Tuesday, December 27, 2016

The Mizzou I Knew

It's interesting hearing about Mizzou from people that didn't go there.

For the longest time, my post-college circle of friends was 90% Mizzou grads. We all had the same fuzzy memories of McNallys, Addisons, and Flatbranch, the house parties, the first time the cops came to our house, the second time the cops came to our house, concerts, Henry Rollins, Halloween, New Years, and good beers.

But now that my friend circle has expanded, I get to hear a lot of outside perspectives, mostly around the drop in enrollment at Mizzou and what caused it. Usually it starts with the sport teams not being able to recruit as well.

Depending on who you talk to it's either because of the Black Lives Matter people or the racism that exists all throughout mid-Missouri.I rarely hear people talk about how dismal the basketball team has been for a decade. They rarely talk about how Gary Pinkle apparently was one of the greatest coaches, punching way above his weight class in the SEC and now that he's gone the weaknesses of our football team are highlighted.

I've heard people say that the Black Lives Matter protests drove off students from wanting to deal with un-necessary drama. Fair enough, if protests scare you, you probably should go to your local community college. From what I remember, protests were constant at most the universities my friends went to, especially during the Bush era and war in Iraq and Afghanistan.

I've heard people say that the racism that has existed in the area for centuries has finally started turning people off, especially athletes who tend to skew African American don't want to deal with the media portrayal of red necks and crooked cops in Missouri.

Honestly, I didn't see much of this while I was at Mizzou, but I also curated an incredibly diverse friend group. Honestly, if this was a card collecting game, I was only missing some sort of trans-gendered hologram card.

We had the Pakistani journalist, the Indian engineer, the gay teacher, the Jewish business major, the foreign exchange students from Britain, France, and Australia, all mixed with people from Hannibal, St. Louis, Kansas City, Chicago, Minneapolis, and Louisville. We were a pretty diverse group and were ride of die.

I didn't get exposed to the darker side of Mizzou.

Both types of people will talk about it as if what they are saying is the total truth.

It's not, there's a lot of missteps done by the Mizzou board of governors. Mis-allocated money, alumni donations ear marked for the business school, rising salaries for the administrators while driving away young and determined professors. They thought they would keep adding students forever and direct result is apartment complexes dotting the downtown skyline like blemishes on skin. But now we have a crap football team, continue to have a crap basketball team, have too much empty housing, prices that have continued to go up, and non-stop construction on what could be a beautiful campus if not for all the bulldozers.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

The Updated Bucket List

In August of 2013, I was musing about the pursuit of happiness and what essentially boils down to my bucket list.

Most of what was holding me back from completing a lot of my bucket list was our dire financial situation at the time. I'm staring at the second (out of ten) student loan being paid off in a week and our car loan dropping below a major milestone.

Sal and I both have jobs that pay us much more than what we had in 2013 and the strain we carried around in our necks has loosened considerably.

It's had me thinking about the "bucket list" again. Things I want to do and pursue.

The original list still stands, with some things actually checked off.

  • Complete: See a top level football match in Europe. Saw Dortmund play in front of 78,000 people in 2015. It was like Harry Potter.
  • Eat steak tartar and drink a bottle of nice French wine in Paris - Sal is learning French now, so hopefully in the next few years. 
  • See the Blues win the Stanley Cup and subsequently kiss the cup.  - So close, yet so far.
  • Complete: Drink a Guinness from the brewery in Dublin. Drank the pint from the top of Guinness overlooking all of Dublin.
  • Learn to snowboard. Well... that whole knee thing has probably made this unobtainable. 
  • Get something published. I swear, I'm still working on this. 
  • Tip someone a ton of money on Christmas Eve. - Hmmm... maybe this year?
  • Tour Napa Valley without a plan. The plan is to do this for our 10th anniversary.
  • Have one of my beer creations commercially sold, even if just for one run. - Not a crazy thing to think.
  • Have a hop filled tour of the Pacific Northwest. - Again, maybe for our 10th anniversary.
  • See a major Canadian team NHL game: Canadiens or Maple Leafs - Sal and I are having a lot of talks about doing this in 2017. 
Not bad right? Completed 2 within 3 years. 

Well, some new things have popped onto the list. 

  • Go to Wrestlemania - With how much professional wrestling has become a part of my and most of my best friend's lives, this will definitely happen within the next couple years. Think of it as going to the largest circus on the planet. 
  • Play a game of PacMan at Twin Galaxies in Ottumwa Iowa, the video game capital of the world. 
  • Skate on a frozen pond
  • See Saturday Night Live ... live and as a side bonus, see the Christmas tree in Rockefeller Square
I'll check back in probably in 2 years and see how much progress I've made. Hoping to have 2-3 more of these checked off the list. 

Friday, December 2, 2016

Burt or Maybe Bert...

I went on a long run today and as I was rounding the corner where Amsterdam Tavern is, the wind hit me just right and I remembered a character from our past.

Sal and I went exploring when we first moved to the city. This would've been like late 2008. We ate at Three Monkeys and then tried this bar that had just opened down the street.

So we see this dirty looking guy in this dimly lit bar that had a couple soccer scarves hanging on the walls. There's one guy at the bar drinking a beer and following it with whiskey, but soon he leaves.We thought we had found a dive bar we couldn't have imagined being open more than a few months.

Sal and I order. Amsterdam only had about 6-8 taps when they first opened, one of which was Guinness. At the time, it was a bold move to have a nitro stout on your tap. Most places were still heavily focused on Wheat beers and macro beers.

So I order a Guinness because you can't get it anywhere else. The bartender gets excited and starts talking about how there's nothing better than a properly poured Guinness on a cold afternoon. Sure enough, he pours the beer in the glass at a 45 degree angle until it's 3/4ths full, sets it back down, and let's it rest.

While the beers were resting, he handed Sal and I about $3 a piece in quarters and told us to go put some music on the jukebox.

We pick a couple of our favorites. Probably things like The Toadies, Wilco, Against Me!, David Bowie. I can tell the bartender is listening intently to each song, judging our musical taste.

And then he hears the opening riffs to Generation X's "Kiss Me Deadly."


He pulls out a couple of tumblers, pours very gracious pours of Powers Whiskey, slides them to us, and says, "Hi, my name is Bert, I punched Billy Idol in his stupid f*cking face in 1986 in a club in New York. He'd split Generation X up by then and had become a sell out piece of shit, and I was a punk... and I was drunk and probably on drugs. So I laid him out and then ran out of the club as fast as I could."

This is one of the first new people... actually... probably was the first new person we met after moving back from St. Louis. He was this like late 30's, sort of 1980's dirty white t-shirt wearing punk rock guy, who was one of the partial owners of the Amsterdam tavern. His name was Bert.

Bert handed us a business card with his cell number on there and regaled us with tales of his insane nomadic life spanning from California to Miami, involving some of the most famous concerts ever, and being held up at gun point.

Now Bert had some insane stories. If he had wrote them down and you just read them, you wouldn't believe the stories, but there was something about the sincerity with which he told them that you sort of believed it.

Bert was one of those guys you wouldn't trust watching your house while you were out of town, but if he were like, "Hey man, follow me down this dark alleyway, I have something to show you." You would go. You were drawn to him and the possibility of adventure.

We spend the next two or so years going to Amsterdam, eventually meeting about 4 of the 6 owners and becoming pretty good friends with them.

One random  late summer day, we went in and Bert said, "Hey Dan, would you want to come over and listen to some records this weekend? I'm off Saturday. Might be the last time we can hang out."

It was an unexpected qualifier on the end of the sentence. As far as we knew the bar was doing really well and Bert was really happy.

I said, "Sure man, that might be a good time, what's going on?"

"I don't really want to talk about it here, but I got into something and I'm moving to Argentina in 10 days."

We were invited to Bert's going away party at the Amsterdam. They set up a turntable in the corner of the bar, hooked it up to the PA system, and locked the door for anyone that wasn't on Bert's list. Bert brought in about 600 of his favorite 45's and asked everyone to bring their favorites.

It was a Tuesday night, Sal and I couldn't stay out too late since we had to work the next day, but for those two hours it was like we were in some sort of weird movie montage where a song played over people clanking glasses together in cheers, hugging Bert, just celebrating this weird guy that was in all of our lives.

I heard from Bert once when he moved to Argentina. He sent me and email saying he made it and that the weather was super nice, and he was going to the beach every day.

