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Sunday, November 27, 2011

Birthday Suppositories and other things to be thankful for: a Personal History of Thanksgiving.

Okay, so I make shake my rattle at the world quite a bit, but there are many things I am thankful for - one thing in particular being my friendships. I cherish my friends, and the many ways that they enrich my life. For instance, for many years now, I have either been unable to go home for Thanksgiving, or I just didn’t feel like putting up the stress that comes with family functions. Thanksgiving had never been huge in my family. The tradition always seemed to change. We were either visiting mom’s relations in Virginia, or we were with my brother in South Carolina, or we made reservations at a restaurant so no one had to cook. I preferred the last option. Everyone seemed happier that year. This was probably because no one was left in the kitchen doing dishes while everyone else napped in an adjacent room. No one stripped completely naked and plopped unwanted food on another person’s plate (my niece was 3 when her she decided to “Eat Thanksgiving Neck-ed!” and plop half-chewed green beans into the middle of my mashed-potatoes). Or (and more probably) because my brother felt less obligated to rummage through his turkey and dressing on a quest to discover if mom had accidentally let a hair fall from her head whilst cooking for 6+ hours for his ungrateful ass.

My absence from family Thanksgiving started during my first year of graduate school when I spent Turkey Day with my friend Kitty at her family’s home in Kalamazoo, MI. I noticed a normal family that didn’t seem Hell-bent on silently (and not-so-silently) judging every choice made by the others at the dinner table. Nor, did they stare at each other in uncomfortable silence while select members of the family slowly dissected their food for fallen follicles. It was a pleasurable day!

The following year, I traveled with another friend, Tina, to her family’s home in Flint, MI. I had been invited, along with Tina’s fiancĂ©, to share in their family’s traditions. Her family reminded me a lot of mine used to be – with how close they were. There was some family drama (all family’s have it) that I wasn’t privy to, but unlike my family – they actually remained rather pleasant during the Holiday. No one stormed off to their bedrooms and angrily hid because of an actual or perceived slight against their person. This was a welcome change, and the food was fantastic!

My final year of grad school held probably my most unique Thanksgiving. A bunch of us that were too far from home crashed a friend’s apartment with a potluck. The food was divine, (especially Kitty’s beer bread!), and we made a family out of a group of rag-tag waifs. We watched movies and played Life. We ran out of Life tiles, so I began stealing board pieces for cash; it was awesome.

The following year, my dark year, I spent Thanksgiving rather alone. I may have gone to a friend’s house, but honestly, I’ve blocked it out. I don’t remember much, except that I made the mistake of going Black Friday shopping. In Jackson, MS, I had very little to be thankful for…
The following year held what I had hoped would become a permanent tradition. I traveled to San Diego, and Cara and I spent the Holiday visiting Balboa Park, going to the zoo, and eating Butternut Squash Bisque (and Turkey, but seriously the bisque was to die for) at Terra. This may have been my favorite Thanksgiving. I was liberated from my life for just a little while, taken completely across the country, and allowed to have a wonderful time with someone I cherish dearly.

This year, I was unfortunately too poor to travel to San Diego, and since my father passed away I can’t seem to summon the strength to go to SC for Thanksgiving. My brother and my mom have separate parties now, and there is just too much drama. It’s tough enough at Christmas when my brother reluctantly agrees to visit with me, because of some perceived obligation. He can only stand so much of my company, however, so he invites his friends over to shield him from too much direct contact. I often wonder how I became the black sheep of the family, but he does the same stuff to one of my nieces as well, so I don’t dwell on it too much. It’s his loss, honestly; I don’t need another toolbox in my life.

Anyway, this year I had decided to go bike riding and skip Thanksgiving all together. I had decided that, but then my boss, Kevin, asked me to his house when he found out my plans. I think he didn’t want me to be alone, and that was very nice of him. It was just him, his wife, and their two sons (one an older teen – the other one just only recently a teenager). They purchased their dinner from Publix (because no one wanted to spend hours cooking in the kitchen either). The dinner was excellent, and the conversation casual, not forced, always sincere. They are a remarkably close and happy family, very open and warm.

At one point, however, we began discussing King Cakes, a Mardi Gras tradition where you bake a tiny baby Jesus inside a sloppy looking cake. Then everyone eats very slowly, because you don’t want to swallow Jesus (at least when He’s not in grape juice, alcohol, or cracker form). The person who finds said baby becomes King for the day! But to quote Spiderman: “with great power comes great responsibility,” so the King must also provide the cake for the following year’s celebration.

It came up that you can also purchase King Cakes from Publix. (Have I mentioned how much I love Publix?) But, I pointed out, that with pre-made King Cakes, the baby Jesus comes separate, not pre-baked inside, and must be inserted into the cake - to which Kevin announced: “like a suppository!” So there you go folks, baby Jesus now comes in suppository form. This truly gives a whole new meaning to “the power of Christ compels you!” The real scandal, however, came when Kevin’s 13 year old did not know what a suppository was. He quickly guessed, and then announced that he wanted one for his birthday (the joys of being 13, potty humor still kills).

After dinner, we talked for a long time about a variety of topics, and ate dessert (to thank them for having me over, I baked a chocolate cream pound cake from scratch). They also had apple/cherry cobbler. It was good.

On Black Friday, I completed my Thanksgiving festivities by taking that bike ride. I rode between 28-29 miles yesterday on the Chief Ladiga and Silver Comet Trails on the Alabama / Georgia border. I started my journey in Piedmont, AL rode a mile into Georgia and then rode back. Both trails used to be old unused railroad lines, but now they serve nature and bike enthusiasts from all over the country. I thought about my Dad as I rode, and felt at many times like he was riding with me. I could go on and on about the trip, but instead I’ll let the photos speak for themselves (with a few captions, because I can't help myself). I think if the San Diego thing doesn’t pan out, a Turkey Day bike ride could be my new tradition.
All that was left of this home was the chimney!

