On Community

I haven’t posted to this blog in two weeks because I’ve been traveling.

I’ve gotten to travel a lot in my life. My moving post from a few weeks ago details my actual traveling home, but I’ve been lucky enough to have stood on five continents in my life. But, while I’ve been on all kinds of trips, this one was among the most memorable despite the fact that I didn’t go to any exotic locations like I have in the past. Instead, I saw old friends, and it was transcendently good.

I saw my brother in Denver and met his friends. I saw my best friend and a couple other really good old friends for a single night in Chicago. I spent time with my nephews in brooklyn, and reconnected with old college friends first in New York and then at a wedding in Vermont.

I’m at a bit of a life crossroads, and seeing old friends— whether I realized it when I left or not— was exactly what I needed. I saw people starting new careers or bemoaning old careers, friends whose lives are peaking and friends who are or have struggled with everything from love to work to vice and everything in-between.

One dominant theme that emerged over and over was community. Though I think of myself as a people-person and have friends scattered across the globe to prove it, I realized that one thing I was really missing were these friends. In my hurry to chase a career in comedy, I haven’t really prioritized having a community around me, instead confident that I can find or make one wherever I go. But, seeing the communities my peers have built/found for themselves, I have come to realize that by not prioritizing this, I’ve done myself a disservice.

I’ve always thought of myself as a bit of a lone wolf, and have been largely fine with that. Writing is solitary work and I’ve never minded time alone. But seeing all my old friends again, I’m starting to become aware of that hole in my life. The question, then, is how to fill it.

So, how does an adult rebuild or rediscover their community? Can it be as simple as connecting with old friends over the power of the internet? Do I need to be out meeting new people? Or maybe I should pick up my life and move it closer to communities that others have built, find a tribe of my own? Should I be looking for a partner, or for a group? How do I balance all of this with my need for time alone?

Obviously, I don’t know the answers. But it’s a group of questions I’m thinking about a lot.

On Blood

I cut my finger today using a knife in a stupid way. It wasn’t “oh my god, get some ice” bad, but it was bleeding quite a lot. When you cut yourself and you’re alone, it’s hard to know how to judge it. It didn't seem bad, but any amount of blood that won’t stop coming out of you seems like a primal cause for alarm, at least for me. I stuck my finger quickly into my mouth to avoid dripping on the butcher block countertop. (Got it all but a drop, damn!)

The sensation of your own open wound in your mouth is an odd one. My injury was far from mortal, but, the tinny taste of blood did not slowly fade away, as with nicks and scrapes of the past. Instead, it began slowly pooling in my mouth, trickling slowly but persistently like an almost-dead keg trying to fill that last the solo cup. I am not squeamish, but, still: a mouth full of blood, ew.

I ran to the bathroom. Having tasted enough of myself, I spat blood into the sink, my left index following as it steadily dripped thick, red blood. Again, not an alarming oh-god-am-i-going-to-pass-out level of blood, but enough so that once I finished one handedly groping for the first aid kit, fumbling with the latch and finally opening the thing, the white porcelain sink looks like Lady Macbeth’s. I find an antibacterial wipe. I wipe the wound as it continues to bleed, which feels like bailing out a sinking ship with a coffee cup. Bandaids.

I rifled past the Star Wars ones— not because I didn’t want to use them, but because I'd already used up all the big ones on other failures and the tiny remainders will not do for this job. Blood spattered here and there, a little on the floor, the trash can, the lid of the for-some-reason closed toilet. I ripped bandaids open with my teeth, dropped the paper and plastic refuse into the sink. They turned crimson too, my blood seemingly in everything. I was not panicking, but I acknowledge that if someone had walked in at that moment, I would have looked pretty panicked.

Eventually, I corralled the bleeding with the pressure of several bandaids, and went back to moving. This went fine for a while; my finger hurt from the tightness, but I successfully moved a dresser, file cabinet, rolling chair, a disassembled ikea table, and a desktop computer before I notice some blood seeping between the bandages. I finish my errand of dropping off some unwanted books and cookbooks at The Last Bookstore, where they pass on a few perfectly good cookbooks because of a little grease or whatever staining the tops of a few pages, fascists. (Anybody want some cookbooks?)

