Broked.

I should be more grateful about sleep. I’ve known my share of insomniacs and other nod-challenged people, including my wife, and it looks like its own peculiar hell. And I’ve had my own share of issues, all of them self-inflicted, but in the past few years it’s been clean, simple and good. I sleep when I want to sleep, mostly, and get up when I’m done, also mostly.

And none of those dreams. Not for a long time. The ones that used to linger and confuse me and give me plenty of fodder for conversation that bored everyone else. No more. I dream little wisp dreams now. Bad or good, doesn’t matter; they evaporate about the time I get the “G” sound out in “good morning.”

So it was strange yesterday. First, to wake up like they do in the movies, eyes suddenly wide open and staring at reality as if it’s a unique concept. And then to realize I’d just had a little adventure in microseconds, in which I had tickets to a Mariners game, invited a friend, suddenly realized I hadn’t gotten ready and only had 3 minutes, and also suddenly realized I’d forgotten to check out of a hotel room at some point (days ago? Weeks?) and the meter was still running. And I couldn’t take my friend there to help me because the hotel room was filled with empty wine bottles.

Oh. And I looked in the mirror and suddenly I was completely bald.

So, maybe some stress in the household, I’m thinking. I don’t know much about dreams.

We’ve been living with some particular stress for over five months now, so there’s that. And this week we found ourselves, in the midst of another calendar page filled with stuff, with two — count them — dead batteries in two different cars. And we don’t own more than two.

Funny how that threw me, too. Dead car batteries are not only pretty low on my emergency list but also present on the list of Mechanical Things Chuck Can Do. Which is kinda brief.

It added funk to funk, two weeks and counting, plus wet weather that is perfectly normal except not maybe this winter/spring. I got a little paralyzed, and then I woke up from my bizarre dream and my computer wouldn’t start.

Wouldn’t do something, anyway. It would boot but not start the OS, or start part of it but not get me to the log-in screen…or something. It was broke, anyway, and suddenly life got greyscale.

I have no wisdom to offer here. Life sucks sometimes, and little things add up. I had a partially written column on my hard drive and other connections to make, and while a nonfunctional computer in the big picture is a bit player, really, something about a final straw could be inserted right about now.

Except sometimes a proverb is just a proverb. I don’t know any camels with disk problems, jumper cables are handy, starting Windows in Safe Mode is a good option, and rain makes the grass grow.

And “Tropic Thunder” is pretty funny, I watched it last night, my computer is obviously working again, I can walk anywhere I need to go, mostly, I’ve got plenty of hair, mostly, and I meant no offense to completely bald people, or bald camels, or the Seattle Mariners, although there’s a dream for you, right there, be my guest.

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The Twuth

I’m going to generalize broadly here, so cut me some slack. This might apply to you, might not.

Let’s say you’re a man about my age, maybe a bit younger, maybe a lot older. You know how maybe you’re driving along and you see a young guy who’s sagging his pants? They’re like 4 or 5 sizes too big, and hanging around the bottom of his butt, and he’s holding onto a big wad around crotch level just to keep them above his ankles? You know?

And you know how it’s not your kid, or a friend of your kid? And you don’t know him at all, aren’t related, never saw him before? And how it’s none of your business how he wears his pants?

And how you drive on, and maybe it takes you a while to realize that for a few seconds there, you seriously wondered whether you could run over him — maybe several times — and make it look like an accident? Or if not, what kind of prison time you might serve and how that might do you some good anyway? Just for a few seconds?

You know that irrational, visceral kind of sudden, homicidal reaction that surprises you and makes you glad you also don’t have a loaded weapon handy?

That’s how I feel about Twitter.

Now you know, so stop it.

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A Thousand Words

As you either know or don’t (just to be clear), the Seattle Post-Intelligencer closed its literal doors, although not literally, last week and went to an online version only, leaving only one daily paper in The Emerald City. Although “only” is an interesting word in these times.

