Ryan and the Technicolor Wardrobe
Short Stories and Essays

My wife and I were awoken to a loud banging on our door. Upon answering it, we were given a piece of paper that instructed us to gather our belongings and to head to the lobby for evacuation. Literally overnight, a Class 5 hurricane had formed, and it was headed straight in our direction. We grabbed our things, raided our mini-fridge, took our blankets, and proceeded to head down six congested flights of stairs. Officially, our honeymoon in Puerto Vallerta was over.

While our honeymoon was far from perfect, we had just started enjoying the fruits of what the area had to offer. We had a beautiful dinner on a small island, we swam with dolphins, and took in a show. While we had some minor hiccups throughout our trip, we were content to spend our last day relaxing, not being be on the run from Hurricane Patricia on our last day.

The night before we had an activity canceled because the weather was forecasting an incoming storm. We thought the cancelation and the customer service fiasco that followed would’ve been the low point of the trip, but it proved to be a red herring, because the incoming storm wasn’t just a storm, but the greatest hurricane of all time in the Western Hemisphere.

The lobby was jam packed with people and there was no actual evacuating being done, which made things even more confusing, so I did what others were doing, and I ran down to pick up whatever food I could fit on a plate and ran it back up to the lobby knowing that this could be our last meal.

Finally, some buses pulled up, but we were informed that they weren’t buses for everyone, but only for people who booked their stay with a certain Canadian travel agency.  This went on for hours.  At this point, people were starting to get agitated as we rode a rollercoaster of emotional despair. Bus after bus would pull up, refuse us, allow others, and then subsequently leave.  Time was running out. The hurricane was coming. People were starting to cry. We needed to get out of there, so my wife and I started to push towards the front of the lobby.

Among this seemingly endless line of buses, a van drove up to the resort.  The driver called out for people who had booked their stay through Orbitz and a handful of people got in the van.  After a few more calls, he let it be known that he had room for 2 more people.  Before I could even react, my wife had pushed me forward and we got into the van.  We didn’t know we were going, but to my wife and me, it didn’t matter.

Our driver, Tomas, was a local, and he was actually not a part of Orbitz, but that was the easiest way for him to track down Erin, and Trevor, a couple from Vancouver, who had access to a relative’s villa in the hills. Tomas took care of those properties, and was planning to take them to the villa after he dropped us off at an evacuation point. We were glad he knew where a shelter was, because we were unclear on those details, even after hours of sitting around waiting to be evacuated. There were conflicting rumors of going to the Puerto Vallerta Convention Center, or to a University in the hills, and that uncertainty kept us tense.

I tried to bond with Erin and Trevor to keep my spirits up. In an attempt to not offend our new Canadian friends, I decided not to bring up hockey as my icebreaker topic, but I instead asked them about the general chaos of Vanouver hosting the 2010 Winter Olympics. This gave me an opening to mention hockey, specifically how my friend loves Ryan Kessler, a former Vancouver player. Erin immediately responded with “Who doesn’t?”, and immediately recognized that I could get along with them. How long would that be for, I had no idea, but soon enough we pulled up to a horticultural university.

As the van stopped, we were greeted by a man in uniform. Tomas rolled down his window and there was a quick conversation in Spanish, which consisted mostly of the man doing a lot of hand gestures while speaking. It ended with Tomas rolling down his window and turning to us to tell us that the university was already at capacity and that we were being turned away. Collectively, our hearts sank. What were we going to do? Were we going to be brought back to the resort? Would he just drop us off on the side of the road? He had no reason to take us any further.

He may as well have been a saint.

Tomas turned his attention to Erin and Trevor and explained that there was plenty of room for all of us in the villa. Without a moment of hesitation, Erin agreed to let us stay with them and all of a sudden, for a moment, hope was restored. We still needed food, so we rushed to the nearest market, only to find it boarded up and closed. We headed to a 2nd store, only to find it also abandoned and boarded up.  With the clock ticking and our options dwindling, we finally found an open market near the villa. The market was clearly low on supplies since everyone was preparing for the worst but we were able to get our hands on some tortillas and cheese to hopefully hold us over until Hurricane Patricia had finished passing through.

The villa itself was beautiful and spacious, and most importantly, above sea level. There was a kitchen, a living room, and a bedroom for each couple. It was a stark contrast to being confined to a gymnasium with hundred of strangers. We were fortunate that our strangers all spoke English and we were even more fortunate that they were easy to get along with. Along with our new friends from the North, we were also with a couple from Northern California. The husband worked as a brewer for Budweiser. He and I immediately hit it off, talking about our favorite beers, and as a collective we talked about a wide range of topics from our experience at the resort to how Canadians view American football. Between topics, someone would check to see if there was a weather update, and we would continue talking.

My wife and I cooked dinner with whatever we could find. We ended up making chorizo fried rice. We were able to find a half bottle of tequila lying around the house. We ate together, we drank together, and we enjoyed each other’s company. As the hours went by, and the rain started to pour down, we decided to call it a night. We didn’t know if this would be our last night on earth, but if it was, at least we were in the presence of our new friends.

We woke up the next morning to another loud banging on our door. This time it was Trevor, and he was alerting us of good news. The hurricane had re-directed itself and petered out. We were safe. Actually, everyone was safe. The hurricane took no casualties, and Tomas was ready to drop us off at the airport.

As we drove through the streets, we saw many of the shops still boarded up. Puerto Vallerta looked like a ghost town. To our surprise, the airport was fully staffed and fully operational, in fact, our flight was even scheduled to be on time. As we walked through the Duty Free shop and took free samples of tequila from vendors, it’s almost as if nothing had happened.  Somehow, in a mere matter of hours we went from facing impending doom to being safe enough to board an airplane. We sat down, waiting for our flight, and we checked the weather one last time. We had officially survived the hurricane. While no passengers in the airport seemed to be acknowledging what we had all gone through, I decided that I needed to, so I turned to my wife and quietly sang her the words “Here I am, rock you like a hurricane.”

 

I remember bits and pieces of my last day of elementary school.  Unlike most kids’ last day of elementary school, mine was fairly melancholy since I was moving across the country in the middle of the school year opposed to graduating (or whatever the equivalent to graduating elementary school is).  All I really remember is saying goodbye to teachers and classmates I would never see or hear from again.  I know that one of my teachers wrote my new address on the chalkboard for my classmates to write down if anyone wanted to stay in contact with me.  While I was able to stay in contact with a couple of my friends from elementary school for a few months, I quickly found out that 6th graders don’t make for the most reliable of pen pals.  I had much better luck staying in touch with my best friend, Bruce, since his mom and my mom were also best friends, so we were afforded some time on the phone a couple of times a year or so when our moms would call each other.   About a year later, we were introduced to e-mail, which allowed us to talk more frequently.  Still, communication was sporadic since we couldn’t send or receive e-mails without tying up the phone lines.  It pained me that I didn’t have access to e-mail when I left elementary school to keep in touch with my friends.  I’ve always felt like technology came in to my life a step too late to help me keep in touch with people in different stages of life.

High school is an awkward time for most and it was no different for me.  I was particularly dorky and insecure so the many different aliases I created for myself when Instant Messaging probably comes as no surprise.  They are clearly a symbol of a younger me trying to figure myself out.  I wasn’t the only one that had strange online identity issues.  I had a classmate in high school that was so infatuated with a girl that he created an screen name that copied hers with an added “crazy about” before the screen name.  I found it strange then, and I think it would be considered as a form of harassment now, but he didn’t mean any harm and this was fairly new territory for all of us.  Our hi-jinks were simple and innocent.  While my friends might have created accounts to pretend they were other people, it was never to catfish anyone or to cause any real duress.  With this new technology and improved ways to connect to the internet, I figured that I would much better at keeping touch with people.

Not that I had a huge amount of friends in high school, but the attrition rate of losing touch with friends was still pretty high.  Even though I had moved only 70 miles north of where I went to high school, I lost myself in a new place with new people, leaving a lot of friendships behind.  I would end up getting a cell phone in the middle of my freshmen year, but that mostly helped me keep in touch with my people that I met on campus.  Texting wasn’t a standard option for most people and I only had a few phone numbers from people back in high school.  I would lose numbers every time I upgraded my phone, or my phone would make me delete numbers to add new ones, so I was losing touch with people in college year after year.

Facebook was introduced  to my college the year after I graduated and when it was finally introduced to the general public, I was in a serious relationship with a girl who despised social media.  She was a high school teacher and at inner city school, so a lot of her ire at social media was a product of her students going on MySpace or Facebook instead doing their homework.  At the time I had very little interest in social media, and even less interest in infuriating the girl I was dating, so I stayed away and lived life off the grid.  Once the relationship ended, I didn’t immediately start signing up for every single social media site out there, I actually stayed off the grid for another couple of years.  It wasn’t until I wanted to start a blog and perform that I finally took the plunge.

It was a little weird to join a site where most people I knew had been on it for years.  Before I could start hunting down friends, many of them had already found me.  It was a nice feeling that old friends and acquaintances were adding me within minutes of joining a site, but it was a little unsettling as well not exactly knowing how Facebook worked.  I had joined a good 5 years after most people had joined and most of the people that had found me were people I had lost contacted with.  What I found funny, is that most of these people who added me immediately, haven’t interacted with me at all since.  It reminds me of people signing a yearbook, where people you barely know are really excited to sign your yearbook, and then you don’t seem them again until the following year so they can sign your new yearbook.  It’s just a way to feel important or look impressive.

I’ve realized that I can’t handle juggling too many interactions and friendships at one time, and I would hate spending more than a handful of minutes a day replying to people.  It’s caused stress in some friendships, and there have even been some bridges burned.  It’s helped me realize that even if I had all this technology from the beginning, there’s a good chance that I would have kept in touch with roughly the same amount of people even if I was able to add everyone from my elementary school and beyond on Facebook.  It’s not that I don’t want to keep in contact with more people, it’s just a reality of growing older and having time commitments such as a full time job. As much as technology has changed, the amount of time in the day hasn’t, and I can only allocate so much for the people that are important in my life.  Until we have technology to slow down life, it’s just a reality that I’ll have to accept.

I raced to Little Tokyo on a Sunday afternoon on what would end up being my 2nd to last 1st date ever.  I was scheduled to make it to the date at our agreed upon time, but I forgot that showing up exactly on time in Los Angeles means you’re going to be about 15 minutes late, since parking is always an adventure in LA.  My date called me to make sure I was still planning on showing up, which made me feel terrible.   I hate making a bad first impression, and trying to find street parking in LA always stresses me out.  I told her I was just finding parking and that I’d see her soon.  I fed a meter, walked as fast I could to the cafe where we planned on meeting at, and swung open the door.  I looked around the cafe and saw nothing but couples.  Confused, I scanned the room a 2nd time before coming to an awful realization… I had walked right past her and into the cafe.

It’s always weird seeing someone you’ve met before for the first time even when you’ve seen pictures of them.  My date didn’t look like her pictures, but the differences weren’t extreme to the point where I would’ve felt betrayed by them.   They were just small details like wearing glasses and having her hair tied back, but since those two things are absent from all her profile pictures, it was enough of a difference for me to not realize it was her.  I did try to salvage the date, and as far as I could tell, she tried as well, but our attempts were fruitless.  I tried to bring up things that we had in common, according to our profile, but quickly found out that we didn’t have much in common at all.  Once again, subtle differences, neither one of us were stretching the truth.  We finished the date, I walked her to her car, and she gave me a hug.  It seemed like we were both aware that there wasn’t going to be a 2nd date, and she seemed appreciative that we gave it a shot.  I, on the other hand, was at about at my wit’s end with online dating.

I had decided to give online dating another try after the holidays because I received an e-mail that a girl had messaged me on my inactive account.  She was pretty and she had a heart for the less fortunate.  She didn’t profess her love to me in her message, but she complimented me on my profile picture and that paired with the hope that a new year brings was enough to convince me to resubscribe for another round.  I messaged her back, but I never heard from her.  I was confused and disappointed.  The girl that had brought me back to the online dating world wasn’t talking to me, but why?

While I have no confirmation on this, the theory among my friends is that this girl was a “bot”, a fake account on the site, run by person who works for the site, to entice people to join.  I had heard friends talking about online dating bots before, but I just assumed they were fake profiles scattered throughout these sites, but not accounts that actually interacted with you.  I was pretty upset about the idea especially since one of these bots had catfished me back into an online dating world that I was almost ready to leave behind.

This awful date made me feel even worse about being tricked by the bot, because the bot seemed so much more interesting than this girl that I went on a date with.  Even if things hadn’t clicked on a first date with this possibly imaginary girl, I wouldn’t have felt like I had wasted my time since she seemed like she would be far more inspiring, if not more interesting, to talk to.  Obviously it’s moot, but I was beyond frustrated that I had signed up for one more month, expecting things to somehow be different this time around.  I wasn’t angry at my date, I was angry at myself for being so idealistic.  I was so angry that I stopped looking for dates and I decided to let my subscription run out at the end of the month.  I was done with online dating, or so I thought.

A week before my subscription ended, I received a message from a girl.  Since I was already signed up for the service, I realized that this was probably a real girl, and not a bot.  Still, I hesitated to take a look, jaded and downtrodden, expecting the worst, but eventually I gave in because a piece of me, deep down inside, was hoping that this online dating experience would find me something meaningful.  So I eventually logged in to see this message, and we started talking.  We set up our first date just as my dating subscription ended, and we met at a wine bar in Downtown Los Angeles, just a few miles away from my dating debacle in Little Tokyo.  Whether or not this date was going to go well or not, I made a promise to myself that my online dating journey was going to end that night.  A year and a half later, with a string quartet in tow, I got down on one knee at a park in Downtown Minneapolis, and I proposed to her.  She said ‘yes’. And to think, I would’ve never met her, if it wasn’t for a deceptive little bot..

 

 

 

 

I’ve lived in Orange County for over 13 years now, and it’s the longest I’ve lived in a single area during my lifetime. I lived in Minneapolis for 11 years and San Diego for 7 prior to showing up in Orange County for college and then sticking around until the present day and beyond.  It wasn’t so much that I fell in love with Orange County as it was that I stuck around because a lot of my friends from college were still around and I didn’t know where else to go.  As some friends left, and some friendships started to fade, I wondered if it was time to move on.  It’s an idea that I’d toy around with every couple of years, but one that I was never convicted to act upon.  When I tried out online dating, I would occasionally check to see if my soul mate might be in one of my favorite cities like New York or Chicago to see if that would move the needle.  Alas, nothing came of those initial searches, so I returned to looking at Southern California.

I’ve been in a long distance relationship before, and while I completely understand why people tend to stay away from them, I personally would do it again if it was for the right person.  Of course, I know people that think that my current situation of dating someone in Los Angeles qualifies as long distance.   I know people are busy and that driving in Southern California is a chore, but it confuses me that people are so adamant about people dating people within a 15 mile radius after going through all the work that is online dating.  I find it extremely narcissistic to believe that “the one” is within a convenient 15 minute drive, or maybe I’m just bitter that it never seems to be the case for me.

I’ve dated a handful of girls in Orange County, some that grew up there and some that ended up there for school or work.  Whether they were born and raised there or not, there didn’t seem to be anything especially “Orange County” about them, or at least nothing like The Hills or The OC might lead people to believe.  It wasn’t until I tried online dating that I discovered that most girls (at least on dating sites) that are compatible with me, don’t live in Orange County, but in Los Angeles.  Obviously, part of that can be attributed to the fact that Los Angeles has more people, and therefore there’d be more matches, but it’s not like Orange County is a small desolate area.

