Catching Up With Friends

Considering that I used to see this particular friend on a daily basis, it’d been quite a while since we got the chance to hang out. She was a “traveling kid,” meaning that she hopped trains and hitchhiked her way up, down, and across the country. She also happens to be around my age, intelligent, and particularly attractive, so of course, our closeness was suspect to my girlfriend at the time.

She and I were standing in the kitchen, beers in hand, and I was ritualistically chiding her for wasting her biology degree from UC Berkeley when Girlfriend said, “I’m going out for a smoke if you want one.” It was less of an invitation, and more of a demand.

She puffed impatiently at the cigarette while she told me that she didn’t like how close we were standing. “I feel like you two are doing your own little thing and I’m not allowed in the conversation at all!”

She was right – we were blocking her out for the sake of expedience. When you’re friends with someone for years and you see each other every day, you develop a kind of conversational shorthand that can be exclusive. That, and Girlfriend’s attitude wasn’t exactly making either of us thrilled about having her jump in.

At some point while we were outside, my friend got a call from a fellow traveling kid, informing her that their mutual acquaintance had died. I can’t recall from what exactly – the traveling lifestyle is wrought with dangerous activities like jumping onto fast-moving metal death boxes, riding those death boxes through harsh climates, catching rides with total strangers, and frequent meth and heroin use.

I’m not sure how close they were, either, but my friend was clearly rocked by the news. I did my best to console her, but my expressions of loving sympathy were too much for Girlfriend to handle. She went off the rails (pun intended), and started screaming at my friend. “Don’t think you can just come in here and take MY! BOYFRIEND! with me sitting right fucking here!”

My friend choked back tears and tried to explain that she wanted none of this sweet, sweet lovin’, but there was no getting through the wall of rage and jealousy Girlfriend had quietly been erecting the whole night. All she saw was red.

Finally my friend had had enough of being screamed at while simultaneously mourning the loss of her companion, and she ran out my front door, face in her hands. Girlfriend started after her, and in an attempt to stop the situation from continuing its downward spiral, I grabbed her in a bear hug. She flailed for a second, then reached around and grabbed the underside of my bicep and pinched as hard as she could until I let go. Then she ran out the door after her grieving target.

I took a breath, assessing how much I cared about continuing my involvement. I stared at the recently-slammed door thinking, “If I just lock it…” I sighed, in part because I was out of breath from the struggle, and in part because I knew I had to do something; I needed to help my friend at a minimum. I ran out the door, and found my friend sitting on the grass around the corner, still crying, with my girlfriend knife-handing and yelling in her face.

“Go back inside!” I yelled. I’m not sure why I thought that would work, but it did. She ran back to the apartment. I got about three sentences into trying to make my friend feel better when Girlfriend rounded the corner, steaming back in our direction. There was murder in her eyes, so I apologized to my friend then ran to intercept her.

We went back to the apartment to consume vastly more alcohol, and puff away at countless more cigarettes. My friend took the opportunity to find respite elsewhere, Girlfriend took the opportunity to continue belittling me as best she could for being a philanderer, and I took the opportunity to daydream alternatively about being single and being dead on a train track in the middle of nowhere – both sounded pretty awesome in that moment.

I eventually chose the former, but not before proving Girlfriend right. “If I’m constantly being accused of cheating no matter what I do, then I might as well be enjoying the thing I’m in trouble for,” I thought. Or I could have been an adult and just broken it off, but that’s just not my MO.

Working Title

Are you in love right now? How awesome is that shit? If you’re not, have you been in love before? I bet you remember exactly what it feels like. If you’re like me, the powerful torrent of a river that was that love etched an indelible path deep down in you somewhere. Looking at it, now barely a trickle (but never completely dry), brings a weird combination of sadness and awe – how deep it ran, how wide its breadth.