I don't know why today he popped in my head. I literally hadn't thought about Bert in six years, but something about the temperature, the time of day, the way the sun hit the Amsterdam sign just reminded me of Bert.

It's weird how someone can be in your life for such a short amount of time, but you have these incredible memories that sometimes you question if they actually came from a book you read.

If you look at Amsterdam now, it's grown five times the size it originally was, has about 400 new scarfs from soccer teams around the world, and if you look closely, there's one picture behind the bar of all the original owners. One of those guys is Bert and that picture is the only evidence of his life in St. Louis.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

It's the Sleep I Miss

I sort of joke that I haven't had a good night of sleep since Wells Fargo laid me off.

It's not necessarily an incorrect statement. Something broke in my mind where I'm in a constant state of survival mode. Always trying to pursue this relaxation that I'm beginning to think doesn't exist.

I mean, I probably sleep a good night 3-4 nights a week. It's usually when I've taken a Melatonin pill, or it's the weekend and I have nothing to wake up early for, or I've had a beer or two, or a really hard workout.

With the holidays though, I've not been working out. I've not had any weekends where I don't have to wake up and do something. I've had a ton of extra stress to think about.

Between 3-4 am every day, I wake up. Usually because I have to go to the bathroom, but sometimes I just sort of jolt awake.

I'll sort of re-position myself and try to go to sleep again. But for the rest of the night I'm thinking about work, or thinking about the errand I need to run. I toss and turn. I get up and walk around for a few minutes. Come back to bed, rollover.

And the morning sun, now coming up earlier and earlier it seems, shines directly at the window next to my side of the bed. It doesn't matter we have blinds and curtains, the light shines through like something from Poltergeist. I squeeze my eyes shut as hard as I can, pretending that the sun isn't there yet.

I used to go to the other room and sleep on the couch, but since the wall has been taking so long (another thing I often think about at 3 am) I can't sleep well in there because the litter box smell is too much for me.

So the only thing I can do, is sleep on my stomach and put a pillow on top of my head. It drowns out the sounds of Sal's fan, the humidifier, and shuts the light off.

This was the only way I could sleep when I had a broken leg. (I can't sleep on my back at all) But now, I can only sleep on my stomach for 20-30 minutes before my back and neck start hurting.

And I can't look at my watch. If I see what time it is, my brain does the math and constantly repeats, "GO TO SLEEP, ONLY 3 MORE HOURS TO SLEEP, GET AT IT."

And the next thing I know, it's 7 and I sleepily climb out of bed, ready to work.

I'm hoping this is just temporary while the holiday stress is hitting me. I don't like relying on Melatonin pills to get a good nights sleep.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

The Country That Doesn't Want You

I've been soaking in the reactions since the election. It's exhausting.

The mud throwing calling Trump supporters racist and misogynistic were covering my Facebook page the first two days. Many of these posts were reaching to find swastikas near pro-Trump messages on walls or a few idiots beating the shit out of Muslims and telling them to go home. It was damning people for voting for this orange asshole.

Now, the Trump supporters who are tired of being called racist have been fighting back in disgusting ways. I've seen people say things like, "The KKK hasn't been involved in a violent incident in 20 years. Black Lives Matter have been involved in violence this year." I've seen a lot of people saying, "stop crying pussies." Someone even told my wife that racism no longer exists and tried to quote the Civil Rights act of 1964 to her.

I've largely stayed out of the discussion because honestly, I'm tired and I don't want to respond with emotion.

But I've read. I've been sitting back and trying to figure out what the hell is going on with our country.

And I have no answers.

I do know however that my wife has gotten little sleep and wakes up depressed every day since the election.

I know my Pakistani friend has gone quiet on social media since the election.

I know my gay and lesbian friends have been starting fights on Facebook daily because they have gotten so close to having equal rights with everyone else only to have everything ripped away time and time again..

The black, Bosnian, and Asian members of my community all feel the need to arm themselves because they no longer believe in the police force that is supposed to protect them.

And even though I'll never understand fully, I understand. We will continue to be a divided nation for the next four years.

For everyone that has posted about the cry-baby libtards and said, "Welcome to how 2008 was for me" I don't think you are understanding what the Trump presidency actually means to these people. (Also, in 2008, Republicans still controlled many parts of the government)

My wife is constantly dealing with men talking down to her, assuming she knows nothing about men things like cars, assuming she is draped in pink dresses while she cooks dinner for her man. It happens constantly. In the grocery store, at work, and even our neighbor refuses to talk to her about anything and instead will give her messages to give to me.

My Pakistani friend is called terrorist weekly. He can't go out for a drink without someone making a terrible joke about how he is probably the one with a bomb strapped to him. He's working twice as hard to hold the same jobs that half as talented peers hold.

My gay friends fear bringing their long term, adult consenting, significant others around their families because of the off-hand comments about those "liberal faggots" from their uncles.

Most people that voted for Trump are not racist or misogynistic. But, Trump getting voted in is affirmation that they would rather this person who is absolutely racist and misogynistic be president, rather than Hillary Clinton, Gary Johnson, or Jill Stein.

These people I'm talking about essentially have seen half of their country say, "I care about getting rid of Obamacare more than I care about your equality." It's lonely, isolating, and depressing to wake up every day and feel like you country doesn't want you.

I try to envision Obama saying all white males are rapists and they should be registered and possibly deported back to Germany / Britain. And then envisioning people cheering him getting into office.

It would be very hard to get out of bed in the morning.

So I understand friends. I understand why you wake up pissed off daily. You've worked hard for the American dream and it was pulled farther away from you with this election.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Post Election Reactions - It's a long one

This morning I woke up to emails from friends in Britain sympathizing with me. They warned of hate crimes they saw after Brexit because actual racist people saw this as affirmation that their country hated foreigners. They felt they could act out. My friends still mourn the loss of their country's personality. 

A message came from Axel in Germany telling Sal and I that we could come live in his apartment to escape the wave of conflicting ideals in America and that most of Germany is terrified of a Trump presidency. 

A co-worker from Canada IM'ed me this morning, quipping that their immigration site went down from the amount of people wanting to see what it took, but that we should seriously consider moving to Canada because they have good beer, better hockey, and awesome cities. 

I'm sure Americans all over heard similar stories from foreign friends. Back in May, CNN searched for countries openly endorsing a Trump presidency. Time Magazine found that Trump has alienated much of Europe. They found the likes of Sri Lanka, China, Russia, Zimbabwe were among the countries where Trump was popular and literally the rest of the world didn't want him to come to power.

I'd love to join the droves of people that always say, "I'm heading to Canada." But that's not the answer. 

After seeing Missouri almost completely voted against everything that I did, I thought, maybe Sal and I pick up our bags and move to a more moderate or blue state. 

But I love my country and my city. (I hate my state) Me leaving doesn't solve anything. It just takes another voice away from what is now the opposition voice. 

I was never going to be 100% happy as no one should be with who our leaders are. There should be some ideal you don't agree with. Blindly following a party is a terrible way to run a political system.

I have socialist tendencies that I know are a pipe dream that can never exist. I'd love to have a nationalized health service, free or reduced higher education costs, gay marriage, easy access to women's services, real work toward solving oncoming global disasters such as global warming, limited resources, exploding populations. 

As someone that knows what it's like to pay 60% of your salary to medical bills and student loans, I would gladly pay 30% in taxes to pay for higher education and have a nationalized health service. 

Is it because I support all of that? Not necessarily, but I do think as long as what you're doing doesn't affect me, I shouldn't tell you not to do it. 

Breaking it down poll by poll

President Trump vs Clinton vs Johnson vs Stein

This was a tough one to swallow. As I said before, we had some terrible candidates to choose from. 

I had hoped for a couple things. 

The third parties would get enough votes to be taken seriously next election. They did not. 

Clinton would win if for no other reason than we stay the course for now. The past 8 years have been constantly getting better for Sal and I. We've been able to get a house, we've been promoted and given raises, many of our friends have gotten married and bought houses, we have gay friends that feel comfortable coming out, women have made great strides in equality in the workplace. 

It was a huge positive swing from where we were, 25 and scared of our future at the end of Bush's presidency.

It's not fair to break down Trump supporters as racist and sexist. I know most of them are not. A lot of votes weren't pro-Trump, they were anti-Hillary.

There are a lot of people in the rust belt that have seen factories leave their small towns for Mexico and China. They grasp at this version of America where they have a fair chance at a living wage, wave American flags along parade routes, and know their neighbors. Instead, they feel stuck in these small towns that are dying because industry left. 

