Highballs and the Low-lights of Internet Dating

Unquestionably the most fun we’ve had with a podcast thus far. Perhaps not coincidentally, it’s also the drunkest Greg has been. Unfortunately, both the fun and Greg’s boisterous inebriation highlight the fact that we need to purchase decent microphones and processing/editing software. 2015 is just around the corner and with it the prospects of a few spare shekels and a couple of sexy mics!

The highballs (…our version for this podcast included: 1 part Gentleman Jack Tennessee Whiskey, 2 parts Fever Tree ginger beer, fresh-squeezed lemon, liberal ice…) were flowing perpetually, like the coffee flowed the morning after, and Greg’s laugh traveled the entire spectrum from giggle through guffaw and eventually hyperventilating cackles. (Again, we apologize for the audio…particularly Greg and his maniacal laughter. Jen has it down pat.)

On this episode of the d2d podcast, we discuss a story from the News of the Weird titled, “Dying to Get a Date,” which prompted Greg to scan the internet further and find, “20 Ridiculously Specific Dating Sites that Actually Exist.” From clowns to mullet enthusiasts, adult baby fetishists to the Amish…there is no reason why anyone can’t find someone to love.

Industry, Rye, Bryson Book

Templeton Rye (neat) and “Tasting Whiskey” by Lew Bryson at Industry Public House (Lawrenceville)

Fo’ Shizzle, My Bovine Pizzle

I spent most of my life skittish and panicky around dogs. I was attacked by my Siberian Husky as a child and remained hesitant around dogs, and cats (…and any non-caged living thing, for that matter…) until I slowly but successfully applied my interpretation of cognitive behavioral therapy, became more confident, and ultimately owned a dog. Kate is an English Springer Spaniel. The scientific term for this breed is, I believe, crackus headus. Kate is now three-and-a-little-bit and I believe she just might displace her hip wagging her tail unless she chases a reflection off of a cliff or snaps her fucking spine in a carpet-to-hardwood-floor-to-wall accident.

I love her.

I also love Cesar Milan. I, like many Americans, had my love affair with the Dog Whisperer…before he
became famous, self-important, and generally bougie (http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=bougie). I read the books, watched the show, and attempted to overcome my personality for the sake of my dog’s well-being. “Calm and Assertive” was the mantra. Calm and assertive. How the fuck am I supposed to remain calm…AND assertive when the dog has a fist-sized pile of other-dog shit in her mouth? Or when she’s choking on a half-pound piece of pork fat she’s dug out of the trash? Or when a piece of shit pops out of her ass (…not falls out, literally pops out like a ping-pong ball out of an air-pressured tube gun…) as she chases a laser light in the dining room?! For a person like me, calm and assertive is generally no more possible than humble and unassuming is for Oprah Winfrey. Not happening. My default is, “WHAT THE FUCK!!!!!” More ‘uncontrollably aggressive’ than ‘calm and assertive.’ Nonetheless, I knew that I needed to work on myself, on my general mood and interaction style, on my tendency to catastrophize and make emergencies out of insignificant bullshit (dog shit?!)…if this animal had any chance.

And then came Cesar.

Handsome. Stylish. Calm (…and assertive). A man who grew up in poverty, found a connection and gift with dogs…and made his dreams come true while doing what he loved. And that accent. The subtle lisp. The milder-by-the-year Mexican lilt that caused me to both laugh and listen…brought me joy and understanding. I was entirely on-board with Cesar’s Way.

And we brought Kate to obedience school. But really we brought our damn selves to obedience school. That was the real lesson. The dog was a dog, doing dog things, making dog decisions, behaving in breed-specific ways. Really, we were learning about ourselves, our impact, and how our behaviors directly impacted Kate. It was enlightening and, for me, empowering. The class included Kate; a massive, loping, long-legged Great Dane with enough excess saliva to lubricate an entire porn cast; a young, gorgeous, steely and muscular Pit Bull; and some small breed. (Admittedly, I’m not a fan of the small breed. They’re all just little fucking yappers with a Napoleon complex as far as I’m concerned. Notably, they rarely do well around me…and I know that’s because of how I feel about them. But fuck them anyway.) And I ended up becoming confident around Kate, and around all dogs. I was able to enjoy her, and them. And finally, I had found peace with animals. (But not with German Shepherds. They are smart. Very smart. And they can smell my hesitation like the stench of skunk spray to a human nose. Really. I had a horrible experience with a childhood friend’s German Shepherd, King. What a shithead. He’d nip me every chance he’d get. If he knew he could get away with it, King would just mosey on up to me, check the surroundings to make sure nobody was looking, then take a little bit of skin. I think the bastard chuckled when he did it. I still don’t trust them. And they know it.)

But I digress…

One of the things Cesar recommended, particularly to occupy young, energetic puppies, were “bully sticks.” Sounds innocuous, right? What the hell do they mean by “bully,” you might ask? Isn’t that a bit strong? Perhaps, “control sticks,” or even a Moe Howard alluded, “Why-I-oughtta!!…sticks.” In any case, we moved forward and purchased a few. And they were expensive. Somewhere in the vicinity of $10 or more per stick, and sometimes they were fairly small. I found a company that sold the damn things wholesale, and had super long and incredibly thick bully sticks. (For those of you who know where this is going, that line should make you laugh. Or cringe.) And if I purchased 10 at a time I’d get them for like 6 bucks a piece. (I know…that’s still $60, before tax and shipping.) But these things worked. And they emitted a gag-inducing odor. They smelled like…

Let me save that punch-line for a moment. At some point, I looked at the label. The ingredients? 100% bovine pizzle.

