Sunday, April 27, 2014

Dear Mid- 2000's Memoir Novels

This week, I celebrate my 31st birthday.  I recall my 21st birthday, back in college.  I went out and bought a six pack of Raison d' Etre beer because I thought that seemed grown up.  I stayed late at acapella rehearsal, then took a long time walking home as I flirted in spectacularly terrible fashion with a girl wearing one of those unfortunate pairs of fuzzy boots women loved in 2004.  When I finally got back to my house, I found that my friends had thrown me a surprise party, the only one I've ever had.

Things have changed spectacularly in the past ten years, some good, some bad, most just perplexing and unsettling.  Some things have remained reassuringly constant, though.  I've spent a surprising amount of time in the Barnes and Noble in Annapolis, both in the store and in the general strip mall it occupies.  I used to go to the Tower Records there in high school and college, back before record stores were killed by Al Gore's internet.  There is a delicious Lebanese place there, and a place that actually sells clothes and shoes that will fit my Elephant Man frame.  It is a pretty good place to go shop, even if it is an hour from my abode and I tend to hate shopping.  More importantly, it's a very convenient halfway place between my house and where most of my friends live.  I've seen people for the first time in months and years in that parking lot, had dinner or coffee with them, or just sat and talked with them. 

For a year or so after college, I freaked out about my new job and having a salary.  I didn't realize that just because it was a salary, that didn't make it a good salary.  I was used to making golf course money, and this was way better.  So, I would go on book binges, buying anything that looked even remotely interesting from the sale racks.  There were a couple of consecutive trips I took where I got onto a jag of buying memiors.  The unfortunate one that got me on the start was I Hope They Serve Beer In Hell by the human equivalent of a used condom known as Tucker Max.  As a 22 year old "man", I still should have been too old and mature to find it funny, but I liked it at the time.  Next trip, I found Superstud by Paul Feig, and I was hooked.  Paul was a big nerd, way worse than I was as a kid.  He did things that were so funny yet humiliating that if they had happened to me, I might not have recovered, but he took it in (relative) stride.  I later came to find out he used these experiences to make one of the better tv shows I've seen Freaks and Geeks.  If he wasn't someone I could look up to, then there weren't many others.

Then, I found Early Bird: A Memoir of Premature Retirement by Rodney Rothman.  He was almost an opposite of Feig.  He had already made it as a TV writer, but became disillusioned.  He decided to retire in his mid twenties (I WAS IN MY MID TWENTIES TOO!!!!) and move into a retirement community in Florida.  I could get down with this.  My background in sociology could help me write something like this, immersing myself in a scene and writing something really worthwhile.  In my previous job as a golf worker, I'd already tasted retired life.  I'd take a golf cart out after closing and play a few holes before dark, or fish in one of the ponds on the course.  In the winter we'd play stickball indoors or darts on a board we had hidden behind several golf bags, and there was always a chance to take a cart out on the course, park in the woods, and take a nap.  Truly, this would be my calling.  I just needed some more research in the memoir realm, and I would be ready to go.  Nothing could stop me, until of course, something easily stopped me.  That thing was Honeymoon with My Brother by Franz Wisner.

The base of the story is something really sad, and ripe for soul searching and find oneself.  A guy gets left at the alter, and instead of forfeiting the tickets and hotel for his honeymoon, he takes the trip with his brother.  Together, they try to put his life back together.  The problem is, Wisner and his brother are extremely rich.  He almost gloats about how much money he has to start the book.  In fact, he feels so good coming back from the honeymoon that he quits his high paying job he had because his parents are also rich, and he uses all his money to travel for a year.  He sleeps with beautiful women to get over his broken heart, and sees the world like I'll never be able to.

If I wanted to read a book about how rich people have it better than I ever will, I'll stick with Willy Wonka and The Chocolate Factory.  I was so mad by the end of the book that this man wanted sympathy because he was able to drown his momentary sorrow in decadence and wipe his tears with money.  Then, as I thought about it, Paul Feig and Rodney Rothman only got book deals because they were already famous from years in TV.  I could never get a book deal for writing about my years in the golf industry (Carts of Plastic, Men of Steel- My Life as a Country Club Lackey) or my attempts to become the first full grown batboy for the Phillies.  I realized then and there that if you wanted to be famous as a writer, you needed to already be famous or rich.