But I did hope Trump would shake the foundation of the Republican party. I was hoping long time supporters would take a good long look at what it had become. 

I had hoped that Evangelicals would see Trump as a walking character of vice and someone who doesn't appreciate the sanctity of marriage. He's a man that's been divorced multiple times, has openly admitted to adulterous activity, and encouraged former wife Marla Maples to get an abortion. He's the embodiment of greed, lust, gluttony, pride, and wrath. 

I had hoped the moderate Republicans would be repulsed by his anti-semitic, anti-Muslim, anti-Mexican rhetoric. They'd look at his economic policies and realize the deficit he would bring if unchallenged to do what he pleased. They would call for their party to reign it in a bit.  

But here we are. The popular vote was barely skewed in Clinton's favor, but the electoral college system put Trump in power. It's a system that we know the rules for and try to play to it. And this time, Trump won. 

Democrats now have to look in the mirror and figure out how they were beaten by a guy that was barely supported by his own party. They have to figure out if it was worth skewing the primary for Hillary.

Sal came barreling up the stairs to wake me up at 2 am when they announced it, frantic and almost in tears. All the progress we thought we were making. All of the hope and the things we loved about the Obama presidency, all of it is being handed to Trump. 

Not only is it being handed to Trump, but unless his party challenges him, he has almost no opposition. There's not a Republican President, Senate, House, Governor majority, State Senate, and State House and probably Supreme Court. 

This is not something to celebrate. No party should ever gain that much power. It disrupts all of our checks and balances. 

US Senator - Kander vs Blunt

Kander was sort of a dream Democratic candidate. He was moderate, good looking, served in the military, and was taking on a lame duck when Missouri could use some change. Missouri has been in a terrible financial situation, rank 32nd in education, and got a C- in our transportation and infrastructure

I thought this would be where we saw the most likely change. But it not to be. 

Governor - Koster vs Greitens

I didn't really have anything to say about Koster. I was picking him because Greitens and his supporters just seemed like terrible people. Every time I picked up the phone or read one of his flyers it was just very machismo and "you gonna try to take our guns pussy? I'll punch you in your face." So I voted Koster, mostly to be against Greitens. 

State Treasurer - Baker vs Schmidt

I actually voted Republican on this one. Schmidt had more experience and better economic policies. This is the only election my candidate won.

Tobacco Taxes

Both of these as written makes it sound like a good thing. Increase the tax on tobacco by a certain amount and it goes to schools and roads and such. 

But there's something shady here. Tobacco companies were the ones supporting these. Places like the American Cancer Association, American Lung Association, Cancer-Free Kids Association all opposed it. It's the way the amendment was written. It basically seems like this will be a way for Tobacco companies to get good press and more money. 

I voted against both of these. They both passed. 

Voter ID

On it's face, I support this one. But with the caveat that it's easier to get IDs. This amendment as written is going to create another hurdle for people to vote and the people it's going to affect the most are the poor and hourly workers. Ones that may not have a drivers license. They are going to see that they have to pay for a non-drivers license and get it updated every few years and basically say, "It's not worth it."

I voted against this measure.

Campaign contribution limits

This was a tough one for me. I went back and forth. I hate how much money plays into politics nowadays. I would love to strangle it out. 

But it also said it would cost the state a lot of money per year to enact this law. Money that if Missouri history holds true will come from roads and education. 

Ultimately I voted yes on this, hoping that the change it will force in future years may ultimately balance out the price. 

Sales Tax Limits

This was a hard one. Do we start taxing labor industries such as hair stylists, massage parlors, etc.? The income for those workers is already pretty low for something that costs so much. 

But, inevitably marijuana will be legal. (It's going to be everywhere in the next 10 years) This would also allow Missouri to tax marijuana growers and dealers and boost the state income by a ton. Income we are desperate for. 

I voted against this measure only because Missouri hasn't even entertained Medical marijuana, so figured we could revisit this in the future. 

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

How did we get here and can we just blow it up and start over?

It's less than a week before election 2016. Most people know who they are voting for... begrudgingly.

It was only 8 years ago when we were choosing between a young Barack Obama on a platform of hope and and John McCain, a man with tons of experience who ultimately would've done a great job as president.

And yet, we spewed hate. We thought we had it bad. We thought the other guy was the worst. We thought we had a lot of complain about.

Now we have four of the most unlikeable candidates in history. If one party put forth even a halfway decent candidate, they would've run away with the election by now. If Obama or Bush were running against their opposing candidate in this election, either would easily win with 70% of the vote.

But instead, everyone is using the phase, "lesser evil" a lot.

We have Jill Stein with the Green party who has in the past been against getting vaccinations. Gary Johnson, the Libertarian who can't seem to name a single world leader. Both of which have economic plans that economic think tanks believe would send our national debt skyrocketing beyond anything we've ever seen.

We have Hillary Clinton, one of the most experienced career politicians, first woman candidate for president, sworn enemy of the conservative right for decades. Despite her mostly favorable approval rating as Secretary of State, she now has a 57% disapproval rating.

Clinton has friends on Wall Street, the sworn enemy of the people since 2008. She takes donations from companies with less than smooth pasts. People love to shout about her emails, all while having the word Bengaazzzziiii on their lips just ready for the right moment to pounce.

We have Donald Trump, a presidential candidate joke from as early as the 80's. A man who also has a 57% disapproval rating.

People love to shout that his followers are racist reading jokes about "grabbing women by the pussy." (Sorry grandma, it's a direct quote that's not easy to soften up)

Clinton is being investigated by the FBI for her handling of emails. Trump is due in court on rape charges of a 13-year-old girl and racketeering charges. This is the best we could come up with?

We have accusations of FBI directors using their power to change an election. We have physical violence threatened to votes. All while people are denying climate change when it's 86 degrees in November and a large group of people believe the Earth is flat.

Where did we go wrong? Why is there so much hate and divisiveness in the world when we really need to come together because fresh water and fuel are starting to run low, robots are seriously going to replace 70% of us in the job force, we're on the verge of another world war, and the population continues to grow despite all of these warnings that we are dooming ourselves.

Ultimately, the losing party might win in the end. Either party losing this election is going to have to take a long hard look at themselves, figure out how they got here, and start changing things. The winning party may get a seat or two in the Supreme Court, but with these approval ratings right now, any decent candidate in 2020 is going to unseat the president.

I guess my only advice for this election is not to just vote party lines, but take the ISideWith quiz. It's non-biased and asks a ton of questions to help you figure out which candidate is actually for you.

And if you don't feel like going through that, maybe just write in Chewbacca. He's loyal, honest, and will rip the arms off of any country that tries to take us on.

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Childhood Embarrassment: Leather Jacket Edition

I hung out at a cool corner bar in downtown Madison tonight and there was this girl there that reminded me of this high-school girlfriend named Kristi I very briefly had.

She was a total rebound girl after Rebecca and I broke up.

Completely the opposite of the type of person I normally dated.

She was a cheerleader, was always decked head-to-toe in pink, had a super high-pitched valley girl voice. When dated for about 3 weeks and in that 3 weeks we went to three high-school football games, went to the mall specifically to go into Clair's Boutique looking for more pink crap roughly 5 times, and one time when I played Pearl Jam's Black in the car one time, she started looking around and exclaimed, "It's like in my brain or something."

Needless to say, we weren't meant for each other. (She also got pregnant by her next boyfriend about six months later... so bullet dodged?)

The reason I bring this up is because at this time, I was wearing a leather jacket my grandpa gave me. He got this leather jacket from Pepsi points. I inspected it and the only place I thought it said Pepsi was on the back tag which was hidden most the time. So I thought I was pulling off this Pepsi jacket like I was Fonzi or something.

Kristi thought it was really cool. It wasn't until we broke up where a guy that sort of hung around my group realized the buttons had the Pepsi logo and he thought it was the funniest thing.

This guy ruined the entire facade. He started calling me "The Pepsi Challenge" and eventually got others to join in.

Usually I'm not one to buckle at pressure like this, but I soon hung the Pepsi jacket in my closet, leaving it behind when I moved to college.

I need a new coat this year. I was considering a leather jacket. Maybe this time I get one fitted for me without the product placement on it.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Back to 2001

I had a really weird Sunday. Like really really weird. I might have noticed this more because Sal and I have been watching Back to the Future lately.