Go ahead…Google that. I’ve got time…

…got it?…

“Bovine,” I thought, “That means cow.” (Oh, maybe that’s where the “bully” comes from. Cute. Not, “I’m going to kick your ass and take your lunch money” bully, but more like, “This is a super cute name for male cow,” bully.) And why would they need a super-cute name? Like a Fig Newton. Well…it’s the pizzle. “What’s a pizzle?” you ask. Fig is fruit, and bovine is cow…but a newton and a pizzle are enormously disparate beasts.

Ready?

It’s a penis.

That’s right. Bully stick. Bovine pizzle. Cow dick. Let that bounce around your skull for a moment.

Kate had been ravenously obsessed with cow dicks…like a crack head (…crackus headus…), or would that be dick head (?!), attempting to score a little more. I mean…obsessed. (And remember…gag-inducing smell. Think…well shit, I don’t need an analogy here, think rotting phallus, and just thank God or whatever it is you thank that you don’t need to SMELL…rotting phallus.)

Just who in the hell came up with this in the first place? I don’t mean the marketing campaign. I get that. You can’t just bag-up a bunch of desiccated cow dicks and call them that. “Bovine pizzle” is absolutely necessary. Enhanced interrogation. Rectal exam. Bovine Pizzle. (Sometimes you just can’t call a thing what it is.) What I mean is…who figured out that dogs would eat these things? That dopes like me would shell out 6-10 dollars per penis? (And by the way…what kind of cows are producing the 3-inch thick, 18 inch long pizzles?! Think about that. These things are sun-dried. Or put in kilns. Imagine the smell of that oven! What in the hell did they look like ON the cow?! Yikes.) I imagine Brazilian farmers (…and no, I’m not just making this up. The bags of dicks I got were often from Brazil…) slaughtering cows, getting all of the traditionally usable pieces ready for shipment and sale, and there in the corner of the factory is a huge vat of giant, bloody…well, you get the picture. For years they’d been tossing them out. Why? Because they’re cow dicks. Then one day Fido got onto the factory floor, stopped, engaged his nose, and bee-lined it straight for the dick pile. This happened several times, I think, before some clever factory hand, let’s call him Luiz, went to the manager. “Senhor Silva,” he started, “You know. The dogs, they love the cow penises. I think we might be able to do something with them.” (Pause.) Silva incredulously retorts, “You mean, sell them?!” “Well…yeah.” Perhaps Silva booted him out of the office initially. Perhaps he laughed. Went home to his wife later that night, “You’ll never guess what Luiz suggested.” But eventually he realized. Eventually he understood. Eventually he too saw dollar…uh, real (“reh-al,” not “real”) signs flashing before his eyes…uh, olhos. “How in the hell can we market them?! We can’t call them ‘cow dicks’ on the open market.” Off to the dictionary they went. And thus, the bovine pizzle was born.

And…I give thanks to Luiz, Senhor Silva, fido, thick-dicked Brazian bulls, and of course, Cesar Milan. For without the bully stick, Kate would surely have killed herself, or been killed by me, or been dropped at the door of a no-kill shelter with Sarah MacLauchlan playing in the background. En los brazos de un angel.

-G

Kate and Humble Rag

(Kate with Humble Barber Company Work Rag)

Supporting Our Veterans

November and December bring multiple holidays and celebrations, one or several of which find participation by nearly every U.S. citizen. It’s a time for reflection, for thankfulness, for kindness and generosity, for family and friends. For many, it’s a time that brings anxiety, frustration, and myriad reminders of misfortune, mistreatment, and challenges. This is particularly true for our veterans. The National Coalition for Homeless Veterans, with data from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, estimates that approximately 50,000 veterans are homeless on any given night. (Let that roll around in your head.) I took a look at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s information regarding uninsured veterans and family members and found the following: In 2010, an estimated 1.3 million veterans and nearly 950,000 members of their families were uninsured. (It’s unclear where those numbers stand today, even with recent medicaid expansions of the Affordable Healthcare Act, but it doesn’t seem to be appreciably better, and may indeed be worse.) All sources I can find indicated that somewhere in the vicinity of 20 – 30 veterans commit suicide daily.

On this episode of the D2D podcast, we discuss charity, service, and several organizations that are doing wonderful things in a larger system and society that seems to be failing our veterans in every way. Jennifer found a fantastic organization, https://handup.us/howitworks. In their own words, “HandUp is a direct giving system for homeless people and neighbors in need. It allows you to donate directly to a HandUp member via their web profile. 100% of your donation goes directly to a member’s HandUp account. Members then work with their case manager at our partner organizations to pay for basic needs like housing, medical care and technology.” She hooked in to a young man, Aaron (https://handup.us/members/wisdomseeker), who wants to heal his PTSD and maintain a healthy lifestyle after having served honorably for 8 years.