My Los Angeles friends claim that Orange County folk are a completely different breed, stereotypes withstanding.  I’d like to think that growing up in San Diego would give me a unique perspective in the OC v LA debate, and while there are definitely some differences, there seem to be enough people in the OC or transplants that live here to make me believe that there has to be more than a few girls that I’m compatible with.  I once tried to date a girl from the OC who moved to LA, and even though things started great through e-mailing, things fell apart once we met in person.  For some reason, the chemistry was just not there.  She’d make jokes that didn’t land and I tried to be charming, but everything just fell flat.  I couldn’t put my finger on it.  It just didn’t click.

I eventually decided to cast my net past my initial 30 mile radius and I dipped my toe into the bigger pond known as Los Angeles.  Perhaps as some sort of rite of passage, I immediately dated an aspiring actress, then a girl with a fashion design background.  This was based on the online cards that I was dealt, opposed to me trying to date the most glamorous girls that I could find.  I did for a while, fall in love with the idea, that I was supposed to be dating girls of this ilk, and that’s the reason why I had so many lean dating years in my 20s.  I met some great girls, but they were all too busy to fit me into their chaotic and overbooked lives.  Eventually, I would start dating girls that had more “normal” careers, which didn’t immediately change my dating fortunes like I had hoped.  Even when it came to dating the “normal” girls, the online dating sites continued to direct me north, and right when I was at the end of my rope, I found success.

While I’ve noticed myself spending more and more time in LA since I first moved to Orange County for college, it’s not like people who enjoy music and comedy are exclusive to LA.  The journey didn’t reveal to me what was so different between the girls of LA and  the girls of OC, so I’ll never know why an overwhelming number of matches were just far enough away where it was almost inconvenient.   It’s a moot issue at this point, and my love life has never tried to sit me down and explain anything.  But, since a computer was involved this time around, it seems like now would be a better time than any to ask for a logical explanation.

 

 

I don’t just like things, I love things, and I especially love to geek out about those things.  Whether it be music, sports, or food and drinks, my interests are rarely casual.  While I’ve done no research on the matter, my experience has taught me that those who share my specific geekery tend to be men.  Most of the record store workers, draft prospect followers. BBQ fanatics, and  beer / whiskey snobs that I’ve ever met have been mostly guys,  so when a girl happens to enjoy these topics on a similarly fanatical level, she tends to be look at as something like a unicorn.  They exist, I’ve had my heart broken by a couple of them.  I also have a friend that fits that description and she can quickly amass quite the fan club.  My girlfriend is not on of these unicorns, but when we first started dating, she took an interest in learning about the things I love, and that proceeded to get her into some very awkward encounters.

A couple of months into our relationship, she went to Coachella with her friend.  During some downtime, she decided to go to the record tent to see if she could pick up a gift for me.  A random guy struck up a conversation with her, asking her what she was looking for, so she told him “The Replacements”, because she knew I was looking for their new covers record.  This, and also his possible interest in her friend, caused him to start talking about his appreciation for The Replacements which somehow quickly segued into him talking about how he was also a Canadian folk musician, who was unfortunately not Neil Young.  She told him that she was also looking for Husker Dü records, also per my request, and that caused him to scoff “Nobody who likes music would admit to liking them.”, which is a strange thing to say about a non-mainstream punk band.  My assumption is that he didn’t actually know who Husker Dü was or that Husker Dü and The Replacements came out of the same music scene so they shared a lot of fans, but my girlfriend wasn’t equipped with this information.  She just shrugged it off, but her and her friend were stuck with this annoying guy following them around and trying to talk about music, all because he thought he had an “in” when he heard her mention The Replacements.

A couple of months later, she was waiting on a friend for happy hour at a gastropub.  When she looked at the beer list, she said that they had Pliny the Elder on tap, and she remembered me mentioning once that it’s one of my favorite beers.  She ordered it, and immediately that caught the attention of a guy, who took that as a cue to strike up a conversation with her about craft beer.  My girlfriend likes sour beers, she’ll even suggest checking out breweries in the area, but she’s not someone that regularly talks about beer.  While it’s possible that he would’ve hit on her anyways, the chances of him approaching her in the first place would’ve been much lower had she ordered a more nondescript and less classy drink.  He thought he had found a unicorn, and became agitated when he found out that my girlfriend didn’t want to talk about hops and IPAs.

While my girlfriend may not be a music geeking, beer drinking unicorn, she manages to put up with music geeking, beer drinking me, and that’s more than I could possibly ask for.  At first, I felt bad, or even a bit responsible for the fact that she had these encounters with these guys, but in a way, these encounters opened some sort of window to who I could’ve been, if I had continued to be so hung up on trying to find someone who was exactly like me, looking for that someone who shared the same amount of enthusiasm for all the same things.  While my girlfriend may not know who The Replacements are, she’ll willingly go to a music festival that The Replacements are playing at, and while she may not try to figure out what makes a certain beer so good, she can at least appreciate different kinds of beer.  She knows enough to understand my geeking and in the end, I’m glad that I understand that’s all I really need.  Let the others chase after the unicorns.  I don’t need one.

 

While at a baseball game, my girlfriend’s friend brought up online dating.  Whether it was from having a couple of drinks, or because of the pace of the game, or both, I decided to offer her a free on the spot consultation of her dating profile.  I wouldn’t consider myself as an online dating expert by any means, but since I had used online dating successfully (aka I was dating her friend), I felt that I could at least give her a guy’s point of view on what she wrote about herself.  She obliged, and I immediately started to comb through her profile, giving her feedback based on a quick look through.  I was very blunt about things since she knew I was there to help and especially after learning that her profile wasn’t created by her, but instead by 2 of her guy friends.

The profile definitely read like it was written by multiple people, and it almost came off as it were a joke, or that she might be schizophrenic.  Not that her friends were trying to humiliate her, but they decided to forgo the more essential details about her to instead mention how much she loved snuggies.  They also admitted at the beginning of the profile, that she was basically being forced into this, and from my experience with this stuff, people who haven’t completely embraced meeting someone online are probably going to self-sabotage things even if they find someone that they might potentially like.

After giving her my feedback, we realized that it would be best for her to just start over from scratch, meaning that it would be best for her to completely shut down the account and to open a brand new one when she was ready to fend for herself.  That way she would have the necessary time to work on her profile, run it through a few friends, and finally release it into the online dating world with no regrets.  It sounds like it’s more agonizing than it should be, but I completely understand.

Creating a profile is actually a pretty time intensive task.  While I may overanalyze things more than others, I’m sure everyone overanalyzes their profile to a certain degree before publishing.  It’s difficult to find that balance between including not enough information and too much information, all while trying to let your personality shine through.  It’s especially difficult because it seems like the vetting process for online dating is to read through a profile and then immediately stop and move on when you find something you don’t like.  There really is such thing as too much information.

When I was online dating, I made things even more complicated by keeping my artistic aspirations a secret from the dating world, not so much out of embarrassment, but mostly because I didn’t want to explain them.  If I just wanted to write the next great novel, or if I just wanted to play in a band, that’d be easy.   Unfortunately, I have a theater show that combines music and storytelling, but it’s not musical theater.  It’s not a variety show, and it’s kind of like a radio show, but I’m not on the radio.  Just trying to write out the description is exhausting, and I could only imagine the amount of confusion that it would bring for a complete stranger that has never met me.

My profile contained no lies, but it hid a huge part of my life.  While it might be an exaggeration, it felt like I was living a double life, which is exactly what you’re not supposed to do with an online dating profile!  On my profile, I was mild mannered Ryan, with a steady 9-5 job and an interest in the concerts and movies.  In reality, I was trying to put together a house band for my theater show and write an autobiographical non-fiction book.  Since I wasn’t making any sort of career out of my theater show and writings, it was just a hobby.  And since it was a hobby, I thought having such an ambition would be counted against me like I was desperately holding onto a dying dream.

On some first dates, I felt comfortable enough to share about my book and show, but on others I didn’t mention it.  If I didn’t feel comfortable mentioning it, it was usually a sign that I wasn’t going to want to see the girl again.  It never seemed to be a huge deal to the girls who heard about it even though one of them deadpanned “are you kind of a big deal?” on the phone once.  Even though it wasn’t causing much controversy, I still kept it off my profile.  I had a fear that they would see a guy who had strange interests, no matter how precisely I explained it.  When I broke up with a girl after a month of dating, she pleaded “please don’t write about me.”, which showed me that my fears weren’t exactly unfounded.

Fortunately for my girlfriend’s friend, she doesn’t have a weird secret passion that she’s unsure about sharing with random strangers, so I assume she’ll be fine once she sits down and cranks out a profile.  Fortunately for me, it’s possible that I’ve closed the chapter on online dating in my life for good, so I won’t have to worry about whether my writing and my show will hinder me from getting a date.  It’s been 5 years since I’ve started this writing / show journey, and while I haven’t quite been able to list it on a dating site, there was a time where I wouldn’t even mention it to certain friends and family out of fear of embarrassment.  Perhaps one day, I’ll be able to list it beside what I do for a living, or the places that I like to travel to and I’d like to think that’ll happen even if I’m no more successful then than I am right now.

After attending an art walk, I went to get drinks with a couple of friends, one guy and one girl.  A girl friend of the girl joined us to put our group at 4.  We chatted about the art walk and we made the typical small talk that’s associated with meeting someone for the first time.  As the night ended, the girls headed out together, while my friend and I headed back to his place.  After we were well out of earshot, I asked my friend if he had noticed that the girl, while very attractive and friendly, had a single broken finger nail.  He had also noticed it, and then we delved into some strange deconstruction of why she was attractive, in her mid 30s and still single.  Somehow, that single broken finger nail was emblematic of some level of “crazy” that this girl had that we didn’t see in our brief introduction to her that night.  It was like a crack in the veneer.  I felt pretty awful that we had come to that conclusion based off of very little knowledge, and then felt worse because, I know many guys that would come to the same conclusion.  There’s a “crazy” stigma for pretty girls over the age of 30 that haven’t been married or engaged before.

Since I knew it was silly and unfair, I tried to push that stigma out of my mind.  It was moot for the most part since I wasn’t meeting many older girls in their 30s, but I didn’t need to complicate my already less than robust dating life.  That was before I came home late on a Friday night, and I decided to log onto my online dating account.  I typically didn’t log into my account on Friday nights because I didn’t want to give girls the impression that I have nothing better to do, but there I was, at 1 in the morning, seeing if Mrs. Right was also at home, seeing if I might be out there.

After a few minutes of browsing, when I was about to log off and call it a night, I received an IM from a girl on the site.  In the handful of years that I’d dabbled in online dating, I had never once received an actual IM from anyone, so it was kind of unsettling.  The girl IM’ing me was a girl I had seen on the site before, one that was attractive, but ultimately not interesting enough for me to actually pursue.  Since she was reaching out to me, I decided that I should reconsider and see if we had any chemistry.  The chat software was awfully slow and buggy, and I was pretty exhausted, so we decided to arrange a phone call the next day.

I called her the following afternoon and things seemed pleasant at first.  She was 33, and she was working as a substitute teacher, hoping to latch onto a permanent teaching position for the upcoming new year.  Less than ideal details about her life started to surface, like the fact that she lived at home with her mom, but these things were typically due to circumstances out of her control like losing her full time teaching job during the 2008 recession, and the fact that her father had passed away a few years earlier. These things made me sympathetic to her situation.  Of course, shortly after feeling for her and her situation, she offered me the unsolicited advice that most girls don’t like facial hair, and that I should consider shaving on a regular basis if I wanted more dates.

I decided to ignore her rude advice and proceeded to set up a date with her.  I would take her to a Oaxacan restaurant that I had gone to a few times before, over by where she lived.  I figured that if the date wasn’t going so well, that I would at least be able to enjoy a good meal for my troubles.  She agreed to the date and we agreed to text back and forth to get to know each other better in the meantime.  Sparks weren’t flying, but I was enjoying to get to know her and I hoped that things would progress.

Unfortunately, things started to unravel even before we arrived at the restaurant.  A couple of hours before the date, she texted me if I was on my way.  I told her I was still at work.  She asked me what time I was planning on arriving, and I told her the time we agreed upon.  She seemed skeptical.

About an hour before the date, she texted me again.  She asked me if I had left yet.  I told her I was at home, for a quick change of clothes, and that I’d be leaving shortly.  She asked me again if I was going to be late.  I said no.  Once again, she seemed skeptical.  I grew slightly annoyed by her constant badgering.

I arrived at the restaurant on time and texted her that I had arrived.  Surprised, she texted me that she’d be there in a few minutes.  I checked in with the restaurant, got us a table, and soon after, she arrived.  She told me she had often driven by the restaurant but had never eaten there, so I found this promising.  Unfortunately, I didn’t know there would be live music that night, so noise became a bit of an issue, but not to the point that we had yell.  When the waiter arrived to take our order, I ordered a margarita.

“You’re drinking on a Wednesday?!” she asked, on the verge of outrage.

“Yeah…” I responded, confused that my order was causing any sort of reaction.

“But it’s Wednesday.” she persisted.

“It’s not like I’m ordering shots.” I muttered, frustrated by her interrogation.

I told her I wouldn’t drink if it made her more comfortable, but instead of taking me up on my offer, or just letting me have my margarita, she decided that she shouldn’t let me drink alone.  I reassured her that I was fine, but she quickly started browsing through the beer list, and then out of nowhere, decided that she should have a long island iced tea.  I didn’t understand her logic, but I just wanted to move on, so I didn’t bother to ask her to explain.  The food and drinks came out, and I tried to steer things back to a normal conversation.  Things went well for a while, until she decided to let me know that she thought the restaurant was more ideal for a happy hour gathering, than a first date.  I was already pretty sure that there wasn’t going to be a second date at this point, but I still nodded politely, trying to keep things from completely becoming a catastrophe.

After dinner, she suggested that we go get coffee.  I agreed to coffee, not because I was hoping that things would turn around, but because I figured I should kill some more time before making the long drive back home.  We got in our respective cars and met at a local cafe.  She offered to pay for the drinks, since I paid for dinner, and we sat down, resuming our strangely friendly but sometimes contentious conversation.  She opened up about her family for a little bit, and this revealed some resentment towards her father, who she unfortunately wasn’t able to make peace with before he passed away.  She then went on a rant about some teacher that she knew and how he was a bad influence on the kids he was teaching.  While I understood that the guy shouldn’t be teaching kids that his superficial and pathetic lifestyle was something to aim for, I couldn’t understand why this was such a “hot button” topic that we needed to discuss on our date.  I had already given this date plenty of chances, and this was finally the straw that broke the camel’s back.  I told her I had to get back home, I walked her to her car and said goodnight.

I drove home and immediately regretted going on the date.  The age thing crept into my mind, but it would be a disservice to dismiss her as crazy, or that any of these 30+ year old pretty girls are crazy.  This was simply a girl with a lot of baggage, who couldn’t keep that baggage from creeping up time and time again.  Life had dealt her a bad hand of cards and it was understandable that she had accumulated a good deal of bitterness along the way.  From losing her job, to having to move back home, to not making peace with her father, that’s a lot of disappointment for one to handle.  It’s a miracle that the only visible signs of her disappointment were in these little spurts of negativity. There wasn’t anything wrong with her, she wasn’t crazy, and most importantly, she was stilling putting herself out there, even if I ended up being a dead end.  That’s not crazy behavior, that’s down right respectable.

