Brute Force and Ignorance, a Formula for Life

I stumbled across an old picture of my uncle Barry the other day. He passed away about ten years ago, but he was so warm and larger than life, it’s amazing how just a glance at an old photograph brings back memories that were the same. He died of pancreatic cancer, but it doesn’t define his memory, if that makes sense.

We were in the hospital with him one day when he was having his chemotherapy done, and while you’d think the impressions that would last longest would be the intangibles – the sterile odor of the halls, the somber atmosphere, the sad attempts at making light – but they weren’t. The first thing I think of is a picture he had me take with my phone of him using one of those long, blue, plastic vomit bags propped up on his lap, inflated, to look like a big dick. (He dubbed them elephant condoms.) I left that day reeling from how fearless and strong he was. Tired, obviously, but undaunted amid a battle with cancer. And it only just occurred to me now, a decade later, that he might have been scared. That after we left and the door closed behind us, maybe he let out a sigh, or cried, or had to go back to wrestling with being scared, or whatever else.

He put on such a strong, happy, joking face, it’s been ten years without realizing there may have been more to it…

Hmm…pretty incredible.

He was this big Jewish guy. Salt-and-pepper beard, big glasses, bigger, round belly, and a deep, breathy laugh that filled whatever space he was in (even outdoors). He had such a powerful charisma that was just at home toasting a room crowded with friends and family as it was holding a conversation with you as though you and he were the only ones that existed in that moment.

I could ramble for hours on all of his beautiful qualities, but I won’t hold you here for the day and a half that would take. Rather, there was one nugget of wisdom he offered when I was ten, just after he’d helped my mom find the house that became my childhood home. My dad had passed away the previous year, and Barry was gifting me a little gray toolbox, saying something to the effect of: “You’re man-of-the-house now, kid. And this is a pretty good place, but you gotta help your mom take care of it, alright? Here, take this. Every man needs a good set of tools. Every man.”

“Now,” he continued, “there’s something else to go with it, and that’s some advice. With it, and with these tools, there ain’t no problem that comes up you can’t tackle, alright? Just remember: ‘Brute force and ignorance, when applied in the proper proportion, will solve any problem.'”

The hilarious thing? He was right.

We all have a tendency to overthink, from time to time. We get into a problem, get into a jam, then get too far inside our own heads. It’s kind of like earthbending, for my fellow Avatar: The Last Airbender nerds out there, in so much that sometimes there IS no special trick or angle to getting through something. Sometimes what you need is just a goal and some good old-fashioned hardheadedness. In that, we set both Brute Force and Ignorance to High.

Other times, we might need a different approach, say approaching a personal matter with a friend. In those times, you need to be direct, blunt, firm, but selective. That’s keeping Brute Force high, but utilizing Ignorance a bit less.

Overthinking an itinerary or what should be a simple day to the beach? No real call for Brute Force, there, but crank Ignorance up so you can just fucking go where the wind takes you, rather than getting so caught up in details that do. Not. Matter.

The ratios and applications are as endless as life’s problems, but whatever the case, the formula holds true: “Brute Force and Ignorance, when applied in the proper proportion, will solve any problem.”

It’s also an excellent tool for keeping your head up and staying the course. Stuck on something? Multiple attempts failing one after the other? You KNOW all you have to do is adjust the formula and keep cranking.

Anyway, that’s about it for today. I hope this is something you can and will take with you. I think I have a resting place to go visit.

Go in peace, go in love, y’all.

Later.

Lucid [Horror] Dreaming

Guys, I think I might be losing my touch a little bit.

Once upon a time, I used to have a super power. Unfortunately, it wasn’t anything cool like immense strength, ultra speed, or being able to reliably find the last parking spot on a busy day; though I CAN usually guess the time without looking, but I’m consistently a single minute off – which I’m sure is what will eventually drive me to being a super villain.

ANYWAY.

No, my power was that I could, in a very limited way, reliably lucid dream.The way it worked was simple: if I was in a dream, and it started to get scary or in any way stressful, I would suddenly become lucid and therefore decide if I wanted to continue with the dream, or pull the rip cord and wake myself up. One of my favorites went sort of as follows:

I’m on an alien space ship, and it’s sort of a cross between Alien and the Halo series. I’m in a Spartan suit, but I’m being stalked by a Xenomorph. Things are going however they’re going as I look for a battery for the last escape pod, or whatever, and I come to a place in the ship where the lights are out. There’s a break in the flooring, and I know I have to go down into this super creepy spot next, when suddenly, I realize it’s a dream. I hear a snarl over my shoulder, but now suddenly lucid say, “Hahahahaha- no.” And boom, I wake up. Easy peezey.

That ability has given me the confidence such that I’ve made it a consistent hobby of mine to eat spicey food or have a bit of booze just before bed for the bizarre dreams. And that’s landed me with some real zingers.

But I think I’m starting to slip.

Last night, I had a series of bad, scary dreams. I mean, fortunately, they were the kind of “horror/action movie” bad as opposed to “real life tragedy” bad, but still.

I went from trying to escape some kind of compound, stealthily taking out guards and praying I wouldn’t get caught, to – naturally – a zombie apocolypse. From there, the last two softcore nightmares both took place in mansions. The less supernatural one was kind of a Victorian-era murder mystery; which would have been sort of cool, if I weren’t hacked to death at the end of it.

But the last one motivated today’s post entirely. And not even for the whole of it – which, of course, I can’t totally remember anymore because dreams are shitty that way (especially the good ones!) – but for an eerie effect that I remember happening somewhere near the middle.

