I’m Dying to Be Left Alone. Literally.

I may have finally learned how to beat telemarketers at their own game. Just tell ’em you’re dead.

One day last week, I got a call from a Nigerian prince telling me I’d just won the lottery, and would I like to buy some Viagra with my earnings while switching cell phone carriers? Or something along those lines. We never got very deep into the conversation, because when he asked for Mark, I got all serious and said, “I’m sorry. He passed away recently.” The caller on the other end of the line mumbled his condolences and could not get off the phone quickly enough. It’s been a week since I faked my own death, and they have not called back since.

Hmm. Could death be the secret to a stress-free life? I’ve tried every trick in the book to get telemarketers to leave me alone. None of them has worked, with the exception of my untimely demise. Turns out that dying was the best thing to ever happen to me!rip

Now I’m trying to come up with other ways to take advantage of this apparently foolproof excuse. Forgot to pay the electric bill? Sorry, utility company. I died. Missed that dinner with my annoying friend who won’t stop going on about her poodle? Didn’t mean to stand you up. I was dead. Didn’t show up to work on Monday? Sorry, boss. R.I.P. Me.

Turns out you have far fewer commitments when you’re dead. I should have kicked the bucket years ago!


Speaking of work, my team had a very interesting IM conversation today.

Kimberly was talking about how excited she was over the upcoming Wonder Woman movie. I don’t know much about WW other than the fact that she flies an invisible airplane. This became the source of an afternoon-long debate, mostly between me and Deb.

“How does she know where the throttle is?” I wondered. “Or the brake? How can she tell how much gas she has left? Or her altitude? I don’t think an invisible plane is very safe.”

Deb said, “Now, does she become invisible when she is in the plane? Or do you see her just popping around in the sky?”

I replied that WW isn’t invisible, but the plane – and, oddly enough, everything else inside it – is. Which, once you start to think about it, is mind-blowing.

Image courtesy of notey.com.
Image courtesy of notey.com.

“Won’t people be able to kill her easily?” Deb asked.

“Well, the bullets would bounce off the exterior of the plane, invisible or not,” I explained. “Just because you can’t see it doesn’t mean it’s not there.”

From there, the conversation devolved further.

D: So the invisible plane is also bullet proof?
M: One bullet won’t take down a plane. It’ll just develop a hole…which you will never see. So if a bullet pierces the fuselage and gas starts leaking out…DO YOU SEE THE GAS?? No, right? Because it’s not like you see it when the plane is fully loaded.
D: What about window washing fluid? And brake fluid? And oil?
M: What if there is an in-flight beverage service???
D: Do you need a special license to pilot an invisible plane?
M: An invisible license!
K: [trying to steer the conversation elsewhere] You guys need some cats right now. [Links to hilarious cat slideshow. This one, actually.]
M: What if Wonder Woman brought a cat aboard her invisible plane? Would the cat be invisible?
D: I DON’T KNOW. This is really messing with me right now. What’s real. What’s not.
M: This is a blog post. Thank you for the inspiration, Kimberly!

Believe it or not, it was actually a very productive afternoon. Productive in that, we learned all kinds of interesting facts about Wonder Woman’s invisible airplane. Did you know that it’s actually an allegory? Per Wikipedia,

The invisible plane represented the “invisible” feminine compliance that allowed women of the Depression Era to enter and survive in the hostile male dominated work place with less resistance from that hostility. To demonstrate this, it was allegorized that the Invisible Plane would be undetected while moving quietly at super sonic speeds so that it would not be shot down by the guns of Man’s World. The idea was avoidance of conflict rather than meeting hostility head on.

All along, I thought it was just an invisible plane.

I certainly never imagined some deeper hidden metaphor action was happening behind the scenes. But I have an even bigger question: Wonder Woman flies, right?

…so why does she need an invisible plane…?

Oh, Sheila

I was out walking on my lunch hour yesterday, phone in hand, which I was checking periodically. There is nothing unusual about this; I often look at my phone while walking, either to track my workout progress on MyFitnessPal or queue up my camera for potential photo opportunities. There were lots of people out and about, and many seemed to be smirking at me as I passed.

“Petruska,” I chided myself, “You are being paranoid.”

