A Few Good Things

It’s already hot enough to make me irritable, and the general election is so far away in a truly awful election cycle, so let’s kick off June with a little positivity! Here then are some things for which I’m grateful.

My partner loves and understands me. Wendi knows I really enjoy some odd things, like sitting out in the cold rain to watch horror movies with like-minded friends. She may well judge me for that, but if so she keeps it to herself and is outwardly supportive of my trips. She also just nursed me through recovery from oral surgery, during which she watched some truly awful movies with me. If that ain’t love, I don’t know what is.

My friend Tim did not turn out to be a serial killer. Seriously, I can’t explain why I agreed to go on a road trip to Evanston in the middle of winter with a guy I barely knew. For some reason my paranoia filters weren’t on, and the myriad ways this could end badly didn’t register until after I’d committed to the trip. To my delight and total surprise, I survived the weekend and enjoyed it enough to go 8 more times. I even wound up meeting those like-minded friends I mentioned above. So thanks for not killing me, Tim! My world grew because you dragged me to B-Fest.

For some reason I’m employed. I dreamed of being an impoverished writer. That’s the deal, right? Unless you were born into money you scraped pennies together for years until suddenly you became wildly successful. Instead, after getting married it became evident that we both needed to pull in good money in order to afford luxuries like food and pants. At first I resented the time spent not suffering, but honestly my writing didn’t get very good until my 40s. That’s a long time to starve for art. Also, money buys movies, comics, and video games.

The Cats Don’t Always Poop on the Floor. Sometimes they’re even useful. Just this morning I found Bacall and Bogart sitting innocently in the bathtub with the shower curtain in a heap beside them. Something under the curtain moved, and Bogart couldn’t stand to feign ignorance anymore. He started swatting at the mouse they’d cornered. So while they make messes and scratch up the furniture, at least our cats keep the rodents under control.

And now it’s time to put in a bad movie, so I’ll just leave it there.


Disarming My Smile

I’ve mentioned previously that my teeth are expected to explode, but I believe that circumstances warrant a recap. My permanent canines got lost and never joined the rest of the band, leaving me with two baby teeth sitting uncomfortably as the adults talked about their medical conditions and how much they hated their jobs. Dentists have been prodding me to do something about this for years — one of them going so far as to dramatically proclaim that the two little guys would explode — but none could even suggest what to do once they were removed. Would fake teeth be put in on posts? How would that interact with the canines that were still lurking up there somewhere? What about a bridge? No one knew.

Finally, one dentist gave me a referral to an orthodontist. Doing things for me is always a much better approach, as I’m predisposed to inaction. Of course, it took a further visit, a fresh referral, and my wife making the appointment before I actually followed up on this step. Scans were taken, casts were made, and a plan was presented to us. After hearing it I asked if I could leave my teeth at the office until they were done. This question was sadly ignored.

See, after my baby teeth get pulled, there will be a gap. That would let my remaining teeth move around, which is apparently a BAD THING. This is because left to their own devices they’ve already screwed the pooch. Not only do I have a large over bite, but my top teeth actually slope inward. Certain predators use this type of dentition to trap prey within their mouths, but usually this just gets me caught up on apples. The orthodontist recommended 2.5 years of wrangling my ivory dogies into position, which sounds to me like a lot of effort to reform proven miscreants. And yet that seems pleasant compared to the one little extra detail. Those lost canines? They’re pushing against the roots of my upper incisors, so they’ve gotta go.

This week I go in to get braces on my upper teeth. Then I’ll meet with an oral surgeon to schedule the extraction of my wayward canines (and the incidental removal of the baby teeth). It’s happening in that order so that the movement of the other teeth is under control before they get their chance to run loose. After the top incisors are pointed in the right direction, I’ll get the matching set of metal for my lower teeth.

I want to wrap this up with something witty, but honestly just thinking about this exhausts me. So many appointments to come. So many teenagers in the waiting room. So much money. No popcorn for almost three years. I’ll be pushing 50 when all of this is done. And when it’s all over I need to see about controlling my probable sleep apnea.

