffee, while I would bullshit about "the play" in the way only English majors can, and she would listen with absolute delight, nodding eagerly and occasionally offering her insights.  She engaged me as a tutor through the winter and into the spring, until the day that I cancelled our lesson due to my hangover.  The next week, after we had compared notes on the young prince for the umpteenth time, she handed me an envelope containing a two week bonus, and politely informed me that our lessons were over.  Being the 23-year-old idiot that I was, it didn't even occur to me that my poor excuse for missing our lesson the week before was the cause.  Being Japanese, she never would have mentioned it.

It's possible that this last envelope was once again the universe stepping in, or perhaps stepping back, since it brought me to exactly to my savings goal. You see, for several months, I had been stuffing a sock drawer with bills (the good kind) earned from my part time jobs, including a stint as a cram-school instructor I had taken up to fill my Tuesday night vacancy.  After being fired by my third student, I had just about $500 in said sock drawer, which I estimated was enough to buy a second-hand motor scooter.  It was, and this (more or less) was the scooter:


While I had loved a vehicle before I bought my scooter, and have loved vehicles since, none of them come within a thousand miles of matching the love I felt for my "baiku", especially when measured by unit of love per CC .  In this case, it was 50 CC's of pure, heart stopping adoration. 

I zipped (apologies in advance for using such a twee word, but as anyone who has never driven anything over 50 CC's surely knows, "zip" is the only word appropriate for riding a scooter) all around the sprawling megalopolis of Osaka town on my "baiku".  I zipped to the station when I was running late in the morning and wanted to avoid the fine of a half-day wages for missing even a minute of my first lesson.  I zipped to my weekly Japanese lessons, passing the zoo and the busy intersection near Tennoji station before spending an hour and a half with a patient and well-spoken woman who taught me Japanese.  I zipped once or twice to said cram-school job, but stopped after being caught in a downpour on the way home.  And every time I zipped anywhere, it was all the sweeter that I had paid for my vehicle myself.

After a year of teaching, my salary went up by about a hundred dollars a month, which was about the same as doing an extra English lesson per week.  I had paid off the loan from my father and put a dent my stateside credit card .  I had even begun working on my student loans (after about six months of postponing them via a very creative solution involving a Japanese school and my teacher's willingness to bend the rules on the forbearance application.  Beating the man is a universal proclivity, it would seem).  My spending had stabilized - I now added my own egg to my ramen - and I had mastered the art of finding overtime at work.  All this combined meant it wasn't quite so important to maintain part time jobs.

In fact, if I had stayed in Japan longer than a year and a half, I would have been quite comfortable, at least until my company imploded about a year later.  (If I had still been in Asia when that happened, I might have been one of those out-of-work teachers that took the free one-way ticket from Japan to China to teach there).

But after a year and a half I had left the country, and after a couple of months traveling the world I arrived back in the United States, planning to go to graduate school, and taking on part time jobs yet again.  Over the course of the year that followed, I was an English tutor, an assistant to a UPS driver, an employee in a payroll department, a teaching assistant and a Princeton Review teacher.  I got around in a white Toyota Camry that was probably older than my Japanese motorbike, and at the end of the year, rather than a trip around the world, I took a trip to the New York City borough of Brooklyn to begin law school.

And now we've reached the point where - if I squint - the past begins to intrude into the present, and when I think about how I made my way in the world during that time it's different than when I cast my mind toward the past like a fishing net and see what comes back.  Well, I guess I just admitted it.  I'm reflecting on my past jobs like an old fogey talks about his time working in the candy store (you know who you are).  So let's stop while the stopping is good, while the sharp smell of exhaust from the Honda bike with the white seat is still lingering in the air, while I could still bullshit about Hamlet if I wanted to, and where there's always a chance that the universe will decide to throw you a bone while you're waiting in line at a McDonalds.  "Natsukashi, na" (those were the days).

