10 more years

Dex and Fredo are going to be my last dogs for a while. Yep. They broke me.

Oh, they're fine companions. My problem is that they're perpetual companions. I literally cannot shift my weight in my office chair without instigating a panicked, swirling, competitive scramble for affection. Mind you, I don't pet them when I'm working. This is all in their imaginations. If I get up to get a drink, or to relieve said drink 30 minutes later, I am stalked. Sometimes I'm pre-stalked, as a dog will walk right in front of me, stopping every two feet to look back and recalibrate my direction. If someone visits, they get excited like any dog does, but with a pathological flair: they bound back and forth from the visitor to me, poking me with their noses to say Hey! (poke) Yes, we're happy to see this other person (poke), but we just wanted you to know you're still foremost on our minds every fucking second of the day! (poke poke poke)

They drive me bloody insane. I'm starting to book dog-free vacations where the "dog-free" part eclipses the "vacation" part. Am I happy to be traveling next month? Mildly. But I'm counting the days to when I dump the dogs at the kennel.

Fredo was so shadowing me on a bathroom run that when I stopped and locked my knees together, I trapped him between my calves. He's an inbecile, so where other dogs would consider this play, he was just confused by what mysterious force had arrested his momentum. "Superfreak" was playing on the stereo, and I pivoted on my feet to make Fredo dance. He was miserable, so naturally I whipped out my camera and recorded the event at his face's level. I was going to share it in this post, but that ain't happening. It looked exactly like I was vigorously violating my dog.

So instead, I share this almost-published typo.

Capture.PNG

culture clash

We ended up hiring an English developer with a very Italian name, which made me nervous until I heard the posh accent pouring voluptuously out of my speakers. Score! That led to the following exchange, perhaps the quintessential Anglo-American interaction:

English developer, trying to say that SharePoint sucks without offending: "Well, it's generally considered that SharePoint, in point of fact, isn't the, er, might not be, er, the highest quality of product."

Amy: "Ya THINK?"

the ugliest american

We're in over our heads at work, and we needed to bring in outside help. Amy and I were discussing bringing in a freelance developer when she said "I almost hate to say this, but I sort of don't want to bring in a non-native English speaker. I mean, I feel bad, but I have to be able to understand them."

As the exhausted person paying by the hour for people to go What? Can you repeat that? Huh?, I am less ambivalent. "I'll be the bad guy," I growled in agreement. "We will not hire any damned foreigners!"

It was then that I realized that my Mexican housecleaner was five feet behind me. Thankfully, I have ample evidence that she doesn't understand a thing I say.

interactive left

I've had several questions about the second Pittsburgh left, so here's an interactive explanation. You need to go straight toward that YMCA building and make a left on Pawlowna.

My first time, I had zero idea what to do and made the leap of faith.

well, i'll be

I just noticed that "Funky Cold Medina" and "Wild Thing" are actually two different songs. Who knew?

just divine

During last year's downturn, most of my business's best people left for jobs elsewhere. Now work is heating up, and I'm left staring at the C- through D-lists. It ain't pretty.

Anita Phakename was a pretty good worker. Above average to good. I ended up phasing her out because she was flaking and unreliable, albeit understandably. Her husband had not only cheated. He hadn't just left her for another woman. He not only did it in Australia. He was her ride home. They had sailed there, and they'd intended to sail back. She worked as crew on some transport to get back to the States. Always a sucker for hard luck stories, I gave her a job. And she repaid me by being really good for while.

Alas, Anita's emotional roller-coaster manifested in serious boy-craziness and mood swings with a chaser of disappearing without notice for weeks at a time. I wanna help, but only to a point. I stopped giving her assignments. I don't think she noticed. A year or so later, I heard she had a kid.

