Pills

And Give Some Back

Self-defense: pass it on! A message from The Foundation For a Better Life.

So this bullying thing has really taken off in recent weeks, hasn’t it?

(If you don’t internet, here’s a link to the clip in reference.)

I saw that clip last week and heard about the victim-turned-aggressor’s ensuing suspension this past weekend.  And I couldn’t help but think OF COURSE because I’ve been there before, and school systems are absolutely incapable of handling any type of confrontation with rational decision-making.  Now it’s just been affirmed to me that this is true regardless of nation or culture.

Back in the day when the Pacers were still good and it was Pokemon Red and Blue, I was a fifth-grader at Sunnyside Elementary.  Due to constant re-districting and moving, I had a tendency to change schools a lot.  I was at a different school for fourth, fifth, sixth and seventh grades.  And then ninth, but that was just the transition to high school.  The crowds really seemed to change in each school.  Fourth grade primarily featured upper middle class white kids, fifth was a racial mix definitely angled more toward the lower class, sixth was a weird division between rich and poor and all races and seventh introduced me to the sterilized, non-gentrified suburbs of Hamilton County.

So fifth, like I said, had a healthy amount of kids from poorer areas and rough homes, given the district it drew from.  Obviously, as I was re-districted seemingly every other year, I lived in a strange area: directly between the haves and have-nots, to simplify the description.  I liked Sunnyside though.  It sucked, at the time, leaving behind my fourth-grade friends, and yeah, I remember almost all of them because fourth grade stands out in my memory as one of those years I enjoyed more than most for whatever reason.  But Sunnyside was alright, I made some new friends there and all, I liked my class.  I still have…well, I’m actually going to take a break from stream-of-consciousness here and go search for it, so I can perhaps have a picture to show.

[Well, I went searching through my archives, which is essentially the two boxes my mom keeps in the loft closet of all my pictures and awards and stuff from elementary school.  I didn’t find what I was looking for — the letter sent home from my suspension I’ll tell you about — but I did find a class photo from that year which I will not share because it’s really creepy and has peoples’ names on it.  Also because, as in most school pictures and pictures in general, I look like a complete spazz.]

[I will instead post this (slightly) less spazz-y picture of me GETTING ATTACKED BY A SHARK:]

I still have that monkey, too.

How this relates to bullying, anyway, is that there was a bit of a rough crowd at this school, and one day, this kid named Tremaine decided to jump on my back at recess and try to shove me to the ground.  In that first half-second, my mind flashed back to the time I got my ass kicked as a first-grader on my first freaking day of my school at the bus stop.  Because I was a first-grader, and it turns out it’s easy for 10-year-olds to dish out black eyes to 7-year-olds who look at the sky too much.

My parents sat me down after I came home with a black eye that day and gave me the whole self-defense talk, about how I should never start a fight but always finish one.  The talk I think every dad should be required to have with his son.  They told me that if anyone ever started shit for me and there was no realistic way out of it, I had free reign to hit back even harder.  Carte blanche.  Go nuts.

That moment explodes in and out of my memory in a half-second and in the seconds following, I’m absolutely wailing on the kid.  The sight is completely atypical because I was one of those brown-nose kids who never got in trouble and aced every spelling test and made the teacher’s job easier.  But I mean, he jumped on my back.  He started shit.  I was finishing it, dammit!  This fight goes on for what I remember to be the entirety of recess, and of course not one adult notices despite three or four monitoring the playground.  It’s vicious, too.  Bodies are slammed into slides.  Heads are slammed into poles.  Shit is talked, and talked loudly.  This isn’t some elementary slapfest, this is a cage match.  No holds barred.

An hour into the afternoon’s class, I’m called to the assistant principal’s office with Tremaine, and we’re both told we’re being suspended out of school because some little snitch ratted on our fight.  In other words, no adults saw it happen.  Neither Tremaine nor I said anything about it.  But some wimpy kid went and told a teacher that we fought and this was somehow sent up the chain of command to the assistant principal in less than an hour’s time.

So, I mean, figure that I’d never so much as been told to stop doing something in class to that point, and now I’m being kicked out of school temporarily.  Something about a zero tolerance policy.  All I remember about the rest of that day was biting my lip so hard I drew blood in order to avoid crying because I was suspended!  The assistant principal called my dad at work!  It was serious business to a 10-year-old.

