Friday, October 24, 2008

Self-Esteem Subscriptions

Have we talked about my non-existent self-esteem yet? Maybe it’s time to.

I was never picked on in school. It’s not that I was so cool or special that no one wanted to pick on me as a child. I think it really had more to do with the fact that I was so weird and moody that no one wanted to bother out of the fear of what I’d do in retaliation. Which, honestly, wasn’t too terribly much.

Sure, I flew off the handle from time to time and got into schoolyard fights. Hell, once I kicked the ex-boyfriend of my BFF in the head for talking shit about her. And I do have the distinction of being the only boy in my freshman P.E. class to not get pantsed at any point during the year.

But I did have some self-esteem problems, usually relating to girls (Naturally). Frankly, few people knew because I was enough of a blowhard to ask anyone out. Seriously, 95% of dating is confidence. If the people you’re interested in think you don’t give a shit, they’re likely to want to date you.

So, I did well enough and eventually got married and didn’t have as many self-confidence issues. I thought I was pretty damned cool. And if our lifestyle could be narrowed down to a philosophy, it was, “Who gives a fuck?” We did what we wanted without regard for consequences.

And this led to us eating whatever the hell we felt like and not caring what other people thought. So, um, yeah. I got huge over the course of our 11 year relationship. And, frankly, I didn’t really notice or care until the day she left me. Self-esteem go bye-bye!

That’s a small part of why I’ve had problems talking to strangers. I mean, I’ve sort of reverted back to the little boy who didn’t think he was good enough for anyone or anything.

I’ve been trying, though. As of this morning, I’ve lost 60 lbs this year. I’d like to lose another, oh, 75 lbs or so, but that’ll take awhile. I really shouldn’t feel as bad as I do, all things considered, but it’s tough when you feel like you’ve been tossed into an emotional wood chipper by Peter Stormare.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Pot And Politics

Tonight was another trip to my sister’s house, although it was pleasantly lacking in political discourse. You see, when my brother-in-law drinks, he gets socially aggressive. And last week, that social aggression manifested in his attempts to get me to explain my dislike of Sarah Palin.

Which is all well and good except for the fact that I was high as a kite when I visited last week. You see, my sister’s friend (name redacted) offered me a pipe the moment I got there and I proceeded to enact a scene from a Cheech & Chong movie in their backyard.

Being pressured to explain my political views at such a time was akin to asking a toddler why they like ice cream. “Um, ‘cos I do?” I’m sure I could have answered questions like, “Is Pink Floyd cool?” Or, “Aren’t snowflakes awesome?” Absolutely! But trying to explain my views on parental notification or bonds for children's hospitals is downright impossible when the only thing running through my head is “Woah!”

This is why I declined the pipe this week. Not because I don’t like pot or anything. It was because I wasn’t drunk enough yet to forget when getting high is a bad idea. But this time there was no political discourse! Said brother-in-law just got sleepy on the couch and my sister and I were left to talk about music.

“Was I really responsible for you listening to Bowie?”

“You betcha. Yaz, too.”


Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Grounded For Life (Part 2 of 2)

It was early 1994 and I was beyond grounded…

I was 15 years-old, had no bedroom door, and was stuck at home for a week playing video games and starting at the wall. All because of a handful of No. 2 pencils and a penchant for destroying that which I cannot control.

But it was about to turn into the most important week of my life. I was spending most of my time replaying Final Fantasy II on the SNES (or, Final Fantasy IV for you nitpickers out there), in anticipation of the new game due later in the year. And, frankly, the soundtrack, which is quite good, was beginning to grind on my nerves after years of repetition.

So, I decided it was time to dig into my sister’s cassette collection for something new to listen to. Now, I’d been borrowing music from my sister my whole life. She’s nine years older than me and was very influential in regards to my musical tastes. When I was 10, most of my friends were listening to New Kids On The Block or MC Hammer. I was listening to Bauhaus and Jane’s Addiction, thanks to my sister.

