Thursday, October 20, 2016

Lighter Than Air

33 and two weeks, now.

We all know that Ferris Bueller know, that line about life moving rather rapidly and how you need to decelerate occasionally otherwise you won't take notice of it? Turns out ol' Johnny boy was on to something, because holy cats these past few years have gone fast. When I started this blog I was a swingin' single borderline alcoholic; now I've got the greatest wife in the world and I drink to add some zest to life instead of to numbing myself to it. My apartment, though full of Halo and laughter, was devoid of the pitter-patter of little furry feet; now I have two cats following me everywhere I go. My creative output was limited; now I make art with awesome people and there's a restaurant menu in Wisconsin with my work in its menu and on its walls.

(Not linking that one, but if you do find it, order the cheese curds).

The days are like water, but they're by and large good days.

On the note of speed: Starbucks was, by design, fast. We never made kitty-cat-cappucinos or frappucinos with colors layered like coffee tequila sunrises; we never had the time. So imagine how surprised I was by MoonDollars's cold brew. I used to brew new urns of coffee every 8 minutes (the beepbeep-beepbeep-beepbeep of the timer is forever burned into my brain), I could not conceive of any employees spending 20 hours on anything, much less a single cup of coffee. Something tells me it's not as good as what my more coffeephilic friends would drink, but it's always nice to see a company just...take a minute on something. Coffee brews pretty fast; if you don't stop and smell the beans once in a while, you could miss it.

This is the last of Jess's postcards. It's a little late (time went by at way more than 431 km an hour), but I'd still like to thank her for them.

Friday, September 30, 2016

Unfinished Business

There's an Ikea shelf in the corner.

It's hiding behind the two boxes full of Christmas decorations that necessitate its ownership.

Since it's behind the boxes, I keep forgetting it's there. Since I keep forgetting it's there, there it remains. Every few days or so I see it, remind myself to drill the holes and turn the screws, and forget it all again the second I walk out the door.

I'm sure I'll do it later. Until then, the cats get to climb on the boxes and pull my ties off the rack we already installed.

"I'll do it later." Poisonous words for the creative mind; pure ambrosia for the distractible one. Well, later's here now, much later, although in my defense I've been up to quite a lot in the meantime.

Let's put up that shelf.

Three more postcards. Then I'll have either finally finished this blog or I'll have started something new with it. So join me, everybody, and let's go back in time...

Did you ever tell your parents, Jess? If my daughter were a Female General, I think I'd want to know.

I generally go through these same motions when I leave the apartment. Because of my sense of drama!

...Also because I routinely forget my keys.

Thursday, January 10, 2013


By the time we'd redesigned half the menu four hours were gone like they'd never been there at all. I had no watch to check, but rare was the glance down at my phone to see how much longer I'd suffer; rare were the mental screams of Oh God Let This Be Over With; nonexistent was distraction via longtime zone-outs or Words With Friends.

We were working.

I only realized how long we'd been at it when the Barista, ringing me up for the fourth time, raised his brows in surprise and spoke a sentence I'd spoken a hundred times before:

"Wow, you're still here?"

I glanced back at my colleague. She did not look up from the mess of papers and notes which dominated our two shoved-together tables. I took in our laptops, leeching power from the wall outlets, sucking down constant free wifi. And the realizations hit me, a flurry of mental blows:

My god. I'm a table hog.
My god. I'm a lurker.
My god. There are things on the menu boards I...don't...recognize.

I'm not one of Us anymore. I'm one of Them now.

I could make a mean joke about homeless people and shopping carts, or one about rickshaws, but if being in an awesome sketch comedy group!!!! has taught me anything, it's that mean jokes are not funny. I will instead point out whoever is riding that bike must have thighs like Redwood trunks.

Prior to a recent brush with humiliating, needless death-by-Chevy-Door, I never bothered wearing a bike helmet. I thought they looked stupid and dorky (apparently stupider and dorkier than brains on pavement). Now I know better--however slow you think you're going in a bike lane, most folks aren't glancing in their rearview as they open their door on the off chance some moron in North Face Black is Lance Armstronging his way down the pavement

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Six Applicants One Job

I am sitting in an Apple Store with three hipsters, one high school student, a surprisingly (and, considering the entry-level position, depressingly) elderly man, and three sales robots desperately trying to act human. It is month three of unemployment; I am branching out into other zones of retail. As a member of the cult of mac, I figure this should be right up my alley.

But this is not your standard retail hiring meet-and-greet. This group interview has its own intro movie, played in glorious 1080p on a Cinema Display. It's an inspiring montage of different Apple Stores, set to triumphant pop rock, littered with gushing testimonials by earnest employees. Towards the end, a 30-something Apple Genius confesses to the camera, "Sometimes I get home from work, and think to myself: 'wow. I work at Apple.'" There is a pause, pregnant with emotion, and he repeats--near tears(!!!)--"I work at Apple."

The nice woman running the show hits 'space' and ends the Working For Apple trailer. She looks at us, potential preachers for the church of gleaming white and chrome; she asks if we have any questions. I raise my hand.

"So, uh, do you usually think 'Wow, I work at Apple' during the day, or...?"

She pauses, thinks for a moment, and says without a trace of irony "No, I usually think it on my way to work and then again after work." No smirk on her face, no roll of the eyes, but I'm sure she's trolling me. She has to be.

But the people around me are nodding, nodding in understanding, and I feel a mild sense of panic.

Surprisingly, I didn't get the job. Made it to second round of interviews, though.

 I like how the arms are thrown out wide. The ghost in that shirt must be belting out a wicked solo, or maybe trying to fly.
Is nutrition still nutrition after it's been stir-fried a short time? And why would you need to make goose liver secretly, is this a foie gras thing?

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Daydream Barista: Coffee Detective

The baklava's too good. Freshly baked, layered perfectly, and a surprisingly large portion for two bucks and change. And if its honey-tinged yumminess merely taunts me, the subsequent sip of amazing espresso is a flat-out slap in the face.

