So, apparently there's a partially-substantiated rumor that CBS is developing not one, but two new Star Trek TV shows. One is being described as a CSI meets Star Trek vehicle, and it was bugging me about why the idea sounded so familiar. Then it hit me, I had thought of the idea almost five years ago (Don't believe me? Well, check it out!). Granted, it isn't the fans demanding the show like I joked about, but it's pretty damn funny how far ahead of times I was in predicting that kind of Star Trek show might happen.
I can just see it now, a Horatio Caine type officer having the following conversation:
Ensign: Sir, it appears that the victim was killed by someone using the Vulcan Death Grip!
Captain: Then I guess that someone didn't want the victim to...(takes off sunglasses)...live long and prosper.
[cue in The Who's Won't Get Fooled Again]
UPDATE: It turns out this article is pure satire. More fool me for not doing a snopes check on it. Still, I was way ahead of them on that joke.
The holidays are done, and I’ve neglected to send out holiday cards…again...
It’s The Most Wonderful Time of the Year!
The completion of another revolution around the Sun is done, and the potential of this next year looms just over the horizon (I’ll make a sacrifice to the Flying Spaghetti Monster in hopes of sparing myself the unlikely wrath of Neil deGrasse Tyson’s nerdrage over my mixed metaphor of Earth’s orbit around the sun and spinning on its axis).
repressed memory almost forgotten Festivus tradition, tis the season to infiltrate mailboxes with fanciful recycling festive style kindling holiday cards and subject friends, family and people we may actually love to exhaustive letters reminiscing about the highs and lows of the past 12 months. Yes, it’s those letters sandwiched in folding cardstock emblazoned with the latest entries for the Awkward Family Photos award – people adorned in ugly Christmas sweaters and outfits, depicting inappropriate and/or tasteless jokes, envy-inducing beautiful people with their beautiful children, or single friends posing with their child/significant other surrogates pets.
The holiday letter is a time-honored tradition that ranks somewhere below receiving fruitcakes, but still above awkwardly kissing the drunk relative sporting the “under the mistletoe” joke headband. And then there’s actually reading the letters – an act that begins with an exasperated sigh, but is a welcome change from once again paging through the toilet-side, summertime-relevant Newsweek or dog-eared Cosmo with the What Kind of Lover are You? quiz you keep taking to nail the “Sensual and Uninhibited” score instead of always getting “Milquetoast and Apologetic.” Indulging in the shakeup of your regular daily constitutional, you delve into the never-ending pictures and details (or “deets” as the kids say today) about the big vacation (Mom’s glow-in-the-dark sunburn, Dad in a grass skirt next to hula dancers, an inappropriately-affectionate Mickey Mouse posing with the kids…), job and career highlights (their promotion to full partner is a thoroughly ego-crushing blow to your Employee of the Month Target gift card), spiritual awakenings (“Atheist veganism saved us – it can save you, too!” or INSERT INSPIRATIONAL BIBLE QUOTE HERE), and the TMI dramas life tossed their way (the “weird spot that was just a birthmark” health scare). Often, reading these is about as cherished as taking Grandma to Christmas Mass just to prove that you’re still a good Catholic, though you’ll never admit to her about eating bacon cheeseburgers during Lent or needing prophylactics in Costco-esque quantities. And despite our grumblings, we secretly enjoy these letters, relishing in the aching satisfaction of silently correcting paragraph-length run-on sentences, misspellings and the eyebrow-twitching misuse of “their,” “there” and “they’re.”
Now is the time for reflection about the waning year – to hail the triumphs, assess the damage and recover from the New Year’s Eve hangover that’s part of the to-be-failed-in-days-or-weeks resolutions or promises of not repeating the same mistakes in the new year (and this time, you’ll mean it).
Having said all of that, please to be enjoying my very own Year in Review holiday letter.
Working for the Man, Not Working for the Man, Then Working for the Man Again
After a relatively quiet 2012 holiday season, 2013 heralded itself with a busy workload with piles of proposals to analyze, develop and submit…only to be derailed by an unforeseen layoff in February (on EXACTLY the third anniversary of my working there – to the day). The end of 2012 was a confusing one for that company, where a rash of layoffs followed an otherwise rousing upper management speech assuring everyone that all was well in the company. The layoffs mainly applied to project associates whose contracts had ended, so with no new work, it was understandable to let them go. But right around New Year’s, the layoff crosshairs began fixing on back office personnel, generating a collective sense of “what the fuck?” paranoia and steadily declining morale throughout the office. January was fraught with anxiety as many wondered who was next on the chopping block given the piecemeal layoffs steadily thinning out the office herd. And like a bolt out of nowhere, I was given my walking papers, much to the
surprise astonishment utter shock of all who regard a proposal manager as one of those “Wait, don’t we kind of, you know, NEED him?” corporate roles.
Not being my first time unemployed, I gave myself a day to
get a little drunk and do whatever the Hell I wanted recover and regroup from the shock and awe, then hit the ground running, firing off newly-revised resumes and surfing the job sites. One of the little twists this time around was the infamous Congressional Sequester, forcing many government contractors to stand fast until they knew which agency budgets were still ripe for plundering worth pursuing for contracts. Also, in the three years I spent at my now previous job, I established a good reputation as a proposal manager and coordinator, and I was no sooner walking in the door with a bankers box full of personal work items and flair when my phone was ringing with calls from several partners and groups my company had worked with. Unfortunately, most of them were companies I didn’t want to work with for various reasons (which I’ll leave out of here so as to not get sued). Coincidentally, this layoff was just a few months before the 10 year anniversary of my first ever layoff.
Since proposal people are always in high demand in the DC area, it was just a few weeks of hunting job sites, researching companies and enduring interviews before landing a new job. My last interview was a three-hour ordeal I could’ve lived without – I already had a job offer from my now current employer, but I wanted to have the interview just for kicks and giggles (it was more of their kicks than my giggles). I was scrutinized and hounded by team of executives and project managers, all of whom expressing a suspicious and abject fear of a bullying vice president who was the first and last person I talked with, thus confirming first-hand his status as a complete tool. At the end of the second hour, I was absolutely certain that I didn’t want to work for that company or their vice president from Hell. In the meantime, I landed a new job at a small, Tysons Corner-based IT contractor in need of more infrastructure for growth. In the months that followed, I built everything I needed from scratch and helped push through several proposals with some wins to thank for them. By Thanksgiving, the company had announced its being sold to another IT group, and we all relocated to new digs in Chantilly. As of this writing, both companies are in the middle of restructuring, so all the unanswered questions we have about
assigning the swanky corner offices who sits where, the new pecking order who reports to whom and will we still get bonuses? maintaining timesheets and salaries are still up in the air.
Oh, the Places You Will Go…
The new company I started working for hired me just weeks before my big Hawaiian vacation was scheduled, and they were kind of enough to let me go on it, despite only just starting there. I was forced to cancel my last big vacation for October 2012 (California wine country) due to work commitments and was thanked for that sacrifice by being laid off, so a change of scenery was just what the doctor ordered. Hawaii has been on my travel bucket list for a long time, and I spent a wonderful week on Oahu, touring Honolulu and Waikiki, seeing Pearl Harbor and attended my first luau. It was a fun trip and leaves me wanting to see the other islands – so another trip will need to be planned sooner or later.
Due to a lack of paid time off and funds, I had to pass up on two opportunities to visit Italy this year. My aunt organized renting a villa in Sorrento (near Naples) in June/July, which my parents went out to for a few weeks. The other trip was a Tuscany winery tour in the Fall, which ended up being cancelled anyway.
The other big trip for this year was finally flying out to San Francisco. Steve H. (jharish), a friend going all the way back to high school, has lived out there for a several years, and in addition to inviting several of us to attend his partner’s big charity event (Project Nunway V), he and his partner decided to get married. It was a glorious few days of touring parts of the city, hiking around Alcatraz Island, eating amazing food, seeing the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence dress up in sci fi-inspired costumes and attend a gay wedding complete with drag queens (as well as pirates, Scotsmen and assorted other costumed types...and is any gay wedding complete without at least one drag queen?). I need to go back and see more of the sites that I missed this time.
