A Softball [Deductive] Pitch

I want to note that the tittle here is a little deceiving. Most of us probably recognize “a softball pitch” to be a phrase that roughly translates to “an easy problem to solve,” or “a simple obstacle to overcome.” Out of journalistic integrity (LOL), I looked up a few compilations of professional softball pitches

What. The. F*ck?

That is such a criminally misused phrase, dude. Softball pitches ain’t only fast, but they’re kind of scary scary as sh*t.

So, while I move forward with this, let’s recognize that I’m using the expression “a softball pitch” in its classic meaning, but have since fully recognized the power in their real-world applications, cool?

This brief little story is about…
<dons a deerstalker cap>
…the power of deduction.

None of us should be strangers to giving, and I bet we all have had a least a few encounters sparing our change or extra dollars to needy folks we’ve encountered on the street. I do it both out of common human decency, and secretively as a little offering to the leylines of karma that I should never find myself in the same misfortune. Any one of us is only ever a few mistakes or unfortunate circumstances from being in the same position, and it’s good to bow our heads to that reality from time to time.

Now, that being the case, I think a few of us have also had encounters where those asking haven’t been…well, as needy as they let on, right? Which, let’s say up at the top, that that’s kind of a sh*tty thing to do, faking it, because you take away from and potentially spoil the perception of others who truly could benefit from others’ generosity.

Thankfully, the shysters in question this time were just in generous as to the clues they gave that they were up to no good.

My girlfriend Amanda and I had pulled up to a red light, and on the center divide between lanes stood a couple of folks holding signs. Amanda at times keeps a bag of loose bills cobbled together from the bills gotten by going to CoinMasters with spare change for just such occasions. So we see the couple and she asks for the bag.

I reach in the back, retrieve it, but as I’m opening it to retrieve bills, my Sherlock Sense starts tingling. There’s something about the way they’re speaking to each other (the window is still rolled up, so we see them, but can’t yet hear them), motioning, and strutting that stands out. This may have had nothing to do with anything, but they were also wearing identical jackets and backpacks; again, not strange or malicious in and of itself, but it caught my eye is all I’m saying. They also had…we’ll say “hallmark” acne around their mouths. Again, could be anything, people’s individual diets and biochemistries are all unique, but it raised an eyebrow.

Thankfully, the final softball pitch of a clue (remember what we talked about) came when we rolled down the window.

We gathered up ten dollars to pass out the window, but once it was down, it appeared we happened along at precisely the wrong time (or the right time, depending on how you feel about the encounter). We can hear the one guy singing to the woman with him, “Let’s get this money, hey-hey, so we can start feelin’ funny, hey-yeah!”

To this day, I strive to the level of confidence that guy had in that moment to openly admit, in SONG no less, that he was scamming for meth money. Needless to say, we rolled the window back up (a bit awkwardly now), and continued on our way, saving the bills for a more genuine case of need.

Please, please, PLEASE don’t take this in any way as a message to distrust those looking for charity by necessity – not at all condemning those in earnest need.

Instead, take it as the message it’s intended in that it relays my dope-ass deductive skills which sniffed out a couple of fakers. Did it get a bit easy there at the end? Yeah, maybe. But does that discount my awesome perception…?

Agree to disagree.

Ciao, y’all. See ya next time.

Now, for Some Shameless Bragging

I want to be clear up front: this is for me.

I’d love to sit here and say this was something I put together for you, something I sat on and thought about and pored over and worked on for your enjoyment and betterment – but it’s not. This is about to be an anecdote for myself to come back to later and be embarrassed that I put out to the public.

This is about the time I caught…The Glow.

I started playing Magic: the Gathering (yup, and there goes anyone that made it even this far) back in the Summer of 2018. I’d heard the horror stories of how much people can just pour money into the hobby, how much it financially drains you, and I was determined not to be another statistic. I bought two little 60-card starter decks and said, “That’s quite enough for me. THIS will be my Magic collection and I’m happy with it.”

Suffice it to say, it did not stop there.

To date, I’ve built and dismantled more Modern decks than was ever worth counting, and maintain a rotation of eight Commander/EDH decks with themes all important to my heart and soul: Izzet Artifacts, Elves/Tokens, Blue-Black Mill, mono-Green Hydras, Jeskai Time Wizards, Rakdos Goblins, Boros Angels, and Liliana Necromancy/Zombies. With the exception of Time Wizards, who has yet to ever come through for me meaningfully and was probably a mistake, I love each of them dearly.

So, now that the stage is set, our tale…

I was over at my good friend Josh’s house for a day of cards with friends. These same friends, mind you, put me through a baptism of fire when I first started playing – which was good. As I was learning the basics, they beat the ever-loving shit out of me most games. But I persevered, learned, and took those lessons of brutality to heart. All for this day…

First game of the day was just against Josh, since I showed up first (a rare occurrence). I pulled out my ‘Selvala, Heart of the Wilds‘ Hydra deck and got to business. That said, Josh was using his pride and joy, a Sliver Overlord tribal deck that cost, probably, about two grand. Selvala, bless her heart, held her own valiantly, but was ultimately overcome (it’s okay, every hero’s journey needs to begin with struggle).

It was close, and to this day I’m convinced that if I hadn’t drawn into so much goddamn land, I could have taken him. Or, if I’d used my pride and joy, my first love, my Saheeli, the Gifted artifact deck, I could have had him up and out of there in no time. (She was the underdog of her Commander block in 2018, but together, we trained her up and put some real power behind her punches with practice, study, and plenty of steroids.)

Once our friends arrived, the REAL show began.

I’m not sure what it’s like with other people’s play groups, but it tends to be within ours, that when a person wins a game between four players, it’s in a single, fell swoop: an infinite combo (thankfully rare), an “if X, then win the game” condition, or a huge move like a surprise Craterhoof Behemoth stomping that takes out all other three players at once.

This day…this day was different.