Saturday, March 15, 2014

the real world

Last Monday I got off one stop earlier on the subway and looked up at my new office building.  It's brown, which can go either way, but in this case the right way.  It was probably built in the 80's.

My former co-worker made a joke implying that I would need help navigating the "real world".  In my former job, which apparently was not the real world, I was a consultant who spent much of his time looking out the window of his office building at the other office buildings, wishing he was in one of them.  I'm glad that's not the real world.

The real world, my world now, is a polished brown stone office building, an isosceles triangle capped by a semicircle, resembling an ice cream cone with one miserly scoop.  There is a conference room at the vertex of every floor affording a panoramic view of perhaps 300 degrees.  I sit right where the cone meets the ice cream, in a small but adequate office.  There is a large window behind me that looks out at the street and several other buildings.  The office sits just off a wide hallway with four chairs arranged in a square, and while the office wall is glass, I keep the door open anyway.  When people arrive in the morning, everyone who works in the cone and people in the northern part of the scoop enter through the doors across from my office.  I do a lot of waving.

In the real world, people say good morning to each other.  At my last job, saying good morning to someone was the exception rather than the rule.  I'm the kind of person who prefers to say good morning, which reinforces the fact that I probably belong in the real world.

At my old job, I arrived anytime I liked on most days (although I usually arrived early).  Similarly, when things were slow <insert coughing fit with many of the coughs sounding suspiciously like I'm saying the word "always">, I was free to leave anytime that I liked.  (It would have been frowned upon if someone higher up noticed I was often gone at 5:45, but most of the time no one checked).

After arriving anytime I liked, I could do pretty much anything I wanted for most of the day.  At the same time, I was under immense pressure to record on my timesheet that at least six hours of the day were being spent doing things in furtherance of something which our clients had engaged us to do.  Although no-one really checked that I was doing the things I put on my timesheet, I had to at least consider the unlikely possibility that a client (or a manager) would spend more than two seconds looking at the bill and consider whether the activity for which I had billed two hours was in fact worthy of those two hours.  I also had to consider the even more remote possibility that the client would add up all the hours I was spending on a particular activity over the course of weeks, or even months, and wonder the same thing, so I had to be very careful with what I recorded.

Admittedly, this could be read as an admission, which would reflect poorly.  I would prefer it if you read this as a narrative of how a person spends their time when they are not living in the real world.  Also, you will note that I have been very careful - almost as careful as I was with my time sheets - not to actually admit to anything, only tell you about what I had to consider and be worried about on a day to day basis.  Due to my overly cautious nature, I may admit a thing or two eventually, but not now.

I am a bit nervous about the real world.  In my prior job, personal relationships were far less important than the work itself on a day to day basis.  Everything I have read about the real world implies that here, personal relationships are of equal or greater importance.  I hope that my time as a consultant, which translates to someone who spends their whole day alone in their room doing homework, hasn't exacerbated my Aspergers to the point where I am going to have difficulty maintaining human relationships.  I think I'll probably be fine.

I just added the word "probably".  Thank goodness I can deal with those awkward stops and starts in this posting, and hopefully avoid being equally awkward in real life.  I just added the word "hopefully".  (Kidding).

There are several things that those living in the real world have to worry about that those living outside the real world do not.  (Lawyers, you may want to consider these things).   This includes one's health, a social life, the daily commute, the timing of one's poop breaks, and the inability to take a meandering walk for two hours in the afternoon as long as you bring your cell phone.  As a consultant, most of these things, such as your commute, and poop breaks, are done randomly, at odd hours.  Not so for the real world.  A social life is now something to cultivate, rather than something synonymous with "go to the bar".  Health, that thing that non-real-world dwellers are aware of but don't give much thought to, is suddenly on your list as "something to maintain".   The list could go on.

The thing which I most appreciate, even after just a week, is that I am no longer doing work that is essentially homework.  There will be some of that, but there will also be group work, which means human interaction, and the chance to delegate a task to someone else :)  (as well as all those good things that come with human interaction, like sanity).

