Oink Oink

002bI was not fit when I was younger. I spent a lot of time playing video games and eating as much junkfood as my mother would allow (turned out to be a fair amount). I have always used food as a source of comfort, in spite of the overeating being the route cause of many of my insecurities.

At one point I mused, “I would love to take tap dancing lessons!” My aunt looked at me, then looked at my dad and said, “Don’t you think he’s a little big for tap?”

In 5th grade, there was a group of kids that called me “Oink Oink.” Yeah I know – it’s a really offensive name for a 10 year old! It’s so offensive that I’m 29 years old and I still base my body image on what people used to call me when I was 10.

One time we were playing ball tag together and one of them tried running by me to prove he was faster, so I clothes-lined him. To his credit, he was running really fast, which made it all the more satisfying when I stuck my arm out and dropped him like a sack of overly-cocky, organic Yukon gold potatoes.

“HA! I got you!” I yelled victoriously. Caught up in the triumph of the moment, I wound up, threw the ball at him as hard as I could, and missed (because I was a fat, and fat kids are bad at sports). When I finally confronted another kid about the nickname, he heard about this incident, and sheepishly said it was a compliment because cops are sometimes called pigs, and police officers deserve our respect.

Middle school rolled around and I grew neither taller nor thinner. The more I got made fun of, the more appealing it sounded to stay inside, and snack and play video games and watch movies. Food and television never called me fat (at least not directly), but I’m sure that watching the ripped abs and chiseled upper bodies of the super heroes I loved watching on TV or playing in video games didn’t do wonders for my self esteem.

My dad spent weekends with me running around a track, trying harder than me to get my mile time below ten minutes. I huffed and puffed my way around the track, and finally got to 10 minutes and 12 seconds, and was thrilled with my progress.

Luckily, I was great at math, so when I moved to a new school halfway through eighth grade, I had to be shipped off to the high school for sixth period because the middle school didn’t have the math class I was supposed to be in. Add that to the weight issues, the thick glasses, the budding cystic acne, and the fact that I was deathly allergic to the grass on the field where the mile run was timed, it made me a real hit come recess.

At high school registration, I was told that the Naval Junior Reserve Office Training Corps (NJROTC) could take the place of my mandatory Physical Education class. Sure, we were required to actually exercise once a week, but the rest would be taken up by studying, marching, and uniform inspections. One hour a week sounded manageable.

NJROTC and Dance Dance Revolution turned my life around (and around and around). They allowed me the chance to find a love for fitness, but the self-loathing I developed in my childhood is really what keeps me moving. If you’re struggling with your weight, try truly hating the way you look – it’s done wonders for me.

Rollin’ in the Hamiltons and Lincolns

I presently make $15.00 an hour, and work between 40 and 50 hours a week. I get some overtime pay, but I’m limited by the amount of hours in a day and the scheduling needs of my workplace. Would I work more? Sure, but my newly adopted dog is already pretty upset with the amount of time I’m away from the house (as indicated by the new urine stains on my mattress, which I did not personally put there to my knowledge), so it isn’t really an option.

I could hire a dog walker, or pay for him to go to daycare while I’m at work, but at my current wage, it feels like I’m barely scraping by. I get paid biweekly, and rent eats up about 81% of the first paycheck of the month. Then my electricity, phone bill, car payment, car insurance, and medical bills from the past combine to get rid of 59% of paycheck two (student loans would be on that list if I cared enough to get them out of default, but clearly I do not). Groceries, gas, dog food; alcohol – that takes care of the rest of the money I’ve got.

Is this livable? Clearly – I’m alive right now to spin this yarn for you. Am I living in excess? I don’t personally think so, given that I’ve not even adequately furnished my apartment after two months of living in it (I just got a dining room table last week for $35 – I’ll be sure to point it out in my upcoming Cribs special), and I can’t manage to pull together any real social life. Oh, and I still get help from my parents, so I’m really doubling down on the whole “artist” thing.

If you’ve been reading that in a whiny tone – that’s fair. I’m equally unenthused with the way all of that sounds. So why am I complaining at you? Well, with the minimum wage debate swirling around Amazon’s choice to pay all its workers a minimum of $15 an hour, I thought having an example of exactly what $15 gets you would be helpful.

I’m not paying all the bills that I should be, but I’m paying the other ones on time. I’ve got a roof over my head, and I’m able to feed myself and my dog enough for us to both look healthy. $15 an hour doesn’t get you a lot – it gets you barely enough, and I know with certainty that I could not live with less. Money – and how I don’t have enough of it – is constantly on my mind to the point of obsession.

I mean… maybe I could drink a little less, but take it from me, all this obsessing makes a body thirsty. Cheers.

The Process

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Look at how contemplative and artsy that shit is! LOOK!

Ya know… I didn’t go into this writing thing with the thought that my perspective on the world and its goings on needed to or would change in any way, but I’ve noticed a shift that’s worth mentioning. The process of sifting through my past for things worth discussing is a strange combination of cathartic and anxiety-provoking.

