Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Fear of Flying

I got an interview.

Easy, folks, it's not for some kind of fancy-pantsy high-falutin' nine-to-five job. Part-time, half editorial and half fact-checking, some evenings and some weekends. As entry level as a college degree-requirin' job ever was.

I got the email at 2:05 PM on 2/28/2012. I noticed the email exactly seven hours later.

I still haven't signed up for an interview slot. In fact, I'm think I'm slightly afraid to. Afeared. Scurred, even. Why? I looked over the job requirements, and aside from a few position-specific items they call optional, it's all well within my wheelhouse. I don't mind working the occasional night or weekend, and it'd be a substantial raise.

Why does it scare me? Do I fear change? I mean, MoonDollars sucks. Not nearly as much as other things, sure, I'd never trade slinging coffee for knocking cattle in a slaughterhouse or picking tomatoes or crime scene cleanup or any number or harder lower paying more difficult more demoralizing more depressing more dangerous more static more...Okay, MoonDollars doesn't suck. I still don't want to stay there long enough to get a statuette (although the mere fact they send those things out indicates, again, that they don't suck).

Maybe I worry I'll be unreliable. Maybe I fear commitment on a level more substantial than the business equivalent of casual dating. Maybe a million things. The important thing is, I'm a little scared.

Ah, hell. May as well get the interview, at least. Paraphrasing a friend of mine: you can be totally afraid to do something and sure you're going to fail, as long as you man up just long enough to try and do it anyway. You'd think after all the auditions I've bombed I'd have internalized that by now.

Man, I'm using a lot of youtube links today. Better get 'em out of my system. Remember when The Simpsons was good?

I wonder if he tries to make each bowl unique, or if he tries to make them all as fast as possible to hit some kind of quota.

I also wonder if he's seen the movie Ghost. If it got him into sculpture in the first place he's probably bitter there's no Demi Moore. Or Patrick Swayze, for that matter.
I respect this old dude's tenacity. I hope he spoke slowly and loudly, with many inscrutable gestures, because in my experience that always gets the point across and never looks ridiculous.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Funny or Sad? Can't Tell

He doesn't want any of my bananas.

He doesn't want my coffee.

Wait, he does.

The coffee or the bananas?


That' that both? You want a coffee and a banana?


Standing still never looked so hard. I leave him swaying and I make his coffee. I set it down next to a banana in front of him and cheerfully tell him his total: "$3.02, sir." He looks at me like I've grown a second head, though given his level of intoxication perhaps I look like I have.

"Whurt?" Listening to him talk is like watching Quest For Fire. I know I'm hearing a language, I know it must have grammar and vocabulary, but humans haven't spoken it for thousands of years. "Fffrhghnn...whurt?"

"Your coffee and banana, sir. They'll be $3.02." I don't usually have to force a smile so hard. I am cheer's grim doppleganger, forced to stare down a man so far gone to drink, sobriety must seem alien to him. The growing line behind him collectively cringes in sympathy, but offers no help.

He slams one fist on the counter. "Gurttnmunny!"

"You...don't want your coffee and banana, then, sir?"

"Dunwnt yrrr fuckinbananad!" He reels around, crashes into a chair and decides that's where he's going to sit. We shrug it off and continue working, but he's not about to be forgotten. Every time a customer crosses his blurred and bloodshot line of sight, he releases some invective that I'm sure would be devastating if anyone understood it. The most prominent word fragment is a long, tormented "whooh!" which repeats every few lines. It makes him sound like a drunken seabird.

Our supervisor gently tells him to leave. This fails to work. Our supervisor tells him we're going to kick him out. Danny D. Drunkman's response is, from what we can discern, "nuh uh, I'll kick you out!"

The police are called. Forty minutes later they appear and escort the gentleman and his bottle of hobo wine (swear to god, I think it was Thunderbird) outside. They're not arresting him, oh no--too much paperwork for all involved, and besides, the poor guy's harmless. Just a drunk that gets beat up in local bars a lot.

