George Was Wrong

Lately I have realized how much my hands have been all over my face during the last couple of weeks. I don’t know how to make it stop. I began to think about how I’m trying to go in for interviews and job-hunting in person, and what they must think when they see me. And I began to sink.

I wondered where that came from. And then, for the first time in years, I thought of George.

When I finished 11th grade, I found out that, due to an extreme error, I did not have enough credits or classes to graduate high school and had to take summer school and two college classes. One of the college classes I took required that I team up with a few people to give a presentation. Among the people on my team was an older man named George. The team met at my house a couple times to work on the presentation, and whenever George left I felt slimed. Something wasn’t completely right with him and it bothered me.

After the class was over, we ran into each other a couple of times. He happened into the church that I attended, chatted with me a little, and left. Later that evening he called my house. I was confused, but sat on the front porch to talk on the phone. It turns out he felt it was his duty to talk to me about Proactiv, and how it would really be good for my face. Because, you see, people who had faces all scarred up from acne only ever got jobs in the back, away from where people could see them, and I didn’t want that, did I?

This rather one-sided conversation went on for about an hour before he finally ended it. I hung up feeling numb and scooped out. Like I’d been sucker-punched and it hadn’t set in yet. It’s not like I didn’t already struggle with myself, but someone had finally said to me, in a very roundabout way, that I would basically be unemployable because of my appearance. Or I would only get some kind of crappy backroom job to hide my face.

I know they’re thinking it. So they don’t say it, but it is there. Some of my fears are valid. I am being judged and found wanting all the time.

However. In spite of that, George was wrong.

Was Subway a glamor job? No. But I was hired for a position that required face to face customer service, and I proved myself friendly and hard working and capable. My current position at an online marketing and web development business has less opportunity for client face-to-face time, but sometimes it happens, and most clients like me. So do people in the office.

Yes. I believe in the past there have been places I have applied to that have turned me down post-interview because of my appearance. Yes. I believe that there will be places in the future that turn me down post-interview because of my appearance. But here’s the thing: The whole world doesn’t work on that principle. There are people who recognize customer service skills and hard work and rate them higher than appearances. If I keep applying, I will find them.

George was wrong.

DUSTY’S COLUMNS

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Motherly Nature

As I started taking my first small steps into adulthood I noticed myself getting lost. Aimlessly wandering and searching for more substance to feed my desire fueled hunger, and forgetting how to enjoy and embrace the simple yet amazing things that were present right in front of me. Though I was confident that something was not right, I had the slight impression that this was just part of “growing up.” Looking back to my childhood I remember when everything seemed so new and beautiful. I held tightly to simplicity, cherishing the warmth of my mother’s soft touch, the comfort of being tucked in at night, and the distinct feeling of excitement while being held high above my father’s head. All of these moments seemed to have slipped off my trail a long time ago. Noticing that my life was sadly lacking the same, simple, yet unique aspects of happiness, comfort, and excitement I felt when I was younger, I decided to send myself out on a quest to find them. Did they leave, or did I just forget where to look? I searched down many different trails, hoping that these beautiful feelings would sooner or later present themselves, but I only found myself getting more lost. I began to feel hopeless. My quest came to a quick halt after a simple lone hike into Forest Park. I found that the forest helps me feel these “childlike” joys naturally . Great happiness, comfort, and excitement come with every step, every touch, every smell, warming my concealed soul and exposing it to the world. From the first step to the last step, I feel more mature and human than ever before.

As I stand before the forest opening and take my first steps onto the rough brown trail, I feel a wave of fresh air flow from between the dense tree filled canyon walls over my societally entrapped body like my mother’s warm arms tightly hugging me, gently wrapping my rough urbanized skin in a blanket of comfort. Though I am isolated, I feel more comfortable and connected to everything on this earth. With every step, I feel the trails rugged rocky fingers gracefully massage the soles of my feet while carefully breaking the concrete exoskeleton that surrounds my aching soul. The breeze whispers direction into my ears, “Go this way,” gently blowing through my thick brown hair, moving it along with every plant in the forest pushing us all towards something beautiful, something united.

Looking into the glistening blue stream that flows to the left of my path, I can see every reflection diversely painted by the green landscape that surrounds me. The sun’s sweet rays trickle from the tree tops to the bottom of the stream, revealing every unique rock carefully lining the river bed like an extravagant mosaic. I am jealous of the rocks knowing that they have been here for hundreds, thousands, millions of years, but my time is so limited. “Why can’t I stay here forever?” I ask myself, but the breeze continues to carry me along the path. I feel the whole forest flowing together creating arms of trees, vines and branches that set me gently into a bath of excitement. All of my senses, like water, flow over my skin, creating goosebumps that are tickled by each thin fiber carefully woven into my shirt.

The strong arms of the fatherly canyon walls pick me up high with a powerful grip carrying me further and deeper into the forest. The heat of excitement begins to thaw my once frozen soul, while slowing burning my remaining desires. I am rid of my thirst for control, just as a baby holding trust in the arms of my father. I am carried off the path, over the stream, and up the densely green canyon wall. The soft ground holds tightly onto my feet as I climb higher and higher, up towards the bright blue sky.

I stop to lie down in a mossy portion more open than most of the area surrounding me. The soft green moss forms to every curve in my body like the tight squeeze of my parents’ arms wrapped around me. I notice the birds songs bounce off the trees like a pinball working their melodic vibrations into every atom surrounding me. I feel like I am on top of the world. The birds finish their tune and respectfully lease the microphone to the hands of the trees. Singing a song of imperfect silence, they gently rock me into a bed of ecstasy. I lie comfortably on the soft mossy ground. Closing my eyes, I take a few deep breaths and feel my heartbeat slow. I lay only in the present, not worrying about who I should be, nor who I was, waiting for these wonderful feelings to gently chisel away some of the remaining concrete chunks surrounding my soul. My time is so limited here. I am nothing more than a guest to this beautiful place that the rocks and soil call home.

The forest helps me find the unique feelings of happiness, comfort and excitement that I thought were missing, by opening my eyes to the beauty right before me. These feelings never left my life. I was blind, blind to the elegance that surrounds me. I thought I searched everywhere for happiness, comfort, and excitement, but I nature made me realize that I forgot to look inside myself and the simple things around me.

