Tuesday night after class, a few of my classmates and I left campus and walked to a nearby bar. The bar has half-a-dozen flat-screen televisions mounted over the bar, making it well-suited for watching sporting events. Normally the televisions display multiple football, baseball, and basketball games, but last night they were all tuned in to the 2016 presidential election. In a booth not far from the bar, six of us gathered to watch the results of the election.
It would be more poetic to say I was drinking because I had some inkling as to how the election would turn out, but I would be lying. I was drinking beer, but it’s because we were celebrating. I don’t know everyone’s reasons, but personally I was celebrating the fact that this horribly dirty election had come to an end. I’ve lived through a lot of presidential elections, and can’t remember a campaign quite like this one. I don’t think anyone alive can. Between the debates, the leaks, the controversies, the name calling, American politics hit an all time low. Hillary’s campaign slogan was “When they go low, we go high,” but Donald Trump’s lows were so low that her highs were still pretty low, too.
Dating back to Bill Clinton’s election in 1992, I’ve successfully picked every winning presidential candidate, usually many months before the election took place. When one classmate expressed concern about the outcome later that evening, I told them not to worry, and that I was sure Hillary Clinton would win.
For the first time in 24 years, I was wrong.
For the record, I’m not a huge fan of Hillary Clinton. We often use the term “the lesser of two evils,” and that sums up how I felt this year. I didn’t agree with all of her policies and I struggled with the whole email server controversy because, quite frankly, as a government employee, I would be instantly fired for doing the same thing. I felt like a vote for Hillary was a vote for the worst candidate I had seen in a long time, and a vote for Trump was a vote to burn down the system. I voted one way, half the country voted the other, and here we are.
My dad once taught me that a chess match can end in one of four ways: checkmate, stalemate, and forfeit are the three obvious ways, but you can always pick the board up and hurl it across the room as a fourth alternative. Tuesday night, America hurled the board.
I’m still trying to wrap my head around what happened. Yesterday, CNN interviewed several people in Ohio who voted for Trump. “I’m tired of Washington,” said one man. “I wanted to send a message that we wanted change.” I understand this man, but not his actions. I want change, too. If your landlord raises your rent, setting your own apartment on fire isn’t the best form of protest. I’ve tried seeing the other side’s point of view, but being repeatedly called a “middle-aged, male white dipshit who just doesn’t get it” didn’t help.
To my gay friends, my Muslim friends, my hispanic friends with undocumented family members living here in the United States… good luck? I support your rights, your right to freedom and your right to choose. If the government tries to pass laws that will limit your rights I will vote against them, but forgive me for not having a lot of faith in the voting process this week.
Last night on CNN I watched the protests in Chicago, and Philadelphia, and New York City, and Albuquerque, and our nation’s capital. Some people have written these protesters off as sore losers, but there’s more to it than that. Many of them are angry because they’re afraid. I am too.
Regardless of who you voted for, I, along with the rest of the world, will be waiting to see what happens next. Some people claim that the Trump we see on television and in the debates is not the same Trump that works behind closed doors, getting things done. I hope that’s true. I hope the same Trump that yells at people, denigrates women, and gets in Twitter fights at three in the morning is not the same guy that shows up when foreign heads of state come knocking. If they are one and the same, then lord help us.
Halloween tip-toed in through the front door and left out the back without saying goodbye. The Halloween decorations (stored in plastic tubs up in the attic throughout the year) made it as far as the garage floor this year, where they remain.
Both kids (with Susan’s help) made rather than bought their costumes this year. Morgan dressed up as the Joker as he appeared in The Dark Night. She and Susan put together a costume, and Morgan did her own makeup. Mason dressed up as a cockroach. He found the costume online for $85; Susan sewed a reasonable replica for about $5.
On the Saturday before Halloween (which fell on a Monday this year), we participated in a neighborhood Trunk or Treat event. I have long stood against newer bastardizations of the traditional Trick or Treating model, but this year I gave in. Following a picture Susan found on Pinterest, we turned the trunk of Susan’s car into a big green frog and handed out candy to a steady stream of kids for almost two hours. Somewhere between 100 and 200 kids showed up to the Trunk or Treat event, and last year we only had three groups of trick-or-treaters to ring our doorbell, so it’s hard to argue with that.