But the weird looks continued. And then it dawned on me why: they obviously thought I was swept up in the latest mega-craze, trying to catch Pokémon on my phone. I mean, that’s how it is these days. I can’t even go for a walk around the block without running into roaming packs of teenagers glued to their phones in pursuit of these virtual reality creatures.

Once I realized this, I got immediately defensive. I started overcompensating by laughing out loud and making random comments directed at my phone. Ha-ha, I chuckled. “Oh, Sheila!” The weird part is, I do not know anybody named Sheila (unless you count Prince’s former protege from the late 80s, Sheila E. And I can’t say I know her per se, but I have heard “The Glamorous Life” on the radio approximately three million times. That must count for something.) “Oh, Sheila” was simply the first thing that came to mind. Guess I had that old Ready for the World song lodged in my brain.

It didn’t help anyway. Now, instead of a guy chasing after Pokémon, I was a guy laughing to himself and talking out loud. I shoved my phone in my pocket and clammed up for the rest of my walk, but by that point the damage was done, the ridicule self-inflicted.

Gotta catch 'em all!
Gotta catch ’em all!

As far as crazes go, this Pokémon one came out of left field. About a week ago Audrey asked if I’d heard about it.

“Pokémon?” I asked in disbelief. “Wasn’t that popular about 15 years ago?”

It was, because Rusty used to collect and trade the cards. Seems quaint now in this mobile age. I think he had a Nintendo 64 game, too. I simply did not believe my daughter when she said that Pokémon was popular again. Now that I can’t walk around the block without running into packs of teenagers glued to their phones talking about Pikachu, I have to concede that she was right, after all.

I never would have imagined this happening.

And, okay. Confession time. I wasn’t just looking at MyFitnessPal. I was also – ahem – playing around with Snapchat.

Never would have imagined that happening, either.

But I work with a bunch of Millennials. Deb, in particular, was touting the virtues of Snapchat to me and Kimberly (who is a fellow Gen X-er). She convinced us to download the app and see if we liked it. In typical fashion I resisted for weeks.

And then got hooked.

badgalrihanna.w190.h190.2xWell, kinda. But not really. I think Snapchat is a fun diversion, but impossible to take seriously. The impermanence of it bothers me. I have a hard time getting over the fact that everything you send (or post) disappears in 24 hours. I know you have the option to download Snaps to your gallery now, but that’s an extra step and really, what’s the point? So I’ve been playing around with it, usually via videos and goofy-as-hell daily stories that chronicle my day, but I feel the novelty is already wearing off. Maybe that’s because few people my age use it? Other than my SIL Esther, who has fully embraced it. Tara joined too, but she’s even less enthused than I am. It’s tough to justify creating Snaps when you have at best two or three people viewing them before they self-destruct forever. I suppose if I had more friends using it things would be different, but we old folks just aren’t that into it.

Instagram is more my speed – I’m on there every day. (adios.ghost, if you’re so inclined to stalk me look me up). I don’t even post that much to Facebook anymore. It just seems to have lost its appeal over the past year. I like to follow my friends there, and enjoy looking back at my memories, but actual updates are rare. I can’t even really pinpoint why…I guess maybe it’s just mostly run its course for me? I seem to be experiencing a lot of “what’s the point?” feelings lately. I like the simplicity of Instagram. I’m a visual guy. I dig pretty pictures.

Especially ones that don’t disappear in 24 hours.

You’re Gonna Need a Bigger Boat

Last night I was getting a haircut, and there were banners on the salon walls promoting Shark Week. [Weirdest marketing tie-in ever, by the way. Makes about as much sense as seeing an advertisement for patio furniture in  Red Robin.] Sitting there, staring at a poster of Jaws, I wondered who the genius was that decided Shark Week should take place in June.

