Thursday, February 18, 2010

Another Dating Story

Taking a break from my reminiscing for a brief dating story from a few months ago.

"Don't forget this," I said, holding one of those froufrou band things women put in their hair. I was smiling.

And why not? It was the morning after. A great date turned into a great night. We were mentally and - now verified - physically compatible(and verified again in the morning, just in case the previous evening was a fluke). In the chaos of getting ready for the day in a strange place she had almost forgotten her cellphone on my night table. We did a spot check around the bed, just in case, and I found the hair band.

"Don't forget this," I said.

She looked at it, then at me.

"...That's not mine."

I looked at her, then at it. And this is what I actually said:

"'s not mine."

It's not mine, said as If I had no idea how it got there, no memory of the woman who must have forgotten it not two days earlier. In two seconds, the only story I could come up with hung on my date believing that some woman broke into my apartment, took off her hair band, and left. Some phantom bent on ruining my dating life, spreading lies - damned lies! - that I was a man-whore about town.

She looked at my embarrassed face.

"That's awesome," she said, laughing.

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Still Pathetic

Awkward. Twenty-fucking-three, and still awkward; physically, socially, and emotionally. One of my best friends was married - married, for Christ's sake - and the fact that I actually got along(at all) with a bridesmaid was cause for celebration. In the classic1 film Little Giants, the titular team of misfits and outcasts manages to finally run a play that isn't a turnover or a huge loss, prompting one parent in the stand to yell "They gained a yard!". That was me, chatting up a tipsy bridesmaid; gaining only one yard, but maybe building some momentum. Fuck, I needed it.

While still working at HSA, I had a crush on a bookstore cashier. Every week I'd drive across the street to the Hunt Valley Mall, blunder around the store for a bit before finally buying ESPN the magazine, making sure at no point to actually make small talk or ask her out. After all, what good would come from that?

I actually went on a double-date with an old co-worker from the Loews Theater. The double-date was with my brother and his girlfriend - my younger brother was giving me dating advice while the girls were in the bathroom(writing this makes me cringe). Despite my horrible lack of dating experience, dinner went pretty well. However, due to my horrible lack of dating experience(combined with insecurity and an insatiable need for outside validation), I called her many times after(despite not getting calls back), before finally going over to Loews to ask her out again, in person. Instead, I was publicly(but sweetly) rejected.

So, there I was, twenty-three, convinced I'd be girlfriendless forever. I'd been working as the web master at a small government contractor for a few months. My father had gotten me the job; he worked there installing security and fire alarm systems. It was a shitty job, but these were shitty times - for me, the economy, the country. Enron, Robert Hanssen, the fresh memory of 9/11, the DC Sniper; if Peter Jennings had announced on the evening news that the apocalypse was officially starting in ten minutes, I think most of us would have thought 'Yeah, that sounds about right'.

But ANYWAY, while working at my shitty job(in addition to web master, I was in charge of shipping and receiving in the warehouse) I managed to get a date with a friend of a friend. Up to this point in my life, getting a date was like finding a goddamn Leprechaun. We met at a party, I got her number, and we agreed to go out the next Saturday. I could hear Al Micheal's voice screaming 'Do you believe in miracles?'.

The girl bore a slight resemblance, in a fuzzy-photo kind of way, to Julianna Marguiles. So let's call her Julianna(though I guess you can refer to her however you want, call her Susan if it makes you happy). She drove to my parents house, as I had moved back in during my time in-between working at HSA and my new job2.  I still remember the expression on my mother's face when she saw what I was going to be doing that afternoon: finally, praise the fucking lord, finally.

Julianna and I went to an Egyptian Art3 exhibit at the Smithsonian4. For the first time, my awkwardness faded to the background as our conversation came easily. She laughed at my jokes, we both said (seemingly)interesting things. Somehow my date was going really, really well.

The only snag came later, when we talked about music. After the museum, we'd gone to Arundel Mills Mall to wander around(a real high school thing to do, but I didn't know any better). In a music store, Julianna went through CD after CD and asked if I liked them. I'd never even heard of most of them. My HSA musical education had not included any of her bands: The Me First and The Gimme Gimmes, Ben Folds Five, the Dave Matthews Band, and Better Than Ezra. If it wasn't metal or hard rock, I didn't know it(with the Insane Clown Posse being one of the only exceptions, because my younger brothers had somehow become obsessed with them - but even I knew not to bring up ICP on a date). Her bands were college bands, the soundtrack to smoking in quads and drinking too much at Lit parties. My soundtrack was from a different generation, handed down by co-workers.

The only common ground we found were The White Stripes, and that was only because I had stumbled upon "Hotel Yorba" on MTV2 before.

Anyone who goes through a "metal" or "hard rock" phase will tell you that, in the midst of their power-chord obsession, they had convinced themselves that anything that wasn't sufficiently "hard" was pure, pussified crap(often these same people go through a phase of reading nothing but science fiction novels, only buying Marvel comics, and other nerd-elitisms that keep them virgins until college).  Then they'll tell you about the song that broke them out of that muddled, constipated way of thinking. For me, that song was "Hotel Yorba."

The song was catchy, raw, and earnest(he sings about being "tired of acting tough/and I'm gonna do what I please"). It felt "real" in the same way Guns N Roses felt real, while sounding so completely different. Still, I don't know if I would have taken to the Stripes as much as I did if it wasn't for "Fell In Love With A Girl." That two-ton heavy riff and Meg White's attacking drums melted my face and flattened my eardrums. Going between the Stripes and my other CDs, a lot of my metal records started to sounded sluggish, old and tired. They were "heavier", but Jack White was out-rocking them with only one fucking guitar.

