A Softball [Deductive] Pitch

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

What. The. F*ck?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Agree to disagree.

Ciao, y’all. See ya next time.

Now, for Some Shameless Bragging

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

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

This is about the time I caught…The Glow.

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

Suffice it to say, it did not stop there.

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

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

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

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

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

Once our friends arrived, the REAL show began.

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

This day…this day was different.

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

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

It. Was. Glorious.

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

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

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

…I…

…I stampeded the table.

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

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

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

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

This game was different.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Me, listening to my opponent spill the beans so brazenly.

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

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

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

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

Thank you, and goodnight.

Watch the Time go By

Life is funny.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We knew kids…that became adults and then died.

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

We’ve probably seen friends accomplish really cool things.

And known others that have spun out.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Love hard, take care of yourselves.

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

Sup, everybody.

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

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

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

And dumb. But sometimes that’s my fault.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

No molten metal? Then what…?

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

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

So, yeah. Don’t touch hot things.

Take care of yourselves, y’all.

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.”

No, Joe! It’s not Worth it!

-big gasp-

That…was the sound of my head popping back out of my cozy little hole in the sand, but I won’t lie to you, it’s been kind of nice. Been a lot of Fallout 4, board games with the missus, and working hard remodeling houses.

That said, work just ground to a halt, so the haze was able to clear and I remembered I have a crowd of beautiful people to pander to!

And rather than lay blame and put more attention on the same bleak news we’ve ALL become pretty used to lately, I’m going to say the last four weeks have actually been me hmm’ing and haw’ing over whether or not to share this little gem. (Actually, Mandy explicitly told me to and that’s more or less why we’re about to dive in.)

The “Joe” in the title of this isn’t a real person. Not because the human I mean when I write it doesn’t exist, but because I have no earthly idea if his name is actually Joe. In truth, he was just a man in a parking lot screaming at another man in a parking lot whom I gave a name to.

So there we were, my partner Hugh and I replacing the siding on a client’s house, when of a sudden, there comes the sound of raised voices from across the street. The home we’re working on is on a busy intersection across the road from a Safeway, and the raised voices are coming from the parking lot (as subtly hinted to moments ago).

I’d give anything to know how the exchange truly began, but all I can report is how I came into it, which is still pretty amazing. Now, I’ve gone into before how dumb street fights are and how overconfident the ‘combatants’ involved often seem to be…

And that’s the case again here today.

The incoherent shouting voices gain clarity as I make out one man saying to the other, “Well, YOU look like a pedophile! Yeah, you like KIDS!” This gets inter-cut with the other man shouting back, “What?? Me?!? No, YOU! YOU’RE the pedophile! YOU are! Yooooooou pedophile!! You’re a SEXual DEEviant!

(Hahahahahahaha! I’m sorry, but every time I tell or even think about this story, the way that guy put emphasis in “SEX-ual DEE-viant!” fucking gets me every time.)

This goes back and forth, with both guys yo-yo’ing walking toward and away from one another with their chests pumped out for about thirty heavenly seconds, while their verbal jabs have basically devolved to just slinging “You pedophile!” at one another in turn.

Finally, it looks like the dust is going to settle and that will be that when something gets said which gets Thing 1 really upset, and he starts walking over to Thing 2 shouting, “Yeah!? Say that to my fuckin’ face!” He marches confidently over to the other guy, on a war path, gets about ten feet away, winds up a cartoonishly wide soccer kick, knocks the other guy’s backpack over (which had been sitting on the ground between them), and then breaks into THE sharpest sprint I’ve EVER seen.

I’m not kidding. This dude flew away so fast and with such reckless abandon for his own safety (ironic, given that he was running away from a physical confrontation), he was like a caucasian Usain Bolt cutting through traffic. #WhiteLightning

But the best part, the whole reason this story is a story, is Thing 2’s reaction. He just begins rage-marching after the guy – not running, because it was apparent to the whole world there was no catching White Lightning – shouting, with foam and spit falling from his face, the following dialogue:

“Ooooh, yooooou BUTTfuck! God dammit, you buttfuck! I see you! I see you over there! You buttfuck! Ooooo, you buttfuck! You BUTTfuck! I see you over there, you fucking buttfuck! AAAAUUUGH!! BUTTFUCK! Fuck! ButtFUCK!! If I ever see you again, I’m gonna crack your skull! You pedophile BUTTFUCK!”