ARMIN’S COLUMNS

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Dessert to Share

Some of you may have noticed that I haven’t really posted much in the past couple of weeks. I shan’t tell you why that is, but I will tell you that you have no reason to worry. I’m still not back into the swing of writing, but I want to tell you about a few nights ago.

I’ve been to the same restaurant six times in the last two weeks, for a number of reasons: 1) the food is great, 2) it’s 25 meters away, 3) the staff is very friendly, 4) the atmosphere is great, 5) it’s a bloody good Italian restaurant!

So you see… plenty of reasons to keep coming back.

The meal was brilliant, as it has been each of the six other times that I’ve eaten there. (Yes, I do mean six because I ate there once in April.) But I don’t want to bore you with the details, so I’ll take you straight to the dessert.

Whilst our table was being cleared by the manager’s wife, she said to us not to go anywhere because she had something for us. I laughed and told her that we were in no rush to leave; because we were trying to decide what to order for dessert, having walked past them on the way to the table.

Since I was facing the kitchen area, I could see a bunch of senior staff, including the manager and his wife, pottering about, but I couldn’t really see what they were doing; and I’m not the inquisitive sort.

When she did finally come back to our table, she had a dessert platter and cutlery and crockery for three. She set the dessert down in the middle and set each of our places - it was a selection of desserts and the words “see you soon” piped onto the plate in chocolate, with three little raspberry syrup hearts scattered around. And, because they’re Italians, of course, we were served coffee as well.

I’d be lying if I said that I didn’t bring a tear to my eye. I have a soft heart, and nowhere in the world has any restaurant ever done anything as nice for me. It’s not often that a person can say that something like that was done for them after being in a place for only sixteen days.

The dessert was decadent, my stomach was beyond full, and I still had some espresso in my bloodstream, but that wasn’t the end of it…

As we got up to leave the table, the manager’s wife came to give me a huge hug and a kiss on my right cheek, but they weren’t ready to let us go… We hadn’t even made it to the door, when we were intercepted by the manager and a waiter, who had us in fits of laughter and stitches for well over half an hour and sent us off with fragile things that aren’t easy to pack into a suitcase.

I guess it goes without saying that I’d find any excuse to go back and see them all.

JASLEEN’S COLUMNS

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What To Do After Reading Comics in Baltimore

I had read some good comic books one evening and had the idea to gig again. In my past I’d been a coffeeshop folk singer. It was my main thing, though I’d had and been in bands as well. I knew there was an open mic at a jazz club that night. It was like a Monday or Tuesday. Head full of word balloons and Photoshopped colors I put the ukulele on the passenger seat and drove there.

It was summer, still light out when I got there. I found parking on the street. Rush hour restrictions had just ended. Or maybe that’s not true. I had the right colored parking meter though. I felt a bit exposed carrying my uke. It didn’t have a case. I was out on the sidewalk walking against the one-way traffic, all of which glanced or stared at me. I was the only other moving thing in the evening sun.

Because I’d arrived when the open mic started, I was one of about 3 people there and the only white one. Even in these small numbers I was conscious of it. The staff was black. The inside was dark and most of the light was behind the bar. I sat on a stool at a tall round table nearer, but still in the back of, the seating area. There was no stage. A backline was set up on the floor against the wall. A backline is the drumkit, keyboard, and whatever amplifiers. There were micstands too. I was the only one sitting there. A waitress came over and told me it was a two-drink minimum and what did I want. I smiled and the inner drop-shadowed sound effects went off in the panels in my head. I ordered, she brought it with a pretty smile, and I asked if it was okay to play a couple folk songs, meaning did they allow that type of music or only jazz. She pointed me to the guy to ask, who seemed surprised by my question but said okay. I was relieved. I sat at my seat a while with nothing happening.

Three guys came over to the instruments. One was the one I talked to. They were older men. The drummer sat down and the bass player plugged in. He was playing a 6 string, of course he was. The keyboardist started running scales. Then he stopped. There was the type of pause without anticipation. So when the three musicians kicked in together, it was a jolt. There had been no count-in. The bassist hanging out in the upper register. The keyboardist beat the hell out of the melody, anchoring it only subtly, hitting blue notes, leaving the Fall like a pushing continental drift that goes above the timber line, and that’s the last season that forest will ever see, the one it will be remembered by. The drummer kept time in that jazzy langour like dandelion seeds off, white and wispy, to another clime, only to hit a wood-plank fence, stuck there. But then he did something, the drummer. I immediately came to attention. I didn’t know what it was, but my eyes got wide and my mouth, it was crazy, I reached that level of happiness that is unadulterated awe, and with my inhibitions chemically loosened I felt my face contort into a beaming Black Hole Sun smile.

He kept it up, the drummer. I wasn’t watching the sticks anymore. I couldn’t see them. I just saw his elbows, and his elbows were crazy. He saw me. I was one of only a dozen people sitting there. The awe he brought out in me was driving him. The bass and keyboards were going, simply I think, but they hadn’t dropped out for a solo. I just wasn’t hearing them. The drummer was controling them, not normally, as what to play a bit behind of, but powerfully, playing over them, cymbals bursting kindly but without mercy, as disregard is always merciless. The drums weren’t calling out so much as they were taunting anyone who couldn’t listen, for this city who was all but a dozen patrons and a staff, who we could look down on as we do on the impoverished. One minute of this drumming passed, two minutes, three. I resembled a movie maniac. I was drumming on the table, poorly, my head nodding with full crew shoulders to a beat I was keeping for myself because I couldn’t follow them, and wasn’t sure how the bassist and keyboardist were staying with him, if I could hear them, which I couldn’t. There were only these drums and the man with thick eyeglasses behind them. A whole town’s worth of playground slides walked on first-step legs until they were touching, curved bottom lip to curved bottom lip, making U’s, walking back to back across the parks until their stairs slotted into the other’s stairs behind: the great metal sine curve of Baltimore County. Kids were thrown with love into the air on blanket trampolines. No die stopped its roll til it was what its bettor wanted. He took us to the world of the deaf where everything is gestures and still we heard it all. He played the double underline and the circle twist on the signature of John Hancock. He burned up all the space debris. He parceled out our collective subconscious the way rain only gains individuality when it runs off a leaf, becoming single drops. He teetered on the line of what could be annoying thus finding something new.