Lots of moaning and mourning in this neck of the woods, anyway, about the end of civilization. Papers are personal, for some people, which is why a change in typeface will always produce a landslide of angry letters to the editor.

The main thesis we hear is that the P-I was the “liberal” paper while the Seattle TImes, still alive if not well, was the “conservative” one, which, again, is personal and quirky and, of course, pretty wrong. I get it, though, but I also get the difference between the editorial page and the newsroom, which may be more detail than most people are interested in.

The Wall Street Journal, for example, is in my opinion one of the premiere newspapers in the world, with top-notch journalistic standards and consistently stellar reporting. Its editorial page is a horror show.

And I have a more intimate relationship with the op/ed section of the Seattle TImes and so have a good idea of the philosophical/political makeup of the people there. Which is why the above common perception is not only wrong but sort of irrelevant. These are journalists, and I can vouch for that. And their fairness and objectivity and purity of heart, etc. I am dispassionate.

Mostly, I think, people are still mad that the TImes’ editorial board endorsed G.W. Bush in 2000. And preferred the P-I’s comics page. And the typeface.

None of this is really on my mind. I want to talk about ME.

I met a lot of readers on Monday at St. Mark’s. Not a lot in terms of sheer numbers, but a lot in terms of more than zero, which is my usual daily quota. It was fun, and nice, and flattering, and very, very weird and unsettling. It’s hard to hear someone say nice things about opening the paper and turning to my column right away and still consider giving it up for good next week, which is what I think all the time. Pressure, pressure.

And I have no way of knowing, but a lot of the credit for my general anonymity in public has had a lot to do, I suspect, with the picture that runs next to my column. It’s from 2002, and while I approved at the time it’s now sort of striking in its deceptiveness. It’s as if I’m hiding a secret identity or a former life as a wiseguy.

That changed this week, at any rate. I’ve noticed no change in the grocery store, but it’s only been two days. At least it’s more comfortable without the red cape tucked under my shirt.

Clark
Clark
Kal-El
Kal-El

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Uncool

The Boston Phoenix has its annual list of the 100 Unsexiest Men. For example:

* Rush Limbaugh: “America’s ugliest moment of 2009? Rush Limbaugh, his man-boobs a-jiggle, bouncing at the CPAC podium.”
* Alex Rodriguez: “Could those performance enhancers have been shrinking Alex’s, er, strike zone?”
* Joaquin Phoenix: “Looks like a Hasidic Elvis Costello.”
* Jimmy Fallon: “He’s nailed down the doofus-narcissist-crazy-spiky-gel-hair demographic most coveted by advertisers.”

Or Mickey Rourke:

Consider it a badge of honor, Mick: if they gave out Oscars for unsexy, you’d have a mantle full. We predict his comeback won’t last too long, but he might be able to extend his stay at least a little by leaving the hair extensions on the cutting-room floor.

mick

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Tree Pretty. Fire Bad.

The reptilian brain in action, primordial reflex, whatever. I’m pretty sure how I would have responded to this and it would have involved defying gravity and possibly incontinence, but it’s fascinating to watch this guy choose between fight or flight and choose quickly. Very short.

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Degrees

In 1999, Malcolm Gladwell (Outliers, The Tipping Point) wrote a piece in the New Yorker on Chicagoan Lois Weisberg and the whole notion of Six Degrees of Separation, an article that at the time had a profound effect on me, although in retrospect I’m thinking I was probably DUI. Still, it was fascinating and has never been far from my thoughts (or my access; you can read the whole thing at the New Yorker archives, although you need to be a subscriber to the print version or pay).

Connections and our connectedness is the engine meme of a lot of our online life, at least those of us who do more than check scores or watch porn. It’s a given and obvious; we like to stay in touch, and ease of access has always been a nice lubricant for friendship.

The explosion in the past six months or so of Facebook and the Invasion of the Boomer Snatchers has now given us a petri dish for Six Degrees, although the social science is pretty iffy. Still, it’s fun to wander through lists of friends and find odd connections we’ve forgotten or never knew about.