Started off "normal" enough when we went out to St. Chuck for Brett's birthday. We all had a good time, ate, generally just sort of eased into Sunday.

Then Sal and I made a run to MidRivers mall because she needed some new work clothes for a business trip coming up.

I, not really wanting to hang out in The Limited all day, split off from Sal and went to fun stores.

I didn't realize how weird the day was until Sal and I split off. I was standing in the former Borders (now V-Stock) in the section where the music biography books used to be. I spent hours in this section looking for a Nirvana or Kurt Cobain book I didn't have already.

I looked out over the parking lot at MidRivers mall. I could see the Ruby Tuesdays I used to split large cakes with. I looked at the former CD Warehouse where I bought Sublime's acoustic album and Goldfinger's self titled album. I started looking around V-stock. It was this weird shadow version of what Borders used to be.

I started feeling really weird, like I just miss these places. St. Charles has progressed passed my childhood. None of my favorite places are still around. I started just feeling really heart heavy for those lazy Saturday afternoons I'd spend wandering the mall, trying to decide what to spend the $30 in my pocket on.

The mall even had Sheryl Crow and Hootie and Blowfish playing over the speakers while advertising that the 90s were the trend again and you should buy overalls and fanny packs.

I went to Slacker's in the mall. It's designed strangely like the Slacker's that used to be in Chesterfield. But gone was Babbage's, the Wizard's Wagon, even GameStop left the mall. Tilt took down all of their bowling alley carpeting and black light decorations and modernized itself. (For whatever a modern arcade looks like.)

I even was wearing cargo shorts that I'm pretty sure I bought from Kohl's in 2003, shortly before going off to college.

The day ended seeing Blink-182 at RiverPort. (Or UMB Banklywood Theater or whatever it is now.) I was standing in the lawn, not far from where I stood seeing them and Green Day at the same venue in 2002.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

A September 2016 Update

It's been a while since I've written. That's still partially because I'm brain dead from work, partially because I traveled to Madison two weeks ago, and partially because we've been busy every weekend.

I think I'm getting to a better place than I was last time. I'm definitely still stressed out, but not as much. I've continued meditating. I don't know if I've had that breakthrough moment yet that everyone talks about where they hear the birds singing, notice how green the grass is, and become one with the universe.

But I have noticed other things. I notice when my shoulders relax, my heart slows down about 3 minutes into my daily meditation session. I've noticed myself fearing that call on Friday less, knowing there's nothing I can do about it, it's going to happen. If nothing else, I look forward to the mental break in the middle of the workday where I just sit straight and focus on breathing.

I think my mood is partially improving because we had a hint of autumn Friday and Saturday. It's my absolute favorite time of the year. There's so much cold weather in front of you. So little yard work. And Christmas is just around the corner.

The past two days have reminded us all that Missouri can be a fickle weather beast and rocketed well back into the high 90's, high humidity.

Changing the subject drastically, there's a really solid chance that two strangers will see me naked this week.

Got my first physical in roughly 7 years and my first dermatologist appointment in probably 12 years.

It's weird being in a second sort of second tweener stage. Sometimes I still feel like a young adult. I have student loan bills showing up every month, still like to go out and have some drinks on the town like some sort of Sex in the City character, and play a ton of video games.

But then sometimes you trip in Colorado and cause a ton of leg pain, notice new gray hairs in your beard, and start seeing people you know die of skin cancer.

There wasn't a good excuse for not going other than I was being lazy. A few years ago I started going to the dentist twice a year and eye doctor once a year again. Now that those feel normal, I figured I'd try to get the other visits into the normal rotation. Why the hell not? Might as well find out if something is wrong as early as I can.

Most likely the doctor is going to say I'm stressed and tell me some sort of yoga to do. It's usually his favorite answer. He's probably not wrong either. My posture has been terrible lately, I could use a good alignment.

Our house project to-do list grew exponentially while I Was in Madison for 9 weeks. I was getting tired of staring at it, so Sal and I finally did something about it.

We ripped down the wall in her office finally. It had some water damage from the very first year we lived in the house and was just sort of low on the priority list... you know, when your roof is ripped off, a lot of things start dropping on the priority list.

We sort of like the brick enough that I think we're going to grind the mortar our and redo it.

I've got one more trip to Madison this year, Blues hockey coming up, the 2nd annual Oktoberfest... just lot's of great things coming up.

Friday, August 12, 2016

The Eastern Arts of Relaxing

So I don't think it's been a secret that I've not been my normal happy self since I lost my job at Wells.

I wouldn't say I've been depressed, but it's been more of a constant state of anxiety and exhaustion. Since March, I think I've only woken up feeling refreshed maybe 25-30 times.

When I first lost my job, I combated the anxiety by working out a ton. I would run the 2 miles to the gym, bust out an hour workout, and run the 2 miles home. When Sal got off work, we'd go for a walk, maybe hit the gym a second time, and I was constantly cleaning and working on house projects.

This kept the endorphin's flowing enough to where the anxiety didn't paralyze me into a state where I was sabotaging myself interviewing for jobs as you all know, I landed another job pretty quickly.

I like my job a lot. I love the company and people. I know that it's going to click. Most of what balls up in my neck and chest is the anxiety of not knowing how to do my job. It's also this snowball effect of constant adult anxieties that have been building since essentially I started high-school. Every year, it gets a little larger, even when I see some relief in things causing the anxiety.

Now that I'm working again, at a pretty demanding job, I find my workouts have gone out the door. Heck, I'm lucky if I can get up from my desk for more than 2,000 steps a day. (Comparison, at wells, I usually ended the day with 3,500-4,000 steps)

So exercise isn't holding off the demon anymore.

So, getting desperate, I started trying some non-traditional things.

First, I went to acupuncture. I told them that both my leg still hurt and that I constantly felt stressed and tired.

They popped about 20 needles into my leg, arms, and head and I sat in a room for 45 minutes listening to calming string music and water moving.

I think I went to a different place during this. I went to some state of nirvana. The 45 minutes felt like 5. When they came to take the needles out I felt incredibly refreshed and ready to take on the weekend.

I'm going back today and there's some battery inside of me that is yearning for it.

The second thing I started doing it meditation.

A guy I listen to on a podcast started talking about how meditation has changed how he lives life and how it really relieved a lot of stress and anxiety. He had a hard time considering meditation because of the instant picture most people get in their head when you talk about it, IE people think of hippies with pony tails and Asian robes chanting while sitting cross-legged.

And that's why he recommended Dan Harris' "10% Happier" book. Dan Harris hates those hippy types, but meditation did change his life. So it's written from the perspective of an average Joe.

Dan is a news anchor personality who had an anxiety break-down on air after not working on his stress for years and started seeking ways to fix himself.

I've been doing it for about 10 days now. I wouldn't say I'm getting close to Nirvana, but it is nice to have 5 minutes a day with no noise, with my eyes shut, just thinking about breathing.

And it's starting to have an affect. Part of my anxiety and stress has come from the unknowns of the future, or dreading the future, or missing the past.

Every Sunday night, I start dreading signing into work Monday morning because I just don't feel relaxed enough.

I stare at how much we still owe on student loans, medical bills, and our car every other week and just feel like the balances will never be close to zero. It puts me in a very nihilistic frame of mind where I think, "Why am I on this hamster wheel at all? What's the point of working so hard if most your money is going to these things?"

And then nostalgia kicks in where I think about a simpler time like college. I was working 50 hours a week and going to school full time, but I knew what I was doing. I had relatively low debt. My rent was cheap. My body was in good shape and I just want to crawl back into 2006 like a warm blanket.

Meditating is about staying in the present as much as possible. It's not saying don't plan for the future and don't look back on the past with a smile, but it's saying recognize the moment you're currently living in. Realize how much you're enjoying that sandwich or how great the wind feels against your face while you ride your bike.

I'm starting to realize how much I lean on the future dread and the past. I haven't exactly figured out how to stop it from negatively affecting me yet, but the fact that I'm noticing it feels like real progress.

So I'm hoping by continuing acupuncture and meditation, I'll get to a good spot.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

That Mushy Brain

I can't wait to have some autopilot at my job.

I still love it a ton, but I still feel like I know very little. The application support borders on coding which I haven't done since high school. The business aspects of the job are understandable but out of my range of innate abilities.

Basically, I dread signing in every day because my brain hasn't recovered from the previous day.

I miss having 3-4 hours of my day where I could go on autopilot because I knew what I was doing. Right now, it's still 8 hours of new information. I actually don't know if I've ever had to concentrate for that long of a time.

