Month: December 2014

Becoming a Man

Yesterday, I replaced the fuel pump in my new $500, 1990 Subaru Legacy. This is what men do, well, most men. There are men who don’t do these things, they have someone else replace the fuel pump in a $30,000 car, or they just buy a new car, but when buying a $500 car one knows there are going to be some problems. What type of problems? Well, the type of problems that a college degree can’t solve. The type of problem that even a full beard can’t fix. The type where one puts a key in the ignition and the car doesn’t start.

You too could own a sweet ride like this one for just $500. By the way, if you want to make an offer bidding starts at $2000.

You too could own a sweet ride like this one for just $500. By the way, if you want to make an offer bidding starts at $2000.

I have never been a car guy. When other guys start to talk about drive shafts, box and rotors, horsepower, and horizontally opposed engines, I change the subject to the new exhibit at the Seattle Art Museum (Pop Art for those of you who are curious). This doesn’t bring me a great deal of cachet in the world of grunting and scratching, but I had my chance to join the tribe of gear heads back in high school. I had a little hole in my schedule my senior year and so I signed up for Auto Shop. I figured this would be a good way for me to become the Renaissance man I had always wanted to become and, as an added benefit, the Auto Shop was close to the cafeteria so I could get in line before all my friends who were slaving away in a stupid class called Advanced Math.

This Auto Shop class lasted three days for me. I was bored out of my mind. Everyone in the class had to pass the basic (and I mean super basic) safety test before he would let us turn any nuts. For three days my fellow classmates flunked the test and I sat there looking through the dirty glass of the classroom into the dark shop area where the static cars sat waiting for my nimble fingers to soothe their broken parts. On the third day (a Biblical transformation is about to occur), I went to my counselor and asked to be moved into Advanced Math. The Auto Shop teacher said, “I don’t see many of these,” when I handed him my schedule change. I felt pretty smug leaving these guys behind. I was off to Advanced Math where I would earn a D in the first semester and then get an F in the second semester. (It is still the only F I have ever gotten in a class, but I earned it. Boy, did I earn it.)

I also had plenty of opportunities to learn about cars from my dad. He knew how a car worked and did his best to try to interest me by having me hand him tools while he stood looking into the car’s engine. He did his best to try to explain car stuff to me: gas, spark, electricity, gears, oil…but I could not sit still long enough to watch anyone do anything. I wasn’t hyperactive, I had a vitality that required movement. This vitality shortened my attention span and had me burning about five billion calories a day. If I wasn’t shooting baskets, riding a bike, throwing dirt clods at people, climbing fences, jumping off the roof, or breaking something, I wasn’t happy. (This vitality never translated well into household chores for some odd reason.) So standing there watching my dad turn a nut twenty times just didn’t do it for me. One minute I would be there handing him a crescent wrench and then I would be gone: probably off doing something that would end up getting me grounded from television.

This is what an engine looks like. There's the place you put oil, the place you put coolant, and the place you hit with a hammer when it doesn't start.

This is what an engine looks like. There’s the place you put oil, the place you put coolant, and the place you hit with a hammer when it doesn’t start.

My next opportunity to learn manly car stuff was from my friends who took Auto Shop. I went over to my friend’s house a couple of times to help him work on his car, what I discovered wasn’t that working on cars was fun, but this would give me a great opportunity to meet girls without telling my parents. In other words, I would lie to my parents about going over to my friend’s house to work on his car and then I would meet a young lady for some car related activities that never put dirt under my fingernails. My parents were probably just happy to have me out of the house, but I never learned anything about cars other than where to park them. (Corn fields are great. Dead end roads always draw attention.)

When I finally turned the corner into adulthood (defined as, having to do things you don’t want to do) I bought reliable cars that required little or no maintenance. I had a few brushes with auto repair that I worked out with a hammer or other blunt instrument, but I had given up on learning about how a car worked. Gas here, oil there, key goes there, was enough for me. Then something funny happened, the old vitality slowed down. I could sit still for hours at a time and I could do really boring things for long periods.

