27 December 2013

Free after rebate

I set out to write this post because it seemed as though the world had changed.

Back when I was in late high school my Sundays followed a pretty regular routine. I'd get out of bed and head down to the kitchen. My parents would be there, eating breakfast and reading the newspaper. My dad would cook me an egg and heat me up whatever else he had cooked earlier. Over breakfast, I'd jockey for space at the table and get to work, looking through the advertising circulars: Staples, Office Max, CompUSA, Office Depot, Circuit City, Best Buy. I'd draw up a plan of attack and head out right after breakfast.

Then I'd come back with the spoils: all sorts of electronics I had very little need for. Sure the scanner and cable modem that I bought were genuinely useful. I still have some of those surge protectors. The spindles of CD-Rs and DVD-RWs, well they were useful at first, but each new spindle bought before the previous one was finished brought diminishing returns. The chemical air dusters were of some use, but were probably more responsible for enabling in unhealthy relationship with inhalants in at least one UMass Amherst student. But the five-pack of ethernet cards and the poorly made mini-ATX case purchased with no computer in mind to build into it, well your guess is as good as mine.

So why'd I do it? It was mostly out of pride. I had a reputation as a master deal-finder among my friends and family. And these electronics were really good deals. I didn't work an awful lot in high school--a website here and there, technical support--and didn't need to in order to support this habit. That's because these items were free--free after rebate.

The premise of free after rebate items is pretty simple. A store sells an item at an inflated price, but the store or the manufacturer of the item issue a mail in rebate for exactly that price. Their hope is that some of the people buying the item will forget to fill out the paperwork, or make some mistake doing so. Even for those who dutifully fill out the form and mail it some exotic locale like Young America, Minnesota or Calais, Maine, the company gets to hold on to the money for several months, collecting interest. Scumbag companies may further up the ante by denying perfectly valid rebates and issue the cash to only those who have the time and energy to haggle. As an added benefit, retailers drive traffic into their stores and manufacturers drive attention to their brand. Not every store would run free after rebate sales every week, but typically at least one would in a given week. The diligent (and unfortunately sometimes only the lucky) consumer gets the benefit of only paying sales tax on the original price. Just the sort of unsustainable scheme to tide over our intrepid nation between the tech bubble and real estate one.

Of course, the High Holy Day on the free after rebate calendar was Black Friday. It was a bonanza of both quality and quantity. Rather than hiding the free after rebate items in the margin as usual, there might be a whole page of free items. And maybe instead of a 50-spindle of CD-Rs, this time around you could get a full 100 for free. Stuff like that.

My interest in finding good deals and my acquisition of a car largely coincided. So the idea of getting up early, maybe 4 AM, standing in line and snagging a bunch of free stuff took on a meaning beyond its component parts. As a mission that I planned and executed entirely on my own, it was a show of independence. My parents never really set strict limits on what I could and couldn't do, but I did a pretty good job imposing these on myself. I didn't smoke or drink in high school and I can't remember a time I spend out late socializing on a school night. In this context, Black Friday wasn't just something that I thought of as fun and exciting. Sure, there was sneaking around at odd hours of the night and the sense of plundering and ripping off the stores (despite their utter complicity with this). But more than that, it was in a sense an act of rebellion--not against some authority figure, but limits I'd imposed on myself.

This Thanksgiving I was at a friend's house watching TV and got bombarded with ads for Black Friday sales. I didn't remember many advertisements like these in the years that I stood in line. They were pushy, establishing that your loved ones were expecting good gifts and these sales were your only chance to satisfy all of them. Furthermore, the ads focussed heavily on the earlier openings times of the stores, onto Thanksgiving day itself. It made Black Friday seem less about getting up early and more about anxiously ducking out of a relaxing day of celebration. After a few viewings I was strongly repulsed by what Black Friday had become.

It seemed as though they were misappropriating something that I held kind of dear. Black Friday was an innocent time, celebrated with the most consequence-free forms of rebellion. Now it seemed the amalgamation of the basest elements of consumerism, infiltrating a holiday celebrating being appreciative of the things one already has.

But thinking about it more, I think that I was the one who misappropriated Black Friday. How could it be about anything other than consumerism? It wasn't the world that changed, it was merely the way I was looking at it.