Love, Exciting and Meh…
Not too surprisingly, my standing as an eligible bachelor about town remains unchanged, as well as unchallenged. I elected to be a bit more transparent about my sharing interesting date stories this year, and managed a couple of short-term (i.e., measured in weeks) dating relationships that ended with the same “You’re a great guy, but I’m a piping hot mess/emotional train wreck and can’t handle having a stable, available and responsible boyfriend” excuse (I suspect this is the 21st Century equivalent of “It’s not you, it’s me”). At this point, my preferred MO for meeting new people is to greet them with a firm handshake, utilize kind but direct eye contact and mercilessly grill them until they crack and admit that their lives are falling apart (a friend whose proclivities include a bit of BDSM complimented this practice, comparing it to her gently caressing someone’s cheek before slapping the shit out of them). So far, the most interesting “first and only date” with someone was the woman I refer to as “Empty!” We met for drinks and she proved to be the most graceless, tactless, self-absorbed human being I’ve ever met. Toward the end of the date, I was frequently distracted by a lesbian couple next to us laughing on and off about my date, who was frustrated enough over her dried-out glass that she stood up on the floor bar rail and yelled “HEY! EMPTY!” to the overworked bartenders. Fortunately, she left after that and the lesbians bought me a few rounds.
So, there you have it, sports fans – the highs and lows of my past journey around the Sun.
Peace, love and eternal grooviness.
Years ago, Steve H. (jharish) gave me a little piece of advice as a fellow artist/writer/creative person – never, ever throw away your work because you’ll never know what you can learn from it later on.
As usual, he was way ahead of me in his artistic wisdom.
This sagacious counsel came at a time when I was still contemplating a possible career as a comic book artist and wanted to build up a portfolio of work.(1) This was during my college years and Steve was writing a comic book story based on/inspired by our high school D&D campaigns. I spent a summer living with him and his parents since mine had relocated to New Jersey and I wasn’t thrilled about the idea of living in exile away from my circle of friends. When I wasn’t working two back-to-back, part-time jobs to build up spending money for the coming school year, I was penciling and inking character sketches and page layouts, figuring out illustrative problems and getting his feedback (usually over his repeatedly playing the Beatle’s White Album or Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, but also while munching on the late night smores he mastered making). The initial pages I drew were stilted and hopelessly amateur, but I had a some epiphanies about my style and concepts, and the second version I began drawing looked much more composed and energized (though from what I remember of them, more professional artists might rank them as “still needing development”). When I went back to college, I left at least some of not most of the pages with Steve, and as the years passed, they disappeared for one reason or another. I think I may have one or two pages hiding somewhere, but otherwise, I’m pretty sure they’re gone forever. At the same time, I was working on a minor in studio art, and kept a few pieces. After leaving grad school, I spent a week going through my artwork, separating out pages of squiggly-drawn exercises from compositions worth keeping.(2) And even though I have zero interest in pursuing a comic book career (it’s a moot point, I discovered that majoring in English proved me to be a much better writer than artist), it still gnaws at me a bit that I didn’t save those pages I worked on for Steve. Of the few pieces I have from way back then, I can see aspects of my style that I’m glad I outgrew and others that have remained consistent.
Recently, I went through my old blog entries on here. Part of it was to clear out some really dumbass things I posted, and the other goal was building a PDF backup of my “greatest hits” entries in case the website ever disappeared or somehow lost my posts. As I was reading through my earlier entries (i.e., the ones that involved my actively writing and not successories/demotivational collections or reposting the Internet), I was reminded of Steve’s advice and had several revelations while reading through this almost seven-year old blog.
Over the past few years, the frequency of my posts on this blog has gone from “multiple times a day” to “barely once a month” or even “months between entries.” Some of it is due to moving on to other things (e.g., my travel blog wineabout, which I’m having a lot of fun recording my travel memoires in), some is life getting in the way, and the rest is that brilliant distraction known as Facebook. One of the overall goals in my travel blog is playing around with my writing style, which many have praised for the “voice” I’ve developed in it.(3) In comparison to my older blog writing, Steve’s advice is finally ringing true to me. I’m seeing huge leaps in both the quality of the content, the cohesion in my narratives, and a clear honing of my humor and satirical ramblings. I’ve been trying to get back into my creative writing for a while now,(4) and I plan on re-reading some of my earlier story writing…as painful as that will be…and see what still works and what needs changing.
Blogs (the personal ones) are generally a mish mash of venting frustrations and sharing any ideas that might be on someone’s mind, for better or worse. To that end, looking back at my past entries, I really wonder about why I thought some things were actually clever or amusing, or needed to be posted in the first place. My political rants are a mix of thoughtful introspection and knee-jerk ragefests which are much ado about nothing since no one in power would ever see or care about what little old me thinks. There are a few jewels of introspection about odd, weird or funny things I experienced or that came to mine. I’m still kind of proud of my successories, especially since they helped train me to be much more efficient about my use of humor and satire. But most importantly, I can see a real progression in my writing, and I like the development I’ve seen in it over all of that time.
I just hope I still think this when I look back at my current writing in a few years…
(1) Mom and Dad, aren’t you glad this wasn’t my final career choice?
(2) Not only do I still have some of my “greatest hits” from those classes, but a few hang on my walls at home.
(3) Heavily influenced by Christopher Moore and Anthony Bourdain, as well as a smattering of other writers.
(4) I may have mentioned this before, but it’s really hard to sit down and write at the end of the day when you write for a living. It’s like a professional athlete training all day, and then trying to "unwind" by going to the gym afterward.
It’s interesting how the odd USB cable can stir up so much.
Packrats – They Start When They’re Young
Like many middle class, American kids, I had a pretty decent toy collection – a wide assortment of everything Mattel ever made for their Star Wars line, the renaissance of G.I. Joe action figures and vehicles, and games and assorted tidbits belonging to whatever else. Among my treasured belongings were the AT-AT and Millennium Falcon play sets, my G.I. Joe F-14 Tomcat, a “sound and lights” Starship Enterprise, and the famous Mego Batman, Superman and Robin action figures. I’m sure my parents breathed a sigh of relief when I outgrew those toys, especially on the cusps of the “bigger and better” toy craze just starting to hit its stride as I was moving into adolescence. There was a mix of awe and horror on my street when one of the neighbor’s kids received the USS Flagg G.I. Joe play set – a monstrosity of toy that required its own corner of their basement (I’ve dated women who were smaller than that thing).
Growing up, I tended to collect my share of brick-a-brack here and there from my daily adventures and things that somehow ended up tucked away in my closet, hiding under the bed or stuffed away in my desk. I used to dread the inevitable (but often needed) CLEAN YOUR ROOM ultimatum from Mom or Dad (second only to the parental “nuclear options” of BATH TIME! and NO TV FOR A WEEK!). This was especially harsh on weekends when homework was done, the sun was shining and friends were calling for me to play outside. I was the kid that probably spent more time complaining about my chores than actually doing them (I’m dreading being on the parent end of that conversation with my future children some day).
I was an army brat growing up, which meant moving frequently, which meant packing up all of my earthly belongings every few years. During those times, you discover seemingly long lost miniature guns and accessories to every action figure and play set (and sometimes forgotten about), as well as a more than a few missing game pieces and have-no-clue-what-they-belong-to bits and pieces. Nothing is quite as sobering as seeing everything you own packed up in boxes,(1) and you can imagine having to repeat the experience multiple times throughout your childhood (on the other hand, this may beat having to move often without the opportunity of packing your things). I have a somewhat vivid memory of getting so focused on digging through a box that I dug my way into it and needed to dig my way back out.
Things escalated during my teenage years. Toys were replaced by whatever I needed for my hobby-of-the-week, assorted models and toy rockets I used to build (the models were in varying levels of quality depending on if I played with them like toys, and the rockets were a pain in the ass to build at times, but watching them fly 200 or 300 feet in the air while scaring the crap out of onlookers was worth the effort…this was obviously well before 9/11), assorted RPG minutiae, my interest in drawing,(2) or the big ass telescope taking up a corner of my room.(3) Plus, and let’s be honest, teenagers aren’t known for their tidiness, so my room was a mish mash of stuff piled on/in my desk or shoehorned into my closet. I’m not even going to touch the subject of things teens hide from the parents, or rather, things they think they’re hiding from parents who already know about them (my parents and I still honor a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy about this).
