Tuesday, July 27, 2010

When Life Is Awesome

“Wow, it looks like they parked my car really close to the one in front of it,” I mused as I strode down a street in Mountain Town.

It was just after five o’clock on Friday afternoon, and, fresh from my shift at Mountain Town Used Book Store, I was headed to the auto shop where my car had been detained for the better part of three days.

Those three days had left me antsy.

It’s not that I mind the half-hour walks to the bookstore, or even the blistering sun as it coats Mountain Town with its summer blanket of heat and humidity. Those things I can deal with, even enjoy. What got to me was the feeling of being trapped.

In a rural area with no public transportation to speak of, possession of an automobile is imperative.

“It’s funny to me how people in the Goldlands think of a twenty-minute drive to see a friend as being a big deal,” Laquesha said to me during one of her frequent visits to my house.

“I know,” I said. “It’s a completely different set of standards. Living out here gives you a new conception of distance.”

Given my car’s age-—it’s but a year younger than Thomas—-it has handed me only trifling maintenance problems. The check-engine light first came on in 2008, two years after I bought the vehicle, and I was able to successfully ignore the warning until last summer, when a torque-converter switch absolutely had to be fixed.

That same summer during annual inspection, I was told that my car would pass muster but that its brakes would soon need attending to. I rode those things for a year straight without once getting them looked at, and I take some perverse pride in the fact that by the time I rolled into the repair shop for my 2010 inspection, the pads were worn down to the metal.

It’s not that I’m irresponsible, just that I’m a college student, which by occupational definition makes me poor. I have to figure out ways to stretch money very far.

So when two months ago my Oldsmobile started shaking at lower speeds, I paid it no mind. As the shaking grew worse, I found myself dreading the beginning of my morning commute, the part when I’d be stuck in the 25-mile-per-hour zone that surrounds Mountain Town. So long as I could get above 40 miles per hour, I’d be alright.

Even in my complacent denial, however, I noted that the speed I needed to attain to escape the vehicular spasms was slowly climbing. About a week ago it had risen to 50 miles per hour, and then one afternoon on the highway heading home my car abruptly started to violently convulse. My speedometer read 75 miles per hour.

I went up and down, slowed and accelerated, but nothing I did stopped the tremors, which by that time had grown so bad that the vehicle rumbled even at a complete stop.

I called out of work the next day and took my car to Mountain Town Auto Shop, where a mechanic informed me that I needed new spark plugs and that the parts and labor would cost me $300.00.

Mountain Town Auto is the kind of small-town establishment that has a near monopoly on car repairs and uses that advantage to exact shameless prices from its customers. The last time I went there, to get new brake pads and have a window replaced, the employees resealed my door panels with scotch tape and left my back window hanging loose.

I doubt anyone was too happy when my father in essence forced them to mend these errors for free, which is why at first I assumed that the sight greeting me last Friday was evidence of an intentional act.

“Oh, my God,” I muttered when I reached the parking lot. “Is this serious?”

I looked over at the shop office, which was cravenly empty, and started fuming as I whipped out my cell phone to dial my mother.

“Listen,” I said to her. “I need you to come down here and pick me up. Bring a camera.”

“Why?” she asked. "I'm sitting out back by the pool."

"Because," I said. "They parked a car on my car."

"Well, can you drive it home?"

"Mom," I explained. "There is literally a car on top of my car!"

What had appeared to be only an unseemly close distance between cars from far away was in fact the joining of two automobiles, with one's trunk sitting astride the other's hood.

Just as I started to really get into my complaining, a police officer drove up and pulled into the parking lot.

"Oh, good, there's a cop here," I told my mother, turning to the man as he got out of his cruiser. "Hey! You're going to be my witness!"

As if on command, he produced a digital camera and started snapping pictures of the scene.

"How long have you been here?" he asked. His tone did not suggest anything, but I was curious.

"I got here a few seconds before you did," I told him. "Why?"

It dimly occurred to some corner of my brain that he may not have stopped just because he saw me standing there looking exasperated.

"Well, there was an accident here," he replied.

"Wait, what happened?" I inquired.

"An eighteen-wheeler ran through the stop sign and hit several cars."

I stared at him.

"Are you saying that an eighteen-wheeler hit my car?" I asked. "In the parking lot of the repair shop where I literally just got it fixed?"