We start off, it’s a table with FIVE of us, which is a lot of players for a game of EDH; not monstrous, but a lot. I pull out my Rhys the Redeemed elves/tokens deck for this one. His main win condition is either cheating out a Felidar Sovereign for a sort of cheaper win, or raising an army of saprolings, squirrels, and elves, then plopping out the ol’ Craterhoof Behemoth trick; either way, its quickest route to victory involves annihilating the table or the game all at once.

This day, however, I knocked out each of the other four players through combat damage, individually. It was a deadly dance of politics to incite a fight with only another player at a time to not draw any undue aggression, healing up my wounds with lifelink abilities after each skirmish, and maintain token numbers to be a reasonable presence without being a threatening one. It was kind of like a fight scene out of an action movie, where the hero is surrounded by henchman who come at him all-at-once-ish, but really one at a time, and by the end of it, it’s the hero who’s done all the ass-whoopin’.

It. Was. Glorious.

And it came down to a razor finish. I knocked out the third of my opponents, trying to leave enough defense to withstand my final opponent’s turn since I was the only remaining threat, when he equips a Colossus Hammer to one of his soldiers and swings all out at me. I had enough tokens remaining to block enough of the assault that it left me with two Life left…TWO. Then I was able to counter-swing on my next turn for the finish.

So I sat back, packed that deck away in its box, and contentedly notched my name in the win column for that night, feeling good. I’d gotten my win out of the way, and it was awesome. So, for the next game, I go back to my Selvala – Hydras deck, to give it another, Sliver-less try.

This time, there’s far more in-fighting at the table, with there being more aggressors than just myself, finally. Combat damage is being dealt back and forth among players, but no one is going for the knock-out yet, presumably so everyone can stay in the game until it ends; a noble gesture, but not a lesson my hard Magic upbringing taught me to embrace with them. I see an opportunity late game to flash in a Hydra Broodmaster on an end step before my turn begins. If I remember right, I had Unbound Flourishing on board, so I got to make her go monstrous where ‘X’ got to be something nice and big like ‘8,’ and then for combat on my turn, I throw down an Overwhelming Stampede and do exactly what one might expect…

…I…

…I stampeded the table.

Playful groans and gasps made their way around the table. And my proud triumph turned slightly to embarrassment….embarrassment that I was still inexorably proud of.

So I threw up my hands and said, “Woooof, y’all. Alright, my bad. I’ve had my fun for the night, had my fair share. Shit, I’m sorry,” all while laughing with them. “Looks like I caught The Glow tonight. I’ll change it up and just be a spectator for this next one.” I put away my Hydras, rolled up my foresty-colored play mat, and pulled out my Blue-Black Mill/Persistent Petitioners deck, headed by Phenax, God of Deception.

(My FAVORITE game ever of Magic is a story for another time if I ever again feel baseless enough to do another one of these posts, but I will say that what follows here might be my SECOND-FAVORITE ever game of Magic I’ve played.)

For the uninitiated, Mill-strategies in the Commander format are widely seen as a pretty unwise route to victory as, instead of the directness of combat damage, you’re trying to empty out your opponent’s 100-card deck. 1) It can be pretty slow, understandably. 2) It also usually has to be pretty focused, so with multiple opponents, your capacity for offense has a built-in cap. 3) To make up for its weaknesses, a mill deck usually has to be pretty focused on that goal, so defense can be somewhat lacking, leaving you kind of open. 4) Lastly, people, on average, fucking hate being milled and seeing their stuff get dumped into the graveyard, so it builds your villainy meter at the table pretty quickly (ie Players cheer when someone kills you in the name of public good, nobody mourns your loss, and they line up to poop on your grave).

This game was different.

Some brief stage-setting: It’s a 5-player game this time around, and since I don’t imagine any of them will EVER read this, I’m going to be using their real names. To my left, was my buddy Brent, who was playing mono-red Dwarves; to his left was Kopa, who was playing a Blue-Red-White ‘Voltron’ deck; followed by Woody, who was playing Blue-Red-Green elementals; followed at last by our illustrious host Josh, who was borrowing someones mono-blue artifact deck.

I draw my opening hand to see that I have two Petitioners, three land, a counter spell, and Thrumming Stone. In case it’s confusing as to why that’s cool, here’s the break-down:
Since I can have as many Petitioners in my deck as I want, I run twenty-eight as a multiple of four per the card’s ability. That’s enough of a percentage that they come up commonly enough and have good odds at the Ripple ability without clogging up my draws.
Thrumming Stone basically says if you cast a Petitioner, you can look for another one to get played, which will look for another one to get played, which will look for another one to get played, yatta yatta, on until you have all twenty-eight of your Petitioners out – if you get lucky to roll on like that and provided none have gotten killed.

In my mind, I immediately see what I have to do: stall and be ignored long enough to drop Thrumming Stone and a Petitioner in the same turn – a seven mana cost – to hopefully let the Ripple effect take over. So if I can draw well and keep below radar until about Turn Nine, I have a shot at totally fucking over the table. Plus, hang onto that counter spell as an insurance policy.

So the game begins, and right out the gate Josh takes an aggressive lead. He rolls out artifacts and gadgets left and right, big equipment to buff his creatures, and throwing hot damage around the table. In addition, he starts lightly milling the table, which is where my Greatest Performance of Deception begins (Phenax would be proud).

We’re all getting milled for one or two cards at a time. With the rest of the table, I playfully and dramatically groan, pleading for him to maybe just forego the effect rather than having it go through, and commiserating with the other players at our misfortune, but inside I’m thrilled. Every card that gets skimmed off the top that isn’t a land card or a Petitioner is fantastic. He mills my Mind Funeral? Great, I don’t need the heat anyway. He dumps my Consuming Aberration? Super, I have something to jokingly “complain” about not getting to play. Every one of those is another turn closer to the land base that I need.

And so it goes, Josh battles and harasses the rest of the table while I draw, maybe play a land, pretend to have my hands tied, and pass. It comes to a point where I have six lands out and I’m just waiting for one more before I can pull my move, but I’m worried to death about something that would destroy my Thrumming Stone. Josh has become a huge threat at this point, in a night that’s twice seen a single player butcher the table (#humblebrag), and he gets up to go pee. Everyone else starts conspiring as to how to turn the tide against him.