Turns out, though, my parents didn’t care at all.  They were proud of me for fighting back and asserting myself.  I thought they were going to kick my ass when I got home that day, but they weren’t mad at me, instead they were livid at the assistant principal and every adult too busy gossiping about all the kids they hated that missed the main event.

Point is, as it relates back to that story, kids need to stand up for themselves if they’re being bullied, and they need to be taught and encouraged to do so.  After my dad told me I could fight back, I never had an issue with bullying again.  I did get my head slammed into a brick wall by some psycho named Douglas for my insistence that the Animorphs weren’t, in fact, real, and was followed home by him from his bus stop (I lived one neighborhood over) until a neighbor’s mom intercepted him with a pocket knife…but that was just Douglas being Douglas.  Oh, Douglas.  The Animorphs aren’t real!

We shouldn’t be suspending or expelling kids who fight back and decide they’re not taking shit anymore, we should be high-fiving them.  What is wrong with us when we hold a victim on the same grounds of culpability as the attacker?  That’s crap.  That actually pisses me off.  It completely counters one of the most important lessons we can teach kids: be self-assertive.  Because what’s the alternative?  Curl up in a ball and take a beating?  Sink into your shell?  Always assume your lunch is going to be taken and there’s nothing you can do about it?  Learn, at a young age, to never question an injustice?  Never do anything about anything wrong in this world?  Schools would, of course, have you tell an adult, but I’m here to tell you firsthand: they’re too busy not giving a crap on the blacktop to notice.

I fought back.  I made my point.  I never got bullied again.  In fact, even Tremaine and I were cool after that.  We wrote a rap once for the paper we had to run in our class’s job simulation day at Exchange City (does that still exist?)  It was a banger.

Now, all that said, I’ll leave you with a Deadwood clip in response to the school’s completely ridiculous decision to suspend the kid defending himself, noting, of course, that as with any clip longer than two seconds from the HBO series, the language is NSFW.  Not even close.  But remember this, world, the next time someone tries to take your lunch money:

 

On Self-Scan And Customer Service Paradoxes

While standing in line for a self-scan station at Kroger today, I had a realization: I have to write about the self-scan station at Kroger.  Today.

The self-scan station drives me nuts.  It seems like I’m never there with more than three items but no one else is ever there with less than 20.  I think what really serves to stir the self-serving stew of fail, though, is the combination of people involved with self-scan stations: the customers are completely clueless and the attendant is often adrift, attempting to be anywhere else but the service register.

I get why these stations exist, but I think they severely underestimate the collective stupidity of the human race.  For me, self-scan is a simple sixty second in-and-out procedure.  Swipe the Kroger card, scan the items, select payment method, swipe the card, grab the receipt, OUT.  It doesn’t take long.  At all.  But the zombified masses, man, the other customers are completely clueless.  They don’t know how to scan.  They don’t know how to swipe.  They don’t know that “bananas” are scanned and weighed by pressing the large button with a picture of a bundle of bananas that appropriately reads “bananas.”

Hardly breaking news, but people are really, really stupid.

Today when I got to the self-serve section — which I only use, by the way, because I dread face-to-face interaction with jaded cashiers so much that I actually go out of my way to avoid them — all four stations were occupied and two customers stood waiting for an opening.  At these stations?

Station 1: A couple attempting to scan an entire grocery cart’s worth of purchases.

Station 2: A man who could not figure out how to scan anything and consequentially demanded the attendant’s attention for the duration of his stay.

Station 3: A man needing the occupied attendant’s attention because his case of Stella Artois was not ringing up on sale…perhaps because, as I picked up in the ensuing banter, Stella Artois was not on sale.

Station 4: A woman who insisted on paying her purchase, well over ten dollars, in coins.

The attendant, meanwhile, was clearly in IDGAF territory and more or less just walked away after a few minutes of attempting to complete Station 2’s transaction for No Scan Man.  After she left, there were just four jackasses at self-serve stations, a majority of which did not know how to do anything and just stood clueless in front of the machines looking for someone dressed in a Kroger vest.