Still, I wasn't yet the kind of music consumer who bought lots of albums, even if I liked the singles - but I was the kind of pathetic, never-really-dated, virginal man-child who would gladly lay down a twenty at the Best Buy to get a CD he thought would make a girl like him. Christ, how pathetic.

I bought "White Blood Cells", listened to it, called Julianna to talk to her about it and ended up leaving a message saying I was listening to it. I paced my room wondering why she never called back. Chris, so pathetic.

Julianna disappeared. No return calls. Nothing. I hung out with our mutual friends(my best friend and his wife), and in the pretense of hanging out with them for a weekend tried to get the bottom of this sudden reversal of affection. They offered the usual niceties: she had a history of erratic behavior; she has just got out of a relationship; I may have come on too strong; universally, though, my neediness was not sexy. My friend's wife summed things up with the best advice about women I've ever received:

"Kris, sometimes, girls are just bitches."

So, I listened to "Cells" alone. Luckily for me songs like "Dead Leaves And The Dirty Ground", "Hotel Yorba", "I'm Finding It Harder To Be Gentleman", "The Union Forever" and "The Same Boy You've Always Known" are perfect listening for a broken heart. Well, in as much a heart can be broken after one date. I listened to that album all the way through every night, over and over again. A new love for music was born. I started to explore, a little, and discovered another garage-rock band, some new outfit from New York called The Strokes...

Around that same time, a couple months later, Julianna actually called me back. She wanted to apologize, explain herself.

But by then, I was dating my future first wife.


1I'm using the word classic in the loosest sense.
2Explaining to potential dates why I lived at home while not going to school was a lot of fun.
3I impressed her with a bit of Egyptian history I had gleamed from a recent episode of Gargoyles.
4I'll always regret not using the Smithsonian for more dates while I lived in DC. A lost opportunity.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Start Me Up

The drive was longer than I remembered from my interview1, maybe because my head felt like a block of concrete threatening to topple off my shoulders. No sleep the night before my first day at my first real(meaning salaried) job had me hoping new-experience adrenaline would rocket me through the day. Counting down until five - one day and already a typical office drone.

High Speed Internet Access was a start-up partly funded by Paul Allen, one of the original Microsoft founders and lover of recreational submarines(a venture of his I wish I had worked on instead). Befitting a start-up, there were only six other people in the office. Steve, the lead web developer, Mike the copywriter, a visual designer whose name I don't recall(let's call him the guy who got caught looking at Blacks On Blondes), a manic and unstoppably moronic middle-manager whose name I also don't recall(let's call her Cathy), RJ the tech lead with the fantastically deep voice, and our boss, another woman whose name has been replaced in my memory by my gym locker combination(probably).

They were very friendly people. Steve, in addition to being a web developer, was a very talented visual designer as well2. He was the only Mac guy in the office, in the time before the iPod and Justin Long would convince many Americans to join him. Blonde and balding, he was a cool, grown-up nerd - a glimpse, maybe, into a possible future. Steve was also a musician, recording his own songs, mainly heavy metal. He gave me shit(partly deserved) for liking Metallica's Black album after knowing me for all of two weeks.

Mike wore leather jackets, listened to Danzig and Iron Maiden, acted in plays, had a super-cute red-headed girlfriend and generally seemed like the coolest guy I had ever met. It's a little embarrassing how I became his sidekick; a kid brother trying to tag along and emulate his superior, older sibling. One day RJ left a repeating loop on my computer playing 'Hey Mike' because that phrase came out my mouth at least a dozen times a day.

Fuck RJ.

To my credit, Mike and I became friends pretty quickly. He was into a lot of the same nerdy things I was, like Mystery Science Theater 3000, comics, sci-fi and horror movies, and heavy metal. He gave me tips on working out(which I had just started doing), women, and most importantly, music.

I was ignorant. A nit, dweeb, poser, whatever you want to call it, my musical canon rarely went past the radio dial.

One morning, I came in and overheard Mike and Steve discussing a new record. I awkwardly came over and offered that the new Live album was pretty awesome(basing my opinion solely on the fact that the single on the radio, "The Dolphins Cry", sounded pretty bad-ass3 to me).

Mike offered a polite "Really? Cool..." while Steve ripped into Live and told me they sucked back when they were called Public Affection and played small clubs in New York City(coincidentally, while Steve's band also played those clubs).

I was shocked. How could this band - played heavily on WHFS, the station the cool kids in high school and college listened to - suck? My brain had trouble accepting that anyone into rock music could hold such an opinion. Of course to this day I'm still struggling with building the courage and self-identifying will to not care so much about other people's opinions(without carelessly discarding them, though), and I'm getting better at it. Getting divorced helps.

Later that day, Steve played Kid Rock's Devil Without A Cause, which was getting a lot of attention in 1999 after languishing around for almost a year. "Rap Metal", or whatever you want to call it, was still nu(sorry, I couldn't help myself). The novelty of what Kid Rock was doing was fascinating(and yes it was novel, even if you consider Faith No More's "Epic" or Anthrax's "Bring Tha Noize" the first "rap metal" songs, because neither meshed rock music and rap the way Kid Rock, Limp Bizkit, Korn or Linkin Park did - Mike Patton's vocal stylings over a pretty great alternative rock song and Chuck D rapping over a metal song are basically a chocolate bar dipped in peanut butter, and while looking back at the origins of a Peanut Butter Cup may be more interesting than a Peanut Butter Cup, it still doesn't make it a Peanut Butter Cup4. Plus, no one but rock critics(and I guess Scott Ian) consider them rap metal in any conventional sense).

