An Orange Traffic Cone: a memoir

Happy New Ye- oh, wow. This is…uh, this is pretty late. Like, “we’re the kind of folks that still have our Christmas lights from the previous year up” kind of late. But eh, oh well. It’s been good so far: Happy New Year, everybody!

Took a second this time ’round, didn’t we? Hope everyone’s various holidays and celebrations went well and that you ate enough pie or whatever (heh, there’s a dirty joke in there somewhere) that you’re still working it off.

Oh! Before we get into the tale in earnest, wanted to quickly stroke myself in mentioning we have another publication on the way! Turns out my first ever fiction piece “The Sixth Gun Conspiracy Letters,” featured in Third Flatiron Publishing’s ‘Hidden Histories’ anthology, merited a spot in their upcoming “Best of 2019” anthology.

So…that’s pretty dope.

Anyway! I, like most of us, have myself a laundry list of New Year’s Resolutions. But I haven’t started running yet. Haven’t yet started reading the Harry Potter series (God, I KNOW, right? -said every woman friend of mine ever). And haven’t yet gotten back to learning to play the Overcooked main theme on my harmonica off-book (I’m almost there, but I’m a bit rusty).

I’m going to sidestep responsibility for another moment and say that I’ve been pulled away from those commitments by virtue of the fact that I started this year off on the wrong foot. Normally, I wake up January 1st bright and early, list of Resolutions on my desk, and start tackling them almost immediately.

This year, that ‘bright and early’ was a bit more ‘foggy and nauseous’, leering at the previous night’s festivities – but whatevs. What also set it off on an unexpected foot was THE FIRST thing that popped into my conscious mind this year: the story of the ‘How Weird’ street festival.

Now, this happened years ago, but it’s stayed with me and I’ve gotten to recount it enough recently that the details have come back startlingly crisp. It was pitched to me by my wonderful girlfriend Mandy (who I’m sure still loves being talked about on here) as a sort of street fair in San Francisco “just with weird stuff” (hence the name, right?). That was totally true, mostly. It turned out to basically be an outdoor rave/trance concert, with a bunch of cannabis vendors (or “totally-not-cannabis” vendors, given the legality at the time) lining the streets. But there were also, certainly, plenty of odd things befitting the name.

First thing we see when we show up was a line that went around the block. Nothing too odd about that, granted. But IN said line were plenty of topless gals in tutus (sweet), old dudes in chaps and nothing else (respect the move, so, sweet as well), and my personal favorite: a dude wearing a luchador mask, mummified neck-to-ankles in saran wrap, pink briefs covering his yoo-hoo’s, all the while coasting about on roller skates.

It was like coming home.

Once we’d made it inside, I’ll admit, details get a little bit fuzzy; but there three occurrences I do remember that made that trip what it was.

Firstly, and most prominently, there was one of the few vendors not hawking the Devil’s Lettuce who was giving away these little ceramic medallions, about the size and shape of sand dollars, in all sorts of colors. On them were reliefs of the word “Peace” in every language under the sun. He gave them away and accepted donations if you felt like it, and behind him was a big board with the amount he’d ostensibly given away to date: roughly 500,000.

Rad, right?

I chose a medallion with the word in Hindi (“shaanti”). No real connection or heritage to it other than studying the Vedic traditions a bit in college at the time, and it resonated more than Italian or Spanish or what-have-you.

Anyway, I gave the guy ten dollars, which was about all the loose cash I had left in my wallet for two reasons: 1) I always believe in tipping generously whatever the case may be, and 2) right at the moment Mandy and I were being given our medallions, a guy came up to the man giving them away. Apparently, the man had given the guy a medallion three years before, and the guy promised to pay him $100 sometime in the nebulous future when he was able; and that now he did in fact have the money, so he paid him what he promised.

I thought it was a pretty beautiful moment to be present for.

I won’t lie, I’m not much one for “crystal healing” or “nerve rings” or anything, but it’s funny how often this little necklace has become a bit of a totem. A serious moment comes up that requires focus or decision making, frustration bubbles to the surface for real or stupid reasons, traffic sucks – whatever. I find myself rubbing this thing with all its meanings – peace, calm, quiet, serenity, emptiness – and my blood pressure actively lowers.

Magic.

Speaking of magic, the second memory pillar to that day was The Storm. Not that anything out of the ordinary happened with the weather, it was actually a super nice, sunny one; but I bumped into a dude named Storm (adding the “the” just sort of makes it sounds more dun-dun-duuuuun).