So when my new $500 car didn’t start a few weeks back, I decided to work on it, but like all problems in my life, I let my subconscious work on it first. (This is a lazy person’s excuse to leave things alone for a time.) One day I checked the battery. It worked. Then I changed the spark plugs; in a 1990 Subaru Legacy this is not an easy task. I then looked at the fuel filter, it was new. It had to be the fuel pump.

While eating Christmas dinner, I talked to my dad about what he thought. He offered to help and I took him up on the offer because, well, because I knew he would be able to help and it would give him a chance to hand me some tools. He had a pretty significant health scare recently and isn’t supposed to do too much physical activity. We set up a work date for 10 AM, Monday. At 9:30, I got a call from my mom. My dad had left to drive over, they live about 40 minutes away, and I was to make sure he didn’t do too much. She started to cry about dad not being okay and she was worried about him. I promised to behave and did not make morbid jokes about the will and wanting the new couches. (This focus on death is part of my family tradition. I make light of it because that is my job as idiot son.) I don’t think my mom believes me sometimes, but what can you do when you spend most of your teen years telling your parents you are going to work on cars and you never smell like gasoline once.

I put on my Carhartts, my dad arrived, and we got to work. He handed me tools, tested a few things, and the next thing I knew I was at an auto-parts store ordering a fuel pump. I hate going to auto-parts stores. I feel like the skinny guy in weight room, the illiterate guy in a library, the guy in a Sephora, or me in an auto-parts store. The 12 year-old kid who worked at the store did his best to make me feel stupid (I don’t know if this is on purpose or just my self-conscious feelings of incompetence, but he accomplished his task). My dad made sure we ended up with the right pump (it had to be delivered from a different store) and I paid for it. My dad headed home in good condition and I waited for the call that my fuel pump had arrived.

By 4:30 I was back in the garage, this time with my son, putting in my new fuel pump. We worked slowly not because I didn’t know what I was doing, but because I didn’t want to break anything, and around 6 the car was running.  My son asked a few questions, and here is the funny thing, I knew the answers. Cars aren’t that complicated. I don’t plan on opening an auto-repair shop, but if you can replace a fuel pump in a Subaru, you can do most of the other stuff too. I’d still rather go to the Pop Art exhibit at SAM.

I Feel Dirty: Downloading The Very Best of Hall and Oates

It happened. I was sitting at my computer surfing the internet and the next thing I know I was on a page I…well, I’m ashamed to admit it, my mouse hovered over the button and before my better judgment could stop me I was clicking the mouse and sending a message to iTunes that I did want to purchase The Very Best of Hall and Oates. It was on sale. It was $5.99. Now when I go to my music I see this:

Oates trying to bring back that creepy feeling.

Oates trying to bring back that creepy feeling. Who rolled up the sleeve on Hall’s shirt? 

Why did this happen? Why does anything happen on the internet? I am a weak man. A man who makes poor decisions when I let my guard down.

I know there are people out there who will ask, “What’s so wrong with Hall and Oates?” Yeah, what is wrong with Hall and Oates? Is there anyone out there who can listen to You Make My Dreams Come True without signing along? No! Don’t lie. Play that song on while driving your car and next thing you know people at the stoplight will be wondering if you are having a seizure or if you are listening to The Very Best of Hall and Oates. Yet, I still feel like I ate one too many slices of pizza.

One of the first things I bought with my own money was a radio with a dual tape deck. The hours of working at Cut Price Foods in Auckland, New Zealand earned me around 90 US dollars so when I passed through duty-free in LA I knew I would be buying a sweet sound system. By today’s standards the radio/tape deck was terrible, but I loved it and spent hours listening to the radio in those days when I thought DJs were the luckiest people in the world. My musical tastes were dictated by what was available, and what was available was pop radio. I did own a few Beatles tapes and Supertramp’s Breakfast in America, but most of the time I was listening to the radio play the same five songs by Pablo Cruise, Steele Dan, and Christopher Cross. (This did scar me, and I am sorry for those of you who lived through this time and are now forced to re-live it through my poorly constructed words. When I hear that the CIA used music to torture people I think, “I’ll bet it was Christopher Cross or Steele Dan.” How much do I hate Steele Dan? I leave stores when Steele Dan comes on over the loudspeakers, I wrote a radio station informing them that if they continued to play Steele Dan that I would find a new station. They wrote back and said that they had lots of people who listened to the station who liked Steele Dan which made me vomit in my mouth a little. I found a new station.)