I let out the cheer that attracts attention when it’s the only one. The bassist was the spokesman. They were the house band. It was time to bring the open mic’ers up. Most of them were singers. The drummer clambered off and stopped at me. He was all giddy smiles and chuckling. He was all cool because he didn’t make eye contact with me much. I think before he spoke I blurted out, “That was awesome!” I think I repeated that after whatever he said.

When it was my turn a drummer came up from the audience. The bassist put a mic at the height of my uke’s sound hole. I said thank you and I hoped they didn’t mind my playing a couple Kentucky folk songs. Some woo’s and applause heartened me. I looked back to see if the band was ready. The drummer was taking some time. He was adjusting the cymbals. We made eye contact. “I’m waiting on you,” he said. Well that threw me. I guessed he wasn’t pleased that his slot wouldn’t be jazz. I called out the key and started the first of two Bonnie Prince Billy covers. The drummer didn’t do much more than hit the closed high hat, but the bassist caught the simple chord progression, and the crowd received me warmly, although I sensed repeating “I am a cinematographer” 16 times in the song tested their patience. They preferred improv. Still, they clapped and I went off pleased.

As the night went on the club filled up. More and more musicians came and waited for a turn. One was a white guy, on the short side, with a military haircut. At a glance I judged him. Well that taught me a lesson about jazz. When it was his turn he held his trumpet to his lips and blew out a non-stop jet stream. I couldn’t believe it, that he was the best horn player in the club, but he clearly was. After he was friendly. He made conversation with everybody and gave tips, mini-lessons even, to the guys who looked like college students. He told me he was in the Marines jazz band. Talent was talent, I couldn’t deny it. I despised the military a little less that day.

DAN’S COLUMNS

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"Hey you, Open Me!"

A few years ago when I had extra money to play around with, I would leave envelopes with money at bus stops and in terminals for people to find in hopes it would make their days a bit better. Sometimes I would even draw little cartoons or a nice message and include it in the envelope. I liked doing it most around the holidays because people are usually short on cash, and while I had next to nothing myself, I knew there were people who had it a little worse than I did. Also, I can’t imagine riding the bus in winter is anything to write home about, so hopefully a nice gesture would warm things up a bit.

I never waited for any of their reactions. I didn’t want them to feel obligated to put on some big performance for me to show their gratitude. I wanted to be discrete and not invade anyone’s personal space, so I usually just taped them inside the terminals. I made sure to draw a nice greeting on the envelope that would not bring suspicion to people thinking it was something like anthrax or a bomb threat. Around Christmas I got a bit more personal. I would hand someone waiting for the bus an envelope, tell them happy holidays and then walk off without looking back.

Sometimes I wish that I would have waited to see what people did or how they reacted, but part of me was scared they would assume I figured them some charity case I needed to hand money to in order to fulfill some good deed to make myself feel like a decent human being. I tried not to even tell many people about what I was doing in fear that they would assume I was executing the most annoying of humble brags, but in reality maybe it’s actually a good thing to show people you care about your fellow human beings, maybe it will initiate something to show all of us that we need to start taking care of each other and any little bit helps.

Now I don’t have much money to give because like most people my age I am slammed with student loan debt and barely getting by, so instead I buy a bunch of lottery tickets and stick them at gas pumps or at bus stops. It’s not an envelope of money, but I figure if I was paying upwards of $4 a gallon for gas and saw a lottery ticket on my pump I’d be a little less sad about that whole scenario. I use black tape to tape the lotto tickets to the pumps and whatnot so I can use a silver Sharpie and draw a fun little message and of course a cartoon.

It doesn’t take an extravagant gesture to put a smile on someone’s face or turn their day around. A simple hello or a smile will do just fine, you don’t even have to spend a dime. People tend to forget the world is full of goodness because mayhem and disaster tend to over-saturate our culture. I think we are so often misrepresented by our weakest parts to the point we begin forgetting that anything positive exists out there. My grandmother used to tell me that every garden was full of weeds, but if worry only about the weeds and what they’re capable of you’ll miss the flowers. We forget to see the good in each other because we are so frightened by the ugly things we are all capable of. But there is beauty and decency in the world that exceeds any terrible deed that we are capable of, and more people should try to remind the world of that.

ENDNOTES: Writing Tumblr: lucyquin.tumblr.com

LUCY’S COLUMNS

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All Good Cretins Go To Heaven

Yesterday, there was a peace rally in my town, because of what’s going on in Gaza. I joined in, shouted PEACE! NOW! until my throat was raw, but I felt like I should be shouting Hey! Ho! Let’s Go!, and I left after less than an hour. When I got home, I sat in front of my computer, drank a beer (didn’t sniff any glue, sorry), and thought about Tommy Ramone.

It’s not that I don’t care about what is happening in Gaza, or that I don’t understand the magnitude of some things versus others. I know that the death of one more old punk rocker doesn’t have any kind of grand impact on the world, at least not the way war does. But I don’t know how to write about what is happening in Gaza - I can speak out against it, say it is terrible, but I can’t explain why. I’m not politically savvy enough; I don’t know the full story or the right terminology. I can’t describe how horrific it is, because it’s too horrific, and I don’t have the language for that kind of violence. And it’s not my place to write about how sad and angry it makes me - because it’s not about me. At all.

I don’t know how to write about what is happening in Gaza, but I do know how to write about being sad about Tommy Ramone dying, and expressing my grief over that is my way of expressing my grief over everything - over the state of the world.

Although, I’m not even certain I know how to write about Tommy Ramone’s death, or about The Ramones. What do I say about a band that hundreds of people have written millions of words about. What can I say?

Except… Discovering The Ramones was a revelation. I was a teenage weirdo, gabba gabba hey, and The Ramones were the ur-band for teenage weirdos. They were weirdos; four strange-looking guys - angry, thick-necked Johnny, angular-gangly alien Joey, street-tough, junkie Dee Dee, and scrawny little Tommy with his shirt cropped and his belly-button exposed - playing sped-up rock’n’roll songs about cretins, pinheads and The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (that’s mass-a-cree). Four freaks from Queens who wanted, not to eradicate the mainstream, but to be the mainstream, and could never quite manage it* because they were too strange, too raw, and most people thought they were a joke band. A joke band that was telling a joke no one got. Discovering them - and getting the joke - felt like joining a club. We accept you, you’re one of us.

