New Year, Same Old Zombie

If you’ve been following me for a while, you know I don’t do resolutions. The arbitrary changeover of the year does however provide an opportunity to set some things down, so I thought I’d write down some things I hope for during this next spin around the Sun.

  • Continued employment: I don’t even need to enjoy my job. I just want to keep having one. (But it’d be great if it got better.)
  • Tolerable health: It seems like I’m always sick, and I’m used to that. I just don’t want to have anything major go wrong for me or my wife.
  • Cat poop in the box: Yeah, dream on. Let’s dial that down to keeping it on the tile floor of the bathroom rather than spreading to new and exciting locations.
  • No nuclear Armageddon: Everything else sort of depends on this one. At least I grew up expecting to be bombed, so fearing death by nukes feels oddly comfortable.
  • Writing: Lots of this. At least a first draft novel completed for the first time in nearly 20 years.
  • Impeachment: It could happen, right? Right?
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Perfectly Broken

I’ve been listening to Bowie CDs on my commute, and for some reason I remembered something today.

The first time I heard David Bowie’s “Diamond Dogs” album, I was in high school. My brother brought the CD back with him from college. Just the CD, no case or liner notes. That’s because he rescued it from some guys in his dorm who were using it as a frisbee. They, in turn, had come by it when one of them had bought a floor-model player and found that left in the tray.

I want to stop here for a moment to enjoy the thought of an appliance department playing “Diamond Dogs”, because that’s pretty cool right there.

Right, so we were at me listening to the album. I was floored. It was the glammiest, glitziest, post-apocalypse I’d discovered. So of course I had to tape it. I hooked my brother’s CD player into my system and put in a tape. Everything was fine until it got to the final track, “Chant of the Ever Circling Skeletal Family”, which is really the outro for both the album and the song “Big Brother”. It’s basically a disco breakdown that ends with a short loop that trails away to nothing, and it’s terrific. Unfortunately the disc got scratched during all of the tossing it around like philistines. Sometimes the player could work it out, but usually it would start skipping during the chant. Because it was part of the track before it, this meant that I had to keep re-recording both of them until it finally played through.

My brother wondered why I’d bothered. In his view it didn’t matter because the song skips anyway. I was 17, so all I could say was that I needed it to be right. Now I can explain it better.

ahem

IT’S PERFECT, AND I NEEDED IT TO BE RIGHT.

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.

Thanks,
Sean

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.