“Hmm,” I ponder aloud. “Hey, do any of you have any artifact-removal? That way, we could get rid of his [insert specific dangerous artifact here that I’m totally blanking on].”
“No,” says Brent.
“No,” replies Kopa.
“No,” laments Woody.
“Ah, bummer,” I say, looking down at the artifact in my hand.

I play Phenax, just so it doesn’t look too much like I’m intentionally doing nothing. Josh comes back, then Kopa pulls a huge play that sees him kill Josh outright, but one that fortunately makes him become an even larger threat. So Woody follows that by detonating the board with an All is Dust (thankfully the turn after I used that counter spell to stop him playing an Eldrazi). With Josh dead, it comes to me, and I draw my seventh land. I figure if ever there was a blessing from the God of Deception that I’d played my role well and it was time to set the plan in motion, it was now.

So I do. I plop down that land, set out my Thrumming Stone, and play a Petitioner, which chained so marvelously well into all the rest that I exploded from a board state of absolutely nothing, into twenty-eight Petitioners out and proud (total milling potential of 84 cards, basically lethal at that point). Plus, with that All is Dust, everyone needed to rebuilding their boards to pose any threat.

Brent’s turn, he plays a couple of dwarves to reconstitute his board, and at his end step, I mill out Kopa. Playing Jeskai colors and the potential he had for out-of-nowhere kills, he had to go. So after that, it’s just me, Brent, and Woody. On Woody’s turn, he plays Nikya of the Old Ways to regain some board presence which, if you ask me, made my next decision really simple.

It came back to me, and Brent starts talking to the late Kopa that “if I just had one more land, I could blow up his entire fucking board.”

Eyes Blinking GIFs - Get the best GIF on GIPHY
Me, listening to my opponent spill the beans so brazenly.

With Woody self-handicapped and unable to cast non-creature spells – meaning no big bombs, no board wipes, no nothin’ – and with Brent openly admitting he might draw into a way to kill me…

…yeah, duh, I milled the shit out of him.

Final turn came down to just me and Woody. His turn comes up, he plays a creature that can’t attack on account of summoning sickness, swings all-out for about 11 damage which I readily greet headfirst. Turn comes to me, I mill him down to dust to make my bread and make it my third straight full-table victory of the night.

A feat of which I was so embarrassingly proud, I just spent the last too-many hours bragging about it on an internet blog.

Thank you, and goodnight.

Watch the Time go By

Life is funny.

One minute, you’re writing a poem for your crush in the fourth grade, and the next, you’re thinking back on the decade since you last saw them, quietly browsing through their life on Facebook, wishing them well.

One minute, you’re a ten-year-old kid opening their bright blue lunchbox on the first day of fifth grade, and the next, you looking at that same, now-gray and weathered lunchbox while you’re twenty-six, emptying the pantry to move your mother out of her home.

One minute, you’re just a bunch of teenagers. Pot smoke, skateboard bruises, burgers, and savory high school politics, and the next, you’ve just come home from work, maybe you have plans with your colleagues maybe you don’t, and you’re reminiscing on those times you hadn’t thought would end.

Maybe you think of the cousin you’ve grown up with. Think of the man or woman they’ve become, then think back to the child you grew up alongside and realize that somewhere in the middle one became the other.

Somewhere in all those memories is the splendor of watching a huge web roll out (because “unfurl” would sound a bit pretentious here) like a gigantic road map of lives, seeing where the kids we knew somehow became the adults we know (or don’t, anymore).

“It is possible to make no mistakes and still lose. This is not a weakness. This is life.” – Captain Picard

Moments like this, where we zoom out for a second, realize we’re twenty-six now, and we get to see how far we’ve come and how far we still get to go (if we play our cards right).

We knew kids…that became adults and then died.

We knew kids that didn’t make it that far.

We’ve probably seen friends accomplish really cool things.

And known others that have spun out.

Maybe we’ve fallen away from people who we were really close to.

But then again, met new people we’re glad to know now.

Nihil nove sub sole – “There is nothing new under the Sun.”

None of this is meant to be some epiphany or great revelation, some wisdom I’ve found that I’m sharing to waiting ears. This has all been figured out before and gets figured out all the time. It’s more like a moment in a reaaally good meal – just taking a second to savor what you’ve got. It’s a way to harness the good times, to get more out of them. We tell ourselves to do it all the time with struggles. “When times get hard, just think about how strong you’ll be on the other side.” Same thinking here. If you don’t take a moment here and there to examine the life you’ve had and the one you’ve got, how can you ever be sure of what’s important?

Pain sucks, but it’s part of the human experience, and thus can be a pleasure.

Loss sucks, but its memory can be used to make warmth.

Regret sucks hard, but its lesson is a real straight road to wisdom and experience.

A long time ago, a farmer would walk to a far away well for water. He had a yoke on his back which held a bucket at either end. He would fill the buckets and carry the water home. Well, after the years, one bucket became weathered and cracked, unable to hold water with its leak. “I’m sorry,” said the bucket. “I’m old now and cannot work like I used to.”
“Not to worry,” replied the farmer. “When next we gather water, look to your side of the path.”
When next the farmer gathered water, the bucket saw that its side of the path was covered in fresh flowers, watered from its own leak.
“I planted seeds,” the farmer explained. “You see, as we grow older and acquire new qualities, they may all be turned to good advantage.”

Love hard, take care of yourselves.

Don’t Hold Hot Things: A Melt-y Thumb Tale

Sup, everybody.

If the title didn’t give it away, I have a lesson to share, one I earned myself the other day on account of a terrifically dumb mistake.

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

I day-job as a carpenter. Not a day at work goes by without me having a 50/50 debate in my head on whether or not the job is worth it. Some days, it’s fulfilling, good work that leaves me feeling grounded (in the good way); others, it’s just…fuckin’ hard.

And dumb. But sometimes that’s my fault.

So the other day, we were…hmm…reconstituting an old concrete barbecue setup. It was built out of bricks and spackled over, but the years had worn it down, cracked parts of it, and generally had it falling apart. Job was to remove all the old framing, reinforce the body of it with rebar, and build out a new framing for it.