My previous job, even when I was learning it, there was downtime between calls. I would come home tired, but not completely destroyed like I am now. I maybe had to concentrate 5 hours when I first started in tech support and browsed video game forums in between calls.

College, I maybe had to concentrate 3 hours a day if I had a heavy 3 class day.

High-school, hell, besides math, Spanish, and maybe a few science classes, I could auto-pilot the crap out of history, English, health, social studies. So besides having to wake up at the ungodly time of 5:45 am, it wasn't so bad. I maybe had to engage my brain for 2-3 hours a day.

And elementary school before that was was breeze. I was usually done with my work by 10 am, free to leisurely read in the bean bag chairs.

But right now, 8 hours is brutal. I can't wait until I just know a few things, just so I can run with something and with minimal brain effort get it done.

I miss wanting to do my hobbies outside of work.

Brewing, I really had to push myself to do that this weekend and I'm still exhausted from it.

Haven't written anything outside of a blog in nearly 4 months.

Even video games, a hobby where I can slouch down, drink coffee / beer, and save the world with relatively minimal effort has been hard to do.

There are times where I start fearing that I'm slipping into an early mid-life crises. I start thinking, I may never have the energy to push myself to do something awesome again. Is this what there is? Is this what that angry, trapped feeling 15 year old couldn't wait to have access to?

I turn 32 next week. 32! I thought for sure I would be a cartoonist, a musician, a great American writer by now. I felt like I had the talents but never developed them enough. Never pushed them enough. But I never felt it was the end of the line on those until recently, and that scares me.

But I know it will pass. Everyone I've talked to says it is really hard for six months and then it just sort of clicks. It's really the thing that keeps me coming back because I really do like my co-workers, I liked the company, I can believe in the company, but my brain constitution just wants to give up and let me go work at a Chipotle... because they have some dope burritos and that would be the easy way.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Pokemon Go Biker Gangs

Sal and I both recently got bikes. We haven't had any since we first moved into our house and discovered and our garage door was on the same frequency as someone else's. We discovered this when one Friday, I wandered outside with a beer, saw the door wide open, and both our bikes and scooter taken.

So we have bikes again and are determined to use them. And we had a blast.

Our general rule has been live where you play with our goal being that you park your car on Friday and try not to get back into it until Monday.

We hate driving. We hate when things are so far apart that you have to drive.

We've managed to live this way pretty well for the past 4-5 years. If it's less than a 60 minute walk, we're good with walking. If it's a nice autumn day, we may walk 90 minutes somewhere.

But having bikes has opened up a giant part of the city.

This coincided with a dumb phone game called Pokemon Go coming out. It's a game where you success depends on you getting out of your house, seeing some cool landmarks around you, and going to catch fake creatures in populated areas.

I was never a huge Pokemon fan as a kid, so I wasn't nearly as pumped as 50% of my Facebook friends, but being someone that doesn't like to miss pop-culture phenomenons too often, I figured I'd download it and at least see what this thing is.

We rode our bikes over 30 miles this weekend. It was a new perspective on a lot of our normal haunts. You start noticing buildings you've not before, cool graffiti, cut through roads that make sense on a bike. Hell, you start memorizing street names and get a feel for how the city actually fits together.

We went to Union Loafers for lunch Saturday, road through Dutchtown, down Broadway to Perennial Artisan Ales for afternoon drinks with my brother, then back home for some pizza and board games with friends.

Sunday we woke up early and went to Cafe Osage in the Central West End with our family and then over to Forest Park and the zoo cutting through Tower Grove Park on the way back.

And there were tons of people outside. Groups of 15-35 year olds were wandering as a group, pulling their phone up every few steps to see if new Pokemon jumped up.

Sal and I hung out by a memorial bench in the zoo talking to a 6 year old girl and her mom catching water Pokemon together.

We swapped tips of where rare Pokemon were with a group of 30 year olds wandering from pavilion to pavilion in Tower Grove park.

There were groups of people, laughing, collecting Pokemon, and because the app needs to run for stuff to happen, they were actually having conversations instead of checking their Twitter feeds. This game is bringing back this sense of community that I remember as a kid, but was starting to think it never really existed.

And yes, I heard about the robbery in Ofallon. And yes, someone did stumble upon a dead body while searching for Pokemon. (CNN Story of both, be warned, it has an auto-play video)

Guess what, when you leave your fortress and go outside, you might scrap your knee, you might get robbed or hit by a car, and you might see some really cool stuff in your city.

It's like the news channels are trying to scare people back inside to watch more news and sell more advertising or something.

But I've also seen the positive. Besides people getting out and talking to their neighbors I've seen Pokemon forums suggesting litter pickup days while searching for Pokemon. I've seen people suggest charity events. I've seen people post testimonials about how they were depressed and just couldn't find a reason to leave the house. And I've seen people say this is the most exercise they've had in years.

Yeah, Pokemon Go is an overall broken and dumb game. But it's getting people to do stuff they haven't done since basically the internet became widespread, and that to me is pretty cool.

Sunday, June 5, 2016

Hotel Life

Sal left not too long ago. It sucked. It definitely highlighted how tired I am of the hotel life.

I'm getting irritated at not being able to cook whatever I want to, when I want to.

I'm tired of hearing the AC unit kick on and off every 90 seconds.

I'm getting tired of the TV that always defaults to HLN, turns itself off on an auto-timer after 2 hours, and has sound going up and down while you're watching.

I'm getting really tired of paying $20 for 2 mbps internet and not being able to stream stuff from my favorite website.

I'm tired of listening to music from my phone speakers.

I'm just tired and I know Sal is too.

It especially hit when I got an email reminder of a few things I would need to get from Amazon to work from home. I was supposed to be able to go back to St. Louis this week, but some in person meetings were booked. I'll unfortunately be up here for the full 9 weeks. Only 4 to go.

Sal and I had a good time.

We sort of made up for all the time apart and did probably too much while she was here.

It's a shame that I'm feeling so tired of being here because the weather today is about perfect. 68 degrees, nice breeze, enough cloud cover to not burn, but enough sunshine to feel the warmth.

Only 29 days until I sleep in my own bed again. It's a mantra I repeat to myself every time I'm feeling lonely, frustrated, and isolated.

Hotel life definitely loses that glamour when you're living in a room for more than a couple days.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Dan's Big Day Out

A combination of exhaustion from being in the office, Blues games being scheduled for terrible times, and general apathy for being outside has kept my exploration in Madison to a minimum.

I went to the movies by myself once, I've got for a post work beer with a couple guys a few times, and I've hit all my favorite places from previous trips.

Well, Saturday my buddy Rob had house chores to do and a soccer game in the afternoon and Lacy scheduled a solid 4 hour nap, so I decided to have a Big Day Out.

Rob dropped me off at Johnson and Broom street and my more than 10 mile foot journey began.

It was basically the most perfect weather. Just enough cloud cover to never feel sun burnt, but just enough sun to never feel cold, and a great breeze carrying the lake mist across the land.

My original plan was to take an Uber from around here out to Karben4 brewing, but there was a race in town this weekend and my 15 minute Uber ride was estimated to cost around $30. Karben4 would have to wait.

First, I walked next to the lake to the east side of town to have a few pints at One Barrel Brewing. I arrived shortly after 11 am, right when they opened, and took a seat at the gorgeous wrap around bar. There were only two other people in the bar at the time.

I chatted the guy up who quickly noticed that I was wearing both a St. Louis Blues shirt and a Schlafly hat and called me out on my St. Louis uniform. I swear, I didn't plan it that way.

One Barrel is the type of neighborhood bar where you stop every Friday after work for a pint and catch up with the regulars. I really liked the atmosphere and can't wait to go back.

I ordered a pint and some swag, and soon my relative peace was over.

There's a documentary on Netflix called The Barkley Marathon: The Race That Eats Its Young. I haven't seen it yet, but the 25 bikers that swarmed the bar had, and created the Beerkley Marathon: The Race That Drinks Its Young.

Jess, who appeared to be the coordinator of the race, invited me to join them. She said the only qualification to join was wearing some sort of plaid... which as luck would have it, I changed into plaid shorts right before I left.