College was a whole new deal where everything I needed or wanted had to be squeezed into half of a dorm room with another human being.(4) In retrospect, I took a lot of stuff with me that I probably could’ve left at home, but being an introverted and not-thrilled-about-not-knowing-anyone young man, I wanted as much familiarity with me as possible. I still remember moving out of the dorm room at the end of the school year and was amazed at how full the van was. Following years met with streamlining what I took with me as much as possible, and even more so when I started grad school and had to cram myself into an even smaller bedroom. The apartment bedroom was my first experience in apartment living, and at the time, my roommates and I saw the apartment (which my two roommates were already living there) as a palace. In retrospect, it was a little bit of a
rundown well-lived hovel shithole flat, having suffered the wear and tear of more than a few college students, various pets (some we inflicted on it owned) and God only knows what else. My “favorite” annoyance with the place was how my bedroom was at the very end of the apartment unit, so during the Spring, Summer and early Fall it was hot no matter what the AC was set at, and during the winter it was so cold that the large, single-pane window would cover over with a thin sheet of ice ON THE INSIDE. But the bunk bed I used allowed room for a desk to work on, my drawing desk and a bookshelf. I somehow managed to stow all of my clothes and art supplies in the closet, which was permanently left open due to too much stuff poking out.
What a Difference Today Makes
Anyhow, time passes and over the years I’ve had multiple opportunities to purge myself of too much stuff I’ve collected. Ironically, I’ve become a bit of a neat freak as an adult, and more than a few people have marveled at the lack of clutter in my condo. Oddly enough, my few “messy” habits are 1) leaving dishes in the sink, 2) letting mail pile up on my desk throughout the week, and 3) waiting until the hamper is overflowing with laundry to clean and fold. Also, I have mementos and knick knacks all over the house, but most of it (OK, pretty much all of it) has its own place, and I’ve taken to heart the rule-of-thumb of “if you haven’t touched it in a year, then you don’t need it.” Since I moved into my condo 11 years ago, I can count maybe two other times of going through everything and made the resulting garbage, recycling and Goodwill piles. In this case, it’s probably been a good four of five years since I last did this.
Apparently, I decided a few weekends ago that it was a good time for another great purge.
That Sunday was greeted with grey clouds and rain, so I spent the morning nursing coffee, checking email and dealing with a few odds and ends. I pulled out my tablet with plans to take it with me someplace to grab a bite to eat when I realized its battery needed recharging. I keep all of my electronics charger and USB cables and other accessories in a desk drawer in my office, and as I dug into it for the charger cable, I found an unrecognizable USB cable. I sat there for a few minutes, racking my brain and going back over a mental checklist of everything I owned that needed or used a USB cable. Then it hit me, the confounding cable belonged to a digital camera I didn’t have anymore. So it was a good time to clear out the drawer and survey the contents, and a lot of it were accessories and miscellaneous parts to items that were long since gone. This escalated quickly to examining the remaining drawers. In them, I found old magazines, house paint swatches, and assorted holiday, birthday and “I’m so happy you’re my boyfriend” greeting cards. Almost all of this stuff ended up in a loose to-be-recycled pile on the floor, except for anything with sentimental value (e.g., wedding invites, the last birthday card I received from my grandparents before they passed away, etc.). It’s amazing how much crap you can store in a desk.
No, the cat was neither dead nor otherwise stashed away in my desk, however, empirical evidence
suggests that piles of crap have the same effect on cats as catnip.
Fairly happy with clearing out my desk, I couldn’t help but turn my attention to the long-neglected walk-in closet in my office.
Condo living means making the most of the limited space you have, so closet space is precious and you don’t have a garage to toss things into and forget about. The walk-in closet to my office was effectively my garage – holding tools, old paint cans, my old drawing desk, pictures I have nowhere to hang and other odds and ends I use or need maybe once or twice a year. Well, it was time to go through there since it was a tad crowded in there. The purge brought about the onslaught of empty boxes, an old entertainment stand I could never seem to sell on Craigslist, and an old bed set that had seen far better days (for reasons involving different pets and ex-girlfriends). This was in addition to tools, wrapping paper, bags and other items that were haphazardly stored in the closet as I repeatedly needed them.
My cat’s reaction to trash makes me wonder if the couch would fare better by my leaving piles of paper around the place.
A few hours and multiple trips up and down my condo building’s stairwell cleared out the closet and it was organized again…ready for a few more years of me tossing stuff into and forgetting about. Sadly, what I consider a lot of junk stored up is probably nothing compared to some people I know,(5) but that’s the “joy” of having even mild OCD – every little molehill seems like a mountain.
On a side note, Goodwill appreciated what I dropped off and I noticed a few dumpster diver neighbors going through what I left out for the recycling truck to take away.
(1) The reaction to this is either “Holy shit, I have a lot of crap!” or “Holy shit, I thought I had more crap than this!”
(2) My parents gave me a large drafting/drawing desk for one of my teen birthdays which I used religiously throughout high school and college. Today, it’s tucked away in a closet because it’s the one piece of furniture I have no place for in my condo, but refuse to get rid of (one ex-girlfriend who had plans for moving in someday noted this to her closet-envying ambition and frustration).
(3) You might be wondering, why didn’t I just pack it up after using it? Mainly because the construction and design were neither idiot-proof nor efficient (compared to modern, consumer-available ones). Basically, it was easier to leave it assembled rather than waste time trying to put it together whenever I wanted to go out on the back porch and try to stargaze through the Washington, DC area’s always hazy or light-polluted night sky.
(4) I seriously doubt he’ll remember me, but I have to give props to my freshman year college roommate. As a former high school football player, frat boy and all-around “cool guy,” he was the polar opposite of a shy, geeky kid with space-sharing issues. That guy put up with a lot of my nonsense and somehow didn’t mind the sheer amount of crap I kept on my side of the room. I should add he always treated me with respect, never let his fraternity interfere with our living space, and his girlfriend was amazingly kind to me. Well, that is, his second girlfriend. His first girlfriend was a talks-through-her-nose bitch who always acted like I was a squashed bug she scraped off of her shoe.
(5) One friend in particular comes to mind. She had a condo of similar size and in addition to having everything precariously stacked and set aside everywhere, she also kept every box to everything she ever bought. You didn’t wander around her condo as much as follow the “trails” she laid out. Also, I'm reminded of one time I went condo hunting with my friend Mike and we looked at one property that was lined with bookshelves containing every issue of various magazines (including Life, Time, Dragon and National Geographic), as well as probably every book he ever owned. Every wall was lined with these shelves, the kichen so full he had cookware stacked on top of the stove, and a rolltop desk in the living room was jam-packed with every piece of junk mail he ever received.
Male bonding is a funny thing
Men bond over shared experiences – fraternity brothers reliving their college days, sports veterans recalling past glories, and war buddies fondly remembering harrowing moments and absent friends. When you spend time as a “nerd,” “geek” or “freak” in high school, it’s sometimes hard to find that kind of bonding, but for my crowd, there was D&D.
A few years ago, I wrote about a book I read by Paul Bibeau called Sundays with Vlad, which is about his life-long and often humorous fascination with vampires. While it’s a great book to read in its own right, his experiences mirror those of many of us who have ever been labeled as a “nerd,” “geek” or “freak.” And having spent my own childhood and adolescence in the “non-conformist” crowd, I always feel a great amount of kinship towards anyone who can relate to the characters on The Big Bang Theory. In his book, Bibeau offers a quote that strikes a very sympathetic and humorous chord for me:
"There are four things I'll be embarrassed about for the rest of my life, and here are three of them: losing an arm-wrestling contest to a girl when I was a kid, being sexually harassed by a female boss in my early twenties and not doing anything about it, and the time just after 9/11 when I actually gave $20 to the Republican party. But the fourth stings more than the rest…I've played role-playing games before."
And thus, my own tale of male bonding comes into play here (no pun intended).
Why does this quote strike so close to home?
Back in high school, I was a smart but introverted kid, and feeling a little isolated at the time because the person I considered my best friend in middle school was off at a military school (but that’s a different story). I wasn’t exactly fitting in with the “in crowd” whom I had an almost instant dislike for. I didn’t do drugs, smoke or skip classes, so I was summarily rejected by the Future Prison Inmates of America. I wasn’t athletically inclined at the time, so I wasn’t making friends in any of the school athletics, and I hadn’t really figured out what clubs I wanted to join. It’s sufficient to say that except for neighbors, my circle of friends was pretty small, but part of that was from my army brat background (i.e., you didn’t get too close to anyone since you would lose them when you moved again).
