April 28, 2006
April 27, 2006
I've been thinking about my general mood these days, as well as the mood of the other grad students around me. It's pretty normal to have a crazy feeling in the air as the end of any semester approaches, but this time it's incredibly amplified by the idea that for those of us who are graduating, this might be our last crack at school ever. I think that realization has dawned upon many of us, and there has been an effort to get some last rounds of socializing, partying, and all-around good college fun in before we have to bow our heads in humility and enter the workforce, hat and balls in hand. Ugh. Anyhow, I've taken to describing the feeling I'm getting as "The Last Days of Disco." (These are not to be confused with the "Fat Elvis Days," which my friend Brian Worthen introduced me to...those are just a general gluttonous state of being usually associated with summer traveling, grilling, beer drinking, and lots and lots of lazy napping).
Anyhow, a good example of the Last Days of Disco happened last week or so. My officemate and dear friend Annie was having her thesis defense coming up, and she was incredibly stressed. I'm not sure what our line of reasoning was, but it was determined that she needed a good stiff drink. 10 minutes later, we were at The Sink. Annie got a vodka on the rocks, and I got some fried ice cream. We decided that it was like the sixties, maybe (Last Days of Hippies?), when a mother might take her child to the bar for a quick afternoon highball, while distracting the child with sweets.
One way or the other, it was damn good times, and Annie ended up kicking major ass on her defense. The fried ice cream was, as fried ice cream usually is, absolutely delicious.
April 26, 2006
April 24, 2006
Since the post before the last picture was so big, I decided to add another picture. You know, to make the blog easier on the eyes. Anyhow, this is a picture of the Unnecessary Umlauts, our soccer team. We're pinching our nipples because we had talked about making team shirts with a large "U," with the umlauts going where our nipples would be. But, we're all pretty apathetic, so it never really got done. Until this picture...
April 23, 2006
The first out-of-the-ordinary thing that I did was to pick up my first hitchhiker. I know, I know. One should not pick up hitchhikers. And I normally wouldn't. In fact, I often just scoff at them as I see them on the side of the road. My favorite hopeless hitchhikers were actually a trio that I saw a few years ago. They were on the side of Highway 36, the Denver-Boulder turnpike. And I don't mean that they were on the onramp or anything; if anyone would have wanted to pick them up, they would have needed to slow down from 65 mph to a stop as they were going up a hill and around a corner. But it's not likely that anyone would have wanted to pick them up, as the trio consisted of a man with dirty long hair (standard for hitchhikers), no shirt (putting forth a bit more effort), and tons of tattoos (now we're talking!). And a mohawk (let's not get carried away here). The lady was similarly attired, and they had with them a huge, mangy dog. And it was drizzling, and they had a sign that read "Denver or bust," or something like that. If there is a sight that would be more likely to make me think, "Just keep on drivin," I can't think of it.
So anyhow, the hitchhikers in these parts tend to be somewhat similar to those three, and I usually just drive on by them. But last weekend I was driving back from Longmont (aka Schlongmont) around 2 in the morning. I was about to get on the Diagonal Highway that connects Schlongmont and Boulder, when I saw a man running towards my car from the nearby crosswalk, waving his arms and shouting something. My first thought was, "Fuck no, buddy, I'm not looking to get stabbed." But in a split second it occurred to me that he might actually be in trouble, and may need help. So I stopped, and he jogged up to my car.
He didn't seem the murdering type, but then again, I guess they never do. But still, he was in his mid-40's, I'd guess, and was dressed in shorts and a button-up short-sleeved shirt. Neither clothing item was camouflage or standard-issue Psycho Black, either, so I didn't feel too creeped out. He came up to my open passenger window, and I asked him what was going on. He asked if he could have a ride to Gunbarrel, a town just north of Boulder. In hindsight, Gunbarrel is JUST the type of place a killer would ask for a ride to, but I didn't think of that at the time.
"Well, hop on in," I said, and he did. He smelled a bit boozy. But he was immediately enthusiastically thankful and almost apologetic. He said his name was Karl (I'm not sure if it's spelled with a "C" or a "K," but the "K" seems more appropriate for a half-drunk hitchhiker, doesn't it?). Karl told me that he'd been out to the bars in Longmont with his buddies way back from school, and that they don't get to hang out often. But then all those dumb fuckers got all drunk, and then they fucking tried to drive home drunk. So he said "fuck no," man, because you gotta just stand for what you believe in, you fucking know man?
