Ryan and the Technicolor Wardrobe
Short Stories and Essays

I’ve heard of crazy things that have happened at Radiohead concerts: people bawling their eyes out as the band has come on stage, people fainting the second Thom Yorke speaks, pretty much the run of the mill rock star stuff that started with The Beetles and Elvis and continues on today with… umm, The Jonas Brothers.

Of course, I’ve only heard about these accounts from friends or by watching them on TV, which means I haven’t really “experienced” the weirdness. I just kind of shrug my shoulders and accept the fact that they happen. Of course, there was a good chance I was going to experience something since I had tickets to see Radiohead at the Hollywood Bowl, (and as we all know, Hollywood brings out the weirdos anyways,) but there was an even better chance that this “experience” was going to come from someone standing right next to me.

My friend Jessica claims that there are certain songs that will make her “crygasm” if they are performed live. The list of songs intrigued me more than trying to figure out what a “crygasm” is, which is probably what makes me a weirdo. The list of songs weren’t the most obvious (Fake Plastic Trees, High and Dry, Motion Picture Soundtrack, etc) but made sense, I mean, for Radiohead they made sense (Thom Yorke is not Lou Barlow). They were all beautiful songs that had some sort of romantic mention in them (“Climing Up the Walls”, “Talk Show Host”, and “True Love Waits”), and she was on the fence if “Reckoner” might do it, since she hadn’t heard the song live previously.

So the day of the show was pretty hectic for me. I had to leave my parents’ house in San Diego and head to Fullerton for church (and I had to make sure I had the tickets with me). From there, I was supposed to meet up at Chris’ house after lunch but lunch took a bit longer than expected so Chris and Jessica came to me, which I find endearing, except for the fact that they are afraid to meet any of my friends from church for fear of being converted. From there, we headed up to LA, hit up some stores, had dinner and walked over to the Bowl. Susan would meet us just as Radiohead walked on stage – talk about impeccable timing.  This is where the anticipation started to mount, not just for Radiohead, but for the much hyped “crygasm”.

For the previous week, I had been sifting through the Radiohead set lists on the ateaseweb.com message boards to see what songs we were likely to see at our show. Both “Climbing Up the Walls” and “Talk Show Host” were showing up pretty consistently and “Reckoner” was showing up every night, so it seemed that whether Chris and I wanted to experience it or not, a “crygasm” was headed our way.

The show started with “15 Step” and we were on our way. The Bowl was packed but no one in our immediate area fainted or started immediately crying to my amazement/disappointment. So, now it was up to Jessica, who wasn’t feeling especially great (she had a cold, she wasn’t depressed or anything). I wasn’t sure if I wanted to see her crygasm with a cold, since I still hadn’t determined what a crygasm actually is. Would it induce vomiting? Is it contagious when the crygasmer is sick?

These thoughts were just a passing fancy, since it’s pretty hard to ignore the awesomeness that is Radiohead and if you find a way to distract yourself during “How to Disappear Completely”, you my friend, have no soul. The band was at the top of their game and everything in the night started to come together. The day was rushed and a little stressed, but none of it mattered anymore. We were experiencing something magical, and while Jessica never crygasmed during “Climing Up the Walls”, it was far from a disappointment. Besides, we have pit tickets for Sigur Ros next month, so maybe those Icelandic kids will get a crygasm out of her or at least cause someone in the pit to faint. One can only hope.

(Jessica didn’t crygasm at Sigur Ros, but a girl who was next to me in the pit fainted – mission accomplished.)

Sherlan and I were walking into a See’s Candies to redeem a gift certificate I had gotten from a co-worker for the holidays. The mall was pretty busy, even though it was New Years Eve, but we had time to kill and I was getting antsy to use the gift certificate before I lost it or put it through the wash. As we walked towards See’s, we passed by a Brookstone, and while Brookstone usually has really interesting (but useless) stuff, I never see anything in a Brookstone that ever really registers in my brain. Except on this fateful, New Years Eve, we saw something that will be etched in our brains until the end of time.

As we walked by Brookstone, we saw a child on a mechanical bull, and while that by itself is not necessarily noteworthy, believe me, it was. First of all, this was not the mechanical bull that you see at bars or restaurants, this was a Brookstone mechanical bull: sleek, metallic, and post modern. (It didn’t look like mechanical bull because it wasn’t, it’s some sort of machine that is supposed to help sculpt your abs, but you don’t have to do any of the work apparently.) Second of all, the kid on the bull did not look like he was enjoying it at all, but at the same time did not look like he wanted to get off or was going to get off.  He was on it before we had gone into Sees, and was still on it after we had finished out business at Sees.  There was no change in the child’s enthusiasm, but he was still there.  It was a depressing and confusing sight, it was an unsettling portrait of mediocrity.