26 December 2013

A brush with reason

Something strange happened in SeaTac on the day before Christmas. As I approached the security line at the airport, the wandering, town-crier-like TSA agent announcing the rules and regulations told us to keep our shoes on. As we approached the security line proper, the woman in front of me asked if her tablet had to come out of her bag, and an agent too her not only could the tablet stay in, but laptops could too. I asked if my two laptops were in fine in the bag, and was politely told this was alright. I asked if my belt had to come off, and the answer, surprisingly, was 'only if it sets off the detector'. Hmm. I left it on, hoping for the best. As I approached the line, I looked for a bins in which to put my winter coat. They were all with an agent standing behind the X-ray machine, and said agent told me to just throw the jacket on the conveyer. As I walked through the metal detector, I realized that I had my hat on. No one cared.

I wasn't sure then and I'm still not sure what was going on. Was it an early Christmas present to us long-suffering travelers beaten down by living in the era of backscatter radiation and enhanced pat-downs? An attempt to relieve congestion on what could be a busy travel day? Maybe I had gotten diverted into some special line--I didn't get a chance to observe what was happening elsewhere. And if that was the case, what had I done to demonstrate this worthiness to the TSA? I have an honest face? Can the NSA read my thoughts and intentions now (hey guys!)? Perhaps a rogue TSA supervisor was running the show? The terrorists won, so why bother? The terrorists lost, so why continue? Nihilism? Mission accomplished?

All in all it just seemed so absurdly reasonable. I'd like to think that in general the world operates in a fairly reasonable way, based on facts, and understandable by me. But an airport, fuck, that's like the epicenter of arbitrariness. Will this continue, or when I fly out of Boston, will I get an extra grope for recompense? Or will life just go back to being the same. Each laptop in its own bin; belts off; hats off; holding my hands up above my head, my thumbs pointing in at my ears, standing in my stocking feet? I strongly suspect the latter. And that day before Christmas will be looked back at as some fleeting and confusing thing, as I jockey three bins and two bags down that very same security line.

But fuck, there'd be nothing quite like a world where airport security goes and changes.

Christmas Dinner

My family never celebrated Christmas. We're Russian-American, and in Russia, you have a tree and you decorate it with ornaments and you give each other presents, but it's not for Christmas, it's for New Years. I guess this is since religion was taboo in the Soviet Union, but honestly, I don't really know much about it. All I know is that the usual secular Christmas stuff was moved over by one week. Moreover, my family's not religious at all (well, not myself or my parents, anyway), nor are my friends, for the most part. Meanwhile, my girlfriend's family is Jewish. All of these things added up meant that Christmas dinner wasn't something I had on my mind as the 25th of December approached.

Now, my parents have a timeshare for a week and a half in late December, and so while they're off in the Caribbean, I move in to their house in Needham to take care of the cat and fish. My girlfriend was with me, but on the 25th she decided she was going to go to her parents' for a couple of days. The food situation at the house was getting scarce, and I thought we'd go grocery shopping before I dropped her off, until it occurred to me that it was Christmas day and everything was probably closed. So I dropped her off and then wondered what I was going to eat for dinner.

I figured maybe some foreign-run restaurant or big chain grocery store would be open, but driving through Needham, I had no such luck, only finding the most generic and least culinarily attractive general stores open (7/11, CVS). Finally, I decided 'fuck it' and pulled into a Tedeschi parking lot. I'd never been in a Tedeschi before and was hoping that it was a bit classier than a 7/11, i.e. that I could find some sandwich or something there that didn't look like it was made out of plastic and grease. Walking in, though, I saw that I'd had no such luck.

Browsing, I heard the cashier talking to the other one or two other customers, wishing them a merry Christmas, good luck on their scratch ticket, and so on. This guy was very very very nice, and though it seemed genuine, gears started turning in my head. I eventually picked out a sandwich that seemed the least likely to destroy my intestines and went over to pay for it. The cashier remarked, kindly, "A nice Christmas dinner, huh?" and then, with a big smile, wished me a wonderful day.

As I was going through the usual motions and noises here, I couldn't stop thinking about this guy's tone and manner, and what he may have been thinking. Here I was, a guy coming in to a Tedeschi at 5 PM on Christmas and buying a factory-made sandwich for five bucks to go home and eat alone. Meanwhile, this cashier was so kind and gracious, I started wondering: was he like this because he was always like this, was he like this because it was Christmas and he wanted people to have a nice holiday, or was he like this because he was worried about the circumstances of people going in to a Tedeschi to buy a solo Christmas dinner and didn't want me to go home and hang myself? Maybe it was some combination of the three. I wanted to assure him that my life was in good shape and Christmas wasn't really any different from any other day from me, but I just paid, left, ate my greasy sandwich at home, and played some video games.

14 December 2013

Fire and Rain

[Author (Jon Rosenberg)’s note: this is part of a larger reflection I was writing, but realized I was going pure stream of consciousness without a bound.  I chopped this out and tried to edit it up a little.  As such this may be the first of a series.]