He nodded.

My reaction probably wasn't what he expected.

"That's awesome," I responded, breaking into laughter. "I mean, really. That's kind of amazing."

The big truck had actually struck the car in front of mine, sending it, totaled, flying into my hood.

"How long ago did this happen?" I wanted to know.

"About five minutes ago," he answered.

"That's great," I said, reflecting on the fact that I'd stayed after at work a quarter hour later than normal. "If I'd been here five minutes earlier, I could have gotten my car and left."

"Yes," he said, looking at me as if I were missing something. "But you also would have been in the car."

"Ah," I noted, suddenly realizing what he was getting at. "True."

My mother was vaguely surprised and my father furious--the truck driver had tried to run--but all things told the actual damage done was surprisingly minimal. The car in front of me absorbed most of the impact, so other than a dent and a scratch, both on the hood, my own vehicle was still completely drivable.

All the same, though, what are the odds?

Just a day in the life of BB.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

The Routine

I hope you'll excuse the length of this post, but it's my first regular one (i.e., not a Selected Entries or Hair Update) in quite a while.

There is something about obligation that daunts me. Almost any job, no matter how much I enjoy it and no matter how pleasant, soon becomes a chore, and I find myself when at work counting the time to be home and when home dreading the time I have left until I must return to work.

The weirdest thing about this is that it applies even to occupations I should like.

I have been under the employ of Major University for the last two months, performing public relations work that both utilizes my unique skills as a reporter and further prepares me, through the conferral of additional media credentials, to enter the journalism field upon graduation. Despite this, and for no real reason, I soon found that the three-day work weeks dragged, with each Wednesday afternoon seeming to come later than the last.

So I moved to shorten my time in the office even further. Reasoning that three hours on the road for a four-hour work day was impractical, I requested and was granted permission from my supervisor to work from home on Wednesdays, thus shaving my actual work week down to two days.

Still, though, the five days of free time seemed to whiz by, often without my having accomplished anything meaningul, and before I knew it it was Monday morning again and I was headed back to the Godlands. Even though my work week had and weekend had reversed positions, I still felt I didn't have enough time off.

The solution, as it paradoxically turned out, was to find another job.

The Mountain Town Bookstore is a magical place filled with old and exotic tomes, a repository of the interesting and unusual that I've been visiting since I was a boy of seventeen in 2005 and to which a good chunck of my paycheck from Major University went.

One day several weeks ago, I noticed that the usual assistant was absent from her post.

"Is Lesbian Girl still working here?" I asked.

"Oh, no," said Book Woman, the female part to the husband-and-wife team who own the shop. "She went off to school in Tiny State."

"Well, are you hiring?" I inquired.

It seemed that she hadn't thought of this before.

"Yeah," she said. "I guess we are. Come back and talk to Book Man about it."

I returned several days later for an interview that was much briefer and informal than I'd expected.

"So, you'll be here until about...what, late August?" Book Man forwarded the most prying inquiry he would come up with.

"Yeah, late August or early September," I replied.

He smiled mischievously.

"Then you'll have to leave us to get back on the football team, right?"

He'd combined a punch at my stature with the assumption that I was in high school. I at least had to admire his audacity.

"You got it," I laughed. "I couldn't miss football practice."

He guffawed with me and then it was settled: I was hired.

"Now what do you think you're going to need in terms of money?" he asked, almost as an afterthought.

I froze.

Was it a trick question? If I gave an amount too high they might not want to take me on, but if I guessed too low from what they were thinking I'd be underpaid. I quickly reviewed my state's minimum wage in my head. Maybe I could get them up from that, to $9.00 or $10.00 an hour.

I reached out a tentative hand.

"What were you thinking?" I asked.

"We were thinking like $12.00 an hour," he said. "I mean, if that's okay with you. Do you think that would be enough?"

I almost cracked up, thinking he was making another joke.

For one dangerous second I hovered on the edge of outright laughter before realizing just in time that Book Man was completely serious.

"Yes," I said, suppressing the exclamation of "Are you for real!?!" that was firing in my head. "That sounds fine."

"Alright then," he said. "You can start next week."

"Awesome," I said. "One more thing, though: do we get a discount on the books?"

His face broke into a grin.

"Oh, yeah," he said. "It's 35% off."

