Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Doing something different with the same results in eighth grade

If seventh grade was an epic tale of lovelorn longing and embarrassment, then eighth grade was more of a haiku of embarrassment. In general, with the exception of the whole remaining girlfriendless for the year and throughout the remainder of most of the next decade thing, eighth grade was a pretty awesome place for a 13-year-old me to be.

We'd had a year to complete that transition from elementary school to the new-found relative freedom of junior high school. And as eighth graders, we were at the top of the hill, a relatively small hill of only two grades, but still a hill.

I was doing well with the making friends thing, and had deluded myself into thinking a) I was one of the popular kids, and b) that being one of the popular kids counted for something. Eight grade was likely the crest of the wave of my popularity delusion, but for that one glorious year I was riding it with as many surfing metaphors as I could.

Just how bad ass was life as an eighth grader?

We got to spend our gym classes playing Ultimate Frisbee, which until Golf Frisbee came along was the cutting edge of flying disc-based sports technology.

Study hall was even better than gym class. There was a group of about a dozen honors students who got to spend at least some of our study time in our science teacher's classroom watching tapes of Friday Night Videos on his giant, toploading classroom VCR. Since most of our town had yet to obtain the magic of cable television and all the Duran Duran videos MTV could play during the early 80s, this was about as good as it gets.

And, in between viewings of the Safety Dance and Jessie's Girl, I had found my new object of affection, eighth grade version. This girl, was, well, I guess she was cute. And occasionally within viewing distance of me, and in my badass study hall. And I was on an Ultimate-Frisbeeing roll and was gonna get this girlfriend thing down in year two of junior high. Yeah, I was going to go for it, eventually, maybe.

I'd thought, or at least I like to think I thought, I'd learned a lesson from the previous school year's attempt at winning going-steady favor through the use of humorous epistolary. This time around, I was going to stand up and be a man (okay, boy - mannish boy) and outright ask this young lady to be mine.

Honestly, I don't think this girl made anywhere near the impression on me that seventh grade not-girlfriend had, but I was in the game and worked myself up and I was going to do this. Now other than committing the sin of being cute and somewhat in my line of daily activity, I'm not sure what this girl did to deserve my swaggering approach. But I was going to go for it. Eventually, maybe.

Going to put my plan in motion!

Great plan!

Just go up to her and ask her out!

Two weeks later. Still my plan. Still had not asked her out. Every night working myself up to do it the next day. Building up high levels of eighth grade anxiety. Hoping she would say yes. Not really having any clear plan what would happen next if she did say yes. Extreme handholding? Walking to the arcade on a half day?

Finally, one day I worked myself up into enough of a sweat-filled frenzy of nerves of I'm Going to Do This that I convinced myself that by the end of the day I was going to Do This. This was the one part of my plan that had not changed from seventh grade. Wait until the last possible minute. As a matter of fact, this has been the one consistent thing that has ever held true about any plans I've ever had for anything.

Doing It consisted largely of cornering the poor girl near her locker at the end of the day, covered in sweat. My sweat, although as soon as I cornered her near her locker, I don't doubt that she began to break out into her own cold sweat. I put my arm up on her locker, looking all cool-like in that 80s eighth grade way, felt my heart go up and out of my throat and dive back down to my knees at the same time, and promptly began stammering.

Something along the lines of:

So, uhhh. You know, mm, I really like you and ummmm (cough)
was thinking, just thinking really uhhhhh, maybe that
you might, maybe mmmummahh wanna
go out with meeeee?

In retrospect, the supremely well thought out and solid part of the seventh grade wooing by letter plan was that I did not see the reaction to my lovestruck idiocy playing out in real time.

Because in eighth grade real time, the reaction could most closely be described as: The facial expression of a teenage girl who had swallowed a skunk that had rolled around in a city dump sized mound of garbage that had been sprayed by a thousand other skunks. If there was a way to wrinkle one's nose so far upwards that it disappeared into the back of one's skull, she discovered it that day.

Uhhhh, yeah, no, that's okay,
I don't think so.

She managed to get out once the skunk smell dissipated enough and her nose had retracted back out from the back of her skull.