Even a decade later, the record holds up, certainly much better than most rap metal. I don't think it's a coincidence Kid Rock remains, at least commercially(and culturally, if you aren't a stick-in-the-ass snob) relevant, while Fred Durst5 and whoever the fuck was in Crazy Town have become musical footnotes.

The Kid's use of hard rock, country and blues is probably why Mike and Steve could listen to Devil but still mock Live. Kid Rock was an unserious theatrical hard rocker, much like a band both Mike and Steve loved, KISS.

I'd never really been exposed to KISS. Mike - appalled - played "Christine Sixteen"(a favorite because his girlfriend's name was Christine, though she was not sixteen). KISS had a constant presence in our office soundtrack after that.

I can't imagine an office as loud as ours was, and I'm surprised we got away with it as long as we did. Mike played Danzig6, Iron Maiden, and pre-Black-Album Metallica. Steve played Megadeth, Guns N Roses and even some Slayer. Cathy's office shared one wall with our space, as did RJ's. I think the breaking point was when I cranked Metallica's S&M one day, in attempt to prove to Mike and Steve that Metallica could still kick ass(not sure how I thought exhibiting Metallica's willingness to play with an orchestra would accomplish this goal). "Master Of Puppets", live with a string section, was apparently all the non-metal faction of the office could take. We were asked to use headphones from that point on(though Cathy still got to play the soundtrack from The Lion King - the only album she seemed to own - whenever and as loud as she wanted).

We (mostly) obeyed the headphones rule, until we go the idea to move all of our cubicles into the unused, far end of the office. HSA originally envisioned twenty plus developers working at the Hunt Valley location, so we had a lot of empty space. In a room meant for a dozen or more Ron Livingstons, the three of us took up residence and resumed playing our music.

After we ran through everyone's CDs, we discovered something that would make spending the summer of 1999 stuck behind a desk much more bearable: Napster.

In the (barely) pre-iPod days, Napster was a godsend. All of a sudden, Metal, Pop, Hip-Hop, R&B, Soul, Punk, Oldies, whatever the hell Wesley Willis was doing; all of it was bouncing off our cheap cubicle walls. Almost any song we wanted, instantly(and being 1999, the office was the only source of broadband for most of us, making it a privilege unique to work).

We put the "any song" aspect of Napster to the test, downloading obscure one-hit wonders, commercial jingles, themes from 70s sitcoms, and the demented spoken-word of William Shatner. One afternoon, we did all cartoons and I played the theme from Ducktales to trump Mike's Chip N Dale's Rescue Rangers. Steve followed with Alvin and the Chipmunks, and Mike countered with GI-Joe. I think it ended with me playing the opening song from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

On another afternoon(we must have been very productive in the morning) we had a contest to see who could download a song so bad, so offensive to the ears that the rest of the office would crack. It started off with annoying but bearable pop like "Pass the Dutiche" and "Ninja Rap", before Mike went to the nuclear option and played Color Me Badd's "I Wanna Sex You Up".

Steve bounded from his desk to behind Mike's and violently snatched the power cord of Mike's speakers out of the socket, almost pulling the twin units down off the desk. Mimicking an umpire calling a runner safe, Steve said "You win dude, you win! NEVER, EVER play that again!"

Looking back, I can see the RIAA's point of view - Napster made digital thievery incredibly easy. Within days, every one of us had a library of music on our hard drives that was at least as big as our CD collections at home. And, befitting the times, none of us really saw a problem with this. Record labels gouged us on CDs, TicketMaster held a monopoly on concerts(despite Eddie Vedder's best, mumbling efforts), and out of all this greed Shawn Fanning appeared and offered us a way to stick it back to the man. The faceless, damnable man.

Still, I think we all knew, deep down, that it was just like going into Tower Records and walking out the door with the A-L Rock section one day, then coming back for the box sets(and some Blues, why not?) the next. Which is why, when Metallica(and Dr. Dre) announced their lawsuit, I sided with the band. I was the only one in the office to do this.

Now, I hadn't downloaded any Metallica, so that made my cognitive dissonance a little easier to ignore. Mike and Steve had, however, and they mocked me endlessly for my (albeit, mostly hypocritical)position. They already considered Metallica a past-their-prime, lame mainstream version of the former glorious eighties incarnation. The lawsuit only gave them more ammunition7.

Ironically, I was the only person whose Napster account was banned after Metallica turned over a list of users they said had illegally downloaded their music. So, for the five minutes it took to set up a new Napster account, Metallica had prevented me from doing something I hadn't done anyway.

Being my first office job, adjusting to the nine to five world was a little awkward. The Commute didn't help. And it deserves proper noun status, as The Commute was epic. From my apartment in College Park, getting to HSA in Hunt Valley required going through not only the Capitol Beltway(the suicide circle around DC, also known as 495) but also the Baltimore Beltway before finally ending(sort of) north of Baltimore, just before the border with Pennsylvania(in fact, Steve lived in Pennsylvania, and had a shorter commute than me). My drive could be anywhere from 45 minutes to over two hours. As such, getting to work "on time" became very subjective, at least from my point of view. As long as my work got done, who really cared?

Unfortunately, that's not how the working world(even at a start-up, apparently) works8. One morning I overslept, and combined with a slower-than-usual Beltway made me very, very late. RJ lit into me when I got into the office. At first I didn't think he was serious(I'm not used to people being mad at me, so when someone is, I assume they're joking), but then he threatened to have security escort me out.

In peril of being escorted to my Saturn by the short, balding and elderly security guard, I left. That was Friday. I went straight to UMCP and re-enrolled, thinking that it was something I could now afford to do. My family seemed(relatively) better. Monday, I quit.

