Friday, September 8, 2023

From the Archives - Bits & Bobs Volume IX


This is the ninth installment in the “From the Archives – Bits & Bobs” series. Volume I is here, Volume II is here, Volume III is here, Volume IV is here, Volume V is here, Volume VI is here, Volume VII is here, and Volume XIII is here. (The different volumes have little or nothing to do with one another.)

As with other installments, these are taken from emails to various friends and family members, back when I archived them as simple text files for posterity. Who know that posterity would come in the form of a blog? I sure didn’t, as the Internet was (almost) entirely unknown in those days…

January 15, 1995

I filled out a W-2 the other day and was about to check “Single” as I’ve been doing for about 15 years, and then realized, “Wait a second—I’m married!” Then, I had to look at all the worksheets to see how many deductions to claim. I was shocked to realize that as far as the IRS is concerned, I do not qualify as the Head of the Household. Just what in the hell is going on here when a man doesn’t automatically qualify as head of the household?

July 6, 1995

We have some houseguests from Holland. In their honor we just ate “Gourmet,” a Dutch culinary tradition (you might even say celebration). I got the Gourmet set from my brother. You have these little burners, that burn Sterno, with little 4-inch non-stick pans on a cage above them, and you throw in little pieces of meat and vegetables, kind of like fajitas. It takes forever, and it’s a lot of fun, like a great movie that you don’t want to end. You get to try all kinds of different combinations—I ate at least ten different pans of food. It’s great. The only problem is that the flame goes out every so often and it’s kind of scary relighting it. I’m sure after doing this dozens of times I’ll get overconfident, squirt Sterno right into the dying flame, and blow up my kitchen.

July 30, 1995

I had an epiphany recently. I was going to brush my teeth and I noticed that E—’s toothpaste tube wasn’t rolled neatly from the end, but was squeezed in the middle. This shouldn’t have bothered me too much, since we have separate toothpastes (not really by design, but because I accidentally bought tartar control, which she doesn’t like). But I figure I’d roll her tube up for her. Well, not really for her, since she doesn’t give a damn, but for me. I can’t stand to see the toothpaste tube disfigured like that. Well, when I rolled it up, I realized the cap was open. I realized this because toothpaste squirted out. It was a big mess, all over the cap. This is the kind of stupid modern cap that has a little flip-top. The top was all coated in goo. I reflected meanly that it was probably pretty gooey even before my little mishap. I removed the cap and rinsed it carefully in the sink, which is when I had my epiphany that I’m really a totally absurd person. Actually, it’s not really an epiphany, because this fact has been dawning on me frequently, possibly due to the tendency one has to compare his behavior to that of his spouse. E—’s lack of attention to such details amazes me. “Amazement” perhaps don’t cover her responses to my own quirky pedanticism, and to the obvious torture that entropy inflicts on my life. We’ve had a certain amount of marital friction along these lines.

So, are you the same way? (I think I’ve seen signs that you are.) If so, does [your wife] mind? Only moments ago, I halted my train of thought, noticing a bit of lint on my keyboard, and plunged into my desk drawer to retrieve a little nylon brush, perfectly suited for cleaning out a keyboard. It’s the brush that came with the Norelco electric razor I bought in 1985 to shave my legs with. The razor wore out in six months, and the replacement blades cost more than a new razor. I sure wasn’t going to buy new blades, on general principle, but I couldn’t bring myself to replace the whole razor and throw away the almost perfectly good old one. So I took the only possible remaining option: I began using a Bic. Before retiring the electric razor to some special burying place (or perhaps I still have it somewhere), I inspected the nylon brush that came with it, and determined that it would be excellent for cleaning the keyboard of my typewriter. Well, that little brush has lasted me four keyboards since then, and I always know where to find it instantly. I even brought it on the bike tour. Does that make me ridiculous? [2023 update: I still have, and use, that little brush.]

September 12, 1995

[Trigger warning: the following anecdote involves heavy drinking. Let me just say, before you proceed, that these days, as a responsible salary man, husband, and father, I appreciate quality beverages and enjoy them responsibly. I haven’t drunk recklessly in ages, and my kids can vouch for me in that regard.]

We went down to Ventura to participate in D—’s blowout 30th birthday party. P— drove us down there, with [his wife] L—, and even got us a motel. (I’d envisioned just passing out on a sofa or something at the party, but a motel was entirely welcome.) The only problem was, once we got to the party, P—, who is a very starchy sort, given to extreme temperance, seemed determined not to have a good time. He and L— sat by themselves on a sofa and watched—and in fact judged—the mêlée unfolding around them. It was one hell of a party. All kinds of people were there whom I hadn’t seen in ages, such as B—. Well, the more fun everybody else began to have, the more visibly annoyed P— seemed to become. By 9:30 he had his jacket on and was making noises about saying our goodbyes and heading to the motel.

