Thursday, January 30, 2014

Those Teenage Hormones

I was reminded about how dumb it was to be a teenager trying to date. It was dumb, but I also remember the excitement of trying to choke down your voice cracking, and the sweaty palms, and the freaking hormones just spraying from out changing bodies into the air.

I had a girlfriend my sophomore year of high-school. (She was a freshman, I know, scandal.) We started going out sometime in April and everything was over before school started back up after summer. Until Sallie, it was the longest relationship I had.

My hormones probably are the reason I stayed with her for so long. I found her very attractive and she could be very girlfriend like. At least what movies told me girlfriends are supposed to be like. But we had some serious compatibility issues.

The first big negative was her father. He was shaped sort of like Baloo the bear and had one of those military crew cuts. He made the mistake of having a kid when his wife was only 16, so he very much played into the shotgun cleaning, hard nosed father that I was never going to win over.

Every night, I had the same routine. Talk to her for about an hour on the phone, and then I would call my best friend Allie and talk to her for 2-3 hours until she basically passed out. It didn't even cross my mind that this small detail was weird.

Then one long weekend my girlfriend went away to her grandma's house and we couldn't really talk on the phone.

I continued to talk to Allie, but our conversations started getting really long. Like six or seven hour-kill the cordless phone battery-long.

The break with my girlfriend allowed my brain to re-calibrate.

I started realizing things like how my girlfriend was incredibly verbally abusive to me. I had a job and was constantly feeding her McDonald's, renting movies from Blockbuster, and following up the McDonald's with pizza rolls, all on my dime. And frankly, she wasn't a good kisser.

She finally called me like three days after not talking and she could hear in my voice I wasn't very excited. She started asking if I wanted to break up, why I wanted to break up, etc. Eventually, she told me to email her what I was feeling because I couldn't put it into words.

I still have a copy of that breakup email because it was one of the first times I realized I could write. Yes, I plagiarized some of Kurt Cobain's suicide note, but I wove words together and made a solid breakup proposal. (Don't burn me at the stake, she asked for a breakup email. I was planning to man up and do it in person.)

Then we did that stupid thing where we remained "friends." Really, we realized our friends had sort of combined and there was no way to stay away from each other.

My Ex got a new boyfriend like three weeks later. He was this 6'5" red headed beast that Allie and I affectionately called, "Big Red." I never actually met him, but in my hormone controlled mind, he was an abusive, uneducated, redneck. Of course, even though I did the dumping and knew it was the best idea, I got jealous.

So to get back at the Ex, I started dating a cheerleader / ballerina that other people said was hot. I wasn't really into her, but she was nice, and I could see my Ex's face get pissed.

So for the sizzling next three weeks I dated this person. We went to the mall and spent hours in Claire's botique while she picked out more pink crap to deck herself out in. We would talk on the phone, and while she told me how dance practice went, I was busy playing Doom 2 on my computer. Luckily for me, she would fall asleep by 8 and I would get to do what I wanted.

Ultimately my Ex told my new girlfriend type person that she wasn't comfortable with us dating. It really was about the best situation, because in my friend's eyes, I was now the victim.

So, I sort of reclaimed my friends while my Ex was assimilated into Big Red's friend circle. I think we both ended up happier in the end. Sallie and I ran into her at a wedding not too long ago. She commented, "WOW, you ended up marrying essentially me."

I took one look at her, and one look at Sallie, and thought, "Thank God you are almost always wrong my Ex. Thank god."

Monday, January 27, 2014

Mr. Series - A Way to Humble Brag about Myself

My mind has been incredibly active as I'm falling asleep for the past few weeks. This is also probably why I've felt tired non-stop for a month. I lay awake, thinking about stories I'm working on or projects I need to accomplish, or a few nights ago I started thinking about my old gym teacher Mr. Series.

Note: I'm not sure if that's how you spell his name. I'm a bit too lazy to go grab a yearbook to find out. But if it's spelled wrong, it's probably better he can't search for his name.