The cops get back in their cars. Doctor Intoxo, perhaps assuming cops can't not arrest a man for the same crime twice, immediately stumbles back through our door, and this time an officer (saying "I tried to be nice!" in the most resigned tone I've ever heard come out of a Blue Meanie) hauls him away.

All that is silence.
 Moral of this postcard: the Chinese need their own Captain Planet.
Wait, they got Captain Planet? And this generation still litters? Man, it's almost like instead of a useful and informative cartoon about the fragility of the environment it was a really batshit crazy show where Captain Planet fought environmental issues like AIDS.

Deal with the real, people!

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Baby Steps

I just rode one of these things for thirty minutes, burning a total of 355 calories and biking nearly 10 miles.

Come the finish, my body rebelled against me in a million little ways: cramps knotting my stomach and thighs, every breath a blast of fire, that stupid pounding headache you get when you're stupid and don't drink enough stupid freaking water. I didn't exit the bike so much as melt from it, like the world's most pitiful receding glacier. I spent four minutes just panting on my apartment floor.

Of course, thirty minutes is nothing. 355 calories is nothing. 10 miles on a bike is nothing compared to 10 miles on foot. I can't hope to undo the damage of a full-sized grilled pork banh mi with one session, can I?

But you know what? Screw that noise. Last time I biked I could only do 25 minutes. The three times before that? 20. The first month I was lucky to break 10.

Maybe it's because I'm an actor and actors are powered by a combination of ego and self-loathing, but I find it so easy to write off any good thing I do: it's only good, not great. It's just okay, not amazing. Yeah I can make 30 minutes on my stupid little bike but there's dudes out there winning marathons barefoot. Yeah I wrote some cool little ficlets but I've never written a masterpiece. I'll never accomplish anything of note so why am I even bothering to try, a bloo bloo bloo.

Screw that noise. And screw the guilt that invariably manifests when I set myself for failure or fail to even try, because guilt is useless and lord knows I already have enough of it.

I like this blog. I'mma keep posting it until I nail the three-entries-a-week thing down. I hate working out, but I like the way I feel afterwards, so I'mma work out as much as possible even if they're wimpy little workouts.

Anybody catches me nursing self-pity, gimme a verbal bitchslap. I got one recently and it did wonders.

What a picturesque location! With a cool dome behind it. What exactly is the story with these--stables? Are they stables? Wait, I think it's actually the rear of that dome-y building. Make a back patio. Hmm. What's the building, then? Mosque? China Epcot? [Insert Joke About The Dome Looking Like A Boob Here]?

Ah well, I'm sure the caption on the opposite side will clear this right up.

...thanks, China.

I really dig the determined look on this woman's face. She's short-staffed and, ugh, it's all foreigners with their weirdo language, but by god, she's going to make sure they know to dip their fried things into the tea.

And there's a cat! Cat in a tree! Cat in a tree above the table! Now, Jess, did someone point it out to you and then steal a bunch of your food off your plate? Yeah. That's right. I haven't forgotten.

don't fear failure

Sunday, February 19, 2012

I Got Nothing

Yesterday I drank beer with dinosaurs. Today I had to close the store. There were no dinosaurs there, only cranky people. And one extroverted drag queen.

I'm not sure the hangover will ever go away.

Be back this week with more coffee-flavored ruminations. In the meantime, here's a postcard:

It just hit me, I've never been inside a mosque. And I've only been inside two temples. And one Lutheran church. Hell, I've never even set foot in the BahÃ¥i House of Worship in Wilmette and I've driven past that thing more often than I've driven past Wrigley Field. I wonder if there's some obscure rule in the catechism about visiting other houses of worship: does God consider it cheating? Is it like a cubs devotee partying at Comiskey?
I've also never had mutton. Or pigeon. Why do I get the feeling they're affordable staples in other places, but if I tried to find them in Chicago they'd go for fifty bucks a plate at some restaurant with three words in its name?