The Ramones and their fans were the Us in the eternal struggle of Us vs. Them. They made the punks and the disaffected teens, the ones who didn’t wanna be learned and didn’t wanna be tamed, the Us. Everyone else - the parents and teachers and square society - was the Them.

Maybe you were a quiet, skinny boy who got his ass kicked every day and got called a fag. Maybe you weren’t very good in school and got accused of being d-u-m-b, but you secretly drew epic pictures of monsters and superheroes. Maybe you were a geeky bookworm girl who had frizzy hair and small tits and thought that no boy (or girl, for that matter) would ever wanna kiss you. Maybe you were a j.d., the kid who smoked joints under the bleachers, and all your teachers told you you’d never amount to anything, and your parents said you were a bad seed. Those are all broad generalizations, but my point is: they made being one of Us feel like the best thing we could possibly be. Cuz they were also juvenile delinquents, geeks, dummies, ‘fags.’ Cuz they were just four strange-looking guys playing strange music, but they were also cool as hell - with their hair shrouding their faces, their smirking mouths and glaring eyes, their leather jackets. Listening to them made you feel like maybe all you needed to do was put on a leather jacket and pick up a guitar, and you’d be cool too - no matter what you looked like, no matter what any of Them thought of you.

And maybe you’re someone like me, who is in their 30s now but still feels like a disaffected teen half the time, still feels like you don’t fit in anywhere except with the other freaks.

"Adolescence was sure tough," said Dee Dee. Tommy added, "Especially when you don’t grow out of it.”**

What can I say?

Except… The Ramones are the sonic version of my worn-in leather jacket. Comfortable, as familiar to me as my own skin, but putting it on still makes me feel more badass, and more like myself, than almost anything else. I have heard their music practically every day for what feels like my whole fucking life, and there’s still nothing else like it. I hear that 1-2-3-4, I hear those simple, pounding drumbeats, that chugging bass, the grind and whine of the guitar and the spaced-out nasal throaty voice, hey ho, and I am ready to change my name to Jessie Ramone and declare I will love Joey and Dee Dee and Tommy and Johnny until the end of time.

Joey Ramone passed away in 2001, and was followed by Dee Dee in 2002 and Johnny in 2004.*** (And just a little over a year ago, Arturo Vega - creator of the iconic Ramones logo, and so-called “fifth Ramone,” passed away.) And then there was one.

Tommy Ramone (born Erdelyi Tamas on Jan. 29, 1949, in Budapest, Hungary) played drums on the first three Ramones albums - Ramones, Rocket To Russia, and Leave Home - and everyone knows those are the three best Ramones albums. He wrote “I Wanna Be Your Boyfriend,” one of my favorite Ramones songs, one of the most perfect love songs of all time. He also wrote “Blitzkrieg Bop.” (One aspect of The Ramones’ brilliance was that they could sing Do you love me babe? What can I say? just as convincingly as they could sing Hey, ho, let’s go! Shoot ‘em in the back now.) He played drums on “Slug,” and his bass drum ba-dum in that song is like the beating of my own goddamn heart. He was also a recording engineer and record producer - he co-produced not only the first four Ramones albums, but also produced another of my favorite albums by another of my all-time favorite bands - The Replacements’ Tim.

Now he is dead, and there are no original Ramones left.****

Yesterday, I went to a peace rally, then spent the rest of my day thinking about Tommy and The Ramones, blogging about Tommy and The Ramones, listening to the first three Ramones albums, and reading a small fraction of the thousands of articles, op-ed pieces, and blog posts that have been written since Tommy’s passing was announced on July 11th. Some of the pieces I read declared that the death of the last Ramone means that Punk is now, officially and without a doubt, Dead.

Last night, after my son fell asleep, I watched Rock’n’Roll High School (I know, it was made after Tommy left the band, but there was nothing else I wanted to watch). I thought about punk being dead and I laughed: either punk died a long time ago, or it will live forever, and really, who fucking cares either way? The death of Tommy is a total bummer, and it may be the end of an era, but it would take a lot more than that to kill off all of Punk. I thought: maybe we should take a tip from “Rock’n’Roll High School” (the song): I don’t care about history / cos that’s not where I wanna be. Not to say that we literally shouldn’t care about history, but that - and this is coming from the most nostalgic person ever - what’s more important is what’s happening now. Whether it be war, protest, punk rock music (or any kind of music), literature, our daily lives - the past may have hurt us, inspired us, brought us to where we are today, but the present moment is more important than a thousand yesterdays.

I watched Rock’n’Roll High School and I thought: hell, as long as there are still disaffected teens whose lives are being saved by The Ramones, as long as there are still people who take the spark The Ramones created and do their own thing with it, punk will never die.

Punk will never die, but The Ramones are dead.

Sing it with me: 4, 5, 6, 7, all good cretins go to heaven.

Long live The Ramones.
_
ENDNOTES: *Though The Ramones were one of the best known and most influential punk bands of all time, it took 38 years for their self-titled album to sell 500,000 copies. (http://www.theguardian.com/music/2014/jun/12/ramones-first-album-goes-gold-after-38-years)
**Paraphrased from this article (http://www.rollingstone.com/music/news/the-ramones-are-punks-and-will-beat-you-up-19760812) by Charles M. Young, which appeared in Rolling Stone in 1976.
***If you’d like to read more of my feelings about The Ramones, and Joey, Dee Dee, and Johnny’s deaths, you can read “The Ramones Are Cooler Than You,” which I wrote in July 2012. (http://www.forcesofgeek.com/2012/07/mix-tapes-from-midwest-ramones-are.html)
****Yes, I know Marky Ramone - who was in the band for many more years than Tommy was - is still alive. I have nothing against Marky. He is arguably a better drummer than Tommy was. Whatever. I’m talking about the original quartet, here.