"Awesome," I replied. "I just don't know how I'm going to get through the day. There's so many books I know I'll want to read."

"Well, you could just sit down and read them," he said.

"On the clock?" I asked, not comprehending.

"Why not?"

Just when I was thinking that the job couldn't get any better, I asked a question whose answer I'd need for budgeting purposes.

"Are you guys going to withhold my first paycheck for a week?"

Book Woman looked at me like I was crazy.

"We're paying you in cash," she said. "All of this is under the table."

In my mind, I was doing cartwheels.

All the same, it took me some time to adjust to the level of informality and relaxation at the store. After a few days I did become accustomed to Book Woman going out on coffee and cookie runs and grabbing me a free soda along the way. I also adapted to the couple's friends coming in and expecting me to join in their lengthy chats instead of doing the sorting and online databasing that I'm supposedly being paid for.

The other day when Book Woman, whom I told I'm trying out for American Idol, insisted I sing for her and a patron, I obliged them.

"That was beautiful," they both said, clapping as I finished an original song.

"Thanks," I answered.

The job at Mountain Town Bookstore is still a job, but in terms of pay, atmosphere, responsibilities, and perks, it's easily the best one I've ever had. In addition to taking home $120.00 cash a week for ten hours of very easy work, I've gotten plenty of complimentary drinks, a free book, and had my employee discount upped to 40% one day just because Book Woman felt like it.

My new schedule makes the weeks go pretty quickly.

On Mondays and Tuesdays I spend eight hours doing public relations at Major University, where, on Tuesday afternoons, I perform an act that some could construe as being slightly dishonest. I cherish my Wednesdays "working from home," but don't actually have any real desire to work from home. Once I leave Major University on Tuesday I want my weekend to be uninterrupted until the following Monday.

In that vein, I spend the last few hours of my Tuesday shift hammering out more stories than I usually would. Some of these go to my supervisor before I leave, but others get forwarded to my e-mail account, to be forwarded back to the school on Wednesday morning.

This means that all "working from home" really constitutes is logging into my e-mail for about five minutes to send off articles that my boss thinks I've been writing and editing all morning but that were actually completed the previous day.

I should probably feel guilty about this but don't. My view is that the same amount of work is being completed, just in a condensed amount of time.

Wednesdays I wake up at seven or eight (something that was difficult this morning) to start my five-day-a-week track routine, which consists of running 1,500 meters interspersed with calisthenics and 450 punishing crunches.

That probably sounds more impressive then it is; I only actually do 150 of those at the field. I then do another 150 immediately after getting home and another 150 after lunch. Today I may add 150 more after dinner, which would bring the total to 600 a day. I'll have to ask Black Boy, who has basically served as my coach, the pros and cons of doing them spaced out as opposed to all at once.

This is all very exerting and takes its toll on the scale; when I left the house this morning, I weighed 130lbs. When I returned about an hour later, even after having eaten breakfast, I weighed 128lbs.

This is not a bad thing according to Black Boy, who has noted my weakness in one core area of the regimen.

"You eat so damn much," he said, watching me munch through chips and sweets.

"I know," I said sheepishly, shifting my body so that the open bag of crisps at least wasn't facing him. "But at least--"

"Like, more than any one person could ever actually need to eat," he continued. "Spaghetti, popcorn, steak, chips. I mean, seriously."

Black Boy says that track members are supposed to eat six small meals a day, something I've just not been able to do.

"Look, you're going to lose weight," he said. "It just happens. I lost forty pounds when I started."

"Dude, I can't lose forty pounds," I objected.

"You're not going to lose forty pounds," he said. "I was overweight. You'll probably lose like ten or something, and then it will start to show in muscle. If I were small like you, I'd be cut up."

Our compromise is that I'm eating more normally-portioned breakfasts and lunches but not giving up my larger dinners and extravagantly unhealthy junk-food Fridays.

"Sorry," I said. "But life just wouldn't be worth living without that."

After track, I spend Wednesdays archiving journals, editing or adding to a short story I'm working on, surfing blogs, and reading the backlog of books I've acquired from Mountain Town Bookshop (one of these, Pirate Coast, about the Barbary Wars, is quaintly racist but enjoyably adventurous nonetheless).