The next piece of this story requires some background. At your wedding, I became somewhat inebriated, perhaps as the result of obliging half a dozen old friends who wanted to drink a shot with me. (I’m not sure what the origin is of this strange custom.) Well, I began talking to S—’s sister. She asked me what I did for a living. My response, as I began, threatened to ramble out of control, since I really didn’t have a good answer. So I backed up and started over by telling her the highlights of my day: getting home, changing my shoes, and hanging up my suit jacket. From here my logical faculties completely broke down and I circumnavigated, in tedious spirals, what would have been the point of my story if there had been one. My shoes featured prominently, for reasons I cannot recall. I do not believe that my story was very interesting. However, I believe S—’s sister was at least somewhat amused, because she giggled through my little monologue. It’s always at least somewhat amusing, in a voyeuristic sort of way, to watch a drunk person trying to make sense, his rhetoric completely disintegrating and being replaced by loud, doggerel emphasis. If nothing else, my rambling was benign.

Anyway, the next time I saw P— he recounted at length the foolishness of my drunken oration, which he’d witnessed at the wedding. (I had actually half forgotten it, until he mentioned it to me, at which point I remembered every detail with complete clarity.) P— expounded with much emphasis on what an absolute idiot I had been, and how glad he was that he wasn’t me and doesn’t have to live anything down. I didn’t (and don’t) quite get his point, though he took pains to make it.

Okay, that’s the background. Now we’ll return to D—’s party. P— grew increasingly vexed with me, since I was ruining everything by having a good time and enjoying the company of not just my friends but of complete strangers. For example, I got to chat with M—, a former star rider on the cycling team I’d never before met, whom I gather P— was kind of intimidated by. Well, while I was chatting with M—, about who knows what, P— came up to us and said, “Hey Dana, why don’t you tell him about your job, and your shoes.” This annoyed me, encapsulating as it did his general piss-poor attitude, and I am curt even when sober as you well know. I responded, as one does, “Why don’t you blow me.” Well, M— was drunk enough to find this the funniest damn thing he’d ever heard. This annoyed P— further, and he decided it was time to leave.

It wasn’t even 10:00 yet, and D— and I hadn’t even yet shared the sophomoric delight of travelling naked. To this day I regret having squandered the opportunity to bike naked through Isla Vista with D— years ago (having chosen instead to do something else with R—, which only seemed like the better idea at the time). This time I wasn’t about to leave before accomplishing that, so with the clock running out, D—, B—, and I ran out of the house, out the back door, as if escaping. As we abandoned our clothing and ran across the beach, mooning the moon as it were, I could hear L— and P— harmonizing: “We’re leaving!”

Now, the ocean was a good 200 meters from the beach house, and we aren’t great runners, and it seemed to take an eternity to make it to the surf. Then, for some reason the water felt merely cool, not icy cold as it truly must have been, and hence our swim was not rushed. Nor was the ensuing sand fight. To make matters worse, by the time we returned to the house, our clothing had been stolen. By now it was going on 10:30 and P— was livid (in the silent, tense, purple style that is so much more annoying than if he’d spewed profanity or something). It should be noted that nobody else had even thought of leaving the party. In fact, there was a cake fight in full swing. By the time I had recovered my clothing and put it back on, P— himself had become an innocent civilian caught in the crossfire: he’d had a giant wedge of brown/blue/pink birthday cake ground into his jacket by one of the blessed Dionysians. P—, the party atheist, dragged me out to the car, our wives following along, and we left behind a party that was still in full swing. Fortunately, once we got to the motel P— treated us to a live reading from a book of fine literature by Laurence Sterne. This seemed to revive his good spirits and was a nice way to wind down the night.

December 10, 1995

My new job begins tomorrow. I gave my old employer  a whole month’s notice, so that I would have time to tie up all the loose ends and train my replacement. We hired a good guy, looks like Uncle David did as a young man. Good academic credentials, including a law degree. Made it kind of odd training him: “Well, I’ve no use for this job anymore, but I’m sure you’ll be great!”

The new job is about five blocks closer to home than the old one. It’s on the edge of the Financial District near Chinatown. The building is a newer one than my old one, but slightly less spacious. If my old building was a giant Buick, this one is more like a nice new Nissan Sentra. The furniture is more modern (Star Trek ballistic nylon, coated steel) than the stuff at my old building (opulent leather, cherry wood). And this is the kicker: a cubicle rather than an office. Did you ever see my old office? Probably not. Well, it was sweet. Great view, great chairs (high back, ergonomic chair for me, a sumptuous black leather chair for my guest), great lighting. A door I could close. Vertical blinds. Framed Ansel Adams print on the wall. Now I’ll have a cubicle. I haven’t seen it yet, but I envision the kind of fabric-covered partitions I can stick notes to with thumbtacks. Surely buzzing fluorescent lights overhead. It’ll be an unimpressive task chair (like the dumb-looking webbed chair Spock had to sit on in the Star Trek movies). These are my fears. The reality could be nicer, but still . . . a cubicle. O, what I’ll sacrifice for job security, unlimited growth potential, stock options, vision benefits, and cool people to work with!

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