Follow the Metal Geek Road

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I visited the Emerald City, but I did not find my tribe there.  I took a Friday off work to join my friend Sean at the Emerald City Comicon event.  He was given two passes by a friend who couldn’t attend the Friday festivities.  While it was a four-day-long convention for lovers of comic books, role-playing and other games, and science fiction and fantasy art of all kinds, five hours was enough for both of us.  No, we did not engage in cosplay, a portmanteau of costume and play in which people dress up as characters from favorite – and often obscure – comics, video games, TV shows, or movies.  I rarely don a costume for Halloween, so it’s unthinkable I would dress up in the off-season.  I stuck with my usual t-shirt and jeans attire.  I my defense, it was a “Nostromo” t-shirt, so I could, if cosplaying bullies wanted to start trouble, make a half-hearted claim I was dressed as a crewman from that ill-fated spacecraft from the movie Alien.  I hoped it wouldn’t come to that.

When we arrived at the Seattle Convention Center, we made our way to the main hall for the Outlander panel featuring Caitriona Balfe and Sam Heughan from the TV adaption of the novels about a woman, Claire, who time-travels from 1945 to 1743 Scotland where she gets caught up in the politics of the time and falls in love with Highlander Jamie.  For an hour, the two stars took questions from devoted fans who had lined up for hours to express their love and appreciation for the actors and the characters they portray.  My wife and I watch the show together, and I was fanboying.  Arguably, I was fangirling, as Sean observed all of the people lined up to ask questions were middle-aged women.  As a man, I was in the extreme minority.  One of the women told Sam that, thanks to his My Peak Challenge program that inspires people to live healthier, happier, more balanced lives, she, for the first time in her life, thought of herself as beautiful.  She thanked Sam with a cracking voice and tears in her eyes.  I was caught up in the moment, sniffing back a tear and clapping heartily along with everyone else.  Well, everyone except Sean, who gave me a sidelong glance, wondering when, exactly, I had turned into a woman.  I didn’t care. This was fun.

After that, we ambled through the bigger-than-Costco aisles of vendors offering up every comic book, video game, t-shirt, and work of art a geek’s heart could desire.  It was all intriguing, but the majority was beyond my ken.  Star Trek, Star Wars, Battlestar Galactica, Firefly, and The Walking Dead are my science fiction staples, but I don’t read comics or play video games, so I didn’t recognize much of what was being offered for sale or paraded by clever cosplayers.  We also visited a Lego expo, which included life-sized renditions of R2-D2, BB8, Wonder Woman, Captain America, and a Stormtrooper.  Sean informed me that the artists had made good use of the SNOT technique, which is an acronym for Studs-Not-On-Top.  Through some engineering voodoo, the little bumpy parts of the Legos were not visible on the surface of these plastic brick statues.  I had no idea there were such significant advances in Lego construction since I was a kid.

The last stop, after a requisite trip to the beer garden, was a trip to the autograph expo, in which celebrities were camped out, ready to sign things and take selfies with anyone willing to spend between $50 and $100.  I was unwilling to spend anything for someone’s signature, but it was cool to see Alice Cooper, Gates McFadden (Dr. Crusher from Star Trek: TNG), Peter Mayhew (Chewbacca), and others, even if it was from a distance.  I don’t fault celebrities for profiting from their inscription or image, but I will not be one to fork over hard-earned cash for the privilege.  I prefer my celebrity encounters to be coincidental, like meeting David Bowie in an airport, which is the highlight of my “Brushes with Greatness” resume, just ahead of the time I met Olivia Newton-John.  She loves me, by the way.  It says so on the piece of paper she signed (“To Todd. Love, Olivia Newton John”).  You might think she was just writing a polite valediction, but you weren’t there. You didn’t see the love in her eyes.

After five hours at Comicon, Sean and I had seen enough.  I loved the positive, judgment-free energy of everyone who was there.  These people – thousands of them – were proudly being who they were, liking what they like, and doing cool stuff.  There were more smiles per square foot than I’ve seen in a long time.  I started the day following my usual pattern of not making too much eye contact with the people I walked past, so as not to seem creepy, but it quickly dawned on me that most of the people at Comicon wanted to be seen and were all too happy to stop and pose for a picture.  Taking pride in your passions is a beautiful thing.  I enjoyed the people-watching, but I felt more like an anthropologist observing tribal rituals than a participant in them.

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My tribe was at a bar in Seattle two night later, where I attended a metal show featuring six thrash, groove, and death metal bands.  My t-shirt and jeans were de rigueur in that crowd.  I met up with similarly clad metal friends, both young (who have bands of their own) and old (including co-workers who joined the metal fun after spending the day at Comicon).  I was the senior member of the clan, and the pinnacle of my evening was being up at the front of the barricade, singing along with Death Angel when lead vocalist Mark Osegueda stretched his hand out to me. I’m certain that he was reaching out to me specifically.  Death Angel has been making great metal since the early 80s, and I think Mark saw a fellow graying headbanger in the front row and decided to shake my hand in recognition of my lifelong devotion to the metal arts.  We were tribal elders acknowledging each other.

