Ride or Die

Sometime around May 6th, 2002, I was sitting in my living room in Virginia when I heard my husband walking up the stairs to the apartment. He’d gone out about 40 minutes before to buy my birthday present. I had no idea what it would be and didn’t remember giving any hints about what I wanted. I couldn’t come up with anything I wanted, actually. I don’t know if I’d already resigned myself to living in a shithole apartment in an even shitholier neighborhood in what would prove to be the shitholiest of marriages, but the point is, I didn’t know what to expect.

When the footsteps reached the top of the stairs, the door opened. He wasn’t in the doorway. The door was open but he wasn’t there, and just as I was about to stand up and go over there to see what he was doing, this fur-covered thing was flung into the room. It landed on the carpet, took half a second to look at me with a face that said “OH SHIT” and tore ass to the back bedroom, where it went under the bed and stayed there for two days.

I didn’t even get a good look at it. I could tell that it was mostly black with some white at its chin, but other than that, I hadn’t had time to register anything other than it was currently under my bed and oh, yeah, I guess my husband got me a cat for my birthday.

Later, when I asked him why he’d given me an adult cat instead of a kitten, he said that when he’d gone to the shelter, he’d seen plenty of kittens. This cat happened to be in a cage with a whole bunch of kittens, but “he looked angry,” and that was why he got adopted and was brought to me (this is where Robin laughs and says “that cat has Erin’s personality”).

The shelter people said his name was Elmo, which I thought was a) super lame and b) unnecessary, as the people who’d owned him before apparently kept him shut in the garage the whole time so probably never used his name in the first place. So for a few days, we tried names for him. Loki was the front-runner, but for some reason, that didn’t stick. Neither did anything else we threw his way. Eventually, he became known as The Cat. It was what he answered to and appeared to like. Vet offices liked it, too, and I have yet to meet a receptionist who doesn’t giggle when she says “okay, bye, The Cat!”

The Cat was about a year old when I got him, and still spry as a kitten. He loved those toys that are feather strings on long sticks, and would leap over five feet in the hair, somersaulting mid-flight, to catch them. He slowed down eventually, which made him a tad overweight, but with his enormous frame (seriously, I’ve had vets clasp his head and go “oh my god, his skeletal structure is huge…I mean, take a look at this skull!”), he carried it well. He seemed good-natured about it, too, but then, he was good-natured about pretty much everything. He rode curled in my lap during the first cross-country move we shared together. During the drive to San Diego, he stood up in the passenger seat of my car and yowled at passing cars, prompting people to crack up while tearing down the interstate.

Although he was a gift to me, I always thought of The Cat as a shared animal. After all, I was married and assumed I’d have to stay that way. It was in San Diego, though, that he proved his true loyalties, when he bit and scratched at my husband when it became clear that he’d cheated, lied, and stolen money from me and I no longer wanted him around. This remains the only time The Cat has ever lashed out at anyone, and it made me proud to call him my friend.

As he does with most animals, my father loves The Cat. When my father flew to San Diego to drive back to St. Louis with me, he immediately scooped up The Cat, held him to the ceiling (he does this for some reason?) and baby-talked at him until The Cat politely asked to be put down. The Cat chilled out in the backseat for the entire ride back to St. Louis, voicing his displeasure only once, when he was babysat by a security guard so my father and I could get out of the car and see Meteor Crater. The security guard loved it, and other park guests remarked on how they’d never heard a cat so loud. He is talkative enough that I don’t think he knows he’s a cat, and I have no business telling him, so we can carry on mostly full conversations. Anyone can do this with him if they want. He’s happy to oblige.

The Cat accompanied me to two apartments and one house in St. Louis, enduring power blackouts, roving guests, weird schedules, and peaceably (eventually happily, even) cohabiting with another cat (Izzy), a dog (Marley), and a longterm regular-boyfriend-turned-live-in-boyfriend (Graham). When the time came to move to Seattle, The Cat, now older and a little more tired, seemed anxious about the number of boxes piling up. As is our custom, I took him aside and explained the plan. From then on, he seemed satisfied to know that we were doing this together, and that I’d never left him behind since the day I met him, and everything would be fine.