A couple of weeks later, we stumbled into a different mall, but we witnessed a similar result. This time we were at an outdoor mall and the first thing we saw walking in were these trampoline-harness devices. I had seen these devices before, but never at this mall. The object of these devices is simple: you strap yourself in, jump on the trampolines and start doing flips until your crotch can take no more. It looks pretty cool if you aren’t the one in the harness, but it’s pretty painful for you in you’re the one strapped in, especially for guys.  (I participated in one of these devices when I was about 12 and immediately regretted it. I was scared that that I would never have children after my experience.) Once again, we saw a child, kind of bored, kind of miserable, but not bothered enough to get out of their situation.  I’m not sure if this child had begged their parents to try or if their parents had forced them to give it a shot.  They just bounced up and down, never gaining momentum, totally limp in the harness.  They weren’t crying or begging their parents to get them down, nor were they flipping around with glee.  I think their parents were taking pictures of them, thought it didn’t appear like this was one memory that this kid would be happy to reflect on in the future.

Recently, we went to go see a performance of the musical, The Music Man, where we witnessed a young child, probably no older than 4, trying to keep up with rest of the cast. He looked lost and maybe a little frustrated. It was a community theater performance, so it’s not like the kid was going to get chewed out between scenes.  He didn’t have any lines, but you could tell he was invested in keeping up with the rest of the cast.  If he weren’t an adorable little chubby child, we probably wouldn’t have cared much, but he was, and he kind of stole the show (not being sarcastic at all). We rooted for him being the underdog that he was and in all honesty, he delivered.

To see the children at the Brookstone, in the trampoline, and at the theater, it was alarming to see a person to look so defeated, but at the same time, not looking for a way out. I hope for these children, that these situations are isolated and this is not a sign of things to come. To say that your child like faith was lost one fateful day at a Brookstone would just be a travesty.

I haven’t had regular access to a turntable since high school, so the vinyl that I collected back in the mail order days have been collecting dust for almost 10 years now. I never intended that to happen but since I move every year or two, I’ve never been able to convince myself it was the right time to buy one. In those ten years, I’ve kept my vinyl spending to a minimal (exclusives only), but I miss being able to have a turntable at my disposal more and more these days.

I know there’s the audiophile argument for vinyl: less compressed, crisper quality, warmer sounds, etc and while I do notice those nuances (or at least I think I do), I mostly miss the idea of sitting in one room and listening to music. I bump my iPod in the car so when I get a new CD, I have to go home, rip it onto my computer, and then transfer the songs onto the iPod, before I listen to it. Then I put the CD on a shelf, only needing it when a friend wants to borrow it. Vinyl doesn’t seem as disposable and cheap, it’s something to be cherished. It’s almost feels like you have the real thing, and you have to listen to the whole thing (or at least a whole side).  There’s no option to shuffle through tracks and skipping tracks is inconvenient.  Listening to a record forces a listener to experience the album in the meticulous sequence that they selected.

A couple of months ago, I was notified by Josh and Sherlan that they had acquired a turn table for their apartment. I was especially excited since I had just gotten an exclusive Pavement Live LP in the mail a couple of months earlier and I had failed in my attempts to find a friend who had a record player. Unfortunately the needle was in poor condition and needles not in high demand or supply, so I was left back where I started, with an unlistened to Pavement LP.

This past weekend, I showed up to their apartment with the sole intention of hanging out and grabbing dinner with Sherlan. Dinner was good, perhaps too good. “When can food be too good?” you might ask. It’s when you get fried sweet potatoes lathered in butter. That is the answer. It’s always amazing when you go to one of your favorite places and still find new things to dazzle your taste buds. These are the surprises in life that I wake up for every day. To my surprise, this surprise was just the appetizer to the main course.