All the while, I’m just standing there with two 2-liters and refusing to go to the 10 items or less game on the principle that I hate making small talk with people who hate their jobs enough to hate me for being in front of them making small talk.  It bums me out.  It’s kinda like a midnight Wal-Mart trip I took last year at IU with my roommates…everyone working the graveyard shift was over the age of 70.  They were skeletons.  Seriously.  They could barely lift the bags.  They were tired, their eyes were sunken and you could practically see through to their battered souls.  I’m trying to buy cheap pizza and beer at midnight and some poor grandma is fighting arthritis and a smoker’s cough that is audibly lighting her lungs on fire, and she makes no attempt at eye contact, doesn’t even offer the falsest of smiles, and something about that is simultaneously depressing and terrifying because I’m imagining myself in some hellish future carrying for my failure child’s offspring by holding down a minimum wage graveyard shift catering to the consumerist whims of inebriated college kids.

I get terrible customer service sometimes, I really do.  It’s a venomous, self-perpetuating cycle.  Think about it for a second: Grandma Time gets paid minimum wage to do a terrible job during a timespan where 80 percent of Americans are asleep.  Whether she smiles and belts out showtunes or glares and silently hurls gypsy spells at those in line, she gets paid the same amount of money.  There is no incentive to do anything but the absolute minimum, to expend anything but the minimum amount of effort required to do the job.  Without incentive, and with the burden the working poor already carry, there really isn’t much reason for radiance, no motivation to pretend like indentured clerkitude is any sort of blessing.  So you can understand it from that end…but what is the product of that mentality?  What results from the bare minimum?  Horrible customer service.  No real incentive to separate bleach from baby food or award six cents back to the soccer mom overcharged for rich, chocolately Ovaltine.  In fact, the only incentive that cashier has to do well at all is to avoid being brutalized by that soccer mom whose only power exercises in life come from belittling grocery clerks anyway, and even in that case, it’s likely that Grandma Time has seen so many coupon-clipping savages with shaking fists and throbbing temples that she’s actually grown immune to the sight and is too apathetic to do anything but tiredly refer to them to a customer serve kiosk operated by a clueless 16-year-old who only survives his shift because the stock room reeks of skunk weed.

So basically, in what I call the Wal-Mart model, the miserable employee performs miserable customer service, which labels the supermarket as a miserable place to shop.  But the supermarket is mostly a miserable place to shop because it crafts a miserable environment for its employees and provides them with no incentive whatsoever to perform any customer service beyond the bare minimum required to keep their job.  Employer invests the bare minimum in employee, employee invests the bare minimum in employer.  You get what you pay for from every angle, and there’s a long line regardless.

Another customer service paradox I will never understand is the one where, what, let’s say something like 90 percent of the population has worked a customer service job at one point in their life or another…and yet, so many people treat employees in customer service positions like absolute shit.  Like, in layman’s terms, I can’t imagine the 30-something berating the barista didn’t work at Walgreen’s at some point in her life, or Bluetooth Man rolling his eyes and making a scene at the supermarket didn’t sell tickets at his hometown movie theater’s box office or something.  You would think it would just be an unwritten rule that anyone unfortunate enough to ever hold a customer service position would be sympathetic toward other lowly servants and bite down on their forked tongue, but no, apparently this is not the case at all.  Apparently the memories of handling a register are momentarily repressed or something, I don’t know.  I just always found it to be such an odd paradox that so many people could know what it’s like to work a shit job with shitty customers in your face about stupid things, yet simultaneously be that shitty customer lashing out at someone working a shit job.

Maybe I’m just more conscious or socially-cognoscente than most.  I don’t know.  But I go out of my way to be nice to people working customer service positions.  Not because I fear revolution or spit in my fountain drink, but because I’ve been in their position before and I know how easily one stupid customer can ruin a shift if they slam the counter hard enough, so I specifically try not to be that guy.

I guess the moral of tonight’s story is the moral of most of my stories: people are really, really dumb.  Their stupidity and general sense of entitlement is actually cancerous.  Supermarkets pose paradoxes you never think about until you’re stuck in the self-serve line for 15 minutes because the bar code on the Wheaties box, it turns out, is on the bottom.

Guess What? If There Is A Hell, You’re Probably Not Going To It.

Probably NOT going to Hell. Just sayin'.

Something that always bothers me is when human beings of a given denomination try to diagnose salvation like there could possibly be a verified, documented set of criteria that determines who is worthy of a peaceful afterlife vs who deserves to listen to Coldplay for the remainder of time.