Jen and I also volunteer with Team RWB (http://www.teamrwb.org). RWB’s mission is, quite simply and beautifully, to enrich the lives of America’s veterans by connecting them to their community through physical and social activity. Building community. Re-integrating veterans into their communities and connecting communities with the heroes among us.

I realize this all seems quite serious…and it is. I so often get lost in the big picture, the fact that we have simply failed our veterans. We. Republican. Democrat. Christian. Jew. At the federal level. State by state. In the mainstream media. In every community. Jen often has to drag me out of my frustrated birds-eye view where I stare at a seemingly dying, disconnected forest…and show me beautiful trees and ecosystems that are stunning and awesome.

And in these moments, I see that it’s about finding joy, building community, and serving our families, friends, communities, and for me, any human within my reach…with open, mindful, grateful hearts. And humor. Laughter really is the best medicine (and edible cannabis, that’s pretty awesome medicine as well)…it’s power amplified exponentially when it happens among people we love and appreciate and who love and appreciate us. Enjoy…and may all your Christmas’s be white. (Or wet and warm, if you happen to live in Western Pennsylvania.)

RWB

Wigger for Life

I lost my shit. Again. But…directed at a person this time and not a drying rack, or a non-compliant zipper. And really, it wasn’t about that person…though I feel no remorse or desire to apologize. (Ultimately, if I’d written anything close to the smoldering emotions coursing through my bloodstream I would have certainly needed to apologize to everyone with access to my Facebook feed. But I restrained. Nonetheless, my body becomes absolutely wrecked after such experiences. It is a pure, rageful, sympathetic nervous system event that leaves me weak-kneed, tired, and emotionally deflated. But I have a few days separation and am now able to relatively dispassionately process.)

I’ve reportedly been a passionate warrior for perceived injustice and inequity my entire life. The first movie that elicited tears was the original, “King Kong.” It was around Christmas back in 1979. I was 5. I cried when the ape fell from the Empire State Building and died. I remember this. Can actually recreate the emotions. (Also, I had a speech disorder, so perhaps the whole thing would be quite hilarious and endearing to see and hear. “But why did yey till him?! Him didn’t do anyfin. Him dust yiked dat dowel. Him joved her. Yey didn’t have to till him. I’m wee-we sad. Him wad nice.”) Well…it started then, King Kong in the role of the enslaved, oppressed, and disenfranchised…and it culminated recently in my losing my shit in a Facebook thread. I shut the guy up, but I did it in a harsh, profanity-laden, supremely-unkind fashion. See…I recently accepted a lot of Facebook friend requests which I’d previously ignored. My goal, before last month, was to have a small community which I could trust and with whom I could be my ENTIRE self. Curses, anger, judgmental rants, douche baggery, sadness, whatever…just the whole ball of me. Then, my wife and I began the process of creating a life more in line with our goals to be happy, to be healthy, to have money but also to have time…time to be creative, to hang, to enjoy each other and friends, to travel, to just…be. I’m self employed and find myself well on the way to that goal personally. My life is mine. My schedule. Mine. I can call off, sleep in, and calmly respond to Comcast’s assertion that, “We’ll arrive between the hours of 8 a.m. and 1 p.m.” with an, “Alright. I guess.” (The negative side of that is obvious. If I don’t work, there’s no income, and then I become very angry when I need to wait for Comcast to arrive at 12:59:59.) But…I’ve also wanted to write, to podcast, to find or create a community and forum in which I could share my thoughts and experiences in a humorous, sarcastic, but heartfelt and optimistic manner. A sort of humorous real-time memoir. Thus “driven to drink” was born. I knew I wanted an audience…needed one actually. And in opening myself to an audience, I would be opening myself not only to the laughter and dialogue I crave, but also the disagreement, criticism, and detached honesty that scares the shit out of me. So…I decided to take a baby step and accept all of those Facebook requests…from old friends, high school and college acquaintances, friends of friends, and so on…to crack that door open and let people in. People who don’t care deeply about me and my emotional fragility. People who won’t simply utter those cursed, vile, evil words which burn like an iron on the linen setting into the soft flesh between my thumb and index finger, spiking my bullshit meter, “That was nice.” People who don’t actually know me, my history, my ethical foundation, my spirituality, all of the abrasive, raw and honest pieces of my personality.

And…I failed immediately, in a forum and with a person I could have absolutely predicted and avoided. But…what good would avoiding or regretting do?! I got exactly what I needed…an immediate test. That test ended with, “J, it’s fucking over. Get off your little fucking soapbox. I know what you’re saying. Go preach to your fucking choir.” J’s response, “Wow.” That’s it. This somehow pissed me off further. I had allowed myself to get to the point of popping-off, with J goading along the way (…and I remember J from high school being EXACTLY the same way. Really. No different. It was, in many ways, like I was right back at Shaler Area High School…), and then he took the high road, the upper hand, the place of restraint and decorum with a simple, dramatic, aghast, “Wow.”