Well, now I need to think about hiring back up. I got to wondering if she'd pulled out of her precipitous dive into flakedom. Perhaps motherhood sobered her up? So to social media I went, where I found out she's attending this on Sunday:

"The Tantric Mother and Sacred Parenting."

grindstone

If I haven't been posting much lately, that's only because I've spent every waking second sitting at my computer, typing. Last week, I hit a 40-hour work-week by Tuesday night.

It's been a long time since I've had to knock out these kinds of hours. I can't say I'm still a fan. It's doubly difficult because 2014 was such a leisurely pace. It was pleasant, frankly. Now hard work feels morally wrong.

So this is what it feels like to be every boss I've ever had. Huh.

advanced ethics

My boss of the last five years called me, cringing. He is not normally even a smidgen deferential to me, so I was confused. I soon realized that he was dreading hearing my whining.

"John, I just got a mail from HR. We all need to take the corporate ethics class."

The ensuing few minutes are a blur to me, indistinguishable in my memory from similar HR-inspired rages that have flared over the years. But then I calmed down and did what needed to be done.

I paid someone to take my ethics class for me.

i got yer pittsburgh left, right here

Distinguished Stank Troll CJ had warned me about Pittsburgh lefts, and sure enough, I found them extraordinarily useful.

But there was another kind of left that drove me insane. The "Oh My God, They Can't Possibly Expect Me to Understand This" left.

For instance, you need to go across this bridge. What do you do? I just about plotzed when I was sitting at this light.

left.PNG

Answer: you turn left, then right at this "no left turn" intersection.

I've jumped off cliffs that took less courage than this next left. Do you see it?

pittsburgh left 2a.JPG

Of course you don't see it. That's because it's both invisible and subterranean. Your path would be like this.

pittsburgh left 2aa.jpg

The red dots indicate where the other picture was taken.

pittsburgh left 2b.JPG

• • •

Katrina visited me in Pittsburgh, and Uber was driving us around when she did a double-take.

"Holy crap," said Katrina as we went through a five-way intersection. "We just crossed the intersection of 6th St and 6th St. That's...insane."

"That's Pittsburgh," said the Uber guy. "If you can drive it here, you can drive it anywhere."

mulling evil

My niece is getting married. I briefly considered attending the wedding. After all, she's the only relative of whom I'm not ashamed. Indeed, I'm actually proud to be related to her. Look, everyone! That girl and I are composed of essentially the same genetic material!

I haven't attended a family function in 20 years. There's a reason for that. They're wretched people. And at that wedding, I was a focus of attention, mostly of the unwanted, negative variety. I don't want to similarly detract from this bride's day. Plus, again, I hate these people. So my skipping is a win-win.

I perused her modest bridal registry. Few items are over 50 bucks, and nothing has been purchased yet. And then I had an idea. I had a wonderful, awful idea: buy the whole schmear.

Enjoy coming up with gift ideas, everyone!

Pro: fucking over my relatives
Con: three more nieces are in the chamber

What to do...

karma, schmarma

A friend once had a workday that was out-of-body horrible. I drove into Seattle that evening and delivered her a bottle of chocolate liqueur. I had no know idea if she would like it, but that was hardly the point. At least she knew someone noticed.

As is His custom, God punished me for my kindness. On my way home, an 18-wheeler hopped the median of the 520 bridge, and I was sitting on that bridge for 8 hours, well into the night. With a dog who deeply, truly had to go.

That's my most spectacular example of the "God punishing me for kindness" phenomenon, but it's hardly the last. I swear, if I hold a door open for someone on my way to a job interview, they'll step on my foot and break my toe, then get the job because they weren't wincing in pain during their interview.

Allie credits this unerring principle with her not being an atheist. "I used to think religion was just made-up crap. But the evidence that there is a God and that He's out to get you...it's kind of staggering."

• • •

A few months ago, Anna (1, 2) asked me if she could earn some extra money doing chores for me. "Sure," I said. "The only thing I'm planning on farming out is gardening."