I’m not an overtly religious person and I don’t pretend to have a lot of answers or be particularly correct on a number of issues, but I hate when somebody tells me that someone else is going to Hell because of some completely arbitrary characteristic or belief.

Example: This person is going to Hell because his religion is polytheistic.

Disregarding the entire afterlife belief entirely — and it’s possible that the sad, isolating truth is that we are only alive for a tick of eternity’s clock, and eventually forgotten completely, presence buried in the sands of time — I can never understand the monumental stupidity in dismissing someone’s spiritual worth because they believe in a different number of greater beings or truths or identify it by a different name.

Come on now.

You’re telling me that the Sikh down the street can be a terrific person, live a good life and operate with only good intentions…and he’s automatically doomed to the fires of Hell?  Whereas Joe, two blocks over, is a piece of crap who smacks his live-in girlfriend around on occasion and double parks his Tundra…but he’s Christian, so he’s saved?

How messed up is that?

I’ve always hated when humans try to play gatekeeper.  There’s a lot of room for debate when it comes to religion or lack thereof, but I would think the one thing we could all agree on is that there is no place for humans to hold any sort of final judgment.  And especially to base that judgment on something that, in the scheme of things, is largely insignificant.  Why does it matter what you name your God, or how many of Him/Her/It/Almighty Pronoun there are, or how you go about praying to them?  Why do any of those things matter?  Why can’t the more important consideration be that you’re accessing a vessel to a greater power or greater sense of goodness, of a common humanity?  Why can’t the most important consideration just be that you’re a good person whether you believe in one, one-hundred or no Gods?

I think we, as human beings, are so scared of dying, of what’s next, of all the unknown, that we cling so desperately to the one bullet in the chamber that just might be our shot.  We convince ourselves crazy because crazy is a coping mechanism, because it’s more logical to assume locked-in to salvation by proxy of a text translated tenfold from its original appearance than it is to give in to the great mystery and just admit that we know nothing, but as such, we may as well love our lives and those we share it with.

Again, I don’t call myself a prophet here, but damn, people.  Stop judging.  Stop trying to map the unchartable for everyone else and just realize that in the end, the best we can all do is aspire to be good to others and do right by the people we love.  It really doesn’t seem that difficult to me, which is why I’m constantly frustrated by the fact that the majority seem to be lagging so far behind.

So I say: believe what you have to, what gets you by, and satiate whatever spiritual needs you may or may not have.  And when you’re done with that, just admit that you’re no more an expert on the mysteries beyond than the next name in the phone book.  And once you’ve accepted that, once you’re open to your own inevitable ignorance, just be good.  Okay?  Be a good person.  Acknowledge other good people.  And try to make this little speck of existence we share as dynamic and awesome and accessible to all as possible.

Because it’s going to end and none of us will know what becomes of us then, so let’s just worry about life for now and what we might do to live and share the best one possible.

Harmony Korine Is Not An Auteur, You Stupid Hipsters

If you watch Gummo backwards…it’s still a pretentious piece of crap!

Harmony Korine, for those who have better things to do than watch the Independent Film Channel at 2 a.m., wrote the Larry Clark cult classic film Kids and has written and directed a number of grotesque art films like Gummo, Julien Donkey-Boy and Trash Humpers.

You’ll excuse my second concentration in film studies; it wasn’t my major.  I’m not a filmmaker myself.  I am nowhere near the almighty authority on cinema culture.  But I can tell you that Korine’s films suck on just about every conceivable level, and it continues to blow my mind that hipsters parade his filmography as art and his status as some sort of observational mode fictional verite auteur.

My response to that: no.

Anyone else pens a dreadful script with a grating soundtrack, they get slammed for it.  Korine slaps a piece of bacon on a bathroom wall and — VOILA — art!  It say something!  There is subtext!

No.

Korine is a second-rate screenwriter who scripts for shock value.  Hey, wouldn’t this scene be awesome if a seven-year-old made several obscene scatological references?  Wouldn’t this character arc be awesome if the husband pimps out his mentally-retarded wife?  Let’s add some nude Chloe Sevigny in here!

See, this is why I hate celluloid hipsters.  They don’t like film because it’s good film.  They like film because it runs counter to good film and polarizes their perspective from everyone else’s.  And that’s not even a badfilm argument, per se, that’s just what hipsters do: hey, here’s something that completely contrasts with the norm, let’s automatically assume it to be cool and culturally-relevant!