That weekend of geeks and metalheads got me thinking about tribal culture. While my kids were prohibited by their teachers from citing Wikipedia as a source in their scholastic endeavors due to it’s lack of reliability, I am bound by no such restriction, and I found two references there that intrigued me:

Stephen Corry, a British anthropologist, defines tribal people as those who “…have followed ways of life for many generations that are largely self-sufficient, and are clearly different from the mainstream and dominant society.”

Anthropologist Morton H. Fried[…] concluded that tribes in general are characterized by fluid boundaries and heterogeneity, are not parochial, and are dynamic.  

The geek tribe has been around since at least 1966, when Star Trek debuted on NBC, and metal was born in 1968, when Black Sabbath began laying down the blueprint for heavy metal.  That’s at least three generations of fandom for people who’s respective passions have kept them on the fringes of the mainstream.  Both tribes include a wide array of variations on the respective themes, with too many sub-genres to count.  Both have an openness, even a hunger, for new expressions, and both epitomize dynamism in their visual, verbal, and aural expressions.  Pretty cool.

In the middle of one band’s set Sunday night, my metal sister Rachel tapped me on the shoulder, and I saw her holding up her phone for an epic selfie of the two of us celebrating our love for metal.  I was having far too much fun to put on a good metal grimace, and the photo showed me grinning broadly.  It was not a Facebook-worthy photo due to my expression of childlike joy rather than metal menace. Oh well, I love what I love.

Cheers to all of you who proudly join with others to fervently pursue your passions.  You are not alone.

Unsafe at Any Speed

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I think I need to surrender my license, hand over my keys, and stop driving for a while.  It’s been a rough week, vehicularly speaking.  On Sunday, I drove to Seattle, an hour from home, to attend a metal show.  I would be relying on my phone’s Google Maps app to direct me to the venue.  All I needed to do was type in the address.  Unfortunately, there was a major middle-aged First World problem to be dealt with.  When I go to metal shows, I like to wear contact lenses, as the spectacles I normally wear are at risk for significant damage in a mosh pit.  My eye doctor provides me with a few pairs of single-use contacts for just such an occasion.  Well, he thinks he’s providing them for some civil activity, like scuba diving.  I don’t feel a need to point out that he’s enabling me to participate in a sort of riot.  It’s been a good system for many years, but my doctor recently prescribed bifocals for my aging eyes.  When I put in the contact lenses, which are not bifocals, I found I was unable to read the small text on my phone.  I handed it to my wife to look up the address for the venue and enter it into Google Maps.  This is an example of how my advancing age is at the “inconvenient stage.”  I’m told it gets worse.

Fortunately, driving doesn’t require the ability to read small text, as road signs are designed for far-sightedness.  The kind female voice of Google Maps directed me to the venue with no problems, and, as she predicted, I arrived an hour and ten minutes after departure. The next order of business was finding a parking space.  My goal was to achieve the “sweet spot” balance between the cost of parking and distance from the venue.  As I was pondering how many factors of ten would be withdrawn from my bank account to park, I observed the car in front of me pull into an alley directly behind the venue.  With hope in my heart, I followed him, and we pulled into the last two spaces in a row of eight cars.  It seemed perfect, except for one potential flaw: we were parked in front of a row of twelve overflowing garbage barrels.  While there were no signs forbidding it, parking in front of the club’s dump seemed unwise at best.  In an unusual bit of bravado, I took the risk.  While I am terrified at the thought of having my car towed, this spot was just too good to pass up, and if my car was going to be towed away, I knew I would have eight other drivers with whom I could strategize to get our cars back from where they were impounded.  My judgment may have been impaired by my desperate need to see a metal show.  It had been almost five months since I’d moshed it up, and I needed a heavy metal fix.

Not having entirely lost my senses of fear and paranoia, I took advantage of the club’s generous in-and-out privileges to check on my car between each band’s set.  In total, there were six bands on the bill, and by the time the last two were set to perform, I stopped worrying and surrendered to the metal madness that was breathing new life into my weary bureaucratic soul.  When the show did come to an end, I hastily made my exit in hopes that my chariot awaited.  I walked along the side of the building and craned my neck to get a look at the parking space as quickly as possible.  What caught my eye first was the garbage truck looming behind my car.  Fortunately, the garbage truck was not accompanied by a tow truck.  As a devotee of the subjunctive mood, I shuddered at the thought of the garbage removal service provider having an earlier shift.  If he had rolled up to the club an hour earlier, I may have had a serious problem, as he would have had plenty of time to call his colleague at the tow truck company.  As it was, the driver pulled across the street to wait for the metal heads to vacate the area so he could go to work.  I got in my car, quickly removing my contact lenses and putting on my bifocals to ensure I could make good use of Google Maps to direct me to the freeway.

