Friday, February 12, 2016

On the Hunt for a Wild Job

Yesterday I found that my job was being eliminated. I literally am being laid off by anonymous versions of the Bob's from Office Space.

It's not the first time I've been laid off. With the way robots and outsourcing are going, probably not going to be the last.

The last time I was laid off was in 2009, shortly after the economy tanked. Then, things felt dire. The first feeling was fear. Sal and I had barely made any adult money, our car was on it's way out, student loan bills started coming in, and we had to move back across the country to stay in my mom's basement.

This time it's a little less dire. I'm getting a severance package and will have the luxury of looking for something that I really want to do while having adult job experience.

I guess the main difference is last time I felt fear, this time I feel anger.

We were all cut by an anonymous team of people on an "Efficiency Team." We don't know who is going to replace us yet, but signs point to our jobs being outsourced.

My anger stems from the overtime hours and extra work I put in desperately trying to make our knowledge base better for the phone agents. A position I previously held and knew how tough it could be. And I felt like our team was making huge strides despite budgets and red tape consistently working against us.

And strangely there are a lot of parallels to when you're grieving for a lost loved one. My first thought was how little the world feels as upset as I do. Sure, friends and family care greatly about my well being and I already have people with their ear to the ground for other jobs, but no one is upset in the same way. I want someone to commiserate with. I guess this is the downfall of having a team spread out across the country. We can't go out for a beer and rip the company a new one.

I'm angry every time I see another email saying how strong the company financials are and the upbeat tone the "Efficiency Team" emails are. They're just doing us all favors right guys? Making this a better place! Right?

I'm angry because I thought Sal and I were done with this. I'm angry because I was really happy and thought that I had a career instead of a job.

I want this upbeat acoustic song playing from my computer speakers to take a dark turn. No one should be this happy.

You sort of want to be able to look at the guy next to you and say, "Do you believe this?"

But no one around me (other than my peers) is feeling that. The world goes on, friends have jobs, and I know I'm about to again start my least favorite things in the entire world, job hunting.

But like I said, this time is different. We are in a better place. We have a much stronger support network. So I'm not going to hit the panic button yet. Instead, I'm going to have a beer tonight, and Monday I'm going to start looking for a job I love and am proud of all over again.

I'd be lying if I said I slept like a baby last night and my last thought wasn't of another debt I'm not sure I'll be able to pay. But I'm just going to try my hardest to take it a day at a time and see where the chips fall.

Friday, January 29, 2016

My Overactive Imagination

I've always had an overactive imagination.

I spent large amounts of my childhood in our basement setting up wars with dozens of action figures, having Royal Rumble matches between Ninja Turtles and G.I.Joes, and draw battleships and superheroes for hours and hours and hours.

Sometimes my overactive imagination would cause me (and sometimes still does) to exaggerate things to the point of believing them.

Case in point, in 1993 there was a WWF event where on an aircraft carrier, on the Monday after 4th of July, where every wrestler tried to body slam the Japanese (actually Samoan) sumo wrestler, Yokozuna. No one had even knocked Yokozuna off his feet yet, let alone body slam him. (I'm not joking, watch the video below)

After Lex Lugar managed to be the first person ever to body slam Yokozuna, Lugar got a huge American push in the wrestling world the size of which we hadn't seen since 1980's Hulk Hogan.

So he started traveling the country in the "Lex Express." The most patriotic tour bus ever created.

Every week on the wrestling show, they would show where the Lex Express was and show Lugar high-fiving American kids in each city. I dreamed to seeing the bus and getting to meet Lugar.

It was maybe a few months into his American tour when I saw an awesome silver tour bus drive by on the local highway, 367. I started connecting dots thinking, "Well the bus sort of looked like it." Which turned into, "WWF comes to St. Louis a lot, that was probably his bus." By the time I got home I had convinced myself that it was the Lex Express and went home to report this to my dad.

I believed this to be true until probably 10 years ago when I started thinking about it and realized there was never a reason why Lex Lugar would have to drive down 367 for any reason ever. And this childhood memory was vastly changed 20 years later. 

I had adults tell me I would grow out of my imagination. I wish I could remember who told me that because I'd love to show them that I still have the imagination of an 8 year old. 

The past two months I've been re-reading Harry Potter as I fall asleep. This obviously puts thoughts of witches and wizards and trolls and goblins in my brain. Guess what? 90% of the time I have a vivid dream of Harry and I on Auror Adventures. I wake up trying to think of who's child I can borrow so that I have a reason to go to the Harry Potter theme park at Universal Studios. 