JESSIE’S COLUMNS

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Life in the South

Growing up in the southern United States is almost exactly how you envision it. It is a little hotter than you think it is. I am certain that other parts of the country have temperatures exceeding ninety degrees as well, but the heat really is different here. It’s thick and heavy. What does that mean? It means that when you step outside it feels as though you have to wade through the heat like you are neck deep in water, while simultaneously carrying the heat on your shoulders. It weighs you down and makes you sluggish. It isn’t always that hot though. We have roughly two months of cool weather which takes us by surprise every year (refer to this winter’s Atlanta total shut down).

It is extremely religious down her as well. Anytime a new building is being built in my town we take bets on whether it will be a church or a restaurant, which brings me to the next stereotype: fat people. They are everywhere, waddling here and there. Don’t get me wrong, I am NOT fat shaming; I grew up chubby so I know what it is like to be on the receiving end of that statement. It is merely an observation.

Drugs are rampant here. Crystal Meth and Crack-Cocaine mostly, but what else is there to do but pray and eat? I’m kind of sober. I chose video games as my means of escapism. They keep me out of the heat. When the sun isn’t beating down on the south like a buffet lamp I go outside. I ride my bike a bit, geocache when funds permit (already found all the local ones), and take the kids fishing. It isn’t all bad in the south, and it wouldn’t be too hard to enjoy living here if I were alone.

It is the other people that make it difficult. People really are dumb as shit here. Now, there are a few exceptions: me, as well as doctors and teachers and other college graduates. I’ll even go as far as to consider anyone with a high school diploma a success in this area. The following is a few examples of common people you would encounter if you choose to pass through my town.

The fast-food worker: I went through a drive-through one afternoon to get a cup of that legendary southern sweet tea. I handed the clerk my two dollars and she returned with handful of change and dumped it in my hand. “I sorry,” she said, “I didn’t have no change so I had to give you eight whats-a-names.” I looked in my hand and saw that there was eight dimes, two nickels, and some pennies. I just told her not to worry about it. I wanted to grab her by the shoulders and scream in her face “DIMES! THEY ARE CALLED DIMES! YOU ARE A FUCKING ADULT! YOU HAVE SEEN THESE THINGS BEFORE! THE ONLY EXCUSE YOU HAVE FOR NOT REMEMBERING THEIR NAME IS BEAUSE YOU SMOKED A WHOLE ‘WHATS-A-NAME’ BEFORE YOU CAME TO WORK!” Which is probably true. After all, there isn’t anything fun to do in this town and if you work at Macburgerfrytown you probably want to get high before you go in. I would.

The bag boy: Here is another adult, or at the very least, a twenty something or late teenager. I don’t know what he was other than dumb. I have been trying to eat healthier so I have been buying vegetables and lean proteins. I found some really tasty recipes for cauliflower including one where I roast it and include raisins and olives, a recipe to make cauliflower tots, and one where I puree it into a substance that resembles mashed potatoes. The grocery store that I use (one floor, by the way) has a variety of cauliflower to purchase. They have the traditional white cauliflower, as well as orange and purple cauliflower. I haven’t been bold enough to stray from traditional yet; this story would have been different had I chose to do so that evening. I take my items to checkout and the bag boy, or should I say ‘bag man’, picks up the cauliflower and sincerely asks what it is. I told him and how I planned to make imitation mash potatoes and how delicious and better-for-you they were. He responded with “I don’t eat rabbit food. I prefer protein”. Well, well, well. He had a gut, so I am pretty sure that when he said protein he meant red meat in the form of burgers and probably fried chicken as well. I could have explained to him that one head of cauliflower has as much protein as ten grams, or about twenty percent of what a pound of ground turkey has. That’s pretty damn good considering it won’t clog up the exit. I was too busy focusing on his first statement to say anything else about it. ‘What is this?’ It’s a piece of old ass broccoli man. Hell, I would’ve accepted “What’s wrong with this broccoli?” You are an adult, kind of, and you’ve never seen a cauliflower? You are white living in suburban America AND you work at a grocery store and you have never seen a cauliflower in your life? How does that happen? Did you smoke a whole whats-a-name before you came to work? Guess he didn’t grow up eating rabbit food like me. I just wish I could be there when someone brings a purple cauliflower to his line.

The man set-in-his-ways: I don’t mean to make fun of this person because he is a good man. I am just going to blame the media for this one. I heard this story through someone else but that doesn’t mean you won’t run in to something similar if you travel south. It starts with a bump-a pimple- on a fifty year old man’s forehead. He didn’t consider it a pimple because he hasn’t had one in thirty years or so. He picks at it and mashes it until it swells and gets larger. Before long he has a huge sore on his forehead. Through sheer determination and confusion he turned a little pimple into a raw spot the size of a quarter. His next mistake involved the local news. He saw an article about flesh-eating bacteria or a virus and thought that is what he had. It turned large from something so small so it must be that. He phones his wife at work saying that he needs to go to the hospital and she tells him he is crazy and that isn’t what he has. He doesn’t believe her and pulls some Don Quixote shit. If he can’t go get a cure for what ails him, then his only option is to suck it out like they use to do snake venom. He is home alone so he grabs the only option he sees: the hose to the vacuum cleaner. With the hose attachment to his forehead (which probably had bacteria all over it) he turns the vacuum on and holds it there until he is satisfied that all of the flesh-eating particles are gone. Luckily he told his wife about this and I got to share it with you today.

There are more characters to see. I may share more one day but it is really better if you just come here to see for yourself. Wait a few months though, lest the heat takes your will to move.

JAMES’S COLUMNS

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Small Things

I think it has not been any large gesture that won me over. In fact, long ago, large gestures sent me scrambling for reasons I didn’t even fully understand. Perhaps that is why I appreciate, even more, the care my boyfriend has taken in this second try. But as I said, it is not any grand gesture, but the seemingly small things said and done that gently cracked my walls and defenses. There are still fears and worries, but somehow I am not concerned with them. I am sure that with enough time, even they will crumble.

It was small things, here and there. It was the way he talked about his ex-girlfriend and the situation that happened that hurt him. He looked at me and said, very sadly, “I think that if I’m in a committed relationship with someone, some things should be mine, and mine alone.” There wasn’t a hint of control or possessiveness in his voice, only a deep sadness, as if asking, “Isn’t that the way it is supposed to be?” And that was the first time I began to trust him. The first time I began to feel a little secure near him.