The farms - nestled at the feet of the mountains - were very picturesque. If Alabama were the home of Hansel and Gretel, this (I'm positive) would be the Gingerbread House. It was creepy beyond words. Entering the mountain! I tried to get pictures from inside the mountain - where the rock faces surround you, but they couldn't truly capture the moment. This one - with rocks only on one side - was the best I could do.
At the Georgia Border!I didn't expect the scenery to change that much after entering Georgia, but it did. The forest and brush became thicker, the terrain surrounding the path - flatter. I preferred Alabama. Wildflowers back in Alabama!One of the back streets of Piedmont. The Eubanks Welcome Center and Trail Head in Piedmont.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

My Fair Lady and Other Sins...

Hello again. I realize I haven’t posted in a while, but not much has changed. I moved. The new place is much better. I’ve had a few more dating mishaps – none as f*cked up as previous posts. I went on a date with a disinterested hipster. He was too cool to be into anything, and then I got stood up by another guy for a date the following day. The hipster was really disappointing, because we seemed to have a lot in common over the phone, and I made the mistake of getting my hopes up. It’s okay; I’m used to being alone. I wish I could be as happy as other people and meet someone, but I’m coming to accept that it’s probably not in the stars for me – at least not for now.

Moving on, I’ve recently been exploring Birmingham more and more. This city actually has a lot to offer. It’s not San Diego, Los Angeles, Detroit, DC, or even Columbia – but it beats the Hell out of Jackson, MS. The parks are beautiful. My new favorite spot in the city is in the Highland neighborhood – Rhodes Park. It’s quiet and shady with weathered aggregate fixtures oozing with charm.

The zoo is small, but nice too. I was worried that the animals would be all cooped-up in tiny forlorn cages (I had read some negative reviews on-line), but the habitats were large, and the animals seemed happy and well-adjusted. I went with my fellow boat stealing pirate friend Mandy. We had a blast watching the sea lion Splash Show, and we got to feed the pelicans by tossing fish into their beaks. While we were feeding, a family with a little girl came up and started feeding the pelicans as well. The little girl loved it, but the mom complained the whole time about how her daughter’s hands were going to smell. She admonished her daughter for touching her hair after she had touched the fish, and continued to fuss at her at the hand-washing station. Listen parents… LIGHTEN UP! Give your kid a bath when you get home, carry hand sanitizer with you, but if you are going to bitch about the dead fish – DON’T LET YOUR CHILD FEED THE PELICANS, or don’t take them to the zoo. Your child – and everyone else around you – would be better off if you stopped being an ass. If, however, you are going to allow your child some childhood joys – you should be prepared and not complain. Yeah, her hair might smell a little, but isn’t that a small price for a pleasant life-affirming childhood memory?

Anyway, I got a call from Mandy Friday night. She had scored some free tickets to see the National Tour of My Fair Lady at the BJCC. To say that this show was bad would be an understatement. It was officially a train wreck atop a hot mess with flies on it. I am a scenic designer by trade, so I am always excited to see the designs for professional shows (especially shows – like this one – which have received a ton of hype on local television). I wasn’t expecting ground breaking design; I assumed it would be a lot of wagons and drops – nothing terribly innovative, but solid with sound paint technique. When the main drape opened, however, I found lackluster perspective painting with minimal shading that was almost completely bleached out by the overly white lighting. The drop was supposed to be realistic, but it failed greatly, and bordered on the cartoonish – but it even somehow failed at that as well.

As I suspected, it was a wagon and drop show, but the wagons were very poorly constructed. One in particular looked as if it were about to collapse every time it rolled into position. The molding at the top of the unit didn’t line up as it rounded a corner, and the side wall was leaning in on itself. This wagon had been constructed in forced perspective to resemble the forced perspective drop. The wagon, however, was not forced as strongly as the drop – providing an odd disconnect.

It should also be said that this particular wagon and drop were the only units in forced perspective. The show lacked any sort of design cohesion, and looked as if each scene had been designed by a different designer, and then constructed by a team of mentally challenged marmosets. The paint made me cringe, and all I could hear was my graduate mentor yelling through his thick monotone Russian accent in the deep recesses of my brain: “Shit. Shit. Shit. This is shit; do over.”

The lack of any aesthetic sensibility within the set was actually the least of the show’s troubles. The actors – or should I say Schmactors – provided very few believable moments, and were slow in picking up their cues. They were not, however, afraid to bathe the scene in affectation and grandiose gestures, all while slipping in and out of their Cockney and proper English accents. At many times, it was painful to watch - especially when the tac-tastic costumes and atrociously bad wigs were calculated into the equation. I have seen first time undergraduate designers achieve more cohesion and style than this.

Worry not dear reader, I had an incredible time. It doesn’t hurt that I find bad theatre hysterical, but the company was glorious, and I don’t just mean Mandy and the other people I arrived with… There was an elderly couple sitting two rows behind us. They began repeating the lines: “The rain in Spain stays mainly in the plain,” as if the good (read “sexist”) professor were asking them to improve their personal diction. Nothing would get them to stop repeating the lines. Not even when I announced: “Well at least someone can do it,” and the whole row broke into laughter. They remained gloriously ignorant that their comments, such as: “I told you this was better than anything on the TV,” were the source of far more entertainment than what was on stage. It was our own private mystery science theatre – or that old crotchety couple from the muppets.

Once the last scene ended, we rushed out of the theatre before the curtain call. And we weren’t the only ones. While we were the first out the door, we precipitated a mass Exodus of somewhat Biblical proportions. Patrons were flocking toward their vehicles from every designated exit point. Very few were staying for the curtain call. I think we, however, were the happiest. While we had just witnessed the worst professional show I personally have ever seen, we hadn’t paid a dime, and we had been entertained. And that makes up for a multitude of sins.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Sound the Alarm

Today has been an interesting day rather pleasant, annoying, and unsettling all at once. It was a shopping and prep day at work for me, so it was a day I had really been looking forward to. I would be out most of the day, each lunch with my colleagues, and then I would print a bunch of templates from AutoCAD to make the scenery construction (which starts tomorrow) run smoothly.

The shopping part of the day was great! I went to Lowe’s and Hobby Lobby with a co-worker. We’ll call her Cynthia. Cynthia is incredibly funny and has the world’s most adorable baby. (I’m serious. I’ve seen tons of babies – some cute – some grotesque – some miniature Winston Churchills; Cynthia’s baby, however, is too cute for words.) Her baby stayed behind with Lisa (another co-worker), however, because the shop van lacks a sufficient number of seats, and strapping a small child to the roof rack is – if not illegal – certainly ill-advised.