I decided to post a Facebook meme that stated, “FOX NEWS WILL NOW DESCRIBE THE LACK OF RACISM IN AMERICA.” Of course, this bracketed a mosaic of what might be called, “The Aryan Wet Dream Brady Bunch Hollywood Squares.” Blonde. Blue eyes. Porcelain white skin. I see the trouble now, and I knew it after I’d posted. I thought about deleting immediately…but I didn’t. I didn’t because my emotions had recently been quite fragile regarding race, socio-economics, and government and I wanted to release just a little resentful ire. But looking at the thread, I see the problem began with the biased meme. Additionally, starting a “dialogue” this way doesn’t help (at all) when what I’m truly dealing with is the depth of sorrow and rage I experienced after several recent cases involving grand juries deciding not to indict officers who killed black men. And boys. (And, interestingly enough…a young man with Down syndrome.) Piled on top of the George Zimmerman incident and multiple other stories involving Black people being harassed or judged or generally shat upon by authority figures. The myriad details of each case don’t actually matter to me. But the Eric Garner decision cracked open the shell of subconscious denial and “just pretend everything is okay…just click your heels three times and say…there’s no place like a United Colors of Benetton ad, there’s no place like a contemporary Disney situation comedy” that I’d constructed around my psyche. Once the shell cracked, all of the festering emotion came pouring out.

===================================

I was into hip hop in a family and neighborhood in which anything Black was bad, wrong, and untouchable. “Nigger” was a term that exited the lips of people surrounding me often. People helping to raise me.

I read books (John Lewis, Nelson Mandela, Mumia Abu-Jamal, “To Kill a Mockingbird,” Malcolm X, “Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee,” “Pedagogy of the Oppressed”) which drove me further toward first-person accounts of the white-washed “facts” of U.S. history I’d been taught. I began reading these books in high school, but really dove into the library of ‘history from the perspective of the under-classes” in my early 20s. Perhaps I couldn’t wrap my brain around it quite. Perhaps I can’t now…but nonetheless these accounts had an immediate and lasting impact.

I was in South Africa, as part of a Semester at Sea voyage, just 6 years after Mandela’s release from prison and two years into his presidency. I sang the newly minted South African national anthem (“Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrika,” here’s a link to a lovely version by the Khayelitsha United Mambazo Choir: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W83_2Up–7U) in front of thousands of Black University of Cape Town students. I had contemplated boycotting the Cape Town port of call with a group of Black students on the ship with whom I’d connected because of continued post-apartheid policies and challenges in the country. I meditated and contemplated during the days preceding our arrival. I sat at the back deck staring in the ship’s wake, moonlight extending from the onyx black water at my feet to the horizon which stretched 360 degrees…and ultimately decided that it was best for me to see the country, to visit the townships, to sing this living, breathing anthem of freedom, reconciliation, and reparation.

My father married a Black woman who lived in a housing project in Alequippa, Pennsylvania, with 99.999% Black folks. The .0001% who were not Black were white. Actually, the .0001% who were not Black was my Father. And on certain weekends, me. My memories of my step-brothers and sisters and my step-mother, Angie, are phenomenally positive…particularly in stark contrast to my biogical Father who was immature and self-involved at best. Certainly not fit to be a Father. White as he may have been.

I’ve lived in Kenya, as a Peace Corps Volunteer at a school for the Deaf; and in Atlanta among mostly poor Black and Mexican communities; and in several non-gentrified Pittsburgh neighborhoods.

I came to adore Black culture…the food, the music, the passion and emotion, the looseness, the spirit, the ability to fully feel and fully love. Hell, I love gospel and the Black church and I’m a self-described agnostic. And, I immersed myself in the history of slavery, Jim Crow, the civil rights struggle through the 60s, etc. I came to a point of deeply personal “white shame,” of actual self-hatred, that is unavoidable when one has the unique combination of my experiences, my love of Blackness, and my unending dissatisfaction until having learned all that one can about the Black experience and the experiences of other historically oppressed people. If King Kong drove me to angry, confused, sobbing tears at 5; imagine what Emmett Till did to me.

I didn’t fit in. Not in high school. Not one fucking bit. A poor white kid who was hip to the history of systemic socio-economic and racial inequities. I was a Wigger in the quintessential sense. But I was not, and still am not, nor will I ever be Black. So, I just didn’t fit. Didn’t feel like I did at least, and so I went about finding my community…people who were fun and cool and hip and, most importantly, safe. People who wouldn’t surprise me three weeks in with a, “Well…you know THAT neighborhood is going downhill,” or an eye roll as Tribe Called Quest poured out of my chunky headphones, or some other veiled, or even entirely unveiled (e.g. my formerly beloved uncle stating, “Why does he have to go work with niggers in Africa when he can work with niggers here?!”), statement of racism.

I found them. My tribe called quest. And notably they are all still in my life today.

J is not one of them. Never has been. But I can’t just surround myself with MY choir, right? Where does that get me? (It would allow me to be calm, for fuck’s sake. But the crusader in my genes wouldn’t go for that. [No whoa…Ayyy…No can do.]) Who ARE my people? What the fuck IS the consistency of my community? It must transcend color, ethnicity, socio-economic status, neighborhood, city, country, fraternity, church affiliation, brand of Abrahamic religion, and/or a myriad of identifiers that, to me, just don’t matter. All that matters, and I need to give full credit to Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson for this marvelous analogy, is that we’re a bunch of evolved monkeys, hurtling through space on this speck (Earth), in a speck (Solar System), in a speck (Galaxy), very likely on another speck (Universe) of infinite specks. Infinite…specks. We have frontal cortices and limbic systems which allow us to relate, communicate, and socialize. That’s it. Humans. Together. In the same space and time. How fortunate that I’m me, that you’re you. The odds of those things happening simultaneously are as incomprehensible as the infinity in which we travel.