I was looking for things I’d passed over for one reason or another over the years. That week, I listened to Yaz for the first time. Throbbing Gristle. Einstürzende Neubauten. Etc, etc, etc. In the piles of cassettes, I found someone I’d seen in movies and knew consciously was a musician, but never thought I’d be into: David Bowie.

She had a copy of the double-cassette singles collection. 1969-1993. I popped the first tape into my deck and starting playing. Random dungeon encounter? “Space Oddity.” Boss battle? “John, I’m Only Dancing.” Chocobo ride? “Diamond Dogs.” Power leveling? “Heroes.”

The songs all sounded so familiar. I’m sure I’d heard them somewhere before. What was different this time is that I now knew that these disparate-sounding songs were all from the same man. A very, very cool and brilliant man. I was in love. It was my first real experience with aural sex.

I played those tapes over and over again. I was insatiable. Once my suspension was over, I went on Bowie hunts. I’d check the music stores in the mall, looking for dusty old tapes. I’d scrounge through the Warehouse music store down the block, begging the cashier to special order imports for me.

I’d find used cassettes of Station To Station. Used CD’s of Let’s Dance. Every so often when I’d save up enough money, I’d buy a new CD. The Rise And Fall Of Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders From Mars. Pin Ups. Tin Machine.

I never stopped. I hunted down every Bowie album I could get my hand on. I bought tapes, CD’s, and vinyl. I bought posters. I bought buttons. And I told all of my friends that everything they were listening to paled in comparison to David Bowie. And I still feel that way, 14 years later.

Being grounded for life wound up being the most important time in my life because it brought me to the table of the single greatest musician I’ve ever heard. My life was shaped by the thin white duke. “It’s not the side-effects of the cocaine. I’m thinking that it must be love.”

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Grounded For Life (Part 1 of 2)

It was early 1994 and I was beyond grounded…

I was in a program at my high school for “gifted” kids, but it wasn’t your usual thing. It was a math and science program funded by a major oil company. The whole idea was to train a bunch of kids from middle school onward to be the next generation of engineers.

And here I was taking advanced chemistry classes wearing a Ministry t-shirt and sparkly bracelets. I hated it. A lot of us hated it. Because our classes were scheduled so rigidly, the vast majority of us had the same English and history classes, as well. We were stuck with each other. So it was either get along or go crazy.

Some of us decided it was optimal to do both. We became a tight little group of kids who’d never associate for any other reason. And we made plans. Big plans.

We hated our history teacher. He was the kind of teacher who treated the “smart” kids like they were felons in the making. I used to love the stories the older kids told about meeting this guy outside of school. Apparently, he was the sort of guy who got pitchers of beer dumped on his head at restaurants.

History class was right after lunch, and a small group of us thought it would be a great idea to figure out a way to cancel the class. We started planning, and eventually we decided on a method: We would take pencils and jam them in the classroom’s locks until they broke off inside. If the locks were jammed too tight, no key would fit inside.

One lunch period, the four of us snuck away from the larger group and headed towards the dreaded history classroom, pencils in hand. We demolished those locks. And we got caught. It was pretty easy to shake the four of us down. One of us was a devout Christian. He absolutely crumbled under the pressure.

So, we were sent to the principal’s office and interrogated. I think the principal loved the idea of treating this batch of “smart” kids like the criminals we were. He tried to blame us for other instances of vandalism around the school. He threatened to send us to Vista (The “Bad Kids” school). I found the whole thing hilarious.

We were each fined $300 and suspended for school for a week. I was grounded. My bedroom door was removed because I “couldn’t be trusted.” I spent a week playing video games and listening to my sister’s tapes. It wound up being the most important week of my life…

To be continued…

Monday, October 20, 2008

Excerpt 1

She’s staring at the floor, blankly. And she’s refusing to make eye contact with me. It’s been a long time. Too long, in fact. The distance between us now is immeasurable. Anything I feel is moot at this point. I’m dead to her. She might as well be standing in the dining room alone.

She goes back to her room and silently closes the door. Locks it, even. I go back to waiting in the warm dining room. Sitting silently. Waiting for a car to arrive. This is an old house. The paint on the walls is cracking and peeling away. It smells musty. I don’t belong here.