Once back, I began working on prep for tomorrow – and tried to get some things printed. I was having one helluva time due to technical difficulties. I e-mailed the files to myself, and headed upstairs to the design lab to print everything. When I got there, however, the plotter (read gigantic printer for those of you non-designers) had photo paper on the spool and I needed regular drafting vellum. I found the vellum, but I didn’t know how to change the paper. As it turns out, no one in the building knew how to change the paper either, so I asked for the manual. That’s when I learned that the IT department felt that we didn’t need the manual, so they never gave us one.

Anyway, after searching the HP website, I found the manual, and printed one off for the department. This bothers me, because while I understand the great convenience of having these manuals on-line, why should I go through the difficulty of looking up the manual on-line when there could be a printed copy next to the machine? Really IT? We should have the manual. You can waste your time looking it up on-line because you are never around to have to use the fricking thing. Nothing is more irritating than having to drop what you are doing and Google something that should be at your fingertips.

Soon I was downloading my file, but when I went to open it, the computer wouldn’t recognize the file format. As it turns out, you can’t just access AutoCAD on those computers. AutoCAD hasn’t always been Mac friendly, and the department doesn’t have the latest version, so it becomes a little more difficult. Not as difficult per se as sacrificing a goat under a full-moon while doing the hokey-pokey blindfolded, but difficult enough. Apparently you have to restart the computer while holding the option key. This brings up the option to convert to Windows. You have to run Windows and then you are able to access AutoCAD. The program exists on the computer, but only in a mirror universe. The two universes can’t speak to each other, and while they occupy the same space, are completely unaware of the other’s existence. It’s a little like Charlie Sheen and reality.

This is when things really got interesting… After finally getting AutoCAD up, my file downloaded, and the plotter ready to go, I began to adjust the file for printing. I was 85% done when Cynthia came upstairs to let me know she and Lisa were leaving early, and she didn’t want to lock my stuff up in the costume shop. I was very grateful that she had remembered my laptop was there, so I thanked her and bounded down stairs to pack up my things.

While putting away my laptop, I received a phone call, and this is how it went:


“Hi, is this…” the caller mispronounces my name.

“Yes, this is…” I correct her.

“Hi, this is…” she introduces herself as being from ADT. “Your alarm is currently going off, is everything okay?”

“I don’t know,” I answered. “I’m at work.”

“Well, your Zone 9 – that’s your front door – is going off. Is there anyone at the residence that would be coming home at this time?”

“No, it’s just me and my parrot, and I doubt he went out for a stroll.”

“Well, would you like me to notify the police?”

“Yes.” What did she expect me to say? No, I just pay you guys to not notify the cops in case someone attempts a robbery.

We wrap up our conversation. She told me the police would be there shortly, and asked me to meet them at my apartment. I told her I’d be there quickly.

I ran into a huge traffic jam while rushing home. All I could think of was Joey. If the alarm was still going off – Heaven forbid – he was going to be practically deaf by the time I got there, and scared out of his mind. (That alarm is loud.) If it wasn’t going off, he would still be scared… or, he could have been stolen. If someone stole my feathered baby, I don’t know what I’d do. I know there are sick bastards in the world, but stealing someone’s pet – a member of their family – would be overly cruel. Steal my possessions, I will eventually forgive you; steal my Joey, and there aren’t words.

As I was pulling into my parking lot, I received a phone call from the police. They verified my address, and I instantly understood when they asked “what city do you live in?” that they had driven to the same address in Bessemer and not in Birmingham. I would be waiting on the police.
When I finally got inside, nothing was missing; my front door, however, was unlocked, and Joey was very upset. He was cowering in the corner of his cage. Someone had come in the apartment. Seeing as how nothing was disturbed, I called my apartment management to see if they had been in the apartment.

“Hello this is,” she identified the apartment complex and herself.

“Hi this is,” I gave her my name, address, and phase number; she pulled up my file. “Did someone come in my apartment today? My alarm went off and the police are on their way.”

“Did you have any outstanding maintenance orders?”

“Only the ones that have continuously been ignored.”

“What are those sir? Is it the dishwasher?”

“No. It’s NOT the dishwasher. I’m still missing that kitchen drawer I first reported in July, and my towel bar is still coming out of the wall in my bathroom. I first reported that two months ago.” This irritated me, I’m calling to see if I was almost robbed, and she wanted to talk about prior maintenance requests. Maintenance requests that have been continously ignored at that.

But NOTHING could have prepared me for what she said next:

“Well, we have no way of knowing if maintenance was in your apartment today. I mean, someone could have been there, to fix one of those problems. It’s possible that someone here set off the alarm, but I don’t know. Would you like me to call them?”

“Yes.” What the F*CK?!?!?! What is this: “we have no way of knowing” bullshit!?! How can you not know what your maintenance people are doing? Someone potentially tried to break into my apartment today, and I’m trying to figure out if it was my stupid apartment maintenance people, and the fricking office can’t tell me if maintenance came into my unit. This is beyond idiocy.

A policeman arrived and talked with me. He stayed on the stoop; he never came in; he never inspected the door. I told him I had been at work, and that I had phoned the apartment people and they didn’t know if anyone from their office had been in my unit or not. He took my information from my driver’s license, and went back to his car. The whole scene took less than 5 minutes. I called my mom and we both got concerned that he hadn’t fully listened to me, and had just kind of shrugged off the situation. I noticed that he was still outside in his car, so I hung up with my mom, and went back out to talk with him. He started to drive away, but I flagged him back down.

“Is there anything else I need to do?”

“No sir,” he replied as he handed me a copy of the report he was apparently going to mail to me.

“I just don’t know what happened,” I replied as I noticed the report read: False Alarm Report.

“It’s okay,” he said. “This isn’t going to affect you or anything. If you notice anything missing, give us a call.”

“Okay,” I replied and thanked him as he drove away.

I’m not sure what I expected him to do, but I thought maybe he’d bring a sense of peace or something to the situation. I was calm, but I really verbal reassurance. He’s a police officer after all. I mean, the police are supposed to protect the public. It seemed he could have done more, or at least acted like he gave a damn.