My map maven directed me to turn left on 1st Avenue and proceed to Spokane Street, and, even with my limited sense of direction, I recognized this was a case of going back the way I came, which is my favorite kind of directions.  I was on 1st Avenue, and I saw Spokane Street approaching.  I stopped at the light, read the sign for Spokane Street, heard Ms. Google instruct me to turn left, and engaged my left turn signal.  When the light changed, I turned left and felt satisfaction that I would soon be at the freeway entrance.  My elation was short-lived as I observed two sets of headlights coming at me from the other direction. I considered the possibility that the driver on the right was in the wrong lane but realized it was more likely I was going the wrong way on a one-way street.  I put on the brakes to avoid a disaster unfolding more quickly than necessary.  Fortunately, the other drivers, including the one in the car that had been behind me on 1st Avenue, the guy who saw me turn onto a one-way street, all seemed to recognize that there was an idiot amongst them, and they should all come to a stop and let the poor soul work this out for himself.  I backed up, reversing my left turn, and  proceeded in a straight line on 1st Avenue, heart racing.  Ms. Google recalculated and told me to take a left on the next street. However, now leery of her advice and counsel, I scrutinized the signage and saw that this, too, was a one-way street and, again, the wrong way.  I declined her suggestion and continued on 1st.  I needed time to think.  Ms. Google took a breath and recalculated.  Her new plan took me on a Odysseus-like journey through the industrial parks of South Seattle. Scylla on the left, Charybdis on the right.  I thought perhaps she was angry at me for having failed to follow her earlier instructions and was taking me on a snipe hunt.  However, after a few miles of meandering, I was safely delivered to a freeway entrance.  From here, it was just a one-hour drive home on a sparsely populated post-midnight Interstate 5.  The wide open spaces gave me a chance to reflect on what had transpired, including the fact that no law enforcement officers had witnessed my spectacular wrong-way one-way turn.  I had much to be grateful for – a great night of heavy metal and no arrest for reckless driving – and, when I got home, I slept well.

After surviving those travails, I crashed on the way to work the next morning. Yup. I was distracted by an accident on the side of the road and when my eyes returned to the traffic in front of me, I  found the car ahead had stopped more suddenly than I had expected.  Bang!  My bumper is in bad shape, more concave than convex.  The other parties – yes, there were two other cars involved – are relatively unscathed, but my insurance will be going up soon.  I’ve gotten to know several insurance agents who wanted to get my perspective on what happened.  I kept my remarks focused on the circumstances of the crash, leaving out the sordid details of my sketchy parking decisions and blatant disregard for one-way traffic requirements, but I was tempted, as it’s a good story.  Finally, the next morning, I arrived at work unscathed, having carefully obeyed all driving laws and best practices, only to lock my keys in the truck.  Dammit.  My wife was kind enough to bring me the spare key, so that I didn’t have to walk home or figure out how Uber works.  It is now Friday night, I’m home, and the vehicles are nestled all snug in their spots.  I think I’ll stick close to home this weekend.

Some Assembly (and Patience and Laughter) Required

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“For the want of a nail, the kingdom was lost.”  That old adage came to mind last week when I was assembling the treadmill my wife ordered, so she could cancel her gym membership and get her workouts done at home.  She did careful online research to find the highest quality machine at the price we could afford.  After identifying the treadmill that most closely matched her requirements, she called the folks at NordicTrack to place her order.  They explained the shipping costs were on a sliding scale. Normal delivery was curbside.  For a few dollars more, it could be delivered to our porch.  Another fistful of dollars would result in it being brought into the house.  If she wanted it assembled, that would require an additional deposit into the Nordic Track revenue-generating machine. She opted for in-home delivery but decided we could put it together ourselves.  The amount she paid to have it placed in our living room was worth the extra cost, as the box was the size and weight of a coffin custom built for Andre the Giant.

I have no interest in the functional value of the treadmill.  I prefer to run outside.  My only treadmill trots have occurred when staying in a hotel in some city where I was unfamiliar with running routes and relative safety of the neighborhood.  I use treadmills out of necessity, as I despise running in place.  The only exercise I intended to get from this machine was the upper body workout from screwing bolts into the frame and holding rails and uprights while my son put the screwdriver to work.

We were halfway through the assembly when we discovered two bolts were missing.  To be more specific, two bolts were not included.  I will testify under oath that we did not lose the bolts; they were simply not in the box.  I am a seasoned veteran of IKEA furniture assembly and keep careful track of the parts and pieces to avoid excess frustration.  I get cranky enough trying to figure out how the simple line drawings represent three dimensional objects, so I don’t need to compound the problem by losing hardware.  Plus, I know the bolts were missing because, according to the instructions, they were to be found screwed into the top of the left side upright.  There were two bolts screwed into the right side upright, but none on the left.  The Swedes of IKEA never let me down like this, and I would have expected similar quality control from another, presumably, Scandinavian firm. It’s called NordicTrack, after all.  Alas, they are headquartered in Utah.

I searched through my extensive collection of nails, screws, and bolts – amassed from years of furniture assembly and woodworking projects – for appropriately-sized bolts to substitute for the missing ones.  Despite having hundreds of bits of hardware, obsessively sorted by size and type, I couldn’t find any two inch long 5/16” bolts.  As a result, I spent 44 cents at the local hardware store to purchase two bolts with the correct specifications.  They were silver instead of black, but I was going for function, not appearance.  I needed to fix this, but just as I was about to proceed with the assembly using the substitutes, my wife informed me she had contacted NordicTrack, and, after some tense negotiation, new bolts would arrive in 3-5 business days.  I just needed to be patient.