So I'm at the part in the story where Hagrid is trying to recruit the giants and it woke this exaggeration memory deep inside me.

My class was going to take a field trip to see the Alton giant statue and home. 

My teacher said, "We're going to have lunch at the feet of the statue." 

Now at this point, my only introduction to giants was Paul Bunyan. Every Paul Bunyan book showed him and his ox towering above forests and crushing trees as they walked. That is what I imagined all giants were like.

So mind kicked into high gear. I pictured this nice park in a small town center, bright green trees all around, and a 150 foot statue that we would literally be able to climb onto the feet of and have lunch. 

Boy was I disappointed when I could barely see the 9ft tall statue over some classmates heads. 

Imaginations are fun.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

The Dating Pool

I went to both public and Catholic school in my childhood, and a recent podcast I listened to had me thinking about the difference between dating in both.

I remember having an intense crush on a blond girl name Jaime in my public school from third grade through sixth. We flirted a lot. Played footsies. But she intimidated me. She was incredibly smart and had these piercing blue eyes. And I was a dumb 8 year old that had no idea how to deal with these feelings I was having.

She's that girl if I were in a coming of age movie, my voice over in the credits would be, "Jaime and I shared the most important year of my childhood together. We eventually grew up, went to different schools, and I lost touch with her. (Cut to a video of us throwing a baseball or rough housing as the sun sets on another summer day) I think about her often. I hope she too sometimes look back at those formative years and thinks about me as fondly as I do her."

I remember a dozen innocent crushes in grade school. Girls liked me a lot. We innocently hung out and my name was circled in hearts on more Trapper Keepers than I can count. But that's about all it was. Maybe we would get a snow cone together. Maybe we would hang out alone. But there was never any romance in those innocent days.

In 7th grade I moved to Catholic school. Since I played sports for St. Jerome since I was 5 I had contacts. I started hanging out more with those guys so I could show up at school with friends. This also meant that there was a completely new dating pool with which to pick from.

My first kiss came from a blond haired Catholic girl named Shelly at the pool the summer before seventh grade. She brushed my long Kurt Cobain hair behind my ear and laid that peck right on my lips.

I remember the rush of hormones that signaled to my body that I had to do something immediately. And that thing I did was to do a flip off the diving board and swim underwater across the pool.

No, this action didn't make a lot of sense, but neither do pre-teen hormones.

And then we had the classic, "wanna be my girlfriend" talk. And that first romance lasted roughly three weeks, for five days a week, at the pool and then that one time where I rode my bike past her house and she came out and we talked.

Then she felt like she just couldn't be held down with a serious relationship and things were over before Independence Day.

By the time school started, I had dated Tricia, Shelly's best friend, and Nora, the school outcast I later found out was a witch.

I asked Tricia to be my girlfriend over the phone and then we were both too nervous to talk in person. Like literally, we never talked in person. Technically I'm still dating her because we never talked to break up. That relationship is my longest at 20 years.

And Nora... well, I don't know what went wrong there. The second week of school one of the girls in class said Nora wanted to break up, I said OK, and that was that.

The thing I found out about Catholic schools are the dating pools are all very shallow. Since there were only 22 people in my grade, I had already dated roughly half of the total girls.

Since the Catholic girls were used to this though, they were surprisingly great at pushing the jealously down. In fact, best friends of girls I broke up with would initiate a relationship with me only days later.

Also, since the dating pool was so shallow, you ended up re-dating some girls. And honestly, I think part of the reputation Catholic school girls have comes from the fact that you almost never start a new relationship. It's always a continuation of one you've had before. Which means, you feel more comfortable to... well... run the bases I guess?

Then in high-school I moved to a brand new public school with 500 people in my class. That pool got deep, quickly.

It was great for dating especially when you were someone like me that moved between the different tribes.

The first girl I dated in high-school, Casey, was great. She was funny, had an awesome family, and always had activities she wanted to do whether that was hiking, going to the mall, playing a game, etc.

So Valentine's day my Sophomore year, I bought her a carnation from the lunchroom booster table. She took it, said thanks, and went home.

She dumped me the next day with a speech about how she wanted to do it the day before, but then I had that flower and it was weird.

  1. Who dumps people on Valentine's Day even if it is a dumb holiday?
  2. Haven't touched a carnation since because they are obviously flowers from Satan. 

But, I then moved to the punk/goth group and hung out with girls there.

And then moved to the average all around group eventually meeting my next girlfriend, Rebecca, who was sort of a nice preppy middle class blond girl. (After typing this out, I realized that my Alicia Silverstone crush was not an accident, I was really into blonde girls for the longest time.)

