Monday, May 30, 2011

What Not To Do

#1 Do not try and take a camping knife through airport security.

The TSA will not support you in your decision.

It wasn’t a gigantic knife like one of those bowie knives you can buy off the TV at 2 am for six easy payments of 19.95. This was a collapsible Buck knife; something I use exclusively for cutting tags off newly purchased items and removing stray threads from clothing.

I didn't even know I had it in my backpack.

So I go through security. They put my bag through the scanner. They stare at the television screen for a minute. Then they say they are going to scan it again. Then they call somebody else over to stare at the screen, and then somebody else. So now there are 3 different people looking at the contents of my tiny backpack on a small television.

Finally they tell me they are going to check my bag by hand. I readily agree having no idea what is so confounding to these experts in safety. After 4 seconds the agent finds what she’s looking for, excuses herself and walks back over to her team with her hand still in the bag like she had to keep it a secret.

Then an old bald TSA agent with a look on his face I can only describe as "assholeish" sauntered, and I mean that, sauntered over to me holding the knife. He then repeatedly tried to open the knife like he was a Jet or a Shark.

I suppose it didn't help that after watching him try this multiple times I said:

That’s not how it works.

I don't think he liked that. After measuring the length of the blade with his fingers, which is apparently the international way for determining danger, he just looked up and stared me in the eyes. As if to say;

Where is the criminal in there?

This guy, this safety “expert”, who just 5 minutes before I heard telling his coworker he couldn't figure out how to use his Blackberry didn't like the cut of my jib, or maybe he didn't like my jib at all.

And then he said:

Alright friend, it's a lost item.

Not, “you can go back and check it”, or “we have to confiscate this because you can't bring a KNIFE on a PLANE”.

I pretty much knew it was gone as soon as he pulled it out of my bag. I was done owning it.

And then I walked away scot-free and was allowed to board my plane. Though as soon as I landed in London and went through customs I was afraid they were going to take one look at me and scream, "KNIFE!" and then tackle me like I was in a rugby match.

But then I got angry because I realized that twice in the last 4 days I had brought that same backpack through security with that knife in my bag. That means I twice traversed airport security without them once noticing that knife.


#2 Do not pack one light colored suit for several days of meetings and do not eat really drippy dark colored fruit for breakfast.

I mean it’s pretty simple. I am apparently a man-child and I can’t have nice things because I can’t eat my food without also simultaneously wearing it.

So there I am eating my proper British breakfast, pot of tea, eggs, bacon, mixed berries. I’m exercising care to make sure that everything I do makes me look like an official businessman in London doing important business man things.

Until I look down and see the red splotch on my thigh.

Now I have no options here so I wet my napkin and start furiously blotting my pant leg using so much water that by the time I stand up 20 minutes later to head to my first meeting, it looks like I was hit by a water balloon. But the good news is the stain came out.

Kind of.

#3 Do not lay underneath a train

As I mentioned recently, in New York, there are a bunch of cryptic messages that come across on the loudspeaker while you are commuting. But in London they are a bit more direct.

While walking through a tube station on my way to the exit, I heard an announcement from a beautiful British female voice that said:

Due to a person underneath a train, there are delays on the Jubilee line.

Wait, what?

UNDERNEATH A TRAIN? Are you kidding me? So seeing as trains sit on tracks, if somebody is underneath a train, they are also probably not alive. But of course, in that proper British lilt, it really makes it sound like not something that bad at all.

In New York, that just would have been:

Due to an earlier incident, trains are running at slower speeds.

The Brits don’t mince words.

#4 Do not drink all the tea they give you

I like to immerse myself in the local culture. In England, that means having a cup of tea whenever one is presented to you. Now when you stay in a hotel in the U.S. you have tea in your hotel room, but I never drink it. Maybe I will if I’m feeling zippy.

But in England it’s like a siren call. I feel the need to have a cup whenever I can. If somebody asks me if I want tea I am always saying yes. And they don't give you a cup, they give you an entire pot.

Which explains why I was running to the loo every 90 minutes.

#5 Do not sleep on a single bed

I have to be honest, even though in college I slept in a double bed (which was too small for me having had a queen bed my whole life, yes I know, spoiled) I had no knowledge that there was such a thing as a single bed.

It wasn’t until I walked into my room and sat down on my single bed (which was on wheels by the way) just how tiny such a thing is.

I couldn’t sit up in bed without the bed rolling away from the wall like I was at the starting line of a box car derby.