 

 

I know sports fans can be nutty.  I definitely enjoy sports and know my share of the crazies.  I’ve chuckled many times at friends for turning off the TV during a game because their team started doing poorly when they started watching. I’ve done the same thing or something similar countless times, but just never in front of people.  I know it’s silly, and because of that, I’ve always felt that my silliness was somewhat reasonable.  I wasn’t one of those fans on TV, half naked with paint all over their bodies, or one of those fans who wouldn’t shower because they believed it was helping a winning streak.  I loved my teams, but I didn’t try to antagonize people who didn’t feel the same way.  I bought jerseys and I attended games, so I thought I was fairly normal.  It turns out that I was wrong.

I went to a Wild vs Ducks hockey game a few months ago with a friend, my girlfriend and her brother.  I wore my new Wild jersey (the green one) that I got last year and brought my old Wild jersey (the red one) just in case someone wanted to wear it.  For previous games, that someone was my dad.  Since none of the people I was with were Ducks fans, I was hoping someone would help me represent the visiting team, but those requests fell on deaf ears, so I just held on to it.  After a period or two of futility from my favorite team, I decided to swap the jerseys.  I had gone 0-3 in my new jersey and was about to go 0-4, so I figured it might be bad luck and that switching to the old one would perhaps bring my team good luck.

When I took off the first jersey, a guy behind him asked me “are you really giving up on your team?” and when I told him that I was just switching jerseys, he totally understood my logic without needing me to explain it to him.  No one else around really seemed to notice the switch or they all inherently knew what I was doing.  The game was finally ended, and my jersey switch couldn’t turn the tide.  To me, this game was just one of many hockey games, and unfortunately it ended in a loss.

A few months later,  I ran into an acquaintance and after exchanging pleasantries, he asked me if changing jerseys at a hockey game was a normal occurrence for me.  I was immediately taken aback by his question, partly because of embarrassment, but also out of shock.  My acquaintance didn’t know anyone who I went to the game and I didn’t even recall ever having a conversation with him about sports.  It turned out that he was also at the game, and while he and his co-workers were trying to spot their Minnesota Wild loving friend elsewhere in the stands, they spotted me, and later spotted me in a different jersey.  I explained my superstitious logic behind the swap and he at least feigned understanding about it.  I was somewhat embarrassed about it, but not embarrassed enough to not try it again at some point.

For the first time that I know of, I looked like a crazy sports fan, and in the eyes of my acquaintance and his co-workers that night, I looked like a loon who couldn’t decide which jersey he wanted to wear.  Unfortunately to me, that doesn’t sound all that exciting.  If I was going to be deemed sports crazy, I’d like to be like the group of Minnesota Wild fans that brought a Minnesota state flag to a game to a hang over the railing, or my friend who I didn’t realize I was seated next to at a Clippers game because they were wearing a cape and was screaming that every player on the opposing team was a rapist, not just the guy who kept switching between jerseys at a hockey game.

My brand of crazy just isn’t crazy enough.  It’s a nerdy crazy and it just doesn’t feel as bold and brave as I’d like it to.  I can’t spin yarns about how I painted my face and torso, knowing it was going to be below freezing weather.  I can’t tell tales about how I screamed obnoxiously at opposing players without a single drop of alcohol in my system.  While I often look down on these people, or in the case of my friend, not recognize them until they’ve turned to me and asked me if I remembered her, I secretly envy them and their ability to totally immerse themselves in their fandom for their team.  For now, the Minnesota Wild will have to accept me and my two jerseys.  Hopefully the next time they’re in town, I’ll have embraced a whole new level of crazy, a crazy that will help them over that final hump and to victory.

 

I had a huge crush on a girl during my senior year of college.  We had a class together and even though it wasn’t a huge lecture hall, she always seemed out of reach, either a couple of seats too far, or a couple of rows in front or behind me.  She ended up joining myself and some of my friends for a group project, but even then, she was kind of in and out, barely there at all.  None of us in the group were upset at her.  She was responsive, she got her work done, and she probably felt like an outsider since the rest of us were already friends, she just did her work independently of the group.  Naturally, I was disappointed that I wasn’t able to capitalize on  this group project to get to know her better, but one of the girls from the group did get her number when we started the project, so it wasn’t a total loss.  Now, I wasn’t going to take the number and ask her out, since that would be an invasion of privacy, but I was able to plead with my friend to contact her about my upcoming birthday that the rest of the group was invited to.

It was expected that she would politely decline, but instead of that being the end of the conversation, she asked my friend for my number.  She felt so honored that she was invited, that she wanted to get dinner with me at some later date to  make it up to me.  This was probably the best outcome that I could have hoped for, and it wasn’t even a scenario that I had accounted for.  Instead of trying to get to know her in front of all my friends at my birthday party, I would have the chance to get to know her in a more intimate setting.

She made good on her word and she called me a few days shortly after my birthday.  She apologized profusely for not making it to the party.  At this point I didn’t even care, but she wanted to explain, and unfortunately, that explanation took all the wind out of my sails.  It turns out that her boyfriend, who was out at sea, was in town for that weekend so he understandably was the higher priority.  I didn’t know she had a boyfriend, but I tried my best to not express any visible disappointment.  She still wanted to get dinner with me so I obliged and we set a date.  I figured that I might as well turn this girl who was a mystery to me for so long into an actual person, whether she was attainable or not.

I assume that we chose TGI Fridays as our dinner destination because we had just gotten out of college and not because it was either of our favorite restaurant.  She gave me a hug when she walked in, and we waited for our table.  I tried my best to keep my composure and make the conversation as smooth as possible, but I was extremely nervous.  When it came time to place our orders, I decided to order a steak, even though I’d never ordered a steak at TGI Fridays before.  It wasn’t incredibly expensive, but in retrospect, it’s weird that I ordered that, especially knowing how nerve wracked I was.

We talked about college and where we were headed now that we had graduated.  Her plan was to become a lawyer, and my plan was to become the next great filmmaker.  She was going to move back in to her mother’s house while she studied for the LSAT, and I was going to stick around Irvine, writing scripts, and hopefully making short films.  She mentioned how her boyfriend was in the military and that he wanted to be a doctor when he was  done with his service.  They had already planned it all out.  She would become a lawyer and she would support him while he went to school, until he could support her.  It was a very noble plan, and I had no intention of trying to get in their way.

Finally, the food arrived and I started to eat my steak.  After a few bites, I shoved a rather large chunk of steak into my mouth, chewed it a few times, and tried to swallow it.  It wasn’t working.  I tried to wash it down with some coke, but to no avail, I was choking.  I didn’t want to try to give myself the Heimlich Maneuver, or at least, not in front of her.  I wanted to excuse myself from the table but I couldn’t speak, and I didn’t want to interrupt her in the middle of whatever she was saying.  I was stuck, and I was terrified.  While I knew that we weren’t going to ride happily ever after into the sunset, I still didn’t want to look like a complete idiot in front of her, and here I was, not able to eat a steak without almost killing myself.

I ended up forcing it out on to the floor without giving myself the Heimlich, but at this point she was aware that I was choking.  She was obviously startled, but she tried to casually brush it off to save me from any more embarrassment than I was already feeling.  We were able to continue our conversation and enjoy the rest of the night.  We started to hang out regularly after that incident but things never aligned for us to start dating, even though she had friends who definitely preferred me to some of the other guys that she would date later.  I should’ve learned from this instance that I shouldn’t put so much stock in to that first encounter with a girl, but it’s I can’t help it because I’m such a dreamer.  I’d like for whatever girl I’m seeing to think I’d kill myself to be there with them that night, because it almost happened once, but I also hope that it never happens again.

I could easily skip over the chapter of my dating life that encompasses my early 20s.  There were a fair share of crushes and an equal number of rejections from said crushes.  It was an extremely long learning moment and I thought it was going to never end.  While I didn’t necessarily have problems talking to girls in college or in the years after, I had trouble asking them out, or making it clear that I wanted to date them and not just hang out.  A lot of the experiences kind of blur together but I remember one thing in particular very clearly.  Being obsessed with Julia Roberts romantic comedies or Sex in the City was a huge turn off for me.

I couldn’t immediately recall why.  The first thing that came to mind about my younger self is that I must’ve been especially elitist at the time, since Julia Roberts and Sex in the City were very much in the mainstream.  On top of that, romantic comedies, starring Julia Roberts or otherwise, and Sex in the City skew towards a female audience, so they’re naturally something a guy scoffs at.  I know that I didn’t fault girls for liking  “girly” films and TV shows, and I remember having some sort of respect for Sex in the City, perhaps because it was on HBO; I don’t think I’ve actually seen a whole episode.  I eventually realized that these oddly specific films and this TV show became a surrogate for my failures and not because of my elitist tastes.  They were a common trait in a lot of the girls that rejected me and because of that, I probably thought there some sort of warped feminist message in them, not that I’m particularly familiar with either.  It was why girls went to brunch with friends over going on a date with me.  That’s what I told myself.  It wasn’t them or me, it was Julia Roberts and Sarah Jessica Parker’s fault.

I eventually got over that.  It’s nice to see how far I’ve come since those days in the early 2000s, but it’s strange to connect how pop culture has been part of my dating process from the beginning.  I’ve always tried to be about finding a quality person with a good sense of humor and that sharing a love for the same kind of music or films would just be an added bonus.  It took a long time to realize that I was lying.  My humor, my interests, all tie in to my favorite bands and my favorite films.  There’s not much you can do to separate the two.  It’s not that I need someone that likes all the exact same things, but there needs to be some common ground.  Besides, I haven’t met a single Pavement or Replacements fan that I haven’t gotten along with.

When I first started my online dating experience, girls would ask me if I went to a lot of concerts. Based on the girl, I would tailor according to what I thought they wanted to hear.  My answers would range from a simple “Yes, all the time” to “I used to go to a lot of shows but I think that I’m starting to slow down.”  Neither answer was a lie, but the former is definitely a lot closer to the truth than the latter.  I think I believed the latter when I said it, hoping that whatever girl I said it to would somehow quell my love of concerts in some other way.  It might have worked, but I’d most likely end up at my usual spots, or waking up at odd hours trying to get Radiohead tickets.

My initial tendency on a date is to try to make things go as smoothly as possible, which is not necessarily a bad goal to have.  Unfortunately for me, when I started going on these dates, I was trying too hard, to the point where I started compromising who I was just to please some person that I had just met, and had no mutual connections to.   I wasn’t lying, but I was shuffling my interests around to better my chances.  This is not a bad initial strategy, but I was pretty awful at keeping up the charade, so it probably wasn’t the best strategy for me.

For instance, I once went on a first date with a girl at a wine bar.  It was a cordial date.  No sparks were flying, but it was far from a disaster.  While we didn’t have a ton in common, we were getting along, we were laughing, and then “Jenny and the Ess Dog” by Stephen Malkmus started playing overhead, and I had to bring the conversation to a halt.

“Sorry, but I really love this song.” I said.

“Oh don’t worry about it.” she replied.

I believe she asked a couple of questions about what we were listening to.  Instead of answering them quickly and moving on, I went on about Malkmus, then about Pavement, then probably about indie rock as a whole.  She graciously allowed me to go on and on about music, even though I know she didn’t appreciate music on such a geeky level.  In fact, I was trying to shy away from the subject all night until fate decided to intervene.  It didn’t sink the date but instead of following my plan of showing her what similarities we had, I spent a good 5 to 10 minutes highlighting a huge difference that we had.

We kept in touch and I tried to see her again.  We tried to set another date but her work proved to be quite a controlling mistress.  I know that if she really wanted to see me again, she could’ve made more of an effort, but I’ll stick with her story that work was swallowing her whole.  She was working at an advertising agency in LA so it was entirely in the realm of possibility.  While she wasn’t a perfect match, it sticks with me that I probably killed some of my momentum with my Stephen Malkmus tangent.  I’ve moved on happily since then, but it’s a reminder that I can’t run from who I am, whether it’s hating on movies and TV shows in my early 20s to nerding out about “Jenny and the Ess Dog” on dates at 30. 

 

I grew up near an arcade called Circus Circus.  It was sort of like Chuck E. Cheese, and it definitely wasn’t anything like or associated with the Las Vegas casino that shares it’s name.  It was the childhood place I loved going to right after the school year got out.  For some reason, they would give us free tokens when we’d show them our report cards.  I’m not sure if the token allotment was based on grades or if everyone got the same amount no matter what, I just remember being super excited that we were getting free tokens .  My eldest sister would take me to Circus Circus whenever she was in town.  She’d play old school games like Centipede and Galaga while I’d play Street Fighter II repeatedly even though I never seemed to get much better at it.  I’d occasionally play games for tickets, but I typically preferred the video games.

When my family moved to San Diego, there was no immediate Circus Circus equivalent.  Chuck E. Cheese was a poor substitute and Dave and Busters didn’t exist yet.  After a few years, something came to fill the void, and that something was the nickel arcade, where you pay a flat admission fee, and then all the games cost different variations of nickels.  They built one down the street from my high school and surprisingly, I never played hooky to go there.  Sometime when I was in college, they closed that nickel arcade down.  I wasn’t particularly bummed that it did for a couple of reasons.  One, there was another one not too much farther from my parents’ house, and two, it seemed that arcades weren’t as alluring to me as they were in my childhood.

Now that my sisters have kids, the nickel arcade has become a place I frequent once again.  It’s a great place for the kids to expend some of their energy and it’s relatively cheap to kill a couple of hours.  I only play a handful of games while I take the kids out, so I don’t experience the arcade in the same way that I once did.  I’m usually holding onto tickets or getting more nickels, opposed to frantically pressing buttons trying to beat the level boss.  In other words, now I’m the adult.

Shortly after Christmas, I was in charge of taking my nieces and nephews out to the nickel arcade so my sisters could have some bonding time.  I paid for admission, gave the kids each a bag of nickels and they went on their way.  I parked myself in front of the Deal or No Deal arcade machine because it had a seat, and decided to give the game a play.  Shortly after my game had ended, my nephew Jordan informed me that he was out of nickels and that he needed more.  I went to the counter to get a five dollar bag, and then walked over to where he and the others were so I could divide the nickels out evenly.  To my surprise, there was another kid, and obviously not one related to me.  He was advising my other nephew in the middle of a game, and I immediately grew suspicious.

I didn’t ask him his age but I’d guess he was in middle school.  He definitely wasn’t bullying the younger kids (the nephews) or trying to make nice with my nieces, so I decided to leave the kid be, since he wasn’t doing anything to warrant any action on my part.  In fact, moments after I showed up, he handed my nephew a huge handful of tickets saying that he didn’t need them.  Not only was this kid not causing trouble, but he was actually being generous, and with not a single ulterior motive.

He was helping my nieces and nephews with one of the ticket games.  In the game, if you land on the bonus, you need to to hit the button to line up a flashing light with the jackpot.  It does this three times, and each time, the flashing light goes around the circle faster than the last.  This is when the kid would step in, and he helped win the jackpot on more than a few occasions.  It was an amazing sight to see, and it was even better to see the excitement from my nephews.  He stuck around and helped for the entire hour or so that we were there, rarely leaving to do anything on his own.

