Ooopy Spoooky

Happy All Hallows Eve, guys n’ gals.

Whether you believe in them or not, we all have a couple ghost stories. They might be for telling around a camp fire, sharing between friends, or recounting to a therapist. They have a habit of ranging from “just weird feelings” to seeing an apparition of some sort at the foot of your bed.

I won’t lie to you, I’ve never seen anything, but that’s SO MUCH for the best. I’ve heard things, felt things, and felt things, but never laid eyes on anything beyond the grave. I am completely convinced, however, that if I did, that would kick me straight into fight-or-flight mode. I realize there’s also a ‘freeze’ option there, but nope; if I see something, there’s going to be motion.

(First up, I want to remind you to check out a post from earlier this week, Lady Death, just as it’s a little appropriate for today. And what’s more, if you’re REALLY feeling a good ghost story, do me a favor and check out Episode 209: “The Scars of Eliza Gray” on the NIGHTLIGHT podcast. It was one of my first publications and remains one of my favorites.)

And now, a series of ghost- or near-ghost-experiences:

  1. The Christmas Ornament
    Little bit of backstory to start off: my father passed away when I was nine, December of 2003. As one might imagine, that had a certain impact on Christmas that year. For the first time, it was just my mother and I, and looking back, I think on it less of how I remember it as a kid and more of how well she handled it as a newly single mother – which was, for the record, very well.
    We moved house that next summer, and when December ’04 came around, as the story goes, mom had an encounter.
    I had gone upstairs and gone to bed, she was downstairs closing down the house preparing to do the same. The way the house was situated, her bathroom was at the end of a short hallway that connected it to the now darkened living room. She’s standing there, brushing her teeth, when she hears a sound coming from the Christmas tree standing at the opposite end of the hallway.
    There was a little electronic train ornament that was a staple of our Christmas decorating. It had my name written on it, and when you pressed the button on the steam spout, it would sing a little song out of choo-choo noises. Thing was, the button had stopped working years ago.
    So there she stands, toothbrush in mouth, watching this little, long-silent ornament sing its song at the shadowy edge of the bathroom light’s furthest reaches.
    As she tells it, she addressed my father by name, calling out, “Vern, you don’t live here anymore. Go upstairs and see your son, but after that, you need to go.”
    I joked the next morning that I found it pretty irresponsible to think there was a ghost in the house and have your first response basically be, “There’s a defenseless, sleeping boy upstairs. Go bug him instead.”
  2. Suddenly Awake
    This one remains my hallmark experience, and apologies up front as I still haven’t yet found that words do it justice, but here goes…
    It was a night like any other. I was maybe eighteen or nineteen at the time, fast asleep. Middle of the night, time unknown, I open my eyes. I wasn’t groggy, wasn’t sleepy or coming to consciousness. I was just suddenly awake, as if I had been for a while and was just now noticing; not startled, not scared or anxious or energetic, just suddenly conscious. I know that, because it was moments after I woke up where I began to wonder why I’d done so, that a dreaded creeping sensation came over the room.
    I didn’t hear anything, but some other sense was telling me that there was another person in the room with me. I felt myself being looked at, being observed or examined. It wasn’t sleep paralysis, necessarily. I could move if I wanted to, but chose to play possum, like if I’d looked over my shoulder at that moment it would incense whatever was in the room with me.
    The pinnacle of the experience came in two parts.
    The first was that – and as certain as I remain of this, the part of me that’s objective knows to acknowledge it may be the fault of memory – I finally heard something. There was a whisper, clear-as-fuckin’-day, right next to my ear. Couldn’t make out what it said, just that there was a voice inches from my head. And not a sound that’s half-heard, prompting a “Did I just hear something?” response; it was undoubtedly something.
    The second was that moments after the whisper, that anxious, defensive dread that had blanketed the room evaporated. It was a palpable change. As cliche as it is to describe something this way, it’s as though there was this weight to the air, and suddenly it vanished. It didn’t “lift,” it just…ceased. Right after it did, the exhaustion of sleep immediately took hold, like I’d been awake for days, and I konked out.
    Really, it was the suddenness of the experience that spooks me, here. Suddenly awake, there’s a presence, whisper, then nothing, then sleep again.
  3. “Can’t get me now, bitch.”
    I’ll be honest, this one’s more funny and a moment of pride than anything else.
    If you’ve ever seen the movie The Grudge, you’ll know that, especially for it’s time, it was goddamn terrifying. I’ve always had a weakness for horror films, and not in the sense that I can’t resist watching but in that they affected me A LOT when I was younger.
    The gist to the film, if you haven’t seen it, is that an American gal goes to Japan for reasons and gets haunted by a dead girl for other reasons.
    There’s a scene somewhere near the middle where she’s in her high-rise apartment and receives a phone call from a friend of hers, another American. He tells her he’s downstairs and wants to be buzzed in to come up and visit about something in person. She hits whatever button that unlocks the ground floor gate to let him in, and not moments later, there’s a knock on her door. She goes to look through the peep hole and sees it’s her friend who was supposedly just on the ground floor, some twenty-odd stories below her.
    She makes a joke about “why go through the antics if you were already up here?” and opens the door for him. Of course she opens the door to an empty hallway. A ghostly sound comes through the phone and lights in the hallway begin ominously going dark. So, like a responsible adult, she flings the phone to the ground, slams the door shut, runs to her bed, and hides under the covers. While there, a lump rises at the end of the bed and starts snaking towards her, and INSTEAD of wildly kicking her legs like she should, she anxiously lifts the covers and gets dragged into the abyss by the ghost only to awake an untold time later.
    I was maybe twelve years old when I saw that and found it ghastly amounts of frightful. But what did I do? I didn’t let fear get the best of me, I got creative.
    For the next two weeks, I slept on TOP of my covers in a zipped-up sleeping bag, confidently safe in the knowledge that, “Ha! Bitch can’t get me if I’m in a BAG! Winning!”