Upon arrival in Seattle, The Cat developed a deserved hatred for a neighborhood outdoor cat who I suspect lived part-time under our house when he wasn’t being a total dick. He held a grudge against Courtney when she looked after him while Graham and I were out of town. He then forgave Courtney and she remains one of his favorite people on earth, and he tells her stories when she comes over. He immediately loved Luke, Puglisi, and Crossley, and for some insane reason made Josh wait for it, but now he can’t wait for Josh to touch him when he walks through the door. He cries if Graham doesn’t pick him up to cuddle him like a baby. He reminds me if I’m five minutes late for his regular feeding time. He had a little trouble with the stairs in our current place, but limbered up quickly with the glucosamine treats I found for his hips. His eyes are gold when he’s angry and green when he’s happy, and he always looks up at me with green eyes.

The Cat is my homie. He is my ride or die. He is my best friend, my road buddy, my silly, my too durn, just so full of the durns, I can’t handle it. As my father would say, he is a suge (short for sugar). He is my Stink, my Big Stink, Stink of the Week, Stink with a Microphone, Stinker-Tron. Oh, he is crazy. Just too crazy. It’s too much for me. This is what I tell him.

After nearly 13 years together, The Cat is an old man. He is slower, weaker, and, now, sicker. I took him to the vet last weekend because I could feel his bones when I pet him, the lustrous fat of his middle age worn away. He’s too handsome to ever be haggard, but in a lesser cat, I can see how someone would use the word. After reviewing his labs, the regular vet sent me to a radiology clinic, where they found (and then took a biopsy of) some masses in his stomach and noted his now-deformed bladder, gallbladder, and pancreas. The Cat has been diagnosed with lymphoma, which means that what I thought would be our last couple of years together has shrunk by a significant margin, and this is really the beginning of the end.

I’m calling the regular vet on Monday to discuss steroids to make The Cat more comfortable. I’m also attempting to get a phone consultation with the cat oncologist (yes, really) about non-intensive treatments like palliative care. There will be no cat chemo, no immunology treatments. They will not improve the quality of his remaining life. For now, although he is extremely thin, his eating, drinking, bathroom, and attention-seeking habits are the same, he doesn’t hide from us or anyone else, and he never shies away when we pet him, no matter where that might be. So while I know that cats are very good at hiding pain, he seems to be a smaller version of his regular self, and for now, I take that as a sign that he can stay with us for a bit longer. When the time approaches, I will ease his pain the best I can. When the time comes, I will let him go.

I’ve occasionally felt silly about being heartbroken over this inevitability, but I remember what Kat told me after Marley died and I apologized for talking about it so much. “Don’t you ever apologize for loving another living thing,” she said, assuming, of course, that nobody would ever love, say, Hitler if he was alive. I’ve tried keeping this in mind, because even though there are plenty of people who think it’s ridiculous to love a cat so much (these are the same people who get angry if they think you talk about your pets the way they talk about their children), I choose to think that I am capable of wholeheartedly loving something that cannot, in spoken English, anyway, confirm that it loves me back. While this may not be as complex as the way a parent loves their child, I think it’s pretty close.

The Cat has been the greatest, most constant, faithful companion of my adult life, and I still cannot get over how lucky I got when he was literally thrown into my home. I love him to pieces and I hope like crazy that I have done right by him, that noble beast, my ride or die.

thecatsays

Posted in I Heart, Sads | Tagged , , , | 3 Comments

Make Like a Diarist

It’s been a few weeks since I wrote that I wouldn’t be writing very much, and although I have been tempted to dash some gripe or another off in that time, I’ve resisted on the basis that aside from that gripe, I didn’t have too terribly much to say. And it turns out that I was right, so the temptations came and went and nobody’s lives were changed for better or for worse.

But since it has been awhile, I figured I would make like a diarist and get a few things down. That’s one of the best things about blogging, or least about blogging for as long as I’ve been doing it (it was better when Ye Olde Olde Blog was still in existence, although I don’t entirely blame MySpace for erasing the content after I and everyone else abandoned it for a period of several years). And while old blogs do contain some cringe-worthy moments – for me it was an uncomfortable level of verbosity and also the amount of alcohol I used to drink – overall, they’re far less unpleasant than reading my old actual diaries. I much preferred reading a for-public-viewing version of what I was doing in 2005 versus the depressingly insane shit I wrote in my private journals. Sheesh.