Then I went back inside. If the police weren’t going to be a comfort, this situation called for Rocky Road. I needed chocolate and I needed it in ice cream form. Unfortunately, there were only two bites left in my pint container…

So here I am, typing this post, without enough ice cream to calm my nerves. Someone I don’t know was in my apartment today, and I’m the only one who seems to care. Thanks Apartment Management, thanks ADT, thanks Police. Let’s hope no one else sounds the alarm – at least not until I get some more Rocky Road.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Springalingadingdong, aka: spring time for ding-dongs... & pirates

So a lot of things have happened since I last posted, and I’ve really been wanting to post – but alas time hasn’t been on my side. I apologize to my readers for not posting sooner, but since summer is rapidly approaching, I feel that I should be posting more frequently. This one though, while slightly long, should be worth the wait…

So I’ve been trying to get out more, and this includes going on dates and hanging out with friends. It’s in an effort to be social, and not be some crazy bird person that burrows into his apartment and only leaves to buy groceries and go to work. I’ve been spending a lot of time at a new park downtown. I like walking by the water features and streams, sitting on the cut boulders, and sketching the buildings downtown. It’s also just nice to lie in the grass and feel the sun on my skin and the wind in my hair. I even went on a picnic with a good friend who sadly will be leaving Birmingham soon to go on tour. I hope to have at least one more picnic before she leaves, but that’s another story.

In addition to spending time at parks, I have been on four dates since my move to Birmingham. The first one back in the fall was rather a bust. We met on-line, through a dating service, and decided to go out for dinner. We were going to meet between 7:15 and 7:30 at a local Thai place. I texted him after I got off work and confirmed the date. Then I texted him again at 7:10 to let him know I would be arriving at the restaurant around 7:20. I lived 10 minutes from the restaurant, he lived 20, so I assumed he had already left. I was wrong.

As I was parking the car, I received a text stating that he had just gouged his face open with a tree branch and was just now bandaging it. It was 7:22. Doing the math, I realized he wouldn’t be arriving until 7:42 at the earliest, and then he needed to find parking. I assumed he would show up sometime around 7:45. 15 minutes late to the first date is never a good sign, but he had hurt himself, so it was at least understandable. I texted him back that I was getting us a table, and I’d see him soon.

I had gotten off work at 5:15. I rushed home, showered, and washed and blow dried my hair. (This is no small task with the amount of hair I have.) I then spent the remaining time I had left trying to put together a decent outfit. Being a gay man, I already had the outfit picked out, but being an easily distracted gay man, I had forgotten to make sure the outfit I wanted to wear had been washed. It was time for plan B. Plan B involved a nice black argyle sweater, nice jeans, and nice shoes. I looked polished, but not like I was trying too hard. I wanted to make a good impression.

He obviously had not felt the same way. I watched in horror as an unkempt gangly toothpick of a man walked in. I had seen a picture on-line, but he was far away from the camera and in full profile. All I knew from the picture was that he was tall, slim, white, and had dark hair. In the flesh, things were much clearer. At 6’5,” he had the body build of a 14 year old Chinese gymnast coupled with the height of an NBA player. Like the neck of a giraffe, he seemed very out of proportion, but unlike the neck of a giraffe, he lacked any aesthetic grace. He had all the colorings of a ginger without the cute red hair or freckles. His skin made me look tan, and I think I could have lost him if he fell into a snow bank. And while his complexion was uniform, it lacked life and almost appeared artificial. He clearly had not spent much time on his outfit either; he was in a worn grey polo shirt with darker pants, and a baseball cap.

(I had also expected to find quite the large bandage on his face, but instead I found a small dot band-aid - the kind you put over ant bites or bee stings. So much for being “gouged open.”)

I wasn’t attracted to him, but I was willing to give him a chance. I mean, it’s what’s on the inside that counts right? He introduced himself; his handshake was limp. In the early moments of our conversation he appeared uncomfortable. There wasn’t any comfortable shifting in his seat, but there was a forced fluidity to his movement, a distracted gaze, and eyes that were harsh and piercing. His personality was intense but as bland as his look. And his only talent seemed to stem from an uncanny ability to ask awkward questions.

Less than 10 minutes into our conversation he stared directly at me and asked:

“On a scale of 1 to 10, how do I rank in terms of what you were expecting?”

“I don’t really know how to answer that,” I began, trying to pull an answer from my ass while simultaneously trying to disguise my obvious disbelief at the question. “I didn’t really have any expectations. I mean I haven’t been on a date in a while.” I answered truthfully. It had been two years since I broke up with my boyfriend, and I hadn’t been on a date since. I was too busy trying to survive toxic work environments. “And I really couldn’t tell much about you from your picture.”

“Oh,” he replied. “I need to get a new picture, but I can’t post pictures with other people, and I don’t know how to edit them out.” His gaze then shifted to his left – focusing intently out the window behind me.

“Just out of curiosity,” I asked. “Where did I fall?”

“9 out of 10,” he said without missing a beat. “I even knew how you were going to talk.” His gaze once again shifted to the left – with laser focused intent. It was almost like he was disgusted that I met his expectations.

The subject was changed, and the conversation began anew. He picked at his food with a look of uncomfortable disgust. And about 10 minutes later:

“What religion or you?” he interrupted, his eyes piercing back in my direction.

“Christian,” I responded taken aback by the question. “What religion are you?”

“I really don’t know,” he replied, once again turning his gaze out the window and to the left.

“Well, I’m a very liberal person. I have a liberal interpretation of Christianity, and I’m not pushy with my beliefs, so don’t let that worry you. If that’s a problem, it really shouldn’t be.”

“Well maybe we believe the same thing then,” he returned.

But you just said you didn’t know what you believed? I wanted to ask, but kept my mouth shut. At this point I was just happy that I was on a date, and I had delicious Thai food in front of me. I was proud of myself for taking that step. I had gotten back into the dating pool. This date wasn’t working out, but there would be more. I just needed to enjoy myself, try to keep to non-confrontational topics, and not let his weirdness pull me down.

“Are you Aimish?”

“Excuse me?” I asked, cocking to my head slightly to the right in disbelief – not just at the question, but at the fact that he had said: AIMish.

“You look Aimish.”