I was annoyed to have given NordicTrack many hundreds of dollars for this machine, only to have them fail to provide two bolts necessary for assembly.  The little things matter.  I recognize this as a common ailment of large organizations: little things get missed, and people get frustrated.  It happens in my organization all the time.  Last week, for example, I inherited a laptop computer.  I’ve been driving a desktop for many years, but a colleague took a new job, giving me the opportunity to take possession of her laptop.  Of course, it wasn’t as simple as her handing it to me.  It had to be processed through our IT group, which inexplicably took several weeks.  One day last week, I returned to my office from a meeting and found a laptop computer sitting in my chair.  I noticed it was unaccompanied by any accessories, such as a bag or power cord.  I also learned that it was not configured with the software that would allow me to connect to our network remotely.  After waiting two months, I was now in possession of a glorified typewriter with about four hours of battery life before it would become useless.  My co-workers wondered what I was giggling about until I explained the absurdity, and we all laughed about the laptop’s, metaphorical, missing bolts.

The treadmill bolts arrived in the mail earlier this week, and I also received a power cord and remote access software.  My wife is up and running, and so is my laptop.  Our respective kingdoms weren’t truly lost for the want of nails, but these anecdotes got me thinking about some other adages to consider:

1. The little things matter, but they often get missed.

2. The little things tend to work over time; be patient.

3. Patience is easier if you can laugh about it.

While you’re waiting for the bolts to arrive in the mail, tell somebody the story.  Make ‘em laugh.  You’ll feel better.

I ‘Saur What You Did There

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Last week, I received a compliment at work.  It was a handwritten note from a colleague expressing her appreciation for my efforts.  As kind and generous as the sentiments were, I had a hard time taking it seriously.  The words were written on a pre-printed 5” x 8” card, specifically designed for giving kudos to co-workers.  The top of the card featured a cartoon dinosaur – a friendly one, smiling broadly – and the words “I ‘Saur What You Did There.”  It’s the kind of card – and terrible pun – I might choose to recognize the finger-painting talents of a kindergartener, but not the leadership abilities of a 48-year-old who has been in a senior management position for nine years.  Frankly, I wouldn’t use it to recognize the efforts of the new nineteen-year-old guy in the mailroom.

I don’t fault the person who gave it to me, and I sincerely appreciate the kind words. She was just using a tool intended to encourage praise by eliminating the need to shop for an age- and experience-appropriate Good Job card.  However, a convenient device is not necessarily an appropriate one.  For example, I’m told texting is an expedient but unseemly medium for a break-up.  My negative reaction to the card got me thinking about other forms of expression and the importance of ensuring form is suited to content.

For the past three years (or is it four? Ugh), I have made references in this blog to my efforts to write a book about my family’s three-week trip to Europe.  It’s been excruciating trying to shape the manuscript into what I intended to be my third book.  I’ve spent more time thinking – and fretting – about the book than I have writing it.  Last week, I faced the truth: I don’t have a book, I have a collection of anecdotes strung together with a series of “It had been another great day” and “When I woke up the next morning…” statements.  The humor and humanity of my European vacation is buried beneath mundane details associated with three weeks of travel through three countries.  Aside from the eight of us who were there, no one will be regaled by a recounting of each visit to a gelato shop, of which there a dozen.  My readers, I suspect, are not clamoring to know the respective orders of each family member at the more than 30 restaurant meals of which we partook.  My best chance at holding your attention is to share a few stories that capture the essence of the experience: the places, people, frequent humor, and occasional misery.  While I believe the tales will make for a good read, they do not amount to a full-length book, and that is heartbreaking for several reasons.

1. I’m letting down my family.  I promised them a comprehensive account of our grand adventure, but I can’t muster the energy to turn ten thousand details into a compelling narrative.  Sorry, folks, you’ll have to rely on the five thousand – I’m not exaggerating – photos to refresh your memory.

2. I’m not as close to my third book as I’d hoped.  I figure this manuscript will amount to about half a book, so I’ll need to figure out ways to supplement it with a few other stories before I have enough to justify charging people to read it.

3. I’ll have to edit with an axe.  Sanding and varnishing text is never easy, but, in this case, blood will be spilled.  A writer friend of mine says, “Every word is my child,” and while he means it as a joke, all good humor contains truth. Deciding which of my true life experiences to delete will carry the same emotional turmoil as deciding which five fingers I would like removed.  Those are not decisions I want to make.

I took the first step by reorganizing the chapters into one for each country instead of one for each day of the trip.  Now that I have settled on an organizing principle, I’ll break out the chainsaw and get to work hacking some limbs off the overgrown tree of words.  If I should manage to carve the manuscript into something publishable, I’ll be sure to let you know.  I’d love for you to read it.  Who knows, you might even like it so much you’ll want to send me a note expressing your appreciation.  I know where you can get a pre-printed card for just such an occasion.

Will You Be My Valentine? Please!

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It’s Valentine’s Day Eve, and I’m baking cookies for my co-workers.  They are small heart-shaped sugar cookies with frosting.  The special ingredient is lemon, which gives the sweet cookie a brightness.  I don’t normally provide Valentine’s Day treats for work friends, but it struck me as important this year.

