Saturday, October 31, 2009

10,000 Word Vacation, Day 8

Friday, October 30
Day 8

This vacation is starting to wear me the fuck out. It's not the writing, it's not having to deal with my family, it's not even the rigorous travel schedule. I hate having to spend so much time away from my life. I haven't seen my cat in four days, I haven't slept in my own bed for four days (because that would be way too long), I haven't been to work in over a week. I enjoy being on vacation, I just wish it were over already. When I saw that I had a day off next Wednesday, I became positively giddy. I actually get to have some time off of work that I'm not forced to enjoy - how great is that?

Tomorrow will be my last full day on Cape Cod, and it's going to be packed to the rim with activities. My day starts at 8am, when I'm heading over to LensCrafters with my mom (blugh) to get some new glasses, then it's down to Barnstable High to watch some Tommy play junior varsity football, then back home for lunch, then my wife and I are going out with Tommy and Billy to spend some Good Old-Fashioned Quality Time together, then back home again, then dinner, then Halloweeny shit, then dinner with the Cabrals, then I have to do laundry, then I have to pack. Oh, and then I still have to sleep in a tiny, uncomfortable bed with my wife. That might be the worst part of the trip so far, having to share a twin bed. Any of those things separately would be great, but as a day, it seems pretty shitty.

The thing I'm least looking forward to is going to LensCrafters with my mom. Spending time with my mom is like being in one of the traps in Saw, but sadly, unlike in the movies, death is not an option. We were all having dinner tonight when my mom asked me if I needed new glasses. I said yes, but I don't want her to buy them for me. This was an immediate, gut reaction fueled by years of hate. I really, really hate my mom. So much so that the thought of her doing anything for me - even something that needs to be done - is like being force-fed ipecac. Fortunately/unfortunately my wife was there to say that yes, it would be very kind of my mother to buy me new glasses. This is fortunate because, let's face it, I really need new glasses and I don't have the $400 to get them. However this is unfortunate because now, I'll be forced to spend the first few hours of my day with my mom. Worse yet, I'll be beholden to her. That's the worst feeling in the universe, being beholden to somebody you hate.

Conversely, the thing I'm most looking forward to is spending time with my brothers. Tomorrow's won't be the first high school football game I've been to this week. Yesterday Tommy, Billy and the rest of the Barnstable High freshman football team beat North Plymouth's freshman football team 12 - 8. Since then - in the past two days - Tommy got called up to junior varsity. Hopefully they can beat North Plymouth's JV team, too. It's nice spending time with the kids now that they're finally old enough to joke around with. Tommy's 15 now and he's getting to be pretty funny. Billy's on his way - he's not much of a talker, but when he does speak, he usually manages to zing my mom. For all the chaos that has gone on since I moved to Los Angeles, the kids have somehow managed to turn into pretty good people. It's seeing stuff like that leads me to believe that if my wife and I turn out to be even kinda sorta remotely almost halfway decent parents, our kids have a shot at contributing to Western Society in a positive way.

This isn't to say that both of my parents are doing a horrible job. My dad, for all his faults, is doing an amazing job with Tommy and Billy. He runs his own law firm - up until very recently, he was the family's only source of income. He does the grocery shopping, he does all the cooking, he makes sure the kids do their homework, he takes them to and from football and baseball practices/games - and most importantly, he makes sure to get the kids to do a lot of stuff for themselves. Tommy and Billy do a lot of cleaning, they do their own laundry, they're able to cook their own meals if they need to. Although it took him a while - he didn't do half that stuff for me - my dad has turned into a pretty great dad. Although I must say that I'm pretty jealous that this seemed to happen about three hours after my plane touched down in Los Angeles.

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Like I said earlier, I can't wait to get back to my life - more than anything I want to be sleeping in my own bed again. I will, however, miss spending time with (most of) my family, just as I miss spending time with (most of) my wife's family. I hate the fact that I have to take time away from my life to see them - I want (most of) them to be a part of my life. The chances of my wife and I moving to Massachusetts any time soon are slim and the chances of us moving to Fresno are even slimmer. The obvious solution here is for everybody to move to a mutually agreeable place so we can all just hang out and do whatever. Since Fresno blows and Massachusetts is super cold, I feel the solution is obvious: We'll get everybody - my wife's family, my family and all of our friends - to move to a compound in Texas. That way, everybody is equally miserable, but at least we'll have each other.

Friday, October 30, 2009

10,000 Word Vacation, Day 7

Thursday, October 29
Day 7

I graduated from Barnstable High School in 2003, but I never really thought of myself as a true Red Raider, mostly because I went to a different high school for two and a half years before transferring to Barnstable. I never even met principal Pat Graves. I don't think she even exists. I mention this because today, my mom gave me the Barnstable High yearbooks for the years 2002, 2003 and 2004, so I could look through them and find my old friends. I'm not sure why she thought I'd want to do this, seeing as my biggest anxiety right now is running into people I knew in high school and having to pretend I'm happy to see them. This means I should be avoiding places like the Cape Cod Mall, Sam Diego's, most Dunkin' Donuts (although that doesn't stop me) and Cape Cod Community College.