I'm glad I've moved to the real world.  I have no regrets.  I know there will be new types of stresses I had previously not been aware of, but I will manage it.  I will not miss time sheets.  And most importantly, at the end of the day, I will not miss boredom.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

rush hour crush

On my ride home today a girl standing against the wall caught my eye through the crush of rush hour bodies.  She was wearing a shiny burgundy jacket, and boots of a slightly darker color but similar sheen over dark translucent tights.  She was wearing earphones, and looked incredibly sad.  I would say with near absolute certainty that she lived alone.

I'm not sure why I was so sure about this last fact, but it stayed with me as the train zoomed under the Transbay Tube and then pulled itself up onto the tresses over West Oakland.  The thought filled me with a sad but sweet melancholy which was likely amplified by the fact it was January, just after dusk, and on a Monday to boot.

For a moment I looked around the train car, and wondered who else may have been going home by themselves (assuming I was right about this particular woman at all).  I pictured practically everyone else on our car going home to boyfriends and girlfriends, to husbands and wives and children, even to fathers and mothers (this is the Bay Area after all; it's not cheap).  She seemed not to fit, in a world by herself (along with her headphones and those shiny boots and jacket).

While she was not exceptionally attractive (it was not exactly that kind of temporary infatuation, I don't think) something told me that if she were out and about, with friends, perhaps with a lover or a partner or a date, she would appear transformed.  I could imagine her radiant.  Does sadness cast a veil that covers us, or does joy create a light that makes us beautiful?

Of course, there's a very good chance that I was just attracted to this sad girl, and was rationalizing it in a quasi-academic, romantic (19th century, not the 21st) way that helps me to think about women.  I wondered, in a half-crazy sort of way, whether I would have found it within me to make a move, if I were returning home alone myself.

Thinking about this woman, with her shiny burgundy jacket and downcast eyes, I remembered various women I have known who lived alone (even my wife, when we first met).  For a moment, I felt something that was suspiciously like empathy.  I do not know where such a feeling could have come from, because I myself have never lived alone.  Still, as the train sped back underground and the dark lavender-tinged sky receded up and away, I could imagine what it would be like to return to an empty apartment, especially on a unseasonably warm January night, such as this one, just after dusk, and on a Monday to boot.  Pop in a movie, bundle up against the dampness, perhaps pour a glass of wine... it wouldn't be so bad really.  Then again, the whole idea is probably much more romantic in the imagination of an emotionally sensitive guy, one who would surely swoop in and offer her company, thus removing the veil or kindling the light, whichever of the two ended up being the case.

Friday, January 24, 2014

a puppy? oof...

I am sitting on the mauve sofa in our living room, whispering "shhh" like it's going to make my dog stop barking.  Yes, I have a mauve sofa.  And I also have a dog.  I'm not sure which of these is more surprising (to you, or to me?), but the mauve sofa seems to be much lower maintenance.

The dog's name is Marcelino.  He is an eight week old Portuguese Water Dog, Poodle mix.  For short, we are calling him Marce.  No, there is no acute accent over the "e".  That would might be a cute nickname, but naming him after the Portuguese word for water is already pretentious enough.  (Apologies for the bad joke... I blame the barking).

Now he is next to me on the couch, trying to get comfortable.  Why?  Because I let him out of his "area" so he would quit yapping.  Praise all that is holy, for the barking has stopped.  He makes a small "oof" noise as he plops against my leg, as if all that racket tired him out, and now he can finally relax.  I can empathize with this feeling.

For the last four days, I have been working from home to take care of him.  I think he has a mild case of separation anxiety (thus, the barking), and I'm worried if we leave him by himself for more than two hours he is going to go apeshit crazy (which I understand is quite a bit crazier that the less pronounced "batshit crazy").  I don't want our dog to go apeshit crazy, especially not before he is house-broken.