No.

Attitudes like these make me applaud the gentleman in New York who went to the trouble of setting up hipster traps around the city:

Pictured: PBR, American Spirit light cigarettes, pink sunglasses

(Although I know a few non-hipsters who might spring that trap, too.)

I don’t know if this is a rant against Korine, hipsters or both.  But Korine films really have no redeeming values.  That probably reads like a purist argument or some sort of advocation for censorship, but I’ve seen worse that meant more.  And Korine is hardly the only avante-garde filmmaker to make a movie that got the masses talking through abstract symbolism and scum-of-the-earth central characters.

My problem with Korine, then, is that his films spend so much time wallowing in the absolute pits of America, focusing on the proverbial dregs of society and going to such great lengths to show the disgusting underbelly of the forgotten…and do nothing in the process.  Yeah, we see he’s gross.  Yeah, we see they’re morally-bankrupt.  Yes, this place breeds a culture of sub-humanity.  So?  Now what?  Congratulations, you’ve killed a cat.

Korine still doesn’t have anything on Bret Easton Ellis.

In the end, Korine’s films don’t say anything.  I wouldn’t argue that every film has to say something, but if your film is pretty much complete crap from every conceivable angle (acting, writing, cinematography, soundtrack), there kind of has to be a point.  Otherwise, it’s just the summation of substandard filmmaking.

Hey, I like badfilm.  I don’t know that I would go as far as to say I can watch The Brain That Wouldn’t Die and enjoy it ironically, but I’m okay with badfilm.  Korine doesn’t qualify for that, though.  Korine qualifies as pretentious, as some nihilistic artist drowning in his own self-assured urine-soaked genius.  All you hipsters that enable that?  I hate you.  I hate that you allow Korine to keep making films.  I hate that every Korine film that comes out is the exact same as the one before, but sputtering on shock value because he’s practically exhausted his supply and still completely void of content.

Advice to hipsters?  If you want to roll around in the rat droppings of Meth County, Middle America and pretend like it means something, or that the meaningless means something, charge up your economy car and drive out to Tipton, Indiana.  I doubt their gas stations sell American Spirits, but you could probably find some PBR if you look in all the wrong places, and you’re completely entitled to converse with the locals and hopefully catalyze more conversation than the stilted half-dialogue that plagues Korine’s scripts.  More than likely, you’ll get a few grunts and a secondhand high.

Still better than sitting through a Korine flick and convincing yourself it’s art.

So I Went To San Francisco…

It looked like this, except with the moon from Majora's Mask.

So I went to San Francisco this week.  What…you didn’t?

Freak.

I ventured out left for a job interview, which I would gladly talk about if I wasn’t paralyzed by this fear of talking about a job I’ve only interviewed for and for which I have received no formal offer.  Because then when I don’t get it, I look like a tool.  And when I look like a tool, you get sick satisfaction.  I only support healthy satisfaction.  I won’t spread germs with any retrospective failtalk.

I was flown out on Tuesday afternoon…my first time traveling alone.  I’d previously been on maybe a total of six airplane trips: to Chicago, Ft. Lauderdale and New York.  All with friends or family or stupidfaced high school newspaper staff I still call friends.  So, in what some called “cute”, I was nervous to make this trip.  I don’t have a lot of travel experience under my belt (that would be an odd place to store travel experience anyway, though) and it turns out that the land of the golden sun is kinda far away from Indiana.  Unless plate tectonics have anything to say about that in the near future.

My first flight featured a baby that screamed from the departure gate to the destination gate.  I think they should charge a screaming baby surcharge.  The parents also kept taking pictures of it — and yes, it was decidedly an it — crying in its seat like it was doing something really cute or something, which bothered me.  They have no idea how close Baby’s First Plane Ride came to being Baby’s First Skydiving Lesson, courtesy my window seat and all the brute strength summoned by a tantrum-emboldened migraine.

My second flight, from Denver to San Francisco, featured something that aggravated me even more: clueless movie conversation.  As you may know, I’m a bit of a film buff.  A walking IMDB app, if you will.  Film is one of my things.  So whenever people say really dumb things about really obvious films, it tends to bother me.  Scratch that, it unnecessarily enrages me.  Irrational as that is.  It does.  So the conversation of the strangers in front of me began like this, as the woman engaged a man attempting to watch some World War 2 documentary.