Their pastries are amazing. Their coffee is superlative. The situation is dire.

I note all of this. But I don't write it down. No need to make it obvious I'm a spy.


No one's sure just when The New Place appeared. The vacant storefront it took over was a Winnenco Township mainstay, notable not for any particular retail outlet but rather a succession of them. One year it hosted Baskin Robbins, the next Subway, the next a weird pita shop. None of them succeeded; what business possibly could, in foodservice's graveyard of empires? So it sat there, festooned with (far too optimistic) FOR LEASE signs and absent of life, a warning to any franchisees with funny ideas.

Somebody ignored the warning, dusted off the tombstones, put up marble countertops and dragged in charming tables. Truck after truck brought in things and stuff. Like meerkats we peeked above our towering espresso bar, leaning towards the windows to get a better view of our new enemy.

A new cafe. Across the street. From an eighteen year old Starbucks. The cockiness, the bravado, the balls of the idea: open a coffeeshop across from the only coffeeshop in town? Who did these people think they were? We watched The New Place rise with a mix of hostility and awe.

"I heard they've got special beans," said Tucco. He was our newest, a student by day, barista by night, pizza guy by weekend. He all but pressed himself against the promo-overlay-covered windows. "Local beans." I said nothing in response, busying myself sweeping off the coffee grinder. As the Shift, I couldn't involve in the petty distractions of everyday barista life.

"Dead in a week." The cigarette-tinted apathy in Jenna's voice was at odds with her dollish blonde looks. She said it over her shoulder, pretending to be occupied stocking the bean wall.

"They have a TV!" said Tucco. He pointed out the flatscreen a woman, probably the owner, was fiddling with inside The New Place.

Apathy vanished from Jenna's eyes, replaced at once by avarice. "What? They get a TV?"

A TV? I clutched the grinder to keep from trembling. The unfairness of it all: we couldn't even check our phones when the store was empty; we couldn't read a newspaper before open because of the cameras; if we thought about leaning, we'd get back to cleaning. And these people, these...usurpers, had their own TV?

"I'd better check it out," I said. I'd like to think I sounded steely, determined. But you can only seem so Clint Eastwood when you're wearing a cheery red Christmas apron. I ditched it, threw on a coat over my Starbucks colors, and headed out into enemy territory.


The 42 inch plasma beside my table rotates a series of images: harvesting beans. Transporting beans. Roasting beans. There's a mustachioed man, hands full of green coffee cherries, smiling out at me from the wall, and then there is a black cup of coffee, wreathed in inviting steam. It's a slide show. No channels. Thank God: the TV is just wall art.

But this food, this coffee, they're problems. Problems only I, the Shift, can solve.

And I'd better solve them soon; my lunch ends in five minutes.


Ah, Shanghai. If it were a cup of coffee, it'd be one of Tucco's attempted lattes: recipe's all mixed up, but it's damn good anyway. Either that or this is the city from Blade Runner. Can't be too sure...haven't seen the movie in a while.
Last time I was flat on my back in a courtyard, a dame put me there. A dame named Vodka, with help from her little friend Tonic. No eclipse that night...just the slow traverse of my heart over a moment's respite, the patter of starlight like raindrops on my...uh...

man. writing noir is hard.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Beyond the Sea

So you've decided to make a profile on Plenty of Fish!

Very good! You join millions, nay, billions of subscribers in your quest for easy never-call-again-sex true love on the Internet. But before we start discussing favorite movies and picking favorite extremely public meeting spaces, let's take a moment to talk about what you can expect from here on in.

You Are Not Interesting
Wait! We're not calling you disinteresting! After all, very few people are actively disinteresting human beings--and if you were among that elite, boring 1%, you'd certainly be at least sort of interesting by virtue of being so disinteresting!

But no, as you type in your information, you realize that while you're by no means boring, you're by no means interesting. You're That Guy. That guy with a wacky name for the latte he buys at Starbucks three times a week. You're not James Bond Interesting. Not even Trevelyan interesting. Which is what every person you look at is looking for.

So you do the only thing you can do.

You're Going to Lie
Rationalization here is key. "I spent some time at Cornell!" Sure, you never studied there. But you looked at the place, right? You ate in the cafeteria before you fled New York. Should I have stayed there? you wonder on your sleepless nights. Don't worry! Your mystery date wonders the same thing about her "Vasser attendance!"

Coyly suggest (based on a $1 online donation) that you are deeply concerned with the plight of Lake Michigan. Use your boycott of the (dozens of miles away) Chick-Fil-A as a self-righteous bludgeon. Discuss your sexploits with the dismissive air of someone who's seen it all before. And on that subject...

Even restricted to its linguistic context, the word "intercourse" relates so thoroughly to Plenty of Fish interactions that an Evangelical Debate student would fan herself and ask for a towel.  But you will blink at this concept like a mirage in a desert. 

Of course you pretend your experience gap means nothing. You fill the sex questions with confident proclamations, say yes to kinks you didn't even know were kinks (wait, people tickle each other?), place yourself as the Lothar to all Lotharios, and it all holds up until the moment you message someone more experienced than you, and then...

Meeting People is Super Awkward, Like You Have no Idea
This section was originally titled Oh, Wow! because that's what you'll think!!! as you look over a chat log three pages deep and realize you've got nothing, absolutely nothing, in common with the person you're meeting. No worries! He or she or zhe will think the same thing while hyperventilating through a ride toward you on the El!

Really, even getting to the desperate hookup first date is a miracle you should be proud of. Think about it: if you met a stranger at a party, how would you get to know each other? Discussion of interests in popular culture, books, foodstuffs, or local family history. Thanks to the magic of your Plenty of Fish profile, you already know all of that! Look at the first date's detail void as an opportunity to curate new common ground. Doesn't s/h/zhe hate valet parking? You sure do!