The first movie I ever saw in an actual theater was Jaws, back in the 1970s. Fortunately we lived in Ohio at the time, so there were no oceans within 1,000+ miles. Good thing, because for the next two years I shied away from every large body of water I came across. Which is exactly my point: watching sharks kill people sort of makes people want to avoid going swimming. It’s June. Summertime is synonymous with the beach. If it were up to me, Shark Week would air in the middle of December, when any self-respecting large body of salt water is about the same temperature as the inside of a refrigerator.

shark-week-04

The original intent of Shark Week, when it premiered in 1988, was to promote conservation efforts and help correct misconceptions about sharks. Nowadays it’s a bunch of sensationalized dramatic fiction like Lair of the Mega Shark. Even the actual documentaries are pretty lurid, though. I don’t think Blood in the Water or Wrath of a Great White Serial Killer are going to have people clamoring to take a dip anytime soon, you know?

Hence my midwinter plan. Too bad nobody ever pays attention to me.


Last Saturday, we drove up to Alder Lake, north of Mount Rainier, to meet up with Anne and Anthony for the day. On the way there, I convinced Tara we should listen to Hamilton. This was my third time through, and it just keeps getting better and better with each repeat listen. Tara liked it, but I wasn’t sure at first because she said it was “interesting,” which is often a polite way of saying you’re not really into something. It’s like when you are setting a friend up on a blind date and you tell him the girl “has a nice personality.” 9 times out of 10, that phrase means she’s ugly. Fortunately in this case my wife meant “interesting” in the literal sense, in that, she found it “engaging or exciting and holding the attention or curiosity.” She said the songs were catchy and clever, and she’d like to listen to it again and see an actual stage production someday. Whew! Anyway, the weather was perfect that day – low 70s, sunshine, fluffy white clouds, a breeze blowing off the lake. We did a little fishing (but didn’t catch anything), might have broken a few open container laws in the park, and grilled hot dogs. Oh, and at one point Anthony said he didn’t want to go in the water because he was afraid of sharks.

See?!

Gone Fishin'

Sunday was a much more laid back day. One of my coworkers was raving about the movie Prometheus and loaned me her BluRay copy a few weeks ago. I was like yeah, sure, I’ll watch it. Someday. Maybe. Well, every time Monday rolled around she’d ask me if I’d seen it yet and what I thought about it, so after briefly considering fake-watching it – surely Google would help me come up with a few coherent talking points should we engage in a lengthy conversation over the merits of the film afterwards – I figured I might as well actually just watch it. This turned out to be a surprisingly good idea, as both Tara and I ended up liking it. A lot. It’s an unofficial prequel to Alien, so if you’re into that sort of thing (coughDadcough), check it out.

I guess I should start taking people’s recommendations more seriously. I usually do end up liking whatever it is they suggest. And worst case, if I’d found Prometheus awful, I’d have simply told Kimberly it was “interesting” and nobody would be any wiser.

Talk Less. Smile More.

If you had told me a week ago that I would be walking through the forest on my lunch hour listening to show tunes, I’d have said you were nuts.

But Friday afternoon I found myself doing exactly that.

Who is this guy?! I wondered. Because I know me pretty well, and I am not the type to do this sort of thing. Or I wasn’t the type to do this sort of thing, until Hamilton came into my life.

I blame my coworkers. Deb and Kristen kept going on and on about some guy named Hamilton.

“Who’s Hamilton?” I asked.

“Hamilton’s not a who,” Deb replied. “It’s a what.”

Well, technically Hamilton is a who. Alexander, to be precise. Constitutionalist, Founding Father, guy whose face appears on the $10 bill. He was (spoiler alert!) famously killed in a duel with Aaron Burr. You probably remember him from history class (or the “Got Milk?” commercial). But the Hamilton my coworkers raved on and on about is the mega-popular Broadway musical that won 486 Tony Awards last week.

I have to admit I was skeptical. I don’t hate musicals, but I certainly don’t seek them out. When Deb urged me to listen to the soundtrack for Hamilton, my first inclination was to come up with an excuse not to. Especially when she described it as a history lesson set to hip-hop music.

“That sounds ridiculous!” I said.

And then she sent me a YouTube link to a song called “Aaron Burr, Sir” and I got it. Instantly.

The concept is nothing short of genius. The rhymes are dope, as the kids say (wait – do they still say that?), and the whole production really is one giant history lesson that happens to be entertaining as hell. I’ve learned so much. Who knew Alexander Hamilton was such a larger-than-life character?

