Monday, December 17, 2018

It's never been about the Money

Since Hoss has been posting a lot of his autobiographical stuff and I'm in a real weird spot (geographically and mentally), I figured I'd write a little piece about my own pile of shit. As with the piece that will be published on my travel blog on Christmas, this is going to be a lot of me complaining and generally being grumpy.

Trying to come up with a title for this piece, one of my thoughts was "Sweet & Sour". I don't know if that's still a good title, but it might work for splitting this into two sections. My grumbling and griping followed by a bit more perspective. It's a good exercise for me to do more often, as I'm still a human reacting to what's around me rather than thinking about the arc of my life. Beware, dear reader - every sentence I type under "SOUR" needs an asterisk - I'll try to broadly address my own logical faults in the "SWEET" section.

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

I guess no one reads here...

Locked Library
Little Surprise
Always Disappointed


Work Harder
Work Faster
Do what I say
Your urlaub
means nothing
Don't you dare play.

Sunday, December 2, 2018

Tell Me Baby

It’s November and it’s freezing outside. I hopped off the subway one block early because I’m always ahead of schedule and I need to get my mind into the game. I’m about to meet her for a legitimate date. It’s a big deal because after being casual friends I finally stepped up and suggested a date, and she accepted. My nerves are on full alert and I need to take a few minutes to calm down.

The reason I hopped off the subway at 5th Street is because Independence Mall is one of my favorite spots in Philadelphia. As I walk to a park bench I can see my office back to the northwest and Independence Hall to the south. There's no tourists out since it’s winter, so the whole block is calm and mostly vacant. I check my watch. I’ve got about ten minutes to the time we agreed to meet at the Gaslight over by Market & Front. That gives me enough time to listen to one song and then get moving.

When I go on dates there’s two songs I really like to listen to to calm me down. It can be nerve-wracking when you meet someone new. But this is the first time meeting a girl I already know in a new situation: an actual date. It’s a whole different type of nerves being wracked. I sit down on a bench facing west and pull up my favorite song on my iPod: “Soul To Squeeze” by the Red Hot Chili Peppers. At this moment I have no idea we will be listening to this song live in three months at the end of a Chili Peppers concert in Philly. I also have no idea that it’s her favorite jam by the Chilis. That fact won’t come out until January.

It’s five minutes to myself. The freezing weather is an afterthought. I relax and spend that time listening to John Frusciante’s incredible guitar intro and Flea’s killer bass groove. I sing the lyrics to myself while the song plays. Eventually I hear “I’m gonna keep ya for the end of time,” and realize there’s only five minutes left to go. She grabbed an Uber so I have to be there on time or I’ll have failed one of my own personal standing orders: always be early.

It’s only three blocks to go but I’m nervous as hell even though I shouldn’t be. I cue up my go-to first date hype song: "Tell Me Baby" by the Chili Peppers. The song is about going to Hollywood to chase your dreams, but there's something about that chorus that makes me think smile and wonder about all the new things you get to learn when you sit down with someone for a great conversation. Like all good songs the lyrics mean something more personal to me than the most basic interpretation. I get to the Gaslight right on time, and then maybe 20 seconds later I see a car pull up. She steps out of the car wearing a pink coat and I smile to myself because that’s always been her style - bright and outgoing on the surface. She’s about to walk to the door with a slightly confused look, as if she’s not sure if she should be waiting for me or if I’m that kind of guy who would go inside first, get a seat, and just wait for her to show.

I call her name and her entire expression changes to a bright smile that welcomes a familiar friend. We hug. We go inside...together. In the back of my head I hope that it will be a great day. And it turns out to be one for the record books. Personal stories that connect. Pop culture references and laughs as we realize we have even more in common than we thought. After brunch when I suggest we head nearby to play pool and grab some beers she accepts immediately with no hesitation. 

I have no way of knowing how this story eventually turns out. But right now, in this moment, I finally feel what other people wish for and talk about all the time: a connection. And it is absolutely magical. I'll never forget those last few minutes waiting for her to arrive while I let music calm me down and help me welcome in a new friendship.

"Tell me baby
What's your story?
Where you come from
And where you want to go this time?

Road Trippin'

Back in 2001 and 2002 during my Army days I took a lot of trips from Fort Lewis down to Oregon on the weekends with my two buddies. For legal reasons I’ll call them Bailey and Farncomb, because that’s actually their names.

My man Bailey was a curious case in the sense that we became great friends even though he was an NCO and I was a Joe. No fraternization. That’s the official Army policy. But friendship knows no bounds and we had an unspoken “fuck it” towards the fraternization policy. We had lots of pop culture connections, got each other’s jokes and had the same birthday (I was 4 years older though, even as the subordinate). One day I even ended up as the Best Man at his wedding.

And Farncomb? A son of Australia and dual citizen of the USA. One of our first interactions was him all up in my face in the barracks hallway. A year later we quashed all beefs and he was reassigned to be my roommate. No lie, dude was the best roommate I ever had. We used to drink good wine and watch kickass movies to bring a sense of culture to the barracks. We’d frequently quote Pulp Fiction: “People who know the difference between good she and bad shit? This is the room the come to.” And he made an effort to keep in touch over the years, more so than I did, so my hat’s off to the man. I had the pleasure of surprising him on his 40th birthday many years later when we lived in opposite sides of the country.