I managed to keep my cool arm on the locker pose as she walked away.

During the 20 seconds of what seemed like a sweaty eternity it took for the full powers of rejection to hit me, one of my friends had come up to get his things out of his locker.

Woah man, he said, that was pretty rough. Wanna go play some ultimate frisbee?



Monday, March 10, 2014

Tales of a seventh grade courtship, or just be yourself -- except when that seems like a bad idea

Today, the first in a series in which I look back to look ahead. Unless I decide I want to write my next post about how I never appreciated the music of Jackson Browne until two years ago. And also I post in which I spout some advice and platitudes that I pretty clearly ignore within three paragraphs.

I never planned on being in another long-distance relationship. Which seems pretty obvious, since I've never really planned on being in any relationship. Which is also not the same as saying I've never wanted to be in a relationship, at least from the age of 12. Or 13. Or whatever age I happened to be by the time I began junior high school (which was a type of school people used to go to before it was replaced by middle school, which sounds more corporate and less angsty).

It's that the wanting and the planning have usually been approached with remarkably different levels of effort.

I wanted real bad.

I was also shy real bad. In my mind, that made the doing somewhere on the difficulty level of landing a covered wagon full of cavemen on the moon. Did I also mention that I didn't have a girlfriend until I was 22? From the age of 13 (or 12), I may have only gone out on a few outings that only now, in retrospect, appear as though there was a chance I could have considered them as dates at the time, had I been so bold.

For all I know, the sands of time that have conspired to thin my hair and expand my love handles in an effort to make me more desirable to women as I've settled comfortably into my forties. More likely, I was a shy skinny kid unaware that no matter what your best qualities are, you'll always be more comfortable and confident if you put your best qualities out there for the world to see. So maybe I should have worn tighter Wranglers in junior high to better accentuate my sweet, sweet butt.

Or I could have been more okay knowing it was okay to be myself. Then again, what 12-year-old knows that?

Back to the girlfriendless years, also known as that time before I could legally drink in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.

Nothing through the end of sixth grade really counts, even in the swinging 70s and the early days of the Reagan Revolution there weren't a lot of swinger parties involving randy, velour and plaid covered 10-year-olds. Seventh grade was when the battle lines were first drawn in the world of pre- and early-teen dating. Those first whispers of so-and-so having a crush on that one over there and parents taking Sally and Brucie to the movies on a Saturday night. There was even the discovery that Janey was dating a ninth grader from the high school. Imagine what they must have been doing on HIS couch after school! Since I had been sneaking peaks at Playboys when I had the opportunity, I could imagine. Granted, what I imagined was very air-brushed, playing volleyball, and conducting long interviews with Gore Vidal.

This was a whole world I felt like I wanted to be a part of, and I even had a love interest in mind (keep in mind, this might seem like something I was planning, but don't worry because it did not end well). There was a girl in my homeroom as well as all my other classes (on my team, in the parlance of 80s junior high education speak) whom I had convinced myself on some cosmic, seventh-grade level that I had fallen in (the seventh grade version) of love with. Or at least wanted to go steady with.

As near as I could figure then, and now, going steady was some exclusive combination of advanced note passing, furtive between period hand holding, the occasional parent-chaperoned weekend movie, and if you were really lucky, an awkward makeout session in the darkened computer lab/closet in front of the sickly green glow of the screens of the Radio Shack TRS-80 computers. With all this in mind, I had worked myself to ask my homeroom sweetheart to go steady, or go out, or be my girlfriend.

There was one huge roadblock to all this, other than not having a clear idea of how seventh grade boys asked seventh grade girls to be their girlfriends. Alas, the object of my affection was also the object of affection of one of my best friends. To anyone who was even remotely paying attention, it was obvious that the object of my affection wanted to be more affectionately the object of my best friend.

This next part is probably the most unusual and frankly, quasi-adult part of Operation I Wanna Hold Your Hand and Make Out With You in the Computer Closet. For the first, and probably the only time, I had an adult-like conversation with my friend about my intentions regarding the mutual object of our affection. Showing a remarkable amount of class, or perhaps just knowing the ultimate outcome of my whole ill-conceived charade, he said he was okay with me making the first move in trying to board the going steady train.