Every now and again I get brief flashes of it. Sometimes it’s easy to pinpoint – I see a picture of an ex that reminds me of them. Sometimes it’s more subtle – like today when I heard a news story about how women smell their partner’s shirts as a way to calm themselves; just like she used to. I’m instantly transported to her side, and I feel her skin against mine for a split second before I’m thrown back into the present. It’s painful to remember just how happy I was, mainly because no matter how happy I feel now, it pales in comparison to that feeling. It’s a reminder that that shit is out there, waiting for me in the heart of someone I probably haven’t even met, yet.

She sits in a coffee shop and stares at the rain hitting the window. She listens to a combination of podcasts, NPR news stories, and sweet, somber instrumental music that matches the tone of the season. She feels perfectly happy with herself right now, but she too is reminded of the flame that burned in her belly once for that someone. The pang hits her as the music crescendos, and her eyes well with tears, and one sneaks its way down her cheek while she’s distracted by the beauty of the moment.

She’s proud of that tear for its audacity. She’s thankful for it being there for a moment before she wipes it away. She yearns for something strong enough to pull more of them from her someday when she’s so goddamn happy that tears are the only way for her body to cope with the overload of joy, happiness, and true love coursing through her veins.

It’s fucking corny! Deal with it!

Anyway, I can’t wait to meet her. I can’t wait to see her smile for the first time. I can’t wait to feel the electricity pulse through our skin when our hands meet for the first time. I can’t wait to see the glint of realization in her eyes when she finds herself thinking, “Holy shit, I love this guy,” for the first time. I can’t wait to feel that spark in me again.

Then again, I can wait. I AM waiting. I hate waiting. But the leaves are certainly pretty rustling in the fall winds, and I’m happy she and I both have that to enjoy while we wait, sipping our coffee (beer) and staring at the rain hitting the window.

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Patio Fish

I got evicted from the first apartment I rented on my own. Apparently I was too loud, though I was personally impressed with how quiet I was being, the 80 pounds of marijuana in my closet, and my ongoing probation didn’t put me on good grounds for fighting it. Luckily, one of my best friends from high school was getting out of the Marine Corps, and in the mood to relocate to Sacramento.

I found us a townhouse that was way nicer than we deserved. It was a two-story, 2-bedroom/2.5-bath with two patios and a fireplace in the living room, and there was a pool and gym in the complex. It was considerably nicer than anything I’ve lived in since.

Anyway, one of its short-comings was that the drain would always get clogged with the leaves from the beautiful, large tree that hung over the second-story patio off my bedroom (it was a hard life). My solution to this was not to regularly clear the leaves, but to keep them, and add 15 goldfish. I feel confident that they lived primarily off of bugs that landed in the still water, as I regularly forgot to feed them. They were clearly strong enough to fend for themselves (or at least the 9 survivors of the initial shock of the new environment were), so I let them.

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I often fell asleep on the couch downstairs because of laziness, television, and the warmth of the fireplace. One night around 3AM, I was jerked awake by someone pounding on the front door. I opened the door to find a young lady friend of ours, looking panicked, and wearing an over-sized coat that clearly wasn’t hers. I invited her in, and intercepted my roommate who was rushing down the stairs, gun in hand. He lowered it when he saw me, and he went back to bed after I briefed him.

I spent the next two hours listening to her repeat herself. We were all magical, brothers and sisters of Jesus (not figuratively – Jesus Christ of Nazareth grew up with us), and at some points, I was Jesus. She was clearly having an episode of some kind. After about an hour, I found out that she “had a little bit of meth” a few days prior, and hadn’t slept since. She had previously been diagnosed as bipolar, and her manic states were more pronounced after her use of uppers.

She followed me to my bed where she continued her unending stream of words with little to no connection to one another, and at some point I interrupted her to go wake up my roommate. “It’s your turn,” I told him. I had work the next day, and for some reason, I just couldn’t manage to sleep with her talking directly into whichever ear wasn’t against the pillow.

