Archive for the ‘Day-to-Day’ Category

A Lapsed Wordsmith

With more free time on my hands than most times in my life, you’d think I’d be filling jump drives and external hard drives with all sorts of wonderful writing. This is hardly the case.

I’ve fallen into a bit of a slump when it comes to putting words to paper (not literally of course, because hey, who the hell WRITES anymore). I can’t even blame it on a lack of ideas. They’re floating around in my hand, vague as some of them may be. The issue stems from me not just sitting down and forcing myself to write.

So I’m going to start doing that more often. Both here and even in notebooks and my moleskine (yes, I’m now one of those jerks who carries around a moleskine so I can document all of my brilliant ideas).  I would say this post is less of a declaration of my intentions and more of a cheap way of ensuring that an entire month doesn’t pass without my putting something up here.

And now, some free-floating thoughts:

  • I’ve been doing jury duty for the last week and it’s not nearly as tedious as I expected. Given my lack of a job, the pittance we receive is actually a raise for me. And even if I was still working in newspapers, it wouldn’t be much of a pay cut. I’m only sort of joking. What’s been most appealing about this whole thing is the interactions and observations of my fellow jurors and those dozens of folks I keep company with in the jury assembly room. Most of them look like they walked right off of the People of WalMart site, but that’s sort of the appeal. They’re so absurd in both appearance and behavior that I can’t help but find entertainment in most of it.
  • I think I only have Facebook so I can interact with about a dozen people, post pithy status updates, creep on attractive girls, and complain about 90 percent of the people I’m “friends” with. Actually, scratch that. I think this describes most male Facebook users (and some saucy female ones).
  • We have a week of April left and I still can’t leave the apartment without a jacket of some sort. I’d be pretty upset if I had invested any of my nonexistent income in spring clothing, because at this rate, we’re going to jump from the frigid grasp of winter to the ball-drenching humidity of a Midwest summer.
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Empty your pockets

Rummaging through the pockets of a coat, sweater or pair of jeans I’ve neglected for any lengthy span of time is one of those small pleasures I’ll never tire of. That’s mostly because there’s always the chance that I’ll come across a few bucks that my past self completely forgot about prior to relegated the garment to the corners of my closet or room. Usually, though, my finds are limited to old Taco Bell receipts and coin currency of such little value that I can hardly muster the effort to put it somewhere for safe keeping until I’m in dire need of 14 cents. Occasionally, though, I’ll pluck some items from that garment that actually trigger some lucid memories.

Earlier tonight, I conceded that no one on eBay has any interest in an old jacket of mine that I’ve been desperately trying to pawn off for the last several weeks. The jacket, a treasured find of mine from some end-of-season sale several years back, had seen its share of battles. Or perhaps, it would be more accurate of me to say that propensity for physically moving around at times exposed the shoddy third-world construction of the jacket (namely the shitty stitching on the lining of the jacket, which seemingly exploded on impact the second or third time I wore it).

The jacket not good enough for seemingly anyone on eBay.

While the inside of the jacket has seen many better times, the overall jacket looked fine enough that I didn’t feel guilty about reaching for a nearby box destined for the local Goodwill and tossing the jacket into it. Before I did, though, I had to pillage the approximate 30 pockets sprinkled throughout the coat’s eccentric design. My findings were:

  • A receipt for a money order for $20 purchased on Feb. 5, 2009
  • Two ticket stubs from a Jan. 30, 2009 screening of The Wrestler
  • An unused rubber from an ill-fated spring 2008 date. I should note that while unused, the wrapper was so badly worn that it looked more grotesque than any of the STD’s it’s designed to safeguard the Johnson from.
  • Half an index card with the names of several pro wrestlers scribbled on it. After some confused glares at the card, I remembered that it was from an excursion to WWE’s Royal Rumble in Detroit several years ago and that these wrestlers had been my randomly selected picks to win the 30-man Royal Rumble match (the winner of this pool took home a cool 30 bucks). Rey Mysterio was the “best” wrestler I got. Needless to say, I did not win $30 that night.
  • A receipt from dinner at a Chinese restaurant nearly two years ago to the day.