So she gave me a race number, 67, and explained the rules. The group was biking to every brewery in Madison that day, and at each brewery you had a beer you had to drink and a special objective you had to complete. The full list is below:

  • One Barrel: Barrel Roll - Roll something that no one else has rolled.
  • Ale Asylum: Seek Asylum - Find a tunnel and go through it.
  • Karben4: Karben 4-en Accents - Speak in a foreign accent the entire time at the brewery.
  • Next Door: Next Door Neighbor - You aren't allowed to pick up your own drink.
  • Great Dane: Man's Best Friend - Adopt a stranger and bring them to the next stop.
  • UW Terrace: Cool off on the Terrace - Use nature to cool down.
  • Vintage: It's Not Old, It's Vintage - Find something vintage
  • Rockhound: Rock Out - Karaoke a song that shouldn't be karaoked. 

Unfortunately for me, my marathon would be short lived since I didn't have a bike. 

After two pints at One Barrel, I wandered down the street to NextDoor Brewing.

Now my biking friends told me that NextDoor has the best cheese curds in Madison. That is a hefty claim because I've had some really awesome cheese curds here. 

They were right... the cheese curds were amazing.

On top of that, I ordered a flight with every beer they had. Usually breweries have 8-10 beers and pour like 3 ounce samples. Nope... not here, 11 samples were delivered to me... and I drank 'em.

With a belly full of cheese and roughly 5 pints, I walked to Brew & Grow a home brew shop, but I got distracted by a skate park across the street. I just stood there, taking in the breeze, watching some really amazing college kids pull off all sorts of tricks. 

After the skate park, I wandered through the east side of town, right to Wisconsin's State Capital. I still haven't taken the tour, but it's one of the most beautiful capitals I've seen. The building looks too clean and it sits on top of a hill, flanked on either side by Lake Mendota and Lake Monona. 

After that, I went to Earwax, a vinyl shop that specializes in Punk and Metal. I didn't find much, but I did find a special edition copy of No Doubt's Ska classic Tragic Kingdom. Then, I wandered into A New Hope comic book shop across the hallway and scored two Punisher comics signed by famed Marvel artist Jim Lee. 

Now, I was still feeling great about the day, I had some more podcasts to listen to, and you look at that map below and everything seems pretty close... so I walked back to Rob and Lacy's not realizing I was adding a solid 90 minutes to my walk. 

By the time I got back to their place, my feet hurt, my back hurt, my eyes were filled with dust and sunburned, and I needed a shower. 

I showered, napped, then woke up to watch the Blues beat the Sharks in game 5. 

What a day.

Monday, May 16, 2016

Getting Stung

My friend Lacy is incredibly scared of bees, hornets, wasps. Like, obviously, no one really likes to be stung by any of them, but she has an innate terror the likes of which you don't often see outside of horror movies.

We were having a beer on her deck, enjoying a Friday afternoon and she showed me a hornets nest from the year prior that was built in their outdoor light. She basically said, if the hornet comes back this year, she's hiring someone to kill it with a flamethrower.

The ironic thing is, she just got stung for the first time ever a week prior on the bottom of her foot. She admitted it wasn't too bad, but then back tracked and thought maybe that's because it was on the part of the foot that is really tough. The anxiety is still there at the extreme levels it was before.

I've only ever been stung once too. The soccer fields by my house had thousands of those small yellow flower weeds and there were always tons of bees when games weren't going on.

On the other side of those fields were woods that me and my buddies used to play in. One time I went sprinting across the fields towards the woods where adventure awaited.

I didn't even realize what was happening. I thought it was a mosquito until I looked down and saw the bee still attached to my leg. I had those dumb kid thoughts like, "Hmmm, this sort of sucks. Should I react? Do I cry?"

I don't think I did much other than curse, which was something my friends and I had just started doing when no parents were around.

But anyway, this conversation reminded of a time back in third grade. I had this baseball coach I didn't like. He was always yelling at us, his son, his wife, just everyone. He was an angry bastard.

Well, this one game I remember being particularly tired, it was incredibly hot, and when you're on the baseball field and you feel hot and you're wearing those thick baseball pants that don't breath and that dust is getting kicked up... well, let's just say that's all my least favorite things in one experience.

So I'm angry, and I don't like my coach.

I'm sitting on the bench, my time to bat was still at least six or sever kids away. I'm just praying for some sort of relief.

Then, I see a wasp start working it's way up coach's leg. I raise my hand to get his attention and then I hear him grumbling as he looks at the batting order on the piece of paper in his hands. My hand went down, I watched as the wasp crawled up his shorts, and a few seconds later he got stung near ... well you know where near.

He swatted and started cursing and got really red in the face with how angry he was.

I was sort of a jerk as a kid. I think even if someone I didn't like was in the same situation now, I'd probably tell them... probably.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Two Weeks In

I'm about to finish my second week at the new job.

It's been tough for sure.

I really like the company. Actually, working in the office makes me wish I were closer to the office so I could go in there once or twice a week. It's a great loose atmosphere. People work outside on the new deck. Great free coffee is available to every employee. Premier league games are put on the TV Friday afternoons and everyone crowds around with their laptops to watch.

I even joined the brew club and have Sal bringing up a bunch of St. Louis beers for everyone to sample on the deck in a few weeks.

I sort of still don't believe it's a real place.

And Madison is beautiful. They really built the town around nature. There's paths through the woods, a geese rehabilitation nature preserve right outside my work, and it's just so green. The most important thing, almost no humidity still. I saw St. Louis was thick with 90% humidity, and I'm walking to work in gorgeous 70 degree weather with a light breeze.

But it's really hard being away from my home, my dumb cats, and especially my dumb wife.

Hotel life is hard. Hotels are one of my favorite things when it's for a couple days, but going on my second week, I'm tired of not having my own bed, hearing the noises of the other tenants, and fearing that the cleaning crew will bust in on any random Friday morning before I left.

My second night staying in the hotel, some jackass even pulled the fire alarm. We all had to file outside, in the cold, at 2:30 while the firefighters cleared the building. It's just that dumb college stuff I'm dealing with again, except now I'm older and more tired and know what it's like to have control.

I'm breaking the days up by meals and the weeks up by weekends. It's all I can really do.

It's also hard not being around the city while my Blues are doing so well. As much as I love watching the game with my buddy Rob on his couch, it just doesn't compare to being in a bar filled with people dressed in blue going nuts.

I actually might have some tension at work because the guy behind me is a Blackhawks fan, two of the guys I get along with are Penguins fans, and NBC loves to tell me that Madison is Wild country. I'm surrounded by people the Blues had to / will have to crush on the way to the finals.

Two weeks of nine are finished. That's almost 25% done. When you break it down like that, it really doesn't seem that long, but at the same time it feels like infinity.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Let Me Earn Your Praise

Sal and I have a friend who is getting married. How do we know that? Well because she made a hashtag, and if you search for that hashtag she has six daily reminders that, "this is the last laundry day until my wedding," "last sandwich until my wedding," "last date as fiancees."

Now, someone excited for their wedding, no matter how much of the patience of their friends they are spending, is a good thing. But this person also wants all eyes on her for everything. She wanted a bachelorette party, a wedding shower, a housewarming party, and she even tried to set up a present unwrapping party for the day after the wedding.

I like when all eyes are on me. I love attention. I will gladly take control of a room and get everyone listening to my quips and stories.

But I like to earn it.

I've always had a hard time where all eyes are on me and I didn't do anything to earn it.

Like my birthday for instance, I've always hated the cake and song and opening presents while everyone watches. Yes, celebrate me! Yes, I love getting presents! But all I did was not die in the womb. Everyone's eyes should be on my mom while I open presents. Sing to her. That's sort of my ideal birthday.

Same thing for college graduation. I was going to go to college anyway. I looked at the roster, saw there were 600 people I didn't care about graduating at the same time, didn't recognize the speaker, and thought, "meh, I'd rather have free time."

Even my wedding, I had to win over Sal and by the time the wedding came along, I had already done that. Now everyone wants to congratulate me for what? Being attractive, funny, and locking things up?

And then I was awarded "Team Member of the Year" at my old job. I didn't realize I was signing up for exactly the thing I hated. I showed up in a button down and tie and soon saw everyone else decked out in suits and dresses, I heard the music hit, and realized... "uh-oh, I stumbled backwards into an award ceremony."

I guess what I'm saying is... only throw me parties if I've won the room over on my own? I don't know what the point of this really is. Just been hearing a lot about weddings and graduations today and it is really weird how different I feel about those situations than most people.

Edit: After giving this a second read, I think I realized the point of this was a humble brag about how awesome I am.