It was the way he brought up sentences from posts I’d made near the beginning of my time on Tumblr that he particularly enjoyed.

It’s the way he’ll eye a swingset with the same intentions I have, and top my ridiculous suggestions with a one-up, turning it into a fantastically silly story.

It was the way he said that he would like to kiss me goodnight, when I was ready. And then waited til I was ready, about a week later.

It was the way he kissed my hands, because he remembered I’d written about how much that would mean to me to have my hands—those equally wonderful and destructive instruments—kissed. Accepted.

It was the way he took me to a high class restaurant and leaned over, telling me it was okay and that I could order what I wanted. And when I admitted I still had trouble with that, the way he said, “I know. That’s why I said it.”

It was the way he stroked my hair when we cuddled, because I said I liked it.

It was the way he changed plans the day I broke my foot, and instead of me going to visit him, he brought over In’N’Out and a movie.

It was the way he called me after work and said he was busy with coding, but wanted to go to dinner with me. When I thanked him for thinking of me, the way he smiled and said, “I always do.”

It’s the way he texts me “Good Morning Dusty!” and “Good Night Dusty!” every morning and evening.

It was the way he touched my face, tenderly, where I can barely even look at my own face most days much less touch it with such care.

It was the way he brought up The Someday Story poem I had written for him, asking me if I’d really said what I hinted at. When I responded yes, he said, “I might have said it after you left the car.”

It was the way he held me and said quietly, “I love you Dusty.”

And then, I was able to open my mouth and say “I love you too.”

DUSTY’S COLUMNS

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A likely or unlikely meeting – who’s to say…

It hasn’t been long, since I asked for people to tell me what they’d say to their first boy/girlfriend if they were to bump into them. Perhaps it’s something that a lot of us don’t like to think about, because I didn’t get many responses? I don’t know.

My point of asking the question was because I’d been thinking about it. I happened upon a very old newspaper, and absentmindedly began flicking through it – I hadn’t bothered to check the date, despite knowing that it must have been at least three years old because that is about how long ago my parents stopped having the paper delivered – when I saw a photograph of my first boyfriend. He was on the city hockey team and, in his mid-twenties, would make it to the sports pages of the daily papers quite often.

This isn’t a story about my first love; because back then I only knew how to spell the word, and that it applied to my family and best friend. Seeing his picture got me thinking about what I would say to him if this city somehow brought me before him; and even though only a few people responded when I asked the question, all the responses were pretty similar to mine.

I’d say to him, “I didn’t think you were the marrying type,” and smile, because he cheated on the girl that he was cheating on me with. But I wouldn’t wait for him to respond, because I don’t hate him for it. Instead, I’d go on to say, “It’s nice to know that you’re settled. How’s the little one doing; I heard you had a girl”.

JASLEEN’S COLUMNS

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Where to Read Comics in Baltimore

Here are the best spots to read your comics in Baltimore.

Part of Falls Rd between Hampden and St. Paul Ave. There are few cars on the road. There’s one-lane one way and one the other. There are no roads perpendicular. More important the cars have nowhere to stop. There are no stop signs or traffic lights. What cars there are remain on the move. There is nice scenery as well. The road passes through a defunct industrial area. There appear to be train-related ruins of the sort the pickers on that channel would overstate their excitement about. The ruins lie in burnt orange and roasted paprika, in weeds. Could be snakes in there.

The downside is the jogging path that goes its length. There are never many joggers on it, but there are some. That one might pass you if you are on foot should be reckoned on. But if you are in a part of a car that doesn’t require its operation, or if you can safely read while steering, Falls Rd is foolproof. When there’s a car behind you, you can still read discreetly. Don’t be holding the comic in such a way that when you turn a page it is visible over your left shoulder. If there’s a cop behind you, and you’re reading Fish Police, put it down and drive onto an expressway ramp. All other times, proceed to the ice cream shop near our next location.

Lakeside Dr and Paw Point Park is excellent during weekday working hours. There is a reservoir up there. It feels real nice to be around in Baltimore’s often gray but never rainy Spring. I once saw those rare clouds that roll like pinwheels or like a stormband on Jupiter. It made the reservoir gray but the wind was zazzed and particular about what it did. The reservoir ends in a dam. It is not a very tall dam, but it’s slanted like the side of a pyramid. Water from the lake runs down it and goes under a foot bridge. This is what you cross to reach the dog park, which is on a treed peninsula. Not one person has ever committed suicide by jumping off the foot bridge. While it’s high enough to kill you, probably, this never occurs to self-harmers or the depressed. No one wants to kill himself around a bunch of dogs.

A bar with a patio on 36th St in Hampden, provided the patio is not crowded, is another good place to read comics. Some fellows may let you know by word or face that they don’t like people reading in a bar. Remember, you’re too busy to respond by word or face. A good bet is a bar whose patio doesn’t have much to do. Chairs, if there are any, should be stacked along its fence. But they shouldn’t be stacked efficiently like grocery carts. That is organization. That suggests you shouldn’t be out there. I mean, the top of a stack of two should be lopsided, with one leg touching the floor.

Another good bet is a bar that’s cliquey. The patrons wouldn’t want to talk to you. The male bartender should suspect a single guy in there would be hiding that he’s gay. The female bartender should flirt with the single guys to get better tips and acquire admirers. The bartenders should be honest folk who let their opinions be freely known. Assumptions made are no one’s harm or foul. Now, the drunk should be an owner, I mean the owner should be a drunk, who is more gregarious than competent, yet who should have big plans. All of this assures the single-guy reading comics that he will be left alone. It assures, likewise, a lonely, cluttered patio.

The woods behind Johns Hopkins are being developed to benefit the community. Many decades-old plants, many buildingsful of live wood, are being cut down. Suburban animals who live there are being discouraged from doing so. There were wild rabbits and a stream with Triassic-looking insect swimmers. The Remington kids riding dirt bikes on the trail know what you’re up to — they read comics too — but they never say nothing. Still this is not as good a spot as before.

DAN’S COLUMNS

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Regional Differences

I try to be cognizant of regional differences when people come to visit me. The big things are never difficult to navigate. It’s the subtleties of every day life, those moments taken for granted after years of living on auto-pilot, that I attempt to tease out and warn for before they become stumbling blocks.