I’m chipping purple nail polish from my fingertips. I have nothing better to do. Conversation is off the table. Someone’s in the kitchen, preparing a breakfast I won’t be here to eat. I’m not invited anyway.

I hear a car out front. I creep forward from my chair and glance out the window. It’s what I’m expecting. My cue to leave.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

I keep eyeballs in a mason jar.

Yesterday was Bakersfield Pride 2008 at the Bakersfield Museum Of Art. It was quite lovely, actually. Lots of information booths (Including a couple of accepting local churches!), a stage with a dancing troupe, etc. I strolled through the museum while I was there, too. I loved the Dorothy Churchill-Johnson exhibition. Her stuff is very unsettling to me, but in a good way. The colors pop out in such a way that I actually got a little chill standing in the middle of the room, panning around.

I had a few drinks, tried to chat up a few people, and that's when I realized something. I've suddenly become socially awkward. I don't ever remember having trouble talking to strangers. See, no one was able to come with me, so I just figured I'd meet new people. Only, I didn't. I got all panicky and couldn't talk properly. I almost felt like Jeff from Coupling. I half expected to accidentally shout out something about keeping eyeballs in a mason jar, or worse.

I've never really been alone for long periods of time. And this year I've been alone a lot. I don't have many friends left in Bakersfield, and I'm not in a relationship at the moment, so I'm doing a lot of stuff by myself. And I'm just now figuring out that I'm terrible at it. I have these weird panic attacks when I'm alone in a crowd. I'd done so much to work through all my social anxieties over the years, and now they're all coming back.

I know that no one's staring at me and no one cares, but I get this weird sense of paranoia regardless. As an aside, the sheer amount of boys cuter and thinner and more fabulous than I'll ever be didn't really help either.

So after a few hours of trying to do the whole "loner solo me" thing, I just gave up and went home. I laid on my bed for a good 20 minutes, trying to drive out the panic. I felt like an idiot. I couldn't even properly give a good middle finger to the "yes on 8" people I saw. It seems like the more I work on certain aspects of my life, other areas are starting to lag behind or outright go into remission. Socially, I'm beginning to resemble a much fatter version of Gollum.

Later in the evening, one of my friends was freed from prior obligations and she wanted to meet up. She was disappointed that I was no longer at Pride. This was about an hour from closing of the festival. Eventually, other obligations kept me from going back out. By the end of the evening, I was watching baseball, wearing pajamas, and hugging my cats. It was the best I’d felt all day.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Sad Songs Are Nature’s Onions (Pt. 6)

(This is part of a long series about sad songs and how they are nature’s onions.)


Abuse isn’t funny and neither is Travis’ song, from their 2003 album 12 Memories. “Re-Offender” is a rather uncomfortable tune about domestic violence, sang from the perspective of the victim. It‘s a heartbreaking thing to listen to. There‘s a desperate quality to the words that hint at even greater tragedy to come. For the Anton Corbijn-directed video, the song’s violence is turned inward.

Bonus! The video with band commentary:

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Me, Part One?

Occasionally, I have days when I forget to drink for a couple of hours and I actually look at the calendar. The stunning realization that it is still not 2009 yet just makes me want to curl up in a ball in the backyard with a cigarette and a martini, which is exactly what I did yesterday at 1am.

2008 has been a terrible year for your truly. Between losing my job in January, my wife in April, and a good deal of my friends/self-respect/record collection in the interim, I’m just about ready to lead 2008 by the hand to a quiet shed in the wilderness and “take care of it.”

Being single and unemployed gives me a lot of time to gaze longingly at my navel. Some days, I feel like an honorary member of My Bloody Valentine or something. I just stare down and wonder just how much lint can fit in there. Not surprisingly, it’s an awful lot.

All of this free time has given me ample opportunity to take stock. I know that I can be an unintentional asshole. That mostly stems from the fact that I can be completely oblivious at times. What can I say? I am a boy. Boys are dumb. I also know that I have fabulous taste in music and can talk about ice hockey long enough to send just about anyone out of a room screaming.