Storm was a buddhist monk, maybe my age at the time (23) or a little younger. He, like Medallion Man, was there trying to give away messages of wisdom and love. He was in the usual saffron-orange robes, with a big ol’ honkin’ duffel bag hanging on one shoulder. In it, were stacks and stacks of copies of the Bhagavad Gita (and even now, just thinking about it makes my neck ache). He was trying, unsuccessfully as we saw it, to give them away. Wasn’t asking for anything, or even mentioning donations, as I recall. Just wanted to get as many books into as many hands as he could.

He approached us, told us all this, how and where he’d been traveling, what he was trying to do, and if we’d accept a copy. I told him I would accept it on one condition: that I get a hug.

Y’all…that was one of the best hugs I’ve ever received from a stranger.

It was like hugging the brother I didn’t know I had or had wanted.

I was given the book (still have it, by the way, in my keepsake trunk; that thing will move with me to every house I ever live in), and we parted ways. Knowing that I was given the hug by such a warm individual and that we’re likely to never, ever meet again genuinely fills me with hope and warm thoughts about this world; that people are generally good, kind, and are just trying to make it, no matter what that dick in traffic shouted out his window – give him a chance and you’ll probably find a lot of common ground, and there but for the grace of God go any of us, shouting our asses off in- okay, I’m ranting.

Storm. Book. Hug. Memories. Milk of human kindness.

The third and last wasn’t the most impacting as far as my world view is concer-

Actually, scratch that. It did. It super did. Not as much as Medallion Man and Storm, which is undoubtedly a good thing; but unfortunately it is the FIRST thing I think of whenever I reminisce about the How Weird street fair.

We were walking down whatever avenue the fair was on, asking ourselves the “are we ready to go?/have we seen all we want to?” questions. The fair saw fit to show us out with a 1-2 punch combination of sweet, sweet, San Franciscan imagery.

The first: two older gentlemen I assume were lovers, approximately late-60’s, stark naked save a pair of Nike’s each, and – my favorite part – light up blinky cock rings that just…we designed to draw the eye. (To this day, I’m positive one of them winked at me – not one of the men, the penises. One of the penises winked at me.)

The second: there was a turd on the sidewalk.

It gets talked about now, about how much public defecation is a problem in the City, but not back then. And yet, there it was. Corn-riddled, definitely human doo-doo. Normally, that’d just be a case of, “Ah, gross. But whaddya gonna do? It’s da Ciiiityyyy.” Not this time. Not this time, because of my favorite detail: to remedy the fact that there was a fat log of human poo-poo on the sidewalk, someone retrieved a bright orange traffic cone and set it down RIGHT BESIDE the turd!

BESIDE IT!

They didn’t SCOOP it, or DISPOSE of it, or even COVER it WITH THE CONE! They put the cone down BESIDE THE POOP!

It remains my favorite ever example of simply sublime problem-solving, and it still cracks me up.

Anyway, good to talk to y’all again. See ya Thursday (yes, for real this time).

"Drip, Drip, Drip…" – A Poem

The toilet has a leak.
It’s been nearly a week this toilet has had a leak.
The towel on the floor’s begun to reek,
and the future remains quite bleak,
but I will not retreat!

A clamp of the wrench, and the valve starts to creak-
SNAP!
Alas, the plastic cap was weak, perhaps my approach ought’ve been more meek.
So now it’s worse, the leak.

This vicious blood-rage is reaching its peak!
A solution to this goddamn toilet is all that I seek!
…what is this…?
Ah! An idea! Eureka!

A bird doesn’t need tools, it uses its beak!
I have two worthy hands, a mind that’s unique,
I’ll work with what I have, quit shouting at porcelain like some kind of freak.
Some tape on the threads, refit the flow valve’s seat…
Boom! Air-tight! Suck it, toilet, I won’t be beat!

At last, the drip is gone, the floor is dry, me- a heroic, fix-it geek.
Repair Skill: 100, “Jury Rig” perk, (as the kids say) on fleek!

I climb into bed, enjoying this first victory in a To-Do list winning streak.
Mandy walks by, bathroom door closes – *Flush!* – WIIIIIIRRRUUUURREEEK!

I bolt upright, my eyes shoot open at the toilet’s new, banshee-like screech.
The covers fly off, my knuckles crack. “Alright, toilet. Round two, bitch,” I heatedly speak.

END

The Take: So, among other things, that’s been my week. Rhyming sort of fell a part towards the end, but I was determined to make sure that, even though it was the freest of freestyle in format, I wanted to keep the same rhyming sound. But, like faces, there are only so many words that share similar sounds. That all said, I like it.

I pray that none of you ever need know the same struggle.

Enjoy your weekends.

What the Gosh-Dingle-Damn?!