I took a deep breath, looked down, and cocked my head further to the right. “I don’t know how to take that,” I stated looking up, matching his intensity. “What do you mean that I look Amish?” I emphasized the correct pronunciation, while forcing down the angry thoughts that were trying to make themselves known aloud. I was still trying to enjoy myself, and sliding into: “Well you look like a cancer patient, when’s your next round of chemo?” would probably have been counter-productive.

“You look Aimish,” he repeated. “With the hair, and the well…” he moved his hand over his mouth indicating facial hair. “Well… maybe not here, but you could be on rebellion or something.”

I looked at my plate, and looked back up, and began looking around for television cameras. I was certain I was on a reality show. I was hoping I’d receive a cash prize for not losing my temper. Alas, it was not to be. Sadly there is no visual record of this date, other than a quite vivid flashbulb memory.

The subject changed to movies. Movies were a nice, safe topic.

“You know what movie I’m really excited about?” he asked – his demeanor shifting from more of a judgmental Judy to that of a manic Charles Manson. “The new SAW movie.”

“SAW? Really? SAW?” I asked. I no longer cared about his feelings, so judgmental tones were back on the table.

“Yeah,” he returned, mellowing in his attempt to be smooth, “It’s playing around the corner from here. We’re going there after dinner.”

“No we’re not,” I said matter-of-factly.

Reading other people’s tones, body-language, and expressions is apparently not a gift of his. He stared back blank and confused, only then realizing that the date was not going well.

“I hated the first one,” I responded. “I fell asleep during it, and I’m not wasting my time watching another one. I haven’t watched any of the sequels.”

He became rather silent and continued to intently gaze in differing directions. He was rude to the waiter, which really upset me. And the date ended as quickly and as awkwardly as it began. We shook hands and left – parting ways for good.

I was still proud of myself. So what if my date was a pasty ill-proportioned judgmental abortion of a human being without any social skills… I had gone out! My dating life had started again, and sooner or later I would find a decent guy!

I went on two more dates after that. One was an immature 5th year college senior who changed his major right before he was supposed to graduate. I think he was afraid of growing up. He was also a little Queeny, and again I wasn’t attracted to him. He looked nothing like his on-line picture, and he seemed clingy. He wanted to text non-stop before our date; it was annoying.

The guy after him showed a lot of promise – at least on-line. He was from Chile, and seemed to be what promised to be a hot Latin lover. Third time, however, was NOT a charm for my Bargain Basement Dating Site, and I got a Latin Dudder. He had spent a lot of time on-line talking about how unhealthy American food was, and how unhealthy Americans were in general. He was adamant that in Chile the food was healthier and so were the people. I agreed, and said that the US is having a health crisis when it comes to food and nutrition and obesity. He followed with statements about how surprised that he was that there were skinny people in America. He didn’t understand how anyone could be skinny in the US. He had only been here for two weeks, and he was having trouble finding any healthy food options.

You can probably understand my shock then when I met him, and found my health obsessed Latin date to be an obese chain smoker with bad teeth. (And I mean England, pre-orthodontia, bad.) To top it off, his personality was boring, and we lacked any chemistry what-so-ever.

Anyway, my options seemed rather slim, and I had gotten quite a bit discouraged. I buried myself in work, as usual, so it wasn’t until my work load lightened significantly that I began to really notice my loneliness. That is when I was pulled back into the on-line dating scene. I returned to the same sites I had used to find the previous three people. The first guy was bad yes, but the other two weren’t so terrible. They misrepresented themselves on-line, and I wouldn’t date them if they were the last gay men on Earth, but they had okay personalities. Maybe fourth time would be my game changer.

I was right, in a way. It was a game changer. To quote Stan Smith, the protagonist of Seth MacFarlane’s animated sitcom American Dad, from the episode “Stanny Slicker’s II: The Legend of Ollie’s Gold”

“Epiphany isn’t just a name that black people give their daughters. It’s a realization, and I just had one!”

I will NEVER return to those on-line dating sites again. I will NEVER use bargain basement dating services. You get what you pay for; if you want quality – you pay for it; and if you don’t pay anything, you can’t expect quality product. I’ve had this epiphany before, but apparently I needed to really encounter the crazy before I took the realization to heart.

Fourth time started out well. In hindsight, it began almost too well. We had talked on-line quite a bit several months back, but nothing ever came of it. Out of the blue, the guy messaged me again, and we struck up a conversation. He said he’d still like to meet me if I had time, and I said that would be great. We decided to go out for coffee, and he gave me his number, so I could text him the next day to make plans.

The next day came, and after I had settled in for the night, we began what would be a long text conversation. We talked about quite a few things, nothing alarming – nothing that even raised any tiny red flags. It was normal, sane, and from his pictures on-line – he was clearly cute. I was excited, so when he asked if he could call me, or course I said yes.

If I were to sum up the phone-call in a sentence:

My potential date for Saturday drunk dialed me while he was driving to the gas station to buy weed from (insert racial slur that rhymes with "diggers" here), all so he could rant about how he hates women (they're all f*cking stupid), his father (such a f*cking asshole), gay sex (I'm never letting a man stick a d*ck in my a**!), his hatred of his former life in the Army (I f*cking killed people!), and how we should bomb the hell out of Libya and kill as many people as we can because America is the only country that values life.

Now imagine that with a thick Southern accent, stretched into a less than 20 minute conversation and you have my evening. I was scared for my life, and thankful to Jesus that he had no idea where I lived. I had won the lottery – the crazy f*cking jackpot! I had encountered the rarest of birds: the misogynistic ex-military racist drug addicted uber-patriotic homophobic homosexual with daddy issues in desperate need of anger management and a chill pill. In one conversation he managed to raise every red flag imaginable.

The worst part was, is that I couldn’t just hang up. You can’t just slam the door on crazy, because they come back with heavy artillery. You have to gently close the door on the psychotic. I attempted to challenge his views on women, but it wasn’t any use. He was looking for a fight. That’s when I started planning my conversation exit strategy. I call it: “Operation Enduring Crazy,” otherwise known as “make shit up.” Say you have a call on the other line, or there is a neighbor that needs your help, or that there is a problem with your pet, anything feasible or logical that will trick the offender on the other line. I picked the pet option, and looked for a window. When he dropped the “n” word, I knew I had to get out right then. I said Joey was fussing to go to bed. We said goodnight, and I quickly called Cara. I cut him out completely.