Finally, I get some Neosporin and return home to rebandage, which goes bloody again. The resulting solution is a heap of fresh bandaids that have turned my left index finger into more of a baton than a functioning digit, and one that hurts when you use it to do anything but point.

The point of this story is: it is very hard to type without using your left index finger, but it can apparently be done.

On Moving

Moving sucks.

I have always moved. As a Child Of Divorce, I moved between houses. Two moves a week, one every three or four days. Life as an actual Child Of Divorce was no real nuisance. The basic needs of my life were easily replicated at both locations. Clothes, toothbrush, Sega genesis: I did not need to bring these things with me. The only things that I moved were a pair of beloved stuffed animals, bear and bunny. Bear and Bunny went… well, who can remember what they were tote’d in originally, but for many years, they damn sure went everywhere and made every move with me. When I went off to elementary school, on move days, they’d come along in my backpack.

Eventually, bear and bunny retired permanently to my room at my mother’s house, where they stand sentry to this very day. They were pushed out as my little L.L. Bean backpack slowly ballooned with homework, and also because once I hit the refined age of 10, I finally realized carting around stuffed animals twice a week was, in fact, kind of weird. But the backpack remained.

The backpack was my unspoken constant. For a while the car ballooned, itself a backpack, but in general, the backpack was the base of operations. It was where I kept the things that couldn’t be reproduced at both locations easily, everything from lunch to books to drugs. As long as I had that with me, I could go pretty much anywhere and know I’d be fine. It went to every class, every vacation, every party in the woods, and, of course, every move.

I have remained moving even after moving out of my life of moving. I managed six moves during college, and then one leaving it for Chicago. I moved six more times in five and a half years in Chicago, and then a seventh coming to Los Angeles. I’m currently embroiled in my second move since arriving in LA. In an era of one-year leases, I am somehow averaging a move every 8.25 months since leaving home for college. And, let me tell you: moving sucks.

I’ve done it all. I've moved a whole team in and out with a bunch of sweaty friends, and moved myself, sometimes basically in the dark of night. I’ve rented U-Hauls and Zipcars across this great nation. I've scavenged boxes from restaurants, and other times bought them at absurd markups. I’ve crammed everything into messy boxes at the last minute, and I’ve made a giant excel spreadsheet and numbering system to track every sock. I’ve packed everything into a Subaru and driven it halfway across the country, and I’ve shipped heavy pieces of furniture back to my mother’s house to wait with bear and bunny. One time, I accidentally scheduled a move while on vacation and made my friends do it for me (sorry again guys). One time I quit my job because they scheduled me a brunch shift turing a move. One thing I’ve never done is paid someone else to move me, but, someday when I’m a grownup with enough money and things to merit this, I expect I’ll feel a bit uneasy about someone else handling all my shit.

My current move is, on paper, very easy. I don’t own much in LA, and the vast majority of it is going a mile down the road to a first floor storage unit. I only have two pieces of furniture I won’t be able to move by myself in my own car. I am currently unemployed and so have been working on-and-off on the move for a week now, a process I was sure would take some of the suck out of the whole thing. It has not, because moving sucks, and that’s that. You cannot defeat moving with a plan.

As I look around my two-thirds empty room, knowing I’ve left all the hardest parts for last, my eyes keep coming back to my backpack. In a few days, when all this is done, everything packed away safely in a dark cube, waiting for my next move, I will sling that backpack over my shoulder and I will get on an airplane and I will go on an adventure. The sweaty days cramming an IKEA dresser into the back of my piece of shit car right before I sell them both will fade into the mud of memory, and for a while it’ll just be me and my backpack, like when I was a kid. I’m excited for that, even if it means another move when it’s all over. I don’t mind having moved, in fact I like it. It’s the moving that sucks.

Anyway. Back to packing.

On Knuckleballs

There’s something awesomely defiant about the knuckleball. I’m sitting here watching Red Sox starting pitcher Stephen Wright, one of two guys currently throwing a knuckleball in the bigs. In a game where everything is so carefully statted, every piece of data carefully measured twice and cut once, every pitch a result of scouting reports and groupthink and advanced statistical analyses, the knuckleball basically tells all of these things to fuck right off. It’s a knuckleball and it doesn’t care what anybody thinks about anything, it’s going to do whatever the hell it wants, always.