Take it easy and goodnight, everybody.

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.

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.

Jake, the Road Trip Guy: Symbol of an Odyssey

I’m 99.8% confident we haven’t gone over this one before, which is good. And this time, I’ll note off the bat that I’m doing the same name thing as last time. I have no idea if the guy I’m about to talk about was actually named Jake; but he looked like a Jake and did some Jake-shit. So if you’re a Jake that’s offended at being misrepresented, take it up with Jake, the Road Trip Guy. I’m just the messenger here.

A few years ago, I took a trip to the Grand Canyon. It was something I’d been “planning on doing” for years but never pulled the trigger on actually doing. Finally, after enough pressure from Mandy to actually pony up, we made it happen. Loaded up the car with WAY more supplies than we needed, and started the drive at 5:00 in the morning.

Thus began the adventure, thus began the troubles.

The day of driving was actually incredibly smooth. The problem came when the sun was setting on the town of Kingman, Arizona. For context, I drive a 2003 Chrysler Sebring (and I named her Phoebe). She ain’t a powerhouse. No indomitable work horse. Not a racing star. But dammit, she’s been reliable. We drove for 15 straight hours, averaging about 85 mph through state highway and open desert in 100 degree+ July summer heat, loaded down with two adult asses and way too many camping supplies. So when we pulled into the Travelodge and I rolled down my window to hear a crunching, grinding sound, there was some concern.

“Is that your car?” Mandy said.

I looked around at the numerous cargo trucks driving and idling near us, saw the low-flying plane overhead, and replied, “No. Don’t think so. Can’t be. There’s a lot of noise here. It’s probably that.” But after checking in and parking somewhere quieter, I changed my tune: “Nope. Yup. It’s definitely my car.”

The awesome part? I had just that morning written “Grand Canyon or Bust” in the dirt of my rear windshield. But, as I told myself, it was all part of the adventure. It was tomorrow’s problem to be solved in the morning.

Waking up with the sun, I google nearby auto-shops and am fortunate enough to find one just down the road. So we check out, croak and grind our way down the road, and pull in. I put on my best helpless Californian young man charm (which is a delicate line; you either appear like the adorable, handsome puppy you’re going for, or come off like a witless douchebag). By a combination of, I’m assuming, my efforts working along with their natural good-heartedness, they fit me in.