And when Rebecca and I broke up, I very briefly dated a brunette cheerleader named Kristin (who ended up getting prego the next year) and then fell head over heels in love with multiple of my best friends until ultimately I went off to college where my dating pool went from 500, to 5000.

Basically what I'm saying is it's much easier to deal with dating and breakups when there are places to hide after a breakup to get some space. And it's more exciting having a complete blank slate. I dated several women that no one in my immediate friend group knew.

Eventually though, that pool turns into an ocean when you enter adulthood.

My adult dating friends all report that Tinder and OK Cupid allow them to date 5-10 people in a month and never have to see them again if things go south. It sounds both invigorating and exhausting. They have the same conversation over and over again about their schooling, job, etc. My guy friends talk about having a dating budget set up because three dates a week can add up to $200 sometimes. Sometimes the date works out, most the time it ends at drinks. No thank you.

Luckily for me, I found my person in college before the pool became an ocean.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

On David Bowie and the Rams

It's been a real weird week. Maybe it's mostly because I'm on my third day of getting garbage sleep. Maybe it's because it finally is gray and overcast like winter should be. Maybe it's the stress of coming back from the holidays. This week has really messed me up with things I cannot control.

I woke up Monday to the news that David Bowie died.

I love his music, but I love what Bowie made cool more. He made it OK to be weird. He made it OK to challenge what was normal and to make people squirm. He told his sci-fi stories with some of the greatest music ever written. And from all the musical personalities from the 60s and 70s, Bowie seemed to have the least inflated ego.

I remember the first time I heard David Bowie. It was for an Apollo 13 trailer. I remember seeing the rocket take off in the trailer and the chorus of Space Oddity swelled, "This is ground control to Major Tom, you've really made the grade and the papers want to know whose shirts you wear..."

I remember being incredibly affected by a commercial and I remember that hook haunting me for days.

It was almost a decade later when David Bowie came into my life again. I was working at a restaurant and one of the prep cooks made a mixed CD. I wandered back to refill some of the veggies up front and Life on Mars was blaring. I stopped dead in my tracks and looked at the prep cook and demanded to know who it was.

The moment I got off my shift, I walked to the used CD store down the street and purchased 5 Bowie albums.

I guess the thing that hit me so hard about his death was that I just assumed Bowie existed. He wasn't a living being. He was a space man that existed outside of time and convention.

And I imagine when his Earthly body did cease to exist, he merely turned to star dust and floated to the ether.

And then there's the moving of the Rams. I'm not a huge American football fan, in fact I find it mostly boring. (Something I didn't realize until I saw a game live) I enjoy the community of football. I like going out and splitting a bucket of beers and having some appetizers.

I found out the Rams were leaving while at the Blues game last night. It felt like a gut punch.

It felt like a gut punch because this billionaire held my city hostage for years. We gave him tax breaks, we built him a stadium, we bent over backwards to build him another stadium, and offered more tax breaks.

He never appeared in the media. He never did community outreach. He never met with our leaders trying to come up with a compromise to keep the Rams in St. Louis.

Kroenke had made up his mind years ago. The millions he was making in St. Louis wasn't as much as the millions of millions he could make in LA.

He then filed a scathing report about St. Louis. About how terrible of a city we are. How terrible of a sports town. How no one wanted to support a team that hasn't had a winning season in a decade. A team that had threatened to leave for years. And even though the merchandise sales, the ticket sales, the TV ratings, the Wall Street Journal all pointed to the contradiction, he filed this report.

And even though Kroenke reportedly pissed off many of the NFL's owners by skirting NFL rules about relocation and owning more than one sports franchise, they saw slightly more money on a table and they went ahead and approved this billionaire who was kicking his feet, whining, to move his team and get his way.

And the Kroenke had a press conference talking about how this is partially to help those less fortunate people in Inglewood. How he is going to revitalize a dead part of LA.

Two of the reasons he used for why he needed to move to St. Louis.

The Rams brought some people downtown. They brought money from Chicago and Kansas City into our city. The players themselves were fantastic, always doing whatever charity they could. Despite many people being angry about it, they took a very public stand during the Ferguson protests. The Rams employed a few hundred passionate St. Louisians.

St. Louis loses a lot in the short term.

The entirety of Scottrade Center last night started chanting "Kroenke sucks" as soon as the Post Dispatch email blast went out.

And as if on queue, Ryan Reeves took on the entire Devil's line and just started fighting people and winning. The stadium needed that release. We've had this cloud over our heads for five years now and together last night, we started the grieving process together.