On Halloween proper we drove around town and visited a few of our favorite people, like the Willraths and the Martins. At each stop, we would stay and visit for a few minutes while Morgan and trick-or-treated the immediate neighbors. It doesn’t seem like Morgan visited more than a dozen hours, but by the time she got home she declared that she had obtained exactly 156 items which included two orange plastic skeletons, a box of tattoos, and a Fiber One bar.
Except for a few candy wrappers littering the living room and the tubs of decorations sitting unopened in the garage, no trace of Halloween remains around here. Maybe next year I’ll… well, maybe next year.
As a member of the Oklahoma City Thunder, Kevin Durant made me do a lot of things. Once, after dishing an alley oop to Russell Westbrook, he made me leap out of my chair in the cheap seats so hard I spilled $9 worth of beer. Another time after hitting a buzzer beating shot to win in the finals, he made me high-five a complete stranger. When he referred to his mother as “the real MVP” during his MVP acceptance speech, he made me cry.
And last night during his debut as a Golden State Warrior, Kevin Durant made me do something I never thought I would do: he made me cheer for the San Antonio Spurs.
The story of Kevin Durant’s departure from the Oklahoma City Thunder has been beaten to death. It’s been covered by so many angles that the stories are starting to conflict with one another. Kevin Durant said he would never leave Oklahoma, and then he did. Sometimes he says he left due to growing frustrations with Russell Westbrook; other times, Westbrook didn’t figure into his decision at all. Last month Kevin Durant said he and Westbrook were “still cool.” Westbrook, in response, says the two haven’t spoken since Durant left.
Strip all the “he said/she said” from the story and the fact remains that Kevin Durant left the team that put him in a pedestal for a team that made it to last year’s NBA finals. He left the team he was building for a team that he thought would bring him a championship. He broke his promise, and the heart of a city in the process.
In the film Superman II, Superman gives up his super powers to pursue a normal life with Lois Lane. In the next scene, a now mortal Clark Kent wanders into a diner and promptly gets his ass kicked by a truck driver named Rocky. By the end of the film Superman regains his powers, and one of the last things he does is return to the diner and beat up Rocky, this time as the Man of Steel.
This scene never sat right with me. As a nation, we love to win. We’re scrappers. But it’s also bred into us that punching up is okay and punching down is not. We cheer when a boxing underdog half the weight and height of his opponent pulls off a surprise upset, but rarely do we cheer when the situation is reversed and a bigger and stronger boxer pummels a weaker contender. Superman stands for “truth, justice, and the American way,” and beating up random truck drivers, whether they deserve it or not, is beneath him.
Any good auto mechanic knows you can’t upgrade one component of an engine and simply expect the car to run better. It’s about balance — how the parts of an engine work together. It’s about testing and tuning, making sure each part fits and has been properly adjusted. Performance isn’t just about the guy who can throw the most money at an engine; it’s about the guy who can make the parts he has work together.
Last night, opening night of the 2016-2017 NBA season, the Golden State Warriors debuted their new engine to the world against the San Antonio Spurs, where it unceremoniously coughed, sputtered, and died on the court. In his debut as a Warrior Kevin Durant scored 27 points and had 10 rebounds, but toss a shiny new muffler on a previously well-balanced engine and see what happens. Last night, we saw.
The Golden State Warriors, who broke the record last year for the most number of wins in a regular season, are now 0-1 after losing by 29 points to the Spurs.
GSW now has three of the best shooters in the league, but as we saw in last year’s playoffs, if one of them has a bad night it can disrupt the entire offense. Draymond Green didn’t provide enough defense to cover for his sharpshooting teammates. Curry scored 26 points behind Durant’s 27, but nobody else scored much at all. The San Antonio Spurs, on the other hand, didn’t play like a bunch of hired guns. They played like a team.
It’s hard not to assume that eventually the millions and millions of dollars Golden State has invested in players will pay off. The engine will be fine tuned. When those guys start working together they will be tough to defeat.
Here’s to everyone trying.
When I was a little kid — this would have been the late 1970s, possibly early 1980s — I owned a cup that looked like an ice cream cone. The bottom part of the cup looked like a cone. The “lid” looked like a scoop of ice cream. The plastic ice cream was covered with a removable brown piece of plastic that looked like melted chocolate. There was a hole to accommodate a straw. We owned two of these cups. Mine had a scoop of vanilla on top; my sister’s was mint green.