We started to turn in our tickets about 10 minutes before closing so my nieces and nephews could decide on prizes.  Once the prizes were redeemed, we started to walk towards the door.  He stopped us, pulled out even more tickets from his pockets and told us “you guys can have them, I don’t need these”, and once again we were floored by his generosity.  While I’m pretty sure that part of the reason that he was so generous was because his ride wasn’t going to pick him up until closing time, I’d like to think that he was a saint with some special gaming powers, but not like the one in that terrible Fred Savage movie.  Not only did he make my nieces and nephews happy, but he also brought back to me the sort of awe that I once had when I was a kid and I went to the arcades.

 

I met my friend Christian through work.  He was referred to our company through our mutual friend, Paul, and he started as a freelancer before shifting to a full time position.  I can’t pinpoint exactly how we became friends but I’m pretty sure that the story was pretty close to this: I walked by his desk while he had Spotify open, I “spotted” that he was listening to something that I liked, we started talking about music and we eventually ended up talking about our mutual love for a band called The Replacements.  It’s been rare for me to find other ‘Mats fans since The Replacements broke up in 1991 and they weren’t exactly the most popular band when they were together, especially outside of Minnesota.  The fans they do have love the band with a fervor that fans of very few other bands can  match.  It’s part of why Christian and I hit it off immediately and why he was able to seamlessly integrate himself into hanging out with my friend Jessica and me.  Our love for this under-appreciated band united us.

Unfortunately, Christian had to leave our company a couple of months after we had started hanging out because he and his wife decided to move closer to family as they were expecting their first child.  Jessica and I decided to throw him a low key going away get together at my place with just the three of us.  I supplied the food and Jessica supplied a hard to acquire beer as well as the entertainment for the night: a newly released documentary on our mutually loved band called Color Me Obsessed.  Dinner went well, the drink went even better, but unfortunately the documentary didn’t exactly meet our expectations.  While we were aware that the movie didn’t contain any music or interviews from the band, the weren’t in the state of the mind to sit through a couple of hours of people recollecting their intense feelings for this band.  We never finished the documentary, and to this day, Jessica refuses to pick it up from my place.

Christian kept in touch with us after the move, albeit on a limited basis, which was understandable since moving, starting a new job, and preparing to be a father for the first time is a lot to handle all at once.  The baby arrived a few months after the move and we were glad to see everything was working out for him.  A few months after the joyous birth of his son, it was announced that The Replacements would be getting back together for 3 shows.  Obviously, Jessica and I were ecstatic.  Christian was also excited that they were getting the band back together after 22 years, but had to respectfully rule himself out for any of the shows.

Jessica knew that she’d be going to at least one of the shows no matter what, but I couldn’t commit to going to one of these shows right away because going to any of these shows required purchasing a plane ticket, which obviously requires a bit of planning.  I finally relented after some coaxing from my girlfriend, and picked the cheapest and last available option, Denver.  During my deliberation, Jessica had decided on going to Chicago and Denver, and I was actually able to book the same exact flight as her.  We were both looking to make this trip as cheap as possible, so we agreed to get in and out of Denver in a little over 24 hours.  We would sleep in the airport or on the plane, if need be, but exploring Denver was a distant second priority to seeing the ‘Mats.

We arrived at the festival, about 45 minutes outside of Denver, and tried to come up with some sort of strategy for the day.  The lack of cell phone reception in this rural part of Colorado basically torpedoed any sort of way to communicate over any sort of distance, so there was a good hour and a half where Jessica and I were separated with no texts going through the airwaves.  I eventually found her after the Alkaline Trio had finished their set.  At that point, we decided that it would be best to stick together, and that we should just stick by this stage for The Replacements, sacrificing the opportunity to see other great bands, so we could have the best view possible for the one band that we travelled from California to see.

Sticking around this stage meant sticking around for AFI and their ravenous fans.  Some of the older Mats fans couldn’t stand AFI, but Jessica and I mostly braced ourselves for the crowd surfing, the shoving, and the typical insanity that usually follows this band.  I could’ve done without getting kicked in the head multiple times from various crowd surfers, but the end result was all worth it.  After AFI finished and their fans had dispersed for the exits, Jessica quickly rushed to the rail.  We had the best view possible for a band that I had been waiting my entire life to see.

The hour and a half plus that the band played for was pure bliss.  We got everything that we wanted and more.  The only downside was that Christian couldn’t have been there with us to see the ‘Mats playing his favorite songs, throwing lit cigarettes at each other, and stumbling around the stage as middle age men in ridiculous outfits.  Words could not do justice to what we saw and heard that night, and perhaps that’s why we soured on that documentary so quickly.  Words can’t do this band justice, The Replacements are a band that needs to be experienced, and hopefully one day we’ll reunite with Christian to see this band rise once again.

My roommate once told me of an awful online date he had where the girl complained all night, leading up to her throwing a fit about him ordering a non-alcoholic beer for himself when she wanted to grab a drink at the bowling alley.  My roommate doesn’t drink, but was trying to accommodate the girl, who didn’t feel comfortable drinking alone, for whatever reason.  While I would think most people would find my roommate’s gesture noble, she found it the exact opposite.  “I wouldn’t be caught dead with a guy with a non-alcoholic beer.” were her exact words.  Somehow, my roommate managed to not toss his alcoholic beer in her face and finished taking her out on that date.  Needless to say, he didn’t ask her out on a second.

I’ve had my share of crummy online dates, but they all pale in comparison to my roommate’s story.  Coincidentally, I’ve also had the experience of dating a complainer who, also had a weird hang up with alcohol. In my case, she was alarmed to see me ordering a cucumber margarita with my dinner, because it was a Wednesday.  She then feverishly looked through the menu to see if she could find something to drink so I wouldn’t be drinking alone, and ended up with a Long Island ice tea.  I don’t believe for a second that the alcohol was the reason she decided to loosen her tongue to bestow some wisdom on me that the place I took her to “would be okay for happy hour, but not a first date.”   She was just a miserable person.  That was a weird date for sure, but a totally harmless one.

While I wouldn’t consider it an awful time, the two dates I had with an aspiring actress named Kate, was a definitely a strange one.  It obviously started with promise since we actually got to a second date, but there were plenty or warning signs from the beginning that I chose to ignore in retrospect.  Kate was not a crazy in the conventional sense, she’s just someone who said and kept things in a shroud of mystery even though she constantly told me that she’s an open book, often times saying she’s an open book right after saying something mysterious.

“So you just started going to church after college with no church upbringing?”

“Yup.”

“There’s no big event that triggered that?”

“Nope.”

I decided to stop prodding at that point, and ironically enough, she decided to once again remind me:

You can ask me anything, Ryan.  I’m an open book.”

Perhaps, she would’ve eventually filled me on that if we had continued to see each other, but that’s not the only instance where I felt like she was hiding a closet full of skeletons or unaware of those skeletons, like at the end of our first phone call, when she basically ended the conversation with, “Just so you know, I’m not a floozie.  So don’t think you’re going to get any.” or when I walked her to her car at the end of our first date, and she basically told me not to get any bright ideas.  Outside of her feeling the need to explicitly tell me that she didn’t want me to sexually assault her, our first date was actually very enjoyable.  It was the 2nd date, however, where everything went downhill, and it started going in the direction from the moment that I went to pick her up.

I brought a rose with me and pulled up to her place.  As I walked to the lawn, she bursted through the door, not with anger, but with fear.  “Hey, lets get out of here.”   We hopped in he car, she thanked me for the rose, and told me that she didn’t want me to get interrogated by her grandparents.  I knew previously that she lived them, but didn’t know that they would be home or that they were the nosey types.  I shrugged it off, and tried to make the best of things, but soon the date would go off the rails for good.

A few minutes after we pulled onto the freeway, she alerted me that she was car sick.  I apologized for my driving but she quickly clarified that it wasn’t my driving, but rather she always gets  sick when she’s not driving.  Either she didn’t want to go on this date with me and was looking for an excuse to shut down, or she was actually car sick, I decided to believe the latter, so I wouldn’t resent her during the date.  She asked me to turn down the radio and she closed her eyes, leaving me to my own thoughts, wondering if this was going to be the worst date in the history of man.

Fortunately, things got better, but not to the point where I could gloat to my friends that I completely turned things around.  Once we arrived at the restaurant for dinner, her dizziness stopped and we actually had a conversation.  It wasn’t an awkward or painful experience, but we were not hitting the same highs that we had on the first date.  I took her to a show after that and then I dropped her off at home.  I didn’t particularly want to ask her for another date, but I did anyways, thinking that I couldn’t blame her for getting carsick, even though she should’ve never agreed to let me pick her up in the first place.  She declined but told me I was a perfect gentlemen before getting out of my car, giving me a hug, and exiting from my life.

While I was initially bothered by her lack of foresight, I was more bothered that I even offered another chance.  I let her turn me down, and that added insult to the end of the night.  It wasn’t horrible overall, but I felt like I was the only one trying, and I left her the impression that I thought the night was pleasant enough.  This was at the beginning of my online dating life, so I didn’t know what to do at the end of a date where I didn’t want to see the girl again.  I eventually learned as I eventually went on more dates,  that more often than not, dates are going to end up in disappointment.  There were more downs than ups, and there were times where I had to be convinced that I shouldn’t give up.  It’s a roller coaster ride, one that especially makes you a little sick when you realize that you’re not the one driving.

I had been dating April for a few months when we went to go see the movie, In Time on Halloween.  We were already drifting, so taking her to this movie was kind of a last ditch effort to try to turn things around.  She had a guilty pleasure for Justin Timberlake, and even she knew it wasn’t going to be a mind blowing movie.  She didn’t appreciate that I was making predictions at how terrible (pun driven) the dialogue in the movie was going to be, but I don’t think that was the final nail in the coffin for us.  In the spirit of this bad film, let’s just say that we were out of time, we just stopped having a good time, and that the timing wasn’t right for us.

We met on a free dating service, and decided to meet for drinks on a Friday night.  Humor-wise, we clicked right from the start so we were both pretty comfortable with each other.  After  a few drinks, we were in good spirits, and we were trying to plan what to do next.  I suggested that we go to a karaoke bar in the same plaza that we were in, but she suggested that we go crash her co-worker’s first date at a local bowling alley just a couple of miles away.  While crashing the co-worker’s date sounded a lot more fun as an idea than the actually reality of the situation, it was still a very successful first date.

Between that first date and watching In Time, it was never volatile, but we never clicked enough to get serious.  Things ended over text, and while I wasn’t completely shocked by it ending, I was still open to trying to make it work, so it stung more than other failed online pairings.  I don’t remember if there was any talks about trying to be friends, but I probably didn’t take them very seriously if there were.  Not that I was furious, but I wasn’t in the mode of looking for new friends.  I got a new job a few weeks later, and that helped me get over things pretty quickly.

This new job was a shining beacon of hope for me.  I had been trying to leave my old job for a while, so it freeing to know I would be leaving a place that had been dragging me down for the past couple of years.  I would be making more money, I’d be around more people my age, and maybe most importantly, it would signify a fresh start in so many aspects of my life.  I immediately felt more confident and I started to look forward to the upcoming year, because my 2011 had come up so empty after so many promising opportunities.

Then a couple of days before our Christmas break, I was awoken from my phone ringing early in the morning.  It woke me up and for whatever reason, I decided to answer it.  To my surprise, it was from April’s phone.  I heard a lot of rustling on the other end, and no one responded when I tried to say “hello?”, so I realized that her phone had probably called me on accident, via a “butt dial” or a “bag dial”.  I hung up, and sent her a text telling her that she probably accidentally called me and that I hoped she was doing well.  She texted me back and through a series of a few texts back and forth, we decided to have lunch the next day to catch up.  I didn’t look at it as a potential opportunity to rekindle what we had, even though that’s what my friends were predicting would happen after hearing the news of this “accidental” (their quote marks, not mine) phone call, but mostly just out curiosity.

The same morning of the April phone call, I was told by my c0-workers that our lunch plan was changing.  Initially, we were supposed to go to Korean BBQ and instead we were now going to get Shabu Shabu.  Not only were we going to Shabu Shabu, but we were going to the Shabu Shabu bar that I would frequent often, when I was dating a waitress there earlier in the year.  I expressed some reservations about going there because of her, but my co-workers argued that I didn’t even know if she still worked there, and if she still did, I didn’t know if she would be working the Thursday lunch shift.  It was a solid argument, but I should have trusted my gut.

When we walked in, and I immediately saw her.  She waved, but I wasn’t sure if she was being sincere or just professional.  We were seated and greeted by a different waitress, so I started to calm down a bit, until she magically appeared in front of me, asking how I’ve been since the last time I had talked to her six months earlier.  I started to talk about how my car go totaled about a month after she broke things off, and she ran around the bar and gave me a hug.  It was unexpected, and somehow none of my co-workers were paying attention while any of this transpired.  We caught up, and I was relieved to know that things weren’t going to be awful between us.

I had lunch with April the next day, and we ended up hanging out a few more times after that.  We slowly drifted apart as friends as we both found serious relationships.  It was inevitable, with our history, that our friendship would be temporary, and it was one of the main reasons I wasn’t really pushing for it when things ended romantically.  It was still good to have that time, just like it was to see the waitress harbor no ill will towards me.  Both of them ended things over text, so it was nice to replace my last memory of them with something much more pleasant and actually in person. It was an emotional whirlwind for me in the span of 24 hours, and it just happened to occur right before Christmas.  It would obviously be an exaggeration to classify this as even a minor Christmas miracle, but it helped me look ahead to the new year and to clean the slate of unfinished business from a year that was about to literally become the past.

A few years ago, when I told a buddy that I was going to New York, he told me to put my headphones away and to listen to the chatter on the subway.  He wasn’t from New York, but he had seen a Twitter feed of someone who posted the inane and outrageous things he would hear on the various subway lines.  As much as I’m a fan of free entertainment, I kept the headphones on, choosing the soothing sound of local rappers, Jay-Z or the Beastie Boys over the mentally unhinged.

On my most recent trip, I opened my ears to the locals.  Not because I was curious to hear what my friend was talking about, but because I had lost my headphones somewhere in my sister’s apartment.  They weren’t particularly expensive headphones, but I knew they would mysteriously appear the second that I bought new ones, so I spent a couple of days bouncing around Manhattan with no ability to tune people out.  Unfortunately, the locals  on the trains were  on their best behavior, so there was little entertainment as I zipped around between Brooklyn and Manhattan.

On one of these headphone-less days, I was supposed to meet up for dinner and drinks with my co-worker Daisy.  Daisy also invited an ex-co-worker of ours, Denise, who I had once mistaken as a server during a night of drinking back when we were co-workers in California.  Denise asked  if I even remembered who she was, and before I could respond, she brought up my prior lapse of recognition, for which I don’t blame her.  If I was in the same position, I would probably rub it in whenever the opportunity presented itself.

After a round of drinks, Denise received a text from her friend Jenny, who happened to be in the area.  Jenny joined us for drinks while she waited for a couple of her guy friends to arrive.  She had just accepted a job offer for a teaching position earlier that day, so she was in a celebratory mood.  We congratulated her, we toasted to her new job, and we chatted with her, even as her friends showed up.  While we were definitely all having a great time, Daisy and Denise needed to turn in early because they had work the next day.  Jenny asked me if I wanted to join her and her friends, and I agreed after Denise assured me that they were a good time.