In essence, I found a lot of trash in those pockets. But the nostalgic bloke in me enjoyed literally pulling some fond memories from those pockets: The great story from the shitty date; the utter disappointment that was The Wrestler; that meal at the Chinese restaurant being one of the last times that collective of people broke bread (or rather, crab cheese) together, and of course, the voyage to Detroit in the midst of a Midwest winter all for the sake of me damning Rey Mysterio.

It’s a risky proposition to get too caught up in the memories. But it’s nice to know that as long as I’ve got clothes I’m ignoring, I’ve a potential opportunity waiting for me to reflect on moments that came in a flash and left as quickly.

Ice Station Beer Bellies

I’m not an outdoorsy type, which is probably why the appeal of ice fishing is lost on me. This is the time of year when I see photos of ice fishing expeditions bubbling up in online destinations such as Facebook. It’s also the time of year when I have my (perhaps incorrect) perception of ice fishing reinforced.

To the outsider, this is what the typical ice fishing trip appears to consist of:

  • A bunch of dudes; the bigger the beer bellies, the better.
  • Copious amounts of terrible beer usually unfit for placement anywhere but beer pong tables and the diviest of dive bars.
  • Dozens of moments where aforementioned guys pose in suggestive positions with one another, allegedly for the “lulz.” Note that these moments generally make up at least half of the inevitable Facebook photo album of the entire trip.
  • Lots of standing around a hole in the ice, sipping on the aforementioned shitty beer

The idea of male bonding and drinking alcohol of suspect origin isn’t lost on me. I just don’t ever get the urge to drive out to Hoth with a lot of fat dudes to make that happen. And if I did, I’d prefer that one of those fat dudes be Carl Winslow.

A Word of Advice

Having a younger brother comes with some societal expectations. He’s the kid who will be forced to wear most of your old clothes. He’s the kid that you’ll treat like a crash test dummy. He’s the kid who will probably want to emulate you in some ways. He’s the kid who may even tap into your extra years on this earth and seek advice and wisdom from you.

But then, having a younger brother also means having someone who will one day also be a grown man. And though he may not wait until he’s old enough to buy a pack of smokes or legally swill beer, there will come that day when he imparts his wisdom on you.

I have not always appreciated my younger brother. But it’s this shift from a one-sided relationship as children to a bond as grown men ripe with the exchange of ideas, advice, and wisdom that reminds me how fortunate I am.

As my brother has shown me recently, age is of diminishing importance in pursuit of insight. My brother will always be younger than me. But he’s no longer exclusively the student. And for that, I’m infinitely grateful.

Alex’s Last-Minute 2010 Year in Review

I intended to curate something a bit more comprehensive to put a cap on 2010, but the last week of the year sort of slipped through my fingers. So now I’m sitting here, about a half hour away from being without a computer until tomorrow, which means it’s time for a very special, very hastily-created 2010 year in review.

Most YiR (as I will refer to “year in review” from this point on, because I’m crunched for time damn it) writings that you read reflect on all the great experiences and lessons accrued over the last 12 months. For as cynical as I am, I had my share of those in 2010. But since no one really gives a shit about all the things someone else did or learned over 365 days, I’ll sum it up like this: I’m leaving this year a stronger, better person than I entered it as.

For easier digesting, here’s why I say that:

  • I returned to my journalistic roots by occupying two internships at newspapers in the area for all but a couple weeks of 2010. I bemoaned some of the assignments and lousy pay, but ultimately, the experience sharpened the news writing skills that I had let dull.
  • I (finally) graduated from college, ending our seven-year national nightmare. It took thousands of dollars, but I finally defeated math and was allowed to pass go and collect $200. That last part is not true. But I did get a degree that I’ve still yet to pick up from the admissions office.
  • Weight training became a part of my life once more. 2009 saw a near-total absence from the gym, which meant pictures of me by the end of the year featured a pot belly and moobs. A return to regular weight training and huge nutritional strides helped me knock four inches from my gut. More importantly, it left me feeling better physically than at any other point in my life.
  • I made the trek to NYC by myself not once, but twice. The first trip was emotionally draining, but necessary. The pair of journeys confirmed that I want to try my hand at making NYC my home some time in 2011.
  • I was able to reconnect with some old friends and really develop solid new friendships.
  • I said goodbye to some very close people (they didn’t buy the farm, they just moved far, far away) and realized I was lucky to have had these people be a part of the tapestry that is my life (isn’t that grating when people use the whole tapestry in a non-ironic way? Even though I didn’t really use it in an ironic way just now?).