And I lose my shit when we stray from this so extremely. Not valuing the lives of group A, or subcategory 3.1, or whatever fucking social or historical or political or physical or aesthetic terms we’ve affixed to ourselves and each other. And I lean immediately to support the oppressed and reveal the oppressor. It’s a blind spot for me, and a place of full intolerance…where I see or sense or interpret racism or oppression or unfairness, I have no patience. It’s so difficult to walk the world mindfully, peacefully, optimistically, in the moment, here and now. It seems impossible to understand how certain folks get to where they get, and yet I end up doing exactly to them what I despise seeing them do to others. I should probably just accept it for what it is. Acknowledge it. Then work to improve myself, my reactions, my biases and intolerant behaviors and reactions. I should. But I’m not sure that I will. Not sure that I can. I guess I’m just Wigger for life.

-G

Maddy quote

Our First Inclusion Excursion

On today’s episode (…is it five? No, six. Wait, four. Five. Final answer…) of the d2dpod, Greg sleeps like a dead person while stroking his beard, Jen’s phone (and the “OK Google” function) need a hearing aid and possibly an IEP after having been tossed down the steps…and the results are hilarious, a J.K. Rowling acolyte messes with men on okcupid, and Jen and Greg discuss inclusion. Beautiful, wonderful, amazing examples of inclusion right in our back yards. Enjoy!

(Gregory’s note: There is a point in the episode where it appears that I perhaps outed an individual. I ended up stumbling on the word, “lesbian” not because of any discomfort with the word, or lesbians, but rather because I needed to make an instantaneous decision. I felt the person was publicly out, but I hesitated in the moment. “Maybe she’s not,” I thought just before the word came out. Ultimately, I would not release the episode if this were the case. I sound phenomenally uncomfortable saying it, and that’s why. We used fictional names, but any person with intimate knowledge of my professional endeavors and Pittsburgh could put two and two together. It turns out that the person who I inadvertently outed IS quite out in many ways and thus I most assuredly did NOT out her. This made me exceptionally happy because I think this podcast came closest to my idealization of what “driven 2 drink” would be…an honest, at times serious and unfiltered discussion about inclusion and diversity with a healthy dose of liquor and laughter.)

Ommegang Quote

The bar at Brewery Ommegang

…but you can’t take the poverty out of the boy.

Money.

Fucking money.

It drives me to drink. I just attempted to purchase an item from a fairly large retail chain, online, and the site simply wouldn’t allow me to proceed through. The indication on the screen was that the security code was wrong. For the credit card. I called. The kind man on the phone indicated that, indeed, this sort of thing happens on that site…but we could process the order over the phone and it’s never an issue.

The problem?

I started with gift cards, and had a balance.  My stupid ass shredded the physical cards after having successfully put them in the online checkout. They were there. I shredded them. Then the site wouldn’t process the credit card to cover the remaining balance…and there was no way to get the gift cards back. My choice? Either accept my utter fucking numbskullery by having shredded the gift cards before completing a transaction & pay full price for the item…or delete the whole thing, relinquish the gift cards, and sulk like a struggling twenty-something scraping together pennies.

Here’s what I did…I ended up placing the order, without the gift cards. Then, I sent an email to the company’s help desk. And, I’m sitting here like a whining little shithead, unable to enjoy life or the fact that I’m supposed to be having a cheat day…enjoying friends and family, drinking copious amounts of whatever-the-fuck-I’m-given and eating equally copious amounts of sugar, flour, and processed food-like products.

And my friends are texting me. My family is there. There is delicious beer and food and people who love me…and me? I’m going to be a teenage boy stomping his feet and pouting. Because I lost $40 in gift cards. Because I shredded the fucking things before I was through the entire process. Because I have the maturity of a toddler Kardashian.  The maturity, but sure as hell NOT the money.

Actually, what I have is the brain and experience of a poor person. Not destitute. Never food or shelter insecure. (Though, what the fuck do I know. My mother busted her ass and never transferred, shared, or even hinted at her anxiety and problems.) But poor nonetheless. I grew up in extremely “affordable” apartments. It was a time when one could have free lunch (…and I had a free lunch card until the day I graduated high school…), food stamps (check), and partial welfare (check) and not be viewed by society immediately and unequivocally as a human parasite. Single parent home. Mom working two full time jobs. Here’s what she would do…drop me off at my Nanny’s (…not “Oh, yes…we have a Nanny helping us to raise young Gregory,” but my Grandmother…) in the evening, tuck me in, kiss me goodnight, and go to work at an all-night convenience store. Then, I’d wake up with her in the house. She came straight to me after her graveyard shift at the “shittymart” or whatever the fuck it was called. She’d take me to school, then take the bus to the local dry-cleaners. School let out, Mom was home by then. Wash, rinse, repeat. I can’t say I really knew we were poor. The neighborhood was low-income. The school district had all poor people. Shades of poor, but we’ll put it this way…generally “vacation” meant time to sit, do nothing, contemplate the minimum-wage shit-hole to which one would be returning soon, and maybe drink Iron City beer. Life just was what it was, and we were all riding on the same economy row boat down the Allegheny river.