They were definitely a that while we were at the first bar, but things started to fall apart shortly after Denise and Daisy left, and we headed to a new location.  Jenny grabbed on to my arm as we walked down a stone cobbled street.  The act was innocent, she just needed some assistance walking down this uneven street while in her heels, but it was misinterpreted by one of her friends as an invitation to hit on her.  After we reached a sidewalk, she let go of my arm, and soon after, he started holding her hand.  I knew Jenny had a boyfriend back at her apartment, but since I was basically still a stranger at this point, I was going to stay out of her or their business.

After spending half an hour just trying to find her friend’s car, we headed to a hotel that he was going to stay at for the night.  Since we were in New York, the hotel had no parking for him, so he pulled the car over, and hopped out so he could check in.  After he left the car, Jenny mentioned that she needed to use the restroom, and I volunteered to walk her to a bar or a restaurant, so we got out of the car.

Once we were out of earshot, Jenny told me that the hand holding had freaked her out, and that she was pretty sure that her friend had set his sights on sleeping with her, which she wanted no part of.  This was not what I wanted to hear, not because I wanted her to be fine with cheating on someone, but for someone who had just met her just a few hours prior, this was a lot of potential drama to process.  She admitted that she didn’t need to use the restroom and that she wanted to just get away, so I walked her to a bar and we ordered a couple of drinks.

We sat down and I asked her what subject and grade she would be teaching, and she immediately dived into telling me about how excited she was to be teaching 10th grade English, complete with ideas about her curriculum.  She apologized for boring me, but she in fact, was the exact opposite.  It was inspiring to hear her geek out about something that she was so obviously passionate about, and it didn’t hurt that she would occasionally drop in colorful little phrases like “I can’t wait to teach those motherf*ckers about the death totals in Hamlet!”

In the midst of our great conversation, I told her about the speech I was working on for my best friend’s wedding.  I mentioned that I wanted to say that he was “selfless” but I was afraid that people would hear “selfish”, and she offered the word “altruistic”, which I did in fact actually use in the actual speech.  I was so grateful to have had this conversation with her, and it took the most random of circumstances to get us there.  I met her through a friend, who I had no idea that I was going to see, on a day where Jenny just got this new job, and only after we had to escape her friend’s car after he made an awkward pass at her.  Though I know I will never see her again, since she’s moving, she’s left an indelible impression on me.

I left that night inspired, but at the same time, I felt bad for her.  On this triumphant day for her, she had to make a new friend to celebrate her good news, while one of the people that she thought would be there for her, was spending the night scheming how to get in her pants when all she wanted to do is talk about her new job.  It was the one night in New York where I was glad that I didn’t have my headphones, so I could actually hear a stranger around me, to give them the one thing that they wanted that night, and that thing was to be heard.

A few years ago, I had a birthday dinner at a sushi restaurant that I frequented quite often.  At the end of the meal, the waitress brought me some tempura fried ice cream as my birthday dessert, and I followed the birthday dessert protocol by taking a bite and passing the dessert down so everyone at the table could have a taste.  Unfortunately, a friend of mine who will not be named, didn’t understand the protocol, and interpreted the passing down of my dessert as a request to finish the dessert for me.  I was too busy socializing with others to notice that this was transpiring, until our waitress approached me, completely puzzled.

“You didn’t like the dessert?”

“Why would you say that?” I asked, before looking around the table and seeing that my friend was nearly finished usurping my ice cream.  Conjuring up my best Mr. Wilson impression, I yelled my friend’s name as if he were Dennis the Menace, but it was too late.  He had finished the last bite.

Luckily, I was given a replacement dessert, free of charge, but I still look back at that birthday as a near disaster.  Fortunately for this friend, and unfortunately for me, this was not even close to the most catastrophic birthday that I ever had.  (There are two definitely worse than that: 1. In my mid-20s  a girl who had just crushed my heart decided to tell me that she couldn’t go to my party through her friend because she “forgot” that she had a date that night.  2. I had to work huge amounts of overtime in the days leading to my 30th birthday and I had to have my birthday lunch at work exhausted and all by myself.)

It’s always been difficult to celebrate my birthday, especially since my birthday falls around the 4th of July and that’s a perfect time for friends to get married or go out of town.  For previous years, I’ve countered that issue by celebrating weeks before or after the date to ensure that people would be around. Even then, it can be particularly disheartening when my plans, which are never particularly grand, get torpedoed.

After hearing the horror stories, my girlfriend decided that this year would be the year where I could feel like my birthday was actually celebrated.  We planned a trip to Northern California for a weekend where it would basically be the two of us, and if any of our friends who lived up there wanted to join us, they were more than welcome, but they certainly weren’t obligated to.  A handful of my friends and a friend of hers joined us for a variety of activities such as a birthday dinner at a fantastic italian restaurant, wine and beer tastings, a visit to a cartoon art museum and going to a baseball game in downtown San Francisco.  While we did a lot, we gave ourselves plenty of time to just relax as well.  Even by a normal person’s standards, this birthday would be a considered a success.

Not that I’m expecting every birthday in the future to be as exquisite as this one, but it’s nice to get such a definitive victory after so many suffering so many defeats.  Instead of dreading every birthday, I can now look forward to the next one, and even if that one doesn’t turn out to be great, at least I know that some years things won’t work out, and other years will be much better.  It’s an attitude I could apply to life as a whole, after realizing that no matter how hard I try, not every expectation I set will be fulfilled, and even when they do get fulfilled, it’s never as perfect as you imagined.

This birthday was the absolutely best one I’ve had in recent memory, and while we got to do all the things we had set out to do, there’s one inconsequential, hilarious, little blemish, and it happened before the trip.  My girlfriend decided to give me my birthday gift a few days early, and while I loved the gift, the card I received could’ve been an ominous sign of upcoming disaster.  Now, to her credit, my girlfriend had warned me that the card selection at the store wasn’t great, but when I opened it, I wasn’t exactly sure what she was referring to.  She was referring to the fact that the card was for a 3 year old so she had to manually draw in the 2nd digit.  Unfortunately, she had drawn in the incorrect 2nd digit.   She thought I was a year older than I really was.

I wasn’t angry with her about her error, I was more amused than anything.  It wasn’t a sign of things to come, it was just an isolated harmless mistake that kicked off a fantastic week for me.  I celebrated my birthday in style.  I don’t expect to top it next year – I haven’t even thought about what we could possibly, but I’m sure of one thing.  Next year, my girlfriend will definitely get my age right.

Sometimes, I’m glad that my best friend and I don’t share the same circle of friends.  While it occasionally causes his head to spin in his feeble attempts to keep track of who is who in my life when I share with him my adventures here in California, I still think it’s best that most of his friends have no idea who I am, and I have no idea who most of his friends are.  Perhaps, if his friends knew of my writing aspirations, they’d probably expect to hear a really great best man’s speech at Bruce’s wedding.  Instead, their expectations will probably be in line with those of most people at a wedding:  a hope that the speeches will be short and painless.

This will be my first best man’s speech, so I am in no way experienced at this.  While, some may expect this to be a relatively easy task for a writer, they don’t realize how different it is to write a speech opposed to a story, or an essay, or anything for that matter.  I might as well be writing in a 2nd language.  Sure, I’ve been to weddings before and I’ve seen other people give speeches, but most of them have been awful, and that is being rather generous.

I understand that nerves are often part of it, and that may excuse why one best man I know, accidentally muttered that the groom “settled” for his wife instead of “setting his sights” on her.  I’ve seen another best man make jokes in poor taste towards the bride, to the point where the bride’s family confronted him privately later during the reception.  I also experienced the longest best man’s speech in the history of the world, when a friend of mine decided to tell a story about the groom from his elementary school days, then his middle school days, then his high school days, then his college days, and then finally a story about when the groom started dating his bride to be.

These best men, all whom I know personally, are intelligent, creative, respectable men, so I don’t bring up their speeches just to ridicule them.  I look at them as potential warning signs.  Perhaps, their downfall could be attributed to some lofty expectations that they’ve set for themselves.  Not that I think any of these men were thinking that they could bring down the house with laughs, or that they could make the groom cry like a child, but perhaps they just flat out underestimated the intricacies of giving a speech, weighing every word, keeping it personal without making strangers feel excluded, and most importantly, keeping things short and organized.

I am happy to have a history of keeping my writings brief.  So brief, that in college, if a professor asked for a 5 page paper, they would get a 4 and a half page paper with a slightly larger than 12 point font, so brevity will not be an issue for me.  Organization, on the other hand, could be my downfall.  Typically, I know how a story is going to start.  Often times, I have no idea how a story is going to end. I’m know that it’s best to try to keep things focussed, because rambling and awkward pauses will probably doom me to the point of no return.

I’m trying to keep my expectations in check.  Yes, it’s a great honor to deliver a best man’s speech.  I want to knock this speech out of the park, but I know that I’m not the main attraction at this event and tt’s better to give a speech that barely registers on anyone’s radar, than to be the most memorable part of the reception.  While my best friend isn’t demanding, this is not the time to rest on my laurels and settle for giving it a good try.  I need to prepare for it professionally, as if this were for a job, not because I feel like I need to prove that I’m the right man for this, but because I want to do a good job for my friend.

I have no delusions of grandeur.  This speech will not be up there with the likes of The Gettysburg Address, but this speech will be one where I bear no regrets, and hopefully, especially in the internet age, it will not bear anything that is Youtube worthy.  I know there is a great amount of irony that I’m writing about writing the speech,  instead of actually writing it, but there’s a great amount of catharsis in one last disorganized writing binge before I buckle down and write the real thing.  Hopefully when I come back to this blog, this speech won’t be a story in itself.

 

The first time I hung out with Cameron was probably about 10 months after I met him.  We had shared many a lunch break together, but we had never taken things outside the confines of the mall that we worked at.  As shallow as it sounds, the event that finally tipped the scales, was Cameron getting a Nintendo Wii, right after it was released.  I spent many weekends searching in vain for a Wii, so I finally had my reason to want to stop by Cameron’s abode.  Cameron was more than willing to have me stop by to check it out and my friend Jason decided to tag along to check out this revolutionary gaming device.

We stopped by the apartment on a Saturday night and Cameron played the gracious host while his wife sat quietly at the kitchen table.  He offered us a beer from his well stocked refrigerator, he showed us his cats, and then gave us the tour of the apartment, ending at his brand new entertainment center in the living room, the same entertainment center that housed the much sought after Nintendo Wii.  I also noticed a small computer tower within the entertainment center, and decided to ask about it to make conversation.

“Oh is the computer there acting like a media center?” I asked.

“Yeah, that’s where I keep all my porn.” He proudly responded.

Jason and I shot each other a quick look of disbelief, and I think Cameron interpreted that look as one of confusion because he decided to elaborate on his previous statement.

“You know, I download it with BitTorrent.”

The admission that Cameron enjoys pornography was not the reason causing Jason and I to feel uncomfortable.  It was his cavalier attitude about it.  I didn’t imply that I knew anything that would cause him to tip his hand, and Jason had literally just met him.  Plus, his wife was within earshot, making things even weirder, and while the collection of pornography might be hers as well, I don’t think she would’ve recommended her husband make it part of the house tour when guests arrive for the first time, but since we wanted to play on the Nintendo Wii, we decided to get past the awkwardness.

Outside of that incident, Cameron and I had a pretty normal friendship.  I would come over, we would eat pizza, drink beer, and play video games.  We would goto the occasional hockey or baseball game, and we’d grab lunch at work.  He came from a well-off family so he would be quite generous to me.  When he upgraded from an Xbox 360 to an Xbox 360 Elite, he gave me the the old Xbox and its controllers.  When he decided that he didn’t want to have an iPhone, just months after it came out, he let me have his after I found it sitting in a drawer.  I appreciated these things tremendously but I later found that these gifts came with a hidden price tag, he expected me to never criticize him.

I would find this out during a game up pick up roller hockey.  We had both taken up the sport to get in better shape, but Cameron’s unhealthy diet was making it extremely difficult for him to make any progress.  After a particular game, I recall him wanting to go to Jack in the Box afterwards so he could order a double bacon cheese burger, large fries, and a soda.  I had told him that would negate any sort of positive from our hockey game but we ended up at Jack in the Box anyways.

The time I burned the bridge, however, I had called him out  to skate back and play any defense.  He was tired, so he started to stay in the offensive zone, waiting for the rest of his teammates, including myself, to fish the puck away from the other team.  After a while, I got fed up and shouted at him “You’re not a scorer, so why don’t you get back and play some defense?”  He shouted back that he didn’t appreciate me berating him in public, and while I didn’t back off on my stance, I didn’t try to escalate things further, I would just reaffirm my previous sentiments.

I didn’t think this was any sort of a big deal.  I was showing him some tough love, not just for his benefit as a hockey player, but as a person who wanted to lose weight and get fit.  Skating was going to help him burn calories, not standing around waiting for the puck.  I honestly thought it would blow over quite quickly, but that was really the last time I ever hung out with the guy.  Apparently, he would tell mutual friends of ours that he demanded an apology, but he never got it from me.  It’s not because I wasn’t willing to, but because I wanted him to communicate that to me directly instead of through other people, which he never did.  I had discovered some less than functional aspects of our friendship and realized that there might be too many to overcome.

Sure, I could’ve gone out of my way to apologize, and I could’ve made a stronger effort to “not berate him”, but somewhere along the line, another conflict would’ve been bound to surface, and we’d have to play the same roles: I’d probably say something to try to help him, he’d take it as vicious criticism, and I’d have to hunt him down to apologize again.  While it was pretty harmless on a free recreational roller hockey rink, that hypothetical next time, could’ve be on a road trip, in Vegas, or somewhere where a spat could’ve left me suddenly without a place to stay or without transportation, so it’s probably for the best that we parted ways there.

I wonder if I would’ve gotten a similar reaction if I had questioned why he needed to introduce his box of porn to us when giving us the tour of his apartment.  It sounds silly, I know, but it also sounds silly that he would stop talking to me because I gave him a hard time about being lazy during a roller hockey game.  Perhaps, I would’ve found out sooner that he wasn’t going to take kind to opinions that conflicted with his and I wouldn’t have spent so much time investing in a friendship that was going to combust quite quickly.  I guess I can’t consider the whole experience a total bust.  I did end up with an Xbox 360 and iPhone.

I returned from Record Store Day 2013 with most of the items that I wanted, but instead of leashing a sonic fury in my house at 8 in the morning, I decided to take a nap with the intention of listening to all of my new records when I awoke at a reasonable hour.  When I did awake, the first record that I decided to listen to was ironically not something new to me, but something that was only previously available to me on CD, and I didn’t even start the record at the beginning, in fact, I started the record at the end of the last song.  Even the most devout music fan would observe that I was engaging in some very bizarre behavior especially without the context of which album I was listening to.  I was listening to a compilation called No Alternative, and I was eagerly waiting to see if the record, like the CD, had the unlisted track, “Verse Chorus Verse” by Nirvana. When No Alternative originally came out, I knew about the Nirvana song because my friend’s older brother bought it long before I did and he gave me the head’s up about the “secret song”, so waiting to see if the song was also on the vinyl edition was the closest to being surprised about the “secret” that I was going to get.