So. Here’s what I’ve been doing since I said I wasn’t going to write about what I was doing anymore:

Not long after I wrote my last blog entry, I had a small personal crisis over hitting a weight loss plateau. It was my own fault; I’d stopped logging the food I was eating and had caved to the laziness that I still think was (is) perfectly understandable after waking up at 4:30am every day and not getting home until 5:30pm, after which I still had to do chores like make dinner, do dishes, scoop cat poop, etc. One rainy, pre-sunrise morning, I stood slumped at the bus stop in my bulky layers and consoled myself by thinking, “hey, relax, you’re still down three sizes and you’re not that fat.” It was at this precise moment that the elderly Chinese woman at my bus stop asked me when my baby was due.

Uh. I’m not pregnant. Which is what I told her. She then apologized and helpfully (?) started miming sit-ups, which she says she does every morning. So that was nice, and I got to spend the rest of the day (and a couple of weeks after) obsessing over it and have since realized that I will probably never get over it for as long as I live.

While I went back to religiously logging my food and counting my steps after this, I knew that a few days would be totally lost thanks to my visit to St. Louis. It’s one thing to log what you’re eating on the app that you could finally get thanks to an upgraded phone (yippee!), but quite another to realize that you can’t possibly quantify all of the beer and pork you’ve shoved into your face while on some version of vacation. I tried in the beginning. I did. And although I consumed more calories than I’d been limiting myself to (1,800 per day), I was still burning more than I ate (although not as high as my previous deficit standard of 1,000). But then I realized that part of the joy of going back to the Midwest is the food, and that I was being a real dick to myself by policing that aspect. So I ate and drank whatever I wanted and still managed to get a tiiiiiiny bit of exercise in (2.6 miles with my dad, 5.5 with Vern and Stepanie) to futilely balance it out.

During my visit, one friend commented on how she misses my rants here, and how I don’t write as often or as vitriolically as I did when I still lived in St. Louis. My response was “I’m not as angry as I was when I lived in St. Louis.” A huge part of that was leaving my old job and old managers, both of which created as atmosphere I described as “rife with dick-suckery.” Believe it or not, this is a nice way of talking about eight of the most professionally frustrating and demeaning years of my life. Old job and compliment about my old writing style aside, overall, moving to Seattle has made me a more content, satisfied person, so even though I’m not writing as much anymore, it’s cool that a visit home made me realize this.

As for the rest of going back to St. Louis, I purposefully kept my visit smaller this time around. I stayed at my dad’s, hung out with his cat (see below, her name is Mommers because she’d had beaucoup litters by the time my dad took her in as a stray), and kept my social visits modest. I got to see a lot of the people I miss most (although some never showed, ahem, THANKS FUCKERS), I got to feel pangs of envy at cheap places for rent in decent neighborhoods (which are still unfortunately surrounded by the rest of St. Louis) and I got to leave invigorated by my visit rather than drained, and excited as hell to get back to Seattle and it’s mountains/water/cats/walking/vegetable-based meal plan again.

mommers pic

Library books read on the plane: “Mrs. God” by Peter Straub, sort of a gothic-inspired English pastoral horror novella that I’m not entirely sure I understood but it was an okay way to kill a flight, “Hallucinations” by Oliver Sacks, which I gave up on because it was dry and more repetitive than even this one book on astral projection that I can’t fully remember but that’s not the point because I thought I’d love it but didn’t, “A Caress of Twilight” by Laurell K. Hamilton, which is decent enough for what it is but I have got to stop being disappointed by my favorite short story horror writers when it comes to their full-length novels, and, finally, Greg Sestero’s “The Disaster Artist,” which is hysterical and almost as weird as The Room and I’m almost done devouring it.

I’ve also been trying to set up an appointment at the vet’s office for The Cat, who has spent the last year and a half getting the perfect beach body. Let me explain: The Cat has always been, shall we say, husky. Substantial. Not obese – he’s really long and tall and as more than one vet has told me, he is a “skeletal giant,” but he’s always had some belly swag and was sleek and meaty, as cats go. But over the past year and a half, he’s lost weight. A lot of weight. I understand that he’s old – fourteen and a half – and that nothing else, from his appetite to his affection seeking to his obsessive love for treats has changed, but the speed at which he has lost weight and the way I can feel all of the bones of his spine are concerning to me. The Cat has been my best friend since 2002. He has accompanied me across the country multiple times. I am aware that we are nearing the end of our time together, but whether that end comes from simple old age or something more sinister, it is my responsibility to remain a good steward for him. And if this means getting up early this Saturday and spend a boatload of money on blood tests and x-rays, then so be it.