Friday, April 22, 2016


In elementary school, I was in the gifted kids program. Once a week I was shuttled off to the high-school where we did incredibly more interesting studies than we did at our normal schools.

Usually we would study something in history in the morning (middle ages, Greek mythology), do something language related around lunch (poetry, French), and something science related in the afternoon. (weather studies, engineering). 

The lesson plans were usually written out to last about 6 weeks before moving onto a new subject and typically at the end of the 6 weeks you had some sort of presentation to give. 

Well there was one time where we had to come up with an invention. 

Being the selfish video-game addict I was, I would get incredibly irritated anytime my mom vacuumed the living room and I was watching TV or playing a game. Not only do you have the noise from the vacuum, but with older CRT TVs you would get all the static fuzz on the image.

So my idea was some sort of vacuum muffler or insulation. Something to kill the noise and interference. 

Now, I'm an idea man. I've never embraced math or science. I tend to blame having really boring math teachers never gripping me in the studies. I remember really enjoying balancing equations, but that's about the end of my math love. 

Now, I also loved building LEGOs. So I had a sort of engineering / problem solving mind, but without the math background this never really matured. 

So... my idea, incredibly solid. My implementation... meh... maybe not as much.

I remember the two teachers telling me it would be hard, but as long as I tried, even if the invention failed, I would get a passing grade. 

We had to call places and ask them if that product existed as part of this. I called Sears and asked their home appliance department if they ever heard of a vacuum muffler. They sounded really confused for a moment and then said, "No, I don't think so, but if you figure it out, we would be really interested in that."

And then I ignored the project for the next four weeks until I had that panic grip me because I was never going to get this done.

So, idea man happened again. I figured I could use recycled materials and get a bonus for being environmentally friendly. (I also did not want to go to stores and figure out what material I would actually use for this.)

So how did I solve the problem? I cut (probably my mom actually) several gallon milk jugs in half, taped them together, and then spray painted this monstrosity red. Once the paint dried, I glued a ton of cotton you use to stuff pillows with to the inside.

Success bullet points:

  • It fit nicely over our vacuum.
  • There was a mild noise reduction to what I considered to be acceptable levels. 
Failure bullet points:
  • The vacuum got really hot since I essentially put a blanket over it.
  • Spray paint does not stick to milk jugs, so the red paint chips went everywhere in the classroom and on my hand.
  • Static was still an issue.
  • I lied, the sound reduction was not at an acceptable level.
So basically, if you need an idea or a brainstorming session, I'm your guy. If you need me to build something for you... you should really just call literally anyone else.

I did get a passing C+ since I did build something and it was a good idea, but my teachers knew this was a last minute and half baked idea.

And to be fair, the inventions that did work were really dumb rip-offs of things that actually exist. Come on Brandon, there are already utility belts you can wear that stores your tools. Don't be dumb. Just look at every handyman in the world. 

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Memory of Spencer

I had one of those insanely vivid dreams that I was on an adventure with a very old friend, and of course a stream of memories were accessed in my brain when I woke up this morning.

I just had one of those feelings that my brain was getting ready to purge this information for some new stuff, and I felt sort of sick to my stomach not having a memory of my friend Spencer.

Spencer and I hit it off in 4th grade, when during our scheduled restroom break, we were sitting cross-legged in the hall of the school. Most of my friends were in the other 4th grade class, so not being shy about just talking to whoever was around, I turned to the guy behind me, pointed at a roster for the 2nd grade class, and said, "there's a kid in that class named "I-ON." (Phonetically how I said it)

Spencer looked at the name, and looked me in the eye, and said, "You're an idiot. That's my brother. His name is Ian."

And that is how we started hanging out.

Spencer used to spend the night at my house fairly often, especially early on. We would spend nights drawing from comic books, drawing on huge pieces of paper, even drawing on my unpainted wall in my basement room.

I remember how he used to tell anyone that would listen, how great of an artist I was. He's honestly probably the reason I kept with drawing for a few more years.

I know Scully, my face exactly.
He'd often spend the night on Friday. I remember this because he had an unhealthy obsession with Gillian Andersen's (Scully) boobs.

After NYPD Blue showed a bare butt on TV (a dude's at that), Spencer was convinced that Scully's "bowling ball boobs" (his 4th grade words, not mine) would eventually be shown on TV. So every week, around Wednesday, he would start hyping up the Friday X-files by telling me his older brother heard this was the week.

It obviously never happened.

Side note: This may be where my love of red heads came from.

After we had been hanging out for a year or so, he started inviting me to spend the night at his grandma's house, but not his.

His grandma and grandpa were pretty well off. They would pick me up and take us to Mid-Rivers mall in their giant, leased SUV. Spencer's grandma would give him $30 to spend while we putz around the mall. I always thought Spencer was lucky to have so much money at his disposal.

We usually ate mall food (me Sbarro, him Chic-fil-a), comb through all the books at Walden's, usually buying a comic-book (me, Calvin and Hobbes if I had money, him Batman vs Predator), and then head back to his grandparents's really nice duplex around a lake.

Normally we would then play his grandparent's Gateway PC which was incredibly powerful
compared to any computer we had.

There was a largely forgotten game called Hunter Hunted that was our favorite, where one of us would play as a beast and one a man, and we would fight our way through a post-apocalyptic future together.

To this day, these warm memories usually have me loading the game onto my PC once a year to play through it.

We would fall asleep on the couch bed and every hour I was woken by an incredibly loud cuckoo-clock.

It was probably year 2 when I got my first invite to Spencer's actual house. Even then, I remember feeling really bad for him and his dad.

It was an ideal Bellefontaine Neighbors suburban ranch home, probably built in the 50's. It was down the street from a middle school, had fenced in yard, made of brick, and had a market on the corner.

Except that this house was on the western side of the town, near Glasgow Village and the river. White flight had already started in the area. The middle school had closed down from lack of kids. There were 10 houses on sale and not taken care of in the area. I remember how the street used to shimmer under street lights from all the broken glass.

And Spencer's dad... he was the man I really felt for. He had a 900 square foot house, filled with five children. He worked long hours, 5 in the morning until 7 at night from what I understood. Some sort of manual labor. He would come home, pass out fast food to everyone, and sit to watch TV.

He was nice, never hit anyone, but he did have a temper. He was too tired to really pay attention to the kids, so instead he would yell for them to do things.

I remember eating pancakes off a plastic plate at Spencer's one morning and the pancakes tasted like soap. Spencer's dad flipped out yelling at Spencer, "I told you to rinse all the soap off of the dishes when you're done cleaning them." We all sat in silence eating our soapy pancakes.

I think the worst I felt for Spencer's dad is even though he had all the kids, Spencer's mom got them in the summer and she got to be a superhero. All the kids couldn't wait to go out to Arizona where there were no rules.

Every year, when Spencer was coming back from his mom's, excitement built again. I couldn't wait for nights filled with games and comic-books.

Then one year he came back. I rode my bike to his house, and we started walking to our favorite market to buy candy. He pulled out a cigarette. This must have been before 7th grade. I felt a sea change.

He offered me one, I said no. Then he got antagonistic, "Oh, I guess you're too good for me now. You think I'm a piece of crap for smoking don't you?"

Despite me answering no, something had changed. We both knew it. We got some candy, made some small talk, and this is the last time I remember hanging out with Spencer. I was at a different school now, we were both at different places in our life. It's one of those friendships where a coming of age film could be based off of it. It was probably a few years too short, but I really appreciated having it at all.

I saw Spencer once, maybe six years later, at Jamestown mall. He looked exactly as his older brother looked back then. Him, just stretched longer, some stubble on his upper lip, wearing a Charlotte Hornets Starter Jacket.

I think about Spencer every now and then. I think because it was such a short friendship, I don't have as many stories about him so he doesn't come up as often. I hope he's doing OK.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

The Game of Stocks

Imagine a world where a king's head can be chopped off at the jealous whim of a former knight. Or a lord trading secrets in order to gain more favor and land from a queen. This world exists folks, welcome to the Game of Stocks.

I've spent the last almost decade working closely with those people that trade in the stock market.

Most of them seem stressed, privileged, and angrily satisfied. In the brief glimpses of what that money could earn you, a yacht, lake house, or vacation to Costa Rica, I got calls from guys desperately trying to sign in on their "day off" and would often hear the family complaining that their broker parent was signing in to work again.

It put a bad taste in my mouth for all of it. The guys that trade. The people who invest. Companies that go public.