Occasionally I’ll be caught off guard, and so will explain. Like the first time I’d been admonished – as an adult – for driving home from the bar. He said, “Next time, take a fucking cab.”

“You can’t be serious.”

“Of course I’m fucking serious. You can’t drink and drive.”

And I realized I was talking to a person who’d never driven a car in his life. Who never wanted for transportation no matter where he was, and no matter the hour. I regrouped. “When you grow up here, you learn a few things. One, you learn to cut yourself off and wait a reasonable amount of time so you are capable of driving home unimpaired. Two, if I’d called a cab, I’d have been waiting on the side of the road for hours.”

Since that conversation, I’ve made an effort to actively notice and point out things like the two-beer-maximum in order to make my friends from out of state more comfortable.
And I thought that was how everyone else worked too.

Until I showed up at my aunt’s house last week. In the middle of Chicago.

She showed me the public transportation system and said, “So, you have it now, right?” Because she’s lived here for twenty years and assumes that, after one ride, I’ll know the city inside and out. She’s mostly correct. I can read, and I can listen. And public transport is public transport. It translates pretty well across cities.

The grocery shopping, however, did me in.

I called no less than three people to tell them about it. Seriously.

Getting the food was normal (I use the word normal to mean “expected”). Paying was also normal.

Then we approached the escalators. One for people, and one for carts. And the sign on the right specified this one was just for carts. Not for kids, or dogs, or people. I wondered who had put their kids and dogs onto the escalator with the heavy, plexi-glass doors and exactly zero steps.

My aunt approached these escalators without a word to me. This, for her, is an every day experience.

My inner monologue went something like this: “Okay, you’re a smart girl. Don’t ask questions, you can do this.”

And so I pushed my cart full of food onto its designated escalator, resisted the urge to break the rules, and got onto my own people escalator.

Did you know this is a thing? You ride the escalator next to your food, and the two of you just go up, up, up together – keeping your hands inside the vehicle like some Grocery Store Splash Mountain with no real excitement unless you’ve never done this before.
And at the end, your cart gets pushed off and you think (definitely not saying out loud or anything), “Oh hey food! How was your ride? Good to see you again! Let’s go to the car now.”

I’m having adventures much more exciting than a routine grocery trip, but when people call, I tell them about the escalators and they want to know more. They want pictures.

It’s taken less than a week for me to conclude the following: you city people are architectural engineering geniuses.

And you would do well to remember that people like me, from Little Town Suburbia, who always have one floor grocery shopping experiences, might benefit from a heads-up.

Or, at the very least, you city folk might want to turn around and watch us suburbia kids. The look on my face must have been priceless. “Hey hummus, are you strapped in tight? Hold onto the rail. Here we go!”

KATE’S COLUMNS

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Redefining Myself as Writer: When I Was Young(er)

Despite the constant reminders of parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles that I still have youth on my side, I don’t often feel young anymore. Going to school and working as close to full time at two jobs as that endeavor allows seems to suck away much of my youthful vitality, leaving me feeling mostly exhausted, cranky, and just this side of sane (maybe).

These are all first world problems, of course. I have two jobs while many are unemployed and with a spectacular blend of dumb luck and sheer bitter spite I have managed to thus far avoid the crushing tuition debts which many of my friends are already enduring. Nonetheless, there is a certain spunk which I once had that is no longer with me and which I sometimes find myself missing pretty intensely.

What is this spunk of which I speak? It’s hard to identify, because I wasn’t aware of it at the time, or even after it left. I only became aware that it had ever existed in the past year, when I heard a song on the radio that took me back to a dance party in the basement of a hotel in Washington D.C. It came on the radio as I was pulling into the parking lot at the art center where I work, and I found myself sitting out there in the dark bawling in the most pathetic fashion. I didn’t know why I was crying exactly, but I knew it had something to do with no longer being the person I used to be.

The person I used to be went to D.C. and fell in love. On that first night she walked with her classmates against the frigid freaking D.C. wind to the Vietnam memorial and she stood at the foot of Lincoln’s statue and cried because her country’s history is so brief, bloody, and horrific but once in a rare while great. She wore a lot of gaudy, vibrant colors and her fingers were decked out in an array of silver rings that clicked together when she gestured. She had a passion for music, especially classic rock, and she’d spent many a sleepless night writing through hours of The Beatles. She felt things – everything – with the kind of abandon that me as I am now can only dream about.

I’m not entirely sure what happened to that adventurous zest for life which was once my defining feature, but I have a sneaking suspicion that it’s just exhausting to make it through this world, with everything that’s happening in it, sustaining that kind of optimistic enthusiasm. In the face of all of the ugliness, all of the ignorance and blatant, unabashed cruelty so often sanctioned by governments and religions around the world, I feel very small and impotent. I know I’m not the only one – I’m one of an entire generation of people who have been repeatedly made to feel disposable and then shat upon for being lazy and narcissistic.*

Before the spunk left me, I cranked out a lot of work. Hundreds of pages of short stories, novellas, and novels, and in a very short span of time. Looking back now I see that most of it was, to be quite blunt, sloppy bullshit (everyone has to write the sloppy bullshit out before they figure out what it takes to be good, I guess). Early on it was pointed out to me that I had (still sometimes do) a tendency to drift into melodrama. I had a lot of things to say about a lot of subjects, damn it, and not enough time to write a different story for each thing! Who has time for such things? Bah. But at the time I was writing and figuring out how to write and I loved it, and I suppose that’s all that mattered.

Even amid all of that hurried, self-confident (maybe even arrogant) melodrama I can see some pretty solid nuggets of good ideas. I would love to revisit some of those things – the first story I wrote about cancer (why does cancer pop up in so many of my stories?) a story very loosely inspired by a number of events in the life of my favorite artist, Vincent van Gogh. I’m not terribly concerned with the certain something lacking in my old works (like I said, pretty much all writers must write the bad writing out before they can turn out something truly, beautifully meaningful). I am, however, rather intimidated by the horrible execution of those ideas when it comes to the possibility of revisiting them. How does one go about revising something like that?