And lying in bed felt like I was trying to sleep on top of a Twinkie. If my legs had any distance between them, they would immediately start sliding off the edges of the bed so that I was straddling it like I was doing a horse trick.

So I spent my nights with all my appendages pressed together like I was about to be shot into space, which consequently I will probably never be allowed to visit because I would be the only idiot inadvertently trying to bring a knife on the spaceship.

Which is for the best, I’d probably just end up getting space fruit on my uniform anyway.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

The Dump

Slang words are funny. They sometimes arise unintentionally. Nicknames are the same way. One day all of a sudden everybody has a new name for something you’ve always known as something else. Maybe people do it because it’s easier or shorter, but then again, maybe they shouldn’t do it at all.

In South Carolina where my parents live there is a recycling center. It is a place where people from the local community can bring their bottles, cans, newspapers and other recyclable items, deposit them, and know they are helping the environment.

The facility is outdoors and is quite large. It is basically a big loop that has over a dozen different large size waste receptacles to accept all of the items people bring. People drive in and park next to the bin they need utilize and then move on to the next one, or go home, or go to lunch. I don’t know, I don’t follow them.

The official name of the facility is something like the Municipal Recycling and Waste Facility. But my parents, as well as other members of the community, refer to it simply as “The Dump.”

I imagine the person or people who work at the Municipal Recycling and Waste Facility don’t refer to it as the dump. I mean it’s really just a pride thing I imagine. I just can’t see somebody deliberately explaining to people that they work at a dump. Or not a dump, the dump.


It’s not a term that is completely new to me. Growing up my family would use that term to refer to several different locations. One of which included a house on our block belonging to the crazy guy who collected newspapers.

Now while he collected newspapers, I wouldn’t call it “a collection” by any means. You see his house was kind of the blight of our block. In a very suburban neighborhood filled with modest sized homes with manicured lawns, this crazy man was an anomaly. His house was probably the same size as every other, though nobody could really be sure because the bushes outside his house had grown to such epic proportions it actually looked like he lived in a hedge with a door.

I don’t know what the inside of his house looked like… because I value my life. But if the inside of his car was any reflection of the inside of his house, then yes, his house was a dump.

His car was a shitty light blue Honda so packed with newspapers and trash that I find it hard to believe a normal human being could fit, or would want to fit in it. But to call crazy guy a normal human would be a drastic overstatement.

I never got really close to that car because I was terrified of what might happen to me if I ever got within sniffing distance, but I remember as we would drive by I would just stare in disbelief wondering what the hell he was doing with all of those newspapers.

Whenever I saw crazy guy he was always carrying newspapers under his arm, like they were files and he was off to a very important meeting. And he was always in the library too. I remember somebody telling me that he was a college professor. But even if he was a professor of current events, I find it hard to believe that such a position would require such an extensive permanent collection of current events.

Or perhaps he was a professor of newspapers, or crumpling up stuff. Regardless, there was always infinitely more going into his house than ever came out. And thus my family referring to his house as a dump seemed justified.

Even still, we would never use that place to benchmark where our home was. We lived near a school, or the pizza place, or the park. We never said we lived by his dump of a house.

This however, is not a theory that one of my friends subscribes too. This friend of mine lives in South Carolina near the Municipal Recycling and Waste facility. I was unaware of this. So I was surprised that upon asking her where she lived, she responded with:

Do you know where the dump is?

I stopped her right there. Wait a minute. First of all, I did not know where the dump was, but at this particular moment that fact was extremely irrelevant.

Even if you do live near the dump, around the corner, down the block, underneath, above, hell, even if you live IN the dump, you do not tell people that. You tell them that you are in the vicinity of the Municipal Recycling and Waste facility. You tell them that you are not far from the recycling plant. You reframe it in a positive light. You do not tell people you live near the dump! Unless of course you don’t want people coming to visit you, which could very well be a great strategy for keeping people away.

But let’s say there is no other name for the facility. Let us say that you live near an actual dump with a sign outside that says:

(There is no other name for this place)

You find another landmark! Even if it is just you and the dump for 50 miles in every direction, you say:

Oh do you know where the Burger King is in downtown Atlanta? I’m about 250 miles north of there.

Hell, make up a landmark. But for Pete’s sake do not tell somebody you live behind, next to, near, around, close to, in the vicinity of, or remotely close to: The Dump!