Hamilton silhouette

In retrospect, it shouldn’t be too much of a surprise that I caught the Hamilton fever. I’m a History minor, after all. And while I’m not a huge fan of rap music, I do appreciate its lyrical complexities and the skill involved in crafting a good rhyme. It was pretty much preordained that I would fall for this musical.

And now a group of us at work has our own insider jargon. We’ll walk around quoting Hamilton lyrics and people are none the wiser. Like, I’ll go up to somebody and say, “Why do you assume you’re the smartest in the room?” and they’ll think I’m just making conversation or insulting them when, in reality, I’m making a subtle reference to “Non-Stop.” It’s pretty cool. I always wanted to learn another language.

I’m hoping that Hamilton hits the road, Jack. Or whatever your name is who happens to be reading this. I’d love to see the actual musical sometime.

What do you think? Are you a fan of musicals in general and/or Hamilton in particular? Does it live up to the hype?

And do you kind of think of Thomas Jefferson as a bit of an asshole now?

Three Seconds Away from Nuclear Oblivion

I was browsing my local thrift store last weekend and came across a Betamax player. I don’t think I’d ever actually seen one before. I picked it up, marveling over its simplicity. Not to mention its weight – I was surprised by how heavy it was! I remember the whole Beta vs. VHS war in the late 70s/early 80s. It’s weird, because by all accounts Betamax was the superior format, but its undoing was its one-hour limit per tape. Clearly, Americans were willing to sacrifice picture quality for convenience. Who wanted to bother with getting up every 60 minutes to switch tapes mid-movie?!

And we act surprised that there’s an obesity epidemic…

This also made me think of our first VCR. I remember my dad coming home carrying a box so large my first question was, “Where are we going to put the new couch?”

Paging Marty McFly!
Paging Marty McFly!

Seriously. This thing was a beast. But it looked so futuristic! With its gleaming chrome body and top-loading videocassette slot, it reminded me of Doc Brown’s DeLorean in Back to the Future. I figured we’d all be jetting around in flying cars by the end of the decade. Instead, we got the Yugo. Yugo

Our first microwave was a monster, too. It was a Quasar unit that featured groovy fake wood paneling. The design might have been circa 1978, but my folks had that microwave oven for decades. Literally. They just got rid of it a year or two ago, and used it to cook rice (it had a dedicated button for that) right up until the end. Say what you will, but the phrase they don’t make ’em like they used to certainly applied to that old Quasar.

Quasar

In today’s disposable economy, 30+ years of reliable service is quite an achievement.

I guess I’m feeling a bit nostalgic after watching CNN’s miniseries on the 80s. It’s called – drumroll, please! – The Eighties. And is every bit as fascinating as last year’s The Seventies, and the previous year’s The Sixties. The series covers everything from the Cold War and AIDS to Wall Street greed and A Flock of Seagulls. Captivating stuff. It’s a wonder any of us made it out alive, what with Dexy’s Midnight Runners topping the charts.

Also, that whole three-seconds-away-from-nuclear-oblivion thing. mushroom-cloud-624x467

And really, as distant as the 80s seem, the so-called “modern age” is still pretty new, when you think about it. It’s easy to forget that all these things we take for granted today haven’t been around all that long. Just 10 years ago, “facebook” wasn’t a thing, it was an action. Two words. A noun plus a verb. Something you did in a library when staring at the shelf, deciding what to read. I miss libraries.

I miss simpler times, in general. Even top-loading VCRs and microwave ovens that look like they were built out of wood.

What do you miss the most about the past?

Breaking Down the Fourth Wall

I’ve never been a good sick person. Then again, if you talk to most women, they’d say the same thing about the men in their lives. So really, I’m just perpetuating the stereotype.

Go, me.

In any case, a week ago I came down with a bad cold [I don’t know what the medical definition of “bad” is but I was sick and that was bad, so I’m sticking with it] and ended up staying home from work for a couple of days. My problem is, I’m too damn impatient to be sick. I don’t want to sit around coughing and sneezing when there are places to go! and things to do! and people to see!

I think this is why I fear death so much: I hate the idea of lying around doing nothing for the rest of eternity.