Now I just need to find a way to get proper nutrition out of pudding and beer.

How to Date the Travis Bickle Way

In Taxi Driver there’s a scene where Travis Bickle (Robert De Niro) takes Betsy (Cybill Shepherd) to a movie, which turns out to be X rated. (It’s reportedly Ur kärlekens språk, a graphic sex-ed film from Sweden.) Maybe not the most conventional choice for a first date, it goes over poorly.

On a seemingly unrelated note, I went to a concert on this past Sunday night. You may remember that my social anxiety makes this a daunting prospect; but Jonathan Richman was performing at a local bar, and I was determined not to miss the chance to go. So determined, in fact, that I spent the week leading up to it  quashing the recurring urge to back out. By the time I met up with Tim and his friend, I was pretty much a  nervous cat and expected the worst at every turn.

Fortunately we all got along together, and the only hiccup was that some tickets were left in a coat that hadn’t attended with us. Not a huge deal on my end, as I hadn’t paid my way yet anyhow. Besides, admission was ridiculously cheap. All that mattered to me was securing one of the few wall-hugging stools. The three of us managed to snag exactly one stool, which was graciously granted to me. Then the woman who’d saved the seat next to me offered to free that one up by sliding over. We thanked her and annexed the stool to our growing kingdom of seatedness.

Eventually her husband arrived and sat down, but we didn’t really notice. As usual, Tim and I had started talking about movies. The first I was aware of the guy, he’d leaned over and injected himself into the conversation. After some awkward back-and-forth, he decided that it was sharing time.

Fella: Hey, you guys know a lot about movies, right?

Me: Some, yeah.

Fella: So you might know this one. For our first date, I took my girlfriend — she’s my wife now; this lady here — I took her to see Salo!

Me (weakly): Salo, or the 120 Days of Sodom.

Fella: Yeah! It was a test, and she passed!

Salo is a masterpiece, but it’s not the sort of film that you show to an uninformed viewer. It’s an unflinching adaptation of the Marquis de Sade’s The 120 Days of Sodom, or the School of Libertinism, set in the last days of Mussolini’s Italy. Given writer/director Pier Paolo Pasolini’s previous works, it’s fair to say that the film is intended to show how human love and tenderness can exist in even the most detrimental conditions. However, those conditions include rape, ephebophilia, torture, coprophagia, and assorted other activities that are not for eyes of the cinematically timid or, y’know, people who don’t want to see that sort of thing.

I didn’t ask for the goal of this “test”, but obviously she passed it. Perhaps by ever speaking to him again. She certainly didn’t look thrilled that he was telling the story. The look on her face spoke volumes about how often she’d had to hear him tell it. I wondered briefly what sort of test he’d had to pass; being carbon-based, perhaps. I just hoped he didn’t drive a cab.

I’m Not Getting This Anytime Soon

I ordered a photo off of eBay for my site The Web of the Big Damn Spider. It shipped promptly then seemed to stall out when it reached Chicago. The seller and I have been in communication, and there was some excitement last night when the tracking information was updated.

Then I actually looked at the current location of the package.

Today I sent the following note to the seller.

Thanks for your quick reply.

Unfortunately the package appears to be in Italy now, which doesn’t seem to be an obvious route from California to Michigan. I’ll continue to watch and see if it returns to the States.


That promotional picture is going to see the world on $3 shipping. I might have to be a little jealous.

Low Stakes, High Intrigue

A funny thing happened as I went to make a turkey.

Okay, some context is in order here. On Monday the manager of my manager was given a bag of craft supplies that his teams were to transform into a turkey. Because of reasons. Well, he was working in a different office that day, so by “was given a bag of craft supplies” I really mean that somebody left it on his desk. Today (Wednesday) he dropped the bag on my desk and asked me to tell the teams that we needed to make a turkey out of it. This is why I refer to him as a trap-door spider, because you never know when he’s going pop up in your cube and hand you some crafting materials.