With clearance given, the pressure was on. This was the dark days before Google, or even Ask Jeeves, and unless I wanted to glean the tea leaves from a rousing game of Oregon Trail, there was no computer-based knowledge depot where I could figure out how to ask out a girl.

On the face of it, I came out of the gate with with would should have been, if not fool-proof, at the very least an adequate plan given all the rigamarole I laid out earlier about being confident in your strengths. I decided to go with the one-two punch of writing a letter and using humor.

Maybe it wouldn't have mattered even if the letter combined the wit of Twain with the poetry of Shakespeare's sonnets. After all, it was obvious to everyone at Memorial Junior High School that she was infatuated with my friend. For chrissakes, he wore a fedora! Everyone wanted to wear his fedora!

But the allegedly humorous letter I drafted in Bic black ink and passed to her in homeroom at the last possible second before we vacated the class for the afternoon buses was quite possibly the biggest affront to letter writing humor with the exception of the book I imagine in my mind that Larry the Cable Guy wrote containing his love letters to Sally the DishTV Girl.

More than 30 years later and I'm still willfully blacking out most of just how awful that letter was. The underlying theme of the whole fiasco was that I purposely misspelled just about every word in the letter. Maybe I was two decades ahead of the time in predicting txt speak, but man, thinking about it now, I'm amazed I ever again transcribed a single word onto paper or tried to be funny.

I don't remember exactly how the rejection came, but it was gentler than I deserved for being an embarrassment to the English language and not owning a fedora. I think one of her friends told me she thought the letter was cute (sure, likely story!) but that she was really interested in my friend. All I know is that within one week, I saw the two of them making out in front of the sickly green glow of the TRS-80s, the first computers to ever grace the darkened closets of Memorial Junior High School.


Monday, March 03, 2014

From the notebooks of Ramblin' Ad Swiftiott

This is what happens when I take my notebook with me and drink coffee and write in the notebook and drink the coffee and write some more until I get to the point where I have stopped writing or the coffee is all gone, or both. It begins, it ends, in the middle is the past between the beginning and the end, and those parts tend to have little relation to each other. So consider this a warning.

Tom Petty was wrong. As much as the song rocks in the most TomPetty of ways, The Waiting is not the hardest part.

The hardest part is the doing. The moment when all the thoughts and schemes and plans in your (my, whatever, pick a pronoun you like better, I'll tend to fluctuate with this) head stop being the thoughts and plans and schemes in your (my, etc.) head while you are drinking a beer and hitting play for the next episode of Cheers on Netflix. Not that there isn't a value in being able to slow down and relax. The danger for me (me) has been that my intense belief in being able to slow down and be calm often devolves into something that looks and feels an awful lot like inertia. Because it is.

There are too many days where I spend too much time and energy figuring out how to do the least amount of anything possible.

Don't have to talk to anyone today? Great!

Can get my work done by lunchtime? Amazing!

Can use all that extra time from getting my work done to take another nap? It's not depression, it's a reward!

But still, I'm as happy as I can remember being in a very long time. I recognize and accept many of my shortcomings and don't let them define me. I may not always do enough to fix them, but there is always that first step.

Some days that first step is nothing more than walking out the door carrying a book, and on especially good days I've packed up a notebook and a couple of pens and I take them to a place where there are other people. I may not interact with those other people, but it is good to know there is a world with sunlight and conversations and general weirdness outside my basement bunker. And while I'm all-in-all pretty comfortable being alone, my favorite way to be alone is when I'm someplace busy. It's the feeling of walking alone in the city and feeding off the energy of the crowd. (This feeling does extend to shopping at a Market Basket on a Saturday, but everyone must recognize that is a whole other ballgame that jumps the line from busy to pure insanity.)

It also helps that I try to surround myself with good, kind people and I try to feed off their positive energy and be there for them when they need a lift. I think I've always (at least tried) to do that, but given my essentially laid back nature, it has been too easy at times for me to get tied into the negativity and suffering of others.

