Ryan and the Technicolor Wardrobe
Short Stories and Essays

The first thing I got from a mail order catalog was The Lounge Ax Compilation, a benefit CD to keep a club in Chicago in business.  I was maybe 14 or 15 years old.  Had I ever been to this club?  No.  Did I really care about the fate of this club that I wanted to help?  Kind of, but not really.  I was more interested in the fact that I would be getting previously unreleased tracks from Sebadoh, Superchunk, Seam, Yo La Tengo, Guided by Voices and Archers of Loaf.  I don’t think the CD sold enough money to keep Lounge Ax in business, but at least I could say I did my part as a 15 year old living in San Diego.

Every time you mail order something from a record label, they send you an updated catalog with your purchase.  Being new to this mail order world, receiving the catalog was a pretty exciting thing.  I would take it to school and my friends and I would look through it to see what we would be ordering next.  We were young and were curious to see what great bands we’d missed out on because of our youth.  So, going through the Touch and Go, Sub Pop, and Matador Records catalogs were expeditions for us.  “The Jesus Lizard did a split cassette with Nirvana?  They must be great, right?”

Honestly, I don’t know how I waited for my orders to come.  I know it sounds foolish, but I would send cash to these record labels through the mail.  I don’t think I ever stuck change in the envelopes, and i would wrap my bills in the piece of paper my order was on to prevent people from recognizing there was cash in the envelope, but obviously it was a huge risk.  I was completely vulnerable.  Fortunately, every order I made safely made it to each label and I received all but one shipment, and for that one shipment I didn’t receive, I was lucky enough to have my sister, who was working in “the biz” at the time, stand up for me and make some calls to make sure I got what was rightfully mine.

I didn’t just order CDs from these labels.  I started to order vinyl, mostly 7″ singles.  Sadly, I missed the boat on the first run of the Sub Pop Singles Club and when I went to college, I missed the boat on the 2nd run because I was poor or flakey, or both.  There was no room in the dorms for a vinyl record player and then Amoeba Records in Hollywood opened, and iTunes started releasing “exclusive material” so my mail order adventures came to a halt.

It wasn’t until the last year or so where I’ve re-committed to my love of mail order (I blame Sub Pop records with all their reissues – and the fact they give you a digital download with each vinyl purchase).  It’s obviously a lot different now than it was in the late 90s.  Now it’s online, you get tracking numbers, and I have credit cards/debit cards to make sure that my orders get to where they need to go.  I could make the pretentious argument that it’s not the same as it used to be because of all the “technology” involved, but I’m not going to.  I’ve never really considered myself a record collector, but I love the fact that I get the same feeling when I get my records in the mail now that I got over 10 years ago and that I’ll do the same nerdy things like lay out all my colored vinyl as if I were putting together some sort of brilliant artwork (I have white, yellow, pink, blue, red, purple, sea green, orange and of course black – I know you don’t care, I just wanted to brag).

Music has always been a big part of my life.  From the piano lessons I took when I was 7, to the countless hours of walking around with my walkman/discman/ipod and headphones,  I really have no clue where I’d be without it.  I’m just glad to know that as I get older, I still have the same crazy passion for it that I had when I first discovered it.  I know that my spending on shows and vinyl will be curbed over time as the priorities in my life change, but I am confident that the few times that I am able to order something, I’m going to still have that same excitement that I had when that Lounge Ax compilation was at my front door.

This was going to be the first time that I’d be meeting Bruce’s girlfriend.

This was going to the first time that Bruce and his girlfriend would be meeting each other’s parents.

Bruce’s brothers were not going to be there.

You would think that Bruce would’ve given me the head’s up about these things (like when he told me about the weather for the weekend), but other than knowing that I’d be meeting Christina, I had no idea what was in store for me once I touched down in Pittsburgh – it was kind of a rude awakening. I already knew it was going to be a fast paced weekend since I was in town for graduation, but if I had known the weekend was going to be this intense, I probably would’ve tried harder to fall asleep on my red eye flight than sitting through the abomination known as National Treasure.

I found out Bruce’s brothers weren’t in Pittsburgh as I got off the bus from the airport. He told me as I was being rushed pretty much straight to the ceremony. He didn’t divulge the part about the families meeting until after the ceremony. I felt perpetually in a state of motion the entire day so I don’t even think I really reacted when he told me. I felt like I was watching Black Hawk Down, where at the beginning, the view just gets dropped in the middle of battle with no backstory preceding it. Not to say that there punches thrown or people yelling at each other in this meeting of families, but to say things were a little tense would be a gross understatement. If Bruce’s brothers had been there, it would’ve made things a lot more comfortable for me. I would’ve had friends to talk to, since I knew that Bruce was very preoccupied dealing with the anxiety of getting to know his girlfriend’s parents. Bruce’s brothers being there would’ve also made my presence seem normal, but since his siblings weren’t there and his best friend from across the country was, it seemed a little odd, I suppose. (Insert Brokeback Mountain joke here).