I’ve yet to find, in my circle of Facebook friends, the sort of fulcrum that Gladwell describes in Mrs. Weisberg, the one person who seems to know everyone else, but it’s a small sample and I’m not all that interested, anyway. Mostly I like looking at the pictures.

This struck me the other day, though, standing in St. Mark’s for Janet’s memorial. Julie was singing and had to come 90 minutes early to rehearse, so I spent a lot of time just observing and watching people arrive, and I got a taste of community in action.

Twenty years I’ve been here, in this neighborhood, in this county, in this school district, and still I was surprised. The connections made sense but at the moment they seemed fuzzy and even disorienting. I knew this person from a church I attended 15 years ago, or was it another church? Maybe a PTA meeting, but did I go to those? Not really, and then maybe we went to high school together, or were married once. That sort of disorienting, all of these people gathering to mark the passing of a friend and finding other friends, from other places and times. I stood in a corner for over an hour, unnoticed mostly and noticing, and became sort of an unofficial usher for unknown, or unaware, connections.

It wasn’t grief, although grief was on my mind and I could have gone there. And I’m not putting Janet in the role of the spoke around whom lives revolve, although, as was remarked, everyone wanted to be her friend. And everybody, in a sense, eventually was.

I can be specific, drill down into a specific relationship, spin it out and do it authentically. Every face I recognized had a story that had seeped into mine, changed the tint of my life, and sometimes in profound if unexamined ways. We weren’t there for this, of course. We were there because part of us had gone missing, and we wanted to be reminded of that, of the quickness of it all, the suddenness of mortality, and the influence of one very special person. I couldn’t help but think about it, though.

And I couldn’t help but think it would have made her smile, to see us, sad as we were, surrounding each other and being surrounded by her, warmed by stories, comforted by her faith and family, all of us connected in various ways and in the same place, and for a short time all of us touching.

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Mukilteo Minus, Ctd.

I know many of you became familiar (and friends) with Janet Eaton through this site, and I’m not unaware of that or my own feelings yesterday of being sort of your personal rep at her memorial service.

That being said, there’s an awkwardness I can’t quite locate yet, a hesitancy to piggyback on sorrow. I have my own, specific and particular, but there is more, family and old friends. And then you.

On top of that, yesterday I got up at 6am to wrestle a column out of essentially thin air, then drive John down to Seattle for an appointment, then five hours at St. Mark’s, and then I had a sudden work responsibility that tied me to the computer until almost 4am this morning. Then back up to take John to Seattle for another appointment…

…and Julie is sick…

Loopy, sleep-deprived crazy man right now, in other words. Let me just say, then, that your presence, virtual as it is, was felt yesterday. I may have more later. At the moment, though, I’m going to try for a walk, clear my head, calibrate my coordination a bit, then maybe eat pizza and call it a week.

If I see an eagle, I’ll let you know, too.

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Memories Of The Monte Vista Hotel

I’ve spent five hours on the phone with him in the past three days, which always happens and always will. Particularly when it’s been a few years, shame on us. He lives in Arizona now, but back in 2002 he was north of me, in Arlington, when I called and then wrote this. Just felt like revisiting it today.

————————————–

It’s a particular conceit of mine that I don’t have stereotypical male behaviors. I don’t ogle women. I essentially couldn’t care less about cars as long as they run. I can put a new roll of toilet paper in the holder. I’m not afraid to cry at sad movies or use coupons. I cook, sweep, shop, mop, and help with homework. I am, then, like Mary Poppins, practically perfect in every way.

Except I won’t ask for help. I won’t ask where the soy sauce is in the grocery store, I won’t ask how to spell a word, I won’t ask for advice, and the day I ask for directions is the day you put me in a dress and call me girly boy. I have my limits.