For years, I had a copy of the Dungeon & Dragons Basic Set, which included the infamous The Keep on the Borderlands, a D&D adventure that any experienced RPG player will tell you is where they either cut their teeth in the game or avoided like the plague for being the painfully generic adventure that is was. Thing is, I didn’t really know what to do with it since I didn’t know anyone else who played. However, with study hall in the middle of the day (in my World History classroom, which is still my favorite high school class by my favorite high school teacher…even if he did turn out to be a bit of a freak),* I had some time to myself at school. Like the other kids, I rarely did much studying in study hall – it was usually sneaking comic books inside textbooks or sketching on notepads for me. I don’t know what came over me one day, but I brought in my copy of the The Keep on the Borderlands and was reading through it during that time.
Little did I know or realize that someone was observing me reading that little piece of D&D lore. I forget if it was that same day or later on, but as I was waiting outside for a late bus to go home, a guy who looked vaguely familiar walked up to me. Besides the inherent awkwardness of any random stranger walking up to you, he opened up with the most original opening line I’ve ever heard: “There’s a big zit on your face, can I pop it?” As luck or fate would have it, that was my first encounter with Stephen H. (jharish), and as time went on, we became friends and I was eventually invited to join his D&D group. This gaming group were all fellow high schoolers – a good group of guys, and as it turns out (and not too surprisingly), all part of the same social class of nerds, geeks and not-quite-normal types.
June 1990 – one of our last official D&D sessions. Clockwise from the Bottom: Stephen H. (in the red shirt), Keith,
Spyke, Neil, Alex (a.k.a., “Dungeon Master” and “Great Conqueror Wyrm”), Dave, Vic and Erik. I’m not in the
picture because I was the one taking it, and Jon wasn't there for that session. In the middle is the map of
“Quillanor,” the world we played in.
Every Friday afternoon, we gathered at whoever’s house was hosting that week and spent from late afternoon to well into evening on whatever quests and adventures Alex had drummed up for us. The popular spots to play were in Alex’s, Dave’s or Erik’s parents’ respective basements, but sometimes my parents would let me host. Steve’s parents allowed us to play at their home from time to time just so they could observe what they considered a satanic game. While we genuinely enjoyed playing, there were times where we’d fall into chatting about whatever, putting Alex on task to bring us back on mission (sometimes using more Draconian methods like dolling out “random damage” to whomever was taking the group off topic). Occasionally there were petty fights and temper tantrums over disputes and irritations (especially over some dumb ass things considering this game dealt with absolutely nothing tangible),** but it was these sessions where we all bonded. It was out small circle of friends and we reveled in hanging out at school and our beloved Friday nights, as well as playing other RPGs from time to time and our “Laser Tag” craze that had us out in the woods day and night trying to shoot each other with toy ray guns. Of course, eventually it came time for us to part ways for college or go off into the real world, but somehow, we managed to keep in touch (a few less so than the rest of us). We’ve even reached the point where we experience mini-reunions at each other’s respective weddings, and share congratulations as several of our group are having kids.
As the years have gone by and I’ve gone from emotionally-distraught teen, to trying-to-figure-out-who-he-is twenty-something, to man-child-trying-to-finally-grow-up thirty-something, those days of RPG playing have been a pleasant memory. Not that any of us veered too far away from our collective geeky and dorky roots. We still love or had our fair share of sci fi movies, science and eclectic/eccentric misadventures and odd/weird/what-the-fuck-is-wrong-with-you people we’ve encountered over the years. Maybe I just outgrew my interest in it, maybe I found other distractions like work, dating and my artistic endeavors, but I haven’t even touched anything related to D&D in almost 20 years. The closest I’ve come to any of it is a quick glance at the RPG books in the bookstore. Funny thing, I’ve noticed in my love life that admitting you used to play D&D isn’t always the most enticing thing a woman wants to hear. Many women I’ve met who discover this about me usually follow up with “But do you still play?”
It’s About Time for a Real Reunion
As the years have trudged by, this small circle of friends kept in touch. Sadly a few disappeared or lost contact for whatever their reasons, but a core of us always kept in contact and saw each other whenever the opportunity presented itself. In a group email to all of us in February, Alex pointed out that the D&D campaign we played began 25 years ago as of Fall 2012. That was a sobering and nostalgic reminder to us that a lot of time had passed and we all had fond and vivid memories and lasting friendships thanks to that fantasy game.
In the bevy of emails that followed, a plan emerged for a reunion, a chance to get all of us together to reminisce and catch up. Ideas for meeting were kicked around – everything from meeting at a fun destination like Las Vegas (though most of us weren’t fans of that place) or Dave’s cottage in Canada (logistically not easy to coordinate), but ultimately, it made sense to get together where it all started – Northern Virginia. Fortunately, several of us are still in the area, so it was easy to get to and make accommodations. As Spyke had the largest living space (i.e., a house, complete with an entire wall dedicated to all things gaming and sci fi), he volunteered his home as the hang out for the weekend. Our original idea was to meet in the Fall, but there were too many conflicts with that timeframe, so we decided to go for an earlier date over the summer. As an added bonus, all but one of missing former game players were back in touch and equally excited to see us all in one place again (although Dave and Neil had to drop out because of work commitments).
This past weekend was the big reunion. Alex even prepared a small mini adventure to play around in, but I think we were more excited to just be together again and enjoy the camaraderie. It’s a strange experience to see some of them after a very long time, even if I've seen some of them with a bit more regularity. In many ways, you see how we’re all basically the same geek guys we remember, and how time and maturity have molded and changed us. There was a lot of “remember when…” conversations, some old and fondly remembered in-jokes, and a Hell of a time trying to remember how that damn game worked.
As Dave observed when he Skyped in for a few minutes, those gaming days could’ve been yesterday. The only difference now was our hair was thinner, we were a few pounds heavier, and the beverages of choice involved alcohol instead of soda. Even now, we’re all abuzz about getting together again next year (one or two wish it could be even more often), and some hopeful that we’ll see more than a few more reunions in the future. Personally, I'm less interested in the game and more with being in their company again like old times.
June 2013. Top (From Left to Right): Alex, Jon, Spyke, Erik. Bottom (From Left to Right): Steve, Keith, me.
* My World History teacher (who I’m keeping anonymous on purpose) had a great way of putting major events in perspective to modern day. He was a fantastic encyclopedia of what happened and when, and encouraged students to keep open minds. Unfortunately, he was allegedly a bit of a pervert (e.g., he enjoyed re-arranging the class seating assignments by making the cheerleaders in their very short skirts sit at the front of the class) and was consequently “invited” to retire a few years after I graduated.
** Having some notorious anger management issues back then, I was often guilty of these, some of which were encouraged by the others for sheer entertainment value.
This isn’t how I thought owning my first motorcycle would end.
Over the few years that I’ve been riding, several friends and other riders I’ve met along the way have shared differing views about and experiences with their first “starter” bike. Some sentimental roadsters still have their first rides, the prized and usually having-seen-better-days steel horse in a collection of two-wheeled travel companions. Other riders of the less-sentimental variety either passed theirs on to their kids when they came of age, gave them to friends who were starting to ride, or sold them off. And sadly, others lost their first bikes in an accident, left with a good scar or injury to remember them by. And a resolute few won’t touch any other bike. To them, the first and only bike is like love at first sight with a high school sweetheart, you’re hooked from the very first moment you hop on and hear the irresistible growl as you tap the starter.*
My first bike was nothing particularly special, but now it’s a fond memory.
A few years back, I was enjoying life free and clear of a now ex-girlfriend who represents two wasted years of my life. I was traveling a little more, spending more time with friends and family, and doing whatever I wanted. I have a few friends who ride and the appeal of experiencing the world like one can on a bike was growing from a seed of temptation into the new growth of curiosity and interest. All it took was one of my local friends getting her license and first bike and I gave in. Within a month I had my license and weeks afterward my first bike.