When I was in grade school, Valentine’s Day was an important event for me and my classmates.  Each of us spent valuable class time decorating a paper lunch sack, festooning the brown paper with cut-out construction paper hearts in pink and red. I  used Mr. Sketch felt tip water color markers to label my baggie with a big, bold “TODD,” outlined in cherry, filled in with raspberry, a underlined with melon.  We taped our respective baggies securely to our desk on Valentine’s Day Eve and awaited to the deposits that would be made the following morning.  For the most part, everyone participated in preparing individual Valentine cards for our classmates, but it was not enforced.  I don’t remember whether I was ever snubbed by a fair maiden who had captured my heart yet refused to give me a card.  I do, however, recall times when, though I would receive a card from the object of my affection, it was the least romantic card in the boxed set – the one that made it clear that in no uncertain terms, she was not asking me to be her Valentine.  Despite my devotion, she didn’t want me to be hers.  Those grade school rebuffs stung.  They were a personal pain I didn’t share with my friends or my parents.  No one knew about the tiny heartbreak.

My heart has healed since those early bouts of unrequited love, but I have been reminded in the last few weeks that all of us are in different stages of hurt and healing every day, whether emotional or physical.  I won’t provide any specifics here so as not to disclose anyone’s heartbreak about a Valentine’s card not given, metaphorically speaking.  Everyone’s struggle is their own to share as they choose.  I stand ready to help anyone carry their burden, if they think I can help.  In the meantime, I’m hoping a lemon-flavored, heart-shaped, frosted sugar cookie will ease the pain just a little.  As the saying goes, “Everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about. Be kind. Always.”

I’ll try to be funnier next time, but for now, I wish you strength, courage, and peace.  Happy Valentine’s Day.

#toooldforinstagram

img_0536After only a week on Instagram, my dog has 28 followers, which is annoying, as it took me about a year to get that many people interested in this blog.  Of course, my dog is much cuter than I am.  More specifically, pictures of my labradoodle puppy, Autumn, are much cuter than these paragraphs when scrolling through social media feeds on your phone.  No matter how well-written, these lines can’t compete with a ginger puppy.

I started the Instagram account when friend Jen told me her dog, Sadie (sadiemaesaderson), has over 4,000 followers and gets gifts from her fans. Yes, people mail her presents, and not just domestically.  She gets treats sent “par avion” from around the world.  I like the idea of getting free stuff, even if only for my dog, so I was happy to set up the account (autumnislay).  I assume it will take a while to amass a Sadie-like following, and I fear international celebrity status will require me to embed lots of clever hashtags in the posts to tickle the fancy of social networkers around the globe (#cutelabradoodle, #sendmepresents, etc.).  That’s problematic, as I have not fully grasped the hashtag concept.  I know it has something to do with Twitter, but my understanding of that is based largely on tweets by the President and, therefore, strikes me as a dubious form of communication, at best.

I don’t understand why people get so excited about poorly-written 140 character, or less, dispatches and photos of pets.  I suspect my failure to appreciate Twitter and Instagram is a consequence of being old.  I could easily begin an old-man-style “get off my lawn” rant about wishing more people were interested in pausing to read a few carefully wrought paragraphs rather than succumbing to the easy pleasure of scrolling through digital photos of cute dogs.  By the way, while I assume there are other images available on Instagram, most of Autumn’s Instagram friends are canine and, as a result, her feed looks like a series of Please Adopt Me posters from the local animal shelter.

I must be cautious not to overstate my frustration with America’s lack of interest in reading beyond the 140th character.  While I am a regular reader, I confess to spending a much larger percentage of my time watching TV.  This has only become worse with advent of another technological innovation: streaming media.  It always starts innocently, healthily even, as I select a series on Netflix and cue up one episode each morning to accompany my workout.  That’s right, I’m lifting weights or doing cardio circuit training while Frank and Claire scheme in D.C.’s halls of power or Mike, Dustin, Lucas, and Eleven try to rescue Will from the Upside Down. The action and intrigue on the screen helps ease the strain of the workouts, and I get to see an hour of good drama each morning.  That’s how it goes until I get to the last five or six episodes and develop a desperate need to know what happens.  At that point, when the weekend arrives, I abandon my family and hide in a corner with my laptop, headphones, and a good Internet connection until the available episodes run out.  When I surface from that dark place, I feel a modicum of shame and try to avoid diving into the next series too quickly.  I might even read a book.  I have friends who binge-watch without embarrassment, and I almost admire them.  I wish I could relax that deeply, but, alas, I’m old and can’t bring myself to fully surrender to the youthful arts of social networking and streaming media.

I was reminded of how old I am last week when I realized I have been working for my agency for twenty-five years.  I am still coming to terms with what it means to have spent a quarter century (OMG, as the kids say. They still say that, right?) working at the same place.  If I had a better memory, I might be able to more happily wallow in the pride of having contributed a bit and accomplished a few things over those years.  I know I’ve done some good, but I’ve still got a hell of a lot of work sitting on my desk waiting for me on Monday.  Rather than stress about that, I think I’ll check Autumn’s follower count and dial up the next episode of Colony.

 

Merry Super Bowl, Everyone.  Cheers!