This is the sport where people figure out things like “with runners in scoring position and two balls (but not three) Xander Bogartes can sometimes be vulnerable to low and away breaking pitches that surround— but not cross— the strike zone.” I mean that’s a pretty goddamned specific piece of strategy, and that’s not even coming from professionals— that’s just me watching too much baseball recently. My point is there isn’t anything on a baseball field that isn't measured and evaluated and predicted. Except the knuckleball.

It is chaos, pure and simple. The knuckleball breaks whatever direction it wants to, at whatever time it wants to, like a Massachusetts driver. The hitter has no idea where it’s going, the catcher has no idea where it’s going, even the pitcher has, at best, a vauge idea of the general area the thing is headed. The only thing you know for sure is that nobody knows for sure. Sometimes wind can make it extra-unhittable, and yet somehow in domes, where there is no wind, the pitch occasionally becomes bizarrely even more unhittable. You might be tempted to ask how that last contradiction could possibly be true, but of course, there is only one answer: because it is a knuckleball, and fuck you.

A knuckleball is so delightfully unpredictable, the perfect unexpected spice in the industrial-sized-vat of soup that is a major league baseball season. Depending on literally anything, a knuckleball can dance in unnatural, unhittable, unpredictable jolts and jabs in any direction, then, on the very next pitch, hang in the air like a batting practice curveball, a slow, still floater, as easy for a major leaguer to crush as if it were on a tee. It can’t be charted, no coach really knows how to offer any advice on it, and even the all-time greats would occasionally have somewhere from one to twenty five of them in a row that just looked pathetically hittable. The main thing you hear from knuckleballers is “you can’t really teach it” followed quickly by “you can’t really control it” and usually rounded off with “you can’t tell when it’s going to be good or not”. It sounds less like a description of a practiced skill and more like the description of a bad dog, the kind that stops a burglar and then celebrates by pissing in the bed, because: knuckleball.

It’s the only pitch ever invented that doesn’t physically destroy the pitcher’s arm, and so can be throw basically forever; knuckleballers don’t really have pitch counts, or inning caps, or even an age at which they’re meant to retire— of the four knuckleballers in the hall of fame, all four of them pitched more than 20 big league seasons, the way nobody can, ever. And yet, nobody ever really tries to be a knuckleballer, it’s always a last ditch effort to stay in the game. Today’s hot new knuckleballer, Stephen Wright, is making big league starts consistently for the first time in his career: he’s 30 years old, and it’s totally conceivable that he has just now begun a decade long major league career. This week, a 19 year old kid pitched for the dodgers, if he were a knuckleballer (he’s not) he could have a 25 year career that would end in the year 2041, during President Bryce Harper’s second term.

Anyway, its memorial day, and it seems to me to be the perfect day for this knuckleballer, who himself is kind of a living memorial to former Red Sox knuckleballer Tim Wakefield. The knuckleball is weird and strange and fun. It is the black sheep of baseball, and, like any good black sheep, it never totally goes away, always hanging around just enough that you have to account for it when making lists.

(PS as I finish that final paragraph, Wright, who had been pitching a shutout, allowed three hits and a sacrifice fly in the span of about 8 pitches, tying the game. Suddenly the unhittable is hittable. The inning is not yet over— he just walked a guy. Just like that, it’s all gone. Knuckleballs!)