Sometimes I try to analyze life like it’s a literary piece.  I’ll consider what’s sitting on a table when I walk in and think “Ok, what does this symbolize?” or “What could this be foreshadowing.”  If it’s pizza it’s probably foreshadowing us eating dinner, but it could also be symbolizing my host is great big slob.


Months ago now I went on a trip to the Caribbean with my now ex and her family, and when walking along, just her and I, we passed a restaurant with a live musician doing his rendition of “Fire and Rain.”  I reflexively uttered a note of displeasure that he wasn’t even trying to carry the somberness of the song, thus making it more upbeat than what I feel the song IS.  My ex retorted that it was a cover, and that it was annoying I didn’t like covers.  The conversation didn’t proceed.

I was admittedly a little jarred at the strength of the response as I didn’t realize it was a sore spot.  Given the later discovered context that she was trying to paint me as someone with whom she had a minimum of commonality, the reaction seems more logical, but none the less unkind.  It did make me think though, am I against covers?  I had never thought of myself that way.  I almost always like Hallelujah, and I definitely like the Simple Man cover by Shinedown, and there are covers genuinely unlike their source material such as Smells Like Teen Spirit covered by The Wounded, or Metallica being played by Apocalyptica that have wound their way through my headphones a fair number of times.

There was an itch for me to scratch here.  Even when the covers I liked took the song into their own, they didn’t leave the genuine piece behind.  They picked songs to cover that they had a respect for, and then typically didn’t try to turn the provided set of words against the original creator.  They instead seemed just to want to tell the world how they heard it.  It had not crossed my mind that a cover might actually intentionally be a rejection of the source material.

It wasn’t that I took immediate offence to this thought, and upon this new view, would have liked to talk about that I think, but my partner had seemed to close off.  Instead I ruminated on my own and came to reflect on my own visit.

Our setting at the time was a timeshare heavy portion of St Maartens.  Among our fellow island populace, the members of our party were of an age with an average well below the Island at large.  The contrast was hard to miss, but through my suddenly altered perception, it gained more form.  While I might consider my trip as just a vacation, many of the others had committed to something more.  They had picked The annual, or more frequent trip, until the ultimate end.  Their lives were behind them, no going back now, and even a disappointingly low amount of variables when looking forward.

When my fellow islanders heard the live music at the bar, even if they requested Fire and Rain, that’s not really what they wanted to hear.  They HAVE seen fire and rain, and they don’t want to be reminded about the terrors of their past, or worse, how they won’t see them again.  They want the same thing they wanted when they first purchased their spot on the island: an escape; and the knowledge that yes, things are as they are, but bad isn’t here right now.  In that light, the cover made much more sense.  By producing the song in the same words and chords, but somehow more upbeat, the song acknowledged that, yes, we have not all climbed a crystal stair to the present day.  None the less, we know we can be happy in this moment, and now we can reflect on our Fire and Rain, and whether true or not, we still declare we have very much come to terms with it.

Of course, the much more probable reality is that producing the song accurately was not in the realm of this singer's talents, and so the visitors got the version they did.

29 November 2013

Leaving

I think about leaving. Watch the verb modality--I'm not saying "I'm thinking of leaving". I think of leaving as I check listings house listings on Redfin. I think of leaving as I look for adoptable dogs. I think of leaving as I sign up for runs months in advance. The way I think about leaving is thoroughly half-assed.

But I do think about leaving Seattle, this city that I really like very much. This is, in all likelihood, the best place I've ever lived. When I think about leaving, I don't think of returning to a place I've lived before. I'd leave to live in some city I've never even been to before. And that factor is really important, because it gets me closer to living up to my potential.

Now "living up to one's potential" sounds like some bullshit, but I'm going to assert it's some real measurable thing in my mind. Fulfilling one's potential involves a strange sort of retroactive satisfaction with one's accomplishments--a sort of 'I really actually did that?". It's a departure from one's comfort zone. It's a way I feel about first moving to Seattle. I only knew one person, but I've since built up a reasonably sized network of friends that I genuinely care for. To do this involved a pretty radical change in character, a willingness to plan, a comfort with asking people who I'd talked to once to join us for beer, and accepting the possibility of spending a Friday in a bar with only a newspaper and a bartender for company.

But with a group of friends in place, I don't really feel I can do such things anymore. It's not just I wouldn't care for it, my mental approach has shifted and I when I meet new people I don't actively think about converting these chance meetings to friendships, as I used to do. Moving isn't the only way to reawaken this feeling, but I'm not sure there's anything like it.