Despite the plethora of poo that ends up on our floor about as often as it ends up outside (not to mention an excess of that other excretion), I have been having an absolute blast.  In fact, it's a sort of joy.  It's not unabashed, gleeful, child-running-through-field-of-daisies joy, maybe because there is so much floor mopping, but it's a joy that cuts through the cynicism that pervades the life of a 30-something who manically believes he knows everything yet is aware he actually knows nothing at all (on a daily basis).

Whether Marce jumps too high and falls flat, whines because he doesn't realize he can walk around the chair between me and him, or gives a small "oof" as he collapses at my feet, the smile that he brings is earnest.  Despite the desire for food and company, he has no ulterior motives.

Unfortunately, he hasn't taken to my wife 100% yet.  His behavior, which ranges from mellow to playfully aggressive during the day, switches to full-on demonic when she comes home from work.  Suddenly, it's as if he needs to re-establish the pecking order.  I suspect he realizes that I, as her husband, am ultimately going to defer to her.  Thus, if he can be the boss of her, he gets me as the booby prize.  Despite our daytime truce, where he doesn't bite or go too crazy, and I don't have to scold him for it, when she comes home, all bets are off.  Over the last few days, I think I've heard her say "ow!" more often than over the course of our marriage.  (Does this mean we need to spice things up?)

What it has come down to is this: So much of my attention is turned over to him, that when I close my eyes I see a puppy doing the billion things that puppies do, whether infuriating, cute beyond measure, endearing, annoying or heart-warming.  In my experience, when I muffle a sense (by closing my eyes, or not listening to my surroundings, or ignoring the various textures that press against my skin) the thing that I imagine seeing, hearing, tasting, etc, is the most meaningful thing that sense has been experiencing lately, or at least the thing that is most on my mind.  In this case, the association is obvious.  Regardless of whether it's the feel of puppy fur, the sight of him at my feet, or even the sound of his barking, I have no doubt that these things will come to dominate my mind for some time to come.

(As for my nose, I might need to accelerate the house-breaking, since unconsciously conjuring the smell of puppy-poo is not exactly a bouquet of roses).

Tuesday, December 4, 2012


Two weeks ago I became a home-owner.  The feeling was like emerging from the pool after a series of underwater acrobatics.  Slightly disorienting, but with a feeling you went in the right direction.  Of course I’m not completely on dry land; now I will also have to tread water in order to maintain my property (and my mortgage).  But I can still inhale deeply, tilt my head back, and relax in the knowledge that I own the space around me.  While the native American in me has an inherent disdain for the term "mine", as far as legal rights go, I have to admit it's pretty sweet.

We are almost unpacked.  Only a few odds and ends: a couple of things for storage, a disassembled lamp patiently waiting on the hearth, our paintings.  When I have no stuff, moving is a breeze.  Point in case: when I moved to Japan out of college, what little stuff I had was thrown into a suitcase, and the rest was sitting in storage in a house owned by my best friend's sister.  Well, actually… there was also a box or two in the basement of a different house - a cozy house in Cambridge I had lived in with four roommates.  There was also all of my possessions at my mom's house in Cincinnati ... but if I had been able to ignore that stuff for four years, I could easily ignore it for another one or two.

So, my friend’s sister, the house in Cambridge, my mom’s house, and my suitcase.  That was it, the sum total.  The night before moving to Japan (or maybe the morning of - I can't remember), I packed the suitcase, crammed other necessaries into a carry-on duffle bag, and boarded a flight for another country.  The song the “Molly McGuires” strikes me as appropriate for that particular set of circumstances… since I’ll never see the likes of that again.

The part that resonates with me still, as I grow older and reflect on the inevitable accumulation of stuff, is that besides deodorant and the infrequently used personal item or two, I did not lack for much in Japan.  This was surprising, since I had given the whole process about as much foresight as my decision to follow my high-school girlfriend to college in Boston, giving up a full ride at a state school, my friends, and my parent’s support (not to mention the hefty post-graduation sum my dad was offering me to stay in Ohio).  During the course of that adventure, similar to the move to Japan, the stuff part seemed to work itself out.