Mr. Series was that TV gym teacher. He was a little short, was hairy, going bald, always had a windbreaker or hat on, and always had a clipboard with paper in his hand even though I never saw him write anything in there.

Mr. Series would probably be locked up today for making inappropriate comments toward girls. He would always tell the little girls how beautiful they were or play flirt with them by singing Frank Sinatra. It was really innocent and obviously a joke, but today, someone mentions that to their mom, and the guy is getting cuffs slapped on him.

He used to get a ton of crap from kids too. I remember he showed up to the neighborhood pool one summer with a bad toupee, and the kids didn't let him live it down. And instead of becoming a bitter gym teacher that made you run laps, he smiled... and made us climb the rope.

He used to hold movie days once a month in the gym. For two dollars he would project Mel Brooks movies in the gym, and sell popcorn and snow cones for quarters. This was done on Saturdays and he definitely didn't get paid for it.

I won the Presidential Physical Fitness award twice under Mr. Series.

He used to nominate me for many awards, mostly dealing with sportsmanship.

He used to hold me up as the bastion of how a sportsman should be. I was naturally talented in most sports (I know, huge surprise) but I never flaunted it. I was the guy that would pass the soccer ball if someone had a better shot. I would volunteer to play for the obviously worse team to even things out. And when intramural hockey happened, and I scored 12 goals because I was the only one that actually played hockey, I didn't rub it in the other's faces. Instead, I showed them how to take a wrist shot or explain the positions.

I don't know if I would've grown up to remain that way if it hadn't been for Mr. Series' positive reinforcement on me. Even if he wasn't giving me tangible rewards for my good work, he often would just say it. And it wasn't just to me, he managed to give positive feedback to just about every kid.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Monte Bello Pizza and How I Screwed Up My Back

Sal and I have these great friends we see about once every other month. Typically, we get together for a pizza date, talk about old games, music and the ridiculous people in our life. We hadn't seen them since long before the holidays and made a pizza date at a place called Monte Bello pizza.

The four of us are sort of connoisseurs of pizza. We've been to probably 90% of the pizza joints in the greater St. Louis area. So we decided to take up the challenge of going to a place that none of us had been. We found Monte Bello pizza on several top 10 lists, the Yelp and Google reviews were all really high, and the best part was, it was close to our house.

Sal and I drove directly there after work last Friday, with a bit of hunger already sitting in our stomachs.

The restaurant looks like a house. We almost drove right by it. But this excites me. Typically, the more health codes a pizzeria appears to break, the better the pizza is. As we approached Monte Bello, our noses were filled with delicious smelling toasted raviolis and baking pizza crust. We were getting excited.

Our friends got to the place about 15 minutes before Sallie and I did. They already had a table and water. The entire place had maybe 20 tables, half of which were filled. There were 3 people in the carryout line. Sal and I both thought, "Oh good, this shouldn't take too long."

First thing I noticed was the clientele all appeared to be 50 years old or older. And they were weird people. Like the sort of people when asked, "How was it?" They'll give you the run down of every food item they had and what they thought about it.

And the the chairs sucked. They were like some sort of hybrid church pew folding chair that sat about 4 inches too short for a tall person like me. But, it's a pizzeria in a basement. It's expected.

We sat for 20 minutes before anyone came to get our drink order. A table of 10-12 people behind us got served first. They technically arrived right before Sallie and I, so I guess that's OK, but they also seemed to know the people working in the back. This is when the favoritism started.

Waters came, the server left, we didn't see her again for another 20 minutes to take our food order. It was a simple order, 2 orders of toasted ravioli and 3 pizzas. We waited another 50 minutes.

During this, I went to the restroom. You had to walk to the back of the house and up some stairs. I was greeted with a men's bathroom that was about 30 degrees warmer than anywhere else. I think it was directly above the oven in the kitchen. The door didn't latch. The knob wasn't lined up to connect with the door frame right and the lock wasn't anywhere near adjusted where you could slide the bolt into the hole. There was one toilet and one urinal that had a printed piece of paper that said, "Do not use" on it.