2010 wasn’t without its valleys, but chugging forward, I think a lot of those have helped lay the foundation for the things I’ll do in the 12 months to come. For me, that will mean a relocation, a new apartment, a (real?) job, and a further strengthening of the relationships in my life I value most. I wish I had some hilarious YouTube video set to the Benny Hill theme music on hand to break up some of the sap that’s dripping from my fingers onto the keyboard, but alas, I can only extend an optimistic hope that the people who deserve it will accomplished the things they set out to do in 2011.

Descent into the pop culturally unaware abyss

A steady cycle of movies, television shows, music and other pop culture knowledge permeated my late high school and early college years. I wasn’t tearing through Tolstoy as one of Bach’s pieces that I can’t even pretend to know the name served as my soundtrack. But I had an inquisitive spirit that pushed me to discover more. Seeing a great movie, hearing a great song or seeing an engaging TV show would prompt me to explore further. Somewhere along the way, that stopped holding truth.

I can’t pinpoint the moment, because I doubt there was one. But over the course of maybe several months, that curiosity stalled out and was replaced by complacency. I didn’t avoid new entertainment discoveries, but I didn’t seek them. If someone didn’t dump it into my lap and say, “Hey, dummy, listen to this,” I didn’t uncover it on my own.

I miss that. I’ve never been the most driven person, but I’d hate to fathom an existence where I can’t even be bothered to seek new, untapped outlets of entertainment. If pressed, I’d have to attribute this stagnation to not making time. As First World problem-esque as it sounds, finding and enjoying entertainment that dares to be more than vapid time filler takes effort on the individual’s part.

That means reclaiming that inquisitive nature. That means sitting through an album I’ve never heard, or carving out a couple of hours to experience a new film. It means trading in some of that listless online browsing for a few chapters of a book that will teach me something new.

I can already tell I’ll look at this later on and realize how trite it all sounds, because I’m already thinking that. But perhaps this is an example of the negative impact from losing my zest to find new things. At least it’s not so far gone that I couldn’t incorporate the word “zest” into this bemoaning.

Don’t just shill it, ‘Crush It’

I grew up watching a lot of late-night TV. I knew I’d stayed up really late once all of the normal TV shows gave way to infomercials. This was usually my sign to go to bed. Occasionally, though, I’d watch a few minutes of these horrible things, which seemed tacky even by the unrefined standards of an eight-year-old punk. Of these infomercials, the ones that stuck out involved self-improvement beyond having a flatter stomach or cleaner closet.

These programs still exist, and with our collective feet firmly entrenched in the online age, they’ve taken on other forms of reaching the public, namely blogs. Now and again, I’ll indulged in one of these “you can do it”-type pieces, since they can sometimes impart different perspectives. With these sporadic indulgences, I’ve noticed a huge volume of blogs seemingly built on this modus operandi. They aren’t as tacky as those early 1990’s infomercials, but they push similar messages of financial freedom through unconventional means.

This often means encouraging readers to toss the shackles of the 9-to-5 existence in favor of following true passions, which for a lot of these bloggers, seems to be, well, blogging. I’m not opposed to this mindset. I’ve warmed up to the notion that it’s absurd to place yourself in a vocation you aren’t really enthralled with, especially without legitimate reasons for doing so (i.e. having a family to support). My general problem with these blogs is their tendencies to lean toward  garden variety messages. Sure, it’s easy to say, “Follow your dreams, dummy!” but what good is championing that message without providing some specific methods the reader can apply to make this a realistic transition?