Thursdays and Fridays I do track in the mornings before working from noon to five o'clock at Mountain Town Bookstore, and then Saturdays and Sundays, in between the usual literary activities, I try to make plans with friends.

On July 4th I went out with Laquesha, the Norwegian, and the Norwegian's friend to a local restaurant, where we toasted "the independence of the United States of America" and I climbed atop our table to open the umbrella.

My schedule is full enough to keep me busy without precluding spontaneous social plans.

I'm rather enjoying it.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Selected Entries: September, 2003

In September of 2003 I was fifteen years old and at the start of my Sophomore Year of high school. The entries displayed here are not wholly pleasant, but nor was the time in which they were written. As I aim to make my blog an accurate reflection of my current life, so should the Selected Entries Sections provide a fair and full view into the eras from which they are pulled. In this month I dealt with indignities at home and relished the arrival of Hurricane Isabel, which got me out of school.

September 1, 2003

Something terrible happened on the night of the thirteenth of August. It all began after we had finished eating our crabs.

We were beginning to pick them up, and Dad told me to get the remaining bag of crabs out of the refrigerator. I adhered to this request and retrieved the crabs. My hands still slippery with the crabs that I had that night previously eaten, I was unable to untie the knot that bound the bag of crabs. I asked my father to please open the knot while I cleaned up the table.

I hadn’t spoken to him at all (or, barely at all) but his response came, “No, I won’t. You’re so pathetic, you can’t even open a bag of crabs.”

To which I responded, “My hands are slippery and I can’t get the stupid knot, so that makes me pathetic, right?”

“Yes, it does,” my father answered.

I opened the knot with some difficulty, but first, in anger, I threw the bag of crabs down on the table before my father and said, “No, you do it.”

My father said, “No, you do it!” and I screamed even louder, “No, you do it!”

At this he gritted his teeth, his face reddened, and he said imposingly (or so he thought), “No, you fucking do it!”

“Why are you grunting?” I questioned aloofly and apathetically, although with an undeniable (and deliberate) trace of angered, annoyed impatience in my voice. My father turned, but did not answer, and after I finally undid the knot, he complemented once more on the pathetic nature of my personality.

I was, after several moments of this undaunted idiocy, moved to say, “Oh, I’m going to fail at life because I couldn’t open a bag of crabs, right?”

“Yes,” my father said. “Because it shows a failing attitude.”

To my annoyance, and to my growing anger, he continued.

“If you can’t do something right away you give up and walk away.”

Finally, my anger could no longer be abated, and I said austerely, “Like you walked away from college, right?”

That didn’t go over too well with him. He called me an asshole and began advancing on me. I don’t remember much of what he said, but he shoved me quite hard. In an instant I had lost myself in a fury that overtook me. I was screaming at my father. I threw my hands up into the air and shouted, “I do not need to be shoved!”

My father said something stupid like, “Yeah, big guy, then maybe you need to go to bed.”

And he continued to push me, forcing me back into the hallway as I yelled at him, even saying, “I said get off me!”

He turned me, pushed me forward toward the stairs, and told me to get to bed. I had barely gotten up there and I was pondering over my own rage when I heard the adults talking downstairs.

One of my grandparents (my grandparents Hick Family were spending the night on this particular evening) saying that they would clean up the mess in my absence, but my father said, “No, I’ll make BB do that.”

Then, “BB, get your ass down here!”

September 2, 2003

So, I was forced through the humiliation of then cleaning the floor.

As I did this, my father was continually instigating things to provoke me. He said, for example, “And you can get that grand (thousand dollars) from someone else; I’m done.”

I was sure.

“The closest that you’ll ever get to Russia is a book.”

Finally having had enough, I exclaimed, “Are you done trying to provoke me?”

He laughed and said, “Oh, are you gonna do something, big guy? You wanna go?”

I was horrified in my revulsion and disgust.

He is so appallingly absorbed with being the alpha male that he was attempting to provoke his fifteen-year-old son into a fight! The primitive animal! He partly redeemed himself later that evening when he allowed me out of my room to see Mars. We made up later that night.

I really need God to help me.

September 18, 2003

School was spectacular today. I wish that we could be dismissed at 11:25 every day.

I had one of the most relaxing Biology lessons I’ve ever sat through, the thirty-six minutes whirling by in no time at all, despite the unadulterated bore of a photosynthesis computer presentation.