I don’t remember where they came from or what happened to them, but approximately a decade ago, I decided I wanted to own them again.
And. Here. We. Go.
If you search Google Images for ‘ice cream cone cups’ you’ll find thousands of ice cream cone cups of all shapes and sizes. There are plastic ones and ceramic ones of every color. There are also thousands of pictures of real ice cream cones, plastic bowls for eating ice cream, cupcakes and plastic banks that look like ice cream cones, and all kinds of things that aren’t ice cream cone cups. For ten years, I have been searching Google and Google Images for pictures of the cup I used to own.
I searched Amazon, eBay, Pinterest, and other similar sites for ice cream cone cups. I also set up automated tools to monitor websites for ice cream cone cups, and combined my searches with words like “retro” and “vintage”.
Two years ago, I finally found a picture of one.
This picture came from an Etsy reseller, and by the time I discovered the image, the cup had already been sold. I offered the seller a hundred bucks just to tell me who bought it, so I could offer them another hundred for the stupid cup, but no dice. Dead end.
Each year, I hit up my online army of friends to remind them that I’m looking for the cup. Occasionally I get “I remember those!” and “I had one of those!” but it hasn’t turned up any leads.
Until this year.
This year, Twitter pal GabeDiGennaro asked, “was this a Disney cup?” Mine wasn’t, but then he shared a picture that put me on the right track.
It’s the cup. It’s the same exact cup — well, almost, but with a Disney label attached. I tracked the image to an eBay auction… that had just ended. I contacted the seller and discovered that although the auction had ended, the cup hadn’t sold. A deal was quickly arranged and… well, I think we all know how this story ends, don’t we?
The only difference between this cup and the one I owned as a kid are those Disney characters, and I’m debating whether or not to remove them. I still haven’t tracked down the source of the original cup — we’re leaning toward Tupperware, although Avon is a possibility, too.
I have found at least one other color combination — a strawberry on strawberry combination that also appeared on eBay, which tells me there are more of these out there.
And while the strawberry one is interesting, and I wouldn’t mind owning a mint green one, I’m pretty darn happy with the one I got. After a decade of searching, this plastic cone is sweeter than any ice cream could ever be.
Last week I bought some new stickers for my laptop.
Thirty seconds after I finished applying them I spilled a large glass of lemonade down into my keyboard. I dried the keyboard off with a towel and things seemed fine for a while,but when I turned on my laptop later that evening, 1/4 of the keys were stuck in capital mode and 1/4 were completely stuck.
But, hey — I’m a tech guy! How hard can it be to pop off the keyboard and clean it? Turns out, pretty hard. The instructions started with removing a dozen screws, then the battery, then a trap panel, then the hard drive, then the DVD player, and another two dozen screws. The next step involved running a knife all the way around the top of the laptop to break a seal, and then physically pry the keyboard off. Once removed, I found the bottom of the keys covered in a sheet of electrical tape. I used rubbing alcohol where it would reach, and I fixed the shift key, but by the time I got everything back together my delete key was stuck at a weird angle and my “k” key stopped working altogether.
ASUS doesn’t carry replacement parts for this laptop, but I found a seller on eBay who (for whatever reason) had a few keyboards for this model for sale. $30 later — and really, that’s cheap for dumping 20oz of lemonade into a laptop — I had to disassemble the entire thing (again). Funny thing, each time I put this laptop back together a few more screws get left out.
I’m going to go on the record and say that having to remove a laptop’s hard drive to replace a keyboard is ridiculous.
Roughly thirty minutes later, the new keyboard was installed and I was — am — back in business. It feels like new!
The reason most interviews “work” is because, in most cases, both sides need (or at least want) them to work. Usually the person doing the interview has an article to publish and a deadline to meet, and the person being interviewed typically has something to say. An interview is like a dance, and when both partners are of equal skill, the dance may be graceful. Things don’t always work out that way. Sometimes, one partner may be a better dancer than the other. In some cases it is up to the person performing the interview to coax answers out of an unwilling or nervous subject. Other times, it may fall upon the person being interviewed to take charge and steer the conversation in a way that benefits them.