If I had my druthers, I'd have not been at my own high school graduation. My wife tells me she didn't go to hers, and I'm insanely jealous. It's tough to say this without sounding like an asshole, but here goes: Why the fuck would anybody want to go stand out on a field for three hours and watch a procession of people you don't like and - God willing - won't ever see again get congratulated for doing something that the state forces you to do, like a prison sentence? How many times have you been asked for your high school diploma after you filled out your college applications? Never? Less than never? Exactly. That said, you can imagine that I wanted nothing less than to be in my high school yearbook. I went to Barnstable High for a total of 14 months and, while I had friends, it wasn't like I was going to drop $75 or whatever in order to have access to photos of them from when they were 18. That just doesn't sound like a good investment to me.

I was all ready to not be included in the yearbook - mostly as a political stunt, which was something I liked doing when I was 17 - when my mom called to tell me that she had booked a photographer in order to take my senior portrait. She even bought me a new sweater to wear, which was awesome because I never wore sweaters. That's the best part of senior portraits - for the most part, they're pictures of people you never want to see again, posing in ways that are utterly unnatural. “Oh, hello! Didn't think anybody would find me here - though I know not why, as I spend most of my time sitting cross-legged on a sand dune, reading a book. Yes, this is me in my element. Soak it in, boys!”

So there I was, in a park that I'd never been to before, sitting cross-legged in the grass, looking up at trees, leaning on tables, laying flat on my stomach and writing long-hand in a journal - name something I don't do, there I was doing it and having my photo taken. Finally we settled on one where I was just sitting in the grass, which more or less looked like something I'd do at some point. My mom had a billion copies of it printed up and shipped to various relatives - many of whom I have not met to this day. She hung one up in the living room, put one in my dad's office and finally sent one in to the yearbook committee so that they could put me in the yearbook. I kindly asked them to keep me out, but they said they “could not, in good conscience, leave a student out of the yearbook if a photo had been submitted.” What utter bullshit.

The worst part about being in the yearbook is having to do all the extra work that goes into being remembered. The yearbook committee wants you to put together a brag sheet about yourself - what clubs you were in, what superlatives you won, et cetera. When they were passing around the superlative ballots in my homeroom class, I got everybody to write me in for “Most Likely to Hide From the Law in a Graveyard.” Despite being the top (only) vote-getter, they didn't add my awesome superlative to the yearbook. I didn't even get “Most Likely to Have a Five-Star Podcast on Soundlantern.com,” which I eventually would succeed in doing.

Anyhow, the thing I hated the most about doing the yearbooky stuff was having to do my senior write-up and my yearbook quote. While mulling it over one day, I found a stack of old yearbooks in the school library. I immediately pulled out the year my mom graduated and looked up her entry. There was no senior write-up, but her yearbook quote was “I get high with a little help from my friends...” which she attributed to Ringo Starr. I figured there was no way I could top that, so I just decided to leave my entire entry blank - just a photo of me.

This turned out to be a much better decision than I could ever have guessed. Looking back, every senior write-up reads like a bad Scrabble hand. A lot of initials, a lot of acronyms, not a lot of cohesive thought. There are, however, a lot of people pledging their undying love to somebody they would dump less than six months later - some couples didn't even make it to the yearbook's publication before they broke up. The yearbook quotes are pretty sweet too. There are a few “Life isn't measured by the breaths you take, but the moments that take your breath away,” a couple “Dance as though nobody's looking,” some “Live each moment as though it's your last” and even a “Life is short and hard like a bodybuilding elf.” My personal favorite was Andy Beard, who - and I shit you not - claims to live his life a quarter of a mile at a time, just like Dom from The Fast and the Furious.

Here, for posterity, is what I was thinking of using as my yearbook quote:

My poor generation, we're on for the ride. An ocean of choices, pulled out on the tide. We're handed a beach ball and told to pick a side. Drowned in information, my poor generation. - Moxy Fruvous

Song lyrics always look trite when you write them out - I swear it sounds deep when they sing it.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

10,000 Word Vacation, Day 6

Wednesday, October 28
Day 6

I totally get it now.

After living on Cape Cod for 21 years, I finally realized why people like it. I drove around aimlessly for an hour or so with my wife, pointing at things and saying “ooooh!” That's the appeal! Looking at shit! There are all kinds of things to look at. We looked at trees, old cemeteries, quaint storefronts, things made of wood. Everything on Cape Cod is there to be looked at. I'm pissed that I didn't realize this earlier.

Seriously though, after spending upwards of three years in Los Angeles, America's Home of the Fake, it was refreshing to see so many natural things at once. It's nothing like Fresno, a town where all the natural things are immaculately planned - planted in rows, pruned precisely, geometrically designed to look right - and everything else is either a barren wasteland or a Target. Things in Massachusetts are all over the place. The trees just grow where they grow and the roads wind around them. The gravestones at the cemeteries look like crooked teeth popping out of the earth, all of them pointing in different directions and none of them matching. The plots are in a vaguely grid-like arrangement - hell, the graveyards themselves are hilly and bumpy. It's almost like this stuff is super old and they didn't plan it as well as they could have.