I find myself flying over forests of memories, then every so often a single tree catches my eye. Most of the trees are too obfuscated by time, a life of rotational inebriation, or a lack of enough interest to recall their details. Then, seemingly out of nowhere, I see one clearly – I circle over it, looking at it from different angles, trying to decide if it’s worth landing on. Sometimes it isn’t, and I resume my aloof perusing from the comfort of the clouds, but other times I like the shape of the branches, or the feel of the bark, or the color of the leaves, so I land.

Some trees have a beautiful aesthetic, and I can play around in them for my enjoyment, and ideally the enjoyment of the reader. Some trees are riddled with thorns that I must endure, ideally also for the enjoyment of the reader. Some feel like coming home, some feel like I’m standing on fucking thorns the whole time (I don’t need another metaphor there – thorns suck and so do some of my memories).

Sometimes the damn things are just too uncomfortable to get close to. It’s both exciting and frustrating to find these particular memories, because I know I’ve struck writer’s gold when I can’t bring myself to confront them, and eventually, I’ll have to endure the shitty feelings for long enough to get it in writing. I’m sorry to say, you’ll have to buy the book to get those stories (I’m not that sorry – it’ll be a good book).

I suppose that even in those instances, I get some sense of enjoyment, or at least some long-term benefit. Even when it’s at its worst, this process can offer some degree of healing. I had a spent bullet casing lodge itself in my collar once, and by the time I got it out, the water forced from my skin had already cooled it to a manageable temperature. I ignored the burn for what was probably too long, and it got infected. After my first shower in a while, I scrubbed away at the wound with a rough washcloth until it was raw again. Now it’s healed and you can barely see the scar.

Point is, the process can be like scrubbing an infected burn wound with a rough washcloth, but eventually it’ll heal over more completely than it would have if you hadn’t done that. Or at least that’s the hope. If it doesn’t, I’ll at least try to make the scrubbing look choreographed. Either way, I hope you enjoy the spectacle.

The Wasp and the Hound

We were about 45 minutes into our long walk for the day. My mind was stuck on my persistent lack of money (mostly my fault for spending it all as soon as I get it). I was sick and resentful for being outside. My knee has developed a constant, dull aching that I feel comfortable chalking up to a combination of old age and constant straining against an easily excited 75 pound dog. His legs are notably more muscular than when I first took him home – who needs weights or resistance bands when you can drag your owner around for hours on end each day?

We came to a corner, and he’s learning (slowly) to stop before crossing the street, but this time his attention was on something – anything at all – down the road. I got frustrated and jerked him around to my side, but his gaze never left whatever he was staring at. I got down to his level and I held his face to mine, trying desperately to be entertaining enough to pull his attention from whatever he was transfixed on, but no luck.

When I finally stopped drilling my eyes into his skull and looked around, I saw a tall, well-dressed, waspy white woman with short, blonde hair look at me with clear disdain behind her designer sunglasses. She averted her gaze and sipped her latte, and I didn’t hear it, but I felt the, “Hmph!” as though she had slapped me in the face with it.

We started across the street, “What even is it that you’re looking at?” I asked my dog with as much sincerity as I could pack into a single question. “There’s nothing even there! Silly creature.”

Clearly nobody with a smooth tone and sincere interest in their dog’s likes and dislikes was capable of the consistent beatings my momentary lapse in poise suggested I was doling out at home. Or at least that’s what I hoped went through the lady’s head after I said it. Given my mood, I was already prone to guilt and sure enough Guilt took full advantage of the opportunity, and I felt my shoulders hunch forward on their own.

“You know what, fuck that lady!” I thought as I pushed my shoulders back again with some effort. “Let’s see you try to handle this dog for longer than five minutes without getting frustrated!”

Furthermore, let’s see you re-navigate the struggles of your youth with that haughty aplomb. Based on your clothes, and her “better than you” attitude, I’d say she was sitting pretty comfortably in her middle age. Get off your high sybian for a second, and try dealing with the litany of concerns milling about in my head without getting a little physical, why don’t you?

I laughed to myself at the thought of her trying to wrangle my beast – at the picture of her being dragged down the street after a rogue squirrel – knees scraped, clothes tattered, sunglasses humorously askew, yelling, “Peace, puppy!” or some other ineffectual hippie nonsense.

If she turned around then, I’m not sure cackling to myself would have added to her opinion of me, but we were beyond that now, weren’t we? Slowly, reason and guilt crept back in, and my shoulders found neutral ground, between shame and defensive hubris.

Of course, my anger wasn’t really at her, or my dog, but at myself. It’s always at myself, in all likelihood. All we can control are our actions and our reactions, after all, and I had failed myself, my dog, and the wasp in a moment of weakness when I whipped my dog around the sidewalk. Still though… Fuck that lady.

We’re Not Together

What better way to celebrate senior year of high school than an unexpected pregnancy between my best friend and his lady? Both of them had aspirations for the future that did not include any children with any immediacy, so they decided that an abortion was their best choice. Knowing both of them as well as I did, I agreed.