Woman: I haven’t seen a war movie in ages!  Not since that one…it was set in World War 2…

Man: Yeah?

Woman: Yeah…I can’t remember it…I can’t remember the name for the life of me.  But it was set in World War 2 and it had Tom Hanks in it.

Man: Yeah, I think I know what you’re talking about.

Woman: What’s the name of it?  It was about this guy and his three brothers died so they sent these soldiers to find him…oh, what was the name?  It had Tom Hanks in it!

Man: I know what you’re talking about, but I can’t remember the name either.

Woman: Oh, this is going to bother me now!  It had Tom Hanks and it was in World War 2 and he was looking for this guy because his brothers died and there was some rule that if three of your brothers died that they had to go out and rescue you…darn, what was that movie called?

Timeout.

I tried to telepath her the answer so she would shut up.  I wanted to scream it in her ear.  I wanted to etch it in her forehead so she might take it to her grave!  Okay, the last one was a bit extreme, but still.  It’s.  So.  Obvious.  So, so obvious.  I mean, there’s like only one World War 2 movie anyone ever talks about, and the Tom Hanks part should absolutely seal the deal.

(It’s The Da Vinci Code, by the way.)

But she just was not guessing this film, and worse, the man sitting next to her was equally clueless despite apparently being invested enough in World War 2 to be watching a documentary on it, or attempting to before this woman’s inane 30-minute rambling search for the world’s most obvious film title.

Social courtesy, though, kept me from leaning over the seat and entering a conversation I was not a part of to essentially end it and spare my sanity.  Thankfully, though, the lady in front of them — ballsier than I and apparently equally agitated — turned around and said four words with no friendliness in her voice:

It’s Saving Private Ryan.”

I could have kissed that woman.  In fact, I did.  It was love at first sight and we married before we even broke the Nevada border (which meant we were in Utah, where, little known fact, mid-air pretend marriages are completely legal and recognized by the federal government…really, any marriage works in Utah, unless it’s gay, and even then it just can’t be over-18 gay…SOURCE: THE LAW!)  But that’s another story and not really related much to San Francisco other than the fact I’m now wed to some business traveler who lives somewhere I don’t know but also lives in my heart for her heroic conversation-ending title reveal.

Unfortunately, the conversation continued after the itch on the woman’s tongue tip was sufficiently itched.  And I spit you not, this is how it continued.

Woman: That’s right!  Saving Private Ryan!  Yes!  That was the name!  Oh, thank you.  Yeah, that was the last war movie I saw.

Man: Oh, yeah.  That was a good one.

Woman: Yeah, about Tom Hanks saving the guy…I think he was Private Ryan, the guy he was saving.  And I forget who he was played by.  Some young guy, I remember.  Blond hair.  Oh, I just saw him in something!

Man: Yeah, I think I know who you’re talking about!

Woman: I can’t remember for the life of me!  Oh, who was that?

[MATT DAMON, my mind pulses.]

Man: I’m not sure, but yeah, I can see him in that.

Woman: He was in something else I saw recently too, but oh, what was it?

[MATT DAMON, my consciousness ebbs.  It was MATT DAMON.  MATT.  DAMON.]

Man: Was it Brad Pitt?

[NO, YOU MORON!  MATT DAMON!  IT WAS MATT FRICKIN’ DAMON!]

Woman: No…I don’t think so.  And I know it wasn’t George Clooney, ‘cuz he was younger.

[GEORGE CLOO…LADY!  WHAT IN PLUPERFECT HELL?  WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU?!  GEORGE CLOONEY?  DID SOMEBODY NEED TO CHARM THE PANTS OFF THE NAZIS AFTER THE AMERICAN BROKE THE BEACHHEADS OR SOMETHING?  WAS THERE A FREAKING SAUERKRAUT HEIST GOING ON?  WHY WOULD YOU EVEN MENTION GEORGE CLOONEY AND SAVING PRIVATE RYAN IN THE SAME SENTENCE?!]

Man: Oh, wait, you uncultured wench!  It was Matt Damon.  You stupid doodyface.