I’m told that, depending on the problem, it can either be $1,200 and they’ll need my car for about three days, or it might be a $200 patch job and I’ll have it back in three hours. Thanks being to Odin, Vishnu, Yahweh, and whoever else, but it was the latter, and we were back on the road in a matter of hours. The one caveat: no more air conditioner. It was a bypass sort of fix, which mean the air compressor and drier was toast, but the car would run. I told him that it didn’t fuckin’ matter because he saved my trip and that we’d be fine.

As it would turn out later, spoke a little too soon on that last part.

We hit the road again in high spirits at having overcome the obstacle with the power of good fortune and were on route to making it to Mather Campground by around 4:30.

That was when I discovered how deliciously freaky the whether in Arizona can be during the summer.

Having no AC was pretty rough, but at the time I was pretty thin and had an affinity for the heat, so it was bearable. That said, when we crested one of the desert hills to see thick storm clouds in the distance, we didn’t take a second to question it and zoomed ahead for the shade they offered. To this day, that remains one of the most refreshing sensations I can call to mind. The rush of cool air, the smell of fresh rain on desert sand, the relief of shade from the clouds.

Just…dude.

I held my hand out the window to feel the cool wind, and it was like running my skin under silk. Then, I felt a little rain drop. Mandy and I looked at one another, giggling about the mana from heaven. One more drop, and then another hit my windshield…

Moments later, and I shit you not even one little bit, moments later – I couldn’t see. The rain appeared so suddenly and in such dense sheets, I was driving utterly blind. The only reference I had to go on were the reflectors in the middle of the road, but even those were scattered and obscured. Every few moments, water that had flooded any little dip in the road’s curve was slamming my wheels and threatening to wrench us off into the unknown.

I was so intensely focused on maintaining control of the vehicle, I did what I could to run a list of options. I started a mental countdown to when I would pull over, put on my hazard lights, and pray we weren’t hit from behind by an equally blind driver.

5…

4…

3…

2…

Right when I got to “1…”, just as quickly as it appear, the rain completely vanished. The air was utterly clear, out of nowhere. I’d been warned about how spontaneous and strange the weather could be, but experiencing it first hand was…just a real trip. We made it the rest of the way to the town outside the Grand Canyon, which played host to the national park, in actual safety.

I should mention here that although I had bought an overabundance of supplies – physical things one might need when hiking and camping the Grand Canyon – I didn’t actually plan anything. I didn’t make an itinerary, I hadn’t picked a camp ground until that afternoon, hadn’t made a reservation of any kind, nothing.

So when we showed up to the front gate and saw the big sandwich board sign reading, “No Vacancy”, it threw a wrench in things.

Or did it…?

This was where my power of undying, stupid optimism came into play. I saw the sign telling us to go away because all hope here was lost and figured, “What the hey? The worst case is that we’re in the same boat we’re in now.” So we drive up to the gate.

The ranger leans out of his post, smiles, and points out our lack of placard/park pass. I smile back, tell him I totally don’t have one, explain our situation, and said, “Now, in our shoes, what would you do? Like, is there a reason we can’t go in to look around?” And he explains that he would probably go in, drive around, and see what we can scrounge up as there’s no harm in trying. We trade high-five’s and I go in to explore the campgrounds.

Zone after zone, more signs all reading in big red block letters: No Vacancy.

“S’all good,” I figure, and we keep plugging ahead. Finally, we come to another ranger post to another campground with yet another sign reading: No Vacancy.

Well’p, it’s worked so far.

I park off to the side, and approach with the ranger giving me a bit of a quizzical look as she eyes the sandwich she knows has told me to go away. “Hi,” I say a bit sheepishly. “So, I see the sign, and totally get that things are booked up, buuuuuut I’m holding out hope.” Even as I’m saying this, she’s nodding and reaching for a(n already familiar at this point) map of the area. She makes marks and points out other areas we could try instead. I smile, take the map, nod, and head back to the car.

Now, we face the decision to race to other destinations and explore other hopefully available options, but something in my gut told me to hang on. So I stood there, making sure to be in plain view of the ranger’s post, while I pulled out my notebook and made a list of options – the first bit of any real planning I’d done or would do for the rest of the trip. And it was more of a flow chart, “We’ll try this, and if that doesn’t work, try what? These, and if these don’t work, then what? Go here. And if that doesn’t work, go here,” so on and so forth.