So dating has proved a bust, but fret not – I have locals looking for potential dates for me. I know I will find somebody eventually. Until then, I’ll continue to get out with other people, and go to the park. I will not, however, settle for a bargain basement boyfriend.

This weekend has been and continues to be quite eventful. Yesterday I went to a company picnic at Oak Mountain State Park. I hung out with co-workers and students, had some food fresh from the grill, and went paddle boating with four friends – we’ll call them Matt, Meredith, Sonya, and Mandy. Matt and Meredith are married. Sonya is my friend who is moving away, and Mandy is a senior at the university. We walked over to the boat rentals making the usual observations (i.e. how nice the day was, how we couldn’t wait to get on the water, how much fun we had at the picnic, etc). But when we got to the rental dock, all the boats were chained up and the rental station was closed. The sign said the station opened at 10am. It was 2pm.

While contemplating our options, we discovered that the boats, while chained, were only held by carabineers and quick links. Being in the design and tech world, these posed little of a challenge. The entire perimeter of the dock was enclosed by a padlocked chain, but the side dock held several paddle boats only quick linked to the dock. We picked our boat, and set sail. We paddled maybe 75 feet from the dock when we noticed the boat was sinking. We quickly did the math and realized we were over the weight limit. If we were going paddle-boating, we would need two boats.

Back to the dock we paddled. We docked the boat back at its station, and chose two new boats. The only problem was these boats were within the chained perimeter. No problem, we would just have one person captain the boat, while two people lifted the chain over the boat and the ducking boat captain. As we would later discuss: our job is to make things happen. We wanted to go paddle-boating; we made that happen. Once the boats were clear of the perimeter, and we all boarded, the lake was ours. We left the cove where the boats were docked, and rounded the corner into the larger area of the lake. We could see the remnants of our picnic, our friends, students, and co-workers at the tables on the hill as we passed. We were headed around the circular parking docks and toward the swimming area, when we were stopped by a park ranger. Apparently park rangers frown upon people stealing boats from the rental dock. He was very nice, and informed us that the marina was closed on Fridays, and if we could return the boats to the dock, that would be great.

We turned around and began paddling back to the marina. We were happy that as pirates we were only asked to take things back to the dock. How lucky were we? We bragged to each other about our pirate skills, but when we arrived at the dock we found the park ranger waiting for us. Sonya was the first person to talk to him.

“So did you find these boats around the lake, or did you take them from the dock?” he asked.

“We took them from the dock,” Sonya answered truthfully.

“Well normally there’s a fine and ticketing for that.”

“We we’re going to pay the rental, but no one was here. I suppose we can’t just pay the rental now?”

He didn’t seem amused.

Matt was the next person to encounter him; Meredith was docking their boat, and Mandy and I were busy docking ours.

“So why did you guys take these boats?”

“Because we wanted to.”

“Was there any other reason?”


Mandy and I were now walking up the dock – keeping our eyes forward and toward the ground. We all realized we needed to look penitent.

“Next time wait until it’s open, and rent the boats,” he said sternly to Mandy and I as we walked ahead of him.

We kept walking – all five of us – up the dock, up the stairs, past the rental stand, into the parking lot, and right past his patrol car. He didn’t stop us.

Lesson learned: When you make the choice to steal a paddle-boat, be sure to paddle to the center of the lake, so it is difficult for park rangers to track you down or get your attention to return the boats. I think next time though the boats may actually be locked. I doubt they’ll make the same mistake again. We returned to our camp pirate heroes.

In the continuing spirit of pirating, Matt and Meredith invited Mandy and myself (say that a few times fast) to a local Birmingham tradition: Springalingadingdong. The invite promised dancing around a May-pole, a parade, and a ritualistic beheading of Marie Antoinette – all in the name of welcoming Spring! I was all in. It sounded like a wonderful opportunity to bear witness to what crazy rich people do when they have nothing to do.

We packed into Matt and Meredith’s car this morning and headed to English Village – just across the mountain from Southside. This is a trendy and well to do neighborhood, one of the three Mountain Brook Villages, where people tend to have more money than God. We were greeted by a rail-thin woman who must be in her fifties wearing a lacy tri-colored tulle tutu – bare legs to the world – topped with an ill-fitting sparkly sequin and glitter halter/bra type thing with an open back and plenty of side-boob. Add to this a hat that looked like a synchronized swimmer’s swim cap crossed with a beehive constructed from tissue paper and faux flowers, and it looked like an abomination Princess Beatrice would wear to a royal function. Compare for yourself:

In one word: Hatastrophe.
This I would learn was Carole, the woman in charge. The proprietor of the restaurant and bakery that were sponsoring – and have always sponsored – Springalingadingdong. In fact, Springalingadingdong was her brainchild. Meredith knew her, and has known her for quite some time, but Carole seems to always forget that.

“I’m Carole,” she said shaking Meredith’s hand after she had complimented Meredith’s outfit and given her a huge hug. Meredith, being the only one of the pirates (that’s what I’m calling us now) to have ever been to Springalingadingdong had dressed for the occasion. She was in a skirt made from faux flowers with a corseted camisole on top. When I first saw Meredith, I thought it was a crazy outfit, and then I saw Carole, and then I saw Carole’s friend… (At least I’m assuming their friends. Hell, they may be Conjoined twins attached at the crazy.) She looked like what can be best described as Bozo the clown does granny drag. She’s the one on the left directly across from the kneeling and horrified 12 year old boy in the pantaloons and gypsy kerchief. But neither of those could compare to the chicken lady. (As you can see, during the parade, she actually pulled around a chicken.)
The costumes would have been enough crazy to last for at least two days, but then came the parade. And how do parades always begin? If you answered with candy thrown from floats or marching bands or dance teams, you are sadly mistaken. At Springalingadingdong, parades always begin with the ritualistic beheading of Marie Antoinette.