(By the way, a discussion up in Fresno between my wife's mom and her husband brought to light some of the hang-ups that people have about their deaths. Cindy and Steve were talking about their plots, where they want to be buried, how they want to be buried, et cetera. Cindy made a joke about Steve buying the plots on either side of his so that she could be buried in one, and Steve's ex-wife couldn't be buried on the other side of him. Why do people give a shit about where they're buried, and more specifically who's next to them? Just donate your body to science and maybe you'll help the living. It's not like you're going to piss off the God you don't believe in. If your religion forbids you from doing anything with your corpse other than burying it, then by all means do so. But again, why does it matter who you're next to? It's not like when you're in Heaven you're forced to sit in chairs relative to your how and where you were buried. At least, I hope not for the sake of my many pets who are all buried next to each other. I have a feeling they wouldn't all get along.)

Another thing Cape Cod is good for is breakfast. On the trip from my parents' house to the restaurant where we ended up eating, we passed by about two dozen breakfast places. In fact, we ate at The Egg and I, which is right next to The Gourmet Brunch, which is across the street from Perry's, which is down the street from Percy's Place, which is less than a block from Cafe e Dolci, although that's more of a coffee/pastry affair - not to mention the hundreds of Dunkin' Donuts establishments peppering the landscape. The fact that all of these places stay in business leads me to believe two things: first, everybody on Cape Cod who knows how to prepare eggs has opened a restaurant and second, I need to move back to West Barnstable and start investing in omelette futures.

After breakfast, I suggested to my wife that we check out some of the local mom-and-pop-type businesses, like Best Buy and the AT&T store. We futzed around Hyannis, stopping in at the mall and a couple of record stores before grabbing a hot chocolate at Dunkin' Donuts and heading home. By the way, for my California readers, Dunkin' Donuts is like In & Out, but in reverse. It's a way of life in every state in the fucking union but California. If the Starbucks on the corner of Hollywood and Las Palmas could be replaced with a Dunkin' Donuts on the condition that I get my wife pregnant and sell the child into slavery, I'd hope for twins so I could also trade the Starbucks at the Sherman Oaks Galleria so I could go there on the way to work.

Being on vacation, I find myself asking questions that I would normally find appalling. “I wonder if I can find a t-shirt with an outline of Massachusetts, but with Cape Cod being an arm, and instead of Provincetown and Truro, maybe it could be a hand giving you the finger. What? They don't have it in navy, only red or green? Forget it.” The urge to buy t-shirts on vacation is amazing, by the way. I'm barely on vacation right now - I grew up here and I'm staying at my parents' house, for God's sake - but regardless, I need to come home with shirts. I'm thinking about getting a Red Sox road alternate shirt with either Jon Lester or Jason Bay's number. Oh, and I saw a sweet Milan Lucic throwback Bruins shirt. I pity my poor wife.

The only bad thing about today was having to spend time with my mom. She came out of the gate strong by opening the door to my bedroom, then knocking, then asking if my wife and I were taking a nap. Well, we were. Not anymore. There will be a lot more on my mother coming in the next few days, but here's a taste of what's to come. This happened at dinner tonight.

Me: Yeah, we're thinking of driving up to Salem this week.
Mom: Oh? Well when you're up there, you can learn about Lizzie Borden. She was in the witch trials, you know.
Aurora: Kathy, you know she was born 200 years later, right? [ed. note: She also lived in Fall River, MA - over an hour away]
(Stunned silence)
Mom: You know that place is a hotel now, right? A haunted one?

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

10,000 Word Vacation, Day 5

Tuesday, October 27
Day 5

I've already been to Paris, I've already been to Rome
But what did I do but miss my home?
Oh, New England
I've been out west to Californ'
But I miss that land where I was born
Oh, New England

- Jonathan Richman


Considering the many millions of things I'm afraid of, air travel surprisingly doesn't make the list. In fact, I rather enjoy it. I find a certain amount of comfort in knowing that if I die some time in the next six hours, I'm pretty sure I know how I'm going. Six hours, of course, being the amount of time it takes to fly coast-to-coast, provided of course that your pilots don't fly an hour and a half out of the way like those pricks for Northwest Airlines. I got to experience the unparalleled joy of flight today for nine hours today because my itinerary made a retarded stop in Ft. Lauderdale, FL today. It sucked.

I'm in Massachusetts now for the first time in about eleven and a half months. Unlike my last trip, which was for my great grandmother's funeral, this one was planned a lot farther in advance. Despite that, my wife and I still managed to get the shittiest flight in the history of America. A few thoughts about flying:

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I'm not sure if it's a good thing or a bad thing that nobody seems amazed every time a plane takes off or lands. Like, I understand that that's what's “supposed to happen,” but really. 200 people are being lifted off the ground, just by virtue of the fact that you're going super fast, and then a few hours later you just put down some tiny wheels and you stop completely, and ANYBODY CAN DO THIS FOR LESS THAN $100. Insanity. I feel that this miracle of modern science needs to be met with a round of applause every time it happens. It's so cool.

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I'm not a superstitious guy, but do you think people get super nervous if they see William Shatner or John Lithgow get on a plane? Like, would you want them sitting in a window seat? I wouldn't. Then again, I also wouldn't want to be anywhere near John Landis if flight is involved. Or any members of the New York Yankees.

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Southwest Airlines has discontinued their policy of accepting cash for alcohol on their flights - credit or debit cards only. This is a bad idea for so many reasons. First of all, I assume this lowers the number of people who buy alcohol. It just does. Not accepting cash is just a horrible policy for any business. And secondly, how do you expect a teenager to catch a buzz on a plane if he has to wait for his dad to fall asleep and steal his credit card? Sheesh.