Then, the most wonderfully serendipitous thing in my life to date happened.

It’s 4:55. The ranger station closes at 5:00. And I hear from off to the side, “Ahem. ‘Scuse me. Sir?” I look over and see the ranger smiling and waving me over. “You still wanted to camp here, right?”And y’all, I DANCE my way back to her post, nodding, smiling, and all the rest of it.

Apparently, there at that moment, about five minutes before the gates closed on us…someone cancelled their reservation. The best part (and the weirdest), was the type of thing that if you wrote it in a story, you’d be called a hack: the people that cancelled their reservation, there, five minutes before the chapter closed on us, right before hope wasn’t an option anymore, had reserved the EXACT bracket of days we wanted to be there.

Hope…hope is a weird thing. Especially being an optimist, it forces you to dance the shadowy line between being persevering and being heinously stupid and delusional. But this, moments like this where the impossible, least likely thing works out, is why we do it.

Because of the nature of it, the ranger could get us in for one night, whereupon we’d have to try to re-reserve the space in the morning. So we made our way to our camp spot, set up the tent, and lived it the fuck up. Utterly in the moment. Tomorrow wasn’t guaranteed, so we did all the camping shenanigans in one night: s’mores, drank too much, got a big-ass fire going, did firespitting, BBQ’d, everything.

Morning came, we made a grand ol’ breakfast, wondering where the day would take us, not knowing where we might lay our heads that night. We packed up came, and drove out to the front gate, content with the uncertainty….whereupon we got there first, totally reserved the spot for ourselves the rest of the week, went back, unpacked everything we just bloody packed, and settled in for a week of camping at the Grand Canyon.

Now, a LOT of stuff happened that week, and it’s already been – like the trip itself – a long road to get here. To the point. To the main meat of the the trip and this tale.

It’s time we met Jake, the Road Trip Guy.

So the Big Hike of the week was that next day, where we took on the Bright Angel Trail. Just like the rest of the trip to date, I hadn’t done any worthwhile planning – just operated on a whim and improvised where necessary. So, why change up what had been working?

We would later see plenty of signs all saying distinctly not to hike between the peak hours of 11:00am and 4:00pm, which I still think is a little dumb; because when the hell else are you supposed to go? But whatever. Nevermind. The point is that you can safely bet your shapely buttocks that we began our hike into the canyon RIGHT at 11:00am.

And you know what? It was BEEEEAAAAUUUUTIFUUUUUL!

We saw all manner of strangely colorful bugs, terrific people, watched a line of mules climb on by us (their pee is gross, take it on faith), and got to take in the majesty of the canyon.

That said, it was also grueling. Peak heat in the shadows was about 130* Fahrenheit, and while there was a rest stop every mile and a half where one could get water, our bottles or canteens were reliably dry by the time we made it to each one. (That said, never urinated once, and never noticed any sweat. That’s how much you sweat and how quickly it evaporates. Y’all. It was the surface of the Sun.)

Along with these rest stops were NO SHORTAGE of signs ALL saying: “DO NOT try to make it down to the Colorado River (the bottom) AND BACK in the same day. You WILL die.”

Queue: Jake, the Road Trip Guy.

We made it about 2/3 of the way to the bottom (just about the maximum safe distance for a 1-day hike), and turned back for the ascent – which was about 100x more painful than going down. Who’da figured? It was during this climb back up that we meet Jake – being attended to by park rangers and kindly hikers – and hear his story.

Jake was from Seattle, apparently, and was on a one-man road trip of the American Southwest. He’d been to Bryce Canyon, Monument Valley, and Zion, and he was finishing up his expedition with the Grand Canyon itself. In truth, I’d long loved the idea of doing exactly that, so I was totally on Team Jake. I was ALSO on Team Jake, because he made my lack of preparation look like a fully stocked Bat Cave complete with a top-of-the-line Alfred.

As the story goes, since he was only going to be in the Canyon for so long, he was determined to make it – yes, exactly – down to the bottom to the Colorado River and back up in the same day. Were that the extent of it, stupid, but no harm-no foul. He was a solo hiker (something you’re not advised to do) from a city along a cool coastline at sea level coming to perform an arduous hike at elevation, for one. His equipment for the endeavor? Basketball shorts, shoes, and a single heavy glass growler for water.