I had to hand it to him, man...I DID fucking know. He was on to something. I could tell that Karl was just a decent guy who got pissed that his dumbass friends drove drunk just to avoid waking up their wives and in turn pissing them off. He said he'd been prepared to walk the 10 miles back to his home in the cold, but it sure was nice that I stopped and gave him a ride. We kept the conversation light, but he also mentioned that he had three kids, and whether I knew it or not, they'd be thanking me in the morning, because their dad would be able to get more sleep. So I even gave Karl a ride to his door, and told him to take care of his kids and his drunk-driving asshole friends. He thanked me and ran inside his house.
"Wow!" I thought, "That was kind of cool!" I would have normally doubted the intentions of some freaking guy running near the onramp to a freeway at 2 in the morning, but this experience completely took me by surprise. He was just a good guy looking for a bit of help, and he was incredibly grateful for the help I gave him. I felt like I'd been a modern-day, Subaru-driving Good Samaritan, and the feeling didn't cost me a dime. So it's not like I'll go picking up every hitchhiker I see, but I did learn a bit about human nature, I think.
So I know this is getting long, but that brings me to my second new experience of last weekend. I was in the Dark Horse restaurant and bar on Saturday afternoon with some fellow members of The Unnecessary Umlauts, our German department soccer team. We were celebrating an awesome game with an afternoon burger and beer. I was in an upstairs section of the bar with my friend and star forward Laura. We were having a chat at a table when a guy walked in to the room carrying a pitcher of beer. There was nobody in that particular room but the two of us and this new guy, and he looked like he'd come in to play pool. He LOOKED like that, at least, but we got a weird vibe when he sat down at the table with us, neglecting the 10 other empty tables in the room. He was sort of like a Mexican Karl: mid-40's, casually dressed, and bearing some manner of alcohol.
Laura and I finished our particular line of thought, and paused in conversation. We were almost making to leave and join the others when this guy motioned to the pool table and asked/gestured in Spanglish whether we'd like to play. We politely declined, saying we had to meet up with the rest of our group. Laura said something in Spanish that I didn't quite catch, probably "Have a nice day!" He seemed to get excited that she spoke Spanish, but that emotion turned almost sad when he realized that we were still leaving. The rest of our group was on their way out, also, so we all went our separate ways. As I was in my car, about to turn on to Baseline Avenue, I must have felt a bit of a continued contact buzz from the Karl experience the night before. My mind said, "Fuck it. I'm going back and I'm gonna play pool with that guy." My body followed.
I went upstairs and introduced myself to the guy and asked in Spanish whether he still wanted to play or not. I said I was shitty at pool and Spanish, but I'd try my best at both. He seemed very happy, and he assured me he was also very bad at pool and English. He said his name was Angel. Seriously. And so we played pool. I could tell he was hardly trying, because he would have waxed the floor with my gringo ass if he'd wanted to.
After a bit of prodding in game two, he told me he was the number 1 pool player in Boulder five years ago. I think. Like I said, my Spanish needs a bit of work. He was damn good, though; at one point in game three, he took a cell phone call and proceeded to shoot in three or four balls one-handed. He was very cool and gracious about his talent, though, and he gave me tips and pointers throughout. And the strange thing was, even when I was certain an angle he was showing me would never allow a ball to go in, it always did. Angel was an angel of pool. I asked him more about his background, and he said he'd been working in Boulder 7 years. He came from the state of Zacatecas in Mexico, which also gave me pause for thought. Bobby and I recently discussed how many of our Mexican coworkers come from Zacatecas. I think we concluded that for so many people to come from one area, Zacatecas must be really shitty...kind of like the Nebraska of Mexico. Or maybe it's just due to the ganz gefaehrliche Colorado-Zacatecas connection. Who knows...
Anyhow, I might have gotten a strange vibe from a guy in a bar on a Saturday afternoon that was twice my age, but not from him. Also, I guess he was flirting with someone on the phone, because around the time I left, a very large woman came in, and the two of them seemed to be together in some way. I guess she was his wife, because he also mentioned that his daughter went to Boulder High School. On my way out, he also asked for my number, so he could call sometime to come to his house when they were making supper. Pretty awesome, if you ask me (unless he's trying to set me up with his daughter).
I guess the moral of both of these encounters is that most everybody you meet has their own interesting story to tell. Deep down, I think that human nature must be more good than bad, otherwise humankind wouldn't be able to keep on keeping on. At least I think that's the moral of these two stories. But maybe the moral is simply "Always pick up hitchhikers. If you live, you might find out something interesting about yourself and human nature."
Either way, I hope you enjoyed the anecdotes.
April 17, 2006
April 13, 2006
It all started innocently enough. I noticed while I was studying for my comprehensive Master's exams that my lower back was starting to hurt. Around that time, I was looking for my nail clippers in my bathroom cupboard, and I noticed a very old container of Flex-All 454 that I'd gotten from my grandpa years ago. I was a bit skeptical at first; after all, how much could a menthol cream actually do to relieve pain? Still, it seemed like I had nothing to lose, but sure enough, I almost lost it all.