 

Stand Up and Be Counted

IMG_0523.JPGI never wanted this blog to be political, but sometimes – to paraphrase my motto – being who you are and liking what you like requires you to stand up, show up, and speak up.

In 1995, I participated in a protest against anti-pornography legislation.  Before you leap to the conclusion that I’m a staunch defender of porn, I should explain that the legislation in question was about protecting kids from material or performances deemed “harmful to minors.”  That got my heavy metal radar pinging, as metal music is often criticized for its lyrical content, and any law that attempts to define “obscene” material is likely going to cast a wide enough net that might inadvertently, or quite advertantly, ban some great music.  After all, one person’s litany of horrific atrocities is another person’s copy of Slayer’s classic Reign in Blood album, and I’m not handing over my copy to the authorities.  The legislative proposals were a form of censorship, and I’m not o.k. with censorship.  As a metal fan coming of age in the era of the Parent’s Music Resource Center (PMRC), the folks who brought you the “Parental Advisory: Explicit Content” stickers on “obscene” albums and CDs, I have been a long-time advocate for freedom of speech.

The protest was held on the steps of the Washington State Capitol Building.  There were a few dozen young people there, including a 27-year-old me.  There were also reporters, one of whom put my picture on the front page of the local paper.  The foreground of the photo was a TV news camera crew interviewing Krist Novoselic, the bassist for the grunge/punk band Nirvana, who was the celebrity spokesman for the anti-censorship crowd.  I was in the background, but dead center in the photo.  I don’t look happy in the picture, but that’s just how my face looks when I’m not paying attention.  I have one of those faces that defaults to a slightly negative expression.  In fact, I was happy to be there, proud to have stood up and showed up for something that’s important to me and needed a bit of defending.  I’m pleased to report that the law didn’t pass, but I retired from public protests after that.  You may have guessed that I’m more of a written word guy than a spoken word guy, or I’d be vlogging these missives.

I’ve been thinking about that protest a lot this week, in part because I emerged from retirement to participate in the Women’s March last Saturday.  I wanted to go because, first, I’m a big fan of women, and, I don’t mean that in a crude way.  I aspire to Bernie Sanders’ status as an “honorary woman.” For example, long-time readers know that I am a member of a (previously) all-female running club and have substituted for a friend on two occasions when she was unable to participate in half-marathons.  Just doing the math, I have more close women friends than men.  My female friends and colleagues are great supporters and sources of inspiration for me.  I wanted to show my support for their rights, which I do believe are at some risk of late.  In addition, several of my female co-workers were going, so I know it would be a fun social event.  Also, my mom was going, and I knew she would appreciate her favorite son (sorry, Mike) marching alongside.  Finally, I wanted to be there for friends who couldn’t be, like my daughter watching over our puppy who is not ready for big crowds, the ones who were enjoying a visit from kids and grandkids, and the ones who can’t bear a crowd (anxiety sucks).

My wife and I arrived before the event officially got underway, and the crowd was enormous.  We found Mom and two of my co-workers standing on the outskirts of the throng of ten thousand.  Our little band of marchers was in the minority in the sense that we weren’t adorned with pink hats and did not carry signs, but we took great pleasure in seeing the creativity of those who did.  I’m certain the obscenity monitors of the PMRC would consider some of the signs to be offensive, but, as a devotee of extreme metal music, my obscenity meter is calibrated a little differently than your average human.  I thought they were hilarious.

After 30 minutes of standing, talking and taking pictures of hats and signs, we were beginning to get restless.  Specifically, my friend Sherrie was getting restless and wanted to get moving.  After all, it was the Women’s March, not the Women’s Stand Around and Take Selfies.   She took the lead and got us into the flow of the crowd headed towards Columbia Street.  I’m glad she took the lead and got us moving, as I was getting twitchy listening, over the PA system, to a small group of women singing, in a seemingly endless loop, what I presume to be a classic protest march song called, “One Foot in Front of the Other.”  I assume that’s the title, as those words comprise the majority of the lyrics.  Catchy but monotonous.  As we began walking, the clouds parted and the cool morning was kissed by sunlight, making our short journey through the streets of Olympia quite lovely.  I was happy to be among the thousands of women and men marching for rights, equality, dignity, and respect, and I was proud that I stood up, showed up, and marched for something in which I believe.

Of course, the march was, in no small measure, a protest against our new President, and there is no shortage of things about which I’m concerned with this administration.  I won’t go into a lot of details, as I’m guessing your Facebook feed is as full as mine with all of the alarming activities underway.  But, this morning, I was again reminded of my first protest.  I read that the National Park Service, Department of Agriculture, Environmental Protection Agency, and Department of Health and Human Services are under a sort of gag order, barring them from making statements or providing any documents to the public or journalists.  Excuse me, but that’s censorship, and I’m not o.k. with censorship.  Twenty-two years ago, I publicly protested against efforts to ban certain artistic expression, but I’m more concerned about banning facts and science.  I like heavy metal, but I like truth even more.  I suspect I will have to stand up, show up, and speak out a lot in the coming months.  My retirement from public protests is over; it’s time to get back to work.  I’ll try to keep this blog focused on metal, running, grilling, writing, and managing, as I always have, but I will look for other ways to make my voice, and the voices of those who speak the truth, heard.