Like rent, utilities, and groceries, any The Cat-based expenditure is considered necessary; however, all other expenditures are not. The time has once again come for me to buckle down and stop spending money except on the necessities of living; I’ve been playing a little more fast and loose with my cash than normal, and as a result, I’m a couple of thousand bucks away from where I’d like my bank account to stay. So no more online shopping. No more “I deserve it” nights at bars. No more expensive meals, no more new book purchases (library only), no more Uber, and no more using my debit card if I can help it when cash from Graham’s share of the rent is available. I’d like to get my account balance back into a comfortable (for me) range and start saving in earnest for our Buenos Aires trip next year, so it’s back to living small and hoping that my friends understand that for the next few months, I’m all about reading, writing (ahem, not here), and watching Netflix at home.

Which means I’ll have even less to write about, although it is probably better to have a few diary-like entries to remind Future Me of what happened rather than a whole slew of overanalytical nutjob entries that will undoubtedly be either embarrassing or tedious later on.

Posted in Bookish, I Eat, Seattle, Writing | Leave a comment

Silence Will Fall

I’m not really writing anymore. I mean, I am writing, I’m just not writing anything that gets posted here. Half of what I write for here gets deleted on purpose before I ever complete the editing process, and half of what I’m going to write for here just…disappears, I guess, either because it’s not important or not funny or I decided that 140 characters or less worked better and I posted it on Twitter.

While there is still a part of me that feels bad about not writing here and that’s the part that overachieves and feels a bone-deep fear at the idea that people might think I’m lazy or not smart enough to come up with anything, I’m also kind of okay about it for a few reasons.

First, nobody even reads blogs anymore. Back when I was writing every day (and got bristly messages from friends and strangers alike if I didn’t), blogs were the thing. I don’t even think Twitter existed back when I started blogging. Even when I leapt from the MySpace platform (I told you it was a long time ago) to Blog City, blogs were still a big deal and I was generating and average of something like 1,600 original views a day. But sometime around Blog City’s shutdown and the move to WordPress, blogs stopped being a thing people did and started being a subject of ridicule. I mean, they were already a subject of ridicule a little bit, and in the ridiculers’ defense, blogs did morph from a daily diary of sorts for interesting, introspective people into a “here’s my yearlong project that I’m only doing to get a book deal” and/or “THEEEEEEEMES!” So I don’t blame anyone for viewing them derisively. Within the last few years, my views have gone from that 1,600 per day average to something like 60. And that’s fine, I know that’s actually a lot compared to old bones blogs like mine, but if I take a hard look at my stats, it’s almost all non-repeaters. Non-readers. People who find me by following absurd search terms and just as quickly disappear. All that’s left are my friends (who I’m always happy to see) and stalkers (less so).

Second, writing here has become a chore. It’s become a thing I have to work at doing. I’m not sure if I lost my voice or my priorities have shifted or, most likely, a combination of the two, but all those things I used to rail about don’t concern me much anymore, and even if they do, I’ve already railed about them. Finding time to rail about new things is surprisingly difficult for someone with no kids or real hobbies but who still has a job and pets and a relationship that she tries to maintain for those two days a week when she actually gets to see the person she’s been dating for nearly a decade.

Third, Twitter, you guys. Come on. You’re not allowed to make fun of Twitter anymore. All those things you think are funny on Facebook or Tumblr or Snapchat? They were stolen from Twitter. It’s not a minute-by-minute update of the life of the most boring person you know. It could be if you’re not willing to figure it out, but mostly, it’s full of incredibly witty and unbelievably crude people and like most things, according to our parents, you get out of it what you put into it. I’ve likened starting out on Twitter to screaming bad jokes into an empty room, but eventually, if you’re funny and can engage with people, it’s worth your time. But please stop retweeting corporate accounts. So lame.

So that’s mostly why I don’t plan on trying to keep up with this anymore, as half-assed as my trying has been lately. It feels like work when it never did before, and I can only write so many entries about weather and the bus before I start to hate myself (even more). I’m not shutting it down for good – I do have the domain name for about a year longer – but there may be a couple of weeks between posts at times. If you get bored, find me elsewhere. God knows there’s plenty of Internet out there that’s better than this.