Second-period Business Law went by similarly fast, the mod including a relaxed trip to the computer writing lab. I have two projects due, one on the War of 1812, the other on the Supreme Court, but I have sufficient time to complete both.

Third mod was the largest at just under an hour, which bothered me not too much at all, as third mod today happened to be Chorus. Given that I had been expecting a full day of school, today was quite a pleasant surprise. Chorus was soul-filled and cleansing, beautiful and empoweringly joyful.

We sang for the overwhelming majority of the class, performing early on with my favorite Chorus song, “There’s a New Song Down in Bethlehem” and concluding with the same song later in the mod. I love to sing it, and today, with an air of festivity spreading like wildfire, the Chorus was soulful, passionate, and strong. I relaxed. I finally relaxed. I had fun.

Fourth-mod Geometry was a fun drawing activity.

September 19, 2003

The day was over, seemingly before it began.

On the bus home, Lacrosse Boy and some other football player sat in one seat, while Military Boy and I sat in another. This other boy sits with me on the days that Military Boy and I eat lunch together. Walking home with him accompanying us was surreal. It was as if the school world and home world had merged.

Lacrosse Boy came to my house after school, and he talked about how Military Boy had just been walking through Andrea.

I laughed and said, “Yeah, does Military Boy even know about that?”

“No,” Lacrosse Boy said. “I never told him.”

Lacrosse Boy laughed once more and we both agreed that we would be socially humiliated (if not socially ruined) should anyone ever know that we were both citizens and rulers of the Aria. Lacrosse Boy was not only a noble, but also King of Atricia and Czar of the entire country.

We played Risk on the computer upstairs and then decided to go outside and play in the hurricane. It was so much fun. First Twin was so wet that he looked like he’d just gotten out of the pool. He kept making us all laugh by acting like he was a shaggy dog. He would shake his hair and make it fly everywhere.

It was in the midst of Hurricane Isabel that the Umbrella Game was created. One of us would go out about thirty feet in front of the others and release a small purple umbrella for the others to chase and catch. We would race around after it, and several times it took a while to catch it.

First Twin rode down a hill using a towel and a skateboard. First Twin was also briefly lifted off of his feet. Lacrosse Boy was there to bear witness. I fell on the wet ground, was blown across the grass, and was blown into a fence. It was fun. The hurricane was so fun.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Blogger Meetup

"Bobby, if you want to move, now's the time," I whispered.

He surveyed the hallway down which we were walking as I turned to scan the staircase we'd just emerged from.

Heavily-armed guards stood everywhere, their hulking assault rifles poised and at the ready to take down an enemy intruder at a moment's notice. Bobby and I had come there with the whitest of motives, but what we saw within soured us, turned us against them.

I looked up to determine if the man supervising our government instruction could see me. He was rounding a corner ahead of us and, momentarily, would be out of our line of sight.

"We have to decide now!" I hissed.

"I don't know," Bobby waffled. "I...you decide."

The program had proceeded like a nightmare from which I wanted but was unable to escape, and I was determined not to let it take my friend and me down. I looked up and made a split-second decision where he could not.

"Let's get the fuck out of here," I decreed.

We dropped back, all adrenaline now that the talk was over and the action begun. I tore the communication piece they'd handed me off of my shirt and watched as Bobby did the same. We had only seconds before we were noticed, so the getaway had to be clean and quick.

I spotted a handler near an entryway and walked toward her as quickly as I could without attracting undue suspicion. My cousin was one of their ranks, the handlers, and they knew it. It just might be enough to secure our safe passage. If it wasn't, ours would be a fate worse than death.

I glided up to the woman and placed my earpiece in her hands.

"We're going rougue," I informed her, trusting she would understand the code.

She looked at me with perplexity that stopped just short of annoyance.

"I'm sorry, what?" she asked.

"We're going rogue," I answered. "Like Sarah Palin."

"Oh, are you done with the tour then?"

"Yes," I replied gravely. "Yes."

Bobby turned in his headset and in a flash we were down a corridor and out through the back exit of the U.S. Capitol building, spared by my fast feet and faster thinking from a torture session of boredom that, by its conclusion, likely would have rivaled anything to go on in Guantanamo Bay.