[Okay, he didn’t say this.  But I wish he did.  I almost mindjacked him and made him.]

Woman: Wait, I remember what I saw.  He was in those Bourne movies.  You know, where he plays the spy and…

[I swear to God, if the man hadn’t interrupted her with his own eye-rollingly obvious epiphany, she would have gone on to explain the entire plot of a ROBERT LUDLUM novel for all the patience-exhausted passengers gritting their teeth in the back of the Boeing 777.]

Man: Oh, Matt Damon!  You mean Matt Damon.

Woman: Was that him?  Hmm…maybe it was.

[No maybe, lady.  It was Matt Damon.  Before he was Jason Bourne, he was Private Ryan.  Ball don’t lie.  Neither does a Southie’s film credits.]

Man: I’m pretty sure it was.

Woman: I think you’re right.  Matt Damon.  That was a good movie, though.  I just don’t watch a lot of war movies ‘cuz of all the killing.  There’s enough killing already, you know?

[Yeah, I don’t watch a lot of romantic comedies because there’s enough stilted, cheesy dialogue and end-of-date doorstep cliches already, you know?  I don’t watch a lot of Paul Greengrass films because there’s enough motion-trigged visual interruption already, you know?  I don’t rent a lot of Gus Van Sant because there’s enough latent sexual angst already, you know?  I don’t watch a lot of Nic Cage movies because there’s enough bad hairlines already, you know?  I don’t dabble much in avante garde because there’s enough abstract mis-en-scene in basement coffee shops before the black-and-white and deliberate self-referential scenery and tilted angles, you know?  I don’t watch a lot of documentaries because there’s enough reality already, you know?]

I did make it off that flight without committing any degree of homicide, though, and into the welcoming arms of San Francisco San Mateo County and a Jamaican cab driver that the robotic PA lady at SFO warned me against whilst waiting in baggage claim.

Yeah, I’m pretty sure I got in a gypsy cab.

How does this happen?  Simple.  You’re tired, it’s been a long day of flying.  You follow the crowd to baggage claim, wait 20 minutes for your lone suitcase to round the bend and shuffle along to the area marked “taxis.”  You’re realizing at this point that you really have no plan to get to your hotel other than “taxi” and some tall, island nation-sounding man approaches you offering just that service.  Part of you wonders at first if it’s some sort of scam, but he has a Bluetooth headset in, so he must be legit.

After politely excusing yourself as needing to collect more luggage, you inquire at information about modes of transportation that will get you to the hotel.  There’s BART, but you don’t know the routes well enough for that to be realistic.  There’s an airport shuttle, but that might take up to an hour to get you back, costs twenty bucks for the inconvenience and you’re tired as hell and needing to collapse into a king-size bed sometime in the next thirty minutes.  And then there are cabs.

So, fine.  Cab it is.  You go back to the guy and he leads you the parking garage basement.  Despite the fact that you see cabs freely commuting outside at ground level.  Warning sign no. 1.

Warning sign no. 2 should be that your cab isn’t a cab at all.  It’s a slightly cleaner version of the car your parents gave to you on your sixteenth birthday less of a present and more as a “we love you enough to let you dent the living hell out of this” gift.  It smells like Cheerios.  WHY DOES IT SMELL LIKE CHEERIOS?!

I spent the ride mostly convinced that this driver had every intention of taking the Oakland Bay Bridge, taking my wallet at gunpoint and leaving me to fend for myself to fend in a neighborhood full of drug dealers, prostitutes and, worse, Raiders fans.  I’d seen this movie before, you know?  It was called Saving Private Ryan, starring Tom Hanks and Matt Damon.

Matt.  Damon.

These fears weren’t exactly comforted by the fact that the drive from SFO into the actual city of San Francisco, as the airport is south of the city, proved to be a scenic tour of San Francisco’s entire homeless population.  I’ll give homeless San Franciscoans this: they’ve got the right idea.  It’s like passing out in a lawn chair in mid-May Indiana, but with way more needles in your arm, less to live for (arguably) and the pending threat of an earthquake that will probably destroy the vast majority of the city at some point in the near future (in Indiana, of course, the word “earthquake” is replaced with the word “governor.”)

As it turned out though, at least according to my present pulse, I was delivered to my hotel doors and felt foolish for ever having assumed I would be left on Grove Street to meet the Los Aztecas and all six Oakland As fans (seriously, bashing Oakland sports never gets old.)