They put a costumed and masked woman on trial as Marie Antoinette. Carole leads this trial, and there are plenty of references to school extending into summer, Wonder bread, and I think taxation. She holds up placards leading to crowd into participatory dialogue.
After she’s been sentenced, they prepare the guillotine, and a curtain is drawn over Marie so “children won’t see the beheading.” Then once the blade falls, the mask-less head is revealed upon a stretcher (it’s carefully concealing the woman’s body beneath it), and the reanimated zombie head of Marie Antoinette begins to sing. She is now the May Queen welcoming Spring.
The next thing you know, there’s a five person marching band playing, and Carole begins leading a parade singing: “Springalingadingdong Springalingadingdong we love you!” And if you put that to the tune of “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang,” you win the prize. Anyway there are large puppets: a cloud, a satyr, a weird looking woman smoking a cigarette, and the two people from American Gothic. Remember this all makes sense in someone else’s brain.
Also remember, this may seem like a children’s event (I definitely thought it was primarily geared for children until we got there), and while children do enjoy it; it was clearly intended for adults. It is a chance for adult women – one in particular – to parade around town in ridiculous outfits while singing songs in high pitched voices, to participate in pie eating and baguette tossing competitions, and to behead Marie Antoinette. This year the event was divided into two: a ritual and parade in the morning along with a ritual and parade in the evening, sandwiching drinking in between. (We’re thinking the drag queens are probably attending this evening.) It is the epitome of “Why Not?” And it is terrifying. Truthfully, I’m still not sure what happened. But I do know three things: 1) I wasn’t nearly drunk enough (I was stone cold sober). 2) I’m pretty sure it’s against my religion. 3) I can’t wait to attend next year.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

For the Love of Acne

Today I saw a guy with an enormous zit on his face. I literally had to fight the urge to reach out and pop it. Call me crazy, but I love popping zits – even lancing and squeezing the puss out of cystic acne. Something about it just fascinates me. It didn’t help that the boy was absolutely adorable. I have a soft spot for hot men with minor acne problems. So naturally the urge to pop his glorious zit was also combined with the urge to make out with him. I could see us – in the throes of passion – our hands exploring each other’s bodies – mine discovering great mounds of acne – waiting to be excavated, waiting to be purged.

This activity, unfortunately, is frowned upon in public, and it is especially frowned upon when the other person is a total stranger. Thanks a lot Puritans... I, therefore, decided to keep my distance and quickly burst my romantic fantasy bubble. Maybe someday I’ll be able to pop my boyfriend’s zits. That is to say, maybe I’ll be able to pop another boyfriend’s zits.

An ex of mine (he’d die if I used his real name, so we’ll call him Brandon) had the worst bacne I had ever seen. If you have never heard the term bacne, it is a contraction of the words back and acne, a catch-all for all those gross lumbar zits that so many people seem to be afflicted with. When I saw him naked, he apologized for his acne, his infected pores, and I could tell he had struggled with what he saw as a burden. I told Brandon not to worry, that I actually was fascinated by acne. He gave me a look that I’m sure most of you are giving your computers at this very moment. It was a mixture of intrigue, disbelief, and the creeps. After a few minutes of convincing, he let me attempt to pop his zits and clear his blackheads.

After gathering my accoutrements (that’s a fancy word for tweezers and a straight pin), I began to inspect my canvas. Then I found it. There before me, slightly to the left of center and between his shoulder blades, shown a large carbuncle with several deep-pocked black heads staring back at me. It rose out of his back like a marble under a sheet. I read the puss filled knot like sick giant Braille; the message: “pop me.” I was in Paradise.

Despite the message, the carbuncle proved a difficult opponent. At first I attempted standard squeezing. One would expect that a giant engorged carbuncle with three angry black eyes would burst with any amount of pressure applied, but not this one. This one had been there a while; it was comfortable; it was settled; it required extreme measures. Brandon winced in pain, and I promised to be more careful. I braced my hands further apart in order to gain more force focused on the deep-set knot. The flesh rippled toward me, and with that forced smooching sound that accompanies the breaking of every zit’s seal – the contents began to spill forth.

The puss was yellow, waxy, sticky, thick, and felt like tar. It was the strangest puss I have ever encountered. It didn’t burst out like most zits; it was like giving birth. The pores dilated with each push – lurching forth the crowning puss to the surface. After I had milked the now flattened carbuncle, I grabbed my straight pin. My mother taught me long ago that if you carefully use a straight pin, you can gently scrape clean the insides of an engorged pore. So off I ventured into the three caverns that once contained the contents of the carbuncle. Gently I probed the pores, bringing to the surface the final remnants of yellow sticky tar. Brandon thanked me. The carbuncle had been bothering him for a long time. Now it was gone, and we could get on with business. Or so he thought…

Several days later (maybe it was a week – the memory is a little hazy with the timeline), Brandon and I were making out. Soon our clothes came off, and it became clear that more intimate adult behaviors were just around the corner. As he began kissing my neck, I got a clear view of his back. There, where the carbuncle had been, was another deep-set blackhead. It was a carbuncle in the making, and it was going to be mine. His lips met my mouth again, and my hand began to search his back for the prize. When my hand found the blackhead, my fingers began to squeeze. At first, Brandon mistook that for me massaging his back, but soon – he pushed me back breaking our embrace.

“Are you trying to pop my zit?” he asked in disbelief.

“Yes,” I answered sheepishly.

“Could you not do that while we’re making out?”

“I’ll try,” I answered, “but it’s there and it wants to be popped.”

Of course I failed. The temptation of the zit proved too strong. We were making out again, and once he began kissing my neck, I could see the blackhead. It was calling to me. Subconsciously my hand crept back up his back. He was not amused. Eventually, after several weeks, he became accustomed to my unusual habits (that one at least; we won’t discuss my singing to him while he was on the toilet; he wasn’t too amused with that one either).

Over the course of our relationship, I would clear his back zits often, as well as acne in other locales. But alas, the love of acne is not strong enough to keep people together. We really weren’t compatible in many ways. It would be nice to find a guy though, who wasn’t totally creeped out by my urge to pop zits. It’s one of my many eccentricities. It’s too bad, however, that amazing zits are not points of flirtation. If they were, I totally would have hit on the cute guy with the magnificent specimen.