Eventually, I found my way out. I began buying music at Tower Records (RIP) and discovered new worlds of music that had been there the whole time. For me, it was like discovering my closet had a secret door to an alternative universe. Looking back on it now, I realize my year in NZ prepared me for this new world. (Spending a year in another country does a great deal to change your perspective on life and truth. What, nobody cares who wins the Super Bowl? The US isn’t considered the greatest country ever? Why is there a beet on my hamburger?)

I don’t know why music has been so important to my existence, but I do know music has always been there for me. I guess, in some ways, I have become a music snob. I do judge people when they say, “I really like Steele Dan.” Or, “Aerosmith is the greatest American rock band.” I like people who introduce me to new music and think the most interesting people are people who know Cracker, Billy Holiday, Nina Simone, De La Soul, and Dread Zeppelin. But, to be perfectly honest, I want to have room in my music collection for Hanson’s MMM Bop, Jason Mraz’s I’m Yours, and Hall and Oates.

The same little voice inside my head that makes me feel bad when I drink a Budweiser is the same voice that asked, “You just bought The Very Best of Hall and Oates, what is wrong with you?” Maybe I should listen to this voice more often, but then I wouldn’t have purchased my first Rage Against the Machine album, or Rod Stewart’s Every Picture Tells a Story. This little voice has prevented me from doing really stupid things: Buying Christopher Cross’ Greatest Hits, drinking a Bud Light. The problem with that little voice can always be solved with a second Budweiser, or in this case, a second listen to You Make My Dreams Come True. “You, ooh, you makin’ my dreams come true…”

2014: My Favorite Stuff

The boat has been adrift here at South of Strait for a good portion of the year, but I feel it is my duty as a blogger to set down this year’s best of everything. There is absolutely no science or math involved in the selection process so get ready for what some will call bias or what I call the truth.

The Novel of the Year: (The novel did not have to be written this year. I just had to read it this year.) 

Fever Pitch, Nick Hornby. If you are a sports fan, immature, and are deeply committed to a team, this is a great novel for you. I am no longer committed to any team other than the Chicago Cubs (this allows me to ignore baseball season and still own a Cubs cap like 50% of the posers in the world). Hornby  understood his obsession with Arsenal football in a humiliating and intimate way that connected with all the dark places in my soul. For a sports fan this book should be a must read alongside the classics. (The Sporting Classics? The City Game, Ball Four, The Wrong Stuff, A Season on the Brink, Wilt [if you need a laugh], Art of Fielding.)

Notable Reads: David Foster Wallace’s essays probably would have won the award this year but all of his collections of essays have one stinker hidden in the midst of all that wonderful writing.

Album of the Year: 

David Bazan and the Passenger String Quartet: Volume 1

Unknown-1This was no contest. I saw Bazan and the Passenger String Quartet in concert in November(concert of the year) and would have written a blog piece about it but it would have said the same thing over and over: AWESOMEAWESOMEAWESOMEAWESOME… For those of you who do not know Bazan, don’t worry just keep listening to Bon Jovi. Bazan’s voice and lyrics are so unique and true that it is hard to say other than this dude is the bomb. The album is a reworking of some of Bazan’s best songs from earlier albums and the strings bring out the melancholy of his voice and lyrical angst. It is flat-out brilliant. Give it a listen and if you like it catch him next year as he does his living room concerts (real concerts in people’s living rooms).

Notable Listens: Gary Clark Jr. Live, Cracker Berkeley To Bakersfield, Tangerine Behemoth.

PodCast of the Year: Unknown-2

My two go to podcasts have been Sklarboro Country and This American Life for years, but this year I started branching out and began listening to Marc Maron’s WTF. At first, I didn’t like his abrasive, hyperactive style, but then I took a few long bike rides listening to WTF and forgot I was exercising. This was good because I have lost all will to exercise and could turn into a puddle of goo without much effort. (As my doctor said the last time I visited her, “Well, let’s see how this beer and hotdog diet treats you and then we’ll decide whether you need to change.” Haven’t seen her since.) What I like about WTF is that Maron’s interests are wide and he is well read, intelligent, and occasionally funny.