The scene was even complete with a family of four off to the side, arms full of groceries, eyebrows raised, and jaws agape. It was the most beautiful thing I’d seen all week.

Ladies and gentlemen, THAT is how a street fight should go.

Good to see all of you again. Write again soon. Peace and love.

END

PS – Oh, and the title was supposed to be me attributing the name “Joe” to the guy starting the fight and what I’d say, but Thing 1 and Thing 2 (and, of course, White Lightning) became funnier.

In My Own Bed Tonight”

What’s crack-a-lackin’?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Anyway, that’s my two cents.

#twopennies

A Different Look at Optimists II

(It’s a re-post, on account of being busy. Sorry + Thanks for being you!)

To start off, I hate it when people behave like ultra pessimists and respond to accusations of being such by saying, “I’m not a pessimist (bro), I’m just a realist.”

Translated, that says, “I’m totally not being a whiny b-hole (bro), I just see things the way they really are because I’m hype and in-tune n’ shit.”

See how goofy it sounds when clarified?

It’s the same lazy route people take when they fancy themselves a sophisticated critic when all they do is harsh on whatever the subject matter is. It doesn’t make you all high-brow, insightful, or point to a delicate taste when nothing pleases you, it’s lazy. L-A-Z-Y, lazy. Criticism is a dissection, a surgical breakdown and analysis of what you were presented with followed by feedback on what elicited responses from you in positive and negative ways. It’s not just being hard-headed.

It
grapes my nuts
chives my spuds
grinds my gears
gets my goat so badly because it takes no effort whatsoever to not see the good in things. It’s so easy to look at a situation and see why it sucks or how it could suck. Armchair anthropologists/psychologists will tell you it’s a primal rooting in our brains to see, seek out, and guard against the negative. So of course it’s easy, it’s natural.

You know what isn’t easy?

Being an optimist.

And trust me, this isn’t a boo-hoo on behalf of optimists. We have it pretty good always seeing some kind of benefit or path to success in grimy situations. What I am saying about it, is that it’s exhausting.

And not in a day-to-day sense, necessarily. But it seems to be an undeniable fact of adult life that things get pretty shitty sometimes (also natural, as armchair sociologists would have it).

We fall into ruts. We run up against walls. We lose traction. Time to time we just zig when we ought to have zagged, and Boom! — life problem.

THAT is where being an optimist is goddamn exhausting. (And that’s a little different from having a spirit to persevere, but we’ll get to that in a second.) Because especially if one is an optimist by nature while thing after thing in our life explodes or crumbles around us, the part of our brain that makes us shitty gamblers takes over: “It’s okay,” says The Brain, “this next thing we try will be the one that works out,” or, “Nope, it’s fine. It’s this next thing that will be what works.” So on and so forth.

You lose your job and you set up three interviews at new places of work. The first two totally bomb and don’t call you back, and while you’re thinking, “it’s okay, this next one is the one that works,” your car breaks down. “It’s okay,” say Brain again, “we’ll just take the bus.” And so you take the bus to your third interview, but you get sick the night before and mugged as you step off the bus. “It’s okay,” Brian pipes up once more, “at least we’ll have a new job to help us with our car soon.” Meanwhile, you make it to your third interview, and it turns out the interviewer is racist or something – boom – rejected immediately. And your phone’s battery died, so you can’t Uber home and have to walk instead.

“It’s okay,” whispers Brain. “In a few years, you’ll be able to look back on this as one hell of a chapter in your life.”

Even those points where you’ve been knocked down, picked yourself up and dusted yourself off, only to see your efforts fail and get knocked down again, and repeated that process dozens of times with only minor, scattered successes…

…it can leave you feeling really trapped to know that come morning, after a night’s sleep, you’ll be back to telling yourself that it’s this next effort that will break through.

It’s dancing on the line of delusion, battling – almost secretly – with this inner question of whether or not you should cut your losses because this is a vain effort, but knowing your habit is going to keep the cycle going anyway.

This isn’t to speak on those who’ve fallen into a dark place and need help to climb back out. Having a spirit that perseveres is hard for everyone. And I guess that’s my point here, really. Times get difficult for everyone (and if they don’t for you, either congratu-fuckin’-lations, or re-examine what you get up to, because you’re a liar and/or it’s probably boring and unremarkable).