Looking back, I needed that. RJ's humiliation of me in front of my co-workers taught me that, no matter what, don't give the boss a reason to be mad at you. Learn what time you are expected to be somewhere, and be there. No excuses. The fact that I was getting all of my work done didn't matter in the work-world context; the fact that I wasn't at my desk at nine(consistently) did. I still had, largely, a school-work mentality that doesn't cut it in the real world. I see it a lot at work today in some of the recent graduates we hire - some are notoriously unreliable when it comes to deadlines(some are notorious ass-kissers, and I'm not sure which is worse). The experience helped turn me into a more mature worker(depending on who you ask).

My academic come-back attempt didn't last long, though. My rash decision proved ill-informed: working part-time wasn't going to cut it as my family still needed a full-time income. So, a few months later, I was back at HSA asking RJ for my job back. I didn't get it.

I actually did well most of that quarter, but when I realized I wouldn't be back, I stopped showing up to classes. My father begged me to keep going, to gut it out for the grades(that I didn't think would ever matter) - maybe he did it out of guilt. Young, angry, and stupid, I just didn't care. Like cutting yourself to show someone how much they are hurting you, failing all of my classes was an adolescent, fucked-up way to get back at my parents.

I don't totally regret it, but it definitely wasn't the smartest thing I ever did. Eventually, I found another job.

Working with my father.

1My interview and the accompanying test I took to get the job was laughable by today's web standards: Table-based layout, Netscape was still a force, Internet Explorer was just beginning to take a foothold and FireFox didn't exist. We barely used CSS. JS took a backseat to Perl and other CGi-based scripting. People thought ColdFusion would be the next big thing. We were dancing without music.

2This is a rarity in the industry these days, as roles have become more specialized. At least outside of freelance work.

3"Bad-ass" usually means it has a crunching power-chord filled riff.

4I obviously wrote this while either a)hungry and/or b) stoned. I leave it up to the reader's imagination.

5For all the beatings Fred Durst has taken since Rap Metal imploded, at his peak, he was cool enough to have the Wu Tang Clan(an act with an abundance of credibility) guest on "Rolling (Urban Assault Vehicle)" on Chocolate Starfish And The Hot Dog Flavored Water. I listen to this track when I exercise, it's a real heart-pumper. DMX also makes an appearance. I wonder if Fred ever hears from any of them anymore.

6This was before the first X-Men movie, and Mike and I loved to speculate on a "dream cast". Patrick Stewart had already been mentioned as Professor Xavier, but no one had ever heard of Hugh Jackman. Mel Gibson was a popular fanboy Wolverine pick, but after seeing pictures of a ripped Danzig, I agreed with Mike that the runty, stocky and scary looking former Misfit was a perfect Logan.

7I've written about the Metallica/Napster debacle in my review of Death Magnetic, so I won't get into it here

8Except it does, at least in advertising, where I now work. When I first started, I showed up at 8:30 for a week before I realized hardly anyone came in before 10.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

This One Isn't That Funny

I was supposed to have finished this before my thirtieth birthday - I turn 31 in a little over two months. Despite that sad commentary on my ability to meet personal deadlines, I am determined to stick it out and finish this damn thing(even as it gets harder). Looking back should, you would think, help me in the present.

There are murky times in our lives. Confused, chaotic times that leave us shaking our heads trying to piece together what happened, and why. My 'college years' are among my murkiest. That said, here we go.


Something definitely true: I double-majored in Journalism and Computer Science at the University of Maryland at College Park.

Something maybe true: I was in Journalism because I helped layout the newspaper in high school and I liked to write. I was in Computer Science because...well I'm not exactly sure. I liked it enough, and I figured it was good to have a backup plan in case Journalism didn't work out.

Wait, what? Is that what you were really thinking back then? I know for a fact you weren't thinking that far ahead.

That's true. OK, the real reason I added Computer Science to Journalism was I foresaw the rise of online journalism, blogs, and what not and I wanted to be at the forefront of it all and...

You are full of shit.

...I was a nerd. Still, sadly, sulkily a nerd. College didn't change that. I didn't fit in at Journalism orientation1. Sitting among the other new journalism majors, I listened to a red-headed guy dressed in khaki shorts and sandals go on about how he wanted to work at an ad agency2 or newspaper where he could dress like he was that day and just kick around ideas while 'chilling'(journalism, as a major, also included advertising). He seemed friendly, the kind of person I wanted to be friends with; the entire place just felt like what I thought college would be like, free of my high school reputation and free of small-minded people - until he started making fun of me and telling his buddy how gay I looked. During the safe-sex part of the orientation they handed me the LGBTA pamphlets and asked me how much I liked golden showers. Typical, enlightened college students. I hadn't changed, life hadn't changed. People hadn't changed.

They never do. So Computer Science was an escape, wasn't it?

Computer Science was full of fellow nerds. Guys who didn't score at prom; girls who didn't cheerlead. In programming and math classes, I felt a little safer. Comfortable. The guy sitting next to me in Calculus II was unlikely to call me a four-eyed faggot or jokingly ask if I was still a virgin(no and yes).

Still, even in CS, I never was completely comfortable. I didn't love it the way some kids did.

And you weren't as good at it, either. Despite your outer nerd-trappings you didn't really give a shit about programming, and it showed.

I did well in the early classes in both majors(grade-wise, anyway). The first semester I got straight As, something that had never happened in high school. Still, the big change I had expected, the clean slate - it remained a dream. Everything felt like high school, but without direction or purpose. Why was I trying to be a journalist or a computer programmer? I had just aimlessly floated into them.

I didn't make any new college friends. And I mean that literally, to this day I have no friends from UMCP who were not also my friends before I attended UMCP. Pathetic. I couldn't fit in. In my journalism classes I was the nerd, in my CS classes I was an impostor waiting to be found out.