I struggle with my own brain a lot. I have a tendency to talk myself out of things I know I should do. It’s part of why I try to be impulsive. If I give myself more than a few seconds to think about something, I will generally make the wrong decision and completely regret it later.

Let’s see… what else? Oh, I’ve done two things professionally that most people haven’t: 1. Written for a major daily newspaper. 2. Managed a comic book shop. I’m not sure either thing is something to be proud about, but at least it gets people to look at my resume twice. Although, both times probably elicit more than a few “WTF?’s”

Some people think I’m legitimately crazy. Others just think I’m Michael, and that it’s okay that I occasionally talk to silverware and laugh uncontrollably from time to time. I suppose most people who are legitimately crazy don’t have the sheer volume of unconditionally supportive friends I have.

Then again, I could have made all of those people up…


I've started a Tumblr. You can view its contents here.

Monday, October 13, 2008

I talk to cats.

I talk to cats. There, I said it. My big secret is out. I talk to cats.

I don’t talk to them expecting an answer. That would be crazy. I talk to them and then provide voices for their answers. Sort of like the Phyllis/Mr. Doggy sketches from Little Britain USA, minus the nudity.

What have I learned from my conversations with cats? They are smarter than me. Funnier, too. And that they have a certain proclivity towards cheeseburgers.

Every so often, someone will catch me deep in conversation with a cat:

Me: "Hey, Mr. Kitty... what are you doing?"

Cat: "Fuck off."

Other person: "What the hell is wrong with you?"

Cat: "I said, fuck off."

It can be quite embarrassing. I have no idea why cats are so rude, but it can create some awkward situations when another person enters the room. I often have to pretend whatever weird thing the cats are saying is coming from the TV.

Eventually, I'll have to stop. I'm positive that most of the world doesn't appreciate my discussions of current events with cats. When the world catches up with me, however, I'll have the last laugh as I'll be the sole authority on cat politics.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Sad Songs Are Nature’s Onions (Pt. 5)

(This is part of a long series about sad songs and how they are nature’s onions.)

Pulp-”Like A Friend”

Pulp contributed a handful of instant classics to soundtracks during the 1990s. These were songs so good they should have been singles in their own right. “Mile End” from the film Trainspotting comes to mind, as does the sublime “Like A Friend” from Great Expectations. “Like A Friend” is the tale of a confused relationship; a friend who takes advantage of the narrator like he’s a lover. And the narrator just keeps on taking it. The song ends with the most apropos of lyrics, “Let me tell you now, it's lucky for you that we're friends.”

Bonus! The scene from the film Great Expectations that features “Like A Friend:”

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Tina Fey

I’ve always had a little crush on Tina Fey. Her years as head writer and Weekend Update co-host on Saturday Night Live almost single-handedly kept the show viable. Since her departure to star in 30 Rock, the show has faltered creatively. In fact, if not for the zeitgeisty SNL Digital Shorts, I wonder if anyone would have talked about the show the last few years.

So, it’s been nice to see so much of America starting to catch on to just how funny Tina Fey is. Her return to Saturday Night Live to portray Sarah Palin has a lot of people talking, and not just the usual, “Who the hell is Tina Fey and why does she keep winning awards for this show I’ve never watched?”

Hopefully, this will translate into new viewers for 30 Rock. Why should you be watching 30 Rock? Try stuff like this:

And this:

And Alec Baldwin!!!

30 Rock’s 3rd season premiere is on October 30th.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Sad Songs Are Nature’s Onions (Pt. 4)

(This is part of a long series about sad songs and how they are nature’s onions.)

Duran Duran-”Someone Else Not Me”

True story: I’m the only person in the universe who bought Duran Duran’s 2000 album Pop Trash. So, I’m working under the assumption that they wrote “Some Else Not Me” for yours truly. It’s a simple sentiment over a great Beatles-esque tune; The realization that someone you love dearly would be better off with someone else. I’ve come to that conclusion many times in my life. It’s too bad they didn’t write this song sooner. It would have made the “It’s not you, it’s me” speech so much easier to deliver.