So I've thought, if I really wanted to live up to this ideal of maximizing potential, I'd move around a lot. Aside from the finding relentless pursuit of personal best to be somewhat obnoxious, the problem with that is that it forces the deprivation of another important feeling: comfort. Being in a familiar place, a very nice familiar place at that, brings a very real satisfaction. Having to seek out new people, having to worry about the process of furthering acquaintances to friends, that's incredibly tiring for me. As much as I'd like to, I derive considerable comfort from not having to.

But the real point here is that neither making moves to live to one's potential nor the comfort of continuity are more important or better than the other. It's stupid and ultimately dissatisfying to optimize entirely for a single one. The dependent variable is happiness, and it depends on both (and to be fair, many more things). Happiness is what's important, and that comes from maintaining the correct balance of the underlying factors.

I'm just rethinking the ratio a bit and I don't think there's any harm in that. Maybe the balance has swung too heavily one way, and needs a push in the other direction.

28 November 2013

Signs

Legitimate content in progress, but some things are too good to pass up just as is.


22 November 2013

11 November 2013

Places where the author has slept poorly, if at all

Airplanes
There's nothing about airplanes that even suggests they're a place where sleeping is possible. Nothing. First, they're quite loud and the noise that they produce is that variable. Second, they're in the fucking air. They bank, the shake, they change speeds. If that wasn't bad enough, you're literally shoulder to shoulder with hundreds of perfect strangers. What other primate could handle being this many of its kind in this enclosed space? None of them. None the fuck of them.

So why do people keep asking me if I slept on the plane?

No I didn't. But not through a lack of trying. I changed every leg to window seats so I could lean against the side of the plane. I tried lying back, I tried lying forward onto the tray table. But in every case, as soon as I was on the cusp of sleep I darted awake. One time, I got far enough into sleep that I started to dream. However, in the dream I immediately started choking. Predictably, this woke me up and I was foiled yet again.

I'm convinced, people who can sleep on planes may have the advantage now, but they wouldn't have lasted a fucking day as cavemen. You're 35,000 feet in the air! That's wrong! You can't sleep during that! If that's not a enough to wake you up, a sabertooth tiger is going to eat you and all your babies. You'll be dragged away by your hair!

So nice work fuckers. You win this round, but I'd be such a better caveman than you.

The entire nation of Germany
I've been in Germany three times, average duration about a week apiece. I've stayed at three different hotels. In each of those trips, I've averaged no more than four hours of sleep per night.

The fuck, Germany?

It's not a timezone problem. I've been in Central Europe Time multiple times and actually while in Italy I had by far the best, most absolutely peaceful and deep sleep of my life. Even in France, when I was in a crappy hostel, I slept well.

I think part of the issue is the German bed, which I'm convinced, is in every way the most inferior bedding solution devised by anyone, anywhere, in the entire course of human events. The German bed has a thin foam mattress over slats instead of a box spring. That part is ok. The bed is made with a fitted bottom sheet, again no issues here. But rather than having a top sheet and blankets, you are instead given a you-sized rectangle of comforter material called a decke. This is under what you are to sleep.

This sucks sucks sucks sucks sucks. The assumption totally is that you'll lie under your decke, absolutely still, and sleep. However, for me, every night is an odyssey wherein I find myself moving from side to side and taking on all sorts of new and exciting contortions. The decke just can't keep up.

Seriously Germany, the decke is a joke. Cut that shit out.

Hardwood
Hardwood is very uncomfortable to sleep on.

02 November 2013

Concrete future

There's something out of place about them, the cement mixers with "building a concrete future" written on the side. They seem like they belong in some sort of dystopian fiction, agents of some faceless organization erecting drab, soulless buildings with a villainous lack of remorse.

There's also something out of place about a walker and a cane left in the strange junk pile of the laudrey room. At first I thought I meant someone got better, but thinking more it has to mean someone died.

13 October 2013

Fuckityo.com is a liberal media conspiracy

Issaquah High School abuts a wooded area with several trails. In that wooded area is the Issaquah Sportsmen's Club.

As a result, as you're walking by the former you're hearing the sound of gun shots going off at the latter's outdoor firing range.

Now this is probably liberal bias, or an east coast mindset thing, or whatever, but the whole composition of things just seemed a little unsettling. Not necessarily wrong, not necessarily dangerous. Just a little unsettling, right?

06 October 2013

Snippets

I can't remember exactly what he said, but it was something like "I tell them I'm blind and they look at me like I'm a liar". The wording was unfortunate. He went on to explain that he was legally blind, and that his other downtrodden looking conversation partner wouldn't want vision like his.