For my Boston migration, I had to take my stuff with me in a two-door car, in a single trip.  The move was supposed to be, and was in fact, for four-odd years.  Because it was against my parents' judgment, it was one of the only moves where I didn't have the good will of other to rely on for help.  Fortunately, I had two things going for me: I still had a car, and I had almost no stuff.

Of course, like most privileged first-world brats, no stuff meant that my two-door car was practically ready to pop. Indeed, had you tapped on the hood hard enough, a computer cable might have snaked out of the rear bumper (I'm sure it would have appeared as disquieting as it sounds).  Said college-era computer rested in the bucket of the passenger seat, above a nest of speaker wires, documents, and toiletries.  Upon arrival at my apartment in Boston, I found that the can of shaving cream tossed haphazardly into the mix had been completely emptied, and over the course of 12 hours the gel itself had either dried or frozen, since my computer, which was stuck to my backpack, which was stuck to my toiletries bag, was coated in a rock-hard layer of the stuff that didn’t come off until a thorough scrubbing.

In some past / future life, I must have either been a sailor or a Star Trek ensign.  In those times, storage space was pretty unnecessary. Besides a closet for those spandex-inspired uniforms (certainly in the Star Trek life, and possibly in the sailor life as well), and a pad-locked drawer for the taser (because every taser should be pad-locked), storage space was pretty unnecessary.  If you did happen to need something specific, that's what the replicator was for.

What you didn't see were huge suitcases where they kept all of their earth-stuff that they quite frankly didn't need.  Whatsmore, I am fairly certain in that past life, like this one, I was quite content.  Perhaps because of that (can I blame it on a past life?) when I have to move stuff, actual stuff, and there's no getting around it, I am just about the most inept, disorganized person you have ever met in your life.

At this point, when I look around me, there are certain things that I’m less flippant about than I was before.  For example, the composite countertops are treasured.  The two sinks, with their constant smirk of privilege, are appreciated.  The sofa, my comfortable chairs, the teal stool I splurged on for my wife at the antique store in Brooklyn for her birthday… these things I can’t just throw in a car.  In fact, the whole home, including the immense amount of energy that went into acquiring it, making it legally mine, and working to make it perfect, is something I couldn’t pass off to a friend or flippantly disregard (at least not yet… I still have a few years before the hobo urge strikes me and I pack up that polka-dot rucksack).

In the meantime, I should really unpack the rest of my earth-stuff.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

What I think about when I'm not thinking about sex

It might just be that time of night, but recently all I can think about is drinking and work.  All the time.  In every situation.  When I'm home in the evening, I think about work.  And then I think about drinking.  When I wake up in the morning, I think about work, then I go there, and think about drinking.  When I'm drinking, normally all I'm thinking about is drinking, and not work, which hopefully means I'm not an alcoholic.

Of course I also do the obligatory modernesque activities and cultivate a couple of interests that define a professional man in his 30's living in the city, such as cooking, exercise, weekend excursions and the obligatory hobby (*ahem*).  But at the end of the day, quite literally, I'm not thinking about that new Point Reyes hike we stumbled upon last week, or what kind of clothes I'd like to buy.  I do think about food, which can actually be quite dangerous if I'm working from home and the cookbook is on the top of our bar.  But as soon as I eat, which is usually right after I finish working, thoughts of food flutter away and I'm left with alcohol, and work.

Tonight I finished my most important work early, which for me means before 7:00 (I think it was 6:59 to be exact).  That meant I was home, fed and entertained by an episode of Mad Men prior to 9:00.  Even assuming I would make it to bed by 11:30 - which is a stretch - that still left me with more than two hours of time to kill.  I could always veg-out with a video-game, but I'm 30 for Peat's sake... surely I could find something more worthwhile to consume my time.  Still, the options seemed limited.