Commuting to campus instead of living there made things difficult. Driving to classes everyday, missing the "dorm" life experience, it felt like I was missing out on a big part of what college life was supposed to be. I drove, I went to class, I came back home.

Well, you could have made more of an effort - joined a campus club, talked to people at the Student Union, done more than go to class, get Roy Rogers for lunch by yourself, fending off the guy with the Jews For Jesus flyers before driving home.

And things at home were getting worse. As my father struggled more and more with depression, my family's money problems worsened. My Mom was angry and exasperated. Two of my brothers were too young to really understand what was happening, but the next eldest, in the middle of high school, took the brunt of seeing my father and mother change. He struggled with going to school, despite being popular and (being a Teehan) smart. Still, I thought things would get better(despite having no logical reason to believe so, a habit I still have).

I needed to make money, so I took a student job as a janitor on campus, but it only lasted a week before I quit because the schedule wasn't flexible.

You quit because you felt ashamed to be cleaning up your college-mate's trash on the weekend while they recovered from the parties you were never invited to.

I started working at a nearby movie theater. I only ran into a classmate once there, selling him a ticket to Godzilla(I think, plus the schedule was flexible). The people I worked with were also college-aged for the most part(there were some high school kids, of course). I was the only person who went to UMCP, though - everyone else was either just working, going to Prince George's Community College or another two-year school.

The thing was, a lot of them were smarter than my UMCP classmates. They worked harder, and made do with less. But their parents couldn't afford tuition, and they couldn't all get student loans, scholarships, or grants to go to a four-year school. It was enlightening and infuriating at the same time.

I worked there one summer, before landing another job at UMCP, this time managing the web site of one of the honor programs. It paid a little better than cleaning bathrooms at the Student Union. I had lucked into a web internship during the summer and had learned all the basics I needed to do the job. There wasn't that much to it, and while working I started learning Perl, JavaScript, ColdFusion  and CSS. I didn't realize at the time how important it would be, later in life, that I fooled around with those things because I was bored.

Anyway, I did that job for a while, and continued doing respectably well in my classes. I knew I would eventually have to choose between Journalism and Computer Science, because I was struggling to do both, and work.

Failing a required math class probably didn't help.

I was doing fine until the final. The last couple months of that semester, though, I lost motivation. I didn't really care. Something terrible had happened at home(can't really say what), and after that, I was convinced I had to drop out of school and get a full-time job. My father was unemployed, my parents were having trouble with the mortgage, and I had three younger brothers still at home. I was the oldest, I could work, I could help get us out of the hole. Things at home would improve, my parents would be happier, no broken home, no brothers growing up in separate apartments or with Aunts or whoeverthefuck, they would do better in school and not have to worry about this shit when they were ready to go to college and I wouldn't have to ask anyone for a place to live. I could do it.

Honestly, I was also depressed. Seeing my father reduced to a shell of who he used to be, hearing my mother scream at him and us every morning, looking at how my brothers were being robbed of a happy childhood - it got to me. Life wasn't fun, so college wasn't fun. Least I could do was get paid for not having much fun. Plus, it wasn't a recession, or an unexpected financial crisis that was sinking us. It was just...weakness, in my mind. My father's weakness; a genetic legacy that every male in the family shared(I remember my mom yelling that down the hall one morning, frustrated beyond belief with the men in her family). That weakness was why my family was facing losing their home, and maybe I could redeem my father, myself, and my family name.

So I dropped out, after a little under two years. It took less than a month for me to parlay my web internship skills into a job at an Internet start-up. I started working as a web developer, and I've been doing it ever since(except during a brief period right after the first Internet bubble burst). I was making money, not great money, but good money. I was 20 going on 21; the first time I went with my co-workers for after-work drinks I had to stick to Coke.

You know, some people work full-time and go to school. Maybe they aren't supporting their family, maybe they are, but they still do it. You could have worked harder.

I did my best; the best I could get out of myself at the time. I've thought about going back, but at this point, over a decade later, I don't see the point. I don't need a degree in what I do, and I don't really want a Journalism degree. Don't, don't, don't.

And part of you doesn't want to go back as a final fuck you to the circumstances that led you to drop out in the first place.

Still, it would have been nice to get a degree. I was supposed to be the first in my family to do it. Ironically, my father had dropped out of Georgetown two years in to join the Army(to piss his father off). My mother dropped out to be a mom. Guess I was following in their footsteps, in my own strange way.

Watching my friends graduate was hard. I was ashamed; ashamed to have failed, to have been too weak to get through everything and still have a diploma waiting for me at the end. I was paranoid their parents saw me as a bad influence. The kid from the bad, irresponsible family. And I still have shades of that, no matter how good my job is or what high-profile account I work on.

I would visit them, go to their parties, and pretend to be one of them. I remember the first time I had to leave something early because I had to get up to go to work the next day - is there a word for feeling grown-up and a failure that same time? Failturity? There should be.

When I think of music from this period of my life, a couple songs come to mind. Both remind me of my brother: "Keep Ya Head Up" by Tupac Shukar, and "Only God Knows Why" by Kid Rock. My brother was a huge Tupac fan(his two heroes are Tupac and Cal Ripken Jr., which to me, sums up growing up in PG Country), and he suggested I listen the Kid Rock tune because he knew I'd like it. When I hear them, I remember our hard times and trying to get through them, together.