Whether you share my political beliefs or not, I hope you will stand up and show up for the things that matter to you.  That’s very cool.  Just remember, you might get your picture in the paper, so remember to smile.

 

P.S., As I was pondering the two protests I’ve participated in, I was reminded of something I wrote in my second book Metal Fatigue:

“The PMRC published a list of song they found particularly troubling called ‘The Filthy Fifteen,’ nine of which were heavy metal songs. Notably, the other five songs were by female artists, including Madonna and Cyndi Lauper. I love that the PMRC believed the two biggest threats to our children’s psychological well-being were heavy metal and women.”  

Yup, Madonna, Cyndi Lauper, Vanity, Sheena Easton, and the Mary Jane Girls were the original “nasty women.”  I aspire to be an honorary “nasty woman.”

 

P.P.S., the fifteenth member of the Filthy Fifteen was Prince, by the way. R.I.P.

 

Cold-Smoked Sausage

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My sanity was questioned several times last week.  That may be a routine occurrence, but it is only brought directly to my attention during the coldest days of the year when, despite the low temperatures, I persist in going for a run.  I try never to let weather be an excuse for not running (which is my Rule of Running #1).  Living in the Pacific Northwest, deciding not to run outside in bad weather is roughly equivalent to deciding to stay indoors, possibly forever.  While the bad weather in these parts is generally rain-related, last week was near-freezing and required me to don my winter apparel.

On cold days, I wear, along with socks and shoes, two shirts, a windbreaker, cold-weather headband, gloves, and shorts.  The ensemble is a visual medley of grays and black, like a great battleship navigating the frosty sidewalks.  The shorts are another reason my mental health is called into question, not because of the color, but the length.  Most of my colleagues, runners and non-runners alike, cannot understand why I don’t wear long pants to run in cold weather.  It is a matter of masculine hubris.  Since I began my running life more than 20 years ago, I have long prided myself on running bare-legged, protesting the elements, and boldly declaring I am stronger than the storms around me, at least from mid-thigh to ankle. However, as I age, I find it harder to keep up the facade.  It was 25º yesterday morning when I headed out for a run with my friend Sally.  Fortunately, she had decided on a short route of just four miles.  She had tickets to see Rogue One, later that morning and needed enough time to shower.  I decided that even four miles in 25º at age 48 was cold enough to warrant long pants, so while Sally watched the entire cast of Rogue One (spoiler) give their lives for the Rebellion, I went shopping for running pants.

The pants I selected meet the basic requirement of providing a degree of insulation from the cold, but they present some challenges:

1. They are tight.  Aside from socks and underwear, I don’t like to wear clothing that makes me feel like sausage stuffed in a natural casing.  I like my clothes to fit, not encase.

2. They are called “tights.”  Tight-fitting nylon pants, even when worn by men, are called “tights” or “leggings,” which I’ve always considered feminine garments, like bras and blouses.  I’m not homophobic, but I don’t wear blouses, I wear shirts.

3. They are lurid.  As I searched the tag in hopes of finding a product description other than “leggings” or “tights,” I learned that my new pants are “lurid gray” in color.  I checked the definition of the word and learned that the first meaning is “very vivid in color, especially so as to create an unpleasantly harsh or unnatural effect.”  Since I’ve never considered gray to be unpleasantly harsh, I’m left with the second meaning: “presented in vividly shocking or sensational terms, especially giving explicit details of crimes or sexual matters.”  I suppose that relates back to the problem of the tightness of the pants.  I will wear shorts over the leggings to cover up the worst of the anatomical crimes these sausage casings commit.  At least they are gray, nicely complementing my battleship motif.

All of this will take some getting used to, as do most things associated with advancing age.  For example, yesterday I received a package in the mail that represents yet another symbol of my elderliness: new eyeglasses.  They are called “progressive” lenses, which sounds youthful, even revolutionary, but, in fact, it’s a euphemism for “bifocals.”  My arms are not long enough to hold small text far enough away to be read without corrective lenses that complement those that have compensated for my life-long near-sightedness.  In addition to steeling myself against the bitter cold of winter, in the spirit of Dylan Thomas, I am raging against the dying of the (visible) light.

While the tights should help prevent frostbite, I fear the bifocals will add a degree of difficulty to my daily run.  By design, the lower half of the lenses is for reading, not looking down at the sidewalk.  Perhaps I need to go full-on battleship-mode and download a radar-type app on my phone to scan ahead for potential hazards.  With luck, I won’t fall and suffer another classic old-age malady like breaking a hip (thinking of you, Snod. Take care).

New Year’s Irresolution

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I hereby resolve not to buy new pants in 2017.  Specifically, I resolve not to buy bigger pants.  Success in this resolution depends on certain behavior changes. For example, if I eat one more cracker adorned with a dainty square of smoked cheddar, my trousers won’t hold back the tide, and no belt will shore up the banks.  I will need to buy the next size up, if not two sizes, and that is unacceptable. I hate shopping for pants for two reasons. First, as regular readers know, I am cheap and buying something that I don’t really need, were it not for my gluttony, is anathema.  I’d rather spend that money on cheese and crackers (yes, it’s a tangled web).  Second, buying pants requires trying on pants, and that is a frustrating process. Often, they don’t fit, and when they do, they don’t look good.  It takes up a lot of time I could better spend watching TV.  Or eating crackers.  I need help.