Clearly, I had to redouble my efforts at gambling in Atlantic City, because in America, first you get the money, then you get the power, and then you get the book deal.  Nine years later, I am the author of a mildly successful humor blog, so clearly my plan is well into effect.  Now to just sit back and wait for the offers to roll in. 

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Dear Girls Making a Pouty Face

This doesn't work on me, and it belittles us both.  Me, because you assume that cute face will cloud my judgement enough that I'll give you what you want.  You, because it proves that you think this is cute, and that it doesn't make your face wrinkle up like a basset hound.  Your lazy assed half duck face is not endearing, and it needs to stop.

If this was an isolated thing done by people I know, it might be one thing, but they know better.  No, the place I see this happen most is at my job.  Woman and men alike think they are being clever, asking me for something I can't provide them, then making a pouty face when I say, "Nay, this will not be."  Most people generally assume I am not friendly to begin with, but somehow, certain people have lost their survival instinct and think they can charm me into doing something.  I cannot be charmed.  I have been chagrined on several occasions, but never charmed.  My brain interprets this as weakness, not the work of an ingenue.  Weakness is for toddlers and Laplanders, and I don't tend to want to deal with either on a regular basis.

Here's a novel idea: if you want something from me, just ask me.  Don't condescend or sugar coat.  You damn well shouldn't try to coerce me.  When all else fails, I also respond to money or sandwiches but never to immature acts like the pouty face. 

Oh, yeah.  Boobs work too.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Dear DC Metro

People on Facebook seem to like taking these quizzes that tell them whether they are Lawful Good, Neutral, or Chaotic Evil.  I'll save you the trouble.  You are just chaos.  There is no neutral, good, or evil.  You are just an ancient god, slithering below the earth's surface, waking only to move us, your pawns, into whatever configurations your ambivalence dictates.

No, this isn't about the second to last time I was on the Metro, when I got stuck in the same car as the homeless reverend dressed like a street performer robot that tried to tell us all that Metro Jesus choo choo chooses us as his people to save us.  That whole thing was too ridiculous even by my standards to warrant any more mention than this.  This was about the mess that happened when I just tried to get to DC to my friend Layla's 30th birthday party.

I've had some odd experiences with 30th birthday events before, so may I should have expected this.  Since I abhor driving in the city even more than puns or watching James Franco mug for the camera, I leave my car at the end of the line station for the Metro and take the train in. Unfortunately, the end of the line closest to me has been dubbed the most dangerous Metro stop, because nothing can ever be good and simple for me.

After parking my car, I stopped to hide the valuable things in my car that the colorful local methheads might want to steal and turn into more meth or meth themed origami.  As I did so, a very pretty blond woman walked by.  I said hello, she replied in turn in a cute German accent.  She got behind the wheel, and started to pull out, then gave me a sweet smile and a little fingertip wave.  This is fairly unheard of territory for me, and I chalked it up to the fact that perhaps the German's have a better appreciation of me, not unlike their love of Hasselhoff.  I waved back, she smiled wider, and the Metro gods screamed in fury and caused her to back right into a parked Escalade, because they hate love and meet/cutes.  I checked to make sure she was ok, and I was able to pop the quarter panel back on her car.  She asked if I had any paper to leave a note, and I produced my pocket notepad and pen.  We then parted ways, and three seconds later I hung my head in shame for not asking for her number.

There are maybe ten stops from the end of the line to my destination.  For once, I got the first seven stops without incident.  I had a seat I could actually fit my legs into, and the air conditioning kept the car nice and cool.  Then, as we got deeper into the city, bodies started stacking like cord wood.  I gave up my seat for an older lady and her daughter, then was instantly surrounded by more and more people as the standing room came to a premium.  Joined body heat made temperatures soar, and by my exit, the only difference between my Metro car and a Dutch rave would be slightly less people hopped up on ecstasy and grinding on each other. This was compounded by the fact that there were so many people both on the train and trying to get on, that my train was stopped for ten minutes to sort out the mess. 