On Time

I will forgive you your lateness.
Listen, I get it. Shit happens, life gets in the way, traffic was terrible on the 101, you just couldn’t find your keys, you had to wait for your turn in the shower, car trouble, baby trouble, tribble trouble: it’s cool. I get it.
I was here. I arrived at 1:03 for our 1pm lunch. In fact, I arrived to the area around the restaurant at 12:42, allowing time to secure a parking spot and then walk to the restaurant. I actually completed all of this by 12:56, and spent six and a half minutes waiting outside so as not to be early. It is now 1:18, meaning I have been ‘at’ the restaurant for somewhere between fifteen and thirty six minutes depending oh how you count it. You have yet to return my text message of “here!”
But I will forgive you your lateness, because you are simply one of those people who cannot be on time.
I am not one of those people. I am early to everything, a trait I inherited directly from my mother who, as we speak, is sitting in the front seat of a volvo station wagon somewhere, waiting to be the first one to arrive at who-knows-what. One year she dropped me off at camp a day early, which wouldn’t be so bad except that one year she did it again. We are an odd and dying breed, people like my mother and I, who simply are always early. Since moving to Los Angeles, predictably, I have yet to meet another one.
My least favorite part of being the early one is the horrible moment when you finally arrive. You’ll offer some level of excuse (here does exist the rare breed of late-comer who either doesn’t know or, more likely, doesn’t care that they are very late. These are almost always beautiful people.) and some kind of half-to-full hearted apology. And then you’ll ask me the stupidest question of the day:
“Have you been waiting long?”
This is a shitty question. The only not-awkward answer I can give is “oh, not long”, which excuses your tardiness as inconsequential. But I am lying. I have been here long. I have been there since before we were even meant to be here, which was twenty minutes ago, and the bartender hates me because I’ve been drinking water waiting for you to show up. You know exactly how long I’ve been waiting because we set a time and, since I didn’t text you “running a little late”, you can safely assume I was, y’know, on time.
Yes, I will forgive your lateness. I really do understand, sometimes your kid is sick because the dog ate their homework that you left on the bus, and also, you’re always late, so I expect it now. I just tell you everything is a half hour earlier than it really is, that way, you’re usually just a few minutes late. I think that makes you a child, but, whatever works, right?
But I will no longer excuse “have you been waiting long?” Motherfucker, you know I have. You kept me waiting. I know it wasn’t on purpose, but don’t act surprised that I held up my end of the bargain. From now on, I’m going to answer this question honestly: Yes, I’ve been waiting for forty five minutes, and was considering leaving, although, wow, look at that dress, you are really gorgeous tonight you know that, of course I was joking I just arrived myself, honestly you look amazing, come on, let me buy you a drink.

On Reading

One of the best and biggest boosts you can give to your ego is to finish reading a book. When you close that sucker, it’s weight finally alone in your left hand, it is an accomplishment.

Runners think they’re great for running a a whole marathon? Well good for them, but that’s, what, three, four hours of running? (I’m not googling it because I don’t care.) Way to carve out an afternoon for self-improvement, what a sacrifice it must have been for them to skip brunch today. Over here in the modern world, where running for four hours is an effectively useless skill, the book-readers have dedicated ten, twenty, maybe fifty hours to completing a tome of knowledge.

There may not be any ticker tape parades for you, book reader, and you won’t get the same social media attention for a selfie with your recently conquered pages as those sweaty schmucks get for running all morning. But your win comes later, when in casual conversation with your friends, family, or co-workers, you get to begin a sentence with the phrase “that reminds me of a book I read recently.”

That is a powerful-ass sentence. First of all, just announcing that you can/have/do read/read books tells everyone around you: “I am a smart motherfucker”. Being “reminded” informs the collected masses that you’re about to connect what you read to the discussion at hand, which will prove that you’re a smart motherfucker. And, of course, the killing blow is “recently”. This prevents anyone from responding with any thoughts about any of the books they were made to read in high school or college, effectively silencing most people, and reinforcing that you are smart— in fact, you are so smart that you have continued to read of your own volition, even when nobody made you.

The weak-minded, be they marathon runner or otherwise, cannot defend against “That reminds me of a book I read recently.” Similarly, it will act as a beacon to other not-idiots who may be in your vicinity. Bespectacled men and women with opinions on foreign countries will start to gravitate to you. They may be reminded of the same book, at which point you can exchange facts about the book with one another, proving to any lingering joggers that you were serious about the whole “actually read the book” thing.

Once you and your new, bespectacled crush stumble back into your apartment, having left the party and its jocks behind, your crush will pause when they see your bookcase. Packed thick with hard and soft covers, guilty pleasures and academic treatises alike, slowly they begin fingering through your collection, and you watch them from the green chair, feeling so vulnerable as they scour your intimate intellectual history for something specific, but who knows what.