Won’t lie, y’all, forgot what day it was. That goes for yesterday, too – which is why this is late. ALSO, I’m writing this from a potato pretending to be a phone, with a keyboard that doesn’t have a Return key. So in that spirit, today, I’m going to pose a question that we’re going to answer tomorrow: What was going through the mind of the guy who discovered cheese? (Scheduled post subject to change based on the author’s whimsy.)

Funeral for a Hamster: A Legacy

Whoa, hey guys. It’s been a minute, right? Like a real minute.

Been a helluva week, too. Work’s been nuts, some family stuff, friendly drama, took Honorable Mention in the semi-finals of a national fiction contest (#humblebrag), and my pet died.

It’s been a thing.

BUT, that’s not what we’re here to talk about (kind of). We’re here…to talk about Hammy.

That’s short for “Hamilton”, the hamster – it was my girlfriend’s idea, I didn’t vote for it; but grew to love the name and the little doofus in short order. Apparently, the average lifespan of a syrian dwarf hamster is about two years, and the Lil’ Hercules (name explained in a moment) made it twenty-nine months. We buried him out front, with neighbors and family, in the rain, and said some kind words while I played “My Guitar Gently Weeps” on my phone.

I hope I live the kind of life where I merit a funeral that’s half as cool.

So, in the spirit, I’d like to share a few tales about Hamilton’s legacy and why he was so awesome.

  1. He Ate Fucking Metal and Lifted a Fucking Book
    He had a pretty spacious cage to run around in with plenty of ‘floof’ to burrow through. But that wasn’t enough for Lil’ Hercules. At one point, Mandy thought it’d be a good idea to outfit his space with an old egg carton as a sort of makeshift ladder to climb on. Cool in theory, right? Problem was, now he could reach the metal mesh that was the top of the cage. No problem, right? Wrong. Problem. Very much problem, apparently.
    I wake up in the middle of the night to some weird noises, but was exhausted enough to just ignore them. Come morning time, I get up for work, walk groggily to the kitchen, and while I’m making coffee, something scuttles over my feet. I look down, thinking I’m about to kill a rat, when I see the rat is orange.
    I wrack my brains over how he got out. Did we leave the cage open? Did we leave it cracked? No, and no.
    I go back to his cage with him scooped up, and see there’s a fat fucking hole in the mesh where the carton reaches. He chewed through (and presumably ate) aluminum screen in the name of freedom.
    We spent the next week expecting him to leave a couple bloody turds, and then die painfully; but that never happened. Instead, we put a heavy-ass biology textbook to cover the hole and kept an eye on him.
    Apparently, not a close-enough eye, because a couple nights later, there come more weird noises. I wake up, turn on the light, and spot him rummaging through our closet. I scold him (thoroughly expecting him to understand me), scoop him up yet again, and inspect his cage to see the – let it not be understated – heavy-ass biology textbook scooted off to the side.
    That rodent was on ‘roids.
  2. He Got Me to Kiss his Nuts Once
    Not too much to delve into here, it’s pretty self-explanatory.
    We, and most of our friends, made a fair amount of fun of Hammy’s balls. But that was only because they were ginormous! They genuinely, actually made it seem like they made it more difficult for him to walk.
    That aside, when he’d gotten used to being handled and carried, it was a nice thing to be able to nuzzle him and kiss his back or his head. Problem was, he was quick.
    So I’m holding him in the crook of my elbow, nuzzle him, and lean over to give him a kiss to the head, when he ‘Swoop!’ scuttles over my arm, and my lips brush right up against those kidney-bean-sized testicles.
    I think that was the day I decided I loved him. I’ve never kissed a pair of testicles and not loved the…y’know what, never mind…
  3. He Stared Death in the Face (kind of)
    There’s a neighborhood cat around here that we’ve pseudo-adopted. Her name’s ‘Tiger,’ even though her owners named her ‘Kitten,’ but that’s dumb, so her name’s ‘Tiger.’
    Anyway, Tiger loved to come over, hang out for warmth and scratches, and then jump up onto the bench where Hammy’s cage was and just…stare at him (We called her doing this “checking out Food Network”).
    Part of what made his passing a bit more gentle was knowing that he lived a life in which he never knew pain or fear (except once when he fell off the bed, peed a little, then hopped right back to life). So when a giant monster that stared at him mere centimeters away, longing to eviscerate him, and play with his tiny intestines like Silly String, he just looked at her, smiled, shrugged, and peed in his corner.
    I’m probably attributing courage for what was actually hilarious Darwinian ignorance, but I like to picture him as staring death in the face and shrugging. So, there.