Notable Podcasts: Serial (Just started to listen to this one), Intelligence Squared (Debates by people smarter than me).

Movie of the Year: Unknown-3

Tim’s Vermeer. Is this a weird choice just to show that I am a snob? No, this was actually the best movie I saw this year. I don’t know if that means it was a bad year for movies or if this movie was just really good. Here is the premise: This rich guy (tech money) decides to try to paint a Vermeer. He builds a set, learns to paint (he had never painted anything before), learns to make paint, and then begins to create a duplicate of one of Vermeer’s paintings. This is one of those movies any person interested in art should see.

Notable Movies: NONE! This was a terrible year for movies. I did like Wild, Fury, and Guardians of the Galaxy.

Picture of the Year: 


Here’s to 2014.


Food and Sh*t Potluck: How Many Lumpia Can I Eat Before I Get Asked To Leave?

Six lumpia, that’s how many I ate Saturday night. I’m not bragging; I could have eaten six more if someone said, “We have six lumpia left, can someone please eat these?” While I stuffed myself I vowed to work out Sunday, which didn’t happen, but I thought about working out while I sat on the couch watching football, so that kinda counts. Why was I eating too much, making promises I knew I wouldn’t keep, and hanging out in a hip-hop dance hall in Seattle’s Chinatown/Beacon Hill Saturday night? Well, my daughter had been invited to attend a potluck dinner with Food and Sh*t.

What is Food and Sh*t? That is a good question which is harder to answer than one might think, in fact, one might think that they could sit down at the computer and write a blog piece about Food and Sh*t and it would be easy, but it isn’t. The easy part is relaying what happens with Food and Sh*t: Every month a family takes over a restaurant on Beacon Hill (Seattle) and makes pretty awesome food. What is harder to explain is why this happens, why my daughter gets invited to stuff like this, and how I end up tagging along.

About two and a half years ago I took my kids to a rap/hip-hop concert thing in Seattle and now here we are, each month since then I have found myself at a rap concert or event put on by the people involved in the Seattle rapping and hip-hopping scene. These events were not in the parenting books “What to Expect When Your Daughter is a Teen,” so this has been a kind of learn as you go experience for me and I have learned a ton.

So when my daughter got the invitation on Friday morning she did a little squealing dance and I knew I would be spending my Saturday in Seattle instead of parked in front of the television watching Gonzaga choke away another close basketball game to a ranked team.

Most of the time our event planning is done months in advance but this one could not have happened at a better time because a week before the Washington State Ferry system canceled our concert; they could not figure out how to connect the boat to the land. I would have given a hand to the ferry workers, but I think they knew they needed to lower the land part onto the boat part.  We sat on a ferry looking at the Edmonds’ ferry dock for an hour before they ferried us back to where we started and said, “Oops, you thought you paid to get to the other side, silly you.” I did promise my daughter at that time, mostly to stop her crying, that I would take her to an event in December even if it was on a school night. (Poor parenting should have no bounds.)

Geo Quibuyen (Blues Scholars, The Bar, Rappers w/ Cameras, aka Prometheus Brown) and Chera Amlag are the motor behind Food and Sh*t. I don’t know much about the entire project, but I do like food. I like food that tastes good better than food that doesn’t, so I don’t mind driving to Seattle to eat food that is killer.  If you would like to attend one of their pop ups, show up early and stand in line.  It is worth it:

On Saturday, we arrived at the dance hall around 6:15 and I did what I do during these events, I sat in a corner far away from everyone else and tried not to look too much like some homeless guy who snuck in off the streets; my new Charles Manson beard doesn’t help. Pretty soon people started to fill the hall and I watched, I like watching, not in the Bo Radley way, but just to see what people are doing. This allows me to make observations about others while ignoring the fact that I am uncomfortable in most social situations. There were little kids running around the two tiered dance floor having a great time being kids, some of them discovered the wall of mirrors lining the eastern side of the hall and did what kids do in front of mirrors, the adults stood around talking and eating, and pretty soon it was like almost every potluck I have ever attended. There was music, there was food, there was sharing, there was community. I don’t want to get all mystical or anthropological, but these are the things that have always drawn humans together, and I have the impression this is what Geo and Chera have been trying to accomplish through their Food and Sh*t project. Some of it is about food, but most of it is about community.