Because you know what? That guy on my block, the one who collected newspapers and rifled through other people’s trash, the guy whose hair looked like he had always just woken up from a nap, with the shrubs outside his house the size of national monuments, that guy did live in a dump but I bet you he sure didn’t tell people that.

Or maybe he did. He was pretty crazy.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Moby - Be the One

My entry into the Moby - Be The One - Video contest on Vimeo.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Free T.V.

I’ve been spending a lot of time in Brooklyn lately. Now even though Brooklyn and Queens both qualify as outer boroughs, they are very different places from each other. It’s kind of hard to explain the differences in mentality, but there are some specific behaviors that are a lot easier to pinpoint.

For example Queens tends to throw out its trash, while Brooklyn tends to, well… give it away.

Maybe this is because people in certain neighborhoods in Brooklyn are a lot more giving with their belongings. But when people in Brooklyn no longer need something they don’t put it on eBay or have a garage sale, they just… put it in front of their house… like a gift.

On any day of the week, on any block in Brooklyn, you can find random items that you can take with you as long as you want them. What is available runs the gamut: trinkets, tapes, fondue sets, and books. Oh lord can you find books. If you are in the market for a forgettable novel from 25 years ago, the streets of Brooklyn are your paradise.

It’s like a library, if a library didn’t require a membership card and was more like a scavenger hunt where you could play “book roulette” at every stop as opposed to an actual physical location.

Several weeks ago I even came across a pair of tiny pink wooden chairs just sitting outside someone’s house, as though there was a dwarves’ tea party that had just let out. I sat in them for a while before I decided they weren’t for me.

Because I’m not a dwarf.

And I don't have tea parties.

But after several blocks of the usual brick-a-brack, I came across this note card just sitting in the middle of a sidewalk:

I looked around but there was no T.V. in sight, which led me to believe that this sign had been on a T.V. and that T.V. had been taken.

Frankly the sign caught me a little bit off guard.

Imagine you have a T.V. you need to get rid of. You don’t want to put in the effort to sell it because you don’t think you’ll make much money. And you don’t want it to just go in the trash because you feel like that is a waste because the T.V. might be worth something to somebody.

So what do you do?

Well if you live in Brooklyn you put it out to the curb of course. But how can you ensure somebody takes it, how can you make sure that this is something that somebody will want?

Why not tell them “it works?”

Now I wonder what the conversation was like with the couple that took the T.V. I picture a nice husband and wife walking by on a spring evening when they come across the Television and the husband says:

Oh my gosh! Lucinda, look, a television set!
So Herb?
So? We were just saying how we want another television for our home.
Yes, but we want a television we can watch! Not some piece of junk off the street.
Lucinda you are not looking, look at the sign. This T.V. WORKS!
Ohhh it works! Every other T.V. we passed had a sign that said “piece of shit” or “friggin useless” but if this one works…

What surprised me was that Herb and Lucinda didn’t choose to bring that note card with them when they took the T.V. set. If that were me, I would have taken that with me as a voucher/receipt.

Because let us say that Herb and Lucinda bring that T.V. home and it doesn’t work. Then what? Well I imagine they'd want their… time back, don't you? I would want to march right up to the home I found that T.V. in front of and say to them:

Excuse me. I found this T.V. outside your home with a note on it that said “It works” but we brought it home and it doesn’t work. Can you please provide us with some sort of retribution? Like… an apology? Or maybe just a note that says "we lied... it doesn't work."

It’s like some sort of renaissance bartering agreement strategy. The sign is the promise. Once you put it in writing it must be true! It wasn’t the first time I had seen a note next to an item on the street. Usually the note just says “free books” or “washed baby clothes.”

Though I truly believe even if a sign says something has been washed, there is really no harm in washing it again. Just to be sure.

But the “it works” signage is brazen. Because if you leave a T.V. outside in the elements for an indeterminate amount of time, there is a very good chance that when a stranger picks that shit up and brings it home… it doesn’t works.

There is an earnestness to it, a sincereity, almost like… an unspoken code.

There is no mandate that you put a sign with your items, though it might make for more interesting perusing.

Tiny Pink Chairs – Will make you look ridiculous
Fondue Set – Completely unnecessary
Books – Unreadable for the last 25 years

But I myself like this strategy of putting your crap out in a box for anybody who wants to take it. I mean let’s be honest, there is very little difference between putting it out in a trash can and putting it out in a box with a sign.