We were one hell of a trio. I’m not sure if Bailey offered or Farncomb and I demanded it, but we rolled down to Bailey’s house in Portland about 2 hours south of Fort Lewis and it became a thing. We essentially made this our own Alpha Alpha for 3-day weekends. That’s Armyspeak for “Assembly Area.” We would hop in Bailey’s Jeep and drive down rocking out to ‘90s rock, specifically the Red Hot Chili Peppers when their album “By The Way” came out in July 2002. Farncomb turned me from a casual fan into an RHCP die hard and it was because of that album and the summer of 2002 which is high in the running for the best summer of my life. We’d head down to Portland and then roll over to Bailey’s family cabin at Cannon Beach, the place we all know from The Goonies. 

We also rocked the “Californication” album quite a bit on these trips. Every time we stopped into a convenience store for gas Farncomb and I would head inside to procure logistics (logpac), and then tell Bailey “we got snacks and supplies.” It took the better part of a year before Bailey realized that’s a direct lyric quote from “Road Trippin’.”

Since I can’t pin down specifics as to which memories relate to which trips to Oregon I wanted to capture some of my favorites in one mashup. And that’s the point of what you’re reading today.

There was that one time where Bailey introduced us to his old high school sweetheart. I instigated this because he showed me a picture of this beauty when we were in the field doing Army stuff and I couldn’t believe that this girl actually talked to this awkward chump at some point. Maybe I’ll type up the longer version of that story some other time, but like I said earlier I was Bailey’s Best Man. And yeah, she was the girl. A fantastic person as it turned out. Sometimes the storybook ending actually happens.

There was the time where Bailey and I rolled down to his family’s cabin at Cannon Beach for New Year’s Eve weekend right after Farncomb left the Army. We took two other friends but I remember it wasn’t the same because he wasn’t there to join us anymore. All good things must come to an end, right?

There was the time we found ourselves as guests at Bailey’s future bride’s house. Just three American soldiers in a sea of otherwise normal people. My favorite memory of that time is when I woke up alone downstairs the next morning and Bailey walked into the room. Party was long since over but I was the sole survivor in the room by the pool. He picked up an empty bottle of Sauza tequila.

B: “Hoss, did you drink all of this?”
H: “Did you have any?”
B: “No...”
H: “Then...yes.”

Most of all, there were the times that the three of us ended up at his family cabin in Cannon Beach. The routine was always the same. Great drive down there, listening to rock songs, stopping at the store to get a weekend’s worth of beer, and setting up our Alpha Alpha for two days. We’d take a whole weekend just to enjoy being friends and enjoying the freedoms that people who never lived on a military base take for granted.

We would make a campfire on the beach at sunset and drink beers until we cleaned out the cooler. Some of the greatest conversations of my life happened in those days. There’s something magical about those moments drinking beers and talking about totally unimportant shit with my best friends. I’d go on, but those conversations are for me. Get your own.

And one of my personal favorite things about these trips didn’t involve my buddies at all. I would claim the top floor of the cabin which had a central fireplace and glass windows that faced the Pacific Ocean while they slept in the proper bedrooms downstairs. I’d use the CD player to play Pearl Jam live albums from their Binaural and Riot Act tours while I drifted off to sleep. One of these was especially awesome: Live at State College, PA which at the time was the longest show Pearl Jam had ever done. At the time there was no way I could have known I’d end up calling Pennsylvania home almost 10 years into the future. Listening to songs like Better Man, Black, and Yellow Ledbetter while I reflected on how great it was to have spent such great days with my friends.

Like all good times, they would eventually come to an end. In the short term we had to pack up and head back to Fort Lewis. In the long term we went our separate ways like the guys at the end of Stand By Me. We’ve all got our own personal baggage from our Army days. Every now and then I’ll speak with Farncomb and it’s good for both of us. We’ve got similar issues and it feels good to talk to an old friend who gets it. And Bailey? Well, by all accounts he’s doing super well. I still chuckle when I think about him realizing our “snacks and supplies” joke was actually a Red Hot Chili Peppers song and he was the last guy to get that pop culture reference.

Those were some of the best days of my life. Like I’ve told many people since then, all of my best Army stories have nothing to do with actual Army work. Nowadays I’m a 42 year old IRS agent, but I like to think my friends just consider me not as a Veteran or Government employee, but as a musician, master of comedic timing, a good listener, and an all around awesome person. And sometimes, like right now, I wax nostalgic for those times when I was fortunate enough to escape to the beach with my buddies and forget about life’s problems while we just lived it up as human beings and good friends.

“Road Trippin’ with my two favorite allies
Fully loaded, we got snacks and supplies 
It’s time to leave this town, it’s time to steal away
Let’s go get lost somewhere in the USA.”

Saturday, December 1, 2018

Great God Montagawea

"Oh Great God Montagawea, grant us your favor," the assembly implored in unison. The statue stood still as the theatrics began.

First came the swaying and chanting starting with a low rumble. Over the next minute or so the pitch climbed higher and the swaying turned to stepping then to jumping. What had been a low "ohm" was now shrill exclamations of "awhoo!"

At the sound of a whip-crack, the assembly fell to their knees, silent. The rumbling began again, slowly, gently. It again edged toward ferver, the mass of people now creating waves with their bodies as they plunged down to touch the ground with their foreheads then shot up straight to stretch their arms into the sky. At the height of the activity again a whip cracked. The assembly dove to the floor.