She was up for it, we agreed to pay her $25/hour, and yesterday it finally happened. Kind of. She showed up with her Mom, who helped, in air quotes. For about 3 of the 10 hours Anna worked, Mom helped. The other 7 hours, she sat in my deck chair and ate my food and shouted criticism at her daughter.

Yet when the bill came, it was for 20 man-hours.

"Seriously?" I said. They had no idea what I was talking about.

"Yeah, two people, 10 hours, that's 20 hours."

I waited for them to volunteer that maybe this accounting wasn't entirely fair to me, but no such acknowledgement was forthcoming. I looked at my table, where among the empty cups of my yogurt I saw my plate holding the discarded bones of my ribs. I guess I'm just grateful that she didn't find the humidor.

Because the idea was to help get Anna money, I chose not to argue. But she also isn't going to be allowed to finish the job, nor is she ever getting another lick of help from me. This is how you know you're a fuckup. For a mere $175, she cheated her way out of a source of aid and revenue. Forever.

As I gave Anna her fraud money, I heard Allie in my head. "You know what you did wrong, right? You were being nice, and wham."

because it's important to have standards

My sister and her adult son were bickering.

"I cannot believe you sent me to that Wal-Mart of yours," he sniffed. Hailing from Seattle, where haughtily sneering at Wal-Mart is the default setting, I naturally assumed that's where the kid was coming from. But no.

"That is the most ghetto Wal-Mart I've ever seen. The stupidest people ever. My Wal-Mart is way better."

so close this time

"John!" a woman's voice called behind me as I walked across the parking lot.

Turning around, I saw no one I knew. This happens all the time when you have an incredibly common name, so I moved on.

"Yo John-NIE!" I turned around again and saw a young woman bounding happily up to me. I had never laid eyes on her in my life. I know this because she's a porcelain redhead with enormous, Disney-character blue eyes. My confidence in my memory is nil, but my confidence in my shallowness remains intact. I would not forget this person.

"Uh, hi....you."

I'm also super-smooth.

"Ashtyn! I worked at the ice cream place during high school."

"Oh, right! How are you?" I seriously had no idea who this girl was.

Like all women, she correctly assumed I was lying. "You used to come in and get the peanut butter chocolate chunk, like, every day?"

Now I believed she had the right person. Faintly, a memory flickered.

"Did you always have your nose in a book?"

"Yes! And you made me read Watership Down!"

This was totally me. We chatted for a bit. What a vibrant, super-sweet woman that little bookworm had become. And then she got serious on me.

"You know, you said something to me once that I think about all the time."

Fuck. Here it comes, I thought. You ruined another kid's life with crap advice. You really do need to learn not to talk to people. Like, ever.

But no. I'd implored her to go to college, to ensure that she was never dependent on someone else, lest she get stuck in her hick little peninsula town. That's commonplace on my peninsula: uneducated women trap themselves into dependence on crap men. (Unlike in Seattle, where highly educated women trap themselves into crap men's dependence on them.) But not Ashtyn. She got her degree from the college where I once taught. She got a job and moved to the city. She just wanted me to know, I suppose. Delighted, I asked what she does for a living.

Modeling.

moral support

The 70 year old woman's voice filled with disgust. "Stop being such a fucking pussy, John."

• • •

Monica took me under her wing when I was an undergraduate. She was the professor whom grad students avoided. They routinely failed her classes. If you've never been in grad school, trust that you get As just for showing up. She thought that was pure coddlesome insanity. A former Army officer, she was and remains the only woman I've ever known to have fired shots in Vietnam. A hard drinker, a hard smoker, a hard person. She insisted that we address her by her Army rank, not "Doctor."

"Cap'n," I would nod as we passed in the hall.

When we met, I was just struggling to survive school. She saw who I would be before I did, and she took me aside and told me exactly what I was good at. That doesn't happen often in life. It is overstatement to say "I owe her everything," but it's understatement to say that I wouldn't be who I am now without her intervention then. At a time of my life when I needed a nudge, she stuffed me into a cannon, aimed me in the right direction, and lit the fuse with her omnipresent cigarette.