She was sitting at the bus stop talking to another woman about her history with illicit stimulants. "These days it's all meth. That's what my son does, he's 40". I've heard this tone and intonation before, but the context of the conversation is always quite different.

Slow pitch

I took a slow-pitch softball off the head. It wasn't under the typical circumstances you'd expect of camping under a ball and getting nailed on the head because the positioning was wrong. I got hit on the head while at bat, somehow. I stepped to the plate, the ball was lobbed in, and it just seemed to stay in the air for hours. I waited and waited, expecting to come down over the plate, and instead it came down on the crown of my head. It was obviously unintentional, the pitcher was immediately apologetic, my teammates demanded I be given first base (softball rules, however, dictate that a hit-by-pitch is merely a ball), and I responded to whole situation by announcing that I'm an idiot.

The pitcher seemed to take it easy on me after, giving me good stuff to hit. I predictably responded by drilling the pitch right into the ground at home plate. Real routine play. But somehow, against all odds, I ended up making it to first. I didn't see the play unfold, but there was a real inglorious stink to it. Was this an act of pity? I left that game not embarrassed, but more resigned, that softball was not something I should do.

The team ended up in the loser's bracket for the postseason on account of a 3-3 record. The day of our game was a very rare late spring day in Seattle. It poured, and people canceled. We eventually managed four players, while the other team actually had a full complement. They proposed a scrimmage, but we ended up just hanging around the field, batting, fielding, and having impromptu games of catch on the soaked field. It was the best day of the season. Easily.

I think I understand how I got hit on the head. All season long, I felt so locked in, so much like I had tunnel vision and I could only see what was directly in front of me. I'd hit the ball, and only really know where it went when I was either safe or out at first.

I had a bit of an awakening in college. I like throwing a ball around. I like batting, even if I'm shit at it. I fucking love ranging over to field ground balls on my left or right. But make it matter--not even in the sense of being intense about the game or not, but just assigning rules and goals and objectives to it--and then to me it's all different.

And the popularity of sports leagues would indicate otherwise, but honestly I think it's not just different, but worse.

23 September 2013

Arcade bar

I think she looks a little bit like Amy Ryan. But you'd probably say I was crazy. But I think everyone agrees that she doesn't want to be there.

She addresses me with a "what's up dude" when I go up to the bar. It's reminiscent of the way one would address a kid brother's annoying friend. It is without charm. I pay too much for the wrong beer.

It's a shit crowd at that bar. The receipt next to me has a criminally low tip on it. In what world is it ok to have one's compensation decided by post-facto evaluation? Maybe I'd be annoyed too.

20 September 2013

New commute

The black convertible pulled up to the stoplight. The man sitting in it had a prominent bald spot and it was framed with a crown of thinning hair sticking straight up. He turned on the radio and it was blasting some old rock and he quickly silenced it.

In the back seat of the car was a German shepherd. It was looking around anxiously, as though embarrassed by the whole situation. But then traffic started moving, and the dog looked forward, seemed entirely at ease, and grinned.

27 July 2013

I am at the Capitol Hill Block Party

Imagine you have this friend, who, for reasons that will become clear later on, is named Capitol Hill Block Party. Now Capitol Hill Block Party and you aren't super close friends, you were maybe neighbors in a dorm or something and Capitol Hill Block Party's over-exuberant extroversion and your near-pathological need to be friendly to strangers means that you strike up a friendship. Meanwhile, all of your close friends find Capitol Hill Block Party unbearable: too loud, no concern with personal space. So when Capitol Hill Block Party runs into you at the grocery store or something and says that he's having a big party and there will be bands, because you're really into live music right, and lots of women, and you should come, dude, you sort of noncommittally say yeah.

So you're at the party, and you've been to parties like this before, Capitol Hill Block Party is all wrapped up in the comings and goings of his closer friends, and Capitol Hill Block Party's friends are split off into groups, all seeing people they haven't seen in months, all super excited to see each other. And you're kinda off by yourself. You knew this would happen, and you're ok with it, because you're here for the music anyway, but as another one of Capitol Hill Block Party's hyperaggressive friends realizes that with a good hard shove they can get by you and closer to the stage, you start thinking, maybe your friends are right, Capitol Hill Block Party is kind of a dick.

But you're there for the music.

Waxahatchee
I arrive mid-set for this one and wished I had arrived earlier. A young woman with a electric guitar and a guy with my sophomore year roommate's haircut on drums played an original before launching into a cover of Dylan's Knockin' on Heaven's Door. This is the type of music that I would play in the dying hours of a barbecue and drunkenly argue is the most beautiful shit in the world.