Just to check in, we've been here for 90 minutes, it's 7:45. The server comes out of the back to tell us that they are out of toasted ravioli. We're all bummed out, and in our hunger pains, order mozzarella sticks. As the server goes back to the kitchen to put in our new appetizers, Eric comments something like, "I hope these aren't those crappy frozen mozzarella sticks."

Right as his comment ends, a food runner comes from the kitchen carrying 4-5 orders of toasted ravioli to the table of 12 behind us. Their order went in literally seconds before ours did. Dammit!

We wait another 10 minutes, and sure enough, we get crappy frozen mozzarella sticks. We're too hungry to care by now.

Our water is empty. The server sees this and brings us a half pitcher of water to split between 4 people. Seriously, you can't fill the pitcher up all the way with your tap water?

Finally, at about 8:15, the pizza comes out. Now I was watching them make the pizza the entire time. (Hoping to catch the toppings we ordered being put on one) It's store bought sauce, store bought cheese, some store bought toppings. They might make the dough and I know they make some toppings, but there's nothing super special about it. They supposedly can fit 12 pizzas in their ovens at a time.

In the 2+ hours we've been in this place, I've seen maybe 12 pizzas go out. I just can't figure out the math of how it took so long.

The pizza came out on normal baking sheets you buy from Target. They were sort of cut a squares, but it's like they cut the pizza down the middle and sort of off centered it so that it would fit on the baking sheet.

And the pizza was only OK. I make much better pizza at home. We still scarfed it down as if we hadn't eaten in 3 days.

The server comes to bring us our check and we all have our cards out and ready to go. We weren't going to let her leave without taking the card because we didn't know how long it would be before we saw her again. She even made the comment, "Oh, you all are fast."

She brings back the card, it's one of the few times I didn't leave a good tip. As we're putting our coats on, the server comes back and makes an accusatory comment, "Most people call ahead so that they don't have to wait this long," and then hands us to-go menus.

We stood outside the place for five minutes, unsure if the past three hours of our lives actually happened. It just seemed like a TV show. I was waiting for Aston Kutcher to pop out and say, "Here's the good pizza you expected and it's on the house. You got Punked."

So the next day, I pop out of bed. My back is terribly sore from sitting in those crappy chairs for so long. But, we go to the gym, I stretch, I'm feeling OK.

Later that afternoon, I'm calibrating some brew equipment for next weekend. I'm literally staring at water boiling and bend down to adjust the flame. I feel as if all the muscles in my lower back twist around my spine and pain shoots through all my limbs. I can barely move.

I text Sal to come help me and we waddle back into the house. I'm out for the count. Heating pad, laying on the floor, unable to help myself with anything.

It's now the third day of dealing with this and my back is still sore. I haven't thrown my back out since high-school.

In conclusion, screw Monte Bello.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Some Random Stuff

These are all things I've thought about, but didn't have enough to write a full blog.
  • I think vacation might have broke me. There are three things very apparent to me now that I'm back. 
    1. I hate owning a home. About 50% of my stress comes from owning a home. I don't know that I ever will again. Other than the, "I can do what I want" feeling, I hate it. I don't want to pay for things. I don't want to fix things. I don't want to do yard work. I see my home as a list of projects and bills I haven't paid yet.
    2. I don't want to work. Like, at all. I have no motivation. I got really depressed the night before I came back to work. I still haven't really shook that feeling of "bummer."
    3. I'm constantly tired. We're almost two weeks out from vacation at this point and I'm going to bed early and waking up late. I just can't force myself back into a routine.