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What is it about traveling that makes it okay for people to be either super-conversational or a total asshole? I hate both ends of the spectrum, and you seem to encounter both in equal quantities. At the airport this morning, my wife took her iced tea out of her cup holder for about as much time as it takes to take a sip and put it back, during which time a woman who was probably in her 50's just came over, sat down and put her coffee right in my wife's cup holder. She even made that noise that you make when you sit down to let everybody know that you're burdened and world-weary. “Ough.” It's very important for everybody to know that her life is tough, and it's a wonder that she makes it through each day, but she perseveres.

On the trip from Ft. Lauderdale to Providence, a guy sat next to my wife and me, and God bless his little heart, he wanted nothing more than an audience. He just wanted people to talk to him. He told us that he “basically lives on planes now,” and that whenever he goes to a new town, he makes sure to eat at whatever place they told him to eat at on the Travel Channel. He seemed like a nice enough guy, but I just didn't want to talk to him. I'm sure this says something about me.

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Flight crew breakdown:
Los Angeles, CA to Austin, TX: Three women, called everybody on the plane “customers,” all cunts.
Austin, TX to Ft. Lauderdale, FL: Three other women, called everybody on the plane “passengers,” all more or less okay. Recognized the youngest one from my last trip. Weird.
Ft. Lauderdale, FL to Providence, RI: Three men, called everybody on the plane “guests,” all super-competent and polite.

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Now that I'm back in Massachusetts, I'm trying to figure out what to do with my time here. The only thing I really have to do is go to my brothers' football game Thursday afternoon, and I even kind of want to do that. Tomorrow the plan is to futz around in Hyannis, Friday I'm taking Aurora and my brothers up to Salem for some witch trial fun, and Saturday is Halloween. Really, the one thing I need to make sure to do every day is text Mike Strauss to make sure he feeds my cat and avoid interacting with my mom in every possible way. That's the only thing about this trip that really scares me. It's not the flying, it's not being away from my cat for a week (although I'm not thrilled about that), it's having to avoid seeing my mother as much as possible. I haven't talked to her in eleven and a half months, and I'm hoping that streak can continue. I feel like an alcoholic with 50 weeks of sobriety taking a vacation to wine country. She's really the only thing I can think of that could possibly ruin this trip, with the possible exception of a gremlin on the wing.

For good measure, here's a clip from Sesame Street, with the music once again provided by Jonathan Richman and the Modern Lovers. Enjoy!

Monday, October 26, 2009

10,000 Word Vacation, Day 4

Monday, October 26
Day 4

I suppose the phrase that best encapsulates the Fresno Experience would be “terrifying sameness.” In one of her many unfortunate attempts to convince the two of us that Fresno was The Place To Be, my wife's mom decided to drive by the apartment where Aurora's sister Sarah lives with her husband. “It's cheaper and way nicer than your place,” she told us. When we got there, we were presented with a series of identical House Pods, arranged neatly in rows. “There's her place!” Cindy yelled, pointing at one of the many residences. “No, wait, there it is! No, wait! It's that one, I think. Anyhow, they have a pool!” The apartment was so nice, you couldn't tell it apart from its brethren. Oh, and they weren't that nice - certainly not as nice as our building. They were actually kind of shitty.

Everything in Fresno is exactly like everything else in Fresno. Up the street from the Stronghold is a large shopping center with a Target, a Petsmart, a Starbucks, an In & Out, a Best Buy, a Gamestop and a Joann Fabrics. About two miles away is a large shopping center with a Target, a Petsmart, a Starbucks, an In & Out, a Best Buy, a Gamestop and a Joann Fabrics. Three miles from there is a large shopping center with a Target, a Petsmart, a Starbucks, an In & Out, a Best Buy, a Gamestop and a Joann Fabrics - and a Barnes and Noble. A ways away from there is - well, you get the point. It's not just within the city limits, either. On the train ride home you pass by a row of houses that have the following items in each backyard: Pool, satellite dish, two old bicycles and a rusted tool shed made of corrugated tin. The only thing that differentiates each house from the next is the graffiti on the side of the sound barrier that faces the train. “Which house do you live in? Is it the 'Fuck Bitchez' house or the 'South Side Is Fagz' house?”

This terrifying sameness is, among other things, what keeps me from moving up here. I mean, that and the people. Aurora and I were at one of the many Targets in Fresno. I was in the dressing room when one of the employees got on the PA and said “Can we get a little help with go-backs here at the fitting rooms? We're ooooooverflowing!” A woman in an adjacent booth loudly proclaimed “All your stuff here is ooooooverpriced!” Where the fuck do you shop that Target is overpriced? The point of Target is to undercut everyone in town. In what universe is eight dollars for a polo shirt unreasonable? Sheesh. Anyhow, back to the sameness. One of the great things about Los Angeles is that nothing is the same. There are distinct neighborhoods, different cultural influences, millions of people, all of them different. Even the McDonald's are different. Within a five block radius, there are three McDonald's, each of them completely different. Different customers, different employees - even different prices. It's a sociological study just waiting to happen.