His reasons? He didn’t bring food because he wanted to “lean out,” and he thought the growler was cool and would be enough – which it, decidedly, was not.

The reason he’s (probably) still alive today and didn’t die then and there in that canyon: another hiker that spotted him and his hilariously shitty gear and said, “Uuuuum….what’cha doin’?”

That said, I’ll end it with this: I admire Jake, the Road Trip Guy. He embodied the spirit of adventure that pervaded my own journey those several days. When I got back home, I had to attend a wake some weeks later, and when sharing the story with family members for sake of small talk, I told my Uncle Forrest: “You know, it was great. We made it through that trip on a combined 10% wit, cleverness, charm, and calculation, and the remaining 90% was all total dumb luck.”

I’ll remember his answer until the day I die.

“You know,” he said, “you might be surprised to find out that those are actually the same proportions for getting through life.”

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).

A Sad Story

I had a pivotal moment growing up when, at the age of seventeen, I found out a classmate of mine couldn’t tie his shoes (we’ll call him Alessio, because this happened in our senior Italian class).

The funny thing is that there wasn’t a big wind-up to the news, either. I don’t remember exactly what we were talking about in the lead up, just shooting the breeze near the back of the room while class was on break or something and boom, “Alessio can’t tie his shoes.”

A swell of mixed emotions probably came next. Here was someone my age, no physical or evident mental impairments that would keep him from it, just “wasn’t raised that way.”

Naturally, the first thing I do is put on my deer-stalker cap, puff my pipe, and look down to see he is, in fact, wearing laced shoes which are, in fact, tied.

“How’d you tie those, then?” say I, skeptically.

Alessio hangs his head and quietly whispers, “My mom ties them for me, okay?”

In that moment, I was his confidant. I’d been let on his secret that only the four of us in that corner of the room which was our Italian class knew about, and so I would guard his secret…

Until the following week, whereupon we got into some sort of banter – again, don’t remember the decade-old exchange, but I trust it was witty – and I used my newfound ammunition.

“[Evan], you can’t put maple syrup on pizza,” I assume he said to me.

“Yeah, Alessio? Well, you can’t tie your shoes, so you don’t get a vote,” I retort.

Of course I wasn’t quiet, so the others at the lunch table heard and there followed a storm of questions. Alessio hung his head, and I had my hands ‘pon my hips, triumphant.

After all, I’d won.

I used that ace a couple more times, if I remember right. Each time the same thing: an embarrassed smile from Alessio, an explanation, some chuckles, another medal for old Evan.

We were back in Italian class, just after lunch, and we get into it again. As had become pretty routine, I fall back on my zinger. With an enormous roll of his eyes, another part of the group, Ed, threw his hands up. “Dude! Alessio can tie his shoes!”

I sh’narfed and dismissed the peasant for speaking out of hand. Looking to Alessio, I said, “Is that what you’ve been telling him?” And I laughed. “Alessio, tell this guy you can’t tie your shoes.”

Ed looked me in the eye with a cold stare, and held that gaze as he reached over and undid Alessio’s laces. With the shoes loose and undone, Ed then looked to Alessio and solemnly nodded his head as if to say, It’s time.

There was a brief moment where Alessio looked back and forth between us like a child being called by two divorced parents. He turned a face like he’d made up his mind and just said, “I’m sorry, man.” Then he bent over and tied his shoes…

…perfectly.

I was stunned into stuttering silence as I realized that I’d spent the better part of the past few months proclaiming to my peers what was now a gobbsmackingly (it’s a word) obvious lie. I was a fish that had taken the hook, the line, the sinker, better part of the pole, and most of the goddamn boat.

To…to clarify, in case this isn’t sinking in: I was almost a legal adult, and believed someone who was going to be headed off to college soon telling me he couldn’t tie his shoes…for months! And was confident enough to tell a bunch of people about it!

If there’s a lesson to be gained from any of this, let one be to obviously not believe everything you fucking hear, but also to reserve an ounce of sympathy for anyone that makes what you find to be stupendously dumb proclamations; because odds are that one day they’ll realize they’ve been had, and hang onto the experience in such a way they write about it publicly ten years down the road.

Ciao.