I dutifully took the stuff to our morning meeting and mumbled something barely coherent about turkeys. Afterwards, I dropped it off in an empty cubicle. It might have all ended there, but a co-worker found where I hid the fixings. The next I knew I’d crammed myself into the cube to stare at the assortment of goodies. There were expected things such as construction paper, popsicle sticks, and pipe cleaners — federal law mandates the use of pipe cleaners in every seasonal craft project, due to the political sway of the hobbiest lobbies. There were also plastic cups, a styrofoam ball, assorted small feathers, and an enormous blue feather that was sprinkled in glitter. We marveled at this collection of oddities and then went back to our respective desks to, y’know, do our jobs.

Shortly thereafter, a woman from another department wandered over to see our progress. That’s what she said, but the way she was talking about popsicle sticks made me suspicious. Being arguably responsible for our turkey supplies, I walked over to keep an eye on our inventory. The larger, paranoid part of my brain expected to see her filching a stick or two, but the tiny piece of my brain-meat responsible for lucidity reasoned that an adult would have little urge to pilfer cheap craft material.

Here’s where things got weird, because it turned out that she in the midst of an Ocean’s Eleven level heist of utterly insignificant goods.

I found her eyeing the supplies, holding an enormous blue feather that was covered in glitter. That sane portion of my brain tried to dismiss this as her being someone who just has to touch everything, which the rest of me wasn’t buying because of the enormous purple feather that now lay on the desk. She immediately tried to distract me by asking about our turkey plans. I ignored her question and asked my own.

“Did you just swap giant feathers with us?”

“No!” she scolded, looking offended. “Why would you even think that?”

“Because the one you’re holding is blue, which is the color of our feather. Also it has a bent tip, like ours does.”

She responded by stuffing the feather up the back of her sweater and asking a lot of questions about how we were planning to build the turkey.

Now, at this point my paranoia had been proven more reliable than my sanity, so I could only assume that in addition to stealing our feather she wanted to steal our turkey-making IP. I got really cagey about everything.

“What are you going to use the ball for?”

“Making a turkey,” I said absently, watching her hands to ensure nothing else disappeared into her clothing.

Eventually she left, and two co-workers came to make the turkey while I kept watch. Occasionally I saw her, watching me from across the room, waiting for me to let my guard down. Not today, feather-thief. I’m hip to your jive.

In My Defense They Should Never Have Given Me a Phone

I’ve been at my new job for over a month now, and today the worst finally happened. My phone rang. I stared at it in confusion for a moment, as it had never done that to me. I’d set my password and said my name at the tone; weren’t we cool? Reluctantly, I picked up the receiver.

Me Sean speaking.

Unidentified Cheerful Guy Is this [name of a company that was absorbed over a year ago]?

Me Yeeees?

UCG Great! Is this the main desk?

By now I’m glancing around the cubicles, seeking an escape route.

Me No. I’m a programmer.

UCG How fun! What are you making?

Seriously? This guy calls me, apparently at random, and now he wants me divulge what development work is going on in a financial institution? I have to lock my screen when I leave my desk to ensure the safety of our precious secrets, like what kitchen has bagels today. Fortunately, my lack of social skills comes in handy for situations like not telling strangers what we’re working on. I ignored his attempt to be my pal and cut to the chase.

Me Can I help you with something?

UCG Oh. Yes, could I speak with [person I haven’t heard of] or [another unknown individual] please?

Papasmurf. Like I have enough degrees to work this phone.

I told him to hold on a second, and I quickly asked around to find out how to redirect this wacko to the reception desk. Forget figuring out how to contact who he actually wanted, I’d consider it a job well done if he wound up talking to someone without telephobia.

Nobody knew what to do. We work with computers, but these smurfing phones are like the blinking clock on a VCR for all we know about them. After a minute of embarrassed shrugs all around, I just hung up on Mr. Happy. He seemed like the sort to bounce back from defeat.

“Problem solved,” I observed. Everyone nodded and went back to work. If the problem ever comes up again, we’ll figure out how to address it. We’re developers. We concentrate our efforts where they’ll do the most good.

A Lovely Parting Gift

One of my final acts at the job I just left was to spend my Bonusly points. Bonusly is an incentive system that companies can use to pretend their workers are happy. Co-workers can reward each other with points for doing an excellent job or, more usually, for not being completely incompetent.