Wielding our mighty angle grinder, I set to work cutting down all the exposed, rusted bolts sticking out of various parts of the structure. It’s fun. It’s a spray of sparks, some “nnnn’eeeeerrrrrrrrrggh!” from the grinder, then I sweep away the debris with my hand and onto the next.

Now, I KNOW two things: 1) Friction, like that built up by grinding metal to nubs, creates a lot of heat, and 2) not to touch hot things (burned my hand pretty good as a kid getting Snoopy cookies out of the oven, and thought I learned my lesson).

So, obviously, as I’m picking up the heads of these freshly-cut bolts and screws, it’s a quick engagement so I don’t burn my fingers. But here’s the thing: they weren’t hot. I thought it was weird, but was busy so didn’t give it too much mind.

There I am, grind, sweep, grind, sweep, repeat; until something weird happened.

I pass my thumb over the nub of a fresh cut, and it feels like…hmm, picture dragging your fingertip over a Elmer glue stick. Kind of tacky, bit of resistance, and just a ‘sticky’ sensation, right?

Immediately, my brain goes, “Uh-oh, the only thing that should be kind of all melty is the nail, which means- oh, shit, I have molten steel on my thumb!”

So I bite down and brace for the burn to catch up to the thought, but it doesn’t happen.

No molten metal? Then what…?

I look at my thumb, see the browned, whitened, bubbled, and crackling skin describing the line that had passed over the nail and quickly realize two things: 1) “Ooooh. The steel wasn’t melty. My THUMB was melty…shit.” And 2) “It doesn’t hurt now…? Oh…it doesn’t hurt now because this is one of them gonna-hurt-later’s.”

Heh heh heh, aaaah…I still just kind of chuckle at that phrase: “One of them ‘gonna-hurt-later’s.'”

So, yeah. Don’t touch hot things.

Take care of yourselves, y’all.

The Time I Smuggled Explosives Across Europe (kinda by accident)

(Welcome to an ‘In Case You Missed It’! This will be one of those I re-post for a few days since it’s a tale I really wanna share as much as I can. If you’ve already seen it, think of the first time as a nifty pre-order bonus. I guess where the bonus is…a slight sense of superiority.)

I’ll be honest, the tale I’m about to share, I was saving it. But now that we’re about to dive in, I’m not totally sure what occasion I was waiting for: 100 followers, a one-year anniversary, my first book deal, etc. It’s a favorite of mine to share at parties or over campfires, but being shut in like we have been, I guess it’s just eek’ing out of me.

So here goes.

When I was sixteen, my mom blessed me with one of the single greatest experiences in my life so far. We merited invitation to (fucking somehow, by the way; still no clue where it came from) a program sponsoring “student ambassadorship” called People-to-People (apparently founded in 1956 by my main man ol’ Dwighty D). The idea was pretty simple, though: send high school-age kids to different countries to paint them with the brush of culture to promote a more global viewpoint and international friendship.

And that’s mostly what happened.

The tour we went on took us through six western-European countries: England, France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany, and Austria. There’s A LOT I could wax on about, a ton of granular experiences captured in those three weeks that will absolutely last a lifetime, and volumes that could be filled with all of that, but this one centers around the hallmark segment of the trip, which was the German Home Stay. In the weeks running up to the trip, we got to hear from alumni of the program, and the German Home Stay was absolutely heralded and touted above and beyond as the thing you’ll remember most, and it TOTALLY was.

But before we get there, some stuff happened in France a week earlier that sets the story up for its climax, shall we say.

France was fun, it was cool, all to say the least. The Louvre, the Palace at Versailles, the fooooood, and the markets – I could go on for days. Almost bought a man thong for six euros, egged on by the peer pressure of my travel mates, a decision I deeply regret not indulging, to this day.

But Paris was also the first place the trip organizers sort of loosened our leashes, so to speak. Regrettably, I don’t remember the name of the region or the area itself, I just know we were in a Parisian market. They posted us up by a central fountain and told us, “Alright, here’s where we’ll be for the next hour. Go ahead, set your bags down, go run around and browse, but so help me God be back here in an hour.”

So we scattered. We ran free, scoured, and had a hell of a time. And, naturally, it took about ten minutes to hear someone say this: “Guys! I found a place that sells M80’s!”

Now, if you’re unfamiliar with what M80’s are, growing up, I always heard them called a “quarter-stick of dynamite.” I’m not totally sure how accurate that is, but even if it’s an eighth-stick, you get my point. They blow up toilets, tear apart fingers, and all the rest. They’re also totally illegal for civilian use in America (without proper license, and…c’mon).

So the second we hear this, of course a gaggle of us beelines it for the shop we’re directed to and I buy two fat bricks of these things. I fork over whatever I was asked for and leave the shop grinning from ear to ear. I’m holding explosives that I now own and can do whatever I may with.

The sense of power was intoxicating.

That was, until we got back to the fountain, I bragged about the acquisition and another traveler asks, “Cool, but…how’re you going to get them home?”

I look at them, smile, and say….nothing. I…I say nothing at all for several long moments, because I don’t have any fucking idea how I’m going to get these home. I just stand there, pants quickly un-tightening, realizing the bricks of explosives in my hands aren’t the terrific playthings I wanted, but had quickly turned into burdensome contraband.

Not emotionally prepared to just leave them behind.
Can’t fly back to the States with them in my backpack/bag.
Can’t ship them plane or boat.

Fuck.

So the next week or so sees me wondering how best to handle them.

Now, setting that aside, the German Host Stay.

I stayed with a terrific family whom to this day I still consider my relatives overseas. They treated me phenomenally well, took me out, showed me places, toured the town with me, and when everybody else went to school the following Monday, we went to a Green Day concert instead.