She is my first and favorite mentor.

Craving unconditional approval, I called her this week. "What's wrong?" she barked. I instantly dropped all pretense of calling just to say hi. I whined about my feelings of failure regarding mentoring Darcy. I had wanted to do for someone what others had done for me, and I fell so short that I felt guilty. I hadn't failed just Darcy and myself but everyone who had ever helped me. I couldn't stop thinking about my debt to them. I wanted forgiveness from my own mentor. I wanted absolution. Monica listened for a while and lent some sage advice. And then she called me a fucking pussy.

I lowered the phone and stared at it. Is this why I am the way I am? I wondered.

We chatted some more, and I felt a little better, I guess, in as much as my mentor calling me a pussy can make me feel better. And then she wrapped things up with a bow.

"You know, John, you just might not be any good at this."

older woman

I recently made a date with a woman 7 years my senior. As I am decrepit, this makes her clinically dead. Pony up the credit, critics. I'm looking at you, Katrina.

We ran into one another sometime between when the date was made and when the date was to occur. That's when I noticed her fancy ankle bracelet. The kind handed out by the courts. It turns out she'd recently been arrested for her fourth DUI. Under house arrest, she was "at work" in the bar in which we were drinking.

"Yeah. So. I'm out," I said, or a cowardly euphemism to that effect. I think I went with "visiting friends in Spokane."

But I still want credit.

alcohol helped

My weekend was one deep, long funk. I was already down about the kid, and then Darcy finished me off. Rather, the completely subjugated champion of mediocrity formerly known as Darcy did. After eight years of my expert mentoring, she is a substantially lesser person than she was before she met me. It is impossible for me to imagine this once-brightest-of-all-lights having a future of any consequence whatsoever.

I plunged into a sadness from which I couldn't extricate myself.

Note that I didn't say "depression." I've been depressed. It's different. It's there whether or not you actually have things to make you feel bad. Depression is bad brain chemistry, a medical condition. Nope, I was sad. I had specific things to feel sad about. It was rational.

And I tried to extricate myself rationally. I tried to concentrate on everything that's good. It's a beautiful day. You're done with your chores. You're sitting on your deck, smoking a fine cigar, looking at the snow-capped Cascade mountains tower over Puget Sound. You like your house. You have zero debt. Your job is fine. Health's fine. Money's fine. Dogs are fine. You have plenty of reasons to be hap—

And then it struck me.

Everything in my "pro" column is under my complete control. Everything in my "con" column was something that someone else had controlled and wrecked.

Hell truly is other people.

responsibility

I'm still stewing about the plight of the kid in yesterday's post. Her situation seems hopeless, thanks to parents who exhibit, nay, proudly flaunt several mental disorders.

I adore this kid and feel achingly sad for her. At 14, she's been hospitalized for a complete nervous breakdown brought on by the chaos all around her. She has no adults upon whom she can rely for anything but vitriol and more chaos. I feel like I should do something. That's impulse #1.

Impulse #2 is protecting myself. To involve myself in this probably hopeless cause is to invite that vitriol and chaos into my carefully calm, hermetically sealed life. I'm sure that sounds selfish. I'm sure it is selfish.

So the question weighing me down here is: is it one's moral responsibility to incur third-degree burns while pulling someone else out of a burning wreck? Especially when that wreck will just follow her around and consume her again and again, forever? Okay, so it's not a perfect metaphor.

Man, I miss Pittsburgh.

To varying degrees, three friends have come to me this week with parenting problems. Because, you know, if your car breaks down, the Amish are the first phone call you place.

One problem is kind of charming, one is concerning, and one seriously freaks me out. The last parent, naturally, is the one who wants to involve me. That the child in question needs a sane adult in her life is beyond question, but again...me?

"I'd like to bring her up to your place so she can talk to you if she wants."