I look at the preceding paragraph and the first thing that pops into my head is how I would feel if my future child were to read that.  I imagine it would be somewhat disheartening to him or her, that dad really had nothing better to think about in the evening than drinking and working.  The ironic thing is that I'm sure, no... dedicated to being the type of father that is engaged in his children's life to the point where they see me as more than the caricature of myself I'm alluding to here.  Hell, even the fact that I have a sense of irony has got to make me somewhat interesting to them, at some point.  The problem is, I'm just not sure what to do with myself until then (which is an extension of not knowing what to do with myself tonight, I suppose).

For a while during law school I had an idea to go to Somalia and learn about Somalian culture and pick up a little of the language and then come back and start a business consulting with shipping companies on how to avoid pirates.  I'm serious.  I called all of my best friends and told them about this idea.  I figured I could get some funding, and get on the first Hargeisa-bound flight to Somaliland that I could find.  Even in hindsight, it was (and probably still is, until word gets out), a fucking brilliant idea.  An American who lived with the pirates, and knows how to avoid them?  I've already been a consultant long enough to know the value that experience brings to the table.

The pirate thing, for the month-plus that it consumed me, was more than just an idea - it was a distraction and a dream rolled into one.  It was similar to how I wanted to open up a petting zoo for little animals when I was a child, and would lay in my bunkbed for hours thinking about all the people who would come to the zoo to hold the hamsters and gerbils and possibly even newts.  I even had the costs accounted for - $100 was what I reckoned it would cost to start the whole thing up.  Probably a bit on the low side, even if it was the 1980's, but the point was is this was something that kept me up at night, and consumed my time.

I'm a perpetual skeptic of those who say that we lose our passion as we grow older.  I don't think we lose our passion for taking bold action as we age, although I don't see myself moving to Somalia anytime soon.  Instead, I think we become more aware of the amount of work that would go into it, and the creature comforts we would sacrifice to pull it off.  Which is why the house-hunt that is currently consuming my life (and my wife's) is not evoking the same level of blind excitement that it would have, say, when I was 20, assuming I had the means at that point.  In other words, it's not that I don't have exciting things to occupy my thoughts; it's that much of what is exciting eventually turns into work.

At this point a lightbulb might have turned on.  "So when you say you're thinking about work, you really mean that you're thinking about how to make things happen!" (this is directed at the three readers who have made it this far into the essay without going off for a drink of their own).  And to you, I respond, no, it's pretty much just about work.  Like for example, I think about whether my boss would let me move to LA, where the houses are cheaper, or I think about whether I've pissed anyone off recently or who makes more money than I do.  And then, predictably, I get tired of this, and start thinking about drinking.

This is the point when, being an adult, I go and grab a beer.  Or a second one, in this case, which is coincidentally probably a good time to wrap things up.  There will be more on all the interesting tidbits I've conveniently dropped during the course of this posting later... such as where I go on my weekend excursions, what kind of father I'm really hoping to be, when I'm planning to assume that role, or how much that petting zoo actually would have cost.  Stay tuned, brave reader, stay tuned.


I realize that one of the aforementioned readers who made it this far into the post might be my mother.  If that's the case, I hope that she understands, and maybe even appreciates that most of the references to drinking and thinking about work are literary hyperbole.  I have a number of leisure interests besides drinking and work, such as travel, abstract wire sculpture,  reading, and engaging in satanic orgies the company of dear friends.  So don't worry, I have plenty of healthy habits to keep me occupied, when I'm not obsessing about my job and longing for that next beer.

Saturday, May 19, 2012


Right before I got back on the boat, after passing aisles of knick knacks and cheap souvenirs stacked in haphazard heaps, I stopped and bought a Cuban cigar.  On board, I spent twenty minutes smoking it in the wood-paneled library-esque cigar lounge situated just off the casino.  In addition to being the best twenty minutes of my cruise (except for the part where I was almost hit by a mock pirate ship while snorkeling in Aruba), it also gave me a chance to reflect on the strange feeling I had experienced a couple of days before that, a feeling that only be described as one of death, creeping up on me.