(Which, actually, was one of my favorite parts coming out of this whole trip. My host brother, wonderful man named Florian, told me that Sunday night, “Tomorrow, you will go to school, and mom with take you to a museum. I will not be going, because I will be going with my father to a Green Day and Rise Against show.” He saw the twinkle in my eyes, the quiver to my chin, and said, “Would…would you like to come with us instead?” Somewhat un-diplomatically, “Fuck yes I want to go with you!” So the next day I was on the autobahn going 100 mph+ on my way to a rock concert with Florian and his dad while everyone else went to class.
Aaaaah….fond memories.)

The time came and went, and before I knew it, I was waking up on the morning of my last day. We were instructed to, when this time came, make our beds neatly, write a thank-you note, and leave said note along with a gift from home on the pillow. I made that bed tight enough to bounce a euro off the sheets, poured my heart into the thank-you note, and left a little plush Snoopy on the pillow, explaining that he’s a character of a cartoonist from my hometown.

That, and two bricks of M80 explosives.

It was a difficult decision, but time was running out, and I could think of nothing better to do with them. Besides, when I explained how and why I had them, it led to a pretty resounded laugh as to the circumstance (and it seemed like the American thing to do, if we can be honest). “Oh, excellent!” Florian’s mom exclaimed at the news. “We actually have a holiday coming up, and we will light on in your memory!”

The sentiment filled me with both honor and dread.

“Ooh, awesome,” I said. “Just…ooo, boy, please be careful with those.”

“Oh, yes. We will be. Do not worry.”

“Heh, awesome….but, like, for real. Please, be careful. I don’t want an email a week after I get home saying Florian doesn’t have fingers on his left hand or something.”

I didn’t actually say that last part, but I thought the hell out of it.

Ultimately, I made it home without being detained, and got an email some time later saying that the firecracker went off splendidly without hurting anybody. It’s also the reason I put in my bio that I’ve technically smuggled explosives internationally. So, really, everybody wins.

Ciao, for now.

The Time I Smuggled Explosives Across Europe (kinda by accident)

(Welcome to an ‘In Case You Missed It’! This will be one of those I re-post for a few days since it’s a tale I really wanna share as much as I can. If you’ve already seen it, think of the first time as a pre-order.)

I’ll be honest, the tale I’m about to share, I was saving it. But now that we’re about to dive in, I’m not totally sure what occasion I was waiting for: 100 followers, a one-year anniversary, my first book deal, etc. It’s a favorite of mine to share at parties or over campfires, but being shut in like we have been, I guess it’s just eek’ing out of me.

So here goes.

When I was sixteen, my mom blessed me with one of the single greatest experiences in my life so far. We merited invitation to (fucking somehow, by the way; still no clue where it came from) a program sponsoring “student ambassadorship” called People-to-People (apparently founded in 1956 by my main man ol’ Dwighty D). The idea was pretty simple, though: send high school-age kids to different countries to paint them with the brush of culture to promote a more global viewpoint and international friendship.

And that’s mostly what happened.

The tour we went on took us through six western-European countries: England, France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany, and Austria. There’s A LOT I could wax on about, a ton of granular experiences captured in those three weeks that will absolutely last a lifetime, and volumes that could be filled with all of that, but this one centers around the hallmark segment of the trip, which was the German Home Stay. In the weeks running up to the trip, we got to hear from alumni of the program, and the German Home Stay was absolutely heralded and touted above and beyond as the thing you’ll remember most, and it TOTALLY was.

But before we get there, some stuff happened in France a week earlier that sets the story up for its climax, shall we say.

France was fun, it was cool, all to say the least. The Louvre, the Palace at Versailles, the fooooood, and the markets – I could go on for days. Almost bought a man thong for six euros, egged on by the peer pressure of my travel mates, a decision I deeply regret not indulging, to this day.

But Paris was also the first place the trip organizers sort of loosened our leashes, so to speak. Regrettably, I don’t remember the name of the region or the area itself, I just know we were in a Parisian market. They posted us up by a central fountain and told us, “Alright, here’s where we’ll be for the next hour. Go ahead, set your bags down, go run around and browse, but so help me God be back here in an hour.”

So we scattered. We ran free, scoured, and had a hell of a time. And, naturally, it took about ten minutes to hear someone say this: “Guys! I found a place that sells M80’s!”

Now, if you’re unfamiliar with what M80’s are, growing up, I always heard them called a “quarter-stick of dynamite.” I’m not totally sure how accurate that is, but even if it’s an eighth-stick, you get my point. They blow up toilets, tear apart fingers, and all the rest. They’re also totally illegal for civilian use in America (without proper license, and…c’mon).

So the second we hear this, of course a gaggle of us beelines it for the shop we’re directed to and I buy two fat bricks of these things. I fork over whatever I was asked for and leave the shop grinning from ear to ear. I’m holding explosives that I now own and can do whatever I may with.

The sense of power was intoxicating.

That was, until we got back to the fountain, I bragged about the acquisition and another traveler asks, “Cool, but…how’re you going to get them home?”

I look at them, smile, and say….nothing. I…I say nothing at all for several long moments, because I don’t have any fucking idea how I’m going to get these home. I just stand there, pants quickly un-tightening, realizing the bricks of explosives in my hands aren’t the terrific playthings I wanted, but had quickly turned into burdensome contraband.

Not emotionally prepared to just leave them behind.
Can’t fly back to the States with them in my backpack/bag.
Can’t ship them plane or boat.

Fuck.

So the next week or so sees me wondering how best to handle them.

Now, setting that aside, the German Host Stay.

I stayed with a terrific family whom to this day I still consider my relatives overseas. They treated me phenomenally well, took me out, showed me places, toured the town with me, and when everybody else went to school the following Monday, we went to a Green Day concert instead.

(Which, actually, was one of my favorite parts coming out of this whole trip. My host brother, wonderful man named Florian, told me that Sunday night, “Tomorrow, you will go to school, and mom with take you to a museum. I will not be going, because I will be going with my father to a Green Day and Rise Against show.” He saw the twinkle in my eyes, the quiver to my chin, and said, “Would…would you like to come with us instead?” Somewhat un-diplomatically, “Fuck yes I want to go with you!” So the next day I was on the autobahn going 100 mph+ on my way to a rock concert with Florian and his dad while everyone else went to class.
Aaaaah….fond memories.)