Posted in The Internet is My Boyfriend, Writing | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

I Came, I Saw, I Said Fuck This, I’m Outta Here

I was supposed to go to a happy hour tonight. I’m supposed to be there now, but instead I’m sitting at my desk at home in a pair of yoga pants with a decent beer next to me. I was going to go to the work happy hour. It was held for another Erin in my department, and this Erin also happens to be from Missouri. Plus she’s pretty nice, so after work I killed about an hour at a different bar by myself and then walked down to the happy hour bar where I assumed people would be hanging out.

What I did not remember, apparently, is that out here, when someone says that something starts at 5pm, they mean that you should probably show up a little closer to 6pm. Even in public, even when the bar is across the street from work, even when the bar isn’t even a bar, but more like a TGI Friday’s-Shenanigans House of Bullshittery where there’s a bunch of tables but no real barstools.

Anyway. I walked into this happy hour bar, saw zero familiar faces, and immediately turned around and started making my way to the bus stop. I can hang out in bars by myself – I’d just done it for an hour, albeit in a very good bar with terrific happy hour pricing and staff that isn’t required to wear matching polo shirts – but I refuse to wait around for the chronically late in a lame tourist hole where I can’t even get a stool.

I anticipate that I will catch shit for not showing up, and probably even more shit for telling people what actually happened. I did show up, no one was there yet, and the idea of waiting around made me deeply uncomfortable to the point of nausea. I doubt that I’ll tell anyone that last part, partially because it’s none of their business and partially because most people don’t understand it, anyway. Once you’ve tried telling people that you actually prefer to sit at home with books and Netflix and your cats, they think you’re crazy (probably true, but in the really real way that most people incorrectly think you can just “snap out” of) or a loser (again, true, but who the fuck cares?). So if telling them that is difficult enough, imagine what it’s like to tell them about how crowds of people you don’t know in places you don’t like make you feel sick to your stomach, and that spending even ten more minutes in a situation like that requires about an hour (or more) of time spent curled up in an immobile ball on your bed at home, staring at the wall with eyes that barely even blink and lungs that can’t quite catch a normal breath because your body can’t figure out how to take the edge off. I’m not an agoraphobe and I think the words “my anxiety” get used as a shitty excuse for a lot of dumb things, but I am 32 and I know what makes me feel okay and that situation was not it. When I say that I’m uncomfortable, I don’t mean like I’ve got a rock in my shoe. I mean that I’m having what feels like a bone-deep reaction to something I can’t control and every single impulse in my body is telling me to run for it.

And, I mean, who shows up late at a place like that in the first place? What am I supposed to do, ask for a giant table? Or wait it out at a tiny one? And make small talk with the server and smell fryer grease the whole time? Gross. Not into it.

But like I said, I won’t tell the people at work everything. They neither need nor would likely want to know. I won’t tell them that I’m not like that all the time (most of the time yes, all of the time not really), and that in situations where I feel okay, I’m fine. Charming, even. I have friends and I go places and tourists from other countries seem to enjoy asking me questions (Tokyo hipster dudes in Fremont tasting their first Seattle coffee are adorable, btw). But I do not want to sit at Rooty Tooty McMegaturds to hang out with a bunch of people from work whenever they feel like showing up.

I have a desk and some beer of my own, and that makes me happy enough.

Posted in I Just Can't | 1 Comment

One Month in the Land of Startups

An infamous date this past week marked one month since I started my new job. While I’m not fully confident that I’ve got my bearings – typically that takes six months for me, which means I’m either a perfectionist or an idiot – I think I’m doing pretty well. I haven’t been yelled yet, nor have I cost the company millions of dollars on a stupid mistake (that I know of, anyway).

I realize that this too early to come to any solid realizations, but so far, there are some things I like and others I don’t like about my new job, so if you ever ask me and my answer is “it’s okay,” here’s what I really mean.

What I Like About My New Job:

Although there are over 1,500 employees in my city alone and the company is kiiiiind of a big deal, it’s still technically a startup, which means that no matter how long you’ve been there, everyone’s learning and growing at basically the same pace. The normal growing pains means that no one stays entirely comfortable, new systems and applications are being developed every day, and what you think you know will likely change once someone figures out a better, faster, less expensive ways to do something Which happens, like, once a week. This can be a little troubling if you’re just trying to learn your job to start with, but it’s also weirdly comforting because no one else is very far from where you are now.