It was bad enough being stuck in the apartment for two days. I did have the foresight to drive to the office on Monday morning and grab my laptop, a move that enabled me to work from home for the better part of two days. I have to say, that was amazingly productive. Some employers fear their workers will be tempted by distraction at home, but for me the lack of everyday distraction – people tapping me on the shoulder to ask a question or stopping by to chat about their day – was a breath of fresh air. I like camaraderie, but I also enjoy actually getting work done. So in the end, the whole being-sick thing wasn’t a total downer.

And my timing was great. By Friday I was feeling much better. Not quite 100%, but a solid 87% or so. Just in time for the long Memorial Day weekend!

Naturally, Tara texted me Friday morning to let me know that her throat was now bugging her.

What was I just saying about timing…?

Sure enough, by that afternoon she’d come down with a similar case of the Dreaded Sickness. Which meant a change in plans for our weekend. We had been planning a visit to a state park/waterfall in Oregon and a detour through Stevenson to check out some property we found, but that’ll have to wait for another time now. Instead, I drove out to June Lake up near Mount St. Helens for some hiking while Tara stayed home and tried not to cough up a lung. Poor thing. It was cool and cloudy, only 52 degrees up by the mountain, damn near perfect hiking weather in my opinion. I had a great time. Did four miles in and around the lava beds surrounding the lake, then another mile and a half through Lava Canyon. That second hike is particularly beautiful, but always crowded with people, and Saturday was no exception. Not that you can tell from this photo, taken from the middle of a swaying suspension bridge connecting both sides of the canyon. It’s not an ideal spot if you’re the least bit leery of heights. Or of plummeting hundreds of feet to your death when a flimsy wooden slat breaks beneath your feet.

Lava Canyon, WA.
Lava Canyon, WA.

I drove home with the moonroof open and good music blasting from the speakers. Back in town it was much warmer – in the mid 70s. I stopped at Trader Joe’s to grab a few items for dinner, then made myself a couple of vodka sodas as a reward for the hike while Tara and I settled back to watch Concussion with Will Smith.

I should clarify, we didn’t watch the movie with Will Smith; Will Smith was actually starring in the movie. Though if he had been sitting there between us on the loveseat, I’d have totally talked him into rapping with me. “Parents Just Don’t Understand,” anyone? Would have been hilarious coming from a couple of guys well into their 40s.

Come to think of it, it’s probably a good thing Will Smith was not there.

Sunday Tara was understandably feeling a bit stir crazy, so even though she was still under the weather, we decided to venture out. Hit Music Millennium to check out their sidewalk sale, then McMenamin’s Kennedy School to see Deadpool with Audrey and her GF. I’d had zero interest in seeing the movie when it first came out, but ended up liking it far more than I’d thought I would. Probably because it never took itself even remotely seriously. Not only do the filmmakers spoof the whole superhero genre, but they often break down the fourth wall, too. That technique doesn’t always work, but when it does – Ferris Bueller comes to mind – it can really pay off. In this case, it worked. The film is raunchy and foul and funny as hell, and Tara is happy that Ryan Reynolds is in it, even though his face is hidden behind a mask most of the time.

Today is going to be pretty low-key. The weather is warming up [they’re telling us to prepare for 90 in a couple of days, absolutely thrilling news] so I’m planning on spending some quality time on the deck with a Kindle in my hand and a couple of Bloody Marys by my side.

In the meantime, can all you scientists get cracking on that cure for dying, please? Preferably have it done within the next 30 years or so if it’s to do me any good.

Hits 52!

Last night, we added another great classic rock concert to our ever-expanding list when we saw The Who (finally) rock Portland’s Moda Center for their Hits 50! tour. It’s actually now been 52 years, making the fact that Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend were even able to walk onstage unassisted even more impressive. I’m glad they did not die before they got old.

This concert was a long time coming. Tara bought the tickets almost two years ago – a full 13+ months before they were scheduled to perform. And then, weeks before the concert, the band rescheduled a bunch of shows when Roger Daltrey developed viral meningitis. The September date was pushed back another eight months. I was beginning to doubt we’d ever actually get to see them play.