The communities we live in today really aren’t communities. We live in places surrounded by people we don’t know well and don’t really care much for. I’m not suggesting we have all become Clint Eastwood in Grand Torino, but many of us have become Clint Eastwood talking to an empty chair at the RNC, lost in a world that exists in our head and not living in the world that surrounds us. This inward movement has coincided with losing our reliance on others. Why do we have to know our neighbors when I will never need a cup of sugar from them? I’ll just have an Amazon drone deliver it to my door. If I need to know how to fix a box and rotor, I’ll watch a YouTube video on how to do it instead of asking my old neighbor to help me. This Self Reliance is not what Ralph Waldo Emerson had in mind when he asked us to search our inner lives for truth. Instead of every heart vibrating with trust thyself, our hearts are vibrating with leave me alone I have to update my Facebook status so people know how great my life is.  Our casual relationships have become barter relationships and we spend more and more time avoiding the “new” because it can be threatening or unusual. These walls we are building around our lives are becoming easier and easier to construct, and as we move inward we become more selfish and lose our empathy for other people, especially people who don’t look like us.

It is troubling to think where our society is heading, but (if I may borrow from Bryan Stevenson’s book Just Mercy) we must remain hopeful in the face of the overwhelming, and that is what Food and Sh*t is doing. Sometimes building a community isn’t done with bricks and wood, it is done with good food and music.

The little kids danced, the adults sipped pineapple cider, the DJ played a few songs I knew, I sat in a corner talking to a bus mechanic from King County, and my daughter floated around the room talking to people who welcomed her into their community. Then I had a realization, I didn’t feel like an outsider sitting in the corner of a dance hall in Beacon Hill, I felt at home. Don’t get me wrong, I still felt like an old dude who wasn’t sure if I should tuck in my shirt or leave it hanging out, but I don’t think anyone looked at me and thought, “Did Ted Kaczynski get out on parole?”

As we prepared to leave, we were invited to go to the new Starbucks roaster on Capitol Hill, but the ferry schedule dictated we head home and so we did. I drove home in the dark, between the tall cedar trees of the Olympic Peninsula thinking about my daughter’s future and how I needed to update my Facebook status to make sure everyone knew I was still super cool.





Where Do Blogs Go When They Die?

Q: Did you die?

A: No, I was not killed in a hail of Nerf bullets in the middle of a gun show…although I did want to attend a local gun show with my Nerf gun, but I could not convince my photographer to attend with me, so instead of getting shot by a Second Amendment thug, I hung up my Nerf gun and shirt and moved on with my life.

Q: Why didn’t you go by yourself?

A: When you blog nothing is worth doing unless you can take a picture of it.

Where are the most rules about guns? A gun show.

Where are the most rules about guns? A gun show.

Q: Why aren’t you blogging?

A: I have taken a sabbatical from blogging; I haven’t even been reading blogs (I know that isn’t allowed, but I did it anyway because I am a radical). Instead I have written a second unpublished novel (like Kafka, but without the ideas or talent) and doing a good deal of reading to fill the hours between my nightmares of a dystopian future and my waking hours filled with a dystopian present.

Q: Does that mean you are returning to blogging?

A: For a bit and then I will probably start a kickstarter campaign to help fund my global rule.

Q: Did you learn anything while you were away?

A: Yes. Never ask an interview question that can be answered with a simple yes or no.

Q: What is something you are certain your readers will want to know about your sabbatical?

A: I am growing a ridiculous beard and I look like a cross between Rasputin and Ted Kazinsky. I will be stopped and frisked the next time I have to pass through a TSA checkpoint.

Blending into the brick wall...might be time to get my liver checked.

Blending into the brick wall…might be time to get my liver checked.

Q: When can we expect to see some new material from you?

A: Right now. I’m gonna finish this stupid thing and then write a little bit. Okay? Are you happy now?