The time came and went, and before I knew it, I was waking up on the morning of my last day. We were instructed to, when this time came, make our beds neatly, write a thank-you note, and leave said note along with a gift from home on the pillow. I made that bed tight enough to bounce a euro off the sheets, poured my heart into the thank-you note, and left a little plush Snoopy on the pillow, explaining that he’s a character of a cartoonist from my hometown.

That, and two bricks of M80 explosives.

It was a difficult decision, but time was running out, and I could think of nothing better to do with them. Besides, when I explained how and why I had them, it led to a pretty resounded laugh as to the circumstance (and it seemed like the American thing to do, if we can be honest). “Oh, excellent!” Florian’s mom exclaimed at the news. “We actually have a holiday coming up, and we will light on in your memory!”

The sentiment filled me with both honor and dread.

“Ooh, awesome,” I said. “Just…ooo, boy, please be careful with those.”

“Oh, yes. We will be. Do not worry.”

“Heh, awesome….but, like, for real. Please, be careful. I don’t want an email a week after I get home saying Florian doesn’t have fingers on his left hand or something.”

I didn’t actually say that last part, but I thought the hell out of it.

Ultimately, I made it home without being detained, and got an email some time later saying that the firecracker went off splendidly without hurting anybody. It’s also the reason I put in my bio that I’ve technically smuggled explosives internationally. So, really, everybody wins.

Ciao, for now.

The Time I Smuggled Explosives Across Europe (kinda by accident)

I’ll be honest, the tale I’m about to share, I was saving it. But now that we’re about to dive in, I’m not totally sure what occasion I was waiting for: 100 followers, a one-year anniversary, my first book deal, etc. It’s a favorite of mine to share at parties or over campfires, but being shut in like we have been, I guess it’s just eek’ing out of me.

So here goes.

When I was sixteen, my mom blessed me with one of the single greatest experiences in my life so far. We merited invitation to (fucking somehow, by the way; still no clue where it came from) a program sponsoring “student ambassadorship” called People-to-People (apparently founded in 1956 by my main man ol’ Dwighty D). The idea was pretty simple, though: send high school-age kids to different countries to paint them with the brush of culture to promote a more global viewpoint and international friendship.

And that’s mostly what happened.

The tour we went on took us through six western-European countries: England, France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany, and Austria. There’s A LOT I could wax on about, a ton of granular experiences captured in those three weeks that will absolutely last a lifetime, and volumes that could be filled with all of that, but this one centers around the hallmark segment of the trip, which was the German Home Stay. In the weeks running up to the trip, we got to hear from alumni of the program, and the German Home Stay was absolutely heralded and touted above and beyond as the thing you’ll remember most, and it TOTALLY was.

But before we get there, some stuff happened in France a week earlier that sets the story up for its climax, shall we say.

France was fun, it was cool, all to say the least. The Louvre, the Palace at Versailles, the fooooood, and the markets – I could go on for days. Almost bought a man thong for six euros, egged on by the peer pressure of my travel mates, a decision I deeply regret not indulging, to this day.

But Paris was also the first place the trip organizers sort of loosened our leashes, so to speak. Regrettably, I don’t remember the name of the region or the area itself, I just know we were in a Parisian market. They posted us up by a central fountain and told us, “Alright, here’s where we’ll be for the next hour. Go ahead, set your bags down, go run around and browse, but so help me God be back here in an hour.”

So we scattered. We ran free, scoured, and had a hell of a time. And, naturally, it took about ten minutes to hear someone say this: “Guys! I found a place that sells M80’s!”

Now, if you’re unfamiliar with what M80’s are, growing up, I always heard them called a “quarter-stick of dynamite.” I’m not totally sure how accurate that is, but even if it’s an eighth-stick, you get my point. They blow up toilets, tear apart fingers, and all the rest. They’re also totally illegal for civilian use in America (without proper license, and…c’mon).

So the second we hear this, of course a gaggle of us beelines it for the shop we’re directed to and I buy two fat bricks of these things. I fork over whatever I was asked for and leave the shop grinning from ear to ear. I’m holding explosives that I now own and can do whatever I may with.

The sense of power was intoxicating.

That was, until we got back to the fountain, I bragged about the acquisition and another traveler asks, “Cool, but…how’re you going to get them home?”

I look at them, smile, and say….nothing. I…I say nothing at all for several long moments, because I don’t have any fucking idea how I’m going to get these home. I just stand there, pants quickly un-tightening, realizing the bricks of explosives in my hands aren’t the terrific playthings I wanted, but had quickly turned into burdensome contraband.

Not emotionally prepared to just leave them behind.
Can’t fly back to the States with them in my backpack/bag.
Can’t ship them plane or boat.

Fuck.

So the next week or so sees me wondering how best to handle them.

Now, setting that aside, the German Host Stay.

I stayed with a terrific family whom to this day I still consider my relatives overseas. They treated me phenomenally well, took me out, showed me places, toured the town with me, and when everybody else went to school the following Monday, we went to a Green Day concert instead.

(Which, actually, was one of my favorite parts coming out of this whole trip. My host brother, wonderful man named Florian, told me that Sunday night, “Tomorrow, you will go to school, and mom with take you to a museum. I will not be going, because I will be going with my father to a Green Day and Rise Against show.” He saw the twinkle in my eyes, the quiver to my chin, and said, “Would…would you like to come with us instead?” Somewhat un-diplomatically, “Fuck yes I want to go with you!” So the next day I was on the autobahn going 100 mph+ on my way to a rock concert with Florian and his dad while everyone else went to class.
Aaaaah….fond memories.)

The time came and went, and before I knew it, I was waking up on the morning of my last day. We were instructed to, when this time came, make our beds neatly, write a thank-you note, and leave said note along with a gift from home on the pillow. I made that bed tight enough to bounce a euro off the sheets, poured my heart into the thank-you note, and left a little plush Snoopy on the pillow, explaining that he’s a character of a cartoonist from my hometown.

That, and two bricks of M80 explosives.