"You can't complain you was dealt this
hell of a hand without a man, feelin helpless
Because there's too many things for you to deal with
Dying inside, but outside you're looking fearless
While tears, is rollin down your cheeks
Ya steady hopin things don't all down this week
Cause if it did, you couldn't take it, and don't blame me
I was given this world I didn't make it"

Anyway, that was the end of college, and it was on to being a working man. The next few years were nothing if not interesting: I worked at the start-up until the bubble burst sometime after Y2K, I started online dating(of course), working out, went from glasses to contacts, found myself painting pipes in a Civil-War era barn in the middle of Antietam, worked building a terminal at Ronald Reagan National Airport(wearing a hard-hat is kinda cool), installed security systems all over Baltimore and DC(and lived in some of the worst areas of both cities), got progressively better jobs in web development as the field recovered from the dot-com crash, met a girl who would one day write a song about how much of an asshole I was, and at some point, got married.

But I'll get to all that later.


1One detail I'll never forget about freshmen orientation was hearing a girl gush about a new show called South Park that I'd never heard of. She loved the cursing little children and that a character named Kenny died every episode. God, I'm

2Strangely enough, I now work at an ad agency. So fuck that guy.

Thursday, October 01, 2009

Another Blog

I play in a pool league with some friends, and I started a blog about it: The League. You can read about the blog here, as well as about my team, plus  I just posted my first match recap.

I'll be updating it as the fall season continues :) Tune in if you're interested.

Monday, September 21, 2009

A Date Story

After every break-up, my single life starts with a bang(sometimes literally). That first week is a whirlwind of single-life pleasures, lifting my ego to altitudes so high the thin air robs enough oxygen from my brain that I actually start to think I am the most attractive man on earth, why the hell have I not been single this entire time? Finding women is so fucking easy! They're all over me! I'm going to love being single! I'm going to be single FOREVER!!! Then the week ends with a burning re-entry into reality, and I continue living my single life with much more modest expectations.

A year or so ago, while I was in the midst of that delusional first week, I was out by myself at Rudy's, a Hell's Kitchen bar. The sign outside clearly reads Rudy's Bar & Grill, so I sauntered up to the bar and asked to see a menu. The bartender flatly informed me they didn't have a kitchen, but they did have free hot dogs. Hot dogs, that I noticed, weren't even cooked on a grill. Still, they were free, so I ordered a Guinness(even though it was only available in bottle-form, because I have no taste), got a hot dog, and sat down to read Angela's Ashes.

Now I know that sounds horribly wallflowery, but it was three on a Saturday afternoon. I wasn't straining to read about a poor Irish upbringing while the place was packed and the lights were low; I was straining to read about a poor Irish upbringing while the afternoon regulars waited for the NBA playoffs to start. I had broken up with my girlfriend Wednesday, so this was my first single Saturday in three years. Why not start it with a good book and a pint?

Coming straight from the gym, I had my backpack with me, cradling it between my feet and the bottom of the bar. Next to me, a bald tattooed man in a wife-beater did shots with his equally tough looking wife/girlfriend. The vested-bartender was quick to feed them whiskey and dogs as they debated how hard a mutual acquaintance worked(the man referred the fellow as the "laziest sonabitch I know" while the woman wasn't ready to anoint the guy just yet). The rest of the regulars were a mix of middle-aged blue-collar and older professionals, as befitting a dive bar at that time of day. Sports fans, serious drinkers, and me. Reading about Frank McGourt's alcoholic father.


A couple hours and beers later, a group of three young girls and two guys came in. They bee-lined it for Rudy's backyard garden, and as they passed me one of the girls grabbed my shoulder and said "Are you really depressed?!? You can't read that! You'll hurt yourself!"

I laughed. "No no, I'm fine. I'll be sure to let you know, though, if I'm feeling down."

"You do that!"

And with that, she rejoined her group. She was cute. Curly brown hair, dark-blue eyes, and a curvy figure. Her friends were also pretty easy on the eye, I couldn't help but notice. One had a sexy-librarian look, dark rimmed glasses to go with long black hair and very, very red lips. I brushed it off as a nice encounter, and got back to my book.

After about forty-five minutes the group, fresh off tequila shots, was getting ready to leave. The girl who considered Ashes a prelude to suicide came up to me again, and introduced herself.

"It's my friend's birthday," she motioned to the librarian, "and we are going to a karaoke bar. You're welcome to join."

"Yeah, come to my party!" the librarian squealed, her hand shooting up into the air.

I glanced over the group. They seemed friendly and harmless enough. A few years younger than me, but they probably couldn't tell. What could it hurt?


Outside, the group took a picture with the gigantic pig statue that sits outside Rudy's. They insisted I join, and now they have a picture of all of them, and some guy, celebrating the librarian's birthday. Memories.

We grabbed a cab, one of those mini-van models so we could all fit.

"So Kris, do you usually get picked up by strangers like this? Do you think we are all weird?" asked one of the guys.

"Ha, no not usually. You guys are my first."

"YES!" he drunkenly screamed. I was pretty buzzed at that point as well, and we exchanged high fives.

During the cab ride I was a little worried it was going to be bar karaoke. I didn't think I had the courage to sing in front of a crowd of strangers(and by think I mean I knew I didn't). Luckily, we were headed towards Koreatown, which meant it was most likely a full-on karaoke bar. Sure enough, we pulled up to a place that looked like an office building from the outside, but had Korean BBQ on the third floor, a pool hall on the 12th floor, and a karaoke bar on the fifth1. They had a room reserved, and we settled in with Bud Lights as the birthday girl lit into the first song of the night.

Soon, more birthday guests arrived. I grew to enjoy the initial little shock these newcomers displayed when I explained I had just met the birthday girl a couple hours prior. Made me feel a little...dangerous, reckless. Or at least a guy with nothing else to do on a Saturday night.

One guest really caught my eye. She was about five-six, slender with a short Meg Ryan-esque haircut, amazingly big dark eyes and great legs. A looker.