Dillon Francis 
There was a huge rush to the main stage for this, but there was nothing for me there.

The Intelligence
In the future humanity wipes itself out, somehow. Aliens with a heavily archaeological/anthropological culture come settle our planet and have a field day. Oh also they perceive time differently from us so all of our existence seems like a single second to them. So really even though you're long gone, from all the material we've left behind, and the huge time they're able to spend analyzing every last detail, these aliens will know you far better than you know yourself. And they conclude, yes, even though these songs are very short, they can and will in fact classify The Intelligence as space rock.

Of course said aliens have also analyzed this blog very heavily and concluded that I don't know shit about music.

STRFKR
Another main stage show. I had the sense that whatever these people were doing they were doing it well, but I had no idea what they were doing or whether it had any merit. I left and bought myself some fried catfish. Man, Pike Street Fish Fry, how do you do it? How are your employees burning themselves and taking way too much time to determine which fried blob is shrimp and which is fish and yet making the most fucking amazing fried fish in the world. You guys!

When I came back from fish, I think they were playing some song that featured on an old Pandora station of mine

Girl Talk
There's a genius to Girl Talk and that genius lives in the transitions. It beats you back for an instant, like a profound realization, and then it sort of sits around and you smile in realization that you just comprehended something significant. This feeling is best enjoyed stoned, several years ago, in a dorm room, and putting oneself in the middle of a crowd for it does not yield the intended results.

Bleached
Escaping from the madness of the main stage, I found Bleached. The only thing I have to say is that I used up all my opinions and I wish I was not in a state to make an evaluation. But failing that, I'm filing this under: music I'd listen to while driving, music I'd play softly at a beach to give the impression it were in fact distant, but wasn't.

11 May 2013

Disarm

In 2003 a competition was held to name and produce a logo for a online Pokemon tournament at a now-discontinued website. This was my entry:

It won.

17 April 2013

Rat

There's this undercurrent of fear in Seattle, in certain circles anyway, that the city is losing its grit and charm. Rents are up, offices are replacing warehouses, and NOTICE OF LAND USE signs invariably announce the replacing some smaller structure with a seven-story apartment building with ground-level retail.

I work at the epicenter of one of the more impacted neighborhoods in the city. Depending on who you believe it's either an erstwhile dead warehouse district that now bustles with the activity of medical and software offices or a great place for antiques and dive bars ruined by senseless demolition and yuppification. Still being new to the city, my own frame of reference is both limited and meaningless. However, in any event, it has a pristine newness to it that's hard to find in the rest of the city.

But the other night, I was walking home from a bar and realized I needed to pee something fierce. I was really close to my office and figured I'd swing by there. But that's actually way too casual a way to put it. I was running there, quite literally, in fear of disastrous consequences.

I was running by a small bush when I got the distinct feeling that something collided with my foot. I didn't really pay it much mind, I figured it was probably trash or a branch or something. But that changed quickly. There was an awful piecing squealing sound. What I had kicked was definitely alive, some fucking mouse or rat or possum.  And it was sounding a warning to its kind, maybe even making one last agonized cry, or maybe screeching at me with pure contempt. For a brief moment I stopped dead in my tracks, before my bladder forced me on.

By the time I made my way back past the spot, there were no clues of what happened. But, fuck proof, I kicked a rat walking home from a bar. And no thoughts were had about $10 food truck burgers, or streetcars, or ground-level retail, because on that day Seattle felt as gritty as fuck.

06 April 2013

What is the saddest song in the English language?

The saddest song in the English language is the The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down by The Band. The song is intended to be a Confederate soldier's depiction of the suffering and hopelessness in the closing days of the Civil War. No Confederate sympathies here, but in spite of that, the story of some guy fighting on the wrong side of history manages to be ridiculously sad.

The key element is the character of Virgil Caine, the soldier in question. Virgil seems to be a low level guy working on supply lane between Danville and Richmond. Personally, he's suffered considerably. His brother had been killed in the war. Virgil's not fairing a whole lot better, as he describes himself and those around him as "hungry, just barely alive".

Virgil's a fairly simple guy. He comes from a line of farmers and it seems like its of the sustenance farming variety; he isn't above chopping wood for some extra cash. Virgil probably doesn't really stand to gain much from the war. It's basically impossible to assign a single cause to the Civil War, but whether you're in the slavery, states' rights, or tariffs camp the war isn't about improving life for Virgil. He's tied to the conflict merely because he's tied to the land.