It has become a tradition for me, when possible, to take a few days off between Christmas and New Year’s and wallow in the joys of the holidays. Those joys involve, obviously, crackers, cheese, beer, and a significant amount of summer sausage, which, despite the name, works just fine in the winter, I assure you.  I complemented my caloric intake with a marked reduction in calorie-burning.  I work out twice each day most days, so a Christmas-time period of sloth is a sort of present to myself.  It doesn’t take long to get comfortable waking up early to make a pot of coffee and camp out on the couch to watch Netflix rather than lift weights or do a cardio circuit workout, and by December 29th, I was deep into a new pattern of inertia.  When it was time to get dressed, so that I could go to the store to buy more cheese, I slipped on the pair of jeans I had been wearing for the previous five days.  I wore those jeans because they were growing with me, slowly stretching out as my snack consumption carried on unabated.

By New Year’s Eve, I had to make a decision. The jeans were in need of a washing, and that meant either putting on a clean pair or wearing sweat pants. I knew the jeans would be snug, like denim Spanx, and, therefore, the button front would create an uncomfortable tension.  The elastic waistband sweats would be much more cozy but are the only sweats I own, purchased for their low price rather than style.  They are at-home sweats.  I would not look sexy buying a wedge of edam wearing those sweats.  Rather, I would look like I’ve given up.  I could have opted to go pants less, like my friend Jen likes to do on her time off, but that makes grocery shopping even more problematic.  I hoisted the dungarees onto my increasing frame and got them fastened around my waist.  They were not as uncomfortable as I had feared, but there was no question it was time to put down the gouda and pick up the dumbbells.

Yesterday, I lifted weights for the first time in ten days, and this morning I did a cardio workout and went for a run.  Two days of exercise in a row was a shock to the system, but not nearly as big a shock as seeing the number on the scale this morning.  I had actual numerical data to confirm what my pants had been telling me for a while. If I don’t get back to regular exercise combined with an increase in the amount of flora I consume, I will be scanning the Sunday paper menswear ads and planning my assault on Kohl’s for the President’s Day sales. I don’t want to be that guy. I have perfectly good pants waiting for me.  So, as this year gets underway, I’m going to ease up on the cheese and get back to my regular running routine.  For the record, I’m not a big proponent of New Year’s Resolutions.  Real change take more than a promise at midnight.  However, I have every intention of taking a few days off next Christmas, and I have no intention of buying new pants.  I guess you could say I’m resolving to remain exactly the same.  Happy New Year.

The Year in Review: Metal Edition

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I’ve been drowning my sorrows in metal.  For the last three weeks, I’ve been listening to the entire back catalog of Motorhead’s studio albums, all 22 of them, from their eponymous debut in 1977 to their last, Bad Magic, released a year before band founder – and heavy music legend – Lemmy Kilmister died.  That was one year ago today, and his passing made for a crappy end to 2015 and ominous start to 2016. In Lemmy’s honor, and to distract myself from the rough beast slouching towards Washington (to paraphrase Yeats), I have been wallowing in Motorhead’s beautiful noise.

I worried this marathon would be grueling, filled with albums of marginal material – they made records for 40 years, for crying out loud – but it’s been a pleasure.  The early records were seminal, influencing every metal band since, but my personal favorites are the albums from the middle years with Wurzel as the second guitar player: Orgasmatron, Rock ’n’ Roll, 1916, March or Die, Bastards, and Sacrifice.  I hadn’t heard the subsequent albums until I started this listening session, but they are all solid: no frills, no surprises, just Motorhead.  It’s been a nice way to round out my own personal Year of Metal.

I set out to see at least one metal show per month in 2016, and I almost made it, too.  I missed July –although Kristin Key’s comedy set was a nice alternative – and November and December didn’t work out for me, but I still managed to bang my head and mosh at more metal shows in one year than I ever had before: twelve gigs in twelve months.  I wrote about many of the performances (I’ve embedded links to those posts, if you’re inclined to reflect with me), including:

As a lifelong metal head, it’s a joy to reflect on a year filled with so much sound and fury.  I feel fortunate to have seen so many shows, and, more importantly, to have spent time with fellow headbangers moshing it up and shouting along with every word and riff.   And 2017 promises to be another great metal year.  DevilDriver, Death Angel, Overkill, Cavalera Conspiracy, Testament, Kreator, Obituary, and more are going to be assaulting the area this Spring. So many bands, so little time, and such a small budget allotment for concert tickets. Decisions, decisions.  It’s a nice problem to have, and, if you could see me, you’d see a big smile on my face.

Now, instead of drowning sorrows, I’m going to raise a glass – filled with Lemmy’s favorite cocktail: Jack Daniel’s and Coke – and raise a toast to the metal year that was, to the year that is ahead of us, and to the memory of Lemmy, may he rest in peace with Ziggy Stardust, Snape, Princess Leia, and all the others we lost. You gotta have faith (yup, I even like George Michael).

May you all have a wonderful New Year pursuing your passions and enjoying your friends and family.  Cheers!