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9:01 PM
Day 4.5

I'm finally home. I was thrilled to get off the subway train and see different things everywhere. Neon lights, street performers, a giant ceramic dinosaur, people who aren't white - all sorts of things. One of the things I did to combat the sameness of Fresno was, ironically, listen to the same album over and over. According to iTunes, I have listened to Someone to Drive You Home by the Long Blondes eight times in the past three days. I made an attempt to eat the same foods that I eat when I'm in Los Angeles, too. We stopped at one of the many Starbucks Drive-Thrus in one of the many identical plazas and I got my usual black iced tea/lemonade. I'd also mention that I ate the same things I always do when I went to In & Out, but that's not hard to do considering that their menu consists of three things.

As I pack to get ready for the second leg of our two-legged journey, it must be noted that I do look forward to the familiarity of my hometown. Even though when I lived on Cape Cod I did the same thing more or less every day, it didn't have that same-y feel that covered every inch of Fresno. No two houses look the same on any given street. The 7-11 over by the mall is totally different than the 7-11 off of exit six - the one by the mall is attached to a Dunkin' Donuts, while the one off of exit six is attached to a Burger King and a Dunkin' Donuts and has way higher prices because it's the one that the tourists go to when they're on the highway. Don't even get me started on the obvious differences between the Dunkin' Donuts across the street from the Cape Codder and the one at the end of Main Street - I think we all know what they are.

That's the thing - all I really want is variety, even if it's to be found in minutiae. Luckily, I live in a neighborhood that doesn't really allow for sameness. There's always a new piece of discarded furniture on the sidewalk, there's always a movie being shot on the sidewalk, there's always a new feral cat hanging out in the vacant lot on the corner of Yucca and Cherokee. Tonight, a fistfight broke out in the courtyard of the apartment complex next to that vacant lot. Two people were leaving the building, yelling at a group of people smoking pot on the patio, threatening to call the cops. One of the pot smokers told them to relax, and the antagonistic couple screamed “CALL THE COPS! DRUG DEALERS ARE IN YOUR NEIGHBORHOOD!” So naturally, one of the pot-smoking chicks punched the other girl in the face. It spilled out into the street and turned into a full-out melee.

And that's why I'm not moving to Fresno. Sorry Cindy, sorry Steve.

10,000 Word Vacation, Day 3

Sunday, October 24
Day 3

I've been here in Fresno for two and a half days now, and the one thing I've learned is I'm not a huge fan of families. Not specifically my wife's family, but the concept of familial bonds forcing you to tolerate another person, no matter how angry they make you. I'm already on - at best - shaky terms with most of my family. No thanks to this blog, I suppose. You write what, only a dozen or so unflattering essays and people start to turn on you. Anyhow, today was family day here at the Stronghold. By the way, have I mentioned that my wife's mom remarried a few years ago, and when she did she married a guy named Strong (last, not first)? Well she did. Have I also mentioned that they're the type of people that think it's hi-larious to call their home the Stronghold? Well they are. Not that there's anything wrong with that.

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The house was pretty packed today. Packed and noisy and full of children. My wife's parents have been watching three small children for the past few weeks. Their mother just died, and their dad is taking it pretty hard, so Steve and Cindy have been helping take care of the kids while their dad is at work. They've all - the kids and their dad - have become honorary members of the family here. It's very sweet. When we took family photos yesterday (don't think I won't be complaining about that at a later date, by the way), they were included. There's a boy and two girls - twins - and none of them can be older than eight or so. The boy is a question asker, which is great. He sits, he plays on his Game Boy, and he asks questions.

- Do you like video games?
- Yeah, I play a lot of vid-
- Did you know GI Joe was old?
- Yeah, I used to watch the cart-
- No, like really, really old?
- Yeah, back when I was a kid I-
- What video games do you play?
- I like sports ga-
- Do you like Mario?
- Yeah, I have all his-
- Do you have friends?

And so on. I wouldn't mind his inquisitive nature if he would just wait for me to answer before the next question. By the way, the answer to “do you have friends?” was “yeah, kinda.” The twins - not my wife's sisters, but the young ones - were a lot tougher to deal with. They didn't ask questions, they just screamed. Not the standard “kids are having fun” screams - those are screams of joy. No, these were raspy-voiced, blood-curdling screams of terror and fear, except they weren't afraid of anything. They just made that noise. Sometimes when I walk around the house, searching for a book or a pen or something, I like to mutter “puff puff puff” under my breath. Not sure why, it just seems like it helps me find things. I'm like a very quiet steam engine. The twins just go around screaming. The problem with this - aside from the obvious problem of having these two klaxons blaring all day - is that when something actually goes wrong, it takes a while for anybody to notice. The girls were outside, not wearing shoes, when one of them stepped on a pricker or something, and screamed a terrible scream. My wife was the only person in the house who could differentiate this scream from one of the normal ones, and rushed out to help her. Everybody else just kind of sat around for a second, trying to decide if this was a good scream or a bad scream. If this girl had fallen into a well, we may not have moved for days. What I'm saying is, that's why you don't yell.