He survived two of California’s wildfires with us, scaled a bathroom cabinet like a parkour athlete, and loudly ran into about eleven-hundred doors in his plastic ball, then died peacefully in his sleep at the ripe old age of two-and-a-half.

We should all be so lucky.

Love ya, Hammy. We’ll miss you.

Hamilton, under his Rainbow Bridge

Catch you guys Tuesday.

Another True Story

On Thursday, I went to the beach for the first time in probably three years (except for Mothers’ Day this year, but that was an exception because it was a different beach than normal, and I got to help her fly kites like we used to do when I was a kid – but ANYWAY), and it was nice.

Didn’t take anyone with me, just packed up a bag with a thermos of cocoa, my notebook, a couple of pencils (they’re Pokemon pencils), and a towel. In Northern California, for the Uninitiated, our beaches aren’t those sexy, Santa Barbara kind of soft sand, warm water, even warmer sun; our beaches are like Russian grandmas from the early 1900’s: hard, cold, gritty, and smell sort of like salt and turnips.

But it’s a great place for being an introspective (pseudo-pretentious) douche.

So I walked down the shaky steps, took in the salty, crisp air, and found a big ol’ rock to sit on, contemplate things, and take notes.

If you haven’t yet, do me a favor and check out the “You Are a Human Being” post from Sunday. It’s worth a smile, and there were a few things I meant to dig into there, but never got around to.

One of those things is something called the Overview Effect. In brief, it’s described as a change in awareness and a shift in consciousness by astronauts during spaceflight when they see Earth in space – surrounded by nothing, baseless, floating, and moreover…tiny.

There are books on the idea, movies on the idea, and now blog posts on the idea; which is all a good thing, because it is a truly marvelous concept. Everything you know, love, hate, cherish, have made, eaten, seen, or what-have-you, is all on that tiny dot.

And that’s the reality, which is weird, isn’t it? But also provides a sort of privilege.

After I heard about it a couple of years ago, I started thinking of myself, at times, as a micro-explorer. Mountains aren’t giant, bacteria isn’t tiny, they just are the sizes they are. We just use ourselves to measure them relative to, well, us.

So it was thoughts like that which floated around my brain while I sat on that rock, beside a craggy cliff face which shored up along the tides. I started to think about the shoreline less like a huge wall of broken rock (which broke down into big rocks, which broke down to smaller and smaller rocks, until it was sand, until it was water, etc), and more like a flaky pie crust.

From up top and way up high, that’s all it probably looks like. You see the slab of land that stretches off into hills one way, like paper that gets a bit warped, wavy, and crinkled; and the other ends at the shore.

Do the visuals I’m trying to paint make any sense? Or is it just me?

Me?

Sweet.

Well, while out there on that rock, thinking of all these hilariously-too-big ideas (Jesus, that sounds like I’m stroking myself a bit: “Heh, look at me with all my big, genius, philosophy thoughts. I’m so wise and smart and- anyway), I hear something kind of funny.

I fit my pen into my notebook, lean over the edge of the rock, and look down.

Down by the rocks is a sea otter! But it looks different and like it’s holding something, a couple something’s, actually; and it isn’t scattering when I make noise. So I pack up my things, climb down my rock, and try to get a closer look; all the while, still hearing this weird “ching, ching, chang” sound.

I get down to the sand, round the rock, and find the otter. Up close, I realize why he looked strange from up top: he was wearing a helmet. A bright yellow construction helmet. And he was holding a chisel and a hammer, whacking away at a rock.

“Well, this is new,” I said.

“Yeah?” said the otter, turning around. He pocketed the chisel, leaned on his hammer, and adjusted the cigar between his teeth. He also spoke with a thick Brooklyn accent. “What’re ya lookin’ at, kid? You ain’t got anywhere to be?”

“Uh, no. Well, yeah, kinda, but, I mean…”

“Spit it out, kid. You thick in the head or somethin’?”

“You’re an otter.”

“Yeah, and who’re you? Beethoven?”

“If I’m talking with an otter wearing construction gear on beach, I might be.”

“Yeah? Well nice to meet you’s. Name’s Ralph.”

“Shit, Ralph. It’s nice to meet you too.” I hold my hand out to shake, and he takes it. He’s got a strong grip – a good sign. I tell him that.

“Yeah, kid. You too,” he says. “None o’ that limp-wristed bitch shit, m’I right?” He laughs. “Hey, know what kid? I like you. How ’bout me and the wife have you over tonight fa dinnah?”

Whatever plans I had, I cancelled. I was going to have dinner with this otter’s family. So he finished up his work on the rock, and when the tide came in, he ushered me off to a space along the shoreline. It was, for lack of a better term, a cave that wound down and around a ways that finally came to a light at the bottom. I expected it to be cold, but it warmed up rather nicely and kept dry, not humid at all.