I’m so glad we did, though. We have seen a lot of great artists over the years: Bob Seger. Tom Petty. Crosby, Stills & Nash. Bruce Springsteen (twice). And those are only the old guys. Last night’s concert was so incredible, the experience felt almost transcendental. I rank it as one of the best I have ever seen. Only Springsteen impressed me more, and that’s probably because I’m such a huge fan of his.

Before the show, I was feeling kind of ho-hum about the whole thing. I love The Who, but the enormity of who they are (who who, who who) didn’t really sink in until yesterday. These guys were at Woodstock. They played the Monterey Pop Festival. Shared a stage with Jimi Hendrix. Their music kicked off many an episode of CSI. I don’t use the term “legends” loosely, but it’s The (freakin’) Who, man. They are rock royalty. And they were in fine form last night despite their advanced ages. Daltrey still swings that microphone around and Townshend’s still got his signature windmill pose. Maybe the voices are a little more gravelly than before, the notes sometimes a little out of reach, but what do you expect for guys who are 72 and 71 years old, respectively? They played every conceivable song you could hope for (unless you were dying to hear “Happy Jack” like the fella behind us). Their setlist included all their biggest hits (“Who Are You,” “Behind Blue Eyes,” “My Generation,” “Pinball Wizard,” “Love Reign O’er Me,” “Baba O’ Riley,” “Won’t Get Fooled Again,” etc.) and lasted a full two hours. It was nothing short of epic. who-album-art

The concert was amazing. Good thing, because getting there and back was a clusterf*^k.

The last time we saw a concert at the Moda Center, back in March, we ran into one problem after another. We had planned on taking light rail to the arena, but as we were about to merge onto the freeway, a police car went roaring past and blocked the onramp due to an accident. We had to backtrack and ended up driving there, only to discover – once we arrived – that Tara had forgotten to bring the credit card she’d used to purchase the tickets, which was necessary due to some new paperless ticket scheme. It was all very stressful and we nearly missed the Springsteen show. This time, we figured, things would go much more smoothly.

Ha.

Our first inkling of trouble came ten minutes into the ride. One second we were zipping along through north Portland, enjoying the scenery (if pay-by-the-hour motels and trashy liquor stores can be considered “scenic”), the next, we were at a dead stop on the tracks. The driver’s voice came over the intercom a moment later.

“Ladies and gentlemen,” he said, “Due to a fire a few blocks away, there will be a short delay while emergency response vehicles arrive on the scene.”

The “short delay” turned into 30 minutes. We were anxious, but had given ourselves plenty of extra time just in case, so we weren’t too worried about missing the show. Eventually we got underway again and made it to the Moda Center without further delay.

After the concert, we boarded the return train. “Well,” we confidently declared, “At least going back should be a much smoother experience.”

Ha. [Yes, again.]

Not more than a minute after pulling away from the Moda Center we were cruising down the tracks when there was a sudden loud crash, the grinding sound of metal scraping on metal, and a shower of sparks flying by our window. People were gasping and shouting. Turns out we had just hit a car.

Let me repeat. The train we were riding on had just hit a car.

Unbelievable, huh? Turns out some dumb-ass cab driver (don’t worry, he wasn’t hurt) decided to make an illegal U-turn across the light rail tracks. Never mind the fact that a train was bearing down on him at the time. Oopsie. In exchange for his stupidity, we took out the front of his taxi.

Our train came to a dead stop and was turned off. The driver came over the PA system.

“Ladies and gentlemen,” he intoned. “Due to the accident, there will be a delay while emergency response vehicles arrive on the scene.”

Deja-freakin’-vu.

It was already 11 PM, and we had to be up early the next day for work. So naturally, that “short delay” stretched into half an hour, too. Eventually the train was taken out of service, and we were forced to disembark and board a shuttle bus, which finally deposited us at the park and ride lot a few minutes after midnight.

By the time we finally [FINALLY] got home, Tara and I had decided, quite simply, that – unlike Mr. Daltrey and Mr. Townshend – we have gotten too old for this shit. It’s a good thing The Who put on an incredible show, because the getting-there-and-back-again part straight up sucked. It’s going to be a long time before we decide to venture out to the Moda Center for a concert again. Led Zeppelin would need to get back together and have Pink Floyd open for them. Or vice-versa. Other than that, it ain’t happenin’.