  • Working from home is mostly great. I get chores done during my lunch breaks. We don't need a second car. We don't pay for the gas. I save about 5 hours a week by not having to drive. I get to watch a ton of films and TV shows. However, there are a few things that suck. 
    1. I have essentially created a prison for myself. We adjusted life to me working at home and if I were to ever look for other work, I have to consider the money and time we would spend. Essentially, I would need to make about $12,000 more a year unless I found a job within 5 miles of me.
    2. Sometimes you have to put on blue jeans just to feel human. Living mostly in sweat pants isn't all it's made out to be. 
  • I'm way more considerate than most people. 
    1. During the snow day, my neighbor spent all morning digging out a parking spot, shoveling a path down the walkway so that his wife could get in her car. She left and someone pulled right into that spot and didn't move their car again until the snow had melted. After I noticed this, I focused on it. I couldn't stop thinking about it. 
    2. I've also noticed that I say thank you more than most people. I remember when I started making an effort to say thank you, it did feel a little awkward. Now it feels as natural as saying hello. Beyond that, if I get exceptional service, I go out of my way to call the manager of that person and tell them. 
  • I expect too much of some people and have been trying to curb my expectations. I don't understand how people can't cleanup clutter immediately, or use common sense to solve problems at work, or work hard. Over the past few years this has caused me a lot of stress because I would pick up the slack for people and never say anything. I'm trying to not let it bother me as much this year.
  • I'm terrified of ice skating after not doing it for three years. But this is also one of the ways I can prove to myself I'm getting better. I'm going to strap on skates in the next few weeks and make it happen.
  • Scottrade Center is ranked #4 for best NHL arena. I don't necessarily agree with most of this list. Xcel Energy Center sort of sucked and Bridgestone arena was hands down the best place I've seen a hockey game. But that's why we love lists, so we can argue about them.
  • I think my generation is doomed to always worry about our jobs. I've never felt secure in a job I've had since my first layoff. I'm constantly looking for signs that I'm replaceable. At the same time, I really don't want to look for a new job. 

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

The Feels

I came back to work today in the worst mood.

I guess it started last night. There was a point where I was coughing, sleeping on the couch to not keep Sal awake, and the electricity was out. The temperature was dropping quickly, and I grunted, "f*ck it."

I was really angry and depressed. It wasn't the normal, "first day back after vacation" depressed either. It was like this feeling of impending doom.

I was more relaxed in Minnesota than I've been since ... well, there's where the depression part comes from. I can't remember the last time I was consistently that relaxed and happy for that long at a time. I had four days where I didn't think about a budget, or cleaning up, or what house project, or feeding the cats, or getting Crash healthy, or hitting the gym...

It was much needed. I felt recharged at the end. I was looking forward to accomplishing a few personal achievements and getting a few extra days off.

And then I developed a 101 fever, cough, and runny nose. I spent the last four days of my vacation in bed.

Problem is, these were days I already had set aside for creative writing. I was hoping to make real progress on several stories I have going.

These were days I was going to get a few of those house projects that I don't have time for during the week.

These were days that I was going to stay in my pajamas, sipping coffee, listening to records all day long.

And they were taken from me.

And as I signed into work today, I just thought about how ripped off I felt. I thought about how I didn't want to do my job. I just wanted to not sign in for a few more days.

I think this says something about my life. I need to make some changes. I'm not entirely sure what those changes are right now, but I'm looking into a few things.

Monday, January 6, 2014

Minneapolis / St. Paul Vacation

I'm going to break one of my rules for things that will bore me to death and tell you about my vacation.

December 29th

Sal and I found a dirt cheap hotel and decided to head up a night early. Once we had a list of things we wanted to do in the Twin Cities, we realized we didn't allow enough time.

The drive up was mostly uneventful. Iowa might take the crown from Kansas as the most boring state to drive through. (I hear Oklahoma is much worse.) It's flat tundra for five hours. Apparently in the summer it smells like cow poop, but everything was frozen.

We arrived earlier than expected, checked into the Millennium Hotel (which was a great place), and immediately checked out a brewery.

Rock Bottom is a franchise brewery which in some people's eyes sort of makes it a little worse than a craft brewery, but better than Anheuser Busch.

There were about 40-50 Vikings fans filling the place watching the Bears / Packers game. Apparently, in Minneapolis, you either love the Vikings or the Packers. Vikings fans hate the Packers. All of these people were in this bar just to hope the Packers lost.