I opened the container, and a overpowering menthol smell hit my senses like a runaway freight train driven by Janis Joplin. I thought, "Nasty...why would someone be crazy enough to actually rub this shit on their back?!" But that initial skepticism gave way to curiousity. After all, why would someone be crazy enough to rub this shit on their back? There must be something to it, some sort of rush, otherwise people wouldn't do it. Right? I decided that in the interest of science, and to satisfy my curiousity, I'd try "The Flex," but only once. Of course I never thought I'd be one of the people that you see on the street corners and dark alleys, slumped over their rickety canes, just looking for their next hit of Flex-All or looking to turn a trick or two for a dab of Icy Hot. But I also didn't know how close I had already come to the grim reality of this simple but deadly over-the-counter drug.
Still, I'd made up my mind to try it, so I tried it. I squirted a glop onto my fingers, and awkwardly reached around to my back to apply the cream. As I rubbed the greasy, smelly gel on my back, I didn't notice anything at first. But as I was washing the leftover snot-like goop from my hands, I noticed a slight tingle eminating from the base of my spine. I leaned a bit further over the sink to grab a towel, and I noticed the tingle a bit more. The Flex-All 454 (or, as it's also known on the streets, "The Four Fitty Quatro") was beginning to work its enchanting spell.
For the next few hours, the sensations coming from my back alternated between hot and cool, then cool and hot. The minutes blurred together as I slumped on the couch and listened to my "rock and roll" music and "tuned out" the rest of the world. When I awakened from my stupor, I felt slightly disoriented and dizzy, but I quickly got my bearings again. At that point, I knew I needed another hit, and that I needed it soon.
For the next few weeks, I was beginning to get hooked on menth. I see now that this was true whether I admitted it to myself or not. It had gotten a hold of me and wouldn't let me free until I'd felt the by-now familiar tingle in my back. I didn't even use it every single day, and I was able to even function relatively normally at first. But slowly but surely, as the winter turned to spring, my previous dilligence in school began to transform into fits of fancy. I would slouch in my office chair or play Lego Star Wars with bad posture for hours at time, all just to have a bit of pain, and with that pain an excuse to have another hit of menth.
I don't know how long this all would have gone on if an unexpected angel had not come along in the form of my friend Bobby. Now, Bobby has had his share of back problems, and he's even had a few back surgeries in the past. He seems to not want to talk much about that part of his life, and I've always assumed that at the time he was running with either the Flex-All or the Ibuprofen crowd. But he's moved on and seems to be all the stronger from his trials and tribulations. Or so I thought.
A few weeks ago he and our friend Katie came over to my house for supper. I was grilling a London Broil, and I knew that I wouldn't be able to eat it alone. So as they arrived at my house, I was crouched over my mini-BBQ, attempting to light the coals. As I stood up, I mentioned something about "my aching back," and excused myself for a moment. I went to the bathroom, and Bobby must have seen me reach into the cupboard for my menth stash. He walked over and said, "Hey, is that the Four Fitty Quatro? Could I have a bit?" For some reason, hearing a dear friend like Bobby say that just broke my heart. I had thought that he'd left that all behind him, but perhaps I was mistaken. Plus, it was one thing if I was hurting myself, but I somehow couldn't bring myself to allow my friends to hurt themselves, especially not in my own house.
"Bobby," I said, "It is menth, but I can't give you any. In fact, I shouldn't take any myself. I think that after we eat this London Broil, we should sit down with a nice cup of tea and see what we're going to do about this problem of ours. Because it is a problem, but now that we've recognized it, we can overcome it."
Well, long story short, the waterworks opened. We had a hug and cried for about 45 minutes (which probably made Katie feel a bit awkward as she was eating her supper). At this point, no one can really tell what the future will bring. The truth is that we're bad people. But that's gonna change - we're going to change. This is the last of that sort of thing. Now we're cleaning up and we're moving on, going straight and choosing life. I'm looking forward to it already.
April 10, 2006
I wrote the following stuff a few months ago. It made me feel nice to read it again today, for some reason, so I'll share it:
Today has been a long day, and it’s only 3.00. I came away from the career fair more bummed than ever, with the increased conviction that German really is the most worthless thing you can study. I got a bit of a cold, I’m tired, and I’m pissed off because I’ve been cranky lots lately. I know that’s stupid, but that’s the way it is. In any case, I got on the bus to head home. At least the sun was shining, which can do a lot to improve most any day. The sun was the warm type of sun that you get on an occasional winter afternoon, where it hits you horizontally from just over the mountains, and it warms you up and calms you down. This was even happening through the windows of the bus.