Exiting the train, I was unleashed into an even hotter, more retched smelling sea of humanity.  I had to ascend two level and cross hundreds of yards of platform to get to the street surface.  Already running later than I should have been for the surprise party, slogging through a mass of tourists in town to see flowers on trees was nowhere near top of my "Makes me happy and giggly" list.  People refused to move, or would stop every three feet in front of me to apparently take pictures of other tourists in a Metro station, because that is really something they'll want to remember ten years from now.  Finally, I gave up and tried a hail mary and decided to use my superior Greg size to start moving through the crowd, whether they wanted me to or not. The masses, obstinate and yet squishy, would still not yield.  My lizard brain panicked, and took over my mouth. 

"Celebrity coming through!" I bellowed.  Heads turned.
 "Val Kilmer coming through!  I was Batman, dammit!"

This threw people off just enough that they would move aside and turn to look for the Iceman.  By the time they realized I am a liar and a cad, I was already tricking other people with my Bat-lies.  Soon, I was street-side, and the fresh air never smelled so wonderful.

The delay from the stopped car and the journey through the valley of tourists had set me back very far.  I now had about ten minutes to go five blocks or so and get  to my friend's apartment before she got home, or I would miss the surprise. I booked it to the building, and, arriving at the glass front door, found the birthday girl and her husband Spike talking with someone.  Spike turned, I waved, and he frantically flailed his arms, indicating that I needed to run away or possibly steal third base.  I chose to pass directly behind them, and took off running for the elevators.  Somehow, 6'9" and 280lbs of Greg running past them went unnoticed, and I went safely into the elevator to their apartment on the 6th floor. 

Tired from the sprint from the Metro, and the gallop to the elevators, I moved quickly down the hall and knocked to get let into the apartment before the couple got off the elevator.  No one answered.  I knocked more feverishly.  Still no answer.  Then, it dawned on me that the party was not happening in the apartment, it was on the roof, and the elevator would not open unless I had a key fob.

I was on the sixth floor.

The roof was on thirteen.

I had to beat them to the roof, and that meant the stairs.

I believe I may have caught my breath in enough time to wheeze "Surprise" and then vomit thirteen stories down onto Massachusetts Avenue, all while wearing a festive birthday hat.

So, I must thank you Metro, for throwing hot German girls, thousands of tourists, train delays, and robot hobo preachers at me.  Without you, I might never have a story to tell. 

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Dear Mark Cerny

No one knows who you are.  Do you know why?  That was the loophole Old Scratch himself put into the blood contract you made with him.  You'd be able to develop a successful video game, but no one would know who you were.  Fame would allude you, but your game would be forever shrouded in infamy.  I am, of course, speaking of the game "Navigating Nightmarish Hellscapes with a Sphere that is Impossible to Control while the Spawn of Evil Hunt You".  I think the original title was "Marble Madness".

The object of the game, ostensibly, was to use the compass controller part of your Nintendo system to guide the titular marble through a sloping, careening landscape of lunacy.  That, coupled with the pounding, pleading, mocking MIDI soundtrack would have been bad enough, but you weren't ha[[y with that alone.  You included enemy marbles that could knock you into a shadowy oblivion, enemies that could move like the night and had long ago severed their tether to the laws of physics, gravity, and decency.  There were other games for my Nintendo that I never beat.  Castlevania II and The Legend of Zelda are two the spring instantly to mind, but that was more for the sheer length and sprawl of the games.  I am also certain the developers intentionally left out a step that led you towards the final boss, and laughed themselves into an early grave. 

The only thing that would give me more anxiety as a child than playing your game would be those few moments after the lights in my room were turned out when I waited to here if anything would skitter across the floor, then leap onto my bed with a mighty "SCREEE!!!! SCREEEEE!!!" and rip off my eyelids.  Every moment of the experience was made to produce ulcers in children aged seven to thirteen. Young Greg might not have had an overeating issue if it wasn't for the tense, nerve wracking soundtrack and impossible gameplay you threw onto his NES system.  He might not have sought comfort in brown sugar Poptarts and endless supplies of Laffy Taffy had you only made the game even remotely winnable. 

I have created several more pleasurable alternatives to your game.  One involves swallowing marbles, another involves shoving them in a sock and breaking my own knee.  All of them are preferable to the pixelated hatred that you foisted upon the world.