I gave her one of my hats to wear, which seemed to ease her transition to the care of my friend. They didn’t sleep the entire night. We didn’t feel right having her committed to a mental hospital, but neither of us were particularly well-equipped to guide her to stability. After a daylight broke, he was able to get in touch with her parents, and he dropped her off with them while I was at work.

My roommate grabbed my hat off her head as she jumped out of his truck. It was my late grandfather’s hat, so I was glad he had the wherewithal to grab it in spite of his sleep deprivation.

I never followed up to see how things panned out, but I did run into her at a bar a few years later. She was looking much more clear-headed, but hadn’t made the sobriety choice so far as I could tell. Then again, neither had I.

The fish stayed on that patio beyond my lease. I hope the apartment’s new tenants appreciated them as much as I did, and they continued to thrive in spite of neglect, like my friends and I do.

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.

Ocean’s MX-6

One of the 5 cars I totaled before the age of 20 was a white, Mazda MX-6. It was sporty, and handled great, and I once got up to 132 mph on the road to Las Vegas (rattling and shaking, maybe, but I got there). I loved that car, and I was constantly looking for ways to modify it, but my budget was always a major limiting factor – my eyes were (and still are) bigger than my wallet. I decided my car needed new, flashy wheels and tires, budget-be-damned.

I drove around the area between my house in Chatsworth and my school in Woodland Hills trying to find a set of wheels worth my attention. After maybe two hours, I spotted a set of wheels on a Mustang that really popped, and the game was afoot.

I went online and found the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power emblem, and had large decals printed. I collected safety vests from my friend who worked at a grocery store (the employees collecting carts from the parking lot are required to wear them). I got a pickup truck and a construction light from a friend whose dad worked in construction. I collected safety cones as I passed them on the Valley streets, and threw them into the back of the truck.

With all my supplies collected, I convened a gathering of my friends to go over the plan. The car was located on a curved street in a quiet neighborhood, so cones would be set up on both entrances, and the truck would be stationed at one of the road blocks (complete with flashing orange light and LADWP stickers; the driver even had a DWP hat because his dad worked there when he was younger). The rest of the “pit crew” and I would be dressed in all black, and have gloves on so as not to leave any prints at the scene. One side of the Mustang would be lifted with a two-ton jack, the wheels would come off, and cinder blocks would be replace them. Then we’d do the other side. For expedience, I had already gone and loosened the lug nuts an hour prior (luckily they didn’t try to drive away in the interim).

The groundwork was laid, the plan understood, so we piled into the two getaway vehicles and got to work. The road blocks went up and the crew ran to the target. There were some minor hiccups with the jack, but overall the whole thing went very smoothly.

A car approached the roadblock, but my friend with the DWP hat intercepted him saying, “I’m sorry, but there’s a sewage leak that we’re addressing. Shouldn’t be more than a few minutes.” Exactly as rehearsed.

The tires were off, the car set back down on the blocks, and everything was thrown quickly into the truck. Cones were loaded up, and the crew got into a separate vehicle, and everybody went in different directions. We met back up at the house, adrenaline still coursing through our veins. We had done it. With vastly more planning and forethought than was necessary, we put a car on cinder blocks and scored a new set of wheels.

In the name of poetic justice, the tires were too big to fit on the MX-6, so they were stored in my friend’s yard, where they were promptly stolen by someone else. Then I totaled the poor thing not long after. In hindsight, the wheels were never the real goal, just a way for my friends and I to alleviate our teenage boredom with the high that comes from doing illegal shit. In other words, it was totally worth it. What a rush.

D N your A

23andMeI’m certainly not running for office any time soon (or ever probably), but apparently it’s important that you know my full genetic makeup, so here you go. I got this test done in part out of curiosity, but more because I think it’s cool information to have. We all think we know ourselves and our histories, but records can be tough to track down, and if you’re like me, your great grandparents just made shit up or shut down completely whenever they were confronted with uncomfortable questions.