It was a difficult decision, but time was running out, and I could think of nothing better to do with them. Besides, when I explained how and why I had them, it led to a pretty resounded laugh as to the circumstance (and it seemed like the American thing to do, if we can be honest). “Oh, excellent!” Florian’s mom exclaimed at the news. “We actually have a holiday coming up, and we will light on in your memory!”

The sentiment filled me with both honor and dread.

“Ooh, awesome,” I said. “Just…ooo, boy, please be careful with those.”

“Oh, yes. We will be. Do not worry.”

“Heh, awesome….but, like, for real. Please, be careful. I don’t want an email a week after I get home saying Florian doesn’t have fingers on his left hand or something.”

I didn’t actually say that last part, but I thought the hell out of it.

Ultimately, I made it home without being detained, and got an email some time later saying that the firecracker went off splendidly without hurting anybody. It’s also the reason I put in my bio that I’ve technically smuggled explosives internationally. So, really, everybody wins.

Ciao, for now.

Grenades at Work

Sup everybody.

I’ve done some thinking and have come to the conclusion that enough time has passed that this story can be shared without anyone getting in trouble. Not that I’d particularly mind questions from my bosses where it happened since…well, I’m not there anymore.

Evasive attempts to sidestep possible repercussions now behind us, a question: have you ever worked an off-shift? You know, one of the ones besides a nine-to-five? It could be night shift, graveyard, swing, or best of all, weekend.

If you have or do, you might know what I mean when I describe them as…just, another color. We’re like specialists, called in to handle out-of-the-norm operations. And while there are the obvious drawbacks of an alternative schedule, the team-politics that come with it between various shifts, there’s also a certain degree of freedom.

Like a little bit less scrutiny. And in circumstances like those, creativity is allowed to flourish.

Allow me to demonstrate what I mean.

I worked at an optics company for some time a bit out of high school (shit, I don’t know why I’m putting it like that; I’m 26 now and I was there for six and a half years, it’s been my longest running job to date – but you get what I mean). It had its up’s and its down’s like any place, but one of the up’s was being able to handle some pretty neat stuff used in production from time to time. In this case, a large amount of dry ice.

One of the engineers there – we’ll call him Tugg, cause that’s funny – called a few of us into the break room one Saturday. The project that required the dry ice had been completed, but before disposing of the stuff, Tugg wanted to show off. He broke pieces off and held them in his mouth, making puffs of frost breath like some mid-forties dragon. He played Hot Potato with others, poured water on some to make sudden, big-ass clouds of “smoke.”

But best of all, he blew the tops off plastic bottles.

He’d take a small piece of dry ice, add a small splash of water, then twist the cap on real tight real quickly. The pressure would build up, and a few moments later – POP! The top would fly off with a bang. It was a neat party trick, but things grow boring if they stagnate, so Tugg up’d the ante.

He found a larger and thicker Snapple bottle to use for the same trick, and this time used a much larger piece of ice. He shoved the thing in there, followed it up with some water, and screwed the cap on tight, quickly setting it on the break room table and backing away…

After a few moments, we were wondering why it hadn’t popped. So we stood there. And stood there. The longer the top went un-blown, the less anyone was willing to approach the table. What had been a sweet peach-flavored beverage was now a highly pressurized container that would explode as soon as someone got close, we were sure. We egged one another to be the first to test it, but no one would brave it.

So we kept…just…standing there.

I turned to one of my coworkers to make some snarky comment, when the most miraculous thing happened.

The room, in less time than it would have taken me to even blink, had been filled wall-to-wall with fog. I also felt like I’d been punched square in the sternum and couldn’t hear anything besides a ringing in my ear which had followed a huge bang I was only just now registering had happened. But mostly, I cannot express enough in words alone how instantaneous the change was: one moment in time, the room was clear, and the next conceivable instant my vision was obstructed. Not even a chance to blink. Not even enough time for the reflex to engage.

A few moments of coughing and popping our ears later, we saw the Snapple bottle prone on the floor with the cap some distance away. With the dry ice, Tugg had successfully, accidentally created a dry ice flashbang grenade.

Moral of the story?

Not sure there is one, really. Be brave, I guess. Be bold? Provide helmets to your weekend employees if they’re anything like Tugg?

Anyway, that’s my tale. Ciao.

In My Own Bed Tonight”

What’s crack-a-lackin’?

I just remembered something that I wanted to share, and it’s cool because the reason it came to mind is that I used it just a short while ago. What “it” is, is advice I gave myself when I was about eight. And I know that sounds self-aggrandizing and lame to say – because it is, no doubt – but believe me when I say it’s worthwhile (as verified by…well…me…hang in there!).

The advice itself is best served, like any superhero or do-gooder, with an origin story:

I’m an eight-year-old little boy going to K-Mart with his mom. We were probably there because I’d just gotten out of school and she needed to grab some things for the house before taking us home. I, obviously, was there to scout Yu-Gi-Oh cards and other toys, but that’s beside the point.

The point is that while we were there, I got lost.

No biggy, it’s just a department store, but I was a kid. I was a kid and we’d just moved to California, which meant I didn’t really have any friends or neighbors I could hope to bump into. One minute I’m looking at Transformers, the next I realize I don’t know where mom is.

The panic starts to settle on me, the anxiety tickles my scalp with its pins and its needles.

I’ll never know what brought it on, but right as my chin is beginning to tremble, a thought dawns on me: “It’s alright, because tonight, I’m going to be asleep in my own bed.”

The relief came almost instantly. I went from lost in a city of strangers to temporarily inconvenienced while I looked for someone.

It’s taken me eighteen-or-so years since then for the full weight of that to fully take root, and even still, I’m not sure I have all of it, but: “Whatever is the problem now, it’s alright, because later is going to be different.”

There are versions of that thought all over: “Everything will be okay in the end. If it’s not okay, then it’s not the end.” –everybody (but specifically found John Lennon being quoted this time)

Now, don’t misunderstand me. I fully realize that not every problem can be set aside so easily as with this little mental trick. If a family member is in critical condition after a heart attack or something, just saying, “It’s alright, because tomorrow’s a new day” won’t alleviate the worry on its own (and it won’t solve shit).