I’ll pretend that my lack of points had to do with the general isolation of my team and gloss over any implications about the low opinion of my performance.

Much like the awards for selling band candy, the merchandise seems to be selected from batches of overstock. Lots of cheap jewelry, garbage dishware, and low-end appliances (coffee makers and such).

Then there are the niche-market items, which make you question the life choices of people you’ve never met.

Tabletop golf shot glass set. For the executive who is apparently a college sophomore.

Tempted though I was, I settled on an iPod Shuffle. At least I could imagine that I’d use it.

Good Thing I Wasn’t Drinking

A friend and I went to a burger joint today, precisely because they didn’t serve booze. Neither of us were up for college kids celebrating Irish culture by binge drinking. Sadly, lunch was a doomed idea no matter the location.

The first sign of weirdness was when I walked up to the counter.

Clerk: What’s your name?

Me: Sean.

Clerk: Chuck?

Me: …okay, sure.

I placed my order, which included a chocolate malt, and — after a quick trip to the soda trip to spill root beer all over my hand — I sat with my friend to chat. He got his food, and I got Chuck’s, and we talked for a while over sliders and fries.

Eventually I posed the question “When should I ask what happened to my malt?” He was amazed I hadn’t already, so I took my receipt up to the counter and asked how my malt was coming along. The clerk fell over himself apologizing and produced it from a fridge behind the counter. The was a rather involved story about how it had gotten mixed up with an order for delivery, but I really didn’t care because I was happy that my malt had been there for the asking. The clerk said he’d make another for to make up for the mistake, and I told him there wasn’t any need. As far as I was concerned, everything was copacetic.

Then I sat down and promptly dropped the damn thing on the floor.

“I will make you a new one now,” the clerk said as I wiped up malt from the floor.

I accepted his offer of a fresh malt. It tasted of shame and chocolate.

Drama Came to Eden

Last weekend we caught a fascinating documentary on Netflix. Called “The Galapagos Affair: Satan Came to Eden” (in part after the first book by a survivor), it told the bizarre tale of three groups of German settlers on the island of Floreana in the 1930s.

First was a philosopher (who’d left behind his wife) and his patient/protegé (who’d left behind her husband). They’d come in search of a simple and peaceful life that would allow for thinking the deep thoughts. Mostly what they found was how much work the simple life takes and how little time it leaves for navel-gazing.

Next came a couple with a young child and another on the way. They’d come prepared for everything, except they hadn’t anticipated how little the philosophers wanted company. They were escorted to the opposite side of the island on the pretext that the pirate caves would be a good starter home.

Lastly, and most oddly, came a fake baroness and her two lovers. They settled in next to the growing family and proceeded to aggravate everyone with their airs and flamboyance.

It was a recipe for disaster, and the miracle is that the second group escaped the ensuing tragedies relatively unscathed. In short order, the not-baroness and her favorite had gone missing. Her second fella, generally suspected of arranging the disappearance, wound up ship-wrecked and dead as a result of his attempt to leave Floreana. The philosopher, a vegetarian, had perished after eating contaminated chicken (for lack of other food), and his protegé returned to Germany to write about how dreadful everyone else had been.

I watched all of this with my jaw in my lap. It just kept getting weirder. For instance, the counterfeit baroness talked a ship’s captain into making a movie of her as the island’s pirate queen. Part of it is shown in the documentary. It’s indescribable.

Watching all of this, hearing excerpts from the very different written accounts, my TV-addled brain kept going back to the castaways on “Gilligan’s Island”. If the professor hadn’t been so handy with coconut technology, they’d have been at each other’s throats.

Ginger would’ve disappeared after making a movie with one of the many people who pass through the island. Gilligan would have been murdered by all of them after the third time he blew an escape attempt. The Howells would have survived by buying a ticket. Skipper would have been lost at sea after fleeing on a raft. The professor himself would have died from drinking tainted coconut milk.

Marianne — she would have left the island with a passing sailor, only to return with him later to run a hotel.