As I said, the bike wasn’t anything special – a Kawasaki Vulcan 500. A small cruiser that – like many other cruisers today – was designed to resemble a Harley. It was nothing more than a generic, small, crafty bike to ride, with a fire engine red tank and fenders. At the time, bikes were in heavy demand due to high gas prices, so when my bike popped up on the dealership’s website, I had to bolt from work early to put down a deposit before the four other interested buyers beat me to it. As soon as I saw it, I knew I found my first ride. The day I signed the papers, I had to ride it home through a mother of a thunderstorm, and I still rank that ride as the stupidest thing I ever did (with possible exception of the above-mentioned ex-girlfriend).**
My first few rides were short and cautious, trying to get a feel for the bike and grow my confidence as a rider. I took to heart the fact that my motorcycle riding class teacher said he saw I was definitely ready for a bike, but there’s a huge difference between a pylon-studded, empty parking lot and the unforgiving roads and even less charitable car drivers on them. I’m sure my bike and I became familiar sites around Reston and Herndon in those first two months, riding around, half training myself to trust my skills and half praying I didn’t do something to get myself killed. Soon, the bike seat was as welcoming and familiar as an old, faded, fraying, perfectly-fitting pair of comfortable jeans that everyone owns. Finally, I was brave enough to push myself out of the nest and take off on longer rides and on busier main roads. As time went on I was able to enjoy more than a few memorable rides and chalk up some pleasant memories – going down to Charlottesville, meeting Mike in Romney, WV on his ride from Chicago to Northern Virginia, my first group ride, riding up to Harrisonburg, PA (my Dad’s hometown), driving up to New Jersey with Ryan to pick up a Triumph he bought off of an ad on Craigslist, a ride or two up to Harpers Ferry, WV, finding my “moment of zen” more than a few times along the Winchester loop, digging out of Snowpocalypse 2010, and possibly being a bad influence on a little girl who may very well end up riding someday.
Somehow along the way, my little red cruiser got its nickname “the Red Devil,” but it was on the Charlottesville ride where that changed. Part of my reason for going on that ride was to find the house my family lived in for a few years when I was a kid. Trick is, the house was – and still is – on a gravel road. Though I learned quickly to loathe gravel roads for obvious reasons (my first experience being an absolutely miserable mile and a half on one to reach a winery), the house wasn’t too far down the road. Just a few hundred yards. Sadly, as I spotted the house from the road, I hit the brakes harder than I should’ve, and at 5 MPH, I flew off the bike and it toppled on its side. After brushing myself off and standing the bike back up, the bike was left with a sizeable dent on the right side of the tank. From then on, it was known as “the Dented Red Devil,” earning snickers, criticisms and even a few thumbs up from fellow riders.
But things change and life gets in the way.
Over the past year, work was busier, other aspects of my social life took priority and the Dented Red Devil saw more time in the parking lot than on the road. I didn’t lose interest in my beloved bike, I just had other things to do or deal with. As last Fall arrived and I realized my lack of riding and contemplating other bikes to invest in were a reality, I decided I’d sell the Dented Red Devil and use the funds as a down payment on something new to ride. As spring arrived, I prepped her for a few last spins on the road, but the battery was dead. I thought I hadn’t hooked up the trickle charger properly, so after a few more tries and getting barely enough juice to see a light or two pop on, but not nearly enough to start the engine, it hit me. God, karma or the universe was speaking to me and it said “it’s time to sell the bike.” So, I invested in a new battery and cleaned her up so I could take some pictures and post an ad or two to sell it.
Problem is, some higher power has a sense of humor and it reared its ugly head on June 8, 2013. I wasn’t home when it happened, but I found out through a few neighbors and someone who claimed to be a friend of the other bike’s owner that the biker came home from a ride in the afternoon and stupidly threw the weather tarp back on her bike without letting it first cool down. Within a few minutes her bike tarp caught fire, and then set fire to the other bike tarps sitting in the motorcycle parking spaces, including my trusty bike. By the time the fire department arrived, the gas and oil were lit up and there was nothing else to do except watch as it burnt itself out. I heard another neighbor ran out with a fire extinguisher in hand, but the fire fighters gave them a “Seriously?” look. The fire destroyed three bikes and two scooters and anything not metal was black, tarry slag on the asphalt. I was lucky enough to catch the tow truck driver as he was hauling away the culprit bike a few days later and he gave me the rider’s phone number and insurance company. I left her a voicemail to at least trade insurance info, but she never called back, so I gave her info to my insurance and they’re trying to resolve things. This past weekend, the junker arrived to haul away the remains of the Dented Red Devil.
Top: The Dented Red Devil from both sides after the fire. The silver bike next to it is the one that started the fire.
Bottom: What was left of the license plate, and my last view of the bike as it was hauled off.
So, I didn’t get to hang on to it, pass it on to another rider, or go off into the sunset.
So long, Dented Red Devil, you were a great bike and fun ride.
My remaining trophy of the Dented Red Devil, a plate from the side of the gas tank.
UPDATE7/5/2013: In what I was pretty sure to be a done deal, my insurance won out over the other biker's. Her insurance tried to argue that since the fire department ruled the fire as "unintentional," then the fire wasn't her responsibility. My insurance pointed out that since her bike fire spread to mine, as opposed to my bike spontaneously combusting by itself, then it was her insurance responsibility.
* I’m talking about the bike, not the high school sweetheart.
** In my defense, the salesman and I estimated that I had just enough time before the storm hit, but was about half way home when all Hell broke loose. After I got home, the news claimed it was a potential tornado cell that passed through Northern Virginia.
For those who don't know, I took a badly needed vacation to Oahu, Hawaii back in March. As with other big trips, I tend to take A LOT of pictures and write down copious notes to remember everything and translate into more coherent prose later on. Well, I FINALLY finished typing up the notes and posting everything, so enjoy!
Oahu, Hawaii Trip 2013
Like many people, I sometimes have a hard time remembering my dreams.
It doesn’t matter if it’s a heart-racing nightmare, a surreal journey or a sensual/erotic romp, I tend to forget what I’ve dreamt about not long after I’ve woken up.* In the past, I’ve tried writing down quick notes about particularly interesting or intense dreams when I wake up, but if I don’t have time I try committing them memory, but only to forget them as the day drags on. Once in a while I’ll have one that definitely stays in my memory, and to this day, the ones I definitely recall include:
1. Several very erotic dreams, usually involving people I know and/or dat ed, or whomever my brain came up with. One dream in particular involved a person who was a mix of several ex-girlfriends (their personalities and that they have very similar features). The funny thing about that one particular dream is I remember the person being a lot of fun to be with, which is completely not like one of the ex-girlfriends this person resembled.**
2. One particular nightmare I had was of my trying to escape an old castle and get away from some kind of axe murderer. This dream ended with him basically tearing me apart from behind and I refused to fall asleep when I woke up from it. Also, this nightmare stands out because I had a date the day after I had it, and the date described her own nightmare that same night that was almost exactly the same as mine. We were both freaked out by this.
3. Another nightmare was of me wandering through a dustbowl type abandoned town in the middle of nowhere. As I walked around, I kept hearing something like wind chimes and a distinct and repetitive “thump.” As the thumping got louder, I eventually turned around to see something that best resembled a demonic, glowing red eyes kangaroo that attacks me.*** I woke up yelling out loud from that nightmare.
4. One dream I remember from my early childhood was exploring the neighborhood I lived in. For some reason, everyone had either a full-sized swimming pool (either in- or above-ground), or one of those blow-up and/or plastic kiddie swimming pools. I was fascinated by them because I would jump into each pool and discover that each of them was a portal to somewhere under the sea with all kinds of sea life and things to see. Some portals could be seen in the distance, or others I had to swim to and emerge in another neighbor’s backyard. The other cool part of this dream is I was able to swim underwater without any breathing apparatus.
I know a few people who have re-occurring dreams on a pretty frequent basis. I don’t normally have those, or at least, I don’t remember them if I do. The only one in the past that immediately comes to mind involves the people I know at the time I have the dream, and we all have super powers. For some reason, we’re all outside and some unseen calamity is happening and we’re trying to do something about it. None of our powers are really defined, but I remember how one person might be similar to the Flash, etc. I have that dream about once or twice a year and I usually wake up from it with a huge adrenaline rush.
However, I’ve been having a re-occurring dream over the past two years that I can’t make heads or tails of. I dream that I’m back in college and it involves a class that for some reason I keep forgetting to attend. While I’m in the class, the professor discusses either an exam we’re having soon, a major paper that’s due or a book we’re supposed to be reading, and I’m panicking because I either haven’t read the material or prepared the paper and it’s all due within a day or two. The compelling part of the dream for me is how I’ve been forgetting to attend the class to the point of forgetting it even exists. Some of the other students in it are people I know, but they’re acting pretty much like normal students.
Normally, I don’t put a whole lot of weight in dreams since I chalk them up as my subconscious trying to work out something that’s obviously on my mind, but the re-occurring dreams make me wonder why they come up as they do. I’ve never done any serious research on dreams, but I almost want to at this point because of this re-occurring one.
* I tend to have nightmares when I’m hungry and/or haven’t had a lot to eat, and the sensual/erotic dreams tend to be the most common – as in incredibly frequent and it doesn’t matter whether I’m dating someone or not (one or two ex-girlfriends have appreciated this).