It was hard to hear each other over the screeching of the librarian stumbling through Madonna, but I learned that the looker was a friend of a friend and really didn't know anyone either. Her name was Laura. She worked at the New York Times(a couple of blocks from my office) in online advertising(I work for a digital ad agency). I was looking to move to Brooklyn, and she knew someone who was about to leave her apartment there. We had no shortage of things to talk about.

As the night of karaoke came to a close, I gave Laura my number. Smiling up at me, she asked if I was up for staying out.


"Great, some friends of mine from work are at a bar not too far from here."

By then I was drunk, but still in the good phase of being drunk. Happy, not pathetic;smiling, not vacantly staring. We met up with her friends, drank some more, talked, flirted, and then she had to leave. Outside on the corner, she kissed me on the cheek and ducked into her friend's car.

Moments later, laid out in the backseat of a cab grinning like an idiot, I got a text:

"Sorry I had to run so soon, wish I could have stayed later :) Let's get together sometime - L"

L. Laura. Sweet, sweet Laura. I would definitely be calling her.


Tuesday, we met for dinner. In blatant disregard for New York Guy Protocol, I had texted her the day after we met to ask her out. So there I was, at the Zipper Factory a couple of blocks from my office, waiting for Laura. I was a little nervous - this was my first date in three years and I was less than week removed from a break-up. She was running a little late and I was sitting alone, nursing a beer.

Finally, my phone lit up. Incoming Call, Laura. She was a little lost, but I got her to the restaurant with no problems.

She was even prettier then I remembered, sharply dressed in a blouse and skirt that showed plenty(but not too much) of those beautiful legs. The conversation came smoothly, sailing from the usual work, family, and friends. We laughed about how both of us didn't really know anyone at the birthday party.

"Yeah, I only knew my friend - you know, Laura."

"Ah, so your friend's name--", I stopped.

Her friend's name. Laura. Her friend's name is Laura. Hazy memories of the night we met came back. She was talking and...

This is Laura, I'm L...

I strained to push my memory farther back.

This is Laura, I'm Laurshhhhhh-a-something.

Oh. Fuck.

I smiled at the beautiful, charming woman across the table whose name I did not know.

I asked how she and Laura(Laura, fucking Laura) knew each other while I thought about how I was going to get out of this. OK, her name start's with an L, she signed her text with it. How many girls names starts with an L? I can Google girls names on my phone while she's in the bathroom and narrow it down and...I'm fucked. This is exactly like that Seinfeld episode except I don't even know if her name rhymes with a female body part, and even if I did how could I guess? It's too late to ask now I'll just look like a major asshole. Fuck! Fuck fuck fuck! How could you not know your date's na--

"Isn't it weird that we both spell our names in an unusual way?"

My eyebrows arched.

"Yes, yes it is - so how do you spell your name?"

"L O R I, most people spell it L A U R I E or L O R E E."

"Well, Lori, that's one of the many things that makes you unique." I smiled. She smiled.

Rescued and recovered, the rest of the date went wonderfully. I walked her to her subway stop. We madeout. She tasted of lip-gloss and cigarettes(which I actually like, even though I don't smoke). The exhilaration of almost getting caught made the kissing that much more exciting for me - I dont' know if Lori felt it, but she was all smiles as she descended down to her F train.

Sadly, before we could go out on a second date, Lori took a trip to Israel and came back convinced she had to marry a Jewish man. Her trip had inspired her to take her heritage much more seriously - and more power to her. I was surprised how little her news upset me. No bitterness or hard feelings at all. We both went to the same gym around the same time, so that made for a few awkward encounters, but the awkwardness dwindled as the months passed2.

In the end, though, I was satisfied to come out of it with a funny story.

1A little over a year later I ended up at that same karaoke bar for an engagement party and met a beautiful girl from Australia(in fact, one of three girls hailing from down under at that party). But that's another story.

2Especially as she got fatter. OK, so maybe I'm a little bitter.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

I Won't Do That

Part of the Turning 30 series.

"Look at all the tiny people!" exclaimed a puffy-faced girl who became, as soon her pimple-rimmed lips finished 'tiny', someone I would hate for the rest of my life(I never saw her again).

The 'tiny people' were filling the hallways after their first class of their first day at Laurel High School, and I - a pasty bug-eyed ghost of a kid - was among them. I scurried from class to class, my middle-school honed nerd-survival techniques urging me to lay low and keep quiet. Scan the classroom, look for signs of possible allies: Metallica sticker on a notebook, comic doodling(the Marvel kind, not the newspaper kind), a copy of Dungeons and Dragons hanging out of backpack; any marker that might lead me to another teenage misfit.

Eventually, I found a set of friends - two, actually. Set one were three friends from my neighborhood who were all a year ahead of me. Theoretically, having three established sophomores as friends should have been an advantage, but they were all geeks like me(well, to be fair Joel wasn't really that geeky, just all of his friends were - which is basically the same thing). It was like knowing the prison bitches before you get off the county van; it only helps in as much you know how badly you are going to get fucked.

My other set of friends were a couple of guys that I'll refer to as SuperFresh. One half of SuperFresh was like me(all nerd), but the other was an anomaly. He was in incredible shape from karate, wrestling, and gymnastics. He earned straight As, he was a member of TV Production, and was generally well liked by everyone. Yet, he doesn't remember being popular. I'm convinced this is because he was best friends with me and the other half of SuperFresh. Our geek-worldview rubbed off on him. If it wasn't for us, he'd probably have dated cheerleaders and scored at Prom(sorry dude).

Unlike Superfresh, my other set of friends were a little sinister. Hanging out with them, I'd have my first taste of alcohol, porn, satanic metal, drugs and LARPing1(the worst of all). I'll call them the Axis of Evil.

