Wednesday, April 23, 2014

The Dance Partner I Denied

I had a dream last night about my junior year homecoming. It brought up a memory I long repressed.

Those of you that know me, know that I'm a clumsy guy. I think a major reason is my six toes. Most shoe toe boxes are not built to contain number six. Therefore, my sixth toe is usually rubbed numb and my toe nails are always busted up.

Part of my balance issue is not actually knowing where that edge of my foot is. This is why I've also broken toe number six about 30 times and part of the reason why I rarely wear dress shoes.

I realized early that this was a great hindrance to dancing. I went to D.A.R.E. dances as a way to mingle and hopefully make out with girls. Problem was, when I attempted the courting process and would ask them to slow dance, I would step all over their toes. This turned into an ultra-awareness of where my feet were around other people.

So, when I slow dance with ladies, it becomes this awkward zombie shamble back and forth as I attempt to actually move as little as possible so that I don't break those pretty little toes they've shoved into already painful heels.

So back to junior year. I never really went to dances. Never really went to football games or rallies or parades. I never really bought into the high-school lifestyle. I didn't care. I had my group of friends and I was more than happy to drive around St. Charles, sipping milk shakes, and soaking into the hormonal sexual urges that none of us awkward kids ever acted on.

When a dance was happening, I went to haunted houses or movies. The dance didn't even register on my calendar.

Junior year a girl named Autumn in my English class caught up with me while I was walking out of the building for the day and sheepishly asked if I would be her date.

I didn't have a canned response for this. I figured since I wasn't planning on asking anyone, I was free and clear. I started sweating and sort of choked out a, "I don't really go to dances. I don't think I can be your date."

She looked really disappointed. Being a guy on the asking end of things, I know how the sting of rejection feels.

I remember walking around my neighborhood later that week. I often would grab my Walkman, blast one of my mixed tapes, and walk around for a few hours on nicer nights. I ran into a group of girls I didn't know. They stopped me and said, "Are you the guy Autumn asked to homecoming?" I replied yes and just kept walking.

I guess there's some deep seated guilt for that moment. I wish I would've invited her to do whatever activity I was going to do besides the dance, or sucked it up and gone to the dance, or at least when I saw those girls, ask if Autumn was around so I could apologize.

I must be out of my mind, reminiscing about teenage guilt.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

The Hero, the Love Interest, the Strong Guy

When I was younger, I used to spend full summers babysitting my brothers and playing a ton of Playstation 1. There were probably 3 summers filled with gaming in my overly hot room in St. Chuck, Nick and Brett perched on the edge of my bed watching, reading comic books.

Basically, those Sears spreads that shows kids spread out, playing with all of their stuff... yeah, we lived that.

Every weekend, I either rode my bike over to my cousin Ryan's house or got picked up by Aunt Dee to go hang out with Jake all weekend. 

Eventually Ryan started working at Crown Candy and I saw much less of him, but Jake, being a year younger than us, was always ready to hangout. We biked around the greater Florissant area from Friday night to Sunday morning. 

Back to the games, during this time certain games would sometimes allow you to rename characters if you wanted to. Generally there were 3 main characters, the hero, a girl, and a strong guy to rename. 

I always renamed them. The hero was obviously always me. The girl, who often was the hero's love interest, was named after my grade school crush, Jamie. And the strong, third character, was always named after Jake. 

It just made sense. My hormones had me obsessing over Jamie, my best buddy at the time was Jake, and I'm always the hero in my play. Why wouldn't I name them this way?

Jake unfortunately passed away in 2000. (I was actually playing a Playstation game called Syphon Filter 2 when I found out.) I didn't really know how to process things then. I had a lot of death in my life when I was younger. It seemed to be a curse for a while. But none of them had quite been as cutting as Jake. There was an entire portion of my life that was just sort of gone. 

I've mentioned before that I'm recollecting many of my Playstation 1 games now. One of my most sought after ones is Legend of Legaia, a game not many people I know played. 

Over Christmas, I found it. After searching for 4 years, I finally found Legend of Legaia. 

Jamie, Me, and Jake from left to right.

I haven't had time to play it until recently, but last week I found myself sitting in a totally empty house. I popped it in and loaded up an old memory card save I had from probably 15 years ago. 

And there I was, staring at Dan, Jamie, and Jake. A memory living on this little plastic card for 15 years. It was weird. I wanted so much to turn to someone and say, "Do you believe that?" But no one except Jake would've understood. 

Thursday, April 10, 2014

How We Split Our Time

I've probably sounded whiny lately about how much time I feel is wasted. I tend to dwell on this stuff when Sallie and I have been especially busy. And we have been jam packed since late February and will continue to be until late April.