I was walking up flights of furnished mahogany stairs in a half-covered mansion. “Half-covered” in that much of the furniture was draped in old sheets to protect them from dust. It’s morning time and the sun is pouring through the windows, and I’m looking for something. I don’t totally remember what, but I remember it was important.

I make it to the top floor, search for a while, and make for the stairs again. I’m at the top when I hear a sound, so I look over my shoulder. Behind me and down the hall is a figure, draped in black cloth and wearing a stoic, featureless, white mask (picture a creepier No Face). I’ve never had sleep paralysis before, but I’ve heard it’s terrible, and now I sort of understand why.

I couldn’t move a muscle.

But that didn’t keep my heart from pounding, my breath quickening, or my nerves frying while I fought it. The white mask floated over to me – it didn’t walk – but just coasted over the hardwood like a chess piece, and while it did that, I watched the light in the hallway and coming through all the windows shift. I watched morning, become noon, become evening, become night, become morning again, over and over, so quickly it was like a slow strobing effect. Every time the figure was hidden by the darkness of night and reappeared in morning light, it was different: arms slowly grew out from under the sleeves which turned to claws, it grew taller, the expression on the featureless, plain mask became more and more malevolent.

For whatever reason, my paralysis finally broke free and I turned to make a run for the stairs, but they were suddenly missing, leading just to a sheer drop down four stories.

The rest of the dream was a chase as I dashed in and out of bedrooms and down hallways trying to escape, until I eventually was tackled by something.

WITHOUT WAKING UP OR BEING ABLE TO GO LUCID.

I guess my point is that getting older sucks. (Eh, but it’s kind of cool too, but more on that later. I have to go.)

Ciao.

*creak, creak* Ahem…

Because it probably doesn’t make sense, I’d like to explain that the title is supposed to be the sound of me setting up a soapbox, because this is about to get a little preachy (for, like, a second).

I’m on Facebook, but I’m not really on Facebook. I pop by, scroll for funny or insightful pictures, “tune in” to certain people’s pages like I’m checking the news or drama, then I pop back off. Not that this is letting any cats out of any bags, but: any longer than that, I find, it can be enough to drive the best of us utterly insane.

I’m only saying that because even from underneath my big-ass rock, I heard about Kobe Bryan’ts death (I almost said “passing,” but let’s be real with each other, he and the several others on board died that day). And I’m going to keep this short, because this blog is two things: 1) a place for fun tales and day-dreams, and 2) thought-vomit and healthy, cathartic rants. What it isn’t, despite the introduction, is a place to be preachy or political. But as I was scrolling Facebook yesterday, I came across…just…too many un-apologists.

Does that make any sense?

Just, several people who took time out of their day to address the current event and be sure to include that while condolences to the victims of the crash were due, they were never going to say they were sorry for calling him a rapist.

Who…who’s asking you to?

When the story broke on the news (before his family was told, which is shitty), did a queue of people just line up asking if you were yet willing to reneg on your years-old comments?

Probably not.

I don’t have a dog in the race, no opinion on the matter, no facts to spew, but it just struck me as odd how many people took time out of their day to proclaim their negative thoughts on a seventeen year old, single accusation.

The story as far as I understand it is that back in 2003, someone accused him of sexual assault.

If true, gross; definitely make up for what you did.

If not, also gross, because that’s the damage an easily started rumor can do, if after two decades you, your daughter, and several others all die, and people spring out of the woodwork to call you a rapist in response.

I don’t really have a direct message here with all this other than to say- nah, fuck that, to ask if there’s room for redemption; any space for understanding; any ground for a moment’s patience prior to judgement anymore? (Trick question. Answer’s “yes.” Why we don’t avail ourselves of it seems to be another issue.)

There are obvious cases out there (cough Weinstein cough), and everything those evil-doers get is probably deserved. But then there’s the gray area of nuance, misunderstanding, of – and don’t think of all this in the context of sexual assault, either; just…anything. Fucking life is full of passing ships, mixed messages, misinterpretations in every area. What motivates droves of us to throw fire, and to slap ourselves with a “Hello, my name is” sticker labelled “Judge, Jury, Executioner” on it (tortured metaphor, but stick with me) is weirdly beyond me.

Just…don’t give yourself a hammer, then call everything a goddamn nail. At least not without looking inward, first. I don’t know if it’s a radical idea to put out there, but maybe check to see you have your shit in some semblence of order before giving your unsolicited sermon. God, especially if that sermon doesn’t do anything beyond showing your colors.

To those folks, and just any of us, three suggestions:

  1. Make your bed every morning.
    This one’s pretty age-old, as advice goes. Life can suck sometimes, true; and doubly true when things feel out of your control. So while it seems like a tiny thing (because it is), just making your bed can do a fuck-ton to bring you back to center and turn you towards the right stuff.
  2. Find someone you respect, and memorize their voice.
    One of the things that I’m sure leads to a lot of the stuff I complained about above is the emboldening power of the anonymity of the internet. Stories of trolls online being confronted by their targets suddenly turning into apologetic, down-to-earth people are countless. Having a person in front of you changes the interaction. So, if you don’t have someone in front of you, imagine one.
    Just earlier today, I was deep into a mission on Far Cry: New Dawn (great game if you love the franchise like I do), had to go to the bathroom, did that, and almost popped right back to the living room without washing my hands. I reached for the light, and Israel Adesanya’s voice just came to mind and went, “Tch, wash your hands, boy. What’chu doin’?”
    A minute later, I was back in my game, but my hands were soft and smelled like lavendar.
  3. Hug someone.
    This one is pretty self-explanatory. Hugs are awesome.

Cool. I think that’s enough to pepper the internet with for one day. Later, gators.

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.