"I'm so sorry I forced you into that," I apologized to Woozie, who was laughing at my eagerness to be free of the place. "Now we can finally hit Starbucks."

Woozie and I, following a first meetup in December that went swimmingly, had been planning for some time to rendezvous once more in the nation's capital, but scheduling conflicts and car trouble on my end delayed the reunion until literally the day before everyone's favorite nineteen-year-old communist had to leave for Ohio.

Wasington, D.C. is by no means a stroll down the block for me. My trip there involved hours driving, about an hour on a bus, and more time than I care to recall on several different trains, but it was worth it for the coolness of a blogger meetup and at about one o'clock in the afternoon I finally made it into the city.

Woozie, with whom I'd gotten on quite well before, proved very obliging to my hunger, whipping out an iPhone that directed us to an affordable and high quality restaurant where I devoured cornbread, New England mussels, seasoned fries, and an impressive portion of a massive cheeseburger.

"Wow," Woozie said, staring with what I don't feel boastful in saying was astonishment as I attacked and vanquished the plate in front of me. "If I ate like you, I'd weigh three hundred pounds."

During the subsequent walk around Washington we mused on a variety of topics, from where we would go next to which museum was least boring to what degree our gayness was patent to others.

That particular subject came up because we'd been stopped by an activist, not five minutes after leaving the Metro station, who asked us if we had a few moments to spare for gay rights.

"I mean, is it really that obvious?" I pondered.

"Well, maybe with you," he posited. "With your flowing blonde hair."

"Oh, I know," I said, not even bothering to note the rudeness of his statement. "It really is getting a bit out of hand. I saw my own reflection in the window just there, and for a split second I seriously thought I was a girl."

We finally wound up stopping at the United States Capitol, where, following a journey of several blocks on foot, I was hot, thirsty, bored, and, to Woozie's surprise, slightly famished.

"I hope this tour is cool," I said.

"Yeah, me, too," he replied.

"I'm kind of thirsty. Are you?"

"I guess."

"I have no idea what we're going to do after this. There has to be something in this city."

"I'm sure we'll figure it out."

"If this introduction movie is too long I'm going to shoot myself."

"Uh huh."

"You know what, I'm kind of hungry again."

"You are everything that's wrong with America."

I'd roped Woozie into a Capitol tour because of the fond memories I had of it from high school. One of my cousins is an employee of the federal government, and, as such, was able to pull some strings and arrange a behind-the-scenes view of the legislature for my father and I when I was seventeen. What I did not account for this time was that, because I'd given no advance notice of our arrival, we'd be on the much different public tour, with its restricted spaces, crowded floors, irritated guides, and hollow lecturing.

"This pretty much blows," I told Woozie just moments after I mimed shooting my own brains out.

When I came here in 2005, I had the chance to ride the Senators' subway, enter the Upper Chamber, and come close enough to touch both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. Yesterday, though, I couldn't so much as head for the bathroom without asking. Thus the escape plan was hatched.

After our very relieved flight from what its caretakers perversely referred to as "the Temple of Liberty," Woozie and I trekked to Starbucks for some coffee and cookies before hopping onto Metro and riding over to Dupont Circle.

We spent our time in the popular outdoor hangout lounging about, taking blogging pictures, eavesdropping on homeless men discussing their intimate knowledge of espionage, and talking about our respective families.

I told him of my household's efforts to save money and my parents' job searches during the recession, while he confided in me his worries as he reaches the halfway point of his college career, roughly the same place I was, incidentally, when I first started this blog.

After a stop at a huge bookstore in the middle of the city and some interesting conversation over different things we found in the World History section, it was time to go. Seven-thirty had come up on us without our realizing it, and I had a very long commute home.

"Listen, in all seriousness, I had a great time today," I told him as we prepared to board two trains going in opposite directions. "We should do this again sometime."

"Definitely," he said.

"Will you be home in the winter?" I asked.

"I should be," he said. "For Thanksgiving and Christmas."

"Well, let me know," I said. "I have to get you to visit my town."

He looked wary at that.

"Oh, come on," I prodded. "It's not so bad. It has a certain charm."

"I wouldn't really mind," he said. "I was down for it when you invited me earlier. If you'd been able to pick me up I would have gone."

"Well, we'll figure something out."

"For sure," he said. "See you then?"

"See you then."