Shortly after Sherlan and I returned to the apartment, Josh came home, and for some reason the turntable discussion came up again.  It turns out that Josh had acquired a working turntable and had also brought a box of various records from home.  Though I didn’t have any of my vinyl with me, there was plenty of good stuff.  Sherlan had his Talking Heads debut album, which he had picked up on Record Store Day (I picked up a second Pavement Live LP and a Flight of the Conchords 7″), and Josh had everything from John Lennon’s Plastic Ono Band to Van Halen’s 1984.  After a brief spin of Plastic Ono Band and Talking Heads, 1984’s and Queen’s Greatest Hits’ A-Sides were listened to in their entirety.  Everything sounded clearer, crisper, there was a larger discrepancy between the soft and the loud, the guitar solos had more of an edge.  And then, everything just came together.

First we fired up the Tetris arcade machine they had, thinking Tetris and rock and roll would work.  It was alright, Rush combined with Space Invaders probably would’ve been a better choice (see Futurama).  Then we decided to do some Wii Bowling while listening to Sports by Huey Lewis and the News.  All of a sudden, their living room had magically been transformed into the coolest virtual bowling alley (I understand the oxy moron here) that could ever be imagined.  Sure Daniel Plainview had a bowling alley built into his mansion in There Will Be Blood, but to me, that didn’t feel like a bowling alley.  A bowling alley isn’t about solitude and class, it’s about League Night, loud music and friends.  Bowling is awesome in the same vein as karaoke.  It’s about disregarding tact and the limits that we place on ourselves daily.  This was not a night to quietly listen to Animal Collective while drinking scotch.  It was a night of the Tetris Soundtrack, Van Halen’s “Panama”, Sports, Bud Light, and a healthy dose of trash talk, just like the real thing.

(This is fiction.  Trust me.)

“Do you want to take my hand?” and the girl said, “Take it where?”. And although he afterwards thought he should have said, “Everywhere”, he only just mumbled. – Looper “Impossible Things #2”

It was a Friday when David called me. I was surprised when I saw his name come up on the caller ID of my cell phone. We had kept in touch sporadically since college but we hadn’t actually intentionally hung out in years. He had recently been trying to get me to intern at the company he was interning at, but I had to decline since I couldn’t fit an unpaid internship in LA into my schedule. He asked me if I was willing to help out with a shoot on Saturday in Orange County. He needed me to shoot some stills for a gallery opening and the idea was met with a great deal of resistance. Operating a camera wasn’t one of my strong suits, especially a still camera, and working for free on a weekend wasn’t a very appealing idea either. He told me that the shoot was going to be in Irvine and since I was going to be there anyways, I decided to help my friend out.

David told me I was going to be working with his co-worker Cynthia and that he’d be passing my phone number along to her. While I knew that I’d be working with her on this Saturday, I didn’t know that David wasn’t going to be there. That made this shoot that much more nerve racking for two reasons. 1) I had never met this girl before, let alone seen her. 2) We were filming a live event which means that there’s no chances for re-shoots. This was a total recipe for disaster and that is exactly what we got.

Cynthia was very nice to me throughout the shoot, probably seeing that I was totally stressed out the entire time. She told me that she had heard stories of how creative I was from David and praised my choice of shots. At the end of the shoot, she told me that even though it didn’t go according to plan that she believed that we had met that day for a reason and that we should keep in touch. I wasn’t quite sure why she said that.  I was definitely not on the top of my game that day, and I wasn’t padding the time in between shots with witty anecdotes.  Somewhere during the shoot, she had misplaced her phone which pretty much was the cherry on top of this “crappiest shoot ever” sundae.

I didn’t hear from Cynthia again until a couple of weeks ago. I was down in San Diego visiting my parents. I was pleasantly surprised to see that I was receiving a call from her and was even more surprised by the fact that she didn’t know she was calling me. She knew she was talking to a “Ryan”, but then asked me who I was. I had to explain that I was “the Ryan that shot those pictures for you in Irvine” before she was able to identify me. Instead of apologizing for calling the wrong person and hanging up, she asked me how I was doing, what projects I was working on, and proposed that she, David, and I grab lunch sometime. Some of my friends think this was not an accident and that she was looking for a reason to call me. I’ll give her the benefit of the doubt for now.

On Saturday, a couple of friends and I went to a show that David’s company had organized. He had asked me to go even though he wasn’t going to be there. When we arrived, I took a quick peek to see if Cynthia was there (the staff were wearing t-shirts) and she was nowhere to be found. During the intermission, as I walked to the doorway, there she was (she wasn’t wearing one of the staff t-shirts). She was happy to see me (opposed to not knowing who I was), and stuck out her hand for a handshake. We shook hands, but there was something odd about her handshake. It’s not that I noticed her hand being hot, cold or her handshake being limp, or firm. It was just a long handshake, kind of in the same way that Irvine has long yellow lights. It’s just long enough where your brain goes out of “auto pilot” mode and you start to think about what’s going on but not long enough where it’s super awkward. When driving in Irvine, you can actually think “Should I go? I’m kind of in a hurry, so I’ll go” and still make it through. In the case of Cynthia’s handshake, I started to think “So when is she going to let go?”, not that I necessarily was bothered by it.