Friday, February 17, 2012

The Mascot Diaries: External

You are a dental supplier. From Omaha. The largest supplier in Omaha, third largest in the country. Your products sit on store shelves beside Crest and Aquafresh, and though not as famous as the former, your products are a name brand barrier. They block the consumer's gaze from meeting with the accursed generics. You are not the king of your industry, not by any means, but you are still a titan among ants.

Thus you came to McCormick Place, striding past the trade show booths of minor dental deities--toothpaste kami, one might say--and proudly staking out your claim beside the Big Boys of oral hygiene. You have a new entry-level oscillating battery powered toothbrush to hawk to the masses. And at first, the swarming crowds of dentists and wholesalers flood your booth, take your little vibrating tchotchkes, vow to buy your product in droves.

And then, just hours into your weekend-long triumph, something happens.

The crowd slowly dissipates, like stormclouds that never quite stormed. Here and there among your receding audience you hear murmurs of interest, snatches of words:




Distressed, you turn to your marketing intern, a hardworking teen from University of Iowa you have no intention of hiring, and sharply tell him to watch the booth. As you fall in line behind those few last stragglers abandoning your wares, you snatch a few tchotchkes. Maybe you can get some people back once you find out where they're all going.

But once you get there, twelve booths down, you can't remember your old life. All it takes is a step through the semicircle of people gathered around an unassuming little display for children's toothbrushes and your brain is clearing out valuable cognitive real estate. Weddings, divorces, the first factory, the second, bigger factory, that thorium toothpaste you've considered test marketing--it all goes away. And how can you keep it? How can you hold onto anything but the utter, baffling joy flooding your mind at the sight of:

The biggest
dancingest crayon you have ever seen.

It whirls towards you, seven feet or more of crimson cheer. You think it's going to keep moving, you think you, the third place national dental supplier--or even fifth if you're being honest with yourself--aren't worthy of this crayon-man's attention.

But he stops.

He looks at you. He looks into you.

And one giant, gloved hand flies into your life. You drop your samples, barely aware you had them, to bring up your own hand for the most perfect moment in your entire life.

You high-five the giant crayon.

When you return to your booth, everything feels different, and yet everything is still the same. The U of I intern scrutinizes you between customers, and finally asks: "Boss, are you okay?" And you realize you've been crying.

"I'm okay," you say. You put your hand on the intern's shoulder and resolve to hire him the moment he graduates. Something mid-level with growth potential. You smile and the only thing cleaner than your teeth is your soul. "I think we're all going to be okay."


Me, inside the crayon: something like this.

 See, I know she's trying to sketch in what this camel actually looked like, but thanks to a pop-cultural upbringing that consisted primarily of video game commercialsjunk food, and Japanimation on Channel 62, that sketchy line-y drawing overlaid on reality brings but one thing to mind:

doot-doo doo doot-doo doot doo doot doo doot doo...
Apparently riding camels requires less clothing than your average 7-11. I'm strangely okay with this.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012


The thing about a job like this is, if you're not in it to advance to management or ownership, you can't keep caring. You just can't. You're not making the hot chocolate because it's what you love to do, and you wouldn't dream of calling it your fallback plan. You're doing it because it's a tax you pay to stay alive while you attempt to pursue other foolish dreams. In all my years (about 4 and counting now, oh god) of food service, I've met exactly one part-timer who said he had nothing else going on, and even he planned to go back to school eventually.

Of course, even if you don't have any emotional investment in the job, that doesn't mean you have no investment in yourself. Professionalism remains important even when--like me, towards the end of my tenure at my last location--you'd happily get punched in the face ten times a day rather than do your current job. Digging ditches, making coffee, executing prisoners, whatever, you have yourself to live up to. And usually you do.

But you get used to a...lack of investment. A sense that, as you look upon the job you've poured hours and days and years into, I don't belong here and will never have a life here, why do I care how professional I seem while I'm banging my head against this brick wall?