I started thinking about this more when I read an article this week about the Swedish government testing out a 6 hour workday. (They already have a limit at 7 hours) They believe people will be more efficient and productive. I agree.

I'm great at my job. I exceed deadlines, nail my stats, win awards. But if I'm being honest, they probably only get about 5 hours of work out of me. The rest of the day is spent in meetings that go no where or staring out the window.

I broke down how many hours on average I spent on different things per week. (This was also an excuse for me to make a pie chart, which I haven't done since college when someone told me I would need to know how to do it for the business world.)

I'm sure this graph is at least close to most people.

I assumed that you work 8 hours, not including the 30 - 60 minutes wasted on lunch. I assumed that you spend at least an hour a day traveling, an hour eating 3 meals at 20 minutes a piece, 30 minutes showering and getting dressed, and an hour of general chores like picking things up, cooking food, etc a day. Basically, I went really conservative on these times. We all probably spend more time doing this stuff.

The amount of free time we as people have is not enough. If you have this ideal schedule, you're looking at 35 hours of free time a week. That's crazy. Only 20% of your time is actually yours.

I have many hobbies that I don't get to spend enough time on. I write, brew, play video games, and read. Things that I enjoy like guitar and drawing get pushed to the background, just because there's not enough time.

This isn't even including social interaction or those days where my brain is tired and I just need to stare at Netflix for a few hours.

Basically, if we go by the philosophy that you have to spend 10,000 hours on something to master it, it would take me almost 5.4 years to reach that goal, only if I spent all 35 hours of my free time on it every week.

This is the reason I'm not a master brewer, I'm not a published author, or whatever you become after mastering video games. When I start dedicating a lot of my free time toward one of these arts, I feel bad that I'm not spending enough time on the other ones.

This would also require I ignore my wife and friends. I like going out and having a beer. I like my wife pretty good. We need social interaction.

So, how do people do it? Do they just quit their jobs and mooch off of people until they make money with their art? Are these the people from my generation that live in their parents' basement voluntarily?

Monday, April 7, 2014

Generation Y

It's hard in this economy to not see a lot of misguided or simplified explanations for why things are the way they are.

My generation gets a ton of grief. The "Millennials" (which is a terrible name) are often described as entitled, lazy, and perfectly happy to live in their parent's houses. 

There was Time magazine's delicious "The Me Me Me Generation". And this Slate article that describes a sort of depression my generation faces where we are scared of adulthood.

And this sort of neck beard having, Mac Book loving, Star Bucks sitting persona has become my generations stereotype. We'd rather sit around, browsing the internet from our parent's basement, than get a job and our own plot of land in the suburbs. 

This is what the geniuses of this GOP campaign think of my generation. A semi-tight stripped sailor shirt, thick Weezer glasses, coming from this whining dude who just cares about his friends. And don't get me wrong, the Democrats have just as ridiculous ideas of what people my age are, they just are a little better at making us believe they are on our side.

More recently, there has been more about how maybe my generation isn't actually lazy, maybe we're sort of screwed by the system that's been in place for over 60 years.

We were told to go to college and we would magically start making $50,000 a year. No one told us that we would also be paying $650 a month in student loan payments. No one told us there was a housing bubble that was about to burst because a small group of really greedy people were cooking the books. And more times than not, my friends are unemployed, living at home, and generally hating life.

An Al Jazeera columnist, Sarah Kendzior from St. Louis, was one of the first people I saw that called out the devaluation of people. She argues that the rules of the old economy do not apply to people under 35. And god help you if you're a single woman, college graduate.

So what do we do? Is it even possible to change the system when even our Supreme Court  rules that money is equal to speech?

Probably not. It's a crazy world where we will continue to eat up resources until we find cheaper resources. Striping us of any stability. And eventually the system is going to collapse.  We'll continue to outsource jobs to cheaper countries and expect American workers to do the jobs that only years before several people did.

I'm terrified of the future. People constantly talk me from the ledge of, "I wish I didn't buy a house" saying it's a good investment. It is only a good investment if I actually make money on my house and if I have a job with which to pay for that house. And those dark clouds heading this way say that maybe that's not a likely scenario in 5-10 years.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Juror 239

I had to report for jury duty this week. It's one of the draw backs of living in the city. There are more trials, and less of a pool to pick from. This is the second time in about 3 years I've had to report.

Sallie and I have been incredibly busy lately. More so than normal. Our calendar often has a morning appointment and a night appointment, even on weekdays. So I really was hoping to get cut early, take a nice long walk home, and get some time to myself.