There have been too many times when I've gone along just to get along. When I've nodded my head when someone has said something about someone else that is hurtful, then I feel like an asshole for weeks afterward for falling into that trap again.

Which is not the same thing as never talking about people at all, the good and the bad of them. There is a big difference between negativity for the sake of negativity and trying to come to grips with the strengths and weaknesses of the people you let into your life. In these cases, I've always made the effort (sometimes successful, sometimes not) to not only focus on the negative but to give it the ol' proverbial walking a mile in the other person's shoes (or chanclas) and trying to understand why that person may be feeling or acting in a particular way.

I never really get too upset with the whole concept of "I hate it when people talk behind  my back." I accept that there are people out there discussing my failings and shortcomings and maybe even a positive trait or two. It is what people do. As long as these discussions are honest and not just an excuse to slander me or call me an asshole (without at least having a reason for it), it's fine with me. The only thing worse than being talked about is being ignored.

So, somewhere there may have been a thread in all of this that became unraveled, but I took the step. Or thread the needle. Or something.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

This is way more words than I said out loud today

It dawned on me sometime I after I ate dinner, which I ate at no set time (just as I did with breakfast, and probably lunch, if I ate lunch today) that working from home isn't all that different from being a shut-in. Or a crazy person.

I spent about 10 minutes trying to remember if I had actually opened my mouth to emit sounds to another human being at any point today. By the barest of margins, I think I did. I'm pretty sure I called Leslie early this morning to make sure she was awake. She was kind of awake, I think. She may or may not be able to verify that I called her.

I also may have said hello to the woman at the laundromat when I went to dry my clothes. This is a little more theoretical in nature. There is one woman who works there whom I usually exchange greetings with. Taking Leslie out of the equation, she is the person I spoke to the most today. A grand total of (maybe) one word.

Yes, through the wonders of technology, I did "talk" to a number of people I like very much (in addition to Leslie even) and I communicated with people for work and e-mailed my boss. But when it came to the actual speaking of words out loud, I'm pretty sure the crazy guy down on the corner pointing his umbrella at passing cars and yelling about the James Garfield assassination theories had more person to person contact today than I did.

At the end of the day, most days, I am lucky enough to Skype with Leslie, and some days I even use a lot of words. Most  days I feel bad that conversations about my day go something like this:

LESLIE: (spends at least 20 minutes talking about her day because interesting things happen at her job and there are people there and she likes to talk and those people talk to her) How was your day, honey?

ME: Good.

LESLIE: Good?

ME: Yes. I sat silently at my computer, watched videos of boring people talking about boring things. Then I wrote about it. Then I may have boiled water for raviolis.

LESLIE: Oh.

It's taken a while for me to get too concerned about this, because I'm of the general feeling that the less someone speaks to me and the less I speak to them, the better off the world will be. But it's getting to the point where I've noticed that there are signs that working from home is starting to become indistinguishable from being a maladjusted shut-in.

There are the things I worry about in order to make my workdays have some kind of normalcy, when in reality, those things make absolutely no difference. The most obvious is the whole getting dressed part of my day. Sometimes I wear pajamas, sometimes I change into more "not pathetic" clothes in order to feel some level of self-respect. After a few hours of that, I usually change back into pajamas, satisfied that I am now in my "night-time" pajamas and not my "work" pajamas. (And yes, they are almost always the same pajamas, regardless of how I label them.)

Then there are the other things I do to trick myself into feeling professional and respectable. There is the point in the afternoon when I'm getting near the end of work and wonder if it is too early to open a beer. Now, if I was working in an office with the boss in the next office, of course it would be too early to open a beer.

The reality of working at home is that I could be gathered around a campfire in my basement with crazy umbrella guy knocking back 40s of Colt 45 and I'd still be able to safely watch boring videos of boring people talking about boring videos and type about some of the boring highlights without causing undue harm to myself or anyone around. Because there is no one around me. And it is impossible to make stories about property tax rates sound any less confusing.

Maybe it's time for me to look to get back into the working world where I work with other working people. Maybe someplace that at least has a beer and pajama afternoon once (or twice) a week.