Because it’s a startup, it tends to attract the kind of people who are “self-starters,” which until now was just a dumb buzzword on a job listing and not even the HR people knew what it meant. But when you work at a startup, you have to know how to light your own fire and get the fuck moving. You have to learn fast, come up with ideas, and think on your feet. I’ve only been there for a month, but I have yet to encounter one of those people whose primary job description seems to be “taking up space behind a desk and just riding it out until retirement.” Which was nearly everyone at my old company, so this place is pretty refreshing.

I am treated like a professional, grown human being. This shouldn’t be such a big deal and maybe it sounds odd to some of you, but when you once spent 8 years toiling in the kind of place where your bosses treated almost everyone like a thieving fuckup or a mentally incompetent child (and you developed migraines and ulcers as a result), it’s remarkable to find yourself in a place where management assumes that you know how to do your job, you’ll ask for help if you don’t, and you’re working for the good of the company (ahem, your stock options). Essentially, the company expects and trusts me to know my shit. As they should, because I am an adult with a job. And while that was terrifying at first – I was shocked that I was allowed to work on my own so soon after being hired – it’s actually kind of liberating to realize that I’m not under the yoke of psychopaths who actively seek to undermine and belittle me every step of the way.

I am no longer leashed to a phone. I don’t even have to deal with customers. I mean, yes, I still have what’s basically a client list of adults who need constant prodding and hand-holding to get their fucking jobs done in accordance with their contracts, but if I need to step away from my desk to go to the bathroom, get coffee, or run to the store for another bottle of ibuprofen? Done, and I don’t have to beg anyone to let me do it.

I don’t have to drive to work anymore. I mean, I could drive to work if I wanted to sit in bridge traffic and spend $9.00 a day for parking (and that’s at a cheap lot six blocks away from my building), and maybe I will on a day when I’m running late and its pissing rain. But for now, there are express buses to and from work each day, and my schedule is flexible enough that I can usually catch whatever one of them can (almost) guarantee that I’ll get a seat. While I once spent over an hour each day in my car, I now spend about 45 minutes reading a book or checking Twitter. Plus the environment, saving on gas, etc.

My view. I’ve been meaning to take a photo but I haven’t yet, so unfortunately, I’m not able to show you exactly what I get to look at every day from my desk. So I found one from the Internet, and all you have to do is imagine that instead of seeing this from the top of the Space Needle, you are on the 4th floor of a building that looks towards the Olympic Mountains and sits between the piers on the bottom left side of the photo.

awesome-view-of-puget

I KNOW, RIGHT?!

The only thing separating my building from Elliott Bay is a train track, a street, and the piers. And speaking of piers, my desk is directly across from Pier 69, which cracks me up every single day.

What I Don’t Like About My New Job:

One downfall of being trusted to know how to do my job is living in constant fear of fucking it up. Maybe it’s just me, maybe I just have a fatalistic personality (just kidding, I totally do), maybe it’s those 8 years of being treated like a fucking idiot that have conditioned me to suspect that I actually am one, but I am pretty much always afraid that the next thing I do will break everything.

Although a startup’s culture is constantly moving, learning, and developing new processes and technologies (and this is great), it tends to fall flat when it comes to training the new people who come on board. The company simply hasn’t been around long enough or stayed still long enough to have developed standard procedures that a new person can reference or learn from, or seasoned employees that know how to teach their jobs to someone else in a way that isn’t “uhhh, I guess this is how I do it?” And that makes former honor roll kids like me bonkers, because it’s one thing to be expected to do something that I don’t know how to do, and an even worse thing to be given the completely wrong answer by someone who’s supposed to know better.

Because of the startup and creative nature of the company, quite a lot of the people who work there are young. In my immediate department there are maybe four people who are older than me, and another small handful of people who are near my age (although usually one to two years younger). Everyone else is in their mid-20s, and for most of those people, this is their first full-time, corporate job. It’s not really a generation gap because it’s not like any of these people could be my children, but there’s definitely an age difference and that age difference is definitely underscored by a massive cultural and economic gap between my age group/background and theirs.

Theirs was raised in a time of general economic prosperity, and in parts of the country that weren’t dying Rust Belt cities riddled with crime. Theirs was presented with higher education as a guarantee rather than an option restricted by zero money and zero advisement on how to get it. Theirs was told that a college education guaranteed things like good jobs, frequent vacations, comprehensive benefits, and the ability to pay off student loans within a couple of years. Theirs is sloooooowly learning that this isn’t always the way the world works, and they can be a little bitchy about it.