“Honey!” Ralph called. “Honey, I’m home. And I brought a friend.”

When she walked around the corner of the comfortably furnished cave, my mouth fell open. “Catherine Zeta-Jones?” I said in astonishment.

She welcomed me in, we all had dinner (cioppino with red wine), I caught up on where CZJ’s been, chatted philosophy with Ralph, and got wine-drunk with both of them…

I woke up a couple hours ago, which is why I didn’t manage to post on Thursday.

Mea culpa.

Anyway, catch you guys Tuesday (barring any more run-in’s with praeto-natural mammals).

Ciao.

You are a Human Being

And isn’t that awesome? That should be awesome, and it is. You get to pilot a vehicle made of muscle and sinew and bone and skin, and use that biological mech-suit to walk around a gigantic ball of rock in an infinite plane of space. You get to use it to see trees and clouds and mountains and ocean waves. You can use it to listen to the whistling wind, barking squirrels, crunching leaves, and singing birds. You get to take big, deep breaths with it and smell cold morning air, salty sea breeze, autumn spices. You can bite through the tart skin of a plum to the sweet fruit underneath, chow down on fresh baked bread, hot cooked fish, or the spice of a pepper.

But probably best of all, with this awesome body, you can feel things. You can brush your hand over down grass, knead your fingers into fur, feel the warmth of sunshine against your cheek, or someone else’s skin against your own. You can feel the bubbly cauldron in your stomach that’s giddy joy, or the furnace that’s drive or rage. You can feel the warm knot of togetherness with a loved one, and the unbearable, chewing-on-tin-foil sensation of loss when they’re gone. You can feel disappointment, and triumph. Be wrapped up in a memory so warm, or lost in a regret so cold. You get to feel foolish at a mistake, or proud at an accomplishment.

On top of all that, you’re part of a big group of other humans. We’re kind and creative. Smart, talented, generous, caring, full of ingenuity, and also kind of dumb, sort of dicks sometimes, scared, scary, and selfish. Some of us have titles and positions, egos and attitudes, biases and histories. You don’t have to go out of your way to meet someone that reminds you of yourself in some way, or in a position you’ve been in, or could be, if the circumstances were right.

Someone made a dumb decision or mistake? Remember a time you did. Someone’s being pissy in traffic? There has to be a time you’ve wanted to be. Seeing someone being judgemental (especially online – like, damn)? We’ve all let our ego take the wheel a time or two.

I’ll be honest, I don’t know where I’m going with this other than to try and impress that we’re people, and there’s such a privilege in that. We have problems, imbalance, fucked up situations daily, sickness, scarcity, reasons to be scared, pissed, jealous, or otherwise. But there are so many more reasons to laugh, do a little jig, hug someone, let loose, be grateful, sing even if you positively suck at it, or wear those comfortable pants even if your girlfriend says they clash with your shirt or whatever.

We have bodies. Art. Music. Food. Friends. Homes. Jokes. Cars. Sushi. Movies. Bonfires. Crayons. Flowers. Photography. Dancing. Booze. Secondhand puzzles that still somehow have all 500 pieces. That last bit of milk that’s just enough for that bowl of cereal. Serendipitous moments where a song comes on the radio and it’s your fucking anthem. A colorful history that’s awesome, terrible, miraculous, disgusting, and just as varied as people are, probably have always been, and will likely always be. We’re not perfect, but that’s cool. Sometimes we’re stronger than we think we are, and other times we need the help of others – and that’s the awesome thing: help is always there, even if it doesn’t look like it. Ask, reach out, go looking, or keep trying until it gets there.

I’m going to start the next sentence in a certain way, and I want you to know that it’s on purpose to emphasize its importance…

Bruh…the next time you feel like crying, no matter how horrible or however little the reason is, enjoy it.

Anyway, I think what started all this was my fervent holding that Thanksgiving is an viciously underappreciated holiday that gets skipped over for Christmas while the body of Halloween hasn’t even cooled yet. So this is my little rebellion. Everyone starts as a baby and gets their own story, cherish your own and cut others some slack. “What is the meaning of life?” is an overrated question because it doesn’t inheirantly have one, so you get to decide. And never say you’re bored when there’s so much to think about, try, and appreciate.

Or…I learned all this from the ghost of an ancient wise man and had to spend last week learning ancient Greek or whatever, so that’s why I didn’t post Thursday. Whichever you want to believe. The world’s your oyster.

Alright, that’s enough. Take it easy, everybody. Catch you Tuesday. Ciao.