He made up some bullshit about not being able to get out of work, so I cleared my day and took her to the clinic. The waiting room was filled with people there for similar procedures, and people who were just there to receive any of the other low-cost medical services the office provided. It was not a lively bunch, and there was a hush that was noteworthy even by comparison to other doctors’ offices. Her name was called, and I went with her to the counter because what else was I supposed to do?

“Can you sit back down?” she asked me.

“Why? I’m not doing anything over there. I don’t mind standing here with you.”

“No, it’s just that… I don’t want everyone to think we’re together.”

I turned to the quiet room and said, “Hey – I just want everybody to know we’re not together!” My voice carries. I did not need to shout. I did anyway. She promptly punched me in the arm, blushed, laughed, and told me to sit down again. I listened this time.

She sat back down after checking in and filling out the necessary paperwork. I continued making shitty jokes about the people around us to try and ease some of her tension. It was marginally successful, her name was called, I squeezed her hand and watched her disappear into the treatment area.

“I’ll be right outside waiting in my car, so just call me when she’s ready to go,” I told the staff behind the counter.

“The procedure lasts a couple hours. If you have any errands you want to run, you should have time,” the nurse told me.

“No, I’d rather be here just in case.” I sat in my car reading Men’s Health and GQ magazines with the air conditioner blasting, and a Tenacious D album playing loudly through my crappy sound system. It was a hot summer day in the San Fernando Valley, and it was untenable to me that she get out of the procedure and into the heat and discomfort of the valley in the summertime.

They were pretty spot-on with their time estimate. She stammered back into the waiting room, significantly more pale, drowsy, and sans baby. I helped her into my car, and she didn’t want to go home in the state she was in, so I sat with her for another couple hours while she napped. I got her a couple Gatorades to down on the way back to her parents’ house, where she presumably avoided the topic of where she had been all day.

 

Back In The Today

IMG_20180827_181346_832.jpgI feel like I haven’t checked in with you in a bit. Hi! How are you? How are your kids? Still nonexistent for some of you? Oh, how I’ve missed you.

I shot my first commercial this past week. I was essentially paid to sit around most of the day and eat free food, occasionally I pretended to be a worker in a glasses manufacturing plant, and went home. The irony of doing a glasses commercial and pretending to wear glasses after recently getting laser eye surgery is not lost on me. Anyway, it was great, and I can say that I’m a paid actor now.

I also did my first video audition, which was to include some information about me, a monologue, and the lines for the role itself. Apparently, actors just have monologues that they’re prepared to do at the drop of a hat. I was not aware of this, and had to learn one as quickly as possible because there was a tight deadline for submission. After thirty or so takes, and a two hour break that I had to take because I was getting too angry, I was able to finish off the interminable 4 minute video. After my final take, I hit upload, then waited anxiously before pressing “Submit” at 11:59pm. There was one view on the video and I had no calls the next day saying I was the best thing they’d ever seen, so I’m guessing I didn’t get it.

I also started Improv classes at Second City. They are fun. They are more fun than I thought they’d be by a pretty long shot. I was not embarrassed or concerned about how I looked because I’m in a new city where there are zero people with an expectation of the way normally behave. It’s freeing in a lot of ways to be an unknown.

Lastly, I did stand-up again the other night, and it went pretty well. I was probably a little tipsier than I needed to be, but I got a few laughs and the host told me he’d like me to come back. So ya know… That’s something.

Three weeks in. It feels like it’s been much longer, and I feel like I should be much farther along than I am, but I’m loving the shit out of this process when it isn’t dreadfully dreary, and I look forward to more.

Maybe Try Going Up Less Drunk

It’s odd to have a travel blog when you’re not traveling. My process when moving to a new city or acclimating to a new lifestyle has consistently been messy, and moving here has been no exception to that rule. As many of you know, moderation truly isn’t my thing.

I’ve repetitively made my rounds to bars and night clubs and comedy shows and more bars, and it’s been a crazy week. Like most of my weeks, I suppose. For the sake of updating you, though, I’ve now done a total of four open mics since landing here. My understanding is that I will have to do more like 5-10 a week to be truly “committed to the craft.”

After the show Friday, the primary note I got was to just keep plugging away. Repetition, repetition, repetition. The secondary note I got was, “Maybe try going up less drunk.” I think both are decent pieces of advice. It’s hard to remember which pieces of which jokes struck the audience when remembering the evening as a whole is a bit challenging.

For me, one week is an impressively short time for the pendulum to have hit an apex, and begin its swing back in the other direction. I find that each critique and each bombing (the comedy kind, not the terrorist kind) only encourages me to push myself harder, work on my material more, and get out there to try it again.

Last night went better. I felt more nervous on stage, or at least I think I did. In any case, I remember feeling more nervous this time. Another thing I remembered was all of my lines, and I think that’s a start in the right direction. As for the direction of this blog, I think it will begin to take on more of a “repository for stories” role for me. I may not be doing anything worth sharing in this moment, as working on oneself tends to be less entertaining, but dammit I’ve done some pretty ridiculous shit in the past that should be written down somewhere.

Pulling from my past will also allow for a little more consistency with the pacing of my posts, so this too will develop into a sustainable practice. Or maybe this is all just masturbatory for me, in which case enjoy the show!