No, nothing to do with the mock pirate ship that almost ran me over, snorkel and all, while the tourists on board snapped pictures and pointed.  This feeling came upon me slowly, after a trip to the panoramic gym situated at the bow of the boat, after I had returned to the private area aptly called the "Sanctuary", which separated us from the other passengers by at least two barriers and one attendant.  Sitting in the extra-plush chair, looking out through the (strangely) blue tinted glass at the ocean beyond, a feeling of minor dread washed over me.  It was as if a small piece of my spirit had just detached, and floated away into the ether to rejoin the energy force that separates this world from the next.

Or, more likely, it was just  the norovirus kicking in.  You see, there was an outbreak on the boat.  Dozens of passengers who were naive (or ill) enough to see the ship's doctor about their condition were being quarantined in their rooms, while the rest of us whistled merrily on our way while working the posterior muscles through repetitive clench exercises.  Once I noticed that my stools had adjusted to our watery surroundings by imitating their consistency, the thought of exacerbating my already-horrendous cabin fever by getting detained in my actual cabin was enough to overcome any minor feelings of guilt I might have had about spreading the virus.  I was convinced that everyone and their convalescent mother (who was probably the source of the outbreak, bless her grubby little fingers) had contracted the virus, but wasn't telling.  Why then, should I?

Back in the cigar lounge, which ironically was probably the cleanest place on board the ship and therefore the least likely to exacerbate my rinovirus (bet you can't say that while keeping a straight face), I puffed away on the best $8 dollar cigar ever, and wondered how I had ended up on a cruise in the first place.

To be honest, I never expected to find myself on a cruise.  I always thought that the best depiction of people who go on cruises was the spaceship in Wall-E where people ride around on floating chairs and spend all of their time eating.  It's not that I hate the bourgeoisie - I have a communist cousin who has elected to represent our family at those events - but I do hate anyone who treats another human poorly, and cruise ships are rife with guilty parties.  At one point my wife and I were sitting at our lunch table watching a woman, another passenger, try to get the attention of the server, who was taking an order at another table.  As if she were a character on Downton Abbey, the hideous woman repeatedly pestered the server, who was obviously helping other passengers, until she finally put down her pen and walked over to the woman's table.  When the server reached the table, the woman arched her back and said shrilly "Do you really expect me to shout to get your attention?"  It was as if I was watching a very bad play, about very bad people... and it was a scene that repeated itself time and time again over the seven day voyage.  By the end of the trip I was tempted to start coughing on the desert tray on purpose (although I did not), to provide some needed oomph to a karmic power out there that obviously wasn't doing its job.

The funny thing about the outbreak (for those of us with sufficiently dark senses of humor) was that it happened simultaneously with what the Captain of the boat described as the "worst weather in 20 years of sailing the Caribbean."  It was truly awful.  If you spent half your morning in your room on the porcelain chin-rest (yes, it was a nice boat), it was hard to say whether it was due to grandma's germs in the jello, or because the boat was auditioning to be the Costa Concordia.  Although I don't get motion sickness, in hindsight I might have gotten some relief - and still avoided being imprisoned in my room - had I gone to the medical center complaining of wobbly legs, rather than wobbly buttocks.

Although I'm long over the norovirus, the memory of the cruise lingers on (notably in the injury I suffered to my leg in that gym with its blasted panoramic views).  I appreciated the opportunity to experience a cruise, but sometimes the memory of gazing out through those blue-tinted windows comes to me like a whispered word, mostly in the evenings, often accompanied by a feeling of homesickness and missing the ones that I love. Even though it would have been interesting to go out (dramatically) by being run over by a mock pirate ship, I think I'd prefer to end up aging slowly, at least to the point where I can be taken on a (second) cruise, and create my own norovirus outbreak by sneezing surreptitiously in the casserole, then watching in delight as the bourgeoisie succumb, and the staff smile knowingly as the boat rocks back and forth, while I puff slowly on my cigar and enjoy the moment.