But For Reals
Holy shit, Online Dating is the greatest and worst invention in the modern day. Most of this post is just hyperbole, but the profile-to-messaging thing kills me: hey, we have already read and listed everything we could say about ourselves to each other, but uh...what are you into? You present the best possible version of yourself through multiple revisions of your profile, then realize you have to back up that fake-you in conversation and either nail it or panic. And what do you do?

You nail it. Like me. I'm a hammer. I'm the hammer. And this blog not the hammer.

There's a cost-benefit ratio I calculate every time the neighborhood stray cat shoots past our front door. The moment the rats in the alley camp in our back yard, the ratio will finally be in my favor.

Come, rats, come. Come to your doom. It's for a higher purpose.
Jess, like me, is the youngest in her family. Unlike me, she has no older brothers (staggered by year and thus like a series of video game bosses). So this competition for deliciousness is new to her.

The poor lucky fool.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Judge Not

I had this whole lengthy, slightly dismissive takedown of a customer written up. Late thirty-maybe-fortysomething guy wanted to be a rapper, hadn't the slightest bit of rhythm, no poetry in his soul. Spent all of his time on a MacBook in our cafe, sharing his demo CD with any student or barista who came close enough to take it.

I framed it wistfully: oh, to be that idealistic! Cram all the idealism of a fresh-faced college grad in a face closer to forty than twenty-one. Hairdo like the top of a carrot. No connections, no prospects, nothing but spare time, and he thought he'd be the next Jay-Z. Told us, at length, about his plans once he had studio space, his release schedule once he found a distributor, his preferred venues once he went on tour. For him the world waited, and boy howdy, once he opened the right door and shook the right hands things would take off! 

Ha ha ha, oh wow, right? Man, I wonder why no one ever--


I'd screwed up his drink three times. Three. And still I had the gall to say, as he picked up his cup: "Sir, I'm sorry, I have to ask you..."

And I was That Guy. I had no demo CD, just a gushing, nervous description of my improv and comedy and some half-formed sketches sloshing in my brain. I gave it all to him, unsolicited, along with his latte and asked: should I move to LA now or later?

This man was Comedy Incarnate. He'd seen a thousand different versions of me, and he could have brushed me off like dandruff, but instead he smiled and told me to keep at it; my career would tell me when it was time to make the move.


--oh, right. Because he should never stop being that idealistic.

Man. I hope he's the next Jay-Z.

On a related note, the tree on top of that peak wishes it could be as happy with itself as the tree below it.
Pfft, you think the stairs are impressive? You should've seen the Escalator of Huangshan, back before it broke.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Code Bleu

Hospitals are weird.

I mean, they're weird for the patients, sure. But they've gotta be weirder for medical personnel. You've got the minute by minute drama of ER crossed with Chicago Hope crossed with Saint Elsewhere (but not Grey's Anatomy. Never Grey's Anatomy). Every patient is important, every patient is a life to save!!! 

You've also got the hourly, mind-numbing drudgery of a service job. Waiting for "customers." Working strange hours. Coffee and gossip and that whiny guy in room 1223 who won't stop asking for diet coke (who is totally not me). Everyone is a drain on your time, with similar gripes and similar conditions, and the faces probably blur together. Or maybe they don't and I'm ascribing barista apathy to a whole class of people I know nothing about.

But if half of their patients are like me--not emergency cases per say, just...under observation--and the other half are living, breathing crises, the night shift must be hours of monotony punctuated with bursts of frenzied activity, and that sounds rather like your average shift at Moondollars. Not that the nurses give any indication of minding this when they check on me. Affability and cheer abounds; they do much better than I did during my late shifts. I feel terrible calling them every time I have to go to the bathroom.

One of them just bought me barbecued chips. From a vending machine, because all they had were plain. I could write poetry about that woman, an angel in blue cotton.

The weirdness does extend to my experience. I'm stuck in bed sporting more wires on my head than Robin Williams, while in another room a group of (probably snarky) techs literally watch my brain. I'm also on camera in case of waking or sleeping seizures, which makes every itch below my waist a contorted journey beneath the blanket so a roomful of medical professionals doesn't catch me scratching the itches I should've prepped for with a bottle of Gold Bond.

Not that I can really complain. In a complex full of the sick and the dying, I ate Belgian waffles this morning and watched this show about some guy badly breaking for 3 hours. I've caught up on reading, I've done situps in bed. Tomorrow, I'm thinking crosswords.

My god.
Logically, my stamp involves candied bacon. Because Jessica knows me. She knows me well.

Then I'll See You In Hell

This was supposed to be up last week. Instead it got saved as a draft. I blame vertigo medicine.

Sure, the floors are sticky and the fridge is full of junk and I'm not even sure where the pizza went, but in the end you can look at an apartment following a party in one of two ways:

A lost security deposit


A trashpile of memories

Granted either way you have to clean, but in the latter case you have a deep and lasting connection to every piece of garbage you throw away! This pizza box? Man, do you remember how everybody cheered when the pizza got there? And this upended stack of wet solo cups, why that just tells you how fun Beer Pong was! And that dead body--

wait why is there a dead body guys what did we do last night

But yeah, lesson learned this week: I can throw a good party. Now I just need to figure out what the hell to do with the gallon or so of Mai Tai left in the fridge.

Jessica continues her journey through backdrops from Jade Empire. Cable car, you say? You mean you didn't take the staircase and do the obvious thing? Jess. I'm ashamed of you.
Oh, you did take the staircase! Through...vertical Hoth.

"Not a good sign," Jess? Please, in high school we would pray for trees to look like that. But in this case I guess it's less a fun snowstorm than an "oh god, what are we climbing towards, will there be yetis" snowstorm. Thank god nobody got sliced open for warmth.

Nobody that we know of.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

You Are Not Jack Nicholson

Can we tell you how to order your coffee?

"Oh hell no," every single customer in the waking world says. "I want my drink the way I want it, and you'd better make it for me chop chop on the double because I am important."