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Later in the day, my wife's sisters came over for dinner. Celeste and her husband Brad, and my wife's twin sisters, Excalibur and Excelsior. Those aren't their real names, the twins. Their real names are Athena and Alethea, but I can't tell them apart, so rather than get it wrong and feel guilty, I get it wrong on purpose and I feel just fine about it. Tonight's theme was “Salad Night.” We were presented with the following non-salads: fruit salad (closest thing to a real salad), potato salad, macaroni salad, chicken salad, Jello salad, and a six-and-a-half layer dip, which isn't really a salad so much as it is a bunch of yummy shit in a bowl. It's a six-and-a-half layer dip because it didn't have black olives, and that's just criminal. Black olives are delicious, but I digress. The point I was trying to make was that there wasn't a single leaf of lettuce eaten at “Salad Night.” How positively Fresno.

After dinner, everyone just kind of puttered around, talking, making noise. I hate noise. Sometimes I feel like the Grinch. Noise, noise, noise! My wife's sisters got up to make peanut butter squares - really good, by the way, and no lettuce in them anywhere. While this was going on, Celeste was pontificating loudly about what foods her husband - who was sitting next to her - wanted at his birthday party. By the way, the reason for tonight's gathering was to belatedly celebrate Celeste's birthday. It was like, a month ago, but whatever. As she was going on about what kind of frosting Brad did and didn't like - by the way, she didn't want any of her cake because it had the kind of frosting he didn't like - somebody asked her why Brad didn't speak more. Her response? “Bradley likes to let me shine.”

“Bradley likes to let me shine.” Just let that percolate.

Concurrent with Celeste shitting out of her own mouth was more screaming from the (younger) twins, and more questions from their brother. It got to the point where I couldn't take it anymore. I went into the guest bedroom and closed the door, but it was no good. The noise bled through, and I wanted to die. I couldn't read, I couldn't write, I couldn't think. By the time everybody left, my brain was so cooked that, even now, I still don't feel quite right.

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I wrestle with the idea of having a family. My wife wishes her family lived anywhere but Fresno, by which I assume she means somewhere in Los Angeles. She likes the idea of being able to go to her parents' house, eat their food and enjoy their company, which I must admit, is a pretty sweet deal. Deep down, she may even like the idea of being able to spend time with her sisters. I, on the other hand, just want to be left the fuck alone. I'm much more into the idea of seeing my family once a year, hating every minute of it, and praying that maybe I'll be able to write something interesting about it.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

10,000 Word Vacation, Day 2


Saturday, October 24
Day 2

There are a lot of men I look up to. My childhood hero was Larry Bird. As I grew older, I fell in love with the music of Bob Dylan. Now, in my early 20s, I have learned to embrace the greatness of Huell Howser. Huell, for those who don't live in California, is the host of PBS' California's Gold, a documentary show featuring the lesser known aspects of California's rich cultural tapestry. Unfortunately, the reason most of the places Huell goes are unknown is that they suck. Not only do they suck, but he sucks. He's a terrible, terrible host. There was a fantastic clip they used to play on the old Adam Carolla morning show where Huell spends 20 minutes interviewing an 80-year-old man about a bucket of rocks he has collected over the years. Some of my favorite episodes include a trip to the Colossal Colon, an interview with a woman who makes sculptures out of laundry lint, and a ride-along with a ladybug hunter and his oft-ridiculed son on their weekly ladybug hunting excursion.

Huell goes to other, more mundane places, too. These are the episodes where he truly gets to shine. Huell exhibits the same amount of excitement when presented with a pizza oven as he would if you told him the meaning of life. My favorite pizza place in Los Angeles is the Hollywood Village Pizzeria, on the corner of Yucca and Ivar. First I fell in love with their pizza, then I met the owner - then I saw the photos on the wall of Huell tossing some dough with the owner.

One of the more interesting places to be featured on California's Gold is the Forestiere Underground Gardens, in Fresno. The Forestiere Underground Gardens is tailor-made for somebody like Huell. It has all the indicators of a fantastically boring episode of California's Gold. First, it needs to be in a boring shit-town in the middle of nowhere - Fresno. Second, it should have a backstory that on the one hand is interesting, but on the other is kind of pathetic (more on that later). Finally, it ought to be a family-owned operation, which means the terribly boring shit is generational!

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My wife found the website - www.undergroundgardens.com - and was immediately smitten. She called her mom and declared that the moment we set foot in Fresno, we were to head to the Underground Gardens. When I asked what it was, she explained that about a century ago, some guy moved to Fresno from Sicily - major downgrade, by the way - and couldn't stand the deadly hot summers. Because there was no air conditioning, he started digging holes to live in, and eventually he started planting trees in the holes. Sound awesome, right? I can see the headline now - Crazy Loner Digs, Lives In Holes. Fascinating.

Sadly, as it turns out, the Underground Gardens was pretty interesting. Baldasare Forestiere, working alone and using only a shovel and wheelbarrow, spent his entire life digging an elaborate system of tunnels and rooms underneath the hardpan layer, and eventually moving underground. Now, you may ask why he needed to be underground, but the answer is obvious - it's too fucking hot in Fresno. Once down there, he began planting fruit trees, leaving holes in the ceiling so that sun and rain could get in. He grew hybrid trees - I saw one today that grew both oranges and lemons - and even defied the laws of God Himself, creating a strawberry tree. In his later years, Forestiere decided to open the Underground Gardens to the public, and created an entire underground resort.