And then she finds it. The thickest thing on the shelf, the badge of hipster honor you’re both proud and embarrassed to display. She sits back down on the refurbished, art-decoy blue couch, it’s blue fuzzies sticking to her black skintight jeans and her thin green cardigan. You can see the many dog ears, the stains and splashes the mighty paperback absorbed during it’s many slogs in and out of backpacks and coffeeshops. You tense, a little nervous, having not actually cracked that particular spine in five years, and having finished it only the once. You’re concerned she’s going to start discussing the book’s finer points.

But she doesn’t, merely flips through it, as if evaluating its authenticity. You catch a bit of highlighter as she turns a page and wonder if you kept up with that to the end. Allison’s thin, elegant fingers are quickly amongst the last pages, and you can see messy shorthand reflected in the big panes of her oversized glasses, green eyes behind them sparkling with hungry interest.

Allison nods at whatever I’ve written at the end of the book almost six years previous, my insights and conclusion meeting her unspoken par, and before she can initiate any further discussion I stand from the green chair and kiss her, grateful to have been reminded of a book I read recently.

On Boo-ing

What is it about sports heroes that make us so quick to turn on them?

I watched last night as Clay Buchholz struggled again for the Red Sox. He looks done. You often can't be sure when a piece of broken mechanics or a nagging injury is all that’s holding a guy back, but sometimes, you can tell that it’s just done. I’m no pitching coach, but Clay looks done. Whispers of demotion are going louder despite his veteran status. He’s circling the drain. But somehow, I was still surprised last night when he was booed. Booed?

Clay’s been through this dance before. A quick perusal of his b-ref page paints a decently accurate story of a guy who was alternately brilliant, hurt, and terrible for the last decade. His status as the nominal ace last year made him something of a bastard/poster child for his GM’s strategy of “seven #3 pitchers makes a cheap rotation”, which failed miserably. So it’s not so hard to see why Red Sox fans have lost patience with the guy, why they’re ready to move on. But still: Booed?

Clay is in his tenth season with Boston, the team that drafted him in 2005. He debuted in 2007, and threw a no-hitter that September. He didn’t make that year’s postseason roster, when Jon Lester instead got the game four world series start, but he did in 2013, when he gutted through an injury to make four critical playoff starts. He’s "only" made about $30 million in his whole career with Boston, hasn’t ever had any particular media problems and seems present in all the charitable circles demanded of the modern athlete. True, Clay never totally fulfilled his promise, but, two titles, a no hitter, a .573 career winning percentage, a career ERA still under 4; Clay Buchholz has been a solid (if occasionally maddening) Red Sox for a decade now, longer than anyone not named Pedroia or Ortiz. Booed?

Of course, I’m naive to be surprised. Red Sox fans, like most half-decent fan bases, have booed everyone from Keith Folkue, who truly sacrificed his arm for the ’04 title, (and was nails while he did so,) to Manny Ramirez, arguably the best big ticket free agent contract of all time, the anchor of two championship lineups and the team’s first world series MVP. But those players at least fucked up somewhere else. Folkue said some garbage stuff on the radio. Manny, at one point or another, said or did just about every wrong thing that a player can say. I can see how they offended to the point of booing. But why boo Buchholz, who clearly has been betrayed by his body, beaten down by the inhuman act of pitching to the point where his fastball looks probably about the same way it did when he was 16?

For some reason, it’s fun. It’s fun to blame someone, to point to him and say “he did it! He ruined my night at the ballpark!” I've for sure done it, and it's easier to do it when you're there, somehow anonymous in the crowd. I suppose it’s the same part of our brain that once made the colosseum a sporty afternoon activity. But it bums me out. He went 12-1 for that 2013 team, and came back to start four playoff games despite clearly still being hurt. They probably don't win that title without him. And now, it’s very possible his final Fenway Park memory will be being booed for daring to allow a third home run to the Rockies some Thursday in May.

I, for one, hope this is not farewell. I've always had a soft spot for the guy. But if it is, keep your oddly-hair-do’d head held high Clay. Thanks for the memories. Sorry about the boos.