I understand why companies go public. They see a chance to expand, to make their product better, to make their company stronger. But that opens them up to people that don't care. People that got into it to make money, the stock holders. And from what I can tell, the stock holders with the power, don't care if your company is bought, moves overseas, or stops innovating, at long as they can make a dollar and get out before the ship sinks.

I'm reading Dethroning the King which talks in depth about what lead to InBev buying Anheuser Busch. It's interesting to see some of the behind the scenes stuff that I always assumed happened, but wasn't privileged to know.

What I'm learning, is even the most powerful and rich people on the planet, are just as scared and petty as the rest of us.

There's a story about AB hiring a bunch of banks to pitch them strategies on how to stop a hostile takeover. AB picked their favorites and dismissed the other banks. Well, one of those banks went to InBev and was like, "Hey dudes, we don't like those AB guys anymore. They didn't pick us for kickball. We have all this financial information that you may like to see, maybe we buddy up?" Like literally, billions of dollars at play, and a butt hurt bank goes out of their way to stab an American company.

There's stories about InBev offering $65 a share when AB's stock was in the low $50s, and stock holders shutting down the acquisition of Mexican brewer Modelo by AB. An acquisition that would've saved AB and kept them American owned and would've brought the stock prices up naturally.

And just how bulletproof the Busch family felt sitting a top their St. Louis thrones. The gall they had to just say, "Nah man, we're good just owning America. We don't need protection against those foreigners. We're too big to fail." (Heard that one before haven't you)

A buddy of mine admitted he's part of the problem, although a small one. He knows he's giving money to a company with the promise of a return, and he demands that return get larger and larger.

Eventually there's no where left to grow, no other companies to buy, no major innovation in the near future. So how do you keeps the stock holders happy? How do you keep them from selling shares off in droves or demanding the head of the top dogs of the company?

You start making cuts. First things to go are research and development and Information Technology. Both divisions that generally cost money, and don't make money. (Both of which are incredibly necessary nowadays thought)

Micheal Dell famously bought back Dell computers and penned an article basically saying, "Stock holders want short term money, despite what our customers want, despite us staying innovative with new products, and it put Dell behind many other computer companies."

The stock holders are happy when you show them the graphs that say, "We trimmed up, we made slightly more profit for you."

Then the next quarter comes and the stock holders say, "Hey, what's up with this? You're not making any more than you were last quarter."

The company says, "We have a strong, diversified portfolio, but the market was weak this quarter. We promise next quarter to make more."

Then they start looking at departments they can outsource to other countries. Data entry, accounts payable, third shift workers, all gone.

Then the next quarter the company get a pat on the back.

Then quality starts suffering, no innovations have come in a while, and there's no more fat that can be trimmed. In fact, those offshore positions are now making a middle class wage, which means they are worth more money. Which means companies either find a new third world country to go to for cheap labor, or they onshore a fraction of the jobs that were once here and just have people do several jobs for one paycheck.

The morale of the people still with the company, working several people's jobs are at an all time low.

The company tries to calm stock holders, talking about a fickle market and the lack of spending (which the large amount of unemployed / recession scared workforce is probably contributing to), but the stock holders no longer have it. They demand the CEO step down. A new one steps up.

That CEO makes a promise to quality. They hire a bunch of American contract workers, start righting the ship, that is at least until robots can replace the people.

Rinse, repeat, the American dream.

Did we betray the idea of the free market? Or is the American dream only meant for a select few?

Monday, March 21, 2016

State of the Job Search

Now that I've tapped my networked resources and have a few things in the pipeline, I decided to check out the public world for work, just to see what I will be dealing with.

It's interesting, because some of my complaints from a 2008 post are exactly the same.

  1. Contracting Firms: I've applied to roughly 10 positions now. These are positions that sound perfect on paper and are written as if from the perspective of the company I'm looking at.

    Then I get a call. "Hi Dan, yes, this is Amanda with Gotcha Enterprises. We see you applied for a job at Blah Blah Co. Well, we don't actually work for Blah Blah Co, but are actually a contracting firm that they use. We'd love to set you up with an interview for the position. Also, can you sign this exclusivity agreement? It basically says you can't work with another firm and it gives us the right to schedule interviews with other companies we think we could get you hired.

    Beyond that, I've had two contractors ask me if I have a skill, I say, "not really." And they respond with, "Oh, I'm sure that's fine. It's something you can pick up on the job."

    And contract work has only been growing since World War 2. No PTO, no health insurance, and gives the company all the protection it wants. You can be laid off without notice or have your pay cut.

    This happened to me in my first contract job. "Dan, so sorry, your company wants to cut the amount it spends on you, so we are going to cut your pay by $3 an hour. You can either sign the new paperwork or lose your job.
  2. Terrible Web Forms: Please upload your resume.

    OK, we scanned your resume and found your name and phone number.

    Click Next.

    Please manually type out all of your job experience, education, skills, and awards that are also found on the resume you just gave us.

    To the Internet's credit, I did have a few applications that I could just click, "Apply Using LinkedIn" and it auto-filled everything which was awesome. So not as prevalent as it was in 2008.
  3. Insane Qualifications: We would like you to be a doctor, but also have three years experience in technology work, and you must be willing to work some weekends.

    Who is that person? If you're a doctor, unless you really hated it, wouldn't you rather do doctor stuff?
  4. LinkedIn: There is only one thing human resources like more than QR codes... and that's LinkedIn. It's unfortunately a necessary part of job hunting nowadays.

    If you just run with the default LinkedIn settings, be prepared to get 10 emails a day. "Hey see what this guy is up to. Ho Dan, someone endorsed your skills. Hey Dan, why not upgrade to premium so you can see who looked at your profile? Hey Dan, this contracting firm is contacting you about a pyramid scheme you just can't pass up on.

    Took me 10 minutes to unsubscribe from all email notifications.

    And they are a tricky bunch. When looking at potential connections, they hide people that aren't on LinkedIn with people that are. So if you just click connect on everything, you'll spam friends and family with invitations to join LinkedIn. 
I've only been really looking hard for a few days and I'm already tired. If this is the punishment for finding work, just let the robots replace us all and I'll join John Conner and eat bugs. I'd rather wield a laser rifle while I'm young and able than slowly die on our overpopulated, over-polluted, AI planet. 

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Cord Cutters

Sal and I have been without cable TV since 2009. 

Every now and then someone says, "Have you see this show on FX yet?" and after replying I don't have cable, I hear about how awesome the show is. And sometimes I do feel like I'm missing out on cultural touchstones like Walking Dead.

And there are times where I consider the $120 a month it would cost to have the three channels we actually want vs the bar tab of going out to watch Blues games three times a month and I think, "You know, somehow I would save money with cable."

But overall, I'm happy without it. 

I like having the freedom to watch what I want when I want. I like feeling like I could go out on a weeknight. I like not watching appointment TV. There are too many people in my life that won't go out on a Thursday night because they have must see TV. 

People will say things like, "But don't you worry about missing Big Bang Theory or Pawn Stars or whatever is on TV," and you know what... once you haven't had it for a few weeks, you really don't miss it. In fact, you start seeing patterns of how every sitcom is the same, how every late night interview with the same celebrity is the same stories, about how every sporting event is filled with prescription drug commercials that both cause and solve constipation. 

And anytime Sal and I do stay in a hotel or a house with cable and we watch it, I quickly realize how much I really don't miss it. My brain feels worse off after an hour of network television than it does watching Netflix, or playing video games, or reading, or socializing. 

I like that I don't lose hours of my life having the TV on in the background. Other friends will admit they will watch 7 hours of TV on a lazy Sunday afternoon where they can't remember a single thing they watched only hours later. I've seen people literally consuming movies that are edited for time and commercials via their cable subscription when they have the Blu-ray sitting on a shelf 12 feet away. 

And there are people that think they circumvent appointment TV with their DVRs, but in my limited experience, these people seem the most stressed. 

Say they had a busy week. Usually when I ask them what they are doing this weekend and they frantically say, "I'm really behind on my DVR, I need to catch up on like 6 hours of TV this weekend."

The fact that cable companies still use non-replaceable hard drives in their DVR devices, that will fill up eventually, hardware that often times will crash and lose weeks of saved shows, shows that they aren't looking to the future. They a desperately trying to keep the status quo going by signing sporting contracts in the hundreds of millions of dollars because ultimately they know that is what is keeping the cable box alive in the American home.

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.