We chatted for a bit and I returned to my seat for the second half of the show. After the show was over, my friends and I headed for the door to leave. Cynthia was there, once again, and I said goodbye and we shook hands again. This time around, the handshake wasn’t as long, but there was still something about it. I couldn’t explain to my friends until the next day where I finally found the words to describe it. Her handshake was affectionate and I’ve never felt affection through a handshake before. While I don’t remember any of the small talk that we had that night, there was another conversation that was happening simultaneously between her hand and mine.

She asked “Do you want to take my hand?” I asked “Take it where?” with the anticipation that the answer was “Everywhere”.

I’m occasionally forced to hang out with Molly a couple of times a year because we have a mutual friend, a mutual friend who I think was trying to hook us up at some point, probably since we both consider ourselves writers.  Alas, we are not Dave Eggers and Vendela Vida, unless Dave Eggers’ feelings for his wife fall somewhere between contempt and pity. I don’t blame my friend for thinking it was a good idea, eHarmony thought the same thing (which is another story for another day).
The last time the three of us hung out, we went to a restaurant for happy hour. It was sometime after my trip to New York, where I came back with the first pieces of what is now known as my technicolor wardrobe. So I was sporting one of my pastel hoodies and wearing a couple of shiny rhinestone rings to match my hoodie. These rings don’t look like real jewelry but I still wear them unapologetically.
I never thought a $5 ring, which was bought for me as a silly gift, could stir up so much controversy but it did. Molly would just go on and on about how “gay” it made me look. It definitely was worn to grab attention and I was and am still clearly aware of that. I dismissed the teasing initially, but it was Molly’s crudeness that took things way too far. Perhaps, I shouldn’t have been surprised since most of my interactions with her have been unpleasant at best, but I figure at some point I’m going to have to see something positive in her since my friend obviously enjoys her company.
Molly decided to really cross the line when she flagged down our waiter to ask him his opinion if my ring was “gay”. He looked at me, looked at the ring, and said “no, it matches his hoodie.” Instead of thanking him for his time and letting him go back to his job, she persisted by once again asking “are you sure that you don’t think that it looks gay? It looks so gay!” He was confused and I just felt embarrassed, not because of self doubt, but because I had some sort of affiliation with this girl. This girl, who didn’t understand that she wasn’t going to get the answer she wanted to hear no matter how many times she asked, who didn’t realize that this waiter was not going to risk getting in trouble by discussing the sexual orientation of one of his customers. She had turned the restaurant into a school yard and was doing her best to bully her way to being right but no one was biting.
I didn’t see or talk to Molly for a very long time after that, not because I was avoiding her or angry about her little episode, she just has a tendency to disappear for months at a time. She usually reappears after she’s been mistreated by some guy and then subsequently dumped. Then, she finds me and tells me that she’s going to write some sort of masterpiece. This has been her cycle for as long as I’ve known her, and it’s a cycle that I even recognize even though I don’t know her very well.
First, there was the screenplay she wanted to write and then it was a book. The screenplay was going to be “like Garden State” and then the book was going to be “like Life of Pi, because [she] think[s] [her] style is like the author of that book”. After realizing that she always wanted to write something like something else, I told her to find her own voice. I told her that it didn’t matter how well she wrote, she needed to have a voice. She would counter my argument by telling me things she learned about writing. “A lot of stories are pretty much the same, but they’re just told differently” was her big epiphany that I subsequently deflated, since that’s what kids learn in English class freshmen year of high school*.
I tried to help her without discouraging her too much. It wasn’t my place to tell her whether I thought she should pursue writing or not. It would be a moot point since she lacks any sense of self-awareness. Her problem with my rings didn’t stem from homophobia or because she thought she had encountered a fashion faux paux, her problem was her inability to accept someone being so comfortable in their own skin. This is not to say that I don’t have any or that I’ve conquered more of my hang ups than anyone else, but perhaps it magnified how insecure she was, because I wasn’t trying to dress like anyone, I was just being me.

Posted by Ryan at 8:31 AM