Everything about this place was interesting. In addition to showing us the crazy underground trees, our tour guide took us to Forestiere's living chambers, including his two bedrooms - one with a stove to keep warm in the winter, while the other was an open air room to keep cool in the summer. There was a kitchen, a beautiful outdoor bathing area with a cast-iron bathtub and even a small altar, at which the Roman Catholic Forestiere could worship. There were various religious symbols throughout the gardens, and even an aquarium that sadly wasn't part of today's tour.

The only thing that bummed me out was Baldasare Forestiere's personal life. Although the tour guide insisted this wasn't true, Forestiere seems to have been an insane loner who started digging holes to get away from people, like the episode of Seinfeld where Dana Gould dug a hole in Central Park because Jerry didn't want his van. Anyhow, he never married, and as such never had any children. When he died in 1946, his brother took over his work, finishing the grand ballroom for the resort. To my knowledge, Forestiere's plans for a resort were never fully realized. Today, his family keeps the property, harvesting the fruit. We couldn't figure out if the two tour guides we saw today were volunteers or employees, though my inclination is to go with employees. I mean, they had name tags.

The real problem I had with the Underground Gardens was that while it wasn't life-changing, it also didn't suck enough. It was only pretty cool. There was nothing there to make fun of. I know it says very little about me that the most important attribute something can possess is mockability, but it's how I get through life. I suppose it kind of serves me right that what I was hoping would be a massive suck-fest turned out to be a nice day with my wife and her family. I even signed the fruity guest book. I even even took a small amount of pride when I took the pushpin and stuck it in the part of the map that said “Hyannis,” signifying that I was the first person from Barnstable County to have set foot in the Underground Gardens, despite the fact that I haven't lived there in years. What they don't know won't hurt them.

I even even even bought a bumper sticker. Maybe someday, I'll have a car.

Friday, October 23, 2009

10,000 Word Vacation, Day 1

Friday, October 23
Day 1

Most of the English speaking world goes on holiday. They take time off of school, work, whatever. They leave town and go somewhere nicer. They go to Lake Something-or-other, where their family has a cottage. They take a lot of photos. It's pretty cute, I guess. Americans don't go on holiday, we go on vacation. They don't take time off of school or work, we escape. We don't just look forward to going on vacation - we count the days until our release, like prisoners. When we go on vacation, we have Fun Regimens. Day One: Explore the hotel. Day Two: Tourist attractions. Day Three: Theme parks. It's no wonder that people come back from vacation more exhausted than when they left. I have trouble planning my normal life - the idea of putting this much thought into recreation is mind-blowing.

Right now, my wife and I are vacating our lives. We're going on what I'm calling the “Transcontinental Whirlwind In-Law Tour 2009.” Ten days, two coasts and about 25 or so hours of actual travel time. From October 23 - 26, we're going to be in Fresno, California, where her family lives. From the 27th through the first of November, we'll be staying in West Barnstable, Massachusetts with my family.

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1:15 PM
I'm of two minds. For the most part, I like my wife's family. They're pretty okay, as far as people go. I mean, they were kind enough to pay for our trip up to Fresno. The problem is that they live in Fresno. For those who are unacquainted with the Fresno/Clovis area, it's the crown jewel of California's Meth Belt. I feel like I'm being pretty fair when I say that anybody who elects to live in Fresno is one of three things: a meth-addled hillbilly, a migrant worker, or Mormon. The one thing those three groups share is a common love of shopping at Target and eating at Chick-Fil-A. To be fair though, I can sort of get behind that myself.

The real problem I have with the trip to Fresno is the trip itself. It's not that I hate travelling - quite the opposite, really. What I hate about going to Fresno is taking the train up there. The first time I traveled by train, I went from Providence, RI to Akron, OH. What could have been a two hour flight ended up being a ten hour train ride. An old guy even shit his pants next to me. I decided to take the train to Ohio because I foolishly thought I wanted to See America. If for some reason you're a high school senior, do yourself a favor and avoid Seeing America. There's not much to see. Well, not much that a train can show you at least. The Philadelphia to Pittsburgh leg of my journey went a little something like this: field, cows, field, cows, fields, Mennonites, giant bales of hay. Fantastic. The one thing I learned from Seeing America is that America is mostly shit. It really was a bummer.

Anyhow, as much as I hate trains, we're pretty much fucked until we get a car or her parents move to civilization. Trains go where pilots fear to tread. The American Midwest is often called “flyover country,” but even in California there's not a lot going on geographically between Los Angeles and San Fransisco. I can say without hyperbole that when I look out the right side of the train, I'm presented with nothing but dirt for as far as the eye can see. Running along the left side of the train are power lines. I feel like every time the train stops, its mere presence doubles the population of whatever town we're in. Right now we're stopping in what is supposed to be a town by the name of Corcoran, although it's less like a town and more like a wide spot in the road. I'm surprised the train isn't besieged with local children selling tchotchkes and Chiclets to the passengers. Sometimes I feel like the anti-Steinbeck. There is a disdain for rural America that flows through my veins. The idea of romanticizing this lifestyle is so strange to me. Oh, also unlike John Steinbeck I'm a piece of shit writer.

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2:24 PM
We're about 40 minutes outside of Fresno right now. We're in the town of Hanford. Things are looking a little more metropolitan now. I just saw a gas station and a stop light, which is a lot more than I can say about Corcoran. Some of the farms even have livestock. I'm seeing restaurants with names I've heard of. I even saw a woman that some people would even call “attractive,” though she was wearing a NASCAR shirt.