Now that I’m attempting to recollect some of that spunk, I think it’s worth considering that I may not be able to revise what I wrote then…but I could rewrite. Within a (hopefully) more mature and grounded framework I might be able to reclaim some of those ideas and run with them.

It might be an adventure – a new quest line, you could say. The accompanying side quest? Reclaim some of my younger self’s enthusiasm, hope and energy and bring them into the now. Maybe I could use them to help drive away some of the self-conscious uncertainty and the near crippling fear that has crept in to fill the void they left.

Yeah…an adventure.

That sounds good.

ENDNOTES: Also posted at Musings and Ramblings

*This is a wonderful video in response to the negative things people say about millennials. It paints in broad strokes, like any generalization about a whole group of people, so for that should be taken with a grain of salt, but I think it communicates the point quite well.

TAHNI’S COLUMNS

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Something of a Price

In my past, homesickness has not been a particularly large obstacle in my travels. Home has been something I was able to put out of my mind and live in the moment. I remember the girls that cried at sleep away camp when I was younger and I remember wondering what the value was in crying over a situation you can’t change? I think the moment I stepped on French ground and found myself surrounded by rapid French speakers, fancy cheese, and tiny European cars, I was able to empathize with those homesick ten year olds.

I sat in the car on my way to my host family’s house trying not to cry, and being frustrated that I was holding back tears. I had only just landed in the country, and I should be excited but all I could think about was that this was going to by my life for a month and a half. This was going to be every day for the next 45 days. I was beyond out of my comfort zone.

They say life begins at the end of your comfort zone but they don’t tell you how scary that life is, and how not every day is filled with excitement and possibility. Many days are spent missing your comfort zone and missing home, and that’s something we need to learn to deal with.

I always thought there was shame in being homesick. I always thought I was strong because I looked past the thought of returning…but maybe I was weak. Or maybe, at that point in my life I saw nothing worth returning to, nothing that I truly missed.

Human are social creatures and in the dark ages, we stuck together in nomadic packs, constantly looking out for each other, constantly a part of a team. Maybe there’s a genetic instinct to stick with the pack. Maybe somewhere in our genes, that homesickness is an instinctual message from our ancestors telling us to stick with the tribe.

It’s the dream of so many to travel the world, but sometimes it’s a lonely dream. I suppose all dreams come with a price.

Perhaps that’s how we know it’s a true dream, when we’re willing to brave the hardships for our passions.

SAM’S COLUMNS

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Politics by Dusty Rose

image

Gun control. Abortion. Wage laws.

"What do you think?"

I panic, realizing the lions have spotted me, the lone gazelle on the Serengeti plains.

Taxes. Immigration.

"Well? You must have an opinion."

War. The President. Schooling.

"I….. uh….. I….." my throat closes. Yes, I have an opinion. Yes, it is probably unpopular. No, I’m not good at backing it up, that’s a skill people acquire when they’re interested in debating or being right all the time. This is not an area I want to be involved in. “I…”

Say something. They’ll call you Ignorant. Uneducated. They’ll say you stick your head in the sand.

"I… think… this is the right thing." I try to fake confidence in my opinion.

"What?! How could you think that? Why??"

"I…" I don’t want to talk about this. I didn’t ask for this political situation. I don’t know how to live another person’s life, I can only handle what’s right in front of me. If I haven’t been involved in a school shooting, I do not understand. If I have not been affected by war, I do not understand. I do not understand the implications of casting my vote in one direction or another, when it feels like my decisions can be overturned at the drop of a hat. Does it even make a difference? Whatever the end result is, I will have to learn to live in that world anyway. Expecting it to be the way I want it to will only lead to bitter hopeless rage. I don’t know how to fix what’s hopelessly broken.

And what if I am wrong? If I voice my opinion, within seconds there will be someone heatedly shouting me down and damning me as a terrible human being, no matter what side I take. When two people face each other and say completely opposite things, how is it possible to know who is right?

"I don’t… know…" I cast my eyes down.

"You’re so brainwashed, you just believe what you were raised to believe. Do you even check your facts?"

No. It’s not where I spend my time. I spend my time creating. Caring about the people in my life. Trying to heal from old wounds. Trying to learn the best way to live. Realizing that I am not a “world changer” and being okay with that, as long as I can be a “person changer,” someone who invests in the person in front of me to the best of my broken ability. And absolutely trying not to drown in futile and hopeless arguments that I don’t have a prayer of trying to win in the first place.

Mute. Downcast. Burning with unspoken words.

"You should try reading a newspaper or something."

DUSTY’S COLUMNS

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“I would have failed you in kindergarten”

The hotel’s cable went out. Possibly the whole island’s. Apparently, this was common. I didn’t know. Was staying deep in the island – away from a TV or WiFi router. All morning, people had been calling the front desk. “Is the cable out?” “When will the cable be back?” “Do you know that the TV isn’t working?” “Could you send someone up?”

There I was, printing out sheets of vague apologies for this inconvenience. Some tacky floral card stock. There I was, not caring about cutting straight or evenly. The polygons fell on and around my keyboard. Some fell on the floor.

Places you work lose their appeal. Why anyone would willing go on vacation to that island was beyond me, and if you were going to that island, why bother spending your time sitting on a mattress on which countless people had sweated and fucked to watch NCIS reruns? There I was – my hold on the scissors as limp as my enthusiasm for fudge and the lighthouse sweatshirt-wearing masses who seek it.

My demeanor is ideal for a front desk position. TripAdvisor reviews have described me as “soft-spoken” and “pleasant” and “this guy in glasses.” My dinner recommendations were passionate and specific because the family that owned the hotel that issued my paycheck owned a couple of restaurants on the island, and I was reprimanded one morning for recommending a place that actually offered a decent breakfast. When the conversation calls for it, though, I have a blank stare and dead tone that explains the cruel limits of geometry that prevent your room from having a view of the lake and that warns you that sympathy and patience dissipates with every higher-up with whom you demand to speak.

I finished all the sheets of apology squares and took them into the back office and set them at my boss’ elbow. She took the stack and flipped through them and scowled and that was when she told me what my fate would have been, had she pursued a career in education and not in telling people whether or not their room could accommodate a roll-away.

MILO’S COLUMNS

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