It wasn’t until I somehow landed in Shaler Area school district in 9th grade that I realized, “Oh shit, we don’t have any fucking money.” Shaler’s feeder communities were distinguished by zip code…lower income in Etna, Millvale, and parts of Reserve; upper income in Glenshaw. And that shit was obvious in the way we, the free lunch gang, were treated, and also which zip codes populated which classes. One fucknut teacher, the Advanced Placement (AP) English teacher, actually taught a lesson through which he wrote 15116 (Glenshaw) and then 15223 (Etna) and explained how his AP and general education classes were populated with 15116 kids, and the remedial classes were full of 15223 students. At the time, I lived in a hobbit-sized after-thought apartment/house/bivouac situation. In Etna. I sat there in class listening, boiling on the inside, halfway embarrassed and halfway furious at the free lunch card in my pocket, of my consignment or Marshall’s clothes. I worked 20 hours a week at Wendy’s just to keep up with whomever the fuck I decided it was important to keep up with. But it became clear…there at Shaler Area High School…there in Etna…in advanced placement English…that I was poor. Money mattered. And then, we ended up in a real house in Glenshaw, paying approximately the same amount of rent that we’d been paying in Etna, due to family kindness and the need to upkeep a deceased uncle’s house. We knew the house would eventually be sold, but we also knew we’d be there through high school. And there I was, living among the rich, but paying de facto subsidized rent and knowing that really, we were still poor. Cigarettes and lottery tickets poor. Gallons of Turner’s iced tea (…on sale for $1.00…) poor. One piece-of-shit car always-on-the-precipice-of-breaking-down poor. No…we can remove those stumps, build a retaining wall, reframe the door, and do the electrical wiring ourselves (…but, no we can’t…) poor.

I’m not looking for pity. Not looking for sympathy. I’m just explaining, perhaps even for myself, why I remain with this interesting, unhealthy, worrisome relationship with money. It still controls me, and currently I’m in a stable position with decent income and reliable housing and transportation. As overused as this quip may be, I suppose one can take the kid out of poverty but one can’t take the poverty out of the kid.

And I think…why was I the only Etna kid in that class? Am I special? (No, I’m not.) What about all of the Etna kids in remedial or vocational tracts? Did they want to be where they were? Did they all actually deserve to be there? And the Glenshaw kids. Were they just smarter than the poor kids? (No, a polo shirt, hundred-dollar penny loafers, and a new car at 16 do not equal actual ability or intelligence.) This shit careened through my brain almost every day that I lived and attended high school in Shaler after having seen that display of classism in AP English.

There are clearly reasons beyond ability, beyond potential, beyond even performance, that dictate which people will move through the academic system in a tract that will place them in positions of power, wealth, and conventional professionalism. There is no true meritocracy. I mean, we often (…sometimes? typically?…) choose people based upon ability…but how any person arrives at a place of skill or ability to then BE chosen is inextricably related to socio-economic and historical factors that I’m certain are more nefarious than equitable, honest, and transparent.

Money.

Fucking money.

Oh, and happy holidays.

-G

Shipyard Gingerbread Head in a Duvel glass

Shipyard Gingerbread Head in a Lovely, Mildly Disturbing Duvel Tulip Glass

Turning 40

I’m 40.

And…fuck you, 40.

I’m in the best shape of my life. I exercise, meditate, and laugh often. My resting heart rate generally hovers around 50 bpm, plus or minus 5 beats. My diet is mostly healthy and includes minimally processed foods. Negligible cane sugar, artificial sweeteners, corn syrup, and processed grains. I supplement with tumeric, fish oil, B12, and a probiotic daily.

I have a cheat day on which I eat anything I want. I have 3 scheduled “drink days” per week (…my phone reminds me to, “drink up, bitches,” on these days…), one of which coincides with my larger cheat day. I love beer, wine, and spirit…and moderation is not a concept in my frontal cortex unless I rigidly structure life externally. Same with food and the cheat day scenario. Will power, moderation’s mythical and utterly elusive mate, also does not reside in my facilities. (I adore, and often resemble, Louie C.K.’s line, “I don’t stop eating when I’m full. The meal isn’t over when I’m full. It’s over when I hate myself.” He’s got hilarious bits on turning 40. Here’s one: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WzEhoyXpqzQ) I will, unless I enforce a strict diet, eat like the self-loathing, sugar-addicted, starchy fat-ass (…sorry, they used to call me, “husky,” or “big boned,” or my fucking ironic favorite, “healthy”…) that I was most of my early life, then on-and-off throughout the rest.

So why am I laying this all out?

Because, when 40 comes…watch the fuck out, because life will never be the same. All that shit that I described above…which seemed like the self-congratulatory musings of a vain douchebag…are my oftentimes futile attempts to throw a fresh coat of paint on the molding, splintering siding of my aging body. The parts are 40, and that’s a cold-hard motherfucking fact, Jack.

And if you’re reading this…at 50, or 60, or 70 and smiling, perhaps laughing, rolling your eyes at my musings and complaints…please just let me have this. You may not remember, precisely, all that happened when your body turned 2 score, nor do you give a shit since you’re contending with whatever it is you’re currently contending with. But let me remind you that 40 is the very first time in one’s life that it becomes unavoidably evident that, at least from a biological perspective, it’s all downhill from here.