Naked and Delusional

Have you ever seen Naked and Afraid? Think of it as Survivor minus the tribal councils and rewards challenges. Making it to 21 days without “tapping out” (or killing your partner) is your reward. Oh, and it’s got nudity. But after a few minutes that’s a total non-issue.

Oh, but those first few minutes are glorious…

"Nice to meet you, completely naked stranger."
“Nice to meet you, completely naked stranger.”

Anyway. On practically every episode one of the contestants will at some point say, “This is a lot harder than I thought it would be!”

Umm. Seriously…?!

You are plopped into the middle of the wilderness in some remote, exotic locale (or Alabama) with nary a stitch of clothing and tasked to survive for 21 days with a complete stranger while fending off insects, wild animals, raging thunderstorms, and intestinal distress. If you’re lucky, you might get to eat a lizard every fourth day. Your partner is often an incompetent, arrogant prick/prickette with a totally opposite worldview than yours. You’ll be hungry and thirsty and tired and weak and will end up looking like shit on national television. At some point you’ll probably bleed a little (or a lot). Your shelter will leak or fall apart or burn down. You’ll struggle to start a simple fire, and once you finally get one going after five days, it’ll start raining on the sixth and put it out.

And you didn’t think it was going to be difficult? Have you never watched an episode of this show before deciding to appear on it!?

Common sense, people. I have never been a mathematician but I don’t need to try to solve quadratic equations for 21 days to figure out it’s hard as hell. Duh.

Man, I don’t even like trying to figure out how to zip together two sleeping bags when we go camping. And I’m fully clothed when that happens! Well, usually. Hats off to these contestants. They’ve got more fortitude than I do. Even if they are delusional as hell.

Big deal.
Big deal.

And, what’s their reward? Aside from public humiliation in front of a national audience, I mean? There is never any mention of a cash prize. I hope they’re not doing it for one of those silly “Why did I climb the mountain? Because it was there!” bits of twisted George Mallory logic. The only positive outcome is a boost to their PSR (Primitive Survival Rating, a measurement of that contestant’s wilderness savvy). They start out with some random, predetermined number – say, 6.2 – and might emerge three weeks later with a 6.7. Whoopty-doo. Who’s that going to impress? There are only so many cocktail parties you’ll attend in your life where that story will be met with anything other than glazed eyes and whispered here she goes again bragging about her PSR! conversations behind your back. It’s not even something you can put on a resume, you know? Unless you’re applying for a job at Cabela’s.

It's there. That's nice. It'll still be there in 1000 years, too.
It’s there. That’s nice. It’ll still be there in 1000 years, too.

Not even then, actually.

This is why you couldn’t pay me enough to go through the ignominy of ever appearing on this (or any other) reality television show. The benefit-cost ratio just plain sucks. You get five minutes of titillation tops, depending on your partner, and then you’re just stuck being naked (and hungry and tired and, yes, afraid) for another 30,235 minutes if you make it to the end. Call me crazy, but that doesn’t make me want to clamor to sign up.

Tara and I are meeting up with Scott and Esther later this week for a camping trip on the Oregon coast. We’re staying in a yurt, for crying out loud. With a skylight. And we’ll have a cooler full of booze.

Look out. My PSR might go down a few notches after this trip…

Grape Juice With a Kick

Originally posted on October 21, 2014 – exactly 1.5 years ago. RIP, Prince Rogers Nelson. 

Tara and I met up with a friend to go wine tasting over the weekend. This was a new experience for us, and I gotta say, it made me feel like…

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I like wine, but I’m hardly a connoisseur. Hell, it took me several tries just to spell the word connoisseur. And I’m a professional writer! The whole experience is rather intimidating if you’re a wine novice like me. The person pouring the wine is talking about “oakiness” and “tannins” and “a nice finish” and I’m thinking ooh, what a pretty shade of purple. 

And then there’s the tasting menu. How are you supposed to pluck out “notes of grapefruit and lavender with a butterscotch finish”? All I taste is grape juice with a kick.

I think I was thrown off by the town itself. When we made plans to go wine tasting, I was picturing stops like this…

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Instead, we apparently wandered into that creepy town where the children of the corn resided.