Another person jumping on the share-your-DNA-with-the-world bandwagon today was Senator Elizabeth Warren. Her release was in response to President Trump’s trend of calling out Democrats for their inability or willingness to produce documentation for their claims. As with the last time he used this tactic, the Democrat in question did, in fact, have the documents to prove their point.

For those of you unaware, Mr. Trump and a contingent of conservatives took to mocking Senator Warren for her claims of being part Native American, saying that she was using it to garner an advantage when applying for jobs at top-tier law schools. The President even went so far as to offer $1 million to a charity of her choosing if she were to prove her Native American heritage. When asked about it today he said, “I didn’t say that. Nah, you better read it again.” With his falling net worth, maybe he feels like he can’t afford it.

Far be it from me to presume to know what’s going on in the mind of the Senator today, but I imagine it’s not too far from, “BOOM, MOTHERFUCKER! FACTS!” Or at least that’s what I hope it is, but I suppose that isn’t very presidential.

Ya know, she’s such an eloquent speaker, I’ll let her speak for herself:

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Boom.

Frank Lloyd Writing

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In middle school and high school I spent a lot of my free time on computers. I played a lot of video games, but I also put in a lot of time on architecture and computer aided design software (yes, I’ve always been this nerdy). I’m a proponent of art in all its forms, but I’ve always had a soft spot for architecture. I love how tangible, interactive, and practical the end product is.

This weekend was Chicago Open House – an event put on by the Chicago Architecture Center where architecturally significant buildings are open to the public. In the spirit of the event, and in line with my love of the craft, I went to tour the former home of one of the American greats – Frank Lloyd Wright. I love his work (pictured above), but I also love what a weird dude he was – an artist in every way.

He was raised in a broken household like any good artist, and mom had him play with geometric blocks, and put up pictures of cathedrals in his room as inspiration (or strong-arming depending on your vantage point). He enrolled in the University of Wisconsin, and by 19, he dropped out, moved to Chicago, and began work as a draftsman at an architecture firm. By 22, he had begged $5,000 away from his boss to purchase his first plot of land to build his first house – the one I visited today.

He raised his family there while his designs leaked into the surrounding town of Oak Park via his neighbors/clients. He took full responsibility for the aesthetic in his homes, even after the design phase was over. He designed dresses for the women to wear around the house. He would buy a vase for a client to put on a mantle, then send a bill, then drop by occasionally to make sure they hadn’t moved it. If they told him the roof was leaking onto their desk in the office, he told them to move the desk.

In his early 40’s, he wooed the wife of one of his clients, and they whisked away to Europe, leaving their families and his business behind. He also left behind all of his debts, as he usually didn’t pay his bills. When payday rolled around, he bought a new piano instead of paying his employees. But he was in love, and I totally get how going Europe with a new love interest sounds better than dealing with any of that.

Eventually, he married Mamah (pronunced May-muh), and they moved to Wisconsin. One day while Frank was away on business, one of the servants of the house murdered seven people – including Mamah and her two children – and burnt the house to the ground. His family would later say that a piece of Frank – the warm, loving one – died with her that day, and the egocentric side of the artist took the reigns from then on.

Together with his third and final wife, Olgivanna, he started an architecture commune complete with drama circles, dance groups, and Sunday morning gospels. He died of a tummy ache (abdominal pains and attempted surgery) in April of 1959.

The man was a genius, and like all geniuses, he was weird as could be. Standing in the home that he designed and built at the age of 22 was awe-inspiring, and I won’t waste my time trying to describe it to you – the flow was perfect, the mix of detail and simplicity was elegant, and the materials were all locally sourced. All I can really say is that I certainly wouldn’t mind living there, even if it meant wearing a dress of his making, or keeping that ugly vase on the mantle. The guy knew what he was doing.

“Every great artist who ever lived is a philosopher. My work is great insofar as its philosophy is sound,” he once said. Well, it seemed pretty sound to me (design-wise, at least – many of his structures were plagued by his overconfidence and attempts at coming in under budget, but whatever – art, right?).