Because it's an opportunity, you idiot, is what I usually say. What I hadn't realized was how this quiet dismissal of obligation and expectation could color my behavior in other facets of my life; how unprofessionalism in something as "inane" as part-time, futureless employment could, say, interfere with my pursuit of performance-as-a-living.

"Jim," someone said to me recently. "We want you in this show, you're ready for it, but...we just can't rely on you. You've been late to rehearsals. Late to show calls. We hope when auditions come up a while from now you'll be ready for them."

It blew my mind. I operate on a sliding scale of lateness, where five minutes is to be expected and half an hour is where things even start to get problematic. And I'm very, very good at proving lateness or absence is not my fault. The thinking goes: I left for the [whatever] with [very, very slightly over the amount of time required to get there exactly on time]. [Something happened.] Who could have seen it coming? It's not like I caused [something], so what a shame, eh, but whatever, I'm here now, let's do this! And through the occasional disciplinary action at MoonDollars Coffee I'd learned to buffer my time, to arrive five to ten minutes early, and so on, but I'd written off other things--acting gigs, dates, meetings with friends, and so on--as informal stuff, stuff I could take my time getting to, fun stuff where reliability doesn't matter.

Nah. Screw that. Reliability always matters.

I googled the hell out of the scenario on this card. I really did. I found nothing. I'll update the entry after I've pestered Jess for more information, but for now, here's my Cliff's Notes (remember those?):

1. Xiang invites Xiao over for soup.
2. Xiang's snakelike bow just so happens to point straight into Xiao's soup.
3. Xiao, ancestor to countless people who forward chain letters, thinks anything snakelike pointing towards his soup means OHHH SHIT, SNAKES!
4. Xiang yearns for a new way to meet friends, one not dependent on geography. Through genetic memory, Friendster is born.

Once, a while back, several authentic decals for a super expensive prototype car lay within my reach. I'd just purchased my beloved Honda Civic, but the little H with the...thing around it wasn't doing it for me. I tried, and failed, to get a decal for my car, perhaps hoping some badassosity could be transferred into my engine through decal alone.

Good to know somebody in Kashgar had the same idea. And I agree with Jess, for the most part, though I'd also settle for "Serenity."

No, I'm not wiki-linking that one. If you don't know what I'm referring to, I have a DVD box set I need to send you.

Friday, February 10, 2012

What's in a Name?

"Hey, buddy!"

I can't remember your name.

"Good morning, my friend, is it the usual today?"

God I wish I could remember your name.


How can I remember how many splenda packets you want in your iced coffee and not remember your name?

Someone once told me I should get into politics. The idea appealed: start somewhere small, have some kind of effect on society, do more than just bitch about things on facebook. But, more practical issues aside, something huge tanked that idea: I can't remember names.


I certainly remember faces. Voices. Every other characteristic. But--like birthdays--names elude me unless they're drilled into my head multiple times a week. It took me a month to learn all my coworkers' names at my first location, and I only had eight coworkers.

Strange things, memories. I can remember any Simpsons quote from seasons 1-9 without hesitation, recall a song entirely from one or two notes, and picture in perfect, flawless clarity every slight and embarrassment I suffered during high school. But if we're at a party, I can't tell you off the top of my head what that longtime family friend's name is, even if they've been to every party we've thrown for five years. Because it'd be too mortifying to ask.

Scripts and lyrics are easy. You can keep checking them as often as you like until you get them right. But people? Tell a person you don't remember their name after hearing it once and you're That Guy from then on.

 I like that even without the dialogue bubbles you could easily picture this guy awkwardly lying to his sheep. And the guy on the other side of the fence can't believe he's being so dishonest.
Fat-tailed sheep! And a holiday totally dedicated to slaughteri---err, sacrificing them. A handy way to respect your religion's traditions while also obtaining metric assloads of meat and wool.

Now I want to see a bunch of sheep bleating from a car trunk on I-94. First one to do it and take a picture gets a free car interior detailing! I'll just wait for the submissions to roll in.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Why Sleep?