Bonus! Duran Duran used to perform this song live. They had to play something between “Hungry Like The Wolf” and “Girls On Film” anyway. Full disclosure: I want Nick Rhodes’ hat.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Dogs Are Everywhere

Two days in a row, a dachshund has followed me along my jogging route. He (a boy, as evidenced by his mighty pair of dangling rear appendages) never barks at me or nips at my heels. He just keeps close by, occasionally completing a swift circle around me. It’s almost as if he’s guarding me, or making sure I keep away from something.

Not being a dog person, it confuses me. I know I smell like cats and cigarettes and hobo vodka. I couldn’t possibly be appealing to any dog, especially such a well-groomed and mannered one.

I think he lives on one of the farms that border my housing complex (Tyner Ranch, ha!). He must, because the numerous squirrels and roadrunners that flit to and fro in the area don’t bother him in the slightest. Any of the dogs inside Tyner Ranch (ha!) would have lost their minds immediately at the sight of so tasty a treat.

So, I now appear to have a jogging buddy. I’ve thought of calling him Winston Cromartie Jiménez Jr. You know, just so I have something to call him other than “doggie.”

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Sad Songs Are Nature’s Onions (Pt. 3)

(This is part of a long series about sad songs and how they are nature’s onions.)

The Coral-”Bill McCai”

“Bill McCai” is one of my favorite songs about suicide. And I do realize that it’s pretty strange that I’ve categorized a list in my head of favorite songs about suicide. I guess the real draw of the song is the way the upbeat music contrasts nicely with utterly tragic lyrics. Bill McCai is a sad middle-aged man, who yearns for his youth. Unable to cope with his life, he hangs himself. Also, the song has fantastic vocal harmonies! Ahem.

Bonus! A live version recorded in 2003 on Later:

Friday, October 3, 2008

“Are… those… menthols?”

I have a love/hate relationship with my hometown of Bakersfield, CA. For most people, it’s generally just a hate relationship. But there are some things to love about this quirky little community. Like, how it’s this one weird bastion of conservatism in a state of rampant (and totally awesome) liberalism. If I ever want my head to explode, all I have to do is step outside.

But all joking aside, one of the things about Bakersfield that I both love and hate is the fact that 98% of the people who live here are batshit crazy in one way or another. Whether it’s an excess of religious fervor, or a taste for punching things that are different, or the fun that comes with shooting 12 year-olds, the vast majority of people living here have something decidedly wrong with them.

Take this story for example: The Kern County Fair ended last weekend and I had the grave misfortune of attending a few times during its run. On one of these occasions, I went with a friend and her two kids. Hilarity ensued.

Now, we expected the usual “Bakersfield” things. We figured everyone would assume that we were married (Because men and women in this town do not associate unless they’re bumping uglies.). We also figured that there would be a percentage who would assume that I was her gay “BFF” due to my pride bracelets and painted fingernails (Yes, I painted my nails purple and black to celebrate the beginning of hockey season.).

We even sort of expected the crazy girl who alternately tried to flirt with and heckle me to acquire the multi-colored flashing heart I was wearing around my neck. Not that situation exactly, but those sorts of things just happen every day around here.

What’s unexpected is when someone high out of their mind on crystal meth (or whatever) approaches you. Not the “someone high out of their mind on crystal meth” part. That’s pretty typical. The unexpected part comes when they open their mouths.

“Canibuyacigarettefromyoui’mjonesingforacigaretterightnow andi’llpayyouforacigaretterightnowifyou’llsellmeonebecause ireallyneedacigaretterightnow.”

She reached into her pocket and pulled out a handful of change. Seriously, it looked like she had three or four bucks in change and she was going to pawn it off on me in exchange for one cigarette. She started handing the pile of change to my friend who was not smoking, and doesn’t smoke to begin with.

She tried to point the woman towards me. I was, in fact, smoking. She looked at me and asked, very slowly:

“Are… those… menthols?”

I waited a beat and replied:

“Um, yeah?”

Without missing a beat, she grabbed my right arm and said:

“Those things will freeze the hairs on the inside of your lungs!”

And she walked away without saying another word. Oh, Bakersfield…