They don’t yet know what it’s like to be laid off. They’ve never had to survive periods when it’s necessary to have two or even three jobs to simply get by. Their age group isn’t ashamed to move back in with their parents or take money from them. They are incensed at the idea of having to work on weekends, even though it’s only once a quarter and you’re only “on call,” meaning you stay home and just check your e-mail once an hour before logging off at 5pm and you get the next Friday off. They don’t know how lucky they are, basically, which my boss and I have discussed as a sense of entitlement and I think of as just not being old enough to have had your soul sufficiently crushed.

I mean, it’s fine. It is. They’ll learn eventually, and I can keep on with my older, soul-deadened-er person work ethic. It’ll be fine. Just don’t be surprised if you ask me about my job and my first reaction is shaking my fist and muttering “kids today…”

Posted in Paychecks Are Important | Leave a comment

The Greatest Pop Song of All Time

I have a theory.

Before I share this theory, I should disclose that I am neither a mathematician, a scientist, nor a musician. I don’t really understand statistics and only barely do I grasp the scientific method (I mean, I get it, but I don’t ever use it unless I’m trying to figure out why my cat sometimes barfs a lot). I am in no way qualified to form theories at all, let alone to be so convinced that this one is correct.

Except I know that it is.

My theory is this:

“Thunder Road” is the greatest pop song of all time.

I know I might be in the minority here. There are plenty of people who would point to the Beatles, Michael Jackson, or whatever contrarian hipstery shit they forgot they learned from High Fidelity. There are a few idiots who would try to convince the world that modern pop is more transcendent and swear on their Lady Gaga, Katy Perry, and Britney concert special/autobiography/attempts at humanization DVDs.

But those people are wrong. Everyone else is wrong. “Thunder Road” is the greatest pop song of all time, followed by Queen’s “Somebody to Love,” which is followed by Elton John’s “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road,” which is followed by every track on the Rolling Stones’ “Exile on Main Street.” Which is then followed by roughly ¼ of T. Rex’s “Electric Warrior.” Give or take. Maybe I just adore that album.

“Thunder Road” is also the opening track on the best Springsteen album of all time. I know everyone else loves “Born in the USA,” but from the content to the cover photo to the absolute brilliance of this dude’s third fucking album that’s stood solidly up since 1975, “Born to Run” captures Bruce Springsteen in a rare moment, one in which he was establishing himself as an icon but didn’t even know it yet.

I mean, look at this guy. Lookit him! What a minstrel! What a rogue! What an adorably gifted genius who probably struck this pose a thousand times in a thousand bars up and down the dive circuit. And then he did it for the album, and even though Clarence Clemons only appeared on the inner cover, the respect and familiarity are still there. Damn. I mean goddamn.

born to run cover precrop

Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band were relatively small time in 1975, hanging on with the Jersey crowd but not yet widely popular or commercially viable. Still, record contracts being a holy compassionate relic compared to what they are now, “Born to Run” got made and from its piano-and-harmonica intro that sounds more like America to me than anyone’s rendition of “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” to the impossibly beautiful poetry of the lyrics to that glorious, rapturous bridge that is well overdue to take over the air drum solos inspired by “In the Air Tonight,” which isn’t even good because Phil Fucking Collins? He Phil Fucking Sucks.

What I’m saying is that if “Thunder Road” was my prom theme, I probably would have put out that night. Because if anyone involved with my youth had any sense at all, they would have taken a cue from “Born to Run,” opening with “Thunder Road” and closing with “Jungleland” and I would probably still be guaranteed to die happy.

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Threats and Broken Harbour

I recently read Tana French’s book “Broken Harbour,” part of something called the Dublin Murder Squad series. It’s the fourth book in the series but the only one I’ve read, I think because I heard it was the best and the other ones weren’t yet available for downloading from the library. I still haven’t read the previous three (because they’re still not fucking available, please get your shit together, fellow Seattle library patrons), but I liked “Broken Harbor” very much and am only a little concerned that it’s messing up the way I read other books.

Let me explain.

While I am a moderate in many ways – food, alcohol, TV, etc. – when it comes to books, I am a binger. A bender-goer, so to speak, in that when I find an author or genre or character I like, I tend to stick with them (or it) for as long as I can, until eventually I get sick of it (or them) and start forswearing things. Which is a terrible way to read and I’m not doing anyone any favors, but at least I’ve come to realize this as I get older and understand more about thinking critically.