But what happens when one of the parties doesn’t want to participate at all? Take Gregg Poppovich, for example. Poppovich, long time coach of the San Antonio Spurs, is well known for his curt answers. He doesn’t agree with the NBA’s policy that requires him to answer questions before, during, and after games, and he protests this policy by being rude to unfortunate reporters tasked with asking him questions.
There’s nothing worse than trying to interview someone who doesn’t want to be interviewed.
Trust me, I know first hand.
On January 10th, 1997, a punk band named Boba Fett Youth played a show in Spokane, Washington. While I would never claim to have been a “punk rocker,” I was certainly familiar with (and a fan of) punk music. In the late 1980s and early 1990s I was listening to the Misfits, Minor Threat, the Sex Pistols, the Ramones, and the Dead Kennedys. In the mid-90s, I followed the next wave of punk bands such as Green Day, Rancid, NOFX, the Offspring, and Social Distortion during punk’s resurgence. I never had a mohawk or stuck a safety pin through my nose, but I certainly listened to the music.
I was looking forward to talking to the band because of their ties with Star Wars. The band’s CD (which I bought) had Yoda on the cover. I also got (bought?) a bumper sticker, which you can see stuck to the side of my old computer case (surrounded by smaller, random Star Wars stickers).
I watched the band perform and they were great in that terrible, punk rock way. They even played a version of the Star Wars theme that would have made John Williams cry. When their performance ended, I sat down to do a quick interview with the guys, and that’s when things went to hell.
Actually, I shouldn’t say that. I spent several minutes talking to all the members of the band except the lead singer, and things went great. We talked about the Vegas punk scene, how the tour was going, the fact that the guys ran their own ‘zine, and how they thought the show went. THEN the lead singer joined us, and THAT’S when things went to hell.
With each question I asked I got a snarky, smart-assed response in return. After two or three responses, I realized that he was doing a second-rate Johnny Rotten impersonation.
I tried to change the tone by asking some lighter, Star Wars related questions like how many Ewoks could you fit on a “ska bus” (one of the band’s songs), but it didn’t help. I don’t recall exactly what was said next, but at some point he insulted me and I committed the cardinal journalism sin and insulted him back. When he asked me if I was familiar with the band’s song “This 150lb Vegetarian Is Going To Kick Your Ass,” I said “this 250lb reporter would like to see you try it.” I’m pretty sure he told me where to go and I told him where he could stick his ska bus, and that was the end of that.
As I mentioned at the beginning, interviews normally go well because both sides have a vested interest in pulling it off. In this case, neither side was. In-Tune Magazine catered to the Spokane music scene; I had very little to gain from focusing on an out-of-town band, and I wasn’t worried about returning to the office without a story since I knew both the editor and the owner of the magazine (me, and me) pretty well and the office was my bedroom. Likewise, Boba Fett Youth had little to gain from appearing in my small town news rag. The only thing they lost was me as a fan, and it wouldn’t be very punk to care about that.
Two decades later, I look back and laugh at the incident. If the same thing happened today, I would definitely stay and complete the whole interview. The pen is mightier than an amplified guitar, after all. When bands are on stage with amplifiers and microphones, they control the room. When the show ends and the lights go dim, it is the writer who gets the last word — even if it comes twenty years later.
AMC is showing all the Friday the 13th movies today. I don’t think I’ll ever watch a Friday the 13th movie without thinking about Jeff Martin.
Jeff and I met in 7th grade, which means we had only been friends for a couple of months when he invited me to his Halloween party. I’m not 100% positive, but I think that was the first time I went to his house.
It was a costume party, and I arrived wearing a werewolf mask with a flannel shirt and blue jeans. One good thing about being a werewolf is you can wear pretty much anything with a werewolf mask. Jeff wore the only costume I remember him ever owning: a black Grim Reaper robe with a skull mask that came with red flashing eyes.
I was the only person at the party not from Jeff’s neighborhood. The rest of the dozen or so kids had grown up together on the same block. There were five or six elementary schools in my town but only one middle school, and 7th grade was the year strong cliques formed. By the following Halloween, the kids at that party had gone on to become cheerleaders, football players, popular kids, nerds, and geeks. Over the next few years I became friends with a few of them and most of them never spoke to me again. But that year, at that party, we were all there together having fun — karate masters, monks, cheerleaders, punk rockers, devils, a werewolf, and the Grim Reaper.