Virgil's fucked. The only way to end his suffering will be that his side loses. And through all this, he's utterly powerless. The supply train he's on is continuously having its tracks torn up by the Union troops. The situation is perfectly futile. He's in a conflict where he can gain nothing, has already lost basically everything, and can't do anything. And it's playing out over and over again.

Pretty fucking sad.

31 March 2013

Exclusive interview with Gary DiSarcina

BREAKING NEWS: the Boston Red Sox baseball playing team have announced that Gary DiSarcina will manage their Triple-A franchise, the Pawtucket Red Sox. This news is actually really old. DiSarcina will wear some number between 0 and 99.

Being a first rate sports publication, the fuckityo.com computer website has an obligation to get the full story on this development. However, in the absence of journalistic standbys like a press pass, ambition, or the courage to call his agent, I will be posing these questions to Mr. DiSarcina in these hallowed halls and waiting for his true and honest responses.
  1. One time I had a dream a riot broke out at Fenway Park and you strangled a man unprovoked. How will this affect the mood in Pawtucket's clubhouse this year?
  2. Which baseball player with the last name Johnson do you use as a euphemism for yours?
  3. If you're really from Sarcina, as stated by your surname, why am I holding a birth certificate, from Malden, Massachusetts with your name on it, you imposter?
  4. If you had to choose only one, would you describe baseball as "America's last bastion of homophobia, misogyny, and general redneck stupidity" or "boring"?
  5. Which advanced baseball statistic do you plan on ignoring the most this season?

19 February 2013

That was Framingham

I admit, I had a LiveJournal. It wasn't like most people's LiveJournals because in its early days, it largely existed to mock of other LiveJournals. Eventually, it evolved to the point where there was actual, readable content on rare occasions, but mostly it was kind of like the Twitter feed of someone trying way to hard to be an imbecil.

LiveJournals are an interesting piece of internet history. They're kind of faintest glimmer of a proto-blog, but just not there. I'd go as far as to say that it would be possible, but rare, for a LiveJournal to be a compelling blog. I mean for fuck's sake, it asks you for music and mood in every entry. It's just begging you to complain about your oh so terrible day. That's really hard to make interesting to read.

This post is basically two origin stories. The LiveJournal was a false start, both in this entry, and in my writing on the internet in general. It turns out there was nearly a singular inspiration for this blog. And interestingly enough, it was blog about the town that I'm from.

I don't exactly remember how I first found thisisframingham.com. I remember it was on some break from college. I want to say it was sometime early in the summer of 2007, but it could have been the winter before. A blog about someone's hometown--a place where I spent the first eighteen years of my life--shouldn't be this eye-opening thing, but I have to admit it was kind of a revelation.

To set the scene, I was very much down on my hometown around that time in my life. I had met some people who had grown up in more urban areas. So much more seemed within reach for them. Jump on a the subway and see all manner of things: a baseball game, a beach, copious food choices Meanwhile most of the year I was out in a picturesque rural college town where I could easily walk most anywhere I needed to be. When I was back in Framingham, I felt trapped. You didn't walk around in Framingham; it wasn't dangerous or anything, but it just wasn't designed for it. Everyone drove and not to any particular destination in town. For the evening, maybe you'd drive to a friend's house. You wanted to actually go do something? Sorry, gotta make the 30 minute drive to Boston for that. At least it seemed that way then.

I remember one day I was jogging on some fairly major streets in Framingham and I just sort of mentally lost it. Eighteen wheelers were passing me spewing diesel fumes into the air and every street crossing just seemed manifestly anti-pedestrian. At that moment, I had fixed it in my mind: Framingham was the worst of all possible places, it had the congestion and pollution of a city with none of the pedestrian culture and amenities of one. None of the charm of a rural area, with the same lack of infrastructure.

But This Is Framingham helped me get past that. The proprietor of the site was a woman named Michelle who actually lived only a few blocks from my parents' house. Much of the content of the blog was her visiting (often by walking) and writing up local restaurants and other small businesses within the town that I then saw as a wasteland. Sometimes it was just quirky observations: someone with a grill on their roof, weird old Coke machines in a laundromat, an abandoned arcade with mint condition games inside. It had a very optimistic tone--sure there were the gripes that too many storefronts in the very walkable downtown area were insurance offices or weird churches; Framingham was saddled with too much of a social services burden; and that the traffic was all degrees of bad--but it actually made Framingham seem like an interesting place where one could have reasonably good time.