That was not to be.

I arrived around 7:45 am, 15 minutes before you are supposed to report. I filed in, waited in 4-5 lines, all different check-ins, looking into the hundreds of faces of people just as irritated as me that they were there.

The jury assembly room is a long, shotgun style room, with four old tube TVs that don't get great reception. 400-500 people stand in four lines to finally get the privilege of sitting down. Essentially, everyone looks like this:

There were a lot more people than the last time I was there. My hopes were high that the best case scenario would happen and I wouldn't be selected at all and released by 10 am.

Story luck kicked in full gear and out of the several hundred people in the juror assembly room, my number was called first. As I approach the front counter, I hear someone utter that there will be 78 jury candidates. This is an issue. This means this is a huge case. This also means, there will be no one going home early, and there's a chance that I will be held a second day for further questioning.

We funnel across the street and to the fifth floor of the Civic Courthouse. Last time I served, there was a ton of waiting around at this point. We were sent to a second jury assembly room where I got some solid book reading done.

This time, we were in the courtroom within 30 minutes. And it's a huge courtroom. And being the first number called, I have to lead everyone in and take the lead seat in the jury box.

We're told quite blatantly that this is a murder trial with two defendants. My throat immediately goes to my stomach. We're assured that we are not sentencing. This is merely a guilty / not guilty trial and the state of Missouri will decide what to do next, but we're also told we'll have to look a lot of crime scene photos.

It was a surreal setup. These two young men were waiting to hear if they were guilty of a robbery that went wrong, yet the judge and lawyers were joking around, the candidates were joking around, the mood in the room was light. It just felt wrong. I felt like I was staring into the faces of two of the kids that I taught only 6 years ago.

The candidates were asked questions by all three of the lawyers, trying to weed out bad jurors. Sallie's newspaper career saved me again. I did recognize the faces because this murder was all over the Belleville News Democrat. I knew too many details, and when I revealed that, I was skipped in questioning the rest of the day.

This interview process is so weird. Candidates immediately jump into a "me vs you" mentality. They know as long as they look more crazy or opinionated than you do, they get to leave.

I had an old hippie tell a story about how he hates cops because one time he was chased around his bus by a guy with a butcher knife and the cops found pot on the hippy. So they arrested them both and put them in the same cell.

There was a girl that just kept raising her hand and saying, "I don't agree with that law." Eventually the lawyer asked her why she didn't and she obviously didn't have an answer and just broke down crying. They had a small meeting up by the judges stand, where the old judge handed her tissues and she sobbed for 10 minutes before finally taking her seat again and letting us proceed.

They couldn't let anyone go early, mostly because they didn't want people that just didn't want to be there to remember what the jurors that left said and try to mimic it.

I was worried a bit that I would still be chosen. Of the 78 candidates, around 10 didn't speak English as a first language, they were obviously eliminated. Another 10 or so had been victims of violent crimes, and 5 claimed to really just not trust cops. (All of which were white, nicely dressed men, which I found odd)

They kept us until our final recess at 4:25. They told us to come back at 4:50 for the final selection.

Everyone came shuffling out of the elevators at 4:50, hoping to be told to go home. Unfortunately, nothing was decided yet. We kept getting told, "A few more minutes." Phones were starting to vibrate as rides were outside waiting and employers were wondering if the night shift employees would show. But we kept getting told, "A few more minutes."

It was a small hall, no air flow, punctuated by a broken water fountain that seemed to be teasing me. Inside my head I'm screaming to let me out. There was even a brief moment where I would've volunteered to be a juror if they just let us go.

We waited. Waited. Waited. The door opened, and it was one of the lawyers who had time to go downstairs and fill his cup with water. He came back, and we waited some more. Finally at 5:30, we're called into the room for the final announcement.

I wasn't chosen, but you still can't leave until your juror number is called and you're handed your $12 pay stub. This is when the Me vs You Mentality turns into a Band of Brother mentality. Except for our 12 peers that had to march back into the courtroom, we 66 survived and escaped together. Since I was the first number called that morning, I was the last number called for the pay stub. I finally left the building and met a very hungry Sallie at 5:50.

That's the cost of doing your civic duty. I'm just glad this time, I still get paid by my company because there were a lot of waiters and hourly nurses that gave up their real pay for $1.20 an hour.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

I'm Marketable

I'm going to be in some SluCare marketing material. Here's the draft. It's sort of hilarious to be called "a runner" since I actually hate it so much. I sent a two page story and this is what Slu's marketing edited to.