** This particular ex-girlfriend was terrible to the point of boring during sex. I blame no one else but myself for putting up with that as long as I did with her…but that’s a story for another time.
*** The “monster” in this dream reminds me about how some aspects of dreams will seem incredibly important, intense, scary or fascinating while in the dream, but silly or stupid when you explain them to others.
A few years back, I caved and wrote up my critical analysis of Star Trek (2009), so I thought I’d do the same with Star Trek Into Darkness.
WARNING: THERE BE SPOILERS A PLENTY BELOW!
To get the obvious, short-answer out of the way – yes, it’s a great “popcorn” movie that’s fun to watch, looks and sounds amazing, and each of the characters has their moment in the sun. It has the same sense of humor as the first movie, and pays some worthy homages to the original Star Trek. That being said…
Reboots are Tricky Things
As many fans and critics alike pointed out years ago, the original Star Trek franchise was pretty stale, having exhausted every imaginable and relevant theme, characterization and plotline. With mixed results, Hollywood has been on the “reboot” bandwagon for a while now (e.g., Good = the Daniel Craig James Bond and Christian Bale Batman movies, Bad = Superman Returns and Conan the Barbarian).* Star Trek (2009) was a pleasant breath of fresh air given the re-development of the characters, look and feel and story ideas. The new actors are talented and allowed to add their own mark while giving credit to their predecessors. If diehard fans had any true grievance with the reboot, it was all about how J.J. Abrams enjoyed some pretty divergent artistic license from the Star Trek canon.** Abrams has admitted on several occasions that he’s not a big Star Trek fan and this is a good thing – he’d take this on without any need to “re do” what’s already been done before. Again, he made clever and fun references and homages to the original material while having some fun re-defining it and exploring some “what if…” storytelling.
The problem with Star Trek Into Darkness is that the playful fun of mixing things up was a bit muddled, and even lost at times. This movie makes a lot of references and borrows heavily from Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, but does so to a fault.*** There’s a bit of role-reversal with the story banking on the emotional impact of Spock’s death in Star Trek II by making Kirk the dying character instead. However, his death scene in the new movie is almost comical when Spock yells “KHAAAAAAAAAN!” because the emotional investment is non-existent.**** Star Trek II had the massive advantage of fans following and loving the characters for almost two decades beforehand, plus Khan’s motivations were given gravitas, having been developed from the episode Space Seed (i.e., he had some legitimate reasons for being pissed off), so Spock’s death then had a truly cathartic impact. This time around, the storytelling legwork wasn’t there, plus a crucial plot point at the beginning of the movie already gave away how Kirk’s death would be “fixed,” stealing a lot of thunder from his death scene. Plot twists work best when you don’t see them coming, and the writers not only told you what they were going to do, but did so with the biggest storytelling “wink and a smile” they possibly could.*****
Redefining Characters Should Amount to More than “Meh…”
Okay, admittedly and like I pointed out above, this is a big-budget “popcorn” flick, so you don’t go into the theater expecting Hamlet, but a little sense is needed to buy into it. On the plus side, the writers gave each character their time to shine – Kirk has to confront some facets of personality that were fun and admirable before, but problematic and even dangerous given his responsibilities as a starship captain. Spock has lingering issues from the destruction of Vulcan that impact his personal/love life. McCoy, Scotty, Uhura, Sulu and Chekov all have welcome moments in the spotlight, too (though maybe not as much as one would hope – I still feel that Karl Urban’s Dr. McCoy is one of the highlights of these movies and he isn’t used nearly as well as in the previous movie).
When it comes to Khan, things just don’t add up. His motivation is murky and a bit unbelievable – he’s pissed at an evil Admiral Marcus because the he's cast aside for no longer being of use to the Admiral (effectly casting Khan in the same role on an epic scale as Glenn Close’s jilted lover in Fatal Attraction)? First, how would someone from 300 years ago be of worth designing advanced weapons and starships that he has no knowledge of to begin with? The original canon establishes Khan having a background in engineering, but he’s from 300 years in the past, and that’s a lot of catching up to do before being the head of development of future technology. Second, if he’s so damn smart and capable, why create so much convoluted and wanton destruction and death just to get back at one man? Obviously, killing their mentor (Admiral Pike – and albeit as collateral damage) gives Kirk and Spock the personal motivation and hate to go after Khan, but when you think about it, it’s a lot of needless death and destruction for revenge. One might argue that Khan had no problem with making innocents suffer (e.g., the Genesis Device scientists, Enterprise and Reliant crew members) in his quest to get back at his primary target (Kirk) in Star Trek II, but something about his blowing up whole sections of cities is somehow out of character. There's a difference between a power-hungry warlord and an unpredictable terrorist (and frankly, not every modern villain needs to be a contemporary comparison to terrorism and/or 9/11). Finally, there’s a vital trait missing from this new version of Khan. Ricardo Montalban and the writers back then engendered Khan with a true sense of charisma – he was brilliant, clever, charming, confident, warm, complimentary and respectful (even to his enemies and underlings), and had the above-mentioned legitimate motivations for his actions. He wasn’t bad for bad’s sake, he was a classic antagonist with faults and admirable qualities that made us like him and consider his point of view even though he's a monster. Benedict Cumberbatch’s Khan is an ice cold and calculating creature – a colorless, bland villain (which is what I hoped they would avoid, and said as much four years ago). He has the steely-eyed glare of a shark tracking its prey, but there’s no passion or zeal and we get none of the original Khan’s charismatic attraction. In short, the writers and producers banked heavily on Khan’s reputation and legend from the original canon without providing any of the same worth to his character in the new context. Khan in this new movie could be named “Piney Applebiscuit” and would be just as close a match to the original character as this “Khan.”
Plot is More than a Bunch of Devices
The plot is understandably simple for this kind of escapism movie, and it does move along a nice pace. If the movie lacks anything in the plot, it’s that the motivations discussed above don’t always make sense or work, and a few plot devices are lackluster challenges, at best. Khan’s superior traits offer several opportunities to save the characters, offering a lot of anticlimactic “deus ex machina” storytelling (e.g., Khan saving them from the Klingons, knowing a way to get on board an enemy ship, his blood having super-healing properties). The U.S.S. Vengeance is simply a badder, meaner ship to go up against, but so what? We know as soon as we see it that 1) it’s going to kick the shit out of the Enterprise, but be thwarted by a clever plot twist, and 2) Khan will get control of it. What makes Star Trek II’s plot engaging is Kirk and Khan are evenly matched – both had equivalent resources (ships and crew), and character strengths and weaknesses (e.g., Khan’s blinding need for revenge and obtaining the Genesis Device versus Kirk’s experience as a starship captain and his wavering self-worth). This time around, their positions swing wildly from one having the upper hand to the other, so the plot is simply a chess match of making sure characters are magically in the right place, at the right time.
Despite the nitpicking above, it really is a fun movie to watch. It doesn’t take itself too seriously, and offers the same enjoyment you get from Star Trek (2009), it just misses the mark when trying to balance reverence versus redefinition. It seems there are early plans for a third movie (the lead on for this is the Enterprise beginning its famous five-year mission at the end of the movie), and I hope they figure out a way to embrace the show's sense of exploration while using a better and lighter hand when borrowing from the original. Personally, I’m still hoping to see the return of Harry Mudd, a favorite character of mine and who would be a gold mine of fun in the new movies. If you're a fan who doesn't take their fandom too seriously, you'll appreciate it and like it, if not, it's a fun way to kill a few hours.
* Not that the original Conan the Barbarian was the end-all, be-all of great movie making, but the reboot was a shamefully God-awful movie across the board.
** As God as my witness, I left the theater after Star Trek (2009) hearing two fans bitterly arguing over what certain characters did or didn’t do and divergent events from the canon “history.” This kind of reaction, plus many fans’ hardcore insistance of labeling the new movies as an “alternate universe,” sometimes makes me wonder who’s more stuck in the mud about their beliefs and perceptions – those kinds of fans or the Tea Party.
*** And as one friend pointed out, they basically remade Star Trek II with Star Trek (2009) given the revenge themes and doomsday weapon plot device.
**** Especially since their close friendship isn’t even remotely established. In fact, their dramatic issue in this movie is how they still don’t completely trust or understand one another.
***** The resulting huge plot hole is needing to take Khan alive when they had 72 of his people already, meaning they had 72 other resources for bringing Kirk back. Not to mention that they just established a way for people to never die in the Star Trek universe, so Khan and his people just became the universe's most valuable commodity.