Let’s start with the eyes. I wear glasses, and my vision’s not only stabilized but improved over the past few years. The doctor warned me, though, “This is what generally happens in the several years preceding 40, and then it’ll go the opposite direction. In fact,” Nostra-anus continued, “I predict you’ll need bifocals sooner than later.” And? I’m not sure if it was the day or even the month of my 40th birthday, but fairly immediately after that day I found myself reading the directions for some recipe with my head tilted up so that I could look down under my glasses. I tilted my head down to see how things looked through the lens. Back up. Down. Up. (Ever seen an older person doing this shit? Eyebrows raised as if in surprise each time he looks under his glasses to find the words suddenly and miraculously legible. Then the tilt down, which serves only to emphasize the double chin and fucking theatrical wrinkles that are unavoidable since, apparently, skin loses like half of its elasticity on day 14,600. You look, smile to yourself. “Sorry old bastard. Hope he doesn’t walk into a wall trying to figure out his smart phone.”) Now? You’re that old bastard. There’s a pre-teen staring at you, with her friends, and laughing . At you. Karma…sometimes she needs a little time, but she will reveal herself…and apparently not until you have to take off your glasses to see her.

Skin. Three options. 1. Do nothing. Let it go. Look like one of those black-and-white portraits of some long-dead Apache leader with facial skin that rivals only that of a fat Basset Hound staring down at something. 2. Fight like hell with botox, chemical peels, surgeries, and expensive creams that come from lamb-ass secretions and preserved dodo bird fetuses, and quickly begin to look like Bruce Jenner. Or 3. Eat right, stay as lean as you can manage, keep stress low, exercise, exfoliate, use lotion (…and fairly liberally and often, particularly if you’re a sun-weathered white guy like me who didn’t do much of anything to “be healthy” until his 30s…), and pray or hope that this will be enough to ensure that #1 doesn’t happen anyway. Because it can. You do all you can to ensure health, well-being, and preservation…and then your genes take a big shit on your dreams. Google search, “Image of Steve Buscemi.” Any age.

Interestingly, I was blessed with several opportunities to have a proctologist, my PCP, and also a young female medical resident (…there was, I assure you, absolutely NOTHING arousing about it…) shove lubed and gloved fingers into my asshole and probe around my prostate well before my 40th birthday, so I was spared that indignity and eventuality. (“What I’m doing now,” the assman said from behind me, my pants at my ankles, goosebumps on my pasty thighs, one khaki argyle sock sagging and downtrodden like my dignity, “you should just feel pressure, it shouldn’t burn. Let me know if it burns.” “It burns.” “Oh. Well, you likely have prostatitis. I’ll give you a prescription for that.” Wet finger exits the anus, leaving a sensation of having just sat on a broken bidet. An ungloved hand reaches around with a box of sandpapery tissues. “You can clean up. I’ll be just out here. Open the door when you’re ready.” I think I used the entire box of tissues, half of them to accommodate my tears of unexpected and bewildering shame.) Nonetheless, the yearly physical examination becomes exponentially more involved at this age. I know it gets worse…but again, this is the very first experience with new and very different. With, “What the fuck do we need to do that for?!” With, “Really, that blood test costs as much as my television?”

Joints and muscles. There comes a point in every car door’s life when the damn thing needs some lube. For our arms and legs, that point is 40. Unfortunately, there’s no lube for that. (Untrue. We can take care of our joints through diet and exercise. But again, genetics are often a cruel master with complete disregard for fish oil and kale smoothies.) Things that used to be pliable and well-oiled apparently cross the threshold between okay and not-okay at 40, becoming just rigid and stodgy enough to cause cracks and creaks and aches that simply never existed before. And the muscle soreness. That’s some bullshit. At and beyond 40, one needs to exercise like a college quarterback just to maintain the body and fitness of said quarterback’s head coach. And the muscle soreness runs deeper and longer than ever. Honestly, I’m in a constant state of muscle soreness. There are days my fucking thumb cramps up while opening a water bottle. I never knew that one’s entire abdominal area could cramp (…you know those foot cramps that feel like the inside part of your foot is going to break through the skin? You have to twist and twirl and massage just to return the foot to a state of mild discomfort. Yeah, think that, but abdominal…) leaving one doubled over in excruciating pain, moaning and breathing heavily, a bunch of pre-teens laughing at you because you can’t even get up from a seated position without apparently pulling a groin.

And 40 is really the first time, at least for me, when I hit a moment of, “I wish I could be X, again.” (X=30-35) It’s the best 5-year-frame as far as I’m concerned. You’re a grown-ass person. You’ve got stability. You can do what you please. But, you’re still young. You get carded, and you can brag about that shit. (They don’t card you when you’re 40. They laugh at you if you even feign to pull out ID. Even bars that are attempting to be kind and generous will post signs that say something like, “If you appear to be in your 30s, we will card you. 40? Go straight the fuck in.”) Between 30 – 35, you can do all the shit you used to do in your 20s without any serious repercussions (i.e. hangovers, soreness, exhaustion) but you’re a bona fide adult. And you can stay up late. And I don’t mean like 11, which is late for me now. I mean “close the bar” late. Watch “Twilight Zone” reruns while eating a bag of Doritos late. Then pop up the next morning ready for work or whatever late. THAT kind of late. If I make it to 10 p.m. these days I count myself lucky. It’s like the body, at 40, says, “Whoa there, fella! You need your sleepies. And I’m going to make sure you get ’em,” and releases several milliliters of neuro-chemical quick-acting Benadryl into the bloodstream at approximately 9:10 every night.