There's already talks about the Raiders or Jaguars moving to St. Louis. There's talk about diverting those Rams tax breaks to building a MLS stadium or aquarium. I guess the only thing to say is the future is unwritten and despite the heartbreak and unfairness of everything, it's a little exciting to know there are possibilities in the future.

Monday, January 4, 2016

That New Year's Resolution Post

Every year I hesitate to call these New Year's Resolutions. I treat them more like State of the Dan Addresses.

Last year I said I wanted to give money to various podcasts and websites that I use for free all the time. I wanted to give to twelve different places in twelve months. Well, I half completed that. Unfortunately other financial matters took precedent rather than Game Over Greggy getting $5 from me. I did give to several podcasts and Wikipedia. So that one is 50% and I'm going to try to carry it into this year.

In 2016, I've got a few things I want to accomplish.

  1. Every week, I need to spend at least two hours either writing, playing guitar, or brewing. These are three things I love that I haven't done since October. That's pathetic. And I'm not talking about, have only dabbled. I'm talking I haven't done them once. 
  2. And that brings me to number two. We were overbooked last year. Way overbooked. Sal and I would have a drink, think about someone we haven't seen in forever, and then make plans with them. Then we would look at the calendar and all of a sudden every weekend is booked up, some Thursdays are, and then holiday season would hit and every day but Monday is filled. We cannot survive that again.
  3. Third, and this will sound like a waste of time to most of you, I am going to play one game a week for at least an hour and then write about it in my very stale sister blog, Nostalgia Gamer
  4. I haven't decided if I'm going to do this yet, but I like the idea. This American Life this week talked about Internet trolls. I see them all the time. Comment sections of the newspaper, comments section of Facebook, Reddit, Twitter... just trolls trolls trolls. I can't handle the negativity. So I thought it would be nice if once a week I also wrote a nice little note to an author I like, person that did something awesome, etc. Just to put a little positivity back into the world. 
Like the actual State of the Union, I'll probably only have about a 60% completion rate and you know what, that's not bad. 60% in life is pretty damn good. 

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Space Camp

I was shown this promotional video back in 1995 in my Young Astronauts club.

Yes, I was a full on nerd at a young age. I stayed willingly after school for my Young Astronauts club and I loved it.

The club was not funded by the school, so any sort of field trips or anything were funded by us. We didn't do many. I think we went to the Science Center in St. Louis once. 

Well in 6th grade, the teacher, Miss Sims, put the club on her shoulders and decided we would go to the Space Camp in Huntsville Alabama. 

My parents scraped together a few hundred dollars, I sold wrapping paper and candy door to door, and I handed over my envelope with cash to Miss Sims with a giant smile on my face. I was ready to become an astronaut.

I was ready for the underwater training. I couldn't wait to land a space shuttle. I was prepared for my moonwalk. This video had me hyped for Space Camp more than anything else. 

It came time to actually go, I crammed into my chaperonage's tan Ford Taurus with their daughter who was also a Young Astronaut, their son who was along for the ride, and another guy from the club that I don't remember anything about. 

I was extremely susceptible to car sickness as a kid, so this was a huge concern. Surprisingly, I felt great most the car ride. That is, until we stopped at a Wendy's in Southern Tennessee where I bragged about how fast I could eat.

Their son that challenged me to eat 3 junior cheeseburgers faster than this double bacon cheeseburger. Being a guy that never backed down from food related challenges, I accepted... and won.

Now the gamble that you take when eating at a rural fast food restaurant is "will my food be fresh" and "how often do health inspectors come through."

This was a gamble I lost shortly after arriving to Space Camp, roughly 25 minutes into a conference where a few hundred kids crowded into a room and an astronaut talked about what it was like to be in space. I tapped my team leaders arm asking if I could go to the bathroom. He said, wait a few minutes and then I vomited all over the construction grade carpeting screeching the conference to a halt. 

The Space Camp nurse gave me crackers and Sprite and had me call my parents with my sweet calling card to tell them that I was throwing up and there was nothing they could do about it. 

As part of the Space Camp experience, you're supposed to get to stay in the "habitat." It's a dormitory that is made up to look like the Space Station. Well, as part of this craptastic weekend, Space Camp had over booked the habitat. So, not having bought the premium Space Camp package, our little rag tag group stayed in the Howard Johnson down the street, where I proceeded to continue vomiting everywhere. (Side note, because of this, I did not eat Wendy's again until college)

So the next day, I woke up feeling really great. I was ready to hit the ground running. Time to land a damn shuttle on Mars. 