It just hit me that last week was 10 years ago that I was laid off for the very first time in my life. I can’t believe that much time has passed. Oddly enough, I should’ve realized that when I was revising my resume a few months back.*
Let’s hop in the way-back machine to April 2003 – this was a pretty significant time and turning point for me. After a particularly cold and snowy winter,** Spring had definitely arrived and life was returning to the area. I was dating my then girlfriend and it felt like things were finally thawing out from the long winter. I was working at a small training company as a project coordinator (I’ve written about it before), which basically meant I was making sure training course materials were put together correctly, shipped and received where they needed to be. I had been doing the same job for almost three years with very little hope of any promotion, not to mention I was fairly bored and irritated that my recently-completed Masters degree wasn’t be moving me along to any better work there.*** On top of all that, I was making way below what I should’ve been earning anywhere else, and raises were “token” at best. Given my frustrations, I took to doing some job hunting, and somewhere along the way management got wind of this.****
Now, something to understand about this piece-of-crap company is that the owners are INCREDIBLY cheap. How cheap you ask? They only invested in a network a year or two earlier. Before that, each floor had its own, dedicated dial-up phone line which was only accessible by one person at a time using their own AOL accounts.***** In addition, the office was in various states of disrepair and neglect, and frankly, I was embarrassed when clients and other companies showed up for meetings.
The management was prone to being rabid packrats, frequently losing and/or forgetting about materials they needed or wanted to keep in piles and boxes all over the office. One particular conference room was the collective “dump site” for books, papers and assorted junk no one knew what to do with or didn’t want in their offices. During one of the frequent slow periods in my work, I was charged with clearing out that conference room, finding documents originating from dot-matrix printers, books belonging to former employees, marked up papers from previous (and completed) project development efforts, etc. The real fun came when I was put in charge of clearing out and organizing the company’s library of print-ready training materials. It took several months of careful removal and inspection, but I found old surveys for clients we no long had, books and magazines, more support materials for projects long since completed, and even old floppy disks – and not just the five-and-a-quarter inch disks, but the eight inch variety! They didn’t even have the equipment to read them, and even if they did, we were pretty sure that the less-than-ideal storage conditions ruined their viability anyway. Those eventually became targets for one of my coworkers on his shooting range.
Why do I bring these things up? Because their frugal and mismanaged ways (i.e., saving money any way they can and losing track of what they kept), while not being the most skilled business managers, plus a little bit of “fuck you” thrown in, led them to decide that it was time for me to go. I wasn’t happy there and they knew it, I wanted to do more and they weren’t letting me, and since another person was willing to absorb my duties into her own, they drop-kicked my ass out of the place. No severance either. Just a “see ya and good luck” and didn’t care if the door hit me on the ass on the way out. The irony is this is a group of experts who helped other companies and agencies develop their workforces, but completely neglected their own (doctors do make the worst patients…).
This stands out in my mind because it’s the first time I was ever laid off or fired from a job in my entire life. Up until then, I managed to leave every other job on my own terms (usually due to going back to school), but this was the first time I’d be unemployed in my adult life. My ex-girlfriend, to her credit, was very supportive considering she had been laid off once or twice, as well as one or two of her other ex-boyfriends.****** But still, it was a new experience for me, and one I wasn’t really prepared for given the ability of most people to coast their way through that damn company.
In a sense of coming full circle, I was hired at another company three years ago who was a bigger, more resourceful and sharper competitor to the crap training company that let me go. In addition, the CEO worked at the same little company at the beginning of her career (long before I was there). That CEO stepped into my interview because she saw my resume and where I had worked previously, and wanted to get her own take on me (she has a much higher opinion of them than I do, but that’s to say that she knows they’re a bunch of fuck ups, too).
Once in a while, I’ll drive past that little company (it isn’t far from where I work now), and it has barely changed. I even recognize some of the cars in the parking lot and people in their office windows. Given how small, inept and badly run, it’s a minor miracle they’re still in business at all (a few of us who previously worked there figured the company would’ve folded years ago). On top of that, my LinkedIn account has been bringing up a lot of “People You May Know” hints showing people from that company (again, many of whom are still there). My friend Michael (mphtower) and I still muse about that place from time to time (he used to work there and got me my first job at that place - see the link above).
Damn, I can’t believe it was 10 years ago. It seems like a lifetime has passed since then.
* Since I haven’t been posting much on here – FYI – I was laid off from my last job of three years (as in, to the day) in early February. I landed a new job within four weeks, so BOO-YAH bitches.
** This was after the horrendous snow storms of Winter 2003, which I thought were pretty bad until “Snowpocalypse 2010” hit, making 2003’s massive amount snow seem like a mere dusting.
*** There was, almost literally, nowhere to go career-wise in that God-forsaken company.
**** This is interesting to me considering that the management typically didn’t seem to care about anything the staff did as long as they did their jobs. Not to mention that it was almost taken for granted that most of the staff were constantly job hunting anyway.
***** Surprisingly, this wasn’t that big a deal until they hired a full-time, in-house web programmer who spent much of the time hogging the dial-up line claiming he needed to do web-based work. It was after he was caught just IMing people all day that he was scolded for denying others access to their email.
****** Sadly, her support was extremely short lived as the piece-of-shit bitch dumped me just a few weeks later. In fact, the Saturday we had our last fight and break up was the same day my Dad had his stroke. This was the woman I thought I was going to marry someday and we even adopted a couple of cats together in anticipation of bigger things between us (and I was stuck with the damn cats…and I don’t like cats).
I saw a recent commercial for Syfy’s 20th anniversary special, and yet again, I’m getting nostalgic over a network that has been a great source of entertainment and frustration in my TV viewing over the years.
My first experience with Syfy (then called “The Sci-Fi Channel”) was back in March 1993. My parents moved back to Northern Virginia after spending 18 months up in Princeton Junction, NJ, and I went home from college to unpack my stuff in the finished basement that was basically my territory.* I wanted some background noise while I was unpacking, cleaning and getting things situated, so I started channel surfing on TV. I eventually came across the Sci-Fi Channel showing a marathon of Irwin Allen classics like Lost in Space, Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, The Time Tunnel and Land of the Giants (and just a year or two after Allen’s death). I was completely bowled over – it was a geek’s dream come true – all sci fi, all the time! Can life get any better than that (in truth, yes it can, but it involves other participating parties and generous amounts of alcohol)?
That summer, whenever things were slow and I had nothing better to do, there was always the Sci-Fi Channel, endlessly showing cheesy TV fare from the 60s (e.g., anything produced by Irwin Allen), 70s (e.g., The Six Million Dollar Man and The Incredible Hulk) and 80s (e.g., Buck Rogers, the original Battlestar Galactica, Automan, Manimal and Knight Rider), long-forgotten and begging-for-the-Mystery Science Theater 3000-treatment movies,** and even a “Doctor Who Hour” – which was a bit of a rip off since it was one Tom Baker-era episode followed up with some old serials from the 30s and 40s.
A few years later, the Sci-Fi Channel started airing original programming on its “SciFriday” (which I still think is a play on NBC’s “Must See Thursday”…and would be funny if true since NBC owns/owned the Sci-Fi Channel). One of my favorite shows - Farscape - was part of this, as well as the short-lived but entertaining The Invisible Man. The Sci-Fi Channel also aired a European-produced show called Lexx that I thought (and still think) was beyond bad.*** I was a little heartbroken when shows like Farscape were cancelled (which wasn’t all bad since it was just starting to stall a bit) in order to make way for the channel’s newly acquired (and budget busting) rights to Stargate SG-1 (and I still don’t get the popularity of the Stargate franchise, which I thought was stereotypical at best and juvenile at worst). Also, the channel managed to do something fairly interesting, it aired Star Trek: The Sci-Fi Special Edition, presenting TOS episodes in their original and/or extended versions with deleted scenes, and commentary and interviews with the stars and bit players. Some of the trivia they discussed are pretty well-known, but there were a few insights from the actors that were good to hear. I believe the channel aired several specials around the same time period about various sci-fi legends and popular shows, including some incredibly funny interviews with Jonathan Harris (Dr. Smith of Lost in Space) in the Irwin Allen special.
A big plus for me at this time was the Sci-Fi Channel’s jump in original programming with several miniseries, including the made-way-more-sense-than-the-kooky-1983-movie-and-followed-the-book-more-closely Dune miniseries.**** They followed up with the Children of Dune miniseries, but it wasn’t as good as the first one (and as I recall, the books it was based on - Dune Messiah and Children of Dune - weren’t as good as the first novel anyway).