This lead to a revelation. A revelation that in my mind was so important that I set up a blog and wrote the first post right away. The post was sort of a mild invective against myself. Here I was complaining about Framingham, but if I was so desperate for a nice place to run why wasn't I going to the expansive state park right in town? If I was so starving for restaurant choices why wasn't I going downtown and getting really good Salvadoran or Brazilian food? Were none of the pizza places in Framingham a reasonable places to meet some friends at while we were all bumming around our parents' places on summer break? And that's where Mediocre Expectations came from.

And though Mediocre Expectations is not with us today, this blog is an obvious spiritual successor. Even the old LiveJournal got in on the action. There was a brief period between Mediocre Expectations and this blog that it got occasional reflective entries. The realization that This Is Framingham forced me to have about my hometown made me want to reflect on and tell the stories of so many other events in my past and thoughts I'd had.

Now that I'm on the other side of the country, when I go home to visit my family in Framingham I feel I can genuinely appreciate it. I wouldn't want to live there, there's too much more to gain from living in a city, but I can still enjoy the townie bars that I wondered about in my youth and the hole in the wall restaurants downtown that do make first rate Pupusas.

That's why when I checked This Is Framingham for the first time in awhile, I was sad to learn that Michelle was leaving Framingham, effectively ending the blog. She cited increasing dissatisfaction with the town: problems with crime and the disappearance of small businesses. I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the mostly subsided but still festering issues with gang violence that were responsible for at least one brutal beating downtown and more recently a school stabbing. Honestly, the worst thing that happened to me was a bag of change being stolen from my stupidly unlocked car. But that is Framingham: it's is not the everyone-leaves-their-doors-unlocked suburb. And it's not the pristine rural community or the bustling city. It's this weird stuck-in-the-middle place that's never been perfect and never will be. But it is so incredibly far from the worst place in the world.

And I'm thankful for being forced to make that realization.

14 February 2013

Heart Cooks Brain

We have put a man on the moon. We have a remarkable corpus of information on how our own bodies work. Rather than adapting to our environment, we've adapted it to ourselves. Unique among species, humans have conquered their instincts to a great degree. We don't just act, we think. Then, we act. Or we don't.

But when that hidden instinct bubbles up, that's where it gets interesting.

I've heard my heart. Not in the sense that I just went for a grueling run or been sick and heard my pulse thudding in my head. I've heard it, squeaking, noisily passing blood chamber to chamber. I'm not unconvinced that someone else couldn't have heard it just as clearly as I could if they were in same room as me.

That's a triple negative.

I had no idea what I was hearing at first. I thought maybe I was congested, but held my breath for a couple of seconds. Squeak, squeak, squeak. There was just one possibility left.

It was weird. Consciously I wasn't really feeling strong emotion. Defeat, mostly. But on that instinctual level, the flight or fight response was pegged as high as it could be. Unconsciously, I was preparing for an altercation that didn't exist.

What a mess. Luckily, we've invented NyQuil, and instinct's victory was short lived.

31 January 2013

Shell game

I found myself making an unexpected trip to my homeland earlier this month. One night I was with friends heading southbound on the Orange Line. We got to State Street, I think, when reality started to break down.

A crowd of people got on the train. One was a teenage or early twenty-something dude with a magnetized board. On that board were three silver cups, turned upside-down, which he was swiftly shuffling around. A modern shell game! And he wasn't by himself. A good portion of the crowd he got on with was obviously associated with him. Another guy was trying to guess which cup the coin was under. A couple of girls were offering advice and egging him on. The whole thing was bizarre: it was as though a whole scene, en media res, was transported onto this subway car and unfolded as though it was scripted.

The guy won of course. Money changed hands. The girls cheered. You couldn't imagine a more obvious shill situation. The con pitched his game, "put in a hundred, win two." Comments from the girls on how it was such easy money.

One hundred dollars. People carry that much cash?

Some guy did step up. I'm not sure he was shill number two of the original party or if he was honest to god falling prey this ridiculous game. No one on the train was saying anything. Myself, I was giddy with incredulousness and just trying to hold it in until our stop.

Think about it. This is not 1920s Coney Island. This is not a Very Special Episode of an early-90s teen drama. That's where shell games belong. This is Boston, 2013. This shit doesn't happen.

This had to be performance art. Some improv group poking at the moral fiber of unsuspecting subway riders. Someone was supposed to call them on being such a mindbogglingly obvious con operation. Everyone would get a nice laugh and we'd all feel better about our humanity by association.

But once we got off that train--upon which I, in low, but frenetic tones, announced that that couldn't have been real--I found myself quite clearly alone in that belief.

But I'm right, right?

Right?