Monday, January 13, 2014

RocknRoll, part one

The first time I went to see the Ramones it was sold out and I didn't get in. It was at the Living Room and Wall of VooDoo was opening up, because the late 80s were a weird time where Wall of VooDoo had funny hair and a song that people knew at one time and the Ramones were Punk Rock, so why not. And the Living Room was the mecca of the late 80s and early 90s for me. There were plenty of other places I saw rocknroll at the time in Providence and Boston, some lost and more fondly less than forgotten, but the Living Room was the place for me. Maybe because it was where I caught my first few club shows (Nina Hagen and Bad Brains were among the first shows I made it into), but mostly because it was the kind of place where you were supposed to see loud, sweaty music. It was basically a biggish warehouse space in a rundown part of Providence with excellent sight lines, a stage that was high enough to see the band but not set back from the crowd, and it smelled like beer and cigarettes and sweat.

There would be no Ramones for me that night. Eventually I would seem them at the Living Room, and the Channel, which was basically a less charming version of the Living Room on the waterfront in Boston. And maybe a time or two besides that. And they were okay. 

By the time I saw them, Dee Dee was off making rap records, any chance of having a big hit record had passed them by, and they were well into their second decade of playing night after night of too many places that smelled like beer and sweat and cigarettes. The times I saw them, it sounded like they were fighting a losing battle against the more rigid hardcore bands that were playing harder and faster than the Ramones had played more than a decade before. They played the songs too fast, losing the melody that laid at the heart of their greatness.

But I never felt disappointed when I saw them. Sure, there was always that slight hope in the back of my head that they would slow down just a hair, give the songs the full muscle they deserved without having the gas pedal pushed all the way down. 

Still, I was paying homage. It was the Ramones (even without Dee Dee) and there has never been a band I have loved more than the Ramones. 

There are bands I have liked more. There are bands that, if I were to be completely honest to myself, have even done the thing the Ramones have done at least as well as the Ramones did it. There have been periods where I haven't listened to the Ramones. I get why there are people who dislike the Ramones. Or think they are juvenile and are something to be outgrown. I get that most of the songs kind of sound the same (close to a perfect sound, but often the same just the same). The Ramones have never been my favorite band or recorded my favorite album, and somewhere in there there is a further discussion about what is great and what is loved.

All that said, there has never been a band I have outright loved more.

Because they believed. They truly believed they were playing popular music, music that the kids loved. They played three minute pop songs in 90 seconds as loud as they could. For long enough, they believed the Top 40 was right around the corner. Sure, they would eventually make some concessions in their weird grab for fame. Recording with Phil Spector. Making a goofily bad movie. But they were still always the Ramones, no matter what they did.

Sure, their music was an act, but it was one they believed in wholeheartedly. Shit, I even believe that near the end, Dee Dee believed Dee Dee King would be as big as Run-DMC.

As a young kid, I believed in the Ramones as much as they believed in themselves. As far as I was concerned, there was no band that was bigger than the Ramones. I could give a shit about who they've influenced or what their place in music has been or will continue to be. I know that when I hit play on It's Alive or Rocket to Russia, they earned every drop of sweat that came their way.

Wednesday, January 08, 2014

Coffee nurse

I'm not going to say I'm glad Leslie was not feeling well during her last few days of her last trip here.

I will say I'm not unhappy that we got to spend four days together without traveling into the outside world all that much. After all, one person's strep throat is another perfectly healthy person's excuse to spend 18 hours on the couch watching Law and Order marathons.

More importantly, it gave me the opportunity to take care of Leslie, and it also gave us a little sneak peek into what it will be like when we one day (hopefully, fingers crossed, not too long from now) get to live in the same place for more than a week or two. I mean, I know we will drive each other crazy at some point, because that is what happens to real people, and lord knows I can retreat into a silent ball of inactivity that would drive anyone crazy if they spend enough time with me. Experience, my friends, experience.