Every time I bitch about having to take a train to see her parents, my wife tries to convince me that Fresno has an airport. Bullshit, I say. If Fresno has an airport, I will eat not just my hat, but the hats of any pilots in the area. (2:29 PM Interjection: Holy shit, I just saw a Long John Silver's restaurant. It took me upwards of 24 years, but I've finally seen one. All I need is a Waffle House and a Steak and Shake and my Obscure Restaurant Chain Bingo card is full.)

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2:36 PM
We're passing by houses now. All of them appear to be about the size of my studio apartment, all of them have matching swimming pools, and all of them have rusted-out sheds made of corrugated tin. I always wonder what people in these Podunks do when they're not cooking meth or painting signs that say “OBAMA + HEALTH CARE = WHITE SLAVERY.” The only thing I can think of is towns like Modesto and Bakersfield work as a feeder system for carnival workers. Recruiters come through every few months, setting up folding tables with signs that say “TRAVEL THE WORLD, BECOME CARNIE TRASH.” That's really all I can come up with.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Hypercritical Mass

I'm not one of those misanthropes who only hates people on Christmas and Easter - Dorothy Gambrell

Apparently I've gained a reputation at my job for hating everything. For some reason, everyone thinks I'm a heartless, emotionally empty jerk off. I guess I earned this by making puke noises every time somebody mentions something I don't like. There's my taste and bad taste, and I like to make it clear what category certain things fall into. This makes me a huge asshole. This isn't just for movies or music or books or whatever, this covers everything. If you like ranch dressing on your pepperoni pizza, I will call you a mongoloid. If you think I give a fuck about which cartoon is on your metal lunch pail, you'd best believe I do not. I know that this behavior doesn't make a lot of friends. Frankly, I'm amazed that I have any friends at all. I'm sure I'm one more “I don't think you understand why you're retarded for not listening to Tom Waits” tirade away from everybody I know abandoning me.

This horrible behavior is compounded by the fact that I'm a huge cynic. I'm sick of everything being super-sincere, saccharine-sweet sing-songy bullshit. I'm sick of adults who act like it's okay to watch television made for children despite not having kids of their own. Anybody who goes out of their way to watch Yo Gabba Gabba needs to be shot out of a cannon and into a bag of glass. While I'm not opposed to adults liking things made for kids, I just can't get on board with the idea of grown-ups blindly loving things meant for children, especially when they suck. Personally, I'm incredibly excited to see the Toy Story/Toy Story 2 double feature this week, not because of some sense of nostalgia or a desire to feel like a kid again, but because those two films are really, really good. This isn't like when guys eat Luna bars because they're yummy, despite being marketed towards women. This is like when college freshmen sleep with their blankies. Guess what - if your age doesn't end in “teen,” it's not acceptable to like the Jonas Brothers. It just isn't.

I work in a movie theatre, and the theatre industry makes all its money off of hype. Where the Wild Things Are doesn't come out for another two weeks, but I'm already fucking sick of it. I've seen previews for this movie for going on five months now, and it makes me want to smash my head against the wall every time I so much as hear the song from the trailer. I want to enjoy this movie, and I probably will - it's directed by Spike Jonze, after all. The problem is every time I hear somebody talk about the soaring sensation the feel in their chest when they watch the trailer, I have to suppress my urge to vomit. To be fair though, I'm sure I'd feel the same soaring sensation in my chest if they made a film adaptation of Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day. Anyhow, the incredible hype that surrounds virtually every Friday at work has started to wear me out. Every week a new group of movies get released, and every week everybody I work with tells me how much they can't wait to see whatever movie. Smash cut to 72 hours later, their Facebook status reads “Movie X was okay, but not as good as I had hoped.” I'm not saying I'm above this. Believe me, the same thing happens to me every fucking week. I can count using one hand the movies that lived up to the hype this summer: Star Trek, Inglourious Basterds, Up, District 9 and uh... that's about it.

I'm pretty sure I'm broken. I have so much trouble honestly enjoying things these days. Maybe I'm sick of my life and everything in it. Maybe I need to move away from Los Angeles, a city full of frauds, hype machines and - forgive my Holden Caulfieldness - goddamn phonies. With each passing day I find myself hating a higher percentage of the people I see on the street. Maybe I'm drawing from a pool of people predisposed to being miserable - public transit users in LA - but fuck me, if I have to sit near somebody else on a subway platform playing music on his iPhone for everybody to hear, I'm going to jump in front of the next Union Station train. Remember the goop from Ghostbusters 2 that fed off of all the anger in New York? I wouldn't be surprised to see it start bubbling up out of my bathtub sometime soon. The worst part is I'm starting to hate myself as a result of this - loathing goes hand in hand with self-loathing. Walking around being an asshole to everybody isn't as much fun as it seems. When you spend enough time thinking about what other people do that you hate, you realize how loathsome you truly are.

At the end of October, my wife and I are going on a ten day vacation during which time we're going to visit our respective parents. I'm hoping this time spent with both of our families will serve to recalibrate me. If nothing else, by the time we get home I hope to hate enough things about Fresno and West Barnstable that some of the wide-eyed, Oz-like wonder Los Angeles once held for me will be restored to this squalid shithole of a city.

If not, then fuck it. I'm moving to Australia.