Recently, I passed by Gary Vaynerchuk’s book Crush It! Looking at that website, the person with any sort of respectable IQ is going to immediately identify it as a product with ties to those aforementioned infomercials. Regardless, I’d heard a lot of great things about the book and with nothing on my plate that evening, I decided to sit down and read some of it. I got about a fourth of the way through the book when I realized two things. One was, “Holy hell, this is a light read,” considering I’d only been reading for maybe 15 minutes and was already that far along. The other was how Gary had managed to package generic ideas, no-brainer observations, a catch phrase, and stretched it out to fill what was from a technical perspective, a book.

I delved into reading with an open mind, but after a while, it was clear that the book had nothing new to offer, unless you hadn’t figured out that venues like blogs and Twitter are viable to growing your business or website. Packaged with the glossed over passages (i.e. repeatedly talking about how successful he was without ever sharing specifics of how he did it) and the almost comical use of his catch phrase (i.e. “We totally crushed it!”), and it was clear that I was holding tangible proof of the suspect blogs I mentioned earlier.

Reading about the success of others can inspire and motivate. But where a lot of these blogs fail is with their non-committal approach to the subject outside of “just do it.” What’s worse is that these bloggers are connected within a growing network of like-minded bloggers, which in effect, creates an expansive cycle of people sharing links to similar websites that seem to exist for the purpose of pushing a generic message and sharing links to similar websites.

Ultimately, the reader has to decipher the validity of these websites and the messages they champion. But with the growing prominence of these outlets, the average person becomes  more susceptible to the calling in and ordering that theoretical product for the low introductory price of just $19.95.

Just singing in the…deli

I’m not a terribly busy guy (as evident by my startling recollection of Full House episodes), but still find myself feeling rushed a lot of the time. Some of this is legitimate, albeit unavoidable: No one needs to watch an episode of Boy Meets World each morning before work, especially when shirts need to be ironed and lunches need to be assembled. A lot of the time, though, it’s a case of not taking a few moments to absorb my surroundings and savor some aspect of it. Only when I cross paths with someone who is taking those spare moments to do this am I reminded of my non-participation (note: literally crossing paths is not always necessary; just being in the general vicinity usually works).

Tonight, I made a special trip to the grocery store just for some grapes, because damn it, that’s the kind of stuff you do when your list of priorities looks like it was arranged by plucking each priority from a grab bag. Once I had my grapes in hand, I smartened up and realized I could better justify this trip if I got some other things. And that’s how I ventured over to the grocery store’s deli.

Now, remember how I alluded to (or I guess, outright mentioned) the type of people who seem to be absorbing their surroundings and doing all of that refined-sounding savoring? The butcher was this guy. At first, I was a bit annoyed at how long he was taking to wait on me. I was the only person around and shit, didn’t this guy see I had a bag of grabs that needed to be taken home and eaten as soon as possible? My rushed stance eased a bit as we engaged in the timeless exchange of “What’ll you have” and “Give me a pound of…” As he was busy slicing away a heaping portion of roast beef for me, he unabashedly broke into loud song.

It was only that his chosen song was a soulful hit currently burning up the mainstream music charts that kept me from from feeling like I’d walked onto the set of a musical (Deli: The Musical, if you will…quick, someone option that to be a real thing). Never mind that I can’t actually stand the song. I was too busy taking note: This guy had no feelings of introversion. No hangups of what others might think of his spontaneous crooning. Here he was performing a less-than-glamorous job — the same vocation that had driven Mickey Rourke’s character in The Wrestler to plunge his hand into a slicer — and he was having a better time than anyone in the entire store. I know nothing of him, other than I’d safely bet he’s familiar and abides by the saying, “It’s what you make of it.”

He handed me my bag of roast beef and I walked toward the checkout line, no longer in such a rush.