I was in trouble last week, though. I had a broken lawnmower and knee-high grass and weeds with an attitude. Procrastination had led me to a sunny Saturday with work to do and no tools. I needed help and so called my friend Paul, and I was happy to have a reason.

I met Paul Morin in the summer of 1980, when we were doing repertory theater in northern Arizona. Looking back, it seems now we spent less time interpreting Sam Shepherd and Noel Coward and more doing manual labor, and cleaning out a prop room late one night Paul and I started talking and we’ve never stopped.

I don’t know how it works. Love gets defined by music and poetry, but friendship has a thousand beginnings and it’s hard to find a constant. You grow up together, you work together, you share interests: Lots of reasons to be friends, but sometimes something just clicks.

We completed each other’s sentences and made each other laugh. We shared a mutual fear-and-fascination appreciation of our leading lady, an Oscar-winning actress who was past her prime but could still intimidate with the best of them. She was Irish and loud, and she hated the fact that she was stuck in the boonies with kids doing basically theater for tourists.

“Marx Brothers material!” was one of her favorite comments about our lack of professionalism, along with “This is amateur night in Dixie!” These became mantras for us, Paul and I, as we spent hours after rehearsal in the Monte Vista Hotel bar, alienating the rest of the crew as our two-person monologue jumped from subject to subject.

“This is Marx Brothers material!” we’d yell, ordering another pitcher of beer and lining up Billy Joel on the jukebox. We entertained and inspired each other, and that one summer we were inseparable.

He married his college sweetheart and I married mine. We landed in the Pacific Northwest, both of us dreaming of maybe starting a theater company or writing a play about a fading actress called “Amateur Night In Dixie”, and eventually learning that responsibility, like grass, grows regardless of your inattention. Real jobs and families happened along the way, and now thirty minutes apart with 20-plus years of friendship and I hadn’t seen him in almost two years.

He brought his mower and weed trimmer and leaf blower and we did the job; three hours on a Saturday we both had found free, surprisingly, him with three boys on different baseball teams and me with work piling up.

We loaded the equipment back in his Suburban and stood in the sun and laughed at the gray in each other’s hair. We griped that we hadn’t had enough time to talk, how we didn’t do this nearly often enough and needed to, the things we always say.

“How many springs and summers do we have left?” he asked suddenly, and I realized then that there is a poetry of friendship after all; it speaks of regret and laments time slipping through our fingers, and I resolved to work harder.

Maybe I’ll ask him to help me with my deck or the blackberry bushes, or maybe we’ll just find a bar like the Monte Vista that has pitchers of beer and Billy Joel on the jukebox.

“You may be right/I may be crazy” he sings, and the waitress will wonder what these two guys could be talking about so fast and so loud. Hours will pass and our cell phones will ring, our wives asking what we’re doing when they really know, they must, after all these years.

This is Marx Brothers material, we think, life pulling us in so many directions when all we want is time to talk. We shake our heads and laugh and go home to our lawns and our kids, knowing our days and hours are numbered now but cherishing the company just the same as we always did, back when we had nothing but time.

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Same Old

Routine is my meme, has been for a long time. Stick to one, mess with one, change one, add one; it’s complicated, but it keeps me on my toes. I think habits are great, for example, but it helps if they’re great habits. Helps a lot. Aack.

My week has been out of whack, then, habit-wise. This house has, of course, had sadness this week, along with some sickness. And busyness that got ramped up a couple of notches, and a broken car, and rainy weather.

And I found myself getting up earlier and earlier, trying to carve out solitude for myself (failing, too), and also eating junk more than I normally do. But also broccoli. And lots of push-ups recently. I dunno. Gotta wonder.

Bottom line? I’m in better physical and emotional (and spiritual, and philosophical, and psychological, and perhaps cultural) shape than at any other time in my life I can recall, and I really, really need to be. Given that this was a reasonably long process and that events have happened that weren’t planned (if maybe inevitable, in a way), I would like someone to explain this to me. I will wait.

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