But the initial returns, as I suspected they would be, were positive. We were able to operate in each other's space without getting in each other's way. We were able to talk and share and also be fine if we weren't talking and sharing the whole time. Unfortunately, my kitchen is a no more than one person can cook at a time affair, but we were able to split those duties and time out things well enough that I think we're both looking forward to a time and place where we have more than two-square feet of counter space.

And yes, I got to take care of patient Leslie. It wasn't the first time, or even the 100th time, when I've been on her gently to slow down and not push herself, but this time I had the germs on my side. Or the virus. Whatever. It's been a long damn time since I took biology.

I like to take care of people, I like doing the small things for people I love, whether they are sick or not. I'm sure one of the highlights of the trip for Leslie was that I brought her coffee in bed every morning. To her, this was a gift on par with receiving frankincense, myrrh, and whatever the third thing was. For me, it was my morning routine with an extra 12 seconds taken out of my day to pour coffee into a second cup, but I loved how it made her light up in the morning. Well, maybe light up is not the proper description of Leslie first thing in the morning, but I could tell she was singing show tunes on the inside. Sleepy, sleepy, groggy show tunes.

For the actual not-feeling-well portion of the week, we spent the days traveling from couch to bed and back again and ran through about 60 episodes of CSI: New York and Law and Order: Criminal Intent. We decided that CSINY is basically an ol' timey radio show with pictures, since Forest Gump's sergeant and the big fat Greek wedding woman spend most of the show explaining what they are doing.

Guy: I am walking down the street carrying my gun and, oh look, there is someone else with a gun and now I am going to shoot him and then we will go back to the lab where will set a montage of people staring at computers to zippy dance music.

Woman: I am opening the window to let in some air and the city is outside and somewhere someone is committing a crime and now I am going to lift this cup of coffee to my lips and take a sip.

Eventually we settled on skewing toward Law and Order Criminal Intent, because it is always fun to watch Vincent D'onofrio act crazy, and there is a certain comfort in knowing that the person who did it is always going to be the third person who gets questioned. Formula equals good when you are dozing in and out of sleep on the couch.

During downtime between shows, or during shows (because frankly, they aren't too hard to follow) I would make tea, cook the few things I know how to make that don't have microwave directions on a box. The whole time, I spent as much time cuddled up to Leslie as I could, banking on the maximum cuddle time to save for the weeks when we won't be together.

Sometimes, most times, I feel like I can't do enough, that I can't provide all that someone needs. A lot of this is my own neurosis and issues. It may be shocking to realize, but the newspaper business isn't one where you are showered with gold and riches. Because I'm not always rolling in the Benjamins, I get sensitive to not being a good provider. I tend to try to show how I can provide for someone by doing, and Leslie gets that, and that she gets that and appreciates that makes me feel better and makes me want to curl up on the couch and watch every Law and Order ever made. And I think Dick Wolf has made enough to keep us going until we are at least 103.






Thursday, December 19, 2013

An open letter to a website I'll no longer be reading

This morning as I drank my coffee, Salon.com went one celebrity sex worker story over the line. Rather than doing something useful with my time, I wrote them a Facebook message I'm sure some intern will be forced to read.

It's kind of sad that I have been reading Salon every day since I learned that there was an internet and I could go on the computer and read things that interested me. Things like intelligent reviews of movies, music, and books and articles highlighting progressive politics.
But for some time now, that has been far from what Salon is, and I will no longer be clicking every day. I'm sure I will be in to take a peek once in a while, old habits do die hard, but I can no longer take the constant stream of sex worker, penis size, and affair articles. You can dress them up in the thin veneer of pseudo-academia or ape the memoir-obsessed culture we've become, but it's still little better than a gussied-up version of HuffPo's slideshows filled with celebrity side-boob shots.
Even the political coverage has become increasingly hysterical over the years. You realize that 95 percent of the people who read your site are on your side politically, right? Constantly highlighting the worst of the worst that the political right has to offer while offering few solutions or even pretending that there may be Republicans who don't burn babies does little to further any kind of reasonable debate in Washington or anywhere else.
So thanks for 15 or so years of internet fun and education, at least for many of those years, but it's time for me to conveniently lose my bookmark to your website. I get the feeling I'm not the only one.