I’ve written before that it took me a very long time to learn that I simply won’t like some books. Not necessarily because the books are bad (except when they are), but there are just some stories that will not speak to me, that cannot engage the pleasure and fascination centers of my brain. I used to think that these books were too challenging, because, I don’t know, when you grow up Catholic and are forced to make honor roll, you carry with you a certain expectation of misery and blame when you fail something (even though it is actually failing you, because you can’t fucking tell the difference). But eventually, I figured out that when it comes to literature, sometimes them’s the breaks, kid, and it’s sometimes likely that neither mine nor the author’s abilities are at fault.

Also as I’ve gotten older, I’ve learned what it is to read critically. By that, I mean that it’s not always imperative to simply enjoy the story, but that sometimes additional enjoyment is experienced through understanding how and why the story is written. What makes an author pick this word instead of that word? Why did they eschew a more traditional structure? When they go backwards and forwards in time or switch narrators, are these transitions supposed to be organic or is my perception supposed to be challenged? What was the intent, and was the expression of it successful, and yeah, was it any good? It’s the same with music and films and food, I guess, and for me, it begs the question of the creator: “what exactly are you trying to accomplish here?” Asking this question helps me to understand not only if I liked something or why I did or didn’t like it, but it also causes me to continue thinking about a story long after it’s ended. I’m not a devourer of books. Not really, not anymore. I prefer to chew on them for awhile, to keep them in my craw, running my tongue over their textures and deciding if they’ve become old enough for me to spit out yet.

So when I read “Broken Harbour,” I spent awhile afterwards continuing to think about it, and when the next book I got from the library – “Threats” by Amelia Gray – was not the same kind of story and did not cause me to approach the characters or plot in the same way, I felt a little confused. I mean, probably this is because it was supposed to be similar. That’s what the Internet told me. But the main point is that initially, I was let down by “Threats.” I suppose I still am, but not for the initial reasons.

At first, “Threats” bothered me because, after the tightly wound and precisely sewn up “Broken Harbor,” it seemed a little too loose and maybe lazy. To me, the scenes in “Threats” appear as if on the other side of a mosquito net screen. They’re indefinite and unreliable, partially because half of the characters are crazy and partially because I can’t even tell if any of it is actually happening in the story to begin with. I couldn’t tell if Gray had a bigger plan for the story, and as I progressed through the book, this question didn’t get answered and I got more and more frustrated that I couldn’t figure out her motives.

By the middle of “Threats,” I decided that the author wasn’t intentionally obscuring her scenes and was in fact making them as explicit as possible, but that she was doing it in such an odd, quirky way that I imagined the writing of “Threats” to be akin to arranging butterflies in shadow boxes without damaging their wings. It was a very delicate way of telling a story, but I wasn’t convinced that it was the best way for a reader to experience it.

By the end of “Threats,” I was no longer irritated by the story or by Gray’s technique, but I wasn’t completely satisfied, either, and I’m worried that my own head is to blame. See, it’s entirely possible that I still don’t know if my dissatisfaction with “Threats” was due to my brain remaining trained on the “here’s a murder and these are the clues and here’s the process and then it’s concluded” pattern of a murder mystery/crime thriller like “Broken Harbor,” or if it’s because I suspect Gray couldn’t commit to her concept – either everyone is crazy or one person is crazy, because both of those things being true just doesn’t add up. Of course, again, the problem might be that I need for everything to add up, and maybe that wasn’t the point of “Threats.” I can’t tell, and this is what bothers me the most.

This is why I’ve decided to cool down. No murder mysteries, no surrealism. No “The Goldfinch,” not just yet, because even though it’s on my Kindle already, I can’t dive straight from this kind of frustration into a Pulitzer Prize winner. Wouldn’t be fair. Instead, I’m sticking with something that I’m almost certain I’ll like with no disturbing shifts required of my personal perspective, something I can read while lounging at home on the weekend and on the bus home from work. Not that it’s supposed to be wholly unchallenging, I just think that I need to focus on enjoyment for awhile instead of criticism.

I just downloaded “Queen of Kings” by Maria Dahvana Headley from the library because Neil Gaiman blurbed it in the very good story collection “Unnatural Creatures.” It’s a vampire book, basically, but with grownups instead of teenagers and the context is historical and weird instead of super fucking lame.

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