Social Burnout

Outdoorsy stuff has never been my thing. Sure, I’ll venture outside to get in my car or fetch my overdue bills from the mailbox. But when people ramble on about going to some remote cottage and getting away from it all (“it” being stuff like phones, TVs and in-laws), I always roll my eyes (not really; that shit’s uncomfortable). “Yeah,” my internal reaction usually starts out, “but how can you handle not checking Facebook or seeing what re-run of Family Matters is on?”

Now that most of us folks not terrified of computers (shout outs to all of the 70-year-old people out there having this entry read to them because they don’t know how to access the Internet!) are continuously connected through different online and technological advances, I’m getting what those outdoors people were saying.

I don’t need to run down the history of how modern man and modern woman lost any semblance of privacy through a series of social networking innovations. Most people can relate to the premise of knowing what their friends, family, co-workers, former classmates, and people they met once at a party sophomore year of college are up to, not through face-to-face interaction, but via outlets such as Facebook and Twitter.

These things are dangerous for people like myself. I’ve rarely been good at exercising moderation, which is probably why I was overweight and masturbated a lot for much of my coming-of-age years. Now that you have that pleasant mental image, stay with me and think what sites such as Facebook and Twitter do for my mission to be a productive member of society.

Compulsively checking these sites to a point where visiting them is almost a thoughtless action doesn’t sit well with me. My skull is a tome of useless knowledge and information, but even I can only handle the steady stream of pointless Facebook updates and Tweets before my brain taps out.

The temporary solution to my obvious lack of self-control was to deactivate my Facebook account for a while. While I’ll miss the perpetual updates from people I vaguely remember letting all of their “friends” know what they’re doing for lunch, this is a much-needed breather from what’s become a too-constant presence in my day-to-day affairs.

The first-day results were one of the more productive work days I’ve had in months. I guess stuff happens when you aren’t keeping a vigil over your newsfeed for six or seven hours.

Naturally, this presents a problem. Most of my friends are scattered literally throughout the world. So in that context, something like Facebook is actually pretty important. And since I don’t have $8,000 to spend on a phone call to Korea, this means that my exodus from Facebook isn’t likely to last through all the leaves on trees dying. Until then, someone text me all the wonderful stuff I’m missing by not stealthy keeping watch over a lot of people I’m sort of, kind of friends with.

Moving On

Attaching sentimentality to even the most mundane situations is a gift of mine. It’s probably what contributed to me owning far too many things, remembering certain dates, and being something of a moping wet blanket when it comes to some matters of the heart.

I recently caught myself adding meaning to a time-consuming, but ultimately unimportant happening: moving. At 11:46 last night, I turned the lock to the door of my first apartment for the last time. Inside, I left behind – aside from a horribly un-vacuumed carpet – more than three-and-a-half years of memories, experiences, and odors from forgetting to take the trash out.

It’s rare that someone make it through his or her college-aged years without being obligated to drop a fat rent check each month. Still, the circumstances surrounding me taking up residency on my own for the first time add a shred of unique flavor to my situation. The move happened out of necessity and while the transition was surprisingly fluid, I gave myself a rare pat on the back for making the jump with such short notice and preparation.

Scanning the gray matter and retrieving recollections from those first months in that apartment, I’m surprised at how quickly the place felt like home. It wasn’t a great apartment, but at that age, those things don’t matter, so long as the toilet isn’t getting backed up and the kitchen water isn’t discolored. What does matter is that feeling of ownership, even though you’re really just borrowing the apartment until you decide to move or get evicted. For the first time, you have full say on the food that’s in the fridge, where the furniture goes, or whether the toilet seat stays up or not (goodness, so many toilet references).

Even though my leaving behind the apartment is to help facilitate bigger, long-term goals, I can recognize now that I did a lot of growing up while in that apartment. I housed my brother and his wife during their first Christmas as a married couple; I honed my culinary skills past the realm of pasta and sandwiches; I shared plenty of beers and witty banter with good friends, most who have since relocated to pursue greater endeavors. I even fell in love there as I shared some of the most the personally connecting days and nights with a wonderful person. When I turned that door lock for the final time last night, I left behind an empty apartment that’s filled with memories that will accompany me to my next destination and all the ones that follow.