But I’ve used this perspective so many times for similar issues (to getting lost, not the heart attack, though we’ll get to that). Lost in San Francisco at night because I can’t find the car? I’ll make it home eventually and this will all be a story for later. In a fight with a friend? Life finds a way to sort itself out one way or another? Driving during a dangerous storm? Keep focused, and you’ll be feeling the sheets soon enough. Just having a shitty day at work? Ride it out, and that cotton will feel even better for getting through it.

In a rut just with life in general? That will require work, probably lots of it. But those restful nights will be critical, and after enough effort, life will change in a much more colorful, flavorful, storied way.

So the next time you’re in an uncomfortable situation, it’s worthwhile to look ahead knowing there’s something on the other side of it.

Anyway, that’s my two cents.

#twopennies

Insanity isn’t What I Thought it Was

Sup everybody.

(Hmmm…word of warning up top: this one is a little heavy. I was going through some of my random files and found the following. It was deep into a really tough life event (about a year ago), and is basically a diary entry from then. I’m mostly putting it on here as…well, going on whim, really; but also in case it resonates with anyone. I’m going to omit some names, given the nature of the thing, but otherwise, it’s just something I sat down and typed out as the feelings arose. Anyway, consider yourself informed [sounds less dramatic than “warned,” and we’re trying to have fun here- well, not today, exactly, but just in general and you get what I- oh God, okay, onto the thing]).

I think I might be going insane.

It’s been about seven months since mom went to the hospital, and about that long since we first heard the word “dementia” as it relates to her. Since then, it’s been neurology visit after neurology visit, insurance call after insurance call, email after email with hospital management – everybody either not knowing what to do or trying to get rid of us.

I just woke up from the same nightmare, three times in the same night, and bawled my eyes out.

I cried for an hour.

In it, mom died, the bank wanted to take her house, [landlady] said she couldn’t keep me as a tenant, and nobody was around – Mandy, [uncle], [aunt], [cousin], [in-law], [in-law], [aunt], [Pierre], even city workers from the damned coroner’s office – absolutely nobody.

There were people, but no one I knew and no one who was willing to help.

I was utterly alone.

And I woke up feeling that way, thinking that way.

Mandy came to bed when I called and lie there, consoling me. I told her the voice in my head kept telling me that the dream was right, that no one would miss me if I was gone. She told me that I was loved and listed people who felt that way.

In the nightmare, though, that was just the thing. Nobody was around, nobody cared. And all the people who would love me…the feeling just didn’t go that far. Nightmares have always been that way: I need to run, I’m slow; I need to punch, I hit light as a feather; I need love, the most someone can feel towards me is casually like me.

It was a world where love towards me just didn’t exist.

Every name she gave, the voice found a way to tell me why that wasn’t true. (Except when she said “Jeremy”. Weirdly, the voice said “Yeah, I guess him, actually”.)

She told me that I was family, and that her family was mine too, that I needed to let go of this feeling that I’d be so easily abandoned. She gave [a sibling] as an example of how persevering her family was with troubles.

Again, the voice piped up and told me that that was different. [A sibling] is family by blood, it said. Of course they won’t abandon him, it continued, he’s a son and brother by blood – you, though…?

“Even marriage,” it said, “is different.”

It seems true for everyone else, I tried telling it.

“For them, yeah. But for you…?”

I went from crying to laughing into her chest and shoulder. And I’m not sure why. I think it was because I could see how crazy this all looked and sounded, and the laughing didn’t help but kept going anyway.

When we had to put Ferdinand (our cat) down a couple of years ago, it was the reminder of how harsh but sure a teacher experience can be – or rather, just is.

I stood in the bathroom and she brought me a glass of water and a hug. After she left, I swirled the water around and drank it. And I think I know why people prefer the burn of whiskey or scotch in moments like that, like in the movies.

I’m starting to wonder when people describe voices in their head, whether they mean actually hearing someone speaking to them inside their head or if it’s impulses or thoughts that just don’t sound like what they’d usually think to themselves. Foreign ideas and concepts that feel like invaders.

Because this voice was fully the latter.

But boy it was convincing. And I think that’s because it sounds like I’m talking to myself, telling myself things. But it still sounds like a voice that’s not mine.

So I’m starting to think that’s what insanity is. It may not just be a sudden crack into mad raving, but soft touches like this, a voice that tells your low worth, how easily you’ll be forgotten, and that if you confide this in anyone, that gives them power over you and they might use it just for fun, because they know they have it now.

The more I woke up, though, the quieter the voice got – which isn’t really a super sign in and of itself. You shouldn’t be afraid of sleep, afraid of whatever-this-is waiting for you when you’re tired. But as I woke up, another voice spoke up that told the first to shut the fuck up.

It told me that I’m not the only who gets like this, and I believe that.

Which is both comforting and kind of scary, isn’t it? I don’t want the people around me to wake up crying and then cackle about it, and to have that be something normal.

But se la vie.

Which is what the voice said next. “That’s part of the human experience, baby. Learn to love it. Happiness, anger, thrill, depression – they’re all in the same basket.”

It didn’t say the parts past “baby”, but I know it’s what it meant.

While I was crying into Mandy’s shoulder, I told her something. Something very true that I don’t think I’ve told anyone – even myself.

I’m afraid of dying alone.

Not “dying while single” or “dying and not being in a relationship” or even “dying with nobody around at that particular moment” even though they’re all definitely true.

I’m scared (ironically to death) of dying and nobody caring.

Then my team of mental coaches – Deadpool, Kevin Hart, and Kratos – ganged up and beat up the voice in a cartoon dust cloud.

And I’ve been pretty optimistic and comfortable in my skin since.

Also, because I think I learned something.

When I was a kid, I thought going crazy was scary, but maybe a little fun. I thought you’d get used to seeing people that weren’t there or hearing voices no one spoke and you could just make it a fun new world view.

But I think insanity’s a little softer than that and a LOT more intimate.

We’re all a little bit insane.

Or at least part of me hopes so.