Another strangely memorable time for me with the Sci-Fi Channel was in 2003. It was Valentine’s Day weekend***** and the Washington, DC area was slammed by a massive snowstorm that was only beat by the “Snowpocalypse” we endured in 2010. At the time, I was dating my ex-girlfriend Marnie and we were snowed in at my condo for the whole weekend. Since my movie collection was pretty small at the time, we did our best to keep occupied with card games, games that involved a lack of clothing, going outside to shovel out our cars, and inevitably watching the majority of a Battlestar Galactica (original) marathon (Marnie was one of the rare, attractive and into scifi chicks). Based on that experience, I can tell you that it isn’t the best idea…we were making references to “the Lords of Kobol” and saying “frak” without realizing it for the following week.
Oddly enough, a year later, the Sci-Fi Channel aired the new Battlestar Galactica series, that I still believe is one of the best TV shows ever produced. Sadly, it was one of the few shows Sci-Fi produced that was worth watching. After this show wrapped, the channel went downhill fast – relying on the waning fandom of the Stargate shows, so-cheap-that-the-CGI-looks-like-it-was-done-in-five-minutes “Original Sci-Fi Movies” (admittedly, the Debbie Gibson/Tiffany showdown in MegaPython vs. Gatoroid was cheesy fun to watch), and lackluster new shows (with the exceptions of the charming Eureka and Warehouse 13).
These days (and I’ve ranted about this before),
the channel formerly known as the SciFi Channel Syfy has taken a big step back to what it was 20 years ago – airing old shows and crappy movies. Its main thrust with original programming involves a few token TV shows, a few less-than-engaging “reality shows” and inheriting WWE Raw wrestling from the USA Network (also owned by NBC).
At this point, the powers that be seem content to let Syfy die a slow, agonizing death. Not that the channel was ever a mainstay on cable, but it’d be nice to see it get back some of its past glory again.
* It was a pretty well-laid out basement, complete with a full bathroom, my own separate bedroom and a pool table left by the previous owners. This made my basement a popular hang out spot among my friends.
** Obviously, this was during MST3K's old KTMA days.
*** This was a “love or hate” type of show. I know others who really enjoyed it, but I honestly thought it was crap storytelling that failed miserably at being titillating.
**** I recently watched this miniseries again, and I noticed that the production was both much better than most high-end TV productions (as evidenced by costumes and set-design), but lacking in others (mostly in not-so-great CGI/special effects).
***** This weekend is a bittersweet memory because it's the same weekend my Grandpa (Dad's side) passed away. He was my last living grandparent.
The inevitable has finally happened (and apologies to Prince for a play on his song lyrics).Springfield Mall Demolition Begins Monday
The beginning of the end. I believe this was where the Macy’s anchor store used to be...maybe it was a Hechts...I can't remember.
Most people would say “So what? It’s a crappy mall that’s way past its ‘heyday’ and has been gangland territory for years!”
Well, yes, that’s true (I’m not kidding about the gangland comment).But…
See, the Springfield Mall is yet one more piece of my childhood soon to be just a memory.
One of the main entrances. This picture must’ve been taken before 2008 (Since the Bennigan’s is still there). The Cinema 1-6 Movie Theater was just to the left after you entered the mall here.
When I moved to Springfield, VA
(Washington, DC Metro area) way back in 1984, Springfield was the affordable, middle class suburban area. Sure, it’s a bit of an older suburb, and didn’t compare to higher-end areas like Vienna
or Great Falls
but it was alive and active. At the time, West Springfield High School (WSHS)
was one of the top schools in the country,**
the Springfield Country Club***
was actually a happening place, and the Springfield Mall was where the action was for every teenager (though we sometimes were treated to the more “exotic” Tysons Corner
or Fair Oaks
Back then, Springfield Mall
(opened in 1973) was looking like any well-used, commercially-active facility might look – pretty worn out. The décor was dated, the movie theaters coated in years of spilled soda, candy and popcorn butter, and the carpeted floors (one of the few malls to have carpeting) was literally ducked taped down in spots. My first distinct memory of the mall was seeing some movie there just before the renovations started (complete re-work of the décor, new wing, new movie theaters, etc.). I don’t remember which movie it was, but I remember the theater being a complete train wreck. Everyone marveled when the renovations were completed, and the mall was a new place to explore and pilfer.
Some of the more pleasant memories I have of the place include:
- Countless times eating hot dogs and God-awful fruit drinks at the Orange Julius
, then spending hours at the video game arcade next door.
- Sneaking into the service hallways with Steve H (jharish
), his sister and others (the “secret entrance” to them was through one of the movie theater’s emergency exits).
What’s left of the Cinema 7-10 Movie Theater. One of the worst summer jobs, ever. This was also the scene of a near riot when the fire alarm accidentally went off (which it did frequently - I'm still not sure if it was a malfunction or someone fucking with us) during the opening weekend of Terminator 2 and the evacuated mob started beating on the doors and chanting "REFUND!" The management quickly and decisively sent out sacrificial lambs employees like me to hand out free ticket vouchers.
- Making out with Jennifer Smith (my very first date) after dinner and movie.
- My friends and I going to the mall after high school let out on the last day of our senior year, racing over to go see Total Recall
and eating disgustingly dangerous amounts of junkfood (I remember eating Cinnabon and Boardwalk Fries that day).
- Briefly working that one summer at the movie theater and hating every moment of it (see picture above).****
- An "Asian Store" on the lower level that sold incredibly cheap and tacky jewelry and butterfly knives.
- The gaming store that sold all things D&D and every type of dice you can imagine.
The JCPenney wing. The Orange Julius on the left was a staple of my teen age diet, and the Time Out next door a wonderful place to play video games…if you could tolerate the smell of sweaty kids and the sight of potential guest stars for To Catch a Predator. Moving down from JCPenney, on the lower level was a Merry-Go-Round that never seem to have more than a handful of people riding it. I believe the cool/scary “Asian Store” was on the lower level near this spot.
I’m not entirely sure when, but clearly The Sports Authority gave up the ghost on its anchor store and Target moved in.
I know, I know…it’s just a crappy shopping mall, but it was a
place to waste time at before the internet came about
playground for my teen years part of my early experiences with living in Northern Virginia. Sadly, this soulless, yet cherished monument to a misspent youth will become the future home of yet another soulless town center
So long, Springfield Mall. In a strange way, you will be missed.* In contemporary terms, these areas are where the “1%” live in Northern Virginia.
** I believe it was ranked #3 in the country at the time. One of the markers of its success was the number of graduates going on to college. The school’s “Career Center” mantra was less “IF you go to college” and more “WHEN you go to college.”
*** My only experience with the Springfield Country Club was back in college. A bunch of us raided the golf course in the middle of the night, filling each hole with various kinds of fruit ranging from blueberries to jamming a pineapple into the 18th hole. Sadly, nothing was mentioned in the local news (as was hoped), however, at a party a week later, I met a someone who worked at the country club and was ranting about a group of “loser pranksters” because they were “fruiting the golf course.”
**** The one plus to working at the theater that year was one of the girls I worked with who, for whatever reason, had a mild interest in me despite her talking about a boyfriend (We even made out a couple of times, and then she promptly quit. I like to think it wasn’t because of my kissing technique).
Hurricane Sandy marks the third hurricane I've experienced while living in Reston, VA. So far, it's just been a lot of wind and rain.
Today started off with my driving into DC to deliver a proposal due this afternoon. Even though it was announced that the Federal government was shut down for the day, the client agency hadn't posted any updates regarding the due date (a common practice during uncommon events). Driving into DC was fairly painless - government and schools closed, most businesses told employees to stay home, etc. But I had to lug a box through torrential downpour over to the agency building, only to have the front desk security tell me that no one was in the office anyway. Not that bad a story, just annoying as Hell.
By the time I got home, changed into dry clothes and got comfortable, the winds were kicking up and rain was coming down even worse than before.
Now, it's a lot of wind that's steadily dying down.
I can't help thinking about the sounds of tree branches groaning and straining in the wind, and the dull booms of others giving in and breaking off and crashing into the woods around my place.
I'm also hoping that the loud "CLANG" I heard earlier tonight wasn't my motorcycle falling over.
I badly wanted to share this picture on Faceyspace, but given the REALLY bad word in it, I know many who wouldn't appreciate it, so I'm posting it here...