I'm not sure where I first heard about modafinil AKA provigil. Maybe that one piece in Esquire or Wired or wherever where the author used it for three days straight, maybe on tech blogs as they raved about its medicinal prowess. Doesn't matter. The thing that matters is my reaction to it, this medicine that supplanted sleep:

"Wonderful. How do I get some?"

I don't doubt meth-heads say the same thing. The notion of a life always awake holds that kind of appeal. But still: wonderful. Because, when you look at sleep from a non-linear, non-subjective viewpoint, it makes no freaking sense. Picture it handed to the first men: "Right, folks, are you ready to breed and propagate until we dominate the entire world? Me too! We don't have stories and songs yet, but damned right we will in a few generations! In the meantime, let's all hunker down and leave ourselves defenseless for up to eight hours each night in a seething cauldron of nocturnal predators!"

That's not to say sleep is without its pluses. Sleep is defined, if my entry-level psych classes told the truth, by how easy it is to wake from. Evolution or God or the God of Evolution or Mr. Mxyzptlk conspired to make us, as a general species, light sleepers. So at least we'll wake with a start at the first hint of a sabertoothed tiger in the bearskin tent. And science tells us dreams could do all manner of important things.

And yet I prefer to stay awake.

I could blame the night schedule at my last location, that ever-ulcerating pustule from which I'm not certain I ever did escape. I could blame coffee itself, which I swill like wine laced with winning lottery tickets. I could even blame the Internet, which offers exotic delights and information errata in such volumes that I'd be insane to wander off in search of something as simple and stupid as rest.

But I blame me. Me thinking up stories in my head on the top bunk in 1994, me unable to stop reading in 1999, me hopped up on NoDoz and writing a theology paper I don't agree with but know will net good grades in 2006, me in a robot body and composing screeds against the alien overlords in 3012, me me me me me me me. There's just so much stuff to do at night. Hell, my favorite radio program (yes, those still exist) did a show about it. It's dark out, so you can play games like Hide and Go Seek or Black Panther super easily. Late-night eateries and bars are still open, so you can reminisce with friends while eating pie or swilling beer. And there's always time for a good old fashioned slinger.

Why sleep? Dreams? I dream when I'm awake. How do you get through eight hours with five customers?

 BY RIOTING! This fellow with the spear screams. RIOT LIKE CRAZY! RIOT LIKE YOU HAVE SPEARS! But I don't have spears, random Chinese drawing guy. I don't even have a spear. I have a couple swords, but I'm pretty sure rioting with those would just get me tazed.
Oh!...ohhh, he's the riot police, huh. That makes him less sympathetic and more threatening. Rather like the fellows on the back of this postcard. I'd like to claim my American defiance would stand tall in the face of their Chinese wrath, but then, I haven't yet been in a position to pit my gumption against that of several men with sticks, guns, and riot shields.

So Lisa is officially more badass than me. Well done, Lisa. Well done. Clearly ultimate frisbee is the world's sport, and love makes the world go round.

Yeah, that's right, I just busted out a Powerpuff Girls reference on this blog, big whoop, wanna fight about it?

Monday, February 6, 2012


I don't like football.

I like combat. I like battle. That raw, emotional clash that fuels barroom fistfights and Glasgow soccer riots. That sense of delight when your hated enemies taste defeat in your touchdown at 0:57...and that sense of terror when they almost get the lead at 0:03.

It's the same with Halo. Or Modern Warfare. Or even Mario Kart. It's the same with every competitive game and every competitive fandom: I (or my proxies out there on the field/court/whatever) win. You lose. Do I actually hate my brother just because he's a Patriots fan who dresses up his son in a Tom Brady jersey? No, of course not. Do I relish his facial expression when Tom Brady draws first blood against his own team? Of course I do.

We're civilized men. Instead of watching gladiators butcher each other for our bloodlust, we watch men the size of refrigerators run headlong into men the size of freezers all for the sake of a ball the size of a human head.

And, if that doesn't sate us, we pretend to shoot each other. What a time to be alive.

I also like ice cream.