My point at the end of it all with how it regards optimism, I suppose, is that just because a happy face and strong spirit are at the front of it doesn’t somehow magically erase the struggle. It’s difficult emotionally loading up each new effort, sure that “this is the one,” then watching it fail, and trying to convince yourself you aren’t delusional when you do it again because giving up just feels icky.

Not trying to change anyone’s mind or “spread enlightenment,” really; but cool if it happens.

Anyhow, peace y’all.

A Different Look at Optimists

To start off, I hate it when people behave like ultra pessimists and respond to accusations of being such by saying, “I’m not a pessimist (bro), I’m just a realist.”

Translated, that says, “I’m totally not being a whiny b-hole (bro), I just see things the way they really are because I’m hype and in-tune n’ shit.”

See how goofy it sounds when clarified?

It’s the same lazy route people take when they fancy themselves a sophisticated critic when all they do is harsh on whatever the subject matter is. It doesn’t make you all high-brow, insightful, or point to a delicate taste when nothing pleases you, it’s lazy. L-A-Z-Y, lazy. Criticism is a dissection, a surgical breakdown and analysis of what you were presented with followed by feedback on what elicited responses from you in positive and negative ways. It’s not just being hard-headed.

It
grapes my nuts
chives my spuds
grinds my gears
gets my goat so badly because it takes no effort whatsoever to not see the good in things. It’s so easy to look at a situation and see why it sucks or how it could suck. Armchair anthropologists/psychologists will tell you it’s a primal rooting in our brains to see, seek out, and guard against the negative. So of course it’s easy, it’s natural.

You know what isn’t easy?

Being an optimist.

And trust me, this isn’t a boo-hoo on behalf of optimists. We have it pretty good always seeing some kind of benefit or path to success in grimy situations. What I am saying about it, is that it’s exhausting.

And not in a day-to-day sense, necessarily. But it seems to be an undeniable fact of adult life that things get pretty shitty sometimes (also natural, as armchair sociologists would have it).

We fall into ruts. We run up against walls. We lose traction. Time to time we just zig when we ought to have zagged, and Boom! — life problem.

THAT is where being an optimist is goddamn exhausting. (And that’s a little different from having a spirit to persevere, but we’ll get to that in a second.) Because especially if one is an optimist by nature while thing after thing in our life explodes or crumbles around us, the part of our brain that makes us shitty gamblers takes over: “It’s okay,” says The Brain, “this next thing we try will be the one that works out,” or, “Nope, it’s fine. It’s this next thing that will be what works.” So on and so forth.

You lose your job and you set up three interviews at new places of work. The first two totally bomb and don’t call you back, and while you’re thinking, “it’s okay, this next one is the one that works,” your car breaks down. “It’s okay,” say Brain again, “we’ll just take the bus.” And so you take the bus to your third interview, but you get sick the night before and mugged as you step off the bus. “It’s okay,” Brian pipes up once more, “at least we’ll have a new job to help us with our car soon.” Meanwhile, you make it to your third interview, and it turns out the interviewer is racist or something – boom – rejected immediately. And your phone’s battery died, so you can’t Uber home and have to walk instead.

“It’s okay,” whispers Brain. “In a few years, you’ll be able to look back on this as one hell of a chapter in your life.”

Even those points where you’ve been knocked down, picked yourself up and dusted yourself off, only to see your efforts fail and get knocked down again, and repeated that process dozens of times with only minor, scattered successes…

…it can leave you feeling really trapped to know that come morning, after a night’s sleep, you’ll be back to telling yourself that it’s this next effort that will break through.

It’s dancing on the line of delusion, battling – almost secretly – with this inner question of whether or not you should cut your losses because this is a vain effort, but knowing your habit is going to keep the cycle going anyway.

This isn’t to speak on those who’ve fallen into a dark place and need help to climb back out. Having a spirit that perseveres is hard for everyone. And I guess that’s my point here, really. Times get difficult for everyone (and if they don’t for you, either congratu-fuckin’-lations, or re-examine what you get up to, because you’re a liar and/or it’s probably boring and unremarkable).

My point at the end of it all with how it regards optimism, I suppose, is that just because a happy face and strong spirit are at the front of it doesn’t somehow magically erase the struggle. It’s difficult emotionally loading up each new effort, sure that “this is the one,” then watching it fail, and trying to convince yourself you aren’t delusional when you do it again because giving up just feels icky.

Not trying to change anyone’s mind or “spread enlightenment,” really; but cool if it happens.

Anyhow, peace y’all.