The Axis of Evil had Joel, Larry and Robert. Joel I've already discussed.

Larry was a chubby devil's child. He was smart - too smart for high school. His parents were Wiccans. His older brother was banging the cashier at the local record store. We would have amazingly deep conversations about life, science, and philosophy on the bus ride home(at least I remember them being very deep, but my teenage perspective might have warped what I considered 'deep').

Robert was tall. Really tall. He was an only child, and routinely tried to break into his friend's houses, just for practice(I think he thought of himself as a fantasy-like thief).

Together, we would spend our high-school years playing video games, D&D, looking at porn-mags, watching Headbanger's Ball and Beavis & Butthead. A typical mid-nineties, white teenage existence. Often we'd do this in someones' basement(shit, I didn't realize how much of this was so fucking cliched), but almost never mine. My parent's were still pretty strict then, and would make us go to bed eventually. At certain friend's houses, this policy was very relaxed(eventually my house became the spot for friends to congregate thanks to 'chill' parents, but that wasn't until it was my younger brothers and their friends doing the chilling2).

Even with friends, though, high school was rough. Dating was out of the question. I tried to fit in by being a kind of class clown, channeling my beloved George Carlin albums. This worked with some people, but blatantly ripping Carlin off never gained me wide-spread acceptance. Despite being a nerd, my grades were never that great, at least during freshman and sophomore years. Depressed, I didn't see the point in some of the work. Not being one of the beautiful people can hurt.

I listened to a lot of Metallica. I didn't have a lot of money for CDs, so I taped songs off the radio. I preferred dark, brooding songs, so naturally I listened to the local alternative station, 99.1 WHFS3. Late at night, long after I was supposed to have gone to bed(just like I was supposed to have studied), I'd lie in bed with my headphones on and listen - it was a gateway to another world, though it only offered a fleeting glimpse of the rooms, basements and parking lots where the cool "alternative" kids listened to the same music. I was still too nerdy, even for them.

I remember one kid who sat in front of me in freshman English. He tormented me in middle school, and over the summer he had obviously become a huge fan of Grunge: flannel shirt, longer(and greasier) hair, and an anarchy symbol sketched in black marker on his backpack. This kid, the same kid who once tortured for me wearing high-watered pants one day(hey, it was fucking seventh grade for Christ's sake) and loved making fun of me on the bus ride home, this kid had written something else besides his pseudo-approval of an anarchist society on his backpack: 'Mean People Suck'.

Mean people suck? Well, kiss my nerdy-white ass.

When I wasn't listening to the radio, there was one album I was constantly listening to, and believe me I sometimes I wish it was something really cool like Let It Be by The Replacements(who I wouldn't discover for almost a decade), Jeff Buckley's Grace or even Stone Temple Pilot's Purple. No, instead I would stare bleary-eyed at the red digits of the alarm clock listening and re-listening to Bat Out Of Hell II: Back Into Hell by Meatloaf.

Just like you don't get to choose your family, sometimes you don't get to choose the music that ends up meaning something to you. An awkward teenager looking for something, anything, that helps you make sense of the world doesn't have the benefit of wondering if what they like will be "important" when they are exiting their twenties. And even though in some circles Bat II is considered a great rock-opera album, it's hard to find another Meatloaf fan when you play "I'll Do Anything For Love (But I Won't Do That)" on the bar jukebox. Especially if that bar is in Brooklyn.

But you fucking love that song, don't you? Don't deny it - it's "Bohemian Rhapsody" epic mixed with high-drama, gloriously long and overblown as only Jim Steinman can do it. Fierce electric guitars and beautiful piano licks crash , and not just Meatloaf wailing as only Meatloaf can, but after nine minutes we get another vocalist, the mysterious woman who is the object of Meatloaf's affection. It's a mini-movie4; Beauty and The Beast condensed into 12 minutes(six for the radio version).

To me, it was unrequited love; the only kind of love nerds get to know in high school. I'm a beast, I love you and I'll do anything for you - but none of it will matter. Plus, the beast is mysterious, gothic and reclusive, but in a cool way. When you're getting called a dork on a daily basis, you may have some aura of mystery about you, but it definitely isn't the cool kind of mystery. No, it's mysterious like a two-headed kitten or unidentified meat; you'd rather just not know.

I loved the angst of the album, and being so over-the-top in it's production and homage to rock-opera, it really stood out from my Nirvana, Pearl Jam and Alice In Chains records. I still listened to them plenty too, but Bat II will always have a special place in my heart.

Today, if I had to pick one song to perfectly sum up my high school experience, it would be this one(even if it was released almost a decade after I graduated).


1LARPing, or 'Live-Action Role Playing', is highly advanced geekery - not for the faint of heart, or anyone wishing to engage in regular sex.

2Lotta fucking good that did me(I'm not bitter).

3Sadly, WHFS no longer exists. It's format was abruptly changed to Tropical Latin music in 2005.

4Although I've listened to the song plenty, I hadn't watched the video for it in years until I wrote this post. Looking at it now, some things are just bizarre: It starts with Meatloaf/the Beast inadvertently killing a cop with his motorcycle. Why the cops are chasing the LoafBeast is never explained(but as in most music videos, it's heavily implied it's because cops are inherently evil), but they are bringing everything, cars, helicopters, to get him. The LoafBeast flees in the woods(away from his safe haven mansion?) and discovers a beautiful woman washing by a fountain, the way nobody does. She follows him back to his mansion, through the previously mentioned woods, where there is in an incredibly hot, almost softcore scene between her and what I guess are the LoafBeast's sexy muses. How could have I forgotten that?