I’m not sure where my unusual fascination comes from. I really enjoy the sound acne makes when it bursts, and the puss is well – so disgusting that it is utterly enthralling. I’ve done a touch of research, and it seems that the fascination is normal. It’s normal to want to purge the foreign from the body. I’m not sure if it’s normal to want to make out with men that need a little purging, but to each his own. So stop judging. I’m sure you’re weird too.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Memories of Yarn

Today was an unusual day at work. I built a sling-shot from a bra, a thong, two coat hangers, and some ribbon (I call it the bra-apult). I fired a gun, broke a gun, (two different guns mind you), and went shopping for yarn. All of these things are rather unusual for most jobs, but at mine – they somehow all seem to work. It’s weird, however, that they all occurred on the same day. Most days one of those would be an event, so having all of these at once was almost too much to take. Properties masters and designers are basically toy-makers. We build things for pretend time. So it helps to have an active imagination, a slightly deranged inner-child, design sense, and a functional knowledge of power tools.

Today, however, I was not only able to indulge my adult inner-child (by building the bra-apult), but I was also able to relive a piece of my childhood – oddly while shopping for yarn. When I was small – say about three years – I used to love to go to the store with my mom and look at yarn. The feeling of the yarn against my skin, so soft, fascinated me – as did all the colors. It was literally a rainbow of pigment and texture. I always wanted to go and touch the yarn.

So today, I found myself back as a three year old – in the yarn aisle. The yarn, so soft, stood before me – all the colors on parade – and a memory came rushing back. My mom and I were in Wal-Mart (the craft section to be specific). This was in the days before the invention of the Supercenter, so Wal-Mart was more intimate. This was also the 1980s, when parents were more relaxed with their children in public places, and my home town had not yet succumb to the huge building boom and suburban sprawl brought on in the 90s. As usual, upon our visit, I wanted to visit the yarn aisle.

I told my mom where I was headed, and off I ran to see the yarn. (Don’t fret – she wasn’t far – just an aisle over.) I began to touch the yarn, so soft, and marvel at the textures, the colors, and the interesting way that it was bundled and packaged. Something about the yarn was comforting, familiar, yet still utterly fascinating. That’s when a Wal-Mart employee approached me. She didn’t like an unattended child perusing the yarn-aisle.

This is where the story gets hazy. I would like to know what she said to me. It was only words – just words – and words that have long been forgotten. I would like to remember it in detail, but I don’t. All I am left with is a shard – a fragment of a memory – that as an adult I don’t understand. I remember looking up – at the massive wall of yarn – it seemed endless, and then looking to my left to see a blue-smocked lady with dark curly hair approaching me. Then I remember being embarrassed, upset, and somehow ashamed. I was cornered by this lady (literally the craft-section was in the back right hand corner of Wal-Mart, and the yarn aisle was on the back wall of the store), and as a child I didn’t know how to process that.

The next thing I remember is crying, and my mother telling me that I could look at the yarn if I wanted to. Oddly, I don’t think the woman yelled at me, and I don’t think my mother berated anyone (chances are she would have if there had been yelling), but then again – why did I feel ashamed? Why was I upset? What happened that disturbed the balance? One moment I was a child fascinated with a wall of yarn, and the next I was a child ashamed, upset, and seeking solace from his mother. That was the day yarn lost its luster; I don’t think I ever went to marvel at the colors and textures again.

So today, as I gazed at the seemingly endless rainbow before me, I became that small child again. The yarn, so soft, felt so good beneath my fingers, and for a moment I lost myself in the rapture and mystery of the wools and acrylics before me. It didn’t last long; a new blue be-smocked employee named “Adult Responsibilities” brought me back to reality. This time, however, I was not ashamed, not upset, and did not need solace from my mother. Yarn regained some of its mystery.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Work and MLK Day

Today, I went to work. There is nothing altogether unusual about that. I tend to work a lot, and I feel lost when I go for long periods of time (read: more than a day) without work. I get anxious when I have nothing to do, and I feel guilty if I’m not constantly putting more and more time into my job. A therapist of mine once diagnosed me with workaholism, and it’s something I have been trying to work on. I’ve had to learn that it’s okay to not have anything to do, and that it is okay to have a personal life.

With that being said, today was Martin Luther King Jr’s birthday, and I had the day off. Yet, I went to work. I couldn’t really justify staying at home when I have many things to do at work, and a quickly dwindling timetable in which to complete them. I tried to tell myself that I would have taken the day off if I hadn’t had the snow day last week, and while that was a fun thought – it was more fanciful than factual.

Truthfully, I would have gone to work today even if we hadn’t had snow. It is partially my workaholism – yes – I choose to work, even when I don’t have to, but it goes deeper than that. I don’t see the point of sitting on my ass on MLK day. It’s not that I don’t have great respect for Dr. King; I have plenty of respect for him and all that he did for our country. People like him have shaped our culture – our collective consciousness – and allowed us the freedom to each have dreams of our own. Yet, to me, MLK day isn’t a holiday that should be celebrated. It should be observed. I’m not sure that taking time off work is what MLK would have wanted us to do.

I understand that many people use MLK day as a day of service, and I think that is a great idea. Maybe one day, I’ll feel comfortable taking time off work to volunteer on MLK day. But, if you aren’t engaged in service activities, how do you properly honor the legacy of Dr. King? It isn’t that hard of a question. We should simply look at his dream – that one day all people will be judged by the content of their character. A strong work ethic is part of my character, and work is something I believe very strongly in, so I felt the best way for me to honor him was to go to work. Anything that strengthens the content of one’s character, I feel, would be the appropriate way to observe Martin Luther King Jr’s birthday.

I also feel that children should be in school on MLK day. Our country is dragging behind other 1st world nations in terms of education. We don’t need to be taking kids out of school for every holiday. Also, MLK day would be a great day for young people to take in-depth looks at equality and diversity, and how these things strengthen our culture. Children, teenagers, and teachers could participate in dialogues on race, religion, history, and the future of this country. I haven’t yet given up hope for adults discussing these issues in depth, but I don’t see it happening anytime soon, at least in a healthy and healing manner.

Basically, I think we’re missing the mark on this holiday. I think work is important, and maybe there are ways to combine work with the observance. For instance, instead of companies giving their employees another holiday, maybe corporations could choose a service project? Those who wanted or felt they could give back would have the option of participating instead of their traditional 9-5 hours. Imagine what our nation could do – if while our children were in school – learning to live the legacy of MLK, adults were out with their colleagues cleaning up our streets, building houses for the poor, being kind to their neighbors, or working on the content of their own character by choosing to work.

Then, maybe, we could affect some positive change for this country, and I think Dr. King would approve.