The biggest difference is you save somebody the time of digging through your trash. I remember when my parents moved out of their house and they would put stuff out to the curb on trash night, nearly every single time somebody would come by and take the furniture we had put out.

But what if we could save people time and money by allowing them to have our old shit… I mean treasures. What if instead of just considering everything waste, we could allow others to judge for themselves? Wouldn’t that make everybody’s life a little bit better?

I think it would. So I encourage you to do the same. And if you doubt that it’s a good idea, well you shouldn’t…

It works.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

False Start

I turned away from the wall squinting at the hallway light coming from the doorway. I felt trapped, imprisoned in my own bed, too incapacitated to feel anything else but misery. The noise was suffocating. Screams, shouts, and laughter of all that I was missing out on, all that I hadn’t really become a part of yet.

I pulled the covers closer and contemplated my phone. The easy way out wasn’t going to be easy at all. I was going to admit defeat and resign control to a higher power. I had no choice; I couldn’t do this on my own.

I picked up the phone and dialed. Twenty five hundred miles away in the blackness of 3 am, I heard the phone come off its hook. A sleepy familiar voice pushed out “hello?” And I spoke in a voice that was instantly brimming with tears;

Hi Mom… can you come out here?

It was two days after I noticed a swelling in my neck, and seven days after I had started college, that I missed my first day of class. I missed the entire second week of school, unable to get out of bed.

Residents of my floor stopped by, kids I’d never really know dropped off vitamin C bottles or cards telling me to feel better. Kind gestures that sat on my nightstand like unopened letters.

At some point after my urine turned brown I went to the school physician. I told him I thought I had mono. He kind of smirked saying they’d test and see. He wasn’t smirking when he told me I was right.

After a week of lonely, fitful nights, unable to make myself feel better I sought the only thing that had always been the cure for what ailed me; Mom.

Three weeks after sending me off to start my new life at college, she had to follow me out there to take care of me. Seven days down into this hole of sickness every part of me hurt. Any hope and energy she had sent me off with had since disappeared.

Walking into the dorm lobby the broken boy she saw before her was a far cry from the aspiring man she had just said goodbye to, and sent to the other side of the country on a scholarship to thrive.

What stood before her was a disheveled, pajamaed, 18 year old with bleached blonde hair she never liked, and a hopeless look on his face. She took me to the doctor on the Friday before Labor Day weekend. Worried that I would get worse before I got better they admitted me to the hospital where I got worse before I got better.

Standing felt like falling, and eating felt like torture. Immediately after being admitted I was scheduled for a battery of tests but threw up before they could even begin the first one. I remember looking at the standard issue hospital pants I was wearing and speculating how many people before me had worn them. What other illnesses were woven into the fabric and now intermixed with mine?

I stayed in the hospital for a week, the whole time my mother sitting by my bedside. I wonder what must have been going through her head. How for 18 years she had put everything she had into trying to raise an independent man, and the minute she released him into the universe… this. This utter collapse of all ability to self sustain.

All I could do was lay in bed watching Annette Funicello movies, gaggles of beachy looking teenagers shaking and gyrating in the sand, when I could barely reach over to grab my juice. I wanted desperately to be out amongst my peers creating those memories we would reference for the rest of our lives. But after bursting into view as the loud, jokey, kid, I had suddenly become the quarantined, jaundiced, pathetic lump in the local hospital.

My mom sat by my bedside during the day and when visiting hours ended she was off getting lost in the black Arizona night, looking for her hotel, calling Dad from the car, asking him to look up directions online. She waited an hour for a pizza from a place that had probably never had a pick up only because she didn’t know where else to eat. She contacted Housing and arranged for me to be moved into the only single room left on campus… a handicapped dorm.

It was a week before I was finally deemed well enough to be released.

By the time I left the hospital and moved into my room with the special toilet and automatic door, I shouldn’t have been surprised that she was extremely eager to help me set it up. We spent a week in a hotel while we prepared my new living space.

She took me to Wal-Mart and bought me a TV that I thought was too expensive for me to have. To this day I am still amazed. Though I probably shouldn’t be, as she would have spent any amount of money to make sure I would enjoy this second crack at my new life.

She helped me write emails to my teachers, told me what to say, took me to run errands I hadn’t yet gotten the chance to run. Everything she thought she’d never have to do again, she had to spend even more time doing.

Four weeks into my freshman year, the only person taking care of me and helping me to get by was also my roommate in a hotel off campus, my Mom.