Getting Back on Track:
One runner’s journey from injury through recovery

Dr. Adnan Cutuk practices orthopaedic sports medicine and shoulder surgery, but his practice isn’t limited to high school, college and professional athletes – many of his patients fall into another category. 
“The weekend warriors,” Cutuk said. “The people like me who love to play sports and are not necessarily competitive, but don’t want to give it up.” 
Dan Story is one of those people. Story, a runner, tripped during a jog in August 2011, breaking his leg and tearing three ligaments and his hamstring. 
Story’s injury was so severe, he was rushed to the emergency room. There, he was treated by Dr. Cutuk.
“Even when I was riding the morphine-induced state, Dr. Cutuk was able to explain everything to me in a way that made sense,” Story said. “He didn't lie to me. He told me it would be a long recovery, but that we would get me back to my former state.”
Story had two surgeries over the next two days to fix the bone and reattach most of the ligaments. He spent five days in the hospital. 
“Dr. Cutuk and his team took care of my health needs, but they were also conversational, and remembered details of my life,” Story said. “Anytime I had a question, I would call his nurse, Melody, and within mere hours I would have a call back and an answer to my question.”
His recovery was slow, but with physical therapy Story was able to get around on his own. Still, however, he was unable to run. 
So in April 2013, Story had another surgery to reattach the final ligaments and restore full function to his knee. Within weeks, he was walking again. 
Story continued to check in with Dr. Cutuk and Melody regularly. Last February, Story had his final appointment. Two weeks later, Story went on his first run since the injury. He now considers himself recovered.
“It was a bittersweet appointment when Dr. Cutuk told me it was the last time I needed to come into SLUCare,” Story said. “He told me good luck, shook my hand and said I would probably be able to ice skate by next winter.”

Monday, March 3, 2014

The Weekend That Wasn't to Be

Sal and I went to Columbia for True / False again this year.

We've been every year for five years now. It's a mini-tradition where we go to our college town and live like royalty with almost no cash. It's a cheap, long weekend before that desolate, no time off, period between March and September.

This year's planning started out rough. We should've known it from the start. The pass we normally get allows us to see unlimited films from Thursday-Sunday. They raised the price this year and it would be over $350 for Sallie and I to go.

For what is supposed to be our "cheap" trip of the year, $350 is getting into hotel for 5 days somewhere else territory.

So we got the Simple passes which allows you to see 10 films from Friday to Sunday.

We went up Thursday night and stayed with some family, who made us a bomb-tastic Italian seafood dish and fed us some delicious bourbon. We went to bed around midnight, knowing that we potentially had 5 films on Friday. (One of the drawbacks of the Simple Pass, you have to cram more into less time)

As we woke up, our phones were blowing up with messages that a deadly blizzard was heading our way. We heard exaggerations of six feet of snow, and ice, and dogs and cats living together. The weather channel was changing their prediction of how much and when every hour. Weather does not easily scare us, so we brushed it off but kept it in the back of our mind.

We thought, if nothing else, we could leave early Sunday morning and beat the storm, which was supposed to arrive around noon on Sunday.

We saw 3 and a half films on Friday, the best of which being a film called 20,000 Days on Earth. We loved the film, but it's so filled with thoughts and emotions that we need to see it again to try and unpack it further.

Knowing our Saturday schedule was light, we planned on hitting our favorite Columbia spots then. So on Friday, we just grabbed appetizers at a few places in between films.

The last film was not as advertised and we left a little early, hoping to catch a good night sleep at the hotel.

... until 3:45 am where I had the most violent food poisoning I've had in years. Not to go into too many details, I didn't know which end things were going to come out of. The answer is, both ends.

I went back to bed around 4:15, feeling physically exhausted from my heroics.

We woke up around 7:30 am. I checked our movie schedule as Sal checked the weather. The storm of the century was due to hit around 8 pm on Saturday night instead of Sunday afternoon.

We decided to see the first two films of the day, eat a quick lunch at Flatbranch, and beat the storm.

One of the films, The Overnighters, was interesting. It was about a preacher who was housing a bunch of homeless people in his church. It was interesting because it was one of those documentaries where Sal sided with the town that didn't like it and I sided with the preacher. (Until the end that is) There were great points on both sides of the story and the film did a great job of not showing a bias toward either.

Our second film was not very good. We left about 45 minutes into it and got on the road.

Our windshield was freezing a little on the way home, but generally, the weather was underwhelming. We probably could've stayed at least for our last film on Saturday.

We did find out some people got stuck in Warrenton the next day when 70 was shut down. So I suppose we made the right choice, but who would've thought our little excursion to Columbia would be cut short and yet we would make it through an entire vacation in Minnesota in the dead of winter.