While Bruce’s brothers weren’t present, Christina’s siblings were. The oldest of Christina’s siblings was her sister who I believe was 16. This gave me someone to talk to so I could distract myself from the scene at hand, but at the same time there was a new level of discomfort. It’s not easy to make small talk at a lunch with a teenager you’ve just met when you’re 22 and their whole family is at the table, but it sure beats having to be part of the other conversation. “Ryan, do you have any stories about Bruce?” “Yeah, he didn’t tell me that this lunch was going to happen and this is super uncomfortable. That’s the kind of stand up guy that he is.”

Awkward conversations aside, it seemed like the families were getting along and there wasn’t going to be any drama.  That was, until, Bruce’s nose started to bleed.  While I’m positive that there was no judgment passed on Bruce for this (no one thought he had a cocaine addiction), I’m sure Bruce was freaking out by this unwelcome little event.  Ever since Bruce was a child, when his nose would bleed, it wouldn’t clot as quickly as most nose bleeds, so it’s not like he could run to the bathroom for a few minutes and be fine.  Obviously, Christina’s parents weren’t going to hold this against him, but when anyone is in the middle of a situation like this, anything that goes wrong will undoubtedly make them feel like the whole world is crumbling to the ground.

Fortunately that was the only hiccup that we encountered at lunch.  The check came and parents from both sides playfully argued over who was going to foot the bill.  It was a relatively tame argument compared to the ones that my mom and his mom would get into back when we were kids living in Minnesota.  Those arguments would often spill into the parking lot with one mom trying to stuff mom into the other’s pocket, purse, and whatnot.  While those arguments were never heated, they were embarrassing and drew way too much attention to us.  I took the gentle sparring over the bill at lunch as a positive sign that the two families liked each other.

I would be asked throughout the weekend how I thought things went.  While I knew this weekend was going to be a momentous occasion for Bruce, I didn’t know the half of it.  I knew Bruce would be taking his first step into the “real world” that weekend but Bruce had plans to take a much bigger leap that weekend.  Though Bruce did shed some blood, he survived, and now he can share this story about how courageous he was at his college graduation.  He’s got a witness and on that day, he made a believer out of me.

In college, I had a friend tell me about how they and their significant other had this huge plan on how they were going to support each other through med school and law school respectively (after the significant other finished community college, which would be after they got back from serving their country), and get married when it was all said and done. I’m a hopeless romantic, but I gave this elaborate and convoluted plan a 0% chance of success (not that I shared this hypothesis with my friend). There were just too many variables and too many things that could change over a 5-10 year block of time, especially in anyone’s volatile 20s. About a year later, my friend’s grand plan came to an unfortunate halt when their relationship ended.

Sadly, things didn’t work out for my friend. I didn’t gloat that I was right. In fact, being able to recollect this conversation probably shows how little I’ve done in the last five years – at least they had a plan.  My first 4-5 years after college were a rollercoaster ride of hope, failure and humiliation, not necessarily in that order.  There was heartbreak, betrayal, a break up followed by losing my job a couple of days later, you know, just your standard mid-20s fare.  After year three or so, I decided to kind of “reboot” my life after hitting sort of a rock bottom, and perhaps it was finally then, that I decided to finally transition into “the real world” and being a responsible adult.

While rebooting, I kind of forgot about keeping the creative gears turning, so about a year ago, when I was asked questions regarding creativity and spirituality on a panel in front of my entire church, I felt kind of awkward.  I indeed considered myself a creative being, a few of my friends will argue against that, but since I had been creatively dormant for so long, I felt like a bit of a fraud.  It’s not that I believe that you can stop being a creative person; it just felt weird knowing that I hadn’t worked on anything in so long.  At the time, I hadn’t written a screenplay in two years, I hadn’t recorded a song in 5, and the short stories I was writing on a blog weren’t ready (by my standards) for public consumption just yet.

Now it’s a year later, and all of a sudden I’m back in the thick of things on a creative level.  Hopefully it will be able to stay consistent now that I have a fulltime stable job.  Last year, my blog went public, I did my first theater show (readings from the blog + playing songs with friends), and I’m looking to possibly record some music for the first time since 2003 or so.  (This was not a reaction to being on the panel, or at least not consciously.) It’s definitely a far cry from where I was a year ago, and I’m honestly surprised by the amount creative output over the last year.  I’m not working at a breakneck pace, but it’s nice to see I still have ideas and songs left in the tank, and hopefully there will be more theaters shows in the near future.

This will be my 5th full year out of college, and hopefully the last year has been a setup for greater things to come in 2010 and all this failure and humiliation has helped guide me to where I’m at now.  It’d be really nice to not have to reboot for a very long time.  Like a real computer, it makes you feel you’re wasting your time.  I’m not a big new years resolution person so I’m not bestowing any crazy expectations on year 5 of post-college life, I’m just hoping to ride the momentum of the last couple of years.

So maybe my friend was onto something after all with this whole 5-year plan thing, but maybe the 5-year plan is something you can’t be particularly cognizant about, it’s just something that you have to realize in hindsight.  Perhaps I’m just trying to justify the lack of success I’ve had since college and trying to convince myself that the future is bright, or perhaps I’m just realizing something that everyone else in the room already knows.  I feel like I’m finally hitting my prime, and just in time.  I just hope that in the next 5 years, I’ll be so busy living life and being productive, that I won’t notice that five years have passed at all.