"So do you just not know anyone else?" I asked.

the magic fleece

Years ago, a buddy who works at Google gave me a Google-branded fleece jacket. As garments go, it's cheap. Holes developed in both pockets pretty much immediately, and any use results in my maneuvering keys and change around its interior, homing in on the pockets, like seals to a breathing hole.

Capture.PNGI'd worn it in Seattle for years, and no one cared. No one here is impressed by someone who presumably works at Google. You can't swing a dead cat without its corpse donning a free jacket branded by Google, Microsoft or Amazon.

Then I wore it in Pittsburgh.

"Do you work at Google?!" said the hot 28 year old, panting.

"Do you work at Google?!" said the hot 28 year old, panting.

"Do you work at Google?!" said the hot 28 year old, panting.

"Do you work at Google?!" said the hot 28 year old, panting.

One nice thing about the consistency of the behavior: I got to copy and paste.

It didn't take me long to learn to abuse the magic fleece. I started texting my Google buddy. "Holy shit, thank you. Seriously. Thank. You."

"Really?" was his incredulous response to my reports. Deep down, I know he was looking at flights. On DuckDuckGo.

I spent yesterday in Bremerton, WA. Although most of you would probably consider it Seattle, it is not. It's a blue-collar navy town, and, well, as I went out the door, my hand went from my favorite fleece to the magic one. Just in case.

"Do you work at Google?!" said the hot 28 year old at the auto dealership.

"YES. YES, I MOST CERTAINLY DO," I said, feigning sheepishness by digging my toe into the ground coquettishly.

And so we talked for a good 40 minutes. Around minute 39, she mentioned her husband. I looked at her left hand again. Nope, still no ring.

Angry about her deception, I excused myself. Some people have no fuckin' integrity.

bad! bad dog owner!

I bought a super-loud siren for my home alarm system. And loud it is. It physically affected me, making my eyeballs vibrate and my inner ear all kerphlooey. My dog Fredo, the pussiest puss who ever pussed, ran full-speed into the back of my couch. No, he wasn't looking over his shoulder. He looked that couch all the way into his face. His body crumpled from the force of the impact, and then he slid face-first to the floor.

I laughed hysterically, causing him to glare at me. His sister, however, was all smiles and wags. She gets it. It was like that time my brother fell down a flight of stairs. Some shit's just sublime.

the lingering smell of stupid crap

I was still basking in watching Ohio State beat Michigan when my sister said an odd thing.

"I always feel like I should apologize to you for your childhood, John," she said soberly.

The topic had been football, so I was taken aback. I would have vastly preferred talking about the future national champions to revisiting my childhood, frankly. But she was clearly feeling something. Not sure what to make of it, I let her.

To be sure, my childhood was lousy. It was brief. When my mom was diagnosed with cancer, I was 14. My dad and older siblings had already made themselves scarce, but they somehow found it within themselves to make themselves scarcer. Scarcest of all was the eldest sister, 11 years my senior, who didn't speak to Mom from the moment she was first legally allowed that opportunity. Since I lived with Mom, that meant my sister and I didn't have much of a relationship. Indeed, I have very few childhood memories of her. Perhaps that's why we get along in adulthood.

Driving home from the game, I watched her grapple with guilt. She asked only a couple of questions about what that time was like. I talked about Mom's protracted physical, emotional and financial miseries. I also talked about my paying the bills at 14, suing contractors at 15, wiping mom's butt at 16. That last part pretty much finished my sister off. I stopped talking. We stared ahead in silence for a while.

"It's amazing how important stupid crap seems when you're 25," she said angrily.

Three months later, I still don't know exactly what was on her mind or, more importantly, why now, all these decades hence. I'm grateful it's not on mine.

sometimes, it's just one of those days

The crappier my week gets, the more this climbs my list of favorite photos ever.

XzeOzmv.jpg

millenninfantile

The list of top baby names came out last week. And what's more popular than the names Lily and Anna and Emily?

Katniss.