I can only imagine how amazing it would’ve been to be someone in 1993, listening to this compilation all the way through, and right when they thought the album was over, Kurt Cobain’s guitar and voice chime in, playing a Nirvana song that was previously available only via bootlegs. Of course, most “secret songs” aren’t as exciting or good as this particular one.  More often than not, they’re not as good as anything on the album and that’s they’ve only made it as a “bonus”.  Either that, or the song doesn’t fit in with the rest of the album, or perhaps in the case of Ash’s 1977 album, the “bonus” isn’t a song at all. On 1977, what follows the last song and a few minutes of silence, is a recording of the band laughing hysterically and vomiting over and over again.  Why this is on the album – to this day, I still have no idea.

So with a personal history with such mixed results, I’m not sure if I miss that the “secret song” is pretty much extinct. I haven’t  particularly lamented the decline of the “secret song”.  The last one I remember finding was “Shhh” by Atmosphere off Seven’s Travels and that came out in 2013, a whole 10 years ago.  I like “Shhh” quite a bit but it’s not making me a cranky old man about the death of the secret song. I could easily go on a tangent about how the internet has made it virtually impossible to keep these songs a secret, or how iTunes and Amazon has forced bands to include these songs as bonus tracks as an incentive to buy rather than as a secret for the hardcore fans, but there are still secrets – they’ve just evolved.  Now there are secret videos embedded in sites, secret usb drives placed in random locations for fans to find, special guests at festivals, so it could be argued that it’s more exciting now than it was back in the time where one would skip through 5-10 minutes of silence on a 20 minute song to see if there was a song tucked at the end.

It’s entirely possible that not all record collectors have a conflicted apathy towards the “secret song”.  On the same day that I bought my vinyl version of No Alternative, and re-discovering the secret song all over again, I saw that there was a special 7″ record being sold that came in a sleeve that was completely black.  The only information on the packaging was that it was part of Warner Bros. “Side by Side” series where they have a band cover a song on one side, and they have the original version by the original artist on the other side.  Not only was the song a secret, but the artists as well.  The record was picked up on blind faith by more than a handful of people that morning, including myself, and I hope they were pleased with results.

Of course, even though the 7″ was a total surprise, it wasn’t the first record that I opened when I got home from the record store.  That, of course, was No Alternative, just so I could hear the secret Nirvana song.  There was definitely a feeling of euphoria when I realized that there was definitely something after Patti Smith’s “Memorial Song”, and since I already knew about the “surprise”, I can only attribute the satisfying feeling to the surprise of re-living something that has become so steeped in nostalgia and realizing that while a lot of things have changed, the fan in me hasn’t.

My friend Paul once informed me that his dad told him to go see Harold and Kumar go to White Castle and even paid for his ticket.  When I asked Paul if his dad even knew what Harold and Kumar was about, he told me that his dad “just wanted [him] to support John Cho”, the Korean-American actor who plays Harold Lee.  Paul’s dad wasn’t particularly worried about the details: what the movie was about, or that it’s full raunchy stoner humor. Paul’s dad just wanted his son to support “one of us”, which in this case, was a Korean American who was starring in an American film.

While it was only a $12 gesture, it’s pretty funny to think of a father demanding his son to go watch a raunchy R-rated movie to the point where he’d pay for the ticket.  This is an extreme case of this “one of us” sort of mentality, and while it can seem a little silly, It’s a mentality that I actually identify with (it’s also a Minnesota thing), and that’s probably why I ended up in a little story that I like to call Ryan and Cameron go to Bakersfield.

I met Cameron at work when we were both working retail.  He worked in the stock room and I worked on the sales floor.  He had just moved to the mainland (California) from Hawaii and he didn’t have many friends or any family out here, so I quickly became one of his good friends.  Cameron found out that my friend Jessica and I were really into hockey, so he started to check it out and quickly became a fan.

He started going to games, buying jerseys, and soaking up any information about the game and its players.  Since he was Japanese-American, and since Hawaii has no hockey team, he started gravitating towards players of Japanese descent like Paul Kariya and Devon Setoguchi.  He became particularly enamored with Yutaka Fukufuji, the first Japanese born goalie be drafted into the NHL, and when Cameron found out about him, he found out that Fukufuji was playing on a minor league hockey team in Bakersfield, just a few hours north of where we lived.

He wanted to see Fukufuji in action so I agreed to go to Bakersfield with him so he could catch a game.  He had never been to Bakersfield before, but he was so excited that Yutaka Fukufuji was getting his own bobble head night, that he insisted we go, even though I gave the city of Bakersfield an unfavorable review.  We met up at my apartment the morning of the game, piled into my car, and made our way north towards Bakersfield.  We stopped for lunch in Torrance so I could meet up with a friend, and at lunch, Cameron took advantage of the fact that I was driving by indulging in a 2nd drink.

We made it up to Bakersfield a few hours later, but we arrived so early that they weren’t ready for us to enter the arena.  It was quite windy that day so when we decided to walk the streets of Bakersfield to pass the time, we were met with flying specks of sand.  This was unpleasant to say the least, and completely horrifying to Cameron.  This was a far cry from the serene and beautiful conditions of his native Hawaii, or at least it was in his mind’s eye.  For him, the trip started to go downhill at this point, and it went downhill pretty quickly.

Once we entered the arena, we received our bobble heads and Cameron bought a jersey.  I asked him if he wanted to grab a beer but he declined because he started to get a headache, most likely from the drinks that he had at lunch.  We sat in our seats and soon after, the game started.  The Bakersfield Condors came out on the ice and for a brief time, Cameron was able to enjoy himself despite his headache and his poor opinion of Bakersfield.  He cheered for Fukufuji whenever he made a save, but there was very little to cheer for in this game.  The Condors fell behind early, and it was clear that they weren’t going to make any sort of a comeback.  By the time the 2nd period hit, Cameron’s headache had come back with a vengeance, and we ended up having to leave the game early.

As we headed back to Orange County, it started to rain, and when you couple rain with high winds that are picking up sand, it might appear to the untrained eye that it is raining mud.  Cameron started to freak out that the apocalypse had arrived and I had to calm him down, while driving us both in the pouring rain.  We got back safely to Orange County and when he returned to work over the weekend, he was spinning tales of surviving the hell that is Bakersfield, California, where it rains mud, just so he could get a Yutaka Fukufuji bobble head and a Bakersfield Condors jersey, and that he would do it again, because Fukufuji is “one of us”.

A lot of my friends are perplexed about the fact that I’m a fan of R. Kelly.  I assume this is, in part, because I’m Asian (and those confused friends are Asian or Caucasian), but mostly because of his very public and disturbing indiscretions.  While I definitely don’t condone what has come out about his private life, I still enjoy his music, even if his hit to miss ratio isn’t what it used to be.  Besides, even after after his scandalous private life became public, he was able to bounce back into the spotlight, with the focus back on his musical talent.  A petition to the US Government to change the national anthem from “The Star Spangled Banner” to his “Igntion (Remix)” was created, comedian, Aziz Ansari, is known for recounting his various R. Kelly experiences at his stand up shows, and there have been many organized Trapped in the Closet related viewing parties.  Even though his star was back on the rise, when I decided to finally see the man in concert, it was basically on a lark.

About 5 years ago, when I met my friend Beverly, one of the things we bonded over was karaoke, and we’ve been on a quest to find “Ignition (Remix)” at a karaoke studio.  We’ve found it at karaoke bars but we’d like to be able to sing it within the comfort of a private room with friends instead of in a room of tipsy strangers.  We haven’t found a place yet, but our quest has taken us to many different parts of Southern California, and karaoke still remains one of our favorite “go to” activities.  A love of “Ignition (Remix)” has also bonded Beverly and my friend, Jessica, so when R. Kelly announced a tour, Beverly immediately decided that the three of us needed to go.

Unfortunately, by the time we found out there was a show, the show was sold out.  In what Beverly describes as an act of divine intervention, a second show was added a few days after our initial disappointment.  I’m not exaggerating Beverly’s excitement about this added show, in fact, her exact text to me was “It’s a sign from Jesus that we must GO”.  I wasn’t going to argue with that.  I texted Jessica if she wanted to go to the show, and there we were, back on course to see the man known as R.  We were going to get the full R. Kelly experience, but none of us knew what that meant until it was too late.

We all had an idea of what was going to happen at the show, whether it be from checking out various message boards on the net, or going through Aziz’s live tweets from the show the night before, but somehow, we found ourselves constantly surprised.  Perhaps, this had to do with the fact that we procured and demolished a bottle of 100 proof rum and a bottle of Coke at the beginning of the night so we could pay tribute to the song that we all love so much.  I thought we were going to drink in the parking lot but Jessica decided to quietly open the bottle of rum and drink from it in the back of the car while Beverly and I chatted.  As we got closer to the venue, we started to mix the rum and Coke into the Coke bottle so we could drink and walk to the venue, incognito.

So, by the time that we got to the venue, we were all tipsy.  We walked in to the Nokia Theater, and everything looked as it would on any other night, upon first inspection.  That was until Beverly and Jessica walked into the bathroom and overheard some girls talking about how they were glad “their mans [weren’t] here.”  Soon after, we found the R. Kelly Chicken Wings table where I promptly dropped $7 for some wings when I wasn’t even particularly hungry.  Beverly proceeded by buy a t-shirt that had an enlarged black and white photo of R. Kelly’s face on the front and we proceeded to go find our seats.

On our way to the seats, I realized that our casual dress attire wasn’t the norm for this show.  Not that people were decked out in formal wear, but they were definitely dressed differently.  To put it as succinctly as possible, that was the most leopard print clothing per square foot I had seen in my life.  Once we found our seats, I came up with idea of taking pictures with the R. Kelly t-shirt while Beverly went to the bathroom.  I wasn’t able to keep myself from bursting out in laughter while holding up the shirt, so I decided to get more alcohol, and this is where I found the cart that sold rum lemonade out of a keg.  Since this was something else that was unique to this show, I had to buy one, even though my tipsy self could even tell it was probably not of the highest quality.  I brought it back to our seats, we drank some more, and finally the show started. This was The Single Ladies Tour, and you could even buy tickets in a “single ladies” section but we had regular seats because Beverly decided to spare me whatever embarrassment I would receiving being a single man sitting in a “single ladies” section.

I couldn’t tell you what was special about the “single ladies” section but I do know that R. Kelly had two bartenders on stage making drinks for girls from the pit.  Drunk Beverly was pining to be in the “single ladies section” and Drunk Jessica was someone that I hadn’t seen in about 5 and a half years.  Drunk Jessica doesn’t show up very often for a reason.

After a highly entertaining and over the top set (Aziz does not exaggerate, Beverly points out), we headed out the doors back to our lives, or so I thought.  Jessica and Beverly had gotten ahead of me and I ended up losing them.  Beverly tells me that Jessica ended up accidentally knocking over a trash can and yelled “Lets go drink some more!” before Beverly lost sight of her.  I was able to easily track down Beverly through text messages.  Jessica, on the other hand, wasn’t responding to texts or phone calls right away.  We were obviously concerned that our friend was running around the streets of Downtown Los Angeles drunk and alone.  Finally, Jessica called me and told me that she was waiting for us at the car… but she wasn’t.

It took Beverly and I a while to find the car, and when we finally did, Jessica was nowhere to be found.  I called her again and informed her that she might in fact be standing next to a totally random car in a totally random parking lot.  This was completely terrifying to Beverly and me.  Jessica could be anywhere.  After telling her that we were in different lots, Jessica handed her phone to the parking lot attendent who somehow was able to guide us to Jessica even though I think we were all sort of lost.  Jessica finally got in the car and we were finally able to head back to Orange County, not before Jessica told us that she was sitting in the parking attendent’s chair and when he told her that she couldn’t sit there, she told him that she was Mexican.  Then she told us that she was going to sleep in the car, and proceeded to throw up in the car somewhere between Los Angeles and Orange County.

While I couldn’t have predicted any of these events before the show, they all sort of made sense.  We went to go see an artist who’s notorious for excess and self-indulgence and we decided to mimic those impulses.  We ate too much, we drank too much, and then all hell broke loose.  It was a fitting end to a memorable night.  We all just wish Jessica was able to hold her liquor for just a little longer.

 

I’ve never had a particularly good grasp on speaking any languages outside of English, which is a surprise since English isn’t technically my first language.  It didn’t take long for English to overtake Korean, but nonetheless, English is my second language.  It’s taken a hold of me and it won’t let go.  3 years of Spanish in high school, and 2 years of Korean in college, plus various Korean schools and lessons at home from my parents, couldn’t loosen the grip that the English language has on me.  I used to get criticized for my terrible Korean speaking skills, sometimes by children, and they would mistake my lack of knowledge for a lack of trying.  That’s not the case.  I’m just a Korean boy who grew up in Minnesota with very few Korean kids to speak to on a regular basis, and then when I gave Korean the old college try (literally), it just didn’t take.

My friend Barrett has a similar tale.  He’s a 3rd generation Chinese-American from Fresno.  His Chinese speaking skills are pretty much non-existent.  His parents speak fluent English, and while my parents don’t, my older sisters were all speaking plenty of English in our house.  Fresno doesn’t exactly have the biggest Chinese community in the world, let alone California, so even if Chinese was spoken in Barrett’s household, he wouldn’t have many friends to practice speaking with outside the home.

Of course, while my Korean speaking skills are completely derivative, I’ve soaked up a lot of Korean culture just by being around my first generation parents and going to a Korean-not very American, church for my entire childhood.    Barrett hasn’t been afforded that luxury so something simple as learning how to use chopsticks has passed him by – or at least this is what Barrett perceives with this specific situation.  I’m not so inclined to agree.

A few years ago, on Barrett’s birthday, we headed to Warner Brothers studios to catch a taping of Conan.  It was on Barrett’s college bucket list, and since I worked at a school that had Spring Break coincidentally on the same week as Barrett’s, I decided to go with him.  Barrett was especially excited that we were going on this particular day because he and Conan share a birthday.  We headed up at the crack of dawn and waited in the Warner Brothers parking structure hoping to get on the standby list.  We were the first people there so there was very little anxiety about whether we would get in later in the day.  It was pretty chilly so we decided to get a nice warm meal – a bowl of ramen at Daikokuya in Little Tokyo because it fit the 2 criteria on Barrett’s list: 1) delicious, 2) cheap.

We ordered a pitcher of beer and a bowl of ramen each.  Even though we were understandably excited that we were going to see one of our comedy heroes later in the day, we needed sustenance if were to continue our high level of enthusiasm. The piping hot bowls of ramen were delivered to our table, and I was ready to dive in.  I sensed some hesitation from Barrett, but I wasn’t sure of the reason.  He looked frustrated, so I asked “what’s the problem?”  Barrett’s problem was the utensils.

“I can’t use chopsticks.” he muttered.

“But we’re eating noodles…” I tried to explain.

“I need a fork.” he said defiantly.

Seeing that Barrett wasn’t in the mood to learn a new skill on his birthday, I flagged down our waiter.  When the waiter approached our table, I told him that my friend wanted a fork.  The waiter looked confused, then he looked to the bus boy, threw his hands up in disbelief and said “for-ku?”  The bus boy then ran to the kitchen and brought the waiter a fork, which he handed to Barrett.  It was quite the scene, and at the time, I believe it left Barrett a little embarrassed.  It probably didn’t help that I couldn’t contain my laughter throughout the whole ordeal.