The Packers scored with a few minutes left and I've never heard so many people curse at the same time as this. In fact, the server behind the counter spiked his pint glass into the sink, it shattered everywhere, and he scream, "G-D! I TOLD THEM NOT TO F-ING SCHEDULE ME TODAY."

We drank a bunch of beer, wandered the Sky Walk for a few minutes, and went back to the hotel.

December 30th

Mall of America / IKEA day. My god, I've never been a part of capitalism like this. The stores were huge. Some stores had two locations within the mall. It was honestly overwhelming. We had 4 things we wanted to find at the mall and we found none of them. I'm sure the things we wanted were there, we just didn't know how to handle it.

It snowed while we were driving home. A 15 minute drive to the mall, took about an hour and twenty minutes to get home.

That night, one of Sallie's old friends took us out to all the places you're not going to find on a Google search. We are fancy French food, I had the best beer of my life, we checked out an awesome bar, got to stand on a frozen lake, and was shown all of St. Paul in the snowy night glory it should be seen in.

December 31st

We woke up and drove to St. Paul to get breakfast a The New Louisiana Cafe per a recommendation from the friends the night before. It was huge, amazing diner portions with solid cups of coffee. Didn't need to eat until dinner after this.

We went to the Minneapolis Institute of Arts. According to our friends, this isn't even the best art museum in Minneapolis and it blew us away. I mean, we were greeted by a huge painting by one of Sallie's favorite artists, Frank Stella.

We had the hockey game to go to that night in St. Paul, so we wanted to work our way over to the Xcel Energy Center.

Summit Brewing was the first stop. According to the Google search, they were open. According to the girl at the front desk, they were not. So failure #1.

We figured we would get a parking spot earlier near the game and hang out at Tom Reid's Hockey City Pub.

This place was great. Jersey's hanging from the ceiling signed by some of the greatest players of the past 30 years, Canadian food being served, Canadian beers on tap, essentially everything you would hope for from a hockey pub.

The Xcel Energy Center was an interesting place. It was designed well enough not to have bottle necking issues with fans coming in and out. It felt like it seated about 5,000 more people than Scottrade Center does, but it actually seats about 2,000 less. We didn't actually sit in seats, but my guess would be that the seats are more spacious.

The game was a surprisingly boring 2-0 win by the Blues. The thing that caught me off guard was how often people said, "I can't believe you made the drive" and "It sucks that our team is so terrible, good luck to you."

We went back to the hotel, took a quick nap, dressed up, and walked the Sky Walk to The Tangiers for a 1920's-style-New-Years-prohibition party. The moment we arrived and ordered our first drinks, we realized we're too old for this stuff. We'd much rather stay at home with friends and have some drinks. I think it's a single person's game to hit the party scene.

The costumes at the party were great. The music put 1920's style music to beats, which actually was pretty good. And there was this creepy guy that sort of had a crush on me and was somehow using me to get girls.

January 1st

We woke up relatively easily for having drank for about 10 hours the day before and went to Minihaha Falls expecting a really cool water fall to take pictures in front of. What we got instead was frozen falls that were even cooler.

We then went back to Rock Bottom after wandering downtown for a bit looking for a different option to watch the Winter Classic. I had a beer that was the worst beer of my life this time. It was brewed with evergreen trees. It tastes exactly how you think, like biting into a Christmas tree stump.

We then attempted to go to Fulton Brewing which was about a 2 mile walk from Rock Bottom. The website said they were open... and again it was wrong.

So we thought we'd hit the Prohibition rooftop bar earlier than we had planned. Pulled up the site, got it up on Google maps, walked 2 miles back to where it was, found the place, asked the front desk how to get there... and closed.

So then we try to get some Asian food. Three places were closed. Italian place, closed. Apparently, the entire downtown of Minneapolis closes on New Year's Day. We eventually found an Italian place open a block from our hotel that was a pretty OK way to end the vacation.