I would ridicule millennials for this, but I don't want to be accused of bullying their triggers.

acclimatization

I'm still in Pittsburgh mode—or more accurately, socially healthy mode—which means that I smile at strangers and attempt to make conversation. Just as when I arrived in Seattle 20 years ago, things quickly get awkward. It's hard to describe the discomfort such efforts cause here. The locals clearly regard social grace as some adjective, but which? Rude? Invasive? Creepy? Mentally ill? I'm not sure. But my attempts to engage another human being are comically unwelcome, and said human being invariably evokes the cat in the Pepe LePew cartoons. So desperate to flee, they can think of nothing else. 1331421440_1.jpg There's a perverse satisfaction in torturing the deserving just by acting like a normal person.

hillary clinton: public health menace

Capture.PNG

Let's handicap the GOP response.

10:1 "The data showing that vaccines prevent diseases isn't clear."

7:2 "Greedy doctors are just trying to scare up vaccine money."

3:2 "If God had wanted babies to live, He wouldn't have invented whooping cough."

There are a lot of things I'd like to say to Seahawks instafans today. But no treatise about brand-new jersies, about fans celebrating themselves instead of the team, or about their team's appalling lack of class in both victory and, now, defeat really sums up my feelings quite like this simple statistic:

The Super Bowl had higher TV ratings in Pittsburgh than in Seattle.

trophy shot

A scant 2610 miles and 77 hours after I left Pittsburgh, I pulled into Metamuville. Not much of note happened during the trip, which I suppose is a very good thing. Unannounced, I stopped in Minneapolis for an hour to have a cigar with Dirt Glazowski. From his perspective, he was watching TV inside with his buddy when he saw a dog taking a crap in his lawn.

"There's a motherfuckin' dog taking a crap in my lawn!" he snarled to his friend. "And some asshole is takin' a picture of it!" He was putting on shoes to pummel the photographer when he recognized Dex. "Oh. Of course."

the gentlemen

I'm preparing for my drive back to Seattle, so this is perhaps my last moment to mention something I saw during my drive here. Somewhere in rural Wisconsin is a "gentlemen's club" named Cruisin' Chubbys.

Points for honesty, I suppose. About a mile from my Pittsburgh pad is Cheerleaders Gentlemen's Club. I reckon there's only two things wrong with that name.

butt

As I entered the humidor, I held the door open for two clergymen. They were at the cigar bar for a bible study group that sometimes meets in the back. We chatted about smokes for a bit, and then we heard a roar of laughter from outside. I exited.

"What happened?" I said as the chortle continued to work its way around the room. I had missed the following exchange:

Risa: "Two priests and John walk into a humidor..."

Liz: "...and three atheists walk out."

gay bash

I entered the downscale cigar bar and was greeted by the usual gang, plus one.

"This is Dina," someone said. I introduced myself to Dina, seated next to me and visiting Pittsburgh for the day. In her mid-30s, pretty, and teaching her way through a doctoral program, she was also quite clearly gay. Clear to me, anyway. I might not have the most finely honed gaydar in Seattle, but I have to guess I'm close to taking that honor in Pittsburgh. We chatted about teaching, and she challenged me to a game of Jenga. Seeing this, Earl muscled his way into the game.

The three of us played, and I got a front-row seat to Earl obtusely hitting on a lesbian. Not content to merely flirt, he made one impossibly crude come-on after another. Slits and fisting both worked their way into the conversation, each followed by Earl's cackling laughter. "Just the tip!" he said as she pulled out a Jenga tile. "I bet that's not the first time you've heard that, HAR HAR HAR."

"It's a good thing you added the hars," I said. "Otherwise we wouldn't have known to laugh."

And on it went, him getting more and more brazen, her shooting me one helpless look after another. I wanted to apologize for my gender, but then again, screw that. I'm not owning Earl's stupidity. When she left, he demanded a hug. As he planted his mouth on hers in a surprise goodbye kiss, she looked at me, wide-eyed and horrified.

E-fucking-gad.

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