It didn’t ruin Barrett’s birthday. He was able to see Conan O’Brien and that was all that mattered.  The “for-ku” incident was just a footnote to the main event, but it’s something that we both talk about to this day.  Barrett still attributes his non-existent chopstick stills to his 3rd generation Chinese-American heritage even though my infinite-generation white roommate can use chopsticks with ease.  While it’s pretty clear that upbringing or lack there of has nothing to do with using two sticks to pick up food, I’ll let Barrett have this one, because we’re friends, and because it’s funnier this way.  Friends should let their friends get away with certain delusions as long as it’s not hurting anyone, and frankly, Barrett’s chopstick deficiency is about as harmless as it gets.  Besides, if Barrett chalked this up to his own laziness, it hurts the story, and I can’t let that happen.  If Barrett wants to think he can’t use chopsticks like I can’t use the Korean language, then so be it.  I’ll look the other way for him so the “for-ku” story can live forever.

I know it’s unrealistic to think that racism will one day go away.  I try not to worry about it too much.  I don’t try to make it a battle that I fight everyday, like others do. (which is a very commendable thing.)  I just try to rise above it and I think I succeed in that regard, most of the time.  As a kid, I used to get into fights over it, and I’m not much of a fighter.  I thought those days were over, but in actuality those days are just less common.  I didn’t realize this until I was 30, when I threw my glass of wine in the face of a guy who had made a unflattering remark about asian people (he thought it was okay since he was part asian) and then proceeded to throw a punch at him that missed him completely.  No one was hurt, but my friend’s girlfriend got splashed with a healthy amount of wine from the crossfire of my walk-by-dousing.  In my head, I was trying to be a hero, but in reality, I was being quite an asshole.  Racism 1, Ryan 0.

That was probably the last dramatic flare up since I was a kid back in Minnesota.  I did have to have to have a little chat with a co-worker at a store I was working at when I was in my mid-20s because he told me “all you asians look the same”, but that conversation was instigated by a store manager who overheard that remark and not because I complained about it.  Even though I had nothing to feel bad about, that conversation was unbelievably uncomfortable.  “I’m sorry, I’m sorry, it was just a bad joke.” was all he could say and whenever I would tell him “It’s not just a bad joke, it’s a racist joke.”, he would get defensive, and he’d tell me he wasn’t a bad person, and we’d just go on and on, endlessly.  After school specials made this sort of thing seem so much more simple.  Honestly, our little chat did not make me feel much better about things at all.  Racism 2, Ryan 0, co-worker reconciliation: Incomplete.

The only time that I ever confronted racism head on, and felt victorious about it was when my friend Marco jokingly asked me whether I had ever eaten dog before.  He knew I hadn’t, but he just wanted to get a reaction out of me.  I knew that out of my options, being upset or annoyed by the question was going to be poorest possible response, so I hatched a plan:  I was going to fight fire with fire.  His question was meant to be ridiculous so my answer to him was going to be the same.  I just needed to play it the right way, so delicately, because I was only going to have one chance in the lifespan of our friendship to get away with this.

“I haven’t had dog, but the dogs that Koreans eat aren’t like the dogs that we would recognize here in America.” I calmly stated.  “Well what kind of dogs do they eat?” he asked impatiently, probably surprised that I bothered to dignify his question with a respons.  “They eat a breed of dog called the updog.”  I held my breath, and waited for what seemed like an eternity.  “What the hell is updog?” he responded.

“Not much.  What’s up with you?”  I quickly muttered.  Checkmate.

Marco ran after me for a while and when we were both out of breath, he conceded.  “You got me, you got me clean, too.”  I did and I couldn’t believe it.  Racism 2, Ryan 1.

It was a small victory, but it was a victory against racism (I’m not claiming Marco is a racist, he in fact, is very much the opposite).  It’s how I should be dealing with these instances, rather than trying to be a hero and throwing down some fisticuffs, or trying to teach some 18 year old kid some life lessons.  I’m better off using humor, harmless humor to be exact, rather than trying to combat racist jokes with racist jokes.

Since I’ve only gone 1 for 3 in adult situations with this, I have to find a way to master this newfound method.  Unfortunately, I’m not exactly into trying to find situations to try to this new method out, with fear that I’ll revert to earlier, less pleasant tactics.  (also, pure laziness)  I rather spare random bystanders the threat of getting hit by wine, or for parties to be ruined by my pathetic attempts at fisticuffs for every missed attempt at a joke to diffuse a situation.

What is more likely to happen is that I won’t do anything even though it could be more than being beneficial, or even profitable, to hone this craft.  I could even be considered a hero, but alas, that will never happen, not just because it’s unrealistic, but mostly because I’m unwilling.  Fighting this fight has never been for me, for better or worse, and while someone else will probably eventually come up with some great way to diffuse these little racist confrontations, we’ll have to wait for that someone else to come around and for that method to be invented.  Meanwhile, I’ll be sitting around, thinking of that one awesome time that I tricked Marco with the up dog joke.

Woody Allen coined the famous phrase “If you want to make God laugh, show him your plans.”  Sometimes, we curse the heavens regardless if we believe if someone lives up there or not.  If you do believe in the man upstairs, I advise you not to shake your fist in anger at him or he will smite you readily with his right hand.  On one fateful day, I looked up at the sky and said “Let this Match.com subscription bring me at least one meaningful relationship, or I’m going to order NHL Center Ice (approx retail price: $171.80), wear my Zack Parise Minnesota Wild jersey every day after I get home from work, and let myself go until the hockey season is over.”  By letting myself go, I mean: parking myself on the couch, eating a steady diet of liquid nacho cheese, and drinking a lot of beer.  Now, I didn’t hear God’s voice that day, but if I did, I assume our conversation would’ve gone something like this:

“God, did you hear me?”

“Yup.”

“So?”

“Ryan, have you heard of the phrase ‘Don’t bargain with the devil?'”

“Yeah, what about it?”

“Don’t bargain with God either.”

My Match.com subscription proved to be fruitless, which despite my best efforts, was not a total surprise.  I wasn’t even asking to find “the one”, but one relationship that would justify me paying for a few months of dating roulette.   I spent a lot of money and drove a lot of miles to no avail.  There were more train wreck dates than not, and my subscription ended with me nursing my damaged ego.

Then there was the NHL lockout.  The NHL lockout prevented me from being able to watch any hockey, let alone any local games.  While I won’t be melodramatic and say that I was miserable, I felt like I’d been given a raw deal.  Instead of getting option ‘A’ or option ‘B’, I got option ‘C’, “none of the above.”  I was without a girl or an escape.  Either God needed to buy himself some time, or he was trying to teach me a lesson.  Seeing how he is an omnipotent being, I’ll stick with the latter.

I’ve always had a bit of skepticism whether God was ever listening or not.  I know that he’s not Santa Claus, but I’ve never seen many of my prayers answered, especially during Finals Week  in college.  Now, I can say, with much confidence, that he’s listening, and if you want to challenge him, he’s going to show off a pretty wicked sense of humor while bringing you down a peg.  I learned the hard way, and now all I want, is for hockey to come back.

 

“Well, I met her in a bar, like I always say” – The Replacements “Message to the Boys”

While Paul Westerberg’s music a huge influence on my life, I’ve never looked at his lyrics as any kind of guide on what decisions I should make.  Living by his rules, I would probably have crazier stories to tell, but I’m probably more stable and happy from taking his lyrics as entertainment and not much more.  I’ve never been interested in meeting a girl in a bar, I’ve never been comfortable chatting it up with a random stranger in that setting, and it just doesn’t seem like the place you would meet someone looking for a relationship.  I know it happens, but it’s just not for me.  I watched my friend, Taylor, try to make it happen, and it only reinforced the fact that meeting people at a bar, or at least particularly, this bar, is a bad idea.

One night, we went to a bar that we refer to as “The Goat”, a lovable little local dive bar.  We went with Steve, another one of our co-workers, after watching a football game and having a couple of drinks at the office.  Little did I know that Taylor was already on the verge of being tipsy when we arrived at the bar, and Steve was drinking on an empty stomach.  So after a few rounds of beer,  Taylor was eyeing a girl at the next table, Steve was literally eating peanuts for dinner, and I was there with a court side view to watch the hilarity unfold.

I will not fault Taylor for his choice in this particular girl, she was indeed cute, but I will fault him for deciding to make a move, after the girl had left the the bar.  By the time he had gathered enough liquid courage, she had left, but he proceeded to ask her friends if they would deliver his number to their friend.  To be more specific, he  didn’t refer to her as “your friend”, he referred to her as “the brunette with the hammer pants”.  They turned down his offer to pass along his number because the girl had a boyfriend, she was in a 3+ year long term relationship in fact, so, hopefully that took some of the sting out of the rejection.

We drank another round of beers and Taylor tried not to wallow in any humiliation.  At this point, Taylor had hit a wall and he decided to take a cab to his brothers so she could sleep.  That left Steve and I at the bar, and Steve honorably notified me that he was not in any shape to drive.  I suggested that we get some food, not because I was hungry, but because Steve was basically drinking on an empty stomach, save for the peanuts that he ate at the bar.  I decided that we should get the greasiest fast food that was nearby, Del Taco, but at first Steve was against the idea and informed me that he was on the Paleo diet, so he could not eat tortillas since they were not part of the normal caveman diet.  Desperate times called for desperate measures, and I ignored his plea for a more paleo-friendly dining area at 12am on a Thursday night.

Upon arriving at Del Taco, Steve ran into a friend from the past, and I’m sure he was pretty embarrassed to be seen by anyone familiar due to his drunken state.  After a first order of food, I asked Steve if he was okay, and almost on cue, he dropped his plastic cup of water in the ground, ice cubes spilling everywhere to basically tell me “no”.  After a second helping, Steve was finally coherent, and we called it a night.

While I’d like to think that I’m too old for these antics, it was only a couple of months ago that a friend of mine had convinced me, against my better judgment, to climb a ladder that took us to the roof of the building next to the bar.  Despite my fear of heights, I followed him up the roof, and then I was told we would be taking a less than death defying jump over to the bar.. His jump was much more graceful than mine since:

1) My friend isn’t afraid of heights and

2) He was wearing a dress that he found on the top of the other building, so he definitely won the battle of “style points.”

I didn’t exactly land on my feet and I ended up scraping up my hand, though the pain wasn’t what was on my mind. All I could think about was getting arrested, at the age of 30, because I didn’t have the common sense to bail on a plan that I didn’t even enjoy being a part of.  Even looking back, knowing their weren’t any real consequences, it does make me raise question about how often I want to frequent this bar.  Not that I look down on the patrons of the bar, I just think there have been too many strange events that have occurred in a pretty brief amount of time.  Perhaps, on the surface, Taylor, Steve and myself have committed acts that are common, and our stories are ones that every group of friends have. I can see it with Taylor and Steve,  but I can only attribute my rooftop experience with my other friend in a dress, as an experience that only happens at The Goat.

I’ve dabbled in online dating on and off for the past few years, so it may come to the surprise of many when I admit that it wasn’t until recently that I was actually okay with the idea of actually being with someone from online dating.  It sounds ridiculous, I know.  Why would I waste time, and sometimes money, on these sites if I didn’t actually want to find someone?  There’s no longer a stigma attached to online dating, it’s akin to meeting someone at a club, or at a cafe, but I just couldn’t get over myself and the idea that a computer matching me up with someone would be the basis one of the most important stories of my life.  Unfortunately, now that I’ve come to peace with online dating and that it’s is a fine and exciting way to meet someone, my online dating subscription has expired.

I took my expiring subscription as a cue to take a break from being on the prowl.  So when my friend, Kevin, invited me to go to a secret warehouse concert, it seemed like the perfect reprieve. I was going to see live music with good company, and there’s nothing better than that, in my book.  Kevin, Mark and Robbie picked me up and we headed to Downtown Los Angeles to our “secret” location.  Robbie and Mark took the liberty of drinking during the car ride since Kevin was driving, as they had procured a six pack of Sprite and a bunch of small bottles of liquor to spike said cans of Sprite. I decided that I was going to take things easy and after taking a few wrong turns, we ended up at our desired destination.  Taking a couple of wrongs turns would be an apt metaphor for the night.

While we were trying to show up fashionably late for the show, we actually ended up being the first ones there, so we were there to see how this awkward show/party was going to unfold.  Half the people that walked through the door were in costume, expecting a Halloween party, while the other half (our group included) were in normal everyday civilian attire.  This magnified the awkward vibe of the party, since most patrons were congregating within the groups in which they came, costumed or un-costumed, unaffected by the bad house music being played, much like a middle-school dance in the gym.   Perhaps, the only person who wasn’t affected by the divisions was Mark, who was already noticeably drunk by this point.

I happened to notice couple of cute Asian girls from across the room, but I decided to table the idea of approaching them, especially with the lack of socialization in the warehouse in general.  Finally, our featured performer hit the stage, and I was finally able to lose myself in some good music.  At this point in the night, Mark was randomly attempting to high-five people, including an attempt to get a high-five from the performer on stage, and this is when I realized that the Asian girls from earlier had actually moved across the room and were standing next to me.  When Mark tried to high-five them, I decided to use that as my ice breaker.

“I apologize for my friend.  He’s actually the probably the smartest guy here.”

“He doesn’t seem very smart.” she quickly responded.

“He’s pretty drunk.  He started his drinking in the car.”

And so there we were, chatting it up between songs, finding a couple of things in common, and getting along.  Once the set had ended, I turned to my friends to see what our next move was, and all of a sudden, the girl and her friend were gone.  Admittedly, I was a little bummed that she had disappeared, but at this point in the night, I decided to cut my losses and tried to see if my group wanted to move to a different location.  No one was especially in love with the idea of sticking around this warehouse all night, but we decided to wait around for a half hour to see if things were going to get better.  They didn’t, but somehow we had lost sight of Mark, so we needed to find him before we left.  Mark was bumming a smoke outside, and even though I had re-spotted the girls, leaving outweighed the idea of humiliating myself while trying to pull a number.

Mark was smoking and chatting it up with a guy that he had met at the show.  We told the two we were planning on leaving and that we were planning on finding another destination to drink.  Mark’s pal then offered us bourbon at his place.  We asked where his place was, and he pointed to the warehouse next door to the one that was hosting the party.  Skeptically, we accepted the invitation, not before Robbie could whisper to me “he can’t rape all of us…”

Our new friend was a set designer, and this explained why he lived in a warehouse.  Half of the warehouse was a workspace, the other half was a living area, and since he and his cohorts were all set designers, the living area was actually really nice.  We drank bourbon, marveled at all his set designing tools and had a much more enjoyable time chatting with him, then we did at the show.  We finally hit a point where we decided that we should head out, but he offered to take us to eat some amazing tacos.  None of us were starving, but we decided to take up the invite as a token of appreciation of his hospitality, and we headed back outside.

Before we could even head down the path to acquire some tacos, I spotted the girls outside, walking towards our general direction.  I made eye contact with the one that I talked to, and hoped that she would acknowledge my existence.  Hearing “Hi Ryan.” never sounded so comforting in my life.  What followed was not a declaration of love for me, but a comment directed at Mark, “Hey, I heard you’re really smart.”  My brilliant plan was backfiring on me.