But really, I’m 40…and I’m in the best shape of my life. I’m happier than ever. I’m successfully self-employed. Each day brings new lessons and surprises. I have a constant desire for growth and truth, and have yet to get bored seeking and receiving these things. I love people, and those people love me in return. I skip. Much to my wife’s chagrin, I still find myself often with a reflex to skip like little Opie Griffith heading down to the stream on a clear Summer day with my fishing rod and all the cares of the world anywhere but there. When I’m bringing my groceries back to the car, I push off and jump up on the cart. I don’t trust a person who can’t find enjoyment riding on the back of a cart. There is joy to be found. And one should feel pleasantly surprised often. It’s the only way to remain sane and content as the physical body deteriorates. Do not leave childish things behind. Seek them.
Then we can all say, “Fuck you, 40,” with wisdom, contentment, and humor.

-G

Blanton's in a Mason Jar

(Blanton’s bourbon and water in a mason jar)

All Senses Gone

I floated in a sensory deprivation tank last week. Honestly, I think the world would be a better place if every adult floated at least once. I’ve heard similar arguments regarding psychedelic medicines, including edible cannabis. The challenge, of course, as Jen brings up in the podcast (“Floating in a Sensory Deprivation Tank“), is that for a person who is unable to relax, unable to honestly self-reflect (i.e. look critically [but gently, always gently] in the mirror instead of out the window), unable to ultimately “come clean,” the likelihood of a positive “trip” is minimized. And that’s true. Within an hour in the tank (…and I know that because about 60 minutes into my float I twitched and got what seemed like hot knives but in reality was densely salted water in my eyes, thus precipitating a quick, splashy, and disoriented exit to find the dry towel and clean water bowl on top of the tank…) my consciousness had disassociated from my body. Really…I felt absolutely nothing from a sensory perspective. So I was left with…my mind. It was indescribable beyond the superficial words inadequately captioning the experience. The reason, I think, that I was able to get even this deep so quickly relates to my life experiences. With anxiety and perfectionism and extreme self-doubt and a hair-trigger temper…which then precipitated truth- and peace-seeking. With Yoga. With meditation. With Buddhism and Taoism. With counseling. With a marriage to an amazing, supportive, and deep woman. And, full disclosure, with daily Prozak. Had I floated just after the drying-rack incident (…see my post, “Insomnia, Temper Tantrums, and A$$hole Cats,” posted November 23rd…) perhaps I would’ve been thrust into a dissociative nightmare. Luke, the owner of the tank in which I floated, told me a story of a young man who exited the tank in quite a real panic that he was being stalked by sharks. The mind is amazing, will remain the last great frontier I’m sure. But set and setting matter…the place, the aesthetics, the mood, one’s emotional, psychological, and spiritual well-being (…or lack thereof…) all matter critically to how the mind will deliver each of our versions of reality in any moment. Perception is reality…that’s all it can be, at least when we’re taking in the world through our senses. And that’s the amazing thing about these tanks. They offer a medicine and drug free way of removing all sensory input, and one is left with ONLY self as defined by consciousness.

The following is a bit of technical and logistical information for anyone interested in floating. There is no doubt that I recommend it unabashedly. The tank I floated in is a Samadhi Tank. The following link is a fantastic introduction to the company, to sensory deprivation floating in general, and the history of sensory deprivation research. (http://www.samadhitank.com/sensorydep.html) I floated in Pittsburgh, in one of only two locations in the area to have this experience. I was guided by the wonderful Luke Raymer. He also allowed me to process the experience, with him, for 10+ minutes after my float. This is Luke’s website: http://www.pittsburghfloat.com/. The tank is located in the Capristo spa on Ellsworth Avenue in Shadyside.
These folks, at Pittsburgh Massage Works (PMW) in the Northside of Pittsburgh, (http://pittsburghmassageworks.abmp.com/pittsburgh-floatation-tank-pittsburgh-sensory-deprivation-tank) have the same tank but the cost is less than at Pittsburgh Float. I paid $90 for a 90 minute session. (Pittsburgh Float also offers 60 minute sessions for $70) At PMW the cost is $70 for 90 minutes, and $90 for 120 minutes. (I like the option of having 2 hours, particularly as I float more often and find ways to go deeper and perhaps meditate in different ways.) Pittsburgh Float also offers packages of 5 90-minute sessions for $400. At PMW, one can purchase 3 90-minute floats for $200 (…or 3 120-minute floats for $250), which is again both a discount AND also allows for a smaller, more financially manageable package. The folks at PMW also offer float-plus-massage packages. It all sounds wonderful, but I haven’t yet met these folks…so I don’t know about the overall experience. I can, however, fully recommend Luke…his energy is peaceful, positive, and enthusiastic. Also, he offered wonderful initial guidance and the opportunity to talk about the experience after the float.