But even though I look back in disbelief on everything she did for me in those two weeks she was out there, I probably shouldn’t. She spent 18 years making sure I was ready for when she’d have to watch me leave. And then she spent 2 more weeks doing everything she could to make sure I was ready for when she had to.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

In the Hood of Confusion

This is my raincoat.

It is brand new and yellow. I like it. But unfortunately, like several inanimate objects in my life, it appears to be smarter than me.

You see I bought this raincoat for many reasons. Some of them include
-It is yellow
-It is waterproof
-It has a stowable hood

And you might think to yourself, oh a stowable hood, what a great convenient idea that shouldn’t be difficult.

Well you know what? You should try it first before you start saying things with such an accusatory tone!

I was in the store, and I had already spent 15 minutes trying to figure out how to fold up the hood before I realized this wasn’t going to prevent me from purchasing the jacket. So I went up to the register to purchase it and I asked the kindly young woman ringing me up if she happened to know how to fold it up.

She did not.

She called her colleague over and asked him if he knew. He walked over slowly sucking air through his clenched teeth and said in halted speech:

That... is the big question.

Really? How to roll up a hood is the big question? What kind of society are these two living in that matters over hood stowage trump all others?

The guy went on to say that there was apparently only one person in the tri-state area that knew how to roll up the hood and he worked at the store in Garden City.

I responded by saying ohhhhh.

But really what I was thinking was: Are you kidding me? We are talking about a hood. A HOOD! It is fabric and string and a piece of Velcro. Sure I can’t figure it out, but this is my first date with the jacket. You two have been seeing each other for weeks, maybe months! And there’s like 5 of you in this store!

You honestly can’t figure it out? What kind of jacket nincompoop are you?!

But seeing as I wasn’t able to figure it out right away, I can’t really be too upset. After all, I am regularly flummoxed by seemingly simple objects that do not work the way I would like them to.

Like the first time I tried to twist open a Corona bottle. It was until there was no flesh left in the palm of my right hand that I realized… Corona tops don’t twist off. What made this even worse was the fact that this was a Coronita - A baby corona.

It reminded me of something called the Math Olympiads we did as kids in elementary school. There were these math brainteasers. Five or six of them and you'd have an hour or two to work them out. And you'd work so hard to figure it out and end up realizing the answer was so much easier than you'd thought.

I don’t want to brag but when I graduated the sixth grade I had one of the highest scores for the Math Olympiads. Though I think it’s worth mentioning they never did ask us any questions about raincoats.

But my life is full of these little mini roadblocks. It’s kind like driving down an open road and then I see one tiny orange traffic cone in the middle. And I can for the life of me figure out what to do, so I make a u-turn and go back the way I came.

Or getting a piece of furniture you need to assemble by yourself. And so you open the whole package and all the tools and parts and after hours of effort it is done. But then realize you have like 4 random extra pieces left when you finish. What the hell am I missing here?!

The same thing applies to cooking. I think oh man 4 ingredients, 3 steps, how hard can this be? And it isn't until I am halfway into cutting into a carrot that I realize I don't have the capacity or the wherewithal to julienne a carrot. And it seems easy enough to try but 2 blisters and 9 carrots later all I have is a pile of non Julienned carrot parts and a feeling of self loathing brought on my skinny orange vegetable that I no longer even want.

But none of those others things bother me as much as this stupid hood. I start to question if it is even possible. Perhaps the idea was great but nobody tested the design. And it wasn’t until they had made the first 500 raincoats that they said....

Ohhh you know what? This doesn’t work.

Ahh screw it. Just put them on the rack and let the poor sons of bitches figure it out.

I can just see the designer now. Laughing himself into a tizzy at the great hilarious fraud he has pulled off or perpetrated at the expense of the non waterproofed populous.

But whether it is possible or not really doesn’t matter by the time I’ve asked for this explanation. Because now I have to watch this poor woman flop around in the same shallow poll of experimental stupidity that I just crawled out of while her coworker looks on knowing that he has nothing new to contribute.

I have exposed a weakness within this coat: it’s intelligence. A tragic flaw. These salespeople are incompetent. Much as I am. All I have learned is that I am now qualified to work at Eddie Bauer.

I get home and I try to Google the answer. Is this feat even possible.

No such luck. There are no answers to be found.

Alas it is weeks later now, and I remain a jacket nincompoop. But I still like it, ya know, because it’s yellow.