She interrogated Mark and I chatted with her friend.  We talked about the show, where we were from, both of us waiting for the girl for different reasons.  Finally, she was done, but instead of giving me an opening to ask her for her number, she told me that she and her friend were looking for a place to go pee, since the port-a-potties all had massive lines.  I couldn’t offer up my new friend’s warehouse because his roommates were all asleep, so they started to wander into an alley to pee behind a dumpster.  To avoid looking like a creep, I didn’t follow them, but our friend, being a resident of the neighborhood, informed me that there was a homeless man that lived in that alley and that I should warn the girls.  Luckily for me, the girls were still looking for a spot to do their business but before they could begin their business, I arrived to warn them about the homeless man.  They were thankful, and they convinced me to stand guard while they giggled and let nature take its course.  As I walked them back to the warehouse, we were met by our new friend who decided to nip the whole situation in the bud.  “Ryan thinks you’re both cute, and he’s going to stay here with you and dance while we go get some tacos.”  I didn’t want to go back to the warehouse, so I turned to the girl and asked her for her number.  She obliged and I was free to finally leave.

I tried to contact her a couple of days later and she never got back to me.  It’s probably for the best, anyways.  I’m sure she would be upset that my friends have been referring to to her as “dumpster girl” and that this story, while entirely true, does not put her in the best light, as amusing as it is.  Even though I had gotten over myself about online dating, this episode sure puts things in perspective.  How is meeting someone on a dating site all that more embarrassing than pulling the number of someone someone who just finished peeing behind a dumpster?  I’ve always preferred spontaneity, but perhaps I’ve finally found a place, personally, where spontaneity finally crosses the line.

 

 

A couple of days after my 30th birthday, my best friend had a confession.  He hadn’t bought me a birthday gift yet.  I could’ve really piled on the guilt, especially since it was sort of a “landmark” birthday, but I was actually quite relieved.  The day after my birthday, something exciting had happened that actually made that Bruce’s procrastination a blessing in disguise.  The Minnesota Wild had agreed to terms with Zach Parise to play for their team, and as a hockey fan who grew up in Minnesota, it was a big deal, which I’ll explain in detail later.  When Bruce IM’ed me “Sorry, I didn’t buy you a present yet, is there anything you want?”, I immediately typed “ZACH PARISE JERSEYYYYY” in all caps.

Since Bruce is not much a sports fan, he needed to look up who Zach Parise was.  I expected that.  What I didn’t expect, was for him to ask me if I wanted the Zach Parise jersey from his old team, the New Jersey Devils.  At first, I thought he was being dense.   Zach Parise is a Minnesota born hockey player, I’m a Minnesota born hockey fan, and he just signed with Minnesota Wild, why would I want anything but his Minnesota jersey?. But then I realized that Zach Parise’s Minnesota Wild jersey wasn’t available online yet, and the availability was what was confusing Bruce, not the Minnesota affiliation.

Coincidentally, Bruce was actually in Minnesota at the time visiting his family, so the fact that he hadn’t heard about the signing is actually quite an accomplishment.  Not only was the Parise signing front page news of the sports section, but it was probably on the front page of the paper, the lead story on the nightly news, the biggest story in the state, period.  Minnesotans are rabid about their love of hockey, and even more rabid when it comes to local born players that have become stars in the pros.  While I’m not as extreme as some of the fans when it comes to this fascnation, I definitely relate to a certain degree.  Zach Parise is coming home, and I immediately needed to buy his jersey.

Being the generous friend that he is, Bruce bought me my Zach Parise jersey.  There was some difficulty in the ordering process, so it took a few weeks longer than we expected.  I was getting anxious.  I was worried that the jersey wasn’t going to show up before the start of the season.  LIttle did I know that the season wasn’t going to start on time because of a labor dispute, so the urgency of receiving the jersey ended up being moot.

The last time I bought a hockey jersey was back in 2004, the first time that I visited Minnesota since moving to California.  I visited Bruce’s family and on the last day I was there, I bought a Minnesota Wild jersey.  I had been contemplating getting a Minnesota sports jersey during my entire trip, but with a little bit of advice from Bruce, I ended up with a hockey jersey.  “What’s more Minnesotan than a hockey jersey?” he pointed out.  When it came to selecting the jersey of the player, I didn’t go with any of the stars or any up and coming prospects, I went with a role player named Richard Park.  He wasn’t a flashy player, but he was Korean, and while I’m not exactly Mr. Korean Pride, Bruce also pointed out that I could wear his jersey long after he leaves the team since Park and Pak are the same last name in Korean and that I could “rep Minnesota on the front [of the jersey] and Korea on the back.”

After I arrived back in California, a friend asked me why I would accept a custom jersey that had my name misspelled on the back.  After I explained to him that the Minnesota Wild actually had a Korean hockey player with the last name Park, he didn’t believe me.  Actually, very few people made the connection but I didn’t care.  I was repping my team and where I was from, but after 8 years and the introduction of an alternate jersey, it was time for a change.

So while I cross my fingers that the 2012-2013 season won’t be canceled, I wait to don my Zach Parise jersey to show my Minnesota pride and my support for my team.  Of course I could wear the jersey without there being a season, but I’d like to start wearing my jersey at a relevant time.  While the labor dispute has definitely left a bad taste in my mouth, I know that when hockey is finally here, I’ll be as excited as I was when my jersey arrived in the mail.  Bruce may not love sports, but he knows how big of a deal it is for me to get a new jersey, and now he definitely knows it’s a big deal, especially since he was part of the whole crazy process both times.

I ended up seeing Fiona Apple at The Greek Theatre because Jessica just happened to have an extra ticket.  It’s not that I don’t like Fiona or going to shows at The Greek, it’s that the ticket price had scared me off.  She let me go for free and little did either of us know that I would end up paying it forward just a few weeks later with a free Wilco ticket for the Hollywood Bowl.  The whole chain of events was so serendipitous that we managed to not hit any major traffic on our commute from Orange to Los Angeles, AND we managed to find a free parking spot not too far from the venue.  We had to walk up a hill, but it was a small price to pay for not having to pay for inconvenient stacked parking and we had the companionship of some scotch that we had poured into some red Solo cups.

I decided to buy a carafe of wine at the show, and by a carafe, I mean a bottle that’s poured into a plastic carafe so you won’t have a glass bottle for a weapon later in the evening.  I wasn’t hungry, but I was basically drinking on an empty stomach, so by the time the opening act had finished, I realized that I needed something to eat, and in my poor judgment, I thought getting some popcorn would be enough sustenance to tide me over until we could grab a bite after the show.  So I left my seat, stumbled into a line and proceeded to buy a tub of popcorn, but not before I stared at some video screens that told me that I could buy tickets with no service charges at the box office and that the box office would still be open for another half an hour.  I hatched a plan to not only buy some popcorn, but to also buy some Grizzly Bear tickets without having to pay Ticketmaster service charges.  I was a genius.

Even though I was definitely not in the most sober state, I was cognizant enough of my situation to ask a security guard if I would be allowed back into the venue if I were to go to the box office.  He told me that he wasn’t sure, so I asked him: “Why would they tell me that I can buy tickets without service charges and that the box office is still open until 9?  I’m trying to give you guys more money!” This prompted him to find his supervisor so he could ask for permission to go to the box office on my behalf, and quickly thereafter, I was stumbling towards a box office window, popcorn still in tow, on the prowl for some Grizzly Bear tickets.

When I returned to my seat, Jessica asked me what took me so long to get the popcorn.  I told her “I think I just bought some tickets for the Grizzly Bear show.”  She shook her head both amused and slightly embarrassed.  “Who are you going to take to the show?”  She wasn’t passive aggressively hinting to me that she wanted to go, in fact, Jessica kind of hates Grizzly Bear.  She was asking because she was anticipating a certain answer out of me.

“Chris, probably.”

“Of course.”

Chris isn’t my “goto” person when it comes to shows.  In fact, that would be Jessica, which is kind of strange since Chris had hook ups to get us in to a lot of shows for free since he used to work at various box offices.  He’s used those connections more than a few times for us and I’m forever grateful for that, but we definitely didn’t go to as many shows as you would expect from two guys who love live music and have access to concerts all over Southern California.  Chris does carry a certain distinction with concerts that no one in my life can also stake claim to, not even Jessica.  Chris has seen the “Holy Trifecta” of music with me: Pavement, Radiohead, and Wilco.  This has been no easy feat, since Pavement have been broken up for all but one year since Chris and I have known each other and Radiohead tickets are never easy to get.  There are a couple of people that have seen two of the holy trinity with me, but Chris stands alone as the sole person who’s seen the trifecta.

So while Chris may not be the default person in my mind for just any show, Jessica knew he would be the default person for the Grizzly Bear show for a variety of reasons.  We both knew that she wouldn’t want to go, Chris has seen Grizzly Bear with me before, and probably most importantly, Grizzly Bear may be my favorite band to come out that didn’t exist until after 90s, so if Pavement is now defunct forever, then Grizzly Bear might be the heir to their place trifecta, so who better to be there for that coronation than Chris?  Of course, for those who don’t love the music we do or as much as we do, this is all but a foreign language, a folk tale spun out of control.  It can be simply explained as me needing one of my best friends to bail me out by going to a show I drunkenly bought some tickets for when I was only supposed to be getting popcorn, and that it oddly means a lot to me.

There was a brief time in high school where I would wake up early every Saturday morning and go to soccer practice, which is odd since I never had more than a casual interest in the sport.  The only times I could remember playing soccer were during recess during elementary school, and even then, it was just because it was the thing to do.  I played Little League baseball as a kid, I would play in a roller hockey league for a summer as an adult, and in the time between, I played badminton.  This practice wasn’t part of an organized league, it would be a group of mostly older guys from a few different Korean churches in the area.  In fact, there was only one guy at these practices that was my age, we’ll call him Walter.  We would carpool to practice together with a couple of the older men.

Walter went to a different church but he seemed to be quite at home in anyone’s car.  Walter was one of those kids who demanded that he always sit shotgun and he always had to be in charge of what music was playing in the car.  He would blast nothing but K-Pop to my chagrin. When he found out I didn’t care for it, he decided he would get on my case about how I liked “white music” (perhaps he didn’t know I listened to hip hop since he probably didn’t know who The Roots were).  It apparently became his calling in life to be an ambassador on the behalf of the Korean music industry and that he should educate me on K-Pop on how I could be a better Korean.  He definitely looked the part with his bleached (more like orange) hair  and über long bangs.  This “education” caused a lot of tension between us, since I never agreed to it, and since he was so condescending about it.  I never took to his teachings, and since we didn’t go to the same school or the same church, I thought that I wouldn’t have to deal with him after soccer was over, but that wasn’t the case.

Little did I know that Walter and I would end up enrolling at the same college.  Even though we went to a really big school, I kept on running into him.  I tried to avoid him, but we had friends that lived in the same dorm, so it was unavoidable.  He thought we were friends, so while I tried to avoid him, he kept on trying to get through to me.  He wasn’t the only Korean person on campus trying to show me the error of my ways, so I just started trying to tune any person out who started any introduction to me with “Are you Korean?  Do you speak Korean?”  While these questions seem innocent enough, they were usually followed by “Are you parents ashamed of you?  Why do you hate being Korean?” and hearing those questions definitely got under my skin.  My parents weren’t ashamed of me, I wasn’t ashamed of being Korean, but there was an assumption made that since I didn’t grow up speaking Korean, that there was some sort of negative story behind it.  I would explain that I grew up in the Midwest with very few Korean kids to talk to in my neighborhood, but my words would just fall on deaf ears.

It seemed like this stuff mattered more with Koreans than other Asian ethnicities (I could be wrong), which frustrated me even more.  It would take me a couple of years, but eventually I got over it, and surprisingly, one day, Walter got over it too.  After we moved out of the dorms after freshmen year, I didn’t see him for a while, and when I did, he was a lot more pleasant to be around.  He still had the bleached bangs, but he was no longer getting on my case about my lack of Koreaness.  In fact, there was an instance where one of his non-Korean friends asked why there were so many adopted Korean children.  Walter gave a predictable answer: “Because Korean babies are the best looking.”  I gave a more self-deprecating and cynical answer: “I guess Koreans don’t know how to use birth control.”  At a younger age, my response would’ve caused a lot of animosity between us, but Walter actually laughed at my comment.  I’m not sure what had happened to make him change his Korean pride way of life, but I’m glad that something did.  Maybe he finally became more comfortable in his skin, which allowed him to accept me for who I was, or perhaps he realized that being a Korean pride zealot wasn’t fun for him anymore and that he didn’t want to make being Korean a career.

As much as it’s documented that I’ve always hated going to mall with my mom, I always enjoyed going to the grocery store with her.  There are many reasons for this: being able to get a sneak peak on what my mom was going to make for dinner for the upcoming week, getting candy and toys from the coin slotted vending machines, and  I also remember killing a lot of time by talking to the guy who worked in the back, behind the milk section of the store.  He would push the cartons forward and refill the empty spaces (Does this job still exist?).  I would never see what he looked like, I never asked him for his name, but I would ask him questions about his job, sports, and what college he went to.  I wasn’t trying to insult the guy by asking him about college.  As a young kid, I assumed everyone went to college. (or jail was the alternative, I guess).  Talking to that guy, along with being able to press the pedal that moved the conveyor belt in the checkout lane gave me plenty to do on our trips to the market, and even as an adult, I’ve still managed to find it entertaining, even though Southern California grocery stores have taken away the ability for customers to control the conveyor belt.

As an adult, I’ve found that the most entertaining thing to do at a grocery store is to see what the people ahead of you in line are buying.  In a strange way, their shopping carts give you a small window into their lives.  Perhaps, they’re just buying food for just their upcoming meal, perhaps they’re buying their groceries for their week, or maybe they’re just buying a case of beer for a party they’re going to, but it’s uncanny how much information the contents of a person’s cart can give you.  I could come up with more than a handful of categories for my fellow shopping brethren – the single bachelor and his microwave dinners, the bitter divorcee and her cheap wine, the college student and their top ramen, and so on.  The aforementioned shoppers tend to carry an air of melancholy since this is their everyday lifestyle.  It may not necessarily be permanent, but for the time being, this is how they live their lives.  As I look back, I can say that I’ve been no different.

In college, my roommates and I lived down the street from a grocery store.  We often did our grocery shopping during the twilight hours.  Whether we did this to avoid crowds, or whether we shopped late at night just because that’s what college kids did, I can’t be for certain (I’m pretty certain that we were pillaging candy from the bulk candy containers).  We were definitely stereotypically poor college students.  During our twilight grocery excursions, we would be regularly seen with a bottle of olive oil, a bottle of balsamic vinegar, and a baguette of french bread.  While these three items might not scream “college students”, the fact that we would buy these items in the middle of the night clearly does.  There were no proteins, no fruits and vegetables, just bread and “sauce” for dipping.  This was definitely a reflection of who I was then: poor and I ate to live opposed to living to eat.

I’m obviously in a different stage of my life now, and my grocery cart reflects that.  While I still might pick up the occasional baguette of bread, my cart is now balanced with proteins (steak, chicken, pork, fish), vegetables, and fruits.  I learned how to cook after college so I found that a little bit of money can go a long way if you are okay with preparing meals by yourself.  You would be able to easily discern that if you had a snapshot of my college cart and my present cart side by side.  I would probably be a little embarrassed by hypothetical snapshots and I would probably implore you “not to judge me”, but you would anyways, and you should do so.  I still judge the people ahead of me in line to pass the time, and I gain a lot of amusement from it.  So to the couple who bought store made fried chicken, two packs of Klondike Bars, a handle of the cheapest grocery store brand Vodka, and a pack of Marlboro Reds, I thank you (I also can tell what you guys were up to that night… gross).  In a super voyeuristic and twisted way, you’ve brought the youthful joy of hanging out at the grocery store back to me, whether you knew it or not.