The hotel was quite nice.  Built in the 1920s, I was told.  The decor matched.  I read it was haunted, but saw no ghosts, phantoms, specters or Scooby Doo villains during my stay.  This was probably because I slept with the lights on just in case.  I really wish I was joking.  But ghosts, man.  They will ruin your ability to interview well the next morning just because they have an eternity to kill.

<<<who is to say we can’t just turn off the light for you>>

I didn’t write that.

Since I’m not talking about the job or the interview or the happy hour or the dinner or cocktails that followed in fear of jinxing myself and/or remembering what a few too many Folsom Street Sours taste like, I’ll talk about the city some.

I didn’t see much of it.

It was night when I flew in.  I hustled back and forth between Union Square and Lower Nob Hill the next day, only stopping in the afternoon at Union Square Park to catch my breath and watch inebriated Art Institute students play “ninja” more seriously than any third-grader I’ve ever seen in summer camp.  I thought about joining in, but I feared my rippling biceps and rock-hard abs may have tipped them off to the fact I already had a B.A. in being a B.A. and would probably take the kickassery (or the slaphandery in this case) to the next level.  A level nobody comes back from.  With their face still on.

Oh, right.  The Hat Man.  How could I forget The Hat Man?  Like any city teeming with awesome, San Francisco has its share of crazies.  I suspect The Hat Man was a crazy.  I saw him on the corner of Post and Montgomery, I believe, gleefully announcing his insanity to passersby.  In my quick glance, I could tell that he looked like a 40-year-old African-American child wearing a cowboy hat whilst (am I allowed to use the word ‘whilst’ twice in one entry?) jumping for joy and pretending to swing a lasso high above his head.

“HATS!” he announced, like it was a completely normal thing he was announcing.  “HATS!”

(To my knowledge, The Hat Man was not selling any hats.  He was just jumping up and down in a cowboy hat, pretending to twirl a lasso.  Had he been selling hats, though, he would have had one hell of a sales pitch.)

Like any out-of-towner attempting to not resemble an out-of-towner, I straightened my tie and marched past.  Thankfully I blended into the business crowd bustling about, and thankfully this was Wednesday, because had it been the previous day, I would have been wearing an IU hat, my Indiana Captain Morgan shirt and the look of a visitor sure he had just escaped a gypsy cab.  The Hat Man assumed me to be a San Franciscoan.  I was happy.  So was he, but for completely different reasons (mostly that he thought he was a cowboy.)

In summation, this trip brought me great memories, jet lag and probably a few bedbugs.  San Francisco was a beautiful city.  Probably still is, though slightly less so without me there.  I loved the architecture and specifically the architecture as it corresponded with the geography.  I loved the weather.  I loved that the Louis Vuitton chicks drinking Starbucks at Union Square Park looked exactly like the pampered princesses I always imagined them to be, that the business types hurrying to and from work were all as airy, dismissive and self-important as I hope to be one day, that everybody rode bicycles and recycled their Zima bottles and that the majority of San Franciscoans are cute pocket-sized Asians who could fit in my backpack and survive on the scattering of stale M&Ms littering the lining if need be.

The trip back wasn’t nearly as eventful.  I ate some eggs at the airport, read a Dennis Lehane novel and caught some shut-eye in the thirty minutes between Chicago and Indy where complete daylight turned into complete darkness.  I’ve given up trying to figure how that works, but I think it has something to do with the NFL Players Union decertifying.

I don’t think I’m forgetting much.  I didn’t see a town between San Francisco and Chicago on the way back, flying over Idaho, Wyoming, Nebraska, Iowa and Illinois.  I guess there’s still a lot of nothing in this country.  A lot of nothing Native Americans used to live on, I think.  I never got upgrade to First Class, but really want to now that I see there’s actually so much leg room that they give you a remote control because you’re too wealthy to lean forward the five feet between your seat and the flat screen.  I also want to be subtly hated when I’m first on the flight and all the petty commoners have to pass my shrine of stretch space in order to cram themselves into economy class next to people who don’t watch war movies.

So I went to San Francisco.  Now I’m back.  Maybe I’ll talk more about it in the future.  Maybe I won’t.  But for now, I leave you with…

HATS!!!

Red Riding Hood

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