The Martins had a hot tub in their den and had dropped a block of dry ice in the water for the party. It bubbled and smoked all night long and was one of the coolest things I had ever seen. In the living room, a volleyball net had been set up and kids — mostly the girls, if I remember — played volleyball using balloons.
When it was time to calm down, the lights were lowered, pillows were tossed on the floor, and one of the Friday the 13th movies was put on. In sixth grade I saw Nightmare on Elm Street at Jason Lee’s house and Children of the Corn at Andy Green’s house, so this was the third scary movie I had ever seen and it scared me to death. I remember some of the kids went outside during the film to play hide and seek outside in the dark and I didn’t want to go.
Morgan is a year younger than I was when I went to that Halloween party; Mason is two years older. It’s weird to think they are making lifelong memories now, when to me it seems like that Halloween party happened last month.
Friday the 13th: Part VII just ended and Part VIII is about to begin. Happy pre-Halloween!
We’ve spent our past two Creative Nonfiction class periods interviewing fellow classmates.
I’ve interviewed a lot of people over the past 25 years. I cut my teeth doing interviews for my college newspaper, before doing intern stints with both the El Reno Light and the El Reno Tribune. Most of those interviews went horrible. Typically I showed up with a set list of questions (that I refused to deviate from), asked them, and left.
The first really good interview I did was for the El Reno Tribune. The city was relocating a historical home, and the newspaper asked me to cover the story. One of the first people I ran into was a woman dressed in historical clothing. She turned out to be from the historical society, and knew all about the house. After talking with her for quite some time, I tailed one of the construction workers and asked a million questions about the process of moving a house. Both people were more than willing to talk to me, and the story turned out great. I wish I still had a copy of it.
In the late 90s, when Susan and I were living in Spokane and working on In-Tune Magazine, we interviewed lots of bands. The best interviews were the ones where I arrived with no agenda in mind. I met Cotton Mouth at a local recording studio the day they received the first rough mix of their album on CD. We hopped into one of the guys’ cars and I spent the next hour with them as they listened to the album for the first time, discussing each track. I interviewed the (then) newest members of L.A. Guns for two hours the day they arrived two hours early for a sound check. I interviewed Life of Agony on their tour bus after they had been dropped from their label and was paying for a cross country tour out of their own pockets.
If you want a terrible interview, start asking your subject things they’ve been asked hundreds or thousands of times before. Asking bands that have been around for decades about how they got started is just asking for the interviewee to check out mentally. If you really want an interesting interview, find out what they want to talk about. I visited a musician’s home one time for an interview. When I arrived, he was working on a painting. I asked a question about his new album, and got almost nothing in return. I asked another question; that one fell flat, too. Finally, I asked him about his painting. We spent the next two hours digging around in his garage, looking at old paintings he had done. It ended up being a way better interview than what I had planned.
I have a few techniques I use when I’m interviewing people. Sometimes, I pretend like they are the most interesting person in the world. I don’t mean that in a sarcastic or demeaning way at all. If you can make people feel important, they will open up to you. Another technique I sometimes use is I mentally pretend like I would like to get a job doing the same thing my interviewee does. Oh, so you own a restaurant? How could I do that? Then of course there are the tried and true things that I mentioned above — do your research before hand, and don’t be afraid to go where your subject wants to go. If Eddie Van Halen wants to talk about cars, talk about cars.
I’ve had a couple of interviews go spectacularly terrible. I’ll write about one of those tomorrow.
My dad recently got rid of the shed in his backyard. It was uncharacteristically non-emotional for me. I have nostalgic connections with many things from my childhood, but apparently they do not extend to thirty-year-old wooden storage buildings.
If you ever want to watch human ingenuity at its finest, find something seemingly impossible to move and then advertise it for free on Craigslist. My friend did this once after purchasing a home that “came with” a less-than-new pool table in the basement. After scratching his head for a week, he advertised the pool table for free on Craigslist with that tagline that should make anyone suspicious — “as is, where is.” Two hours later a couple of guys showed up with a saw, a pickup truck, and a plan.