Nope... not happening. Turns out, all the cool stuff they showed in the video is part of the premium package. So, we got access to the museum, the centrifuge, and a few small "science" experiments where you basically tried to stack blocks in a tank of water. The worst part of this was that the cafeteria we ate in circled all the cool moon walking and stuff. So while we ate our cafeteria food, we got to hear the joy of all the kids bouncing around like they were nearly weightless.

We did get to try to launch a shuttle which was pretty awesome, except that our pilot immediately crashed the shuttle and because the camp was so busy, we didn't get another chance. 

I rode the centrifuge no less than 13 times that weekend because after a stroll through the museum and a few pictures in front of the Space Shuttle, there wasn't much else to do. 

On our last day, we were shuffled onto a tram where we were driven around and shown the Aviation Challenge Camp, all of the NASA training equipment like the huge underwater tank, and all the discarded rocket parts. 

I stopped by the gift shop on the way out, buying astronaut ice cream and a few models to build and we drove home through tornadoes in Southern Illinois. 

Would I go back to Space Camp? Absolutely. It's a great memory and had some cool stuff. 

However, I would be in charge of planning and I would definitely get to land a damn shuttle on Mars. 

Thursday, December 17, 2015

That Christmas Feeling

I miss the child wonder with Christmas.

You all know me well enough, I do not try to hide this, I love Christmas presents. I love getting them, I love giving them. I love the feel of wrapping paper being torn to shreds between my fingers.

I'm a greedy capitalistic, material-good loving, adult-man-child.

Part of the child wonder with Christmas was the un-relenting energy as we bopped around the entire area going to grandma's house for Christmas Eve, going to the aunts and uncles to see their trees, going to my Aunt Mary's for chili, knowing full well there were presents waiting at each place.

I could see my parents' eyes drooping with exhaustion after the marathon holidays. Fighting to stay awake during Christmas mass, their only quiet respite from the screaming, sugar filled cousins.

I miss running around in grandma's woods with Jake and Ryan, falling through frozen ice, shooting paint balls at each other, seeing if we could reach the end of the creek.

But most of all, I miss the thrill of the 2 a.m. gift check. I'd read by the nightlight, checking my alarm clock every 15 minutes to see how much time had passed. (In later years when I had my own basement room, I would quietly watch A Christmas Story on TNT over and over again.)

I'd gently rock Nick and Brett awake, pointing out all the creaky parts of the floors, tip toeing in socks out to the Christmas tree.

We couldn't make out the names written on the packages, signed "From Santa, XOXO" in the shadowed light cast by the tree lights. So we played a game, guessing which ones we thought were ours. The small gifts were inspected, shook, and weighed. We cross referenced the shapes with the gifts we had circled in the J.C. Penny catalog.

And after a good amount of time, the excitement at a fever pitch, we would turn out attention to the three largest gifts, knowing that they were going to be divided between us. Most the time we had no clue about these. Our parents were great at figuring out large items that we needed or would love: a new bike, roller blades, giant Star Wars bases.

After we argued about what came in that size, we'd sneak back to bed for a 3 hour nap, waking up again at 6 am. We'd wake up making enough noise to wake the parents up.

Dad would get the coffee pot going and go outside to have a smoke before manning the camera. Mom would give us stockings to keep us quiet, cutting up some veggies and ham for our Christmas omelet.

And we'd wait patiently for each round of gifts, one to each brother, opening at the same time. We'd have to hold back an energy explosion when our parents presents were sprinkled in between a round of ours. Hoping that mom would quickly inspect her new robe or dad his hockey shirt, so that we could move on with what was truly important, us kids.

And in the post present euphoria, we would start assembling LEGOs, putting batteries in our laser guns, and strapping on our hockey gear for a pickup game in the driveway, eventually passing out for a long nap around lunch. Then, we'd wake up, and have a lazy day in at the house.

These sleepy Christmas days are some of my favorite memories of childhood. Everyone in the best mood they could possibly be, filled with cinnamon twists and joy, wearing pajamas, just happy to exist.

Now, Christmas works almost the opposite.

I'm so excited to possibly be surprised, that I don't look for the gifts beforehand. It would be easy for me to sign into Sal's Amazon account and take a look at it or find a random packing slip laying around. But dammit, I'm chasing the childhood dragon, that rush of being generally surprised and every piece of information I know ahead of time takes a little bit of that magic away.

And I can't wait to snuggle up on the couch, with a nice Scotch, watching The Family Stone or Love Actually, thumbing through the new brewing book I have, or cooking a Christmas dinner while listening to my new records.