I sat on the bus and watched a young kid, maybe two or three years old, who was sitting in a seat at the front of the bus. He was being hypnotized by the sun, as well, and his eyelids were getting heavy. They closed slowly as his head began to tilt forward. He closed his eyes further, and just as they closed, he reached up his index finger and began to pick his nose, even as he drifted off into sleep. He then give a slight start, but realized that it was his own finger in his nose. He then nodded off to sleep again. Man, to be young again. Little Nose Picking Dreamer, make sure you study something like business or physics or engineering…
April 8, 2006
April 5, 2006
At the same time, though, I think the worst effect of the strike is the increased number of crazy people hanging out on the streets. As you may know from reading my music reviews, I have trouble dealing with crazy people, because I take them seriously. This happened today as I was walking home. After crossing a major street in Boulder, I reached the opposite sidewalk, and a man said to me, "By the way!" I should have known that this man was a bit off, not only because the phrase "by the way" generally indicates that a conversation has previously taken place between two people, but also because this man was wearing a parka and a Swedish-girl-style stocking cap. At the time, it was nearly 70 degrees and I myself was wearing a T-shirt.
Anyhow, this guy called out to me from about four feet away and hurried over to me. He began to tell me that the buses were going on strike, and that I should know that. He told me that was why he was walking. Or something like that. I was too busy paying attention in quiet horror to grove of hair jutting out of his nose and the spittle quickly forming on his lips, praying quietly that none of it would fly through the air and land on me. This man kept on talking and talking, and I was taken by surprise that his ramblings were actually somewhat coherent. Somewhat. He seemed to be expressing worry that he'd not be able to get to work without the bus. The ramblings got a bit weird, though, when he started asking me for specific advice and asking questions that I couldn't possibly know the answer to, such as:
"I guess I could always move in with Greg, but I guess then I'll have to be on my best behavior, because Greg doesn't tolerate any problems, but he's the boss, so don't you think that I wouldn't have to get the permission from the department to move in with Greg?"
"But the move would have to be soon and I have to tell Greg now, right, since we need to get a moving van?"
"So if I do all that, will I still get the Medicaid benefits?"
"So who do I ask about all this?"
Basically, I let the guy talk at me for about five minutes, and then I told him I had to get home to pee. Which was kind of true. The point, though, is that crazy people like him should be riding around on the bus where they belong. At least that way I know they're contained in a given space. That way, I'm able to deal with them when I come across them on the bus and they inevitably ask me about sports.
That's another thing: Why do people on the bus always want to talk to me about professional sports? If you know anything about me, you know that I pretty much fucking hate watching sports on TV (except soccer, maybe, and a couple beers sure help the game go down smoothly). And if you know this, then please tell anyone that you know that rides a bus, so they'll stop asking me about such random shit.
For example, I was leaving my friend Annie's house a while back, and I waited at the bus stop. This older guy was already there with a guitar, so he stood up and started talking to me. He was continually blinking his eyes, so he pointed out right away that his eyes were red because he'd just showered, not because he was drunk. "...At least not that drunk," he added. Anyhow, he went on to play me a "blues song" that he had written and explained that he was headed to open mike night at a local bar. We got on the bus and he continued talking to me, and I was actually almost enjoying hearing him ramble, until all of a sudden he asked me if I thought that the "A's had what it takes to get the pennant this year." Dammit!
Something similar happened to me on two occasions on another bus route, when a blind lady engaged me in conversation about the NFL. Since she was blind, she couldn't see my confused looks when she asked me about the previous week's games, but still...how does one just randomly engage a complete stranger (me) in conversations about something he knows absolutely nothing about on such a consistent basis?? And how come I keep falling for it and trying to rationally talk with these people?? Oh well. The world may never know.
My final bus bitching for the day: How come, when I'm driving the bus, do only the weird people want to talk to me? It's a pretty solitary job and our routes are short, so you don't really expect to converse with many people when driving. But when someone does strike up a conversation with you, it's always in a vague, non-answerable manner, such as "Man, I got so many fucking finals this week." What is your bus driver supposed to say to something like that? And it's always the weird kids that talk to you...maybe the types that will ramble to you about Greg in the years to come. It's never the super-hot girls in the revealing clothing or the people carrying an open bag of chips. Those are the types of people that you might actually want to talk with, but they just get on and move right to the back.
Anyhow, speaking of rambling...
Point is, I have a message for RTD workers and management: Brothers gotta work it out! The crazies need a place to go, and by allowing this strike to go on, you're depriving them of their natural habitat. So, in the interest of labor relations and the sanity of the public as a whole, let's get this whole strike thing solved soon! Thank you.