My dad’s shed was 16′ long, 10′ wide, 9′ tall, and had to be removed through a gate that was 8′ wide. It hadn’t been used in years. I got everything I wanted out of the shed in the early 90s when I first moved out, and went back a second time “just to make sure” there wasn’t anything left I wanted. There wasn’t. When all the stuff moved out, spiders, wasps, and God knows what else moved in. One of the shed’s doors had rotted and fallen off. My dad had considered paying someone to break it down and haul it off. Instead, he advertised it “as is, where is” on Craigslist, and within a day or two, some guys showed up with some saws, a pickup truck, and a plan.
It must have taken them several trips to remove the shed. To get it out through the gate (it was originally assembled on site), they had to disassemble a large puzzle that wasn’t meant to come apart. Based on the carnage they left behind, they didn’t need all the pieces. When Susan and I went over to visit my dad last weekend, we found bits of wood with old nails strewn across his yard, along with all the stuff that had remained inside the shed. It was stuff that each of us had put in the shed for one reason or another and never claimed. The people who took the shed didn’t want it either, apparently.
This was my first computer printer, a VIC-1525 that connected to my Commodore 64. There are few things worth less in the retrocomputing hobby than old dot matrix printers. The VIC-1525 wasn’t a great printer when it was new. The tractor feed mechanism was an equal opportunity offender and jammed as much paper going in as it did coming out. Years ago I acquired this same model of printer still in its original box complete with a $249.99 sticker on the side. I couldn’t give it away for free at a computer/gaming convention. If no one would take one in mint condition for free, you can imagine what the one pictured above (wasp nest and all) is worth.
The VIC-1525 was a 7-pin printer that lacked receding letters, and although its idea of “black” was “light gray,” I certainly used the snot out of mine. I printed volumes of game documentation, BBS log files, and hacking information, which I punched holes in using an old, dull three-hole punch and stored in three-ring binders for decades. All of the printouts have since been scanned in and archived. Of course.
(Spoiler: those passwords are from 1986 and no longer work.)
Almost nothing left where the shed had been brought back any memories, but I did find a couple of plastic cups that made me smile.
During the 1990s, Mazzio’s Pizza and Ken’s Pizza (both owned by the same parent company) sold refillable cups. After purchasing the cup for 99 cents, you could refill it for an entire year. The one from Mazzio’s on the left is a “Free Fill” (a play on refill) cup. Whenever I fill my “to go” cup one last time before leaving a restaurant I call that a “free fill.” I must have stolen that term from these cups but forgot. The cup on the right was a Fill-It-Up cup from Ken’s that worked the same way.
The only catch with these cups was that they were “only” good for a single calendar year (a year’s worth of soda for 99 cents seems like a fizzy good deal today). At the end of the year, the old cups were no longer honored and you had to buy a new one. If you ever wondered what happened to all those leftover cups that could no longer be sold, now you know — they went to my house. I literally owned hundreds and hundreds of those cups, so many that I don’t think I washed a single cup for several years. When you own an entire case full of plastic cups, they become disposable.
The cups, the printer, my old aquarium stand, the wood with nails still in it and the rest of the shed’s rotten guts are sitting on my dad’s trailer, waiting to be put in a pile next weekend for his neighborhood’s big trash pickup.
Facebook has a feature called “On This Day” that shows you posts you made this date in previous years. Over the weekend, Facebook reminded me that I got a new job on this day back in 2009… and 2010, 2014, and 2015.
And now, 2016.
October 1st is the first day of the government’s fiscal year. That’s when our budget is approved (except in 2013 when Susan and I were on furlough). Because of this, that’s when a lot of federal jobs open up.
In 2009, I left Lockheed Martin and became a federal employee, taking a job with security. One year later, my old department hired me back and I worked as an enterprise administrator with one foot still in security. In 2014 I moved to a different security department, and last year, I decided to try my hand in the communication department. Each of these jobs have had their ups and downs, and some have been better than others.
That being said, I am very excited about my new position for several reasons. I’ll be working in Client Planning and Design — CP&D for short. Not only are they working on some interesting projects, but I know several of the guys in that department and I am greatly looking forward to working alongside them.
For the first day of work of my new job I shaved and put on a dress shirt and tie — kind of ridiculous since I’ll be working from home and the only other person here is Mick Rib, but it’s the thought that counts. A new leaf has been turned!