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That would be Carlton, Oregon. I’d never even heard of the place before Saturday. Is it any wonder? Apparently those who wander into town never leave. Was this my payback for flirting with a nun, I wondered?

Creepy signs aside, at least the wine tasting in Carlton was convenient. The main street looked like this: wine shop, wine shop, cafe, wine shop, wine shop, cafe, wine shop, jam shop, wine shop, wine shop. We got buzzed without walking more than half a block. And then after leaving town, we did stop at the nicer-looking winery pictured above. There, we got into a heated debate that did not involve pinot noir vs. syrah, but rather, Prince vs. Michael Jackson.

OK, maybe we were really buzzed at that point.

But I loudly contended that Prince was a far better music artist than the vastly overrated Gloved One. Our friend Chris, on the other hand, thought I had lost my marbles.

“Billie Jean!” she declared.
“Purple Rain!” I countered.
“Thriller. Zombies.”
“‘Dearly beloved, we are gathered here today to get through this thing called life.'”
“Your guy changed his name to an unpronounceable symbol,” she said.
“Your guy dangled a baby over a ledge and bought the Elephant Man’s bones,” I responded.

We were both rallying the people tasting wine around us to our side. Chris got some random woman to agree with her, but then her husband sided with me. I think the whole thing ended in a draw, but c’mon…

…I’ll take Prince over Michael Jackson any day.

How ’bout you?

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Rediscovering London

I developed a love of reading at a pretty young age. Some of my childhood favorites included Encyclopedia Brown, The Hardy Boys, Scott Corbett’s The Lemonade Trick, Sterling North’s Rascal, Henry Higgins, and How to Eat Fried Worms. I’ve always thought reading was cool, and I credit it with fostering my love for writing, as well. The two go hand in hand.

My favorite author, hands down, was Jack London. I fell in love with his stories, particularly Call of the Wild and White Fang. Hardly a surprise there. I found his writing to be very accessible and lacking the simplicity and gimmickry of, say, a Hemingway. His tales were set in exotic locations and featured colorful characters, both human and animal. One of London’s biggest strengths in my opinion was his ability to anthropomorphize animals. He wrote so convincingly of Buck’s transformation from domestic pet in sun-drenchd California to alpha dog of the Yukon who (spoiler alert!) answers the call of the wild that I believed with every fiber of my being the thoughts attributed to the St. Bernard-Scotch Collie mix. The same holds true for White Fang, the wolf-dog hybrid born in the Klondike who, in direct contrast to Buck, travels a path to domestication. White Fang’s initial exploration of his environment when he first leaves the safety of the cave as a cub is a gripping scene full of suspense, danger, and discovery.

I would rather be a superb meteor, every atom of me in magnificent glow, than a sleepy and permanent planet.

My favorite London novel of all, however, centers around people rather than animals. The Sea Wolf reeled me in and so captivated me I read it several times over the years. It pits well-mannered, sophisticated Humphrey van Weyden against nefarious sea captain Wolf Larsen in a high-stakes game of life or death that features mutiny, survival, murder, and romance. What’s not to love, right? London

As a teenager, we often visited my aunt Nancy, who lived in Sebastopol, California in the 1980s. She happened to be a stone’s throw from Jack London State Historic Park, and we ventured out there one time to wander around the 47.5-acre property that includes the cottage where my favorite author penned some of my favorite books. It’s a beautiful place, and I swear I felt the energy of the man amongst the towering redwoods. Which makes sense: he was cremated and had his ashes buried there.

The proper function of man is to live, not to exist. I shall not waste my days in trying to prolong them. I shall use my time.

Because everything comes full circle, I have been rereading Jack London’s classic novels again. I was browsing through Amazon’s Kindle listings recently and found a whole bunch of free (or 99-cent) books that had fallen into the public domain. Among them? A collection of 22 of London’s novels and short stories. Score! Reading them again has made me rediscover everything I came to love about Jack London all those years ago. They are every bit as good as I remember them being when I was a kid.

But really, is it any wonder? Jack London was a novelist and social activist who loved nature. My kinda dude! If you’ve never read any of his works, I highly recommend them.