"Oh god, I don't care," most baristas say. "Just put your change in the tip jar and I'll make whatever you want. I'll steam 16 oz of chocolate syrup and top it with apple juice, just please god pay and leave, I've been on shift ten hours already."

"Oh hell yes," a surprising amount of baristas say. "We have very specific guidelines in place for quality control, we take the flavor of our espresso very seriously, and if we see one more guy pay for 3 shots over ice in a grande cup and then use all our bar milk to make a cheap latte we will straight up go on a killing spree."

I'm somewhere between those two camps. On the one hand: yeah, it's a coffee shop that thrives on customization and customer input. You have your latte prepped just the way you like it and we're happy to do it for you. On the other hand: Starbucks cares about flavor and quality, but they care much more about you coming back to their location and associating fuzzynice memories with it, which is why I never kicked out a nonviolent customer and happily steamed skim milk to over one thousand degrees.

If you're in a Starbucks, go nuts on customization. Ask for sixteen shots over ice, we'll sell it to you. Get a venti cup full of espresso shots and use them in morning coffee over the course of a week, which to my horror happened multiple times at one of my stores. It's Starbucks. Our first and foremost concern is providing you with a pleasant experience that is wholly customized.

But if you walk into a local hipster coffee bar run by the guy who blends his own beans, and you take to the internets or bitch him out in public because that guy won't sell you shocked espresso, you're not Jack Nicholson in Five Easy Pieces righteously ordering toast. You're just a jackass.

People forget they're paying for a gourmet experience in these places. You don't walk into Alinea, find out they won't fry your squab, then bitch on the internet in indignation. Because the chef prepared the meal and you respect the opinion of the chef. But thanks in part to Starbucks, fancy coffee is now mainstream coffee, and baristas aren't so much considered skilled people preparing a gourmet beverage as they are smiling automatons that press buttons.

"I just quit being a barista, actually," I recently said to a guy operating his own coffee shop. "I was at Starbucks for around 4 years."

"Oh." He eyed me across the counter. "So you weren't actually a barista."

I don't agree with him, but I can understand the sentiment. Because to him, I wasn't a master beverage artist prepping a great drink from great ingredients: I was a Mr. Coffee machine, throwing in whatever awful shit the customer wanted. I was the reason customers think they can get ketchup on a Chicago Dog.

(I put ketchup on my Chicago Dog.)

 The colors, duke, the colors!
Clearly your group should've worn matching hats.

I toured a cavern once. I think it was in Ireland. Pretty normal stuff--cool rock formations, etc--until our tour guide turned off all the lights and cheerfully explained that since no sunlight reached these caverns, your eyes would never, ever adjust to the all-encompassing darkness.

She waited an uncomfortably long time to turn the lights back on.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Ramble On

This is looming on the horizon:

Why else would updates be slowing down? I go back into obscurity the moment I hit "submit" on that postcard! These little cardboard squares have traveled farther than I have! They're more interesting than I am! WITHOUT THEM I AM NOTHI--



Recently, I saw some friends I don't see very often. We went to the greatest restaurant ever. Afterwards there was chilling, talking, merriment all around. Except for one guy. He seemed like he wasn't enjoying himself. I shrugged it off at the time--he's a genuinely nice guy, and what business was it of mine if he didn't feel talkative?

Later, though, I asked another attendee what was up, and the response baffled me:

"Oh, it's nothing, he just thinks you're kind of a jock."


I mean, I was Most Improved Player for my soccer team. Twice. But given that through high school and college my hobbies included "IRC roleplaying games," "marathoning Japanese ninja cartoons," and "eating Breyer's Mint Chocolate Chip out of a tall cup because tall cups can fit more than bowls," I wouldn't say I have the makings of a varsity athlete. Still, it got me wondering: how much have I changed as a person in the past few years?

Sure, I'm much better at hiding my powerlevel. But I'm still occasionally subject to a sort of panicky paranoia in new social situations, a worry that any moment I'll slip up and they'll know I remember a Simpsons quote from 1995 and I can't remember the names they told me four minutes ago. If I don't have a wingman, or alcohol, or a justification (show, work, cousin's wedding) to be there, I for reals worry that I'll put both feet in my mouth and roll around like some foot-choking mouth-footer to everyone's horrified amusement.

But now, I can rise above that magma of insecurity and walk across the caldera of social terror, albeit slowly, on a swaying tightrope of lies. I wonder how much of that is due to the constant enforced mellow of your average Starbucks shift? Doesn't matter if fat tea refill lady called you a nazi, you must be friendly. Don't know what to say to the group of hipsters waiting for lattes by the bar? Better think of something, you're supposed to engage customers! Smile, Jim! You're a monkey, Jim!

I suppose in the end, it all boils down to perceptions being weird. Enough of the self-analysis. I promise next time I won't link so many videos.

 Oh. That's step 2. There's a lot less empty space now!
I wish we took such a healthy attitude towards fireworks. One little toddler loses a hand and suddenly it's no fun for half the states in the union. Although I am proud to say my brother and his friends singlehandedly resurrected fireworks prohibition in Indiana by treating every Notre Dame game day like the fourth of July. Once we set off approximately 1,000 bottle rockets at once. Another time we detonated a mortar shell in a mailbox. The shockwave knocked all the beer bottles down!

Okay. One more video.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

I Truly Miss Vivannos

You know, I just realized the other day--I haven't been inside a Starbucks since leaving good ol' MoonDollars. I did get a three pump two shot one hundred twenty degree skinny vanilla latte once, but it was in an airport, so it was a franchise, so it doesn't really count (my apologies to the truly nice staff, who are undoubtedly the most kicked around coffee servers in existence). I've been working my desk job since April 1st, so that's just over two months without revisiting my old stomping grounds.

Two months without crabby ladies demanding free refills on tea they drank at another store six hours ago. Sixty days without vacationers telling me I will pay for my insolence. Eight weeks without friendly regulars rolling their eyes at all the assholes while I discreetly discount their drinks. I thought it was just coincidence, but I walked past one of my old stores the other day, saw the rush, and could not. Go. In. Seriously needed coffee! But I just couldn't do it. I wonder if walking into the worst place in the world would induce flashbacks.

Now I down Pibb Zero by the crateload. And when I do drink coffee, it's, well...

From a Keurig. No human element whatsoever. A thousand barista ghosts are watching me with disgust, waiting for my demise that they might throw me upon God's espresso bar and blast me with their steam wands until Judgement Day and trumpets sound. "Sellout!" They'll howl. "Traitor!"

Looking at that last paragraph, I worry about my sleep schedule. Possibly damaging? Must investigate further.

But what's step two, Jessica? What's step two?!
You know, I'm thinking I shouldn't bitch about the Starbucks strategy meetings anymore. At least they weren't in public. And there was pizza. And no line dancing.

Don't give them any ideas.

Sunday, May 27, 2012


Karaoke Bars are the worst. Such good words separately, but together they conjure an image of hellish musical awfulness, jabbing elbows, bachelorette parties crammed on tiny stages screaming along to Sir Mix-a-Lot. And if a live band's up there, they probably hate you even if you nail whatever song you're singing.

I much prefer the Asian method: rather than shoving you onstage in front of a roomful of anonymous drunks, it shoves you onstage in front of a roomful of drunks you know and love. I've seen folks who wouldn't dare sing at Trader Todd's hit the high F in a Karaoke Box. Better food, cheaper drinks, and of course you get to sing more often--because let's be honest, no one at a karaoke bar is there to see strangers sing.

I like Karaoke Boxes for another reason. Tottering down the hall for a pit stop in the bathroom or another order of drinks at the bar, you can glance into each room and see freedom in microcosm. People, whether in groups of 2 or groups of 50, totally letting go of their self-consciousness if only for one glorious evening. Moms screaming Gin and Juice. Frat guys singing A Whole New World without mockery or irony. An entire room of friends linked arm-in-arm howling the "NA NA NA NA NA NA" section of Drops of Jupiter in perfect, loving, discordant harmony.

You don't get those charming little boxes at a karaoke bar. You get people watching impatiently and paying too much for their beer.

Corpses can be interesting! I would not begrudge that Chinese man his enthusiasm. On that note: how bizarre and awesome is it that there are competing forms of dead people infotainment?
...buuuuut yeah, that does sound a tad overwhelming. You lost me somewhere around "submerged." Maybe sketch a frowny stick figure with X-es for eyes?

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Everything is Ruined Forever

The other day I read a charming, slow-paced manga called Usagi Drop. It's about a bachelor who decides to raise an orphaned girl. Very good take on the changes that come with raising a child, with light overtones of romance between the foster father and another child's mother.

And then I read the second half of it, wherein the foster daughter falls in love with and eventually marries the foster father. God damn it, Japan. Gettin' all Tale of Genji up in my mellow slice-of-life comic books.

At first I thought the entire manga was ruined, but I eventually reminded myself: even the crappy, baffling ending couldn't retroactively ruin how much I enjoyed the rest of the story.

The author even has a nice middle-point before she timeskips to the pseudo-incest in the foster child's teen years. I can just pretend that's the ending. Wish I could say I've learned something about letting go of rage over stories going the way I don't want 'em to, but naw. That'd mean I couldn't hate on Lucas for ruining Star Wars anymore.

Jess, I think your mom knows about your dying bicycle derring-do now. Sorry about that.

I never had any trouble biking in Wrigleyville. Although once, at a stoplight, a frat guy leaned out of his jeep and said "hey dude! Nice ass!"

I called out "thanks bro" as I rode away. I'm not sure he was expecting that response.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Dother's May

When I was young, I had a habit of waking up in the middle of the night, convinced horrible creatures swarmed around my bunk bed. I'm sure the beady, watching eyes of a dozen stuffed animals--including one ET doll--placed across from the bed had nothing to do with this phenomenon. I took to keeping a flashlight in my blankets, convinced the little glowing halo was enough to cut through the darkness of my own imagination, but I'm pretty sure you could give the 7-year-old me a floodlight and he'd still be afraid of the shadows.

In nearly every case, I'd make it halfway down the hall before my mom intercepted me, eyes full of weary understanding and arms full of comfort. Sometimes I'd sleep with her, sometimes I'd get whatever midnight snack would mollify me, and sometimes she'd calm me down and walk me back to bed. One of these many nights, as she tucked me in, I asked her: how do you know to come for me? What if I'm scared or not safe and you can't hear me calling for you?

No worries, she explained, tapping a finger against her temple. She had a special antenna inside her head. Every mom gets one when she has her first baby. Any time a child is scared, or hurting, or needs a hug, that antenna buzzes. She could follow the buzz straight to me no matter where I was. She had her own Mom Radar.

I've grown a bit (not much) since I was 7. I now know, intellectually, that mom does not have Spidey-Sense or a bluetooth antenna inside her skull. But I'm still pretty sure that if terrorists ever kidnap me during my honeymoon, or I find myself reliving that James Franco movie, my mom will sit bolt upright somewhere and start making phone calls.

So this entry is for her. The woman so patient she could survive raising 5 loud, crazy boys (but so sharp she can get all of us in line with a look); so fun I still ask her for advice about throwing parties; and so good that if I tried to convey in the amount of words it deserved, I'd overload Blogger's meager servers. Happy Mother's Day, Mom. That is, assuming you've managed to find this blog. :)

Hercules: one of those Disney flicks I always intend to watch, and then never, ever do. But to those of you who did, this postcard must be at least three times as cool as it already looks to me!
I'm regretting the scruffy goatee I grew in Japan. Without it, maybe I would've been in more Japanese pictures and fewer Japanese nightmares.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Time Capsule

Greetings, reader of the future!

I know not how you stumbled upon this ancient "blog" with its curious "postcards" and talk of queer locations which undoubtedly no longer exist (or only exist as irradiated wastelands, above which you live in domes). I can only wonder how you're consuming this information. Perhaps with some kind of bio-chip neural interface, or maybe something a little less wholesome. No matter! The important thing is, you found this entry, and are eager to learn about our past-dwelling ways.

For example! By this point, I'm sure you've evolved beyond any need for vocal communication, either through bluetooth telepathy or secretion of pheromones, but back now we must speak to one another in order to convey desires or ideas. In a customer-server conversation, this exchange of meaningful noises is in general brief and to-the-point, as our baristas have not yet been replaced with machines that read your every thought. An example:

Barista: Hello, sir!*
Man: Greetings. I would like to purchase** a tall mocha created using non-fat dairy product, but topped with high-fat whipped dairy product.
Barista: Right away, sir! Nice day, isn't it?
Man: Yes. The weather*** is indeed quite fine. I will be taking in a sports match at Wrigley Field this afternoon.
Barista: Here is your drink, sir. Enjoy the Cubs game!****

Baristas and other employees engaged in customer-server interaction are discouraged from freely speaking in front of their customers, as this indicates employees have thoughts and feelings unrelated to fulfilling the customers needs, which shatters the illusion of total customer dependency. Many a Barista has been censured for referring to events outside of work while in front of a thirsty patron. This makes for restrictive, but predictable, conversational patterns.

However, in a different context, conversations can be fraught with ambiguity. Picking up a member of the opposite or same sex in a bar or party environment is an exhaustively-researched example, but another is the Office Chat.

In the Office Chat, one worker leans into another worker's office, cubicle, or general personal space in order to briefly converse. This conversation may have a work-related point, or indeed may serve no purpose at all save for general socialization. It is far more flexible in nature than a customer-server interaction, with no set end point and no set topic. Normally such conversations--or "convos," as emerging segments of our population call them--are pleasant and enjoyable, but if one member of the "convo" is new to the office or unused to flexible conversation at work, he may find himself wondering several things, including:

a) Should I keep working while we talk?
b) Is it appropriate to call other workers in the cubicle block into our discussion?
c) How casually may I behave?

The main concern we address today, though, is: what is the proper thing to say when the conversation ends? The usual salutations--goodbye, take it easy, mahalo--are ineffective, as the coworker is in most cases not leaving. So, does the worker simply walk away? Return to his duties? Or perhaps end the conversation intentionally? All are valid approaches, but to a recent hire or import from the customer-service sector all seem equally dangerous. If you have solved this mystery, by all means, let us know via time machine or messages sent through wormholes! If the future is bleak and populated only by marauding machines, let us know as well, so that we might stop worrying about health or pollution and simply drive muscle cars while consuming salted porcine meat.

These murals undoubtedly exist in greater numbers and across geographical boundaries, now that China is one of two remaining superpowers. But in our day, real murals were hard to come by, and often quite old!
I assume female toplessness is allowed and encouraged in your future, but back now it's illegal in many places and often thrown into entertainment or advertising in order to shock and titillate. Not sure if this should change, honestly, as the forbidden nature adds a sense of excitement.

*In our society, physical sex is inflexible, and sexual reassignment surgery is cosmetic in function. If your society has moved past this through means magical or scientific, disregard the gendered noun.

**Assuming your society has reached post-scarcity, "purchase" means to exchange a form of capital--usually precious metals or coinage representing the idea of precious metals--for goods and services.

***Mankind currently has no way to control the weather, although we have successfully created lightning. If this innovation at any point leads to commonplace lightning-based warfare, we are deeply sorry, though feel sort of proud of ourselves all the same.

****You will of course be familiar with the Chicago Cubs due to their 104-year championship drought, and their subsequent 200-year winning streak. Or at least you god damn well better be.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Vibrating At Multiple Speeds

I'm still here, though you could be forgiven for assuming otherwise. I could do the Megatokyo dance and apologize for delays, but I'd rather do the Penny Arcade dance and have three posts a week like it's my gorram job. Yeah, that's right: I just referred to two webcomics and one beloved canceled sci-fi show, all in one sentence. My hyperlinks are metastasizing.

But I will explain where I've been. See, for two weeks I got to drink and carouse and work and then drink some more. Fourteen days of business lunch, cocktails at 5 and wine with dinner--not usually to the point of drunken obliteration, mind you, but well into lush territory. And apparently I'm no longer an immortal untouchable youth-god, because as soon as I got back and stopped all this indulgence my body tried to shake itself to pieces.

I had seizures frequently as a child, but they'd gone away for 20 years, and now they're mysteriously back. Could it be epilepsy? A tumor? Nah, MRI came up clean. But, hey, it did appear right after I stopped imitating Nic Cage for more than a few days. My neurologist didn't blame alcohol directly, but I imagine there's a reason I'm not allowed to drink it any time soon.

So I'm left with some questions: did I drink myself into a dislocated shoulder and a freaked out roommate? Do I drink that hard often? Above all, since I've never considered myself incapable of controlling my drinking: Why, when told by a serious man in a white coat that I couldn't drink, was I upset? 

I mean, I like drinking, sure, but I've only ever felt a need to drink during my tenure at the worst Starbucks in the world (you know which one you are), and I got the hell out of there before I could lose it and burn the place down.

Perhaps I worry that without the world's favorite social lubricant I'll chafe myself raw. Maybe an indefinite period of sobriety sounds like a hat sized just slightly too small--wearable, never comfortable. Or maybe I'll learn a valuable lesson in self-restraint, eventually get my freedom to indulge back, and never abuse it again.

On the plus side, I stayed sober at a Cubs game and still had a great time, so I'm already doing better than Homer J. Simpson. ...although I'm pretty sure Carlos Beltran wants to find me and kill me.

 Two thoughts:

1) We all know about the Chinese fondness for photoshop in postcards. But we also know that China's full of landscapes so gorgeous even New Zealand feels a little threatened. Which one is this postcard?
2) I now imagine all camels making ka-chunk, ka-chunk sounds while they stand up.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Kids These Days

What happened to anime, guys?

I worked Dee Jay Foods through high school and every college summer, just to spend damn near every cent I got on Japanimation dee vee dees. (As a sidenote, specifying how you want your grocery bags packed--"All in two bags, please, but don't make them too heavy!"--is a good way to cultivate sack-boy hatedom.) I once got into an argument with a director when I realized my role in Fiddler on the Roof meant no Anime Club meetings for over a month. Anime marathons regularly overstuffed my Drake dorm room with cheering, sweaty nerds (my roommates still remember the fogged up windows). I still can't plug in my iPod at a party without first ensuring it won't, at random, blare some 90s or 00s theme song by Megumi Hayashibara or The Pillows. Anime

The last new anime I watched is over a year old. I watched it by myself, when no one else was home. I wrote off the rest of that year's crop as fanservice bullshit and endless moe bullshit. It isn't even true, of course; there's diamonds in the rough every year, no matter how many vaguely creepy pantyshotfests Japan produces. But in college, I'd dig through all that crap--enjoying the process--to find the good stuff. Now I can't even be bothered. Forums where they discuss this stuff seem populated by aliens, bizarro fans, obsessing over waifus instead of...

...whatever we called our favorite female characters ten years ago.

The new breed and me, we're not so different in the end. But the culture's changed. If anime is mother's milk, we were scattered pockets of otaku nursing the slowly-dribbling teat of fansub VHSes and official releases. Only the good stuff made it: the FLCLs, the Cowboy Bebops, the Escaflownes.

Now, we're adrift in sea of anime lactate. Much of the milk is rancid, or strawberry-flavored, and often you must dive deep into the muck to find the delicious, cold bottles of Oberweis 2%...

I think that metaphor got away from me. Basically: most anime is terrible now. And I don't watch it with people anymore. And I need a grown-up version of Anime Club that happens more than once a year.

Why does this postcard use the title font from Friends? Was there an episode I missed?

I've actually been to Amsterdam. And the Red Light District. Which would be great--I mean, how many people get to travel internationally even in this day and age--except I was 15, and my mom was there.

Didn't stop one very enterprising individual from offering us drugs, though. Can't keep a good businessman down.

Remember, kids: what happens in Xinjiang stays in Xinjiang. Except phone fraud. So don't commit phone fraud between ordering hookers.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Seriously, GamePro is Terrible

Can you manufacture nostalgia?

Look at this place. Dirty little shack, isn't it? But it was our dirty little shack, a north shore hot dog legend for like 25 years. I always ordered the same thing: One jumbo dog, order of fries, coke. And those fries were and are the best fries in the entire world.

When they closed, a part of me died. A small part, but it's dead and gone. You could buy the shack, build a new restaurant, sell the same Vienna beef, but it wouldn't be the same and it wouldn't fill the void.

Can you imbue a new business with that? ...How?

Or, let's say you're running that shack and you want to expand, to open a second shack. You open it in another town, well outside your sphere of influence. No one knows about the original shack. Do you boast about your decades of hot doggery when nobody knows who the hell you are?

Marketing is tricky. Harnessing word of mouth is like herding ghosts.

PROTIP: GamePro is a terrible magazine. EGM is much better. The prevalence of GamePro at every newsstand in America signals a distasteful public or a malicious god or both.
I love infarction with a little soy sauce. Cowboy bones aren't bad, either, but you get funny looks when you order them in small towns.

Saturday, March 31, 2012

The bouncing in my chest? Those're muscles

When I look in the mirror after the average night in Wrigleyville, all I see are flaws. Bulging stomach. Bags under eyes. Two-day stubble I'm simply too lazy to shave.

When I look in the mirror after (or, in certain hipstery gyms, during!) a workout, all I see is awesome. Shrinking stomach. The weary, driven eyes of an action hero. Stubble so manly it has its own stubble.

Today I did a 20 minute session on a treadmill after some very, very basic weightlifting. I stared at myself in a TV screen damn near the whole time. Even as I listened to classic TAL in an effort to distract my brain from my struggling, plaque-encrusted heart, even as I glanced repeatedly out the window and tried to count roof tiles, even when I stopped and panted like a man who'd escaped a forest fire instead of just running a couple miles. I kept looking at my face in that inactive TV screen and thinking:


I look awesome.

Of course, objectively, I didn't look awesome. Sweat drops had long since evolved into sweat rainstorms across my skin; my eyes made me look more like someone out of the Hunger Games than Die Hard. And my stubble had its own ecosystem.

But to the camera of my eyes: I looked like a man who'd faced his demons and tamed them. If only slightly.

Then I came home and had a beer, because 1) it was offered and 2) the bike ride back was really hot and a Stella Artois sounded not just nice but necessary.

So basically your hotel took cues from shoes owned by Disco Stu?

"Uh...your apples are dead."

"I know. I...can't get them out."

Friday, March 30, 2012

Hi There

If you're wondering where I am, it's somewhere close to paradise and far from reliable internet connectivity.

I haven't forgotten you. I couldn't ever forget you. You'll get all three entries, don't worry.

Good old Holland, China. Neighbor to Houston, China, its chief exports include tulips grown in half the time, windmills built for half the cost, and a some very angry college-aged tourists who thought for sure they'd found the right Amsterdam.

Wait. This is...this is another one of those fake China postcards, right? There is no Holland, China! I've been had! I've been... Huh. Apparently there is a Holland-China, and they sell trailer hitches, landing gear, and kingpins. China's just sounding weirder and weirder lately.

Oddly, this reminds me of Ron of Japan. See, my family eats there with a devotion approaching the religious, and once I returned from Japan it was necessary, clearly necessary, for me to talk to our servers in Japanese as much as possible.

Our Mexican, Chinese, Korean, literally any other kind of person who is not from Japan servers. I'm pretty sure, had a tentacle monster emerged from the teppanyaki, my brother would've goaded me into asking it "Nihongo ga dekiru no?" as it savaged our poor, American orifices.

Sunday, March 25, 2012


You wouldn't think you can wash your hands too much.

But you don't have to contend with The Sink.

The Sink has exactly two settings: Liquid Fire and Shoot Icicles. You will encounter the sink many times on your average day, and despite the experience of a year or more you will never properly set it to avoid scalding heat or freezing cold. Your hands, already raw from the bargain barrel soap you use--no lotion or aloe in this stuff, you buy it by the gallon after all--shake as you touch the spigot.

"Please," you say to this stainless steel demon, this entity of washing. "Please just don't hurt."

Maybe it's the eight shots of espresso bouncing angrily through your veins. Maybe it's the clopen you had to work today. Maybe it's the cumulative madness of no weekends whatsoever for well over half a year. Whatever it is, when you turn that spigot, you're dead certain you hear laughter in the running water. Not one laugh, but many, hissing through the faucet like so many snakes.

The paper towels with which you dry your hands are about as gentle as Sam Elliott's face. The bar towel sanitizer can't get in open wounds. The coffee urns drip at random as if they wish to attack you.

But I'll always hate The Sink the most.

...seriously? Seriously Jess? I already posted one video game environment today, must you taunt me with another? This is beyond Lord of the Rings. This is a training ground out of Ranma. And am I the only one wondering if you could safely traverse these things by jumping really, really carefully?
 Barf is always funny.

Gosh Darn It

Why can't we swear?

No, seriously. Swearing increases pain tolerance. It also seems to convey more passion and honesty, which is why anyone trying to sell you a TV will eventually resort to "this is a damn fine TV." It also just feels really fu--

Excuse me. It feels really freaking good.

But why is it okay to say freaking? Frigging? Even fudging? At best it makes it safe, sanitary, publishable. At worst, in the case of dithery little workarounds like "the f-word" or "the b-word" it sounds childish, like something coming out of a nervous 10 year old who really needs you to know he's talking about a swear but really can't say such an awful thing.

Of course, freaking, fudging, shoot, darn, ticked off, and all the other sanitary swear words are all...okay. They're functional. I use them all the time, because you can't just toss off fucks and shits and damns all day. I try to throw in the less-embraced criminy from time to time, too, just to keep people on their toes. Maybe I'll start using zounds.

You know what really grates my cheese? Honks me off? Drowns my puppies?

When people publish part of a swear word, but not all of it. As if that makes it okay. At least sanitary swear words aren't meant to completely imply real swear words. But when I see a newspaper or magazine say something like:

"'F--k you, you stupid sons of b----s!' the Kansas fan shouted, displaying both middle fingers at the Mizzou fan's face. 'Suck my d--k, a-----e!'"

I mean...why? You're swearing. Our brains fill in those gaps near-instantaneously. You're making us read the bad words. And yet this happens in every paper and many magazines. I guess it's on the off chance an eight year old will pick up the Times and learn something new? In my view, you either publish what was said by the person you're quoting or you don't publish it at all.

For f---'s sake.

Okay, no. You didn't go there. That place doesn't exist. If the photographer had snapped a photo thirty seconds later Chow-Yun Fat would've come flying by. 

Holy crap is right. Where's the next postcard going to come from, Middle-Earth?
A while back, my family and I went to Ireland. Everyone scrambled around near cliff edges taking photos. We went to the Cliffs of Moher, where a guide told us people went over the edge at the rate of about 2 a year.

"Shouldn't they put in bigger fences?" I asked, pointing to the rickety old wooden thing a hundred tourists were climbing through or over.

"Oh, that's not for people," the tour guide scoffed. "That's for sheep. It works just fine on the sheep."

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Settling In

I have a desk. The concepts "my professional life" and "desk" haven't intersected since about 2007; desks were things other people had, people who left biscotti wrappers on the tables I had to clean every day. I can hear Finance GuysTM talking into bluetooth headsets, but now instead of passive-aggressively eye-murdering them I want to let them be so they can work and I can too.

I have a chair. There are many like it, but this one is mine.

I have...autonomy.

That last one is unnerving. My first day, I didn't leave until virtually everyone else in the office had. I didn't go to lunch until well past 2. I assumed when it was time to do either, someone would tell me. I didn't want to step on toes, you see, or break unwritten rules.

I'm still resisting the compulsion to tell someone any time I go to the bathroom. Like Morgan Freeman in Shawshank, only less convicted murderer redeemed by time/Tim Robbins, more wearied barista redeemed by improv and copious amounts of alcohol. "Starbucks broke you," my roommate taunted. "You're a dog afraid to walk out of an empty cage."

Since I'm told the corporate environment values initiative, let's hope that's not the case. I brought cookies into work today. Does that count as initiative? I didn't even say anything, just grinned a little every time I heard a worker say "who made these?" And there's my backup plan: if it turns out Starbucks did break me, I'll bring in so many weekly treats that to fire me would be unthinkable. If I ever leave, who will make the cookies?

Now, I'm not the most devout Catholic, as I'm fairly sure being in a Christian Rock band earns you a bit of leeway with the big man upstairs. But Jess is correct: I fear no consecrated corpse-bits. Why be afraid of what's already dead, particularly when its sanctity renders it immune to any form of zombie plague or necromancy? Plus, uh, being handed a swatch of cloth and told it touched a dead guy's tongue before I got it prepared me for a reliquary life. Is reliquary an adjective? No? Well, it is now. My, are those St. Anthony's bones? How very reliquary of you. Reliquant, almost.
Welcome to me ordering sushi, or craft beer, or anything delicious. Art I can usually take or leave, but it's good there are people in the world who can go nuts shopping for things you cannot eat or drink.

I have certainly never seen this enthusiasm, this shopping Jess de vivre, in person. Never. Nor have I ever